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32 Teams, 32 Questions: The AFC East

Spiller

The rosters and depth charts are set for the start of the season. We are going to take a little trip around the league and take a look at all 32 teams and address one of the biggest questions about each team that you need to be thinking about.

After all, in terms of dynasty leagues if you aren’t thinking about these things you’re already behind!

Previous editions:

NFC North
NFC South
NFC East
NFC West
AFC North
AFC South

For a long time the AFC East has been the easiest division in football to predict. The New England Patriots are going to win the division. In fact, there has been only one season since 2003 where that hasn’t been the case. Over that time, the other three teams have mostly ranged from being average to just downright awful. The Patriots are aging though and the other teams are starting to close the gap. What are some of the biggest questions we need to be thinking about?

Buffalo Bills

Will CJ Spiller ever be the elite running back we hoped he could be when he was drafted ninth overall in 2010?

[inlinead]Heading into the 2010 draft, there were a lot of questions about CJ Spiller in regards to the role he would play on an NFL team but no one questioned his talent level. With near elite burst and speed packed into a slightly undersized frame, it was unlikely he was going to be a bell cow, but the hope was he could post RB1 numbers on around 200 carries, much like Jamaal Charles did during the early part of his career.

To this point, the results on Spiller have been rather mixed. Through his first four seasons, he has been the committee back we expected but he’s only produced RB1 numbers once. In 2012, he managed a top 10 finish in most PPR leagues with 1703 total yards and 43 receptions. The main hindrance to his fantasy standing has been the surprising lack of touchdowns. Thanks to the committee situation and a rather terrible Bills offense, Spiller has only managed to post 17 touchdowns (18 if you count a kick return in 2010) during his four seasons. That’s less than the top backs tend to have in a single season!

In addition to the extremely low touchdown totals, Spiller’s usage has been another issue. Over his career, Spiller has managed to average a very impressive 5.1 yards per carry, but he’s never topped 207 carries in a season or 250 total touches. This is in part due to the age defying Fred Jackson being around. We keep thinking he needs to retire at some point, but so far that hasn’t happened. The Bills also hinted they don’t want to rely solely on Spiller with their addition of Bryce Brown this year in case Jackson were to miss time once again.

With Spiller’s carries staying around 200 and his receptions being right around 40 for the last two seasons it is fair to wonder if that is the cap the Bills envision for him. He certainly has the talent but between the bad offense and his usage I’m not sure Spiller will ever reach his full potential. What makes matters even worse is Spiller is already 27 years old (just like Jonathan Stewart!). He’s just about at the point in a running back’s career where they start to drop off a bit. I think it might be time to admit to what Spiller is, he’s a great talent limited to RB2 value by his situation. If you can still get RB1 prices for him, I would take those in a heartbeat given his age and everything else.

Miami Dolphins

Will Ryan Tannehill become the athletic star quarterback or is he just a star athlete trying to play quarterback?

In college Ryan Tannehill transitioned from an athletically gifted college wide receiver during his freshman year with 55 receptions for 844 yards and 5 touchdowns to the starting quarterback his senior year. During that one year as the starter, he showed enough to be taken as a high upside pick by the Dolphins with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.  That’s quite the journey in four years, especially when toss his wife into the mix!

The question we had back in 2012 and still have today is exactly what can Tannehill become at the quarterback position in the NFL? With less than 15 starts at the position in college, his selection was much more about the upside than what he had done up to that point in time and we all knew it was going to take a while for him to develop. With two full seasons as a starter in the NFL it is about the time where we are expecting to start seeing shades of what he can and will become down the road. Is he s future franchise quarterback or is he just a gifted athlete?

There have been some growing pains with Tannehill, but he is moving in the right direction over his two full seasons:

east1

He took on the full weight of the offense in 2013 and managed to make better choices with the football at the same time. While yards per attempt did drop slightly and his completion rate is below where you want your starter there is good reason for that. In just two seasons, Tannehill has already been sacked a massive 93 times. That’s a huge amount and more than Peyton Manning has had since 2008! Calling Tannehill’s offensive line terrible over the last two years is an understatement. Miami is going to need to improve up front before we can see what Tannehill can really become.

Even if his line does improve, there seems to be one glaring weakness in his game and that is the touch on the deep pass. Even during practices without defenders barreling down on him, Tannehill has been rather inconsistent throwing the ball deep. If he is going to turn into a franchise quarterback, he’s going to need to start making that throw on a consistent basis.

Overall, I think Tannehill has a very solid chance to be good but not great quarterback, a lower end QB1 or high end QB2 in fantasy leagues. It is going to take another year or two for the line to get more talented and for him to work on fine tuning the deep ball, but I think he is moving in the right direction. Miami just needs to hope he doesn’t end up shell shocked before then.

New England Patriots

What is going to happen to the New England backfield in 2014 and beyond?

The future of the Patriots as a whole is starting to get a little murky. After more than a decade of dominance in the division, it is time to realize Tom Brady is starting to near the end. Now 37 years old, Brady is coming off of one of his worst seasons as pro. His stats were the result of sheer volume as he had the second highest number of attempts in his career but the third lowest touchdown total and the third lowest yards per attempt while his completion rate was the second lowest. While it might have something to do with the lack of talent at the wide receiver position, outside of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady has always had questionable talent outside. I think he is declining which means the running game is going to become even more important as the Patriots try to extend Brady’s career as much as possible.

When it comes to running backs, the overwhelming majority of players who turn into RB2s or better in fantasy leagues are drafted in the first 100 or so picks of the NFL draft. This takes us through the very early part of the fourth round. Players drafted after that tend to be little more than committee or change of pace backs. This gives the advantage to Shane Vereen as the only running back who fits that criteria, except for one little thing. There are two coaches who have broken this trend and account for almost all of the exceptions, Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick. This makes things wide open for 2014 with the four players currently on roster.

Each of the four brings something a little bit different to the table. Of the four running backs on roster, Vereen is easily the best in the passing game. He has the hands and openfield quickness you want in a pass catching back. Unfortunately, he doesn’t run between the tackles very often and he has a very lengthy injury history which will likely keep him from every being the guy. Stevan Ridley is the best interior rusher of the group and has the best size, but he lacks speed and has developed a fumbling issue. Rookie James White is the smallest of the group but plays bigger than his size suggests. He isn’t the best at anything but he can do just about everything. He also holds on to the ball. The leaves Brandon Bolden who is a bigger though slightly less talented version of White.

For my money, the best value of the bunch for the long haul given current ADP is White. Not only is he the only one of the bunch under contract past 2014 but he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. I can’t trust Vereen to stay healthy and I think Ridley is going to end up fumbling away his role. When it comes to this year, Vereen is going to be the guy to own when he’s healthy. He hasn’t ever made it more than 13 games, but he could approach RB2 level  during those games. I just don’t think he’s worth the current price tag.

New York Jets

Is anyone in the passing game ever going to be a worthwhile fantasy asset?

Much like Seattle and San Francisco, the Jets have been one of the worst passing teams in the league over the last few years. In fact, they haven’t had a quarterback throw for over 3000 yards in the last two seasons. The Jets have turned into one of the places where wide receivers seem to go to die. Just ask Santonio Holmes!

Here are the top receivers over the last few years:

east2

Looking at these last five years, a few things jump out. There hasn’t been a single 1000 yard receiver in that time. This is the era since Chad Pennington left the Jets. They also haven’t been a major focus of the offense as they have caught fewer than 58 receptions each year. The touchdown numbers have also been inconsistent with the more talented outside receivers like Holmes and Edwards doing okay while the inside receivers barely scored.

Enter Eric Decker. His 87 receptions for 1288 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Broncos’ high powered offense helped an awful lot of fantasy teams make the playoffs last year. With the Broncos spending their money elsewhere, Decker ended up in New York, breaking fantasy hearts coast to coast. After all, trading in Peyton Manning for Geno Smith is surely going to impact the bottom line, right? The question is how much.

Looking back at the list of the top Jets receiver for the last few years it quickly becomes clear to me that Decker is the best mix of size and talent on that list. With Geno improving in his second year, Kerley still in the fold as a solid number two underneath and the addition of Chris Johnson to the backfield the offense is going to be better than the last few seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Decker get 70 receptions for 1050 yards and 8 scores this year, making him a solid WR2 in fantasy leagues. While the Jets weren’t an ideal landing spot (I would have loved to see him with the Colts instead of Hakeem Nicks), Decker is still the top target and he is talented enough to be starting on fantasy rosters. He’s definitely worth a price check in your leagues.

The last stop on our division by division tour is going to be the AFC West, home to some of the biggest surprises of the 2013 NFL season. What questions do they have and what is my take on them? Keep coming back to find out.

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Jacob Feldman
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ZeroWF
7 years ago

“In fact, they haven’t had a quarterback throw for over 3000 yards in the last two seasons.”

Geno threw for 3,046 yards last season.

Jacob Feldman
Reply to  ZeroWF
7 years ago

I must have looked at net passing yards, but do those 46 yards really change the message?

The difference between 3000 and 3046 is under 3 yards a game… either way they were terrible.

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