In Fantasy Football the clichés are constant and overstated. The term “Flag planting” is a notorious phrase that scouts use to take a stand on a position. The point of this article is to take a deep dive into four different players at four different positions. By planting my flag on these four players, I am merely emphasizing my 100% confidence in their fantasy outlook in 2018.
If there is an offense to double down on in 2018, it’s the Falcons. Last season the Atlanta offense faced the most difficult schedule for yards per point allowed. As a result, their yards per game and points per game decreased dramatically in 2017. Although the Falcons ranked third in the league in yards per play, the offense continually stalled in the red zone finishing with four less red zone plays per game and 12 fewer touchdowns overall. The passing distribution in scoring position was imbalanced and skewed towards receivers which allowed defenses to counter the play calling tendencies of Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Matt Ryan’s pass attempts in the red zone ranked 6th in the league yet his red zone completion percentage was only 48% (47th in the league).
Partially due to red zone woes, former MVP Matt Ryan took a major step back in 2017. His fantasy points per game decreased by 11% from his average and his touchdown rate sunk to 3.8% well below his career average of 4.6%. That four touchdown difference would have equated to yet another QB1 season and don’t think for a second that Ryan’s fantasy decline wasn’t partially due to misfortune. According to @suuma810, the Falcons were one of the unluckiest teams in the league finishing 29th in expected points versus actual points per game.
Not helping matters, the Falcons receivers were credited with 34 dropped passes which is good for 4th worst in the league. Even more noteworthy, Ryan had 12 interceptions, but only 5 were turnover worthy passes according to Scott Barrett of PFF. In fact, 6 of Ryan’s interceptions were tipped passes. Above all else, Matt Ryan is a positive regression candidate, the combination of red zone inefficiencies, a new offensive coordinator, and bad luck, all played a role in a poor fantasy season. The good news is that Ryan flourished in year 2 of Kyle Shanahan’s offense in 2016, propelling the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Atlanta will also have the luxury of returning almost every starter from 2017 which will play a significant role in early team chemistry. Matty Ice has all the weapons to return to form and should be aided by the new addition of first-round stud Calvin Ridley, who should spark the already potent Atlanta offense to greater fantasy heights.
In 2018 The Baltimore Ravens will continue to shift from a high volume passing attack (ranked first in pass attempts in 2015-16) to more a more run-heavy approach (29th in 2016 to 7th in 2017). The change is well overdue, with Flacco producing the opposite of video game-like numbers. While throwing the 7th most attempts, Flacco ranked 37th in Air Yards/Attempt, 31st in RZ completion %, 27th in QBR, 27th on third down efficiency, and 28th in explosive pass plays. The shift can also be attributed to the seemingly out of nowhere emergence of running back Alex Collins.
Despite joining the team late and not seeing significant touches until the midway through the season, Collins was consistently productive finishing as the RB16 (0.5 PT PPR). The production is especially impressive considering the Ravens faced the 13th toughest run schedule, all with the absence of all-pro guard Marshall Yanda and starter Alex Lewis. With a lack of quality playmakers, the Ravens opponents often teed off on stopping the running game, yet the former Razorback managed a 5.3 (4th in the league) yards per carry average against stacked boxes.
Critics have argued that Collins can’t be an electric back, yet he managed to finish in the top 10 in several categories including 2nd in breakaway runs, 9th in evaded tackles, 5th in juke rate, and 8th in yards created per Playerprofiler.com. The Ravens new bell cow has internalized the sentiment that just because you are a replacement it doesn’t mean you have to perform like a replacement level player. Below is a Football Outsiders (for a categorical breakdown see here (https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/rb)) chart ranking backs that performed well above their expected contribution level. You will notice that Collin’s name is right next to some of the premier backs in the league despite limited opportunities.
Choosing a fantasy running back is all about opportunity, efficiency, and situation. I’ve touched on Collins efficiency from last year but let’s focus on why his 2018 season is promising. With the departure of Terrance West and Danny Woodhead, there will be a total of 88 touches (43 targets) to include 16 red zone looks available. That’s not including the first five games of the season where Collins either didn’t get any touches or saw limited work.
Along with an increased workload, the Ravens run schedule difficulty will shift from 8th toughest to 10th easiest according to the Sharp Football Preview. Free agents acquisitions Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Sneed along with the return of Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis will boost the potency of the offense. In addition to returning players, Baltimore invested high round draft picks into tight ends Hayden Hurst Mark Andrews as well as former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s potential accession into a starting role could amplify the effectiveness of Collins, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole yet. At the end of the day, Alex Collins has the opportunity, efficiency, an ideal situation for fantasy gold in 2018.
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Chris Hogan will enter his 2018 campaign as the Patriots primary deep threat and main red zone target outside of Gronk. The Patriots passing attack will face the fourth easiest pass defense schedule including eight opponents that rank in the bottom 10 of the league in giving up explosive pass plays.
The departure of Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola will leave one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets with a substantial share of 200 vacated targets to include 24 red zone looks. Over the past 2 season, he ranks second on the team in red zone targets (22) behind only Gronk (28). With extra opportunities, Hogan has demonstrated the flexibility to thrive as an effective deep threat and red zone focal point. The chart on the left illustrates his efficiency when being targeted down the field, resulting in a QB rating of 144.80. That same year he ranked first in the league in yards per target and yards per target on deep passes. The right chart shows the role change to a short passing target, a role in which he was on pace to be a WR1 before his mid-season injury. Hogan finished last season in the top 24 for QB rating when targeted, Red Zone Share, Catchable Target Rate, and Fantasy Points Per Game and Per Target. Another word, Chris Hogan can be productive in whatever way Josh McDaniel chooses to utilize him in.
Jared Cook will enter the 2018 season as a near lock for an increased role in a Jon Gruden orchestrated west-coast offense. To the surprise of most, the former South Carolina Gamecock finished as PPR TE12 in 2017 despite not being drafted in most leagues. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that over the past five seasons Tight Ends drafted in the top 12 for the position, finish outside the top 12 45% of the time.
The players marked in blue finished well above their average draft position impart due to a large market share of their team’s offense. All six averaged above 75 targets, 13% team market share, and 17% of the teams Red Zone Targets. Being drafted as the TE23 according to current FFPC ADP, Cook should have an easy opportunity of exceeding his current draft position. The departure of Michael Crabtree and Cordelle Patterson will leave the Raiders with over 140 targets to include 18 red zone opportunities. Cooks will have to compete with former Packer Jordy Nelson and ex-Steeler Martavius Bryant, the latter of whom may be facing a lengthy suspension.
If the extra targets aren’t appealing enough, consider that Oakland starts the season with an has an incredibly soft schedule for tight ends (5/8 teams finished in the bottom 12 defending TEs). The first eight game will include the Browns, Dolphins, and Broncos who combined to allow 29 receiving touchdowns to tight ends in 2017. Leading Oakland with a passer rating of 95.5 when targeted, Cook also was one of the Raiders most efficient pass catchers, averaging a success rate of 52%, good for 11th in the league. Jared Cook will provide sneaky value as an early season streamer or a late pick in deeper leagues