Sunday Morning Huddle: Week Seventeen

George Kritikos


Let’s face it, there’s an enormous amount of information out there on Sunday mornings. We’re not going to waste your time by repeating the news and notes about who’s in or out this week, since that’s really not what you visit us for. We’re also not going to do another article on starts or sits this week – we already have the personalized lineup advice for you on the premium content. Again, there are 100 places you can go for that, so no reason to repeat ourselves or others.

The Sunday Morning Huddle goes through each game and states what we’re looking to see from a dynasty perspective. One player will be picked from each team who has dynasty value tied to the game. Normally, there is also a key statistic included as part of the analysis. However, with little on the line from a fantasy perspective in 2015, I will shift gears and give a pending free agent from each game that bears watching this off-season.

Early Games

Jacksonville at Houston

Free Agent to Watch (FATW) – Clay Harbor

Pickings are slim in this game with mostly older skill players and mediocre running backs set to reach free agency. Harbor is in his prime (28) and has shown some ability when the team has suffered from injuries at the tight end position – note the 68% career catch rate. Solid, but not spectacular, Harbor could catch on nearly anywhere else and have a better chance of seeing the field.

One more start for Denard Robinson to end the season. He won’t be playing for the starting job in 2016, but he could be playing for a larger share of the offense, especially in the passing game. This could mirror what is being done in another part of the sunshine state: Tampa Bay.

Both Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes (the aforementioned “mediocre running backs”) are both free agents this offseason. Neither will become a starter in 2016 but they should find homes, either in Houston or somewhere else. NFL teams will be paying attention to these two, why shouldn’t we?

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New York Jets at Buffalo

FATW – Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell

The Jets like to run the football and these two players account for 72% of the rushing attempts. Both are free agents and given their individual success this year, it will be difficult for the team to sign the pair. Do they prefer the power running of Ivory or the versatility of Powell?

Running back will not be the sole area of free agent concern for the New York Jets. Their starting quarterback is just one touchdown away from his first season with 30, showing how important Ryan Fitzpatrick has been to the offense. At 33, he likely has a few years left and the Jets are playing winning football. Economics should dictate if this relationship stays intact.

Since returning from injury in week nine, it is safe to say that Sammy Watkins has looked good. This stretch would equate to a 75 catch, 1554 yards, 16 touchdown season when extrapolated over a full season. While this shouldn’t be taken to mean Watkins is a top three receiver, but the raw numbers in year two and slow start to the year could lead to another offseason of discounted value.

Tennessee at Indianapolis

FATW – Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener

Another pair tethered together, Allen and Fleener are both unrestricted free agents who have shown the ability to play at TE1 levels at some point in their careers. The Colts have needs beyond retaining two tight ends so expect at least one to look for other opportunities. Do the Colts pick the more well-rounded option or the better receiving tight end?

Maybe I am grasping at straws but why not buy Bishop Sankey on the cheap? The last two weeks, he has six catches on seven targets and could become the receiving option out of the backfield for the team in 2016. With nothing left to play for, the team could give Sankey some more time this week in an effort to see what they have in him.

Another guy with a chance this week could be rookie Phillip Dorsett. I still think he has work to do in order to be effective beyond deep routes, but with Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton hurting, there is little reason to think he doesn’t get another chance. With Griff Whalen and the tight ends all free agents and Andre Johnson looking like a bust, Dorsett could be the third receiver on what could be a high volume offense in 2016.

Washington at Dallas

FATW – Chris Thompson

While names like Alfred Morris and Kirk Cousins are more alluring, Thompson has the greatest upside relative to price. The 25 year old running back has proven to be an excellent receiving back, and as Theo Riddick and others have proven, that is enough to return starter value with the right team.

This should be Morris’ backfield with Matt Jones looking like a scratch this week. Alf is playing for a new contract and the chance to keep the spotlight during the playoff run. He, along with Thompson, have plenty of motivation to leave a positive impression on what has been a messy Washington backfield.

This has been a completely lost season for the Cowboys, who entered the season with high expectations. One of the few highlights has been Darren McFadden. DMC is just three yards away from his second 1000 yard season, his first since 2010. Here is hoping the renaissance continues and the team rewards his season with another chance in 2016.

Detroit at Chicago

FATW – Alshon Jeffery

This one is easy. Whenever a top 10 wide receiver is an unrestricted free agent, it requires your full dynasty attention. The Bears will prioritize him, and if they re-sign Jeffery, other free agents like Matt Forte or even Zach Miller will likely be gone. I think this is what Ashton Kutcher was talking about with the Butterfly Effect.

Is there any expectation that beyond Theo Riddick, no Detroit running back is safe? Ameer Abdullah should be given another chance, but that remains to be seen. Joique Bell has one year left on his deal but it seems wiser to take the $1M cap hit than pay $3.5M for a player who has averaged under two yards per carry in five different contests this year. Even with Zach Zenner coming back, the team needs to find other ways to get this part of the offense working.

Even with Forte playing the last five weeks, Jeremy Langford has had double digit carries in each game. This should provide a realistic floor for Langford’s outlook in 2016 with significant upside depending on Forte’s future with the Bears. If you like Langford, no reason to shy away this offseason.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland

FATW – Travis Benjamin

The Browns have some momentum on offense going into 2016 but still have one remaining piece to secure in Benjamin. After totaling just 717 receiving yards in his first three seasons combine, he is just 83 yards away from his first 1000 yard campaign. Benjamin could be a great complement to Josh Gordon or another team could invest in the 26 year old as he enters his prime years.

If there is a position on the Steelers offense I am watching, it is wide receiver. Rookie Sammie Coates barely played while Markus Wheaton flashed some real game, even when the starters were healthy. This could become a messy depth chart to navigate in 2016 when injuries hit…or it could be a lot of fun.

Of all the anomalies in Cleveland, Isaiah Crowell may be the toughest to explain. The bruising runner has had a motion sickness inducing season with all the ups and downs. Crow does not have a receiving game so Duke Johnson has that part of the backfield sewn up. However, the team could look for help running the ball if they are uncertain in Crowell’s ability to be consistent.

New England at Miami

FATW – Lamar Miller

Miller has averaged over 80 yards per game despite seeing less than 16 touches per contest in the last two seasons. He will turn 25 in April and with just 735 career touches, Miller should be a hot commodity in free agency. The dynasty community will cheer in unison the moment Miller finds a new destination.

A sneaky free agent for 2016, Keshawn Martin has set career highs across the board and could be a nice slot receiver for a team looking to spread the ball out. Martin also has special teams value so his attractiveness is tied to that versatility. He should have at least one more week to make an impression with volume due to all the Patriot injuries.

It is hard to tell how much of Ryan Tannehill’s failings in 2015 fall on the team. His numbers have regressed across the board from last year’s mini-breakout and will be 28 before the 2016 season starts. Having some healthy receivers and a better offensive line would help, but Tanny has to improve his deep ball and overall accuracy to take advantage.

Baltimore at Cincinnati

FATW – Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu

The Bengals face the dilemma of who to place opposite A.J. Green in 2016. Jones has been the favorite target (98 to Sanu’s 47) this year but both have proven capable when put into a lead or complementary role. It may come down to money as the team also faces major free agent decisions along their offensive line.

While the Ravens have Justin Forsett under contract for two more years, they would only take a $1.4M cap hit if he is released during the offseason. This could be the case with Javorius Allen emerging and more important needs for that $3M annual salary.

The other tight end Tyler, Tyler Kroft, has filled in admirably for the injured Tyler Eifert. He has nine catches the last three weeks (on 12 targets), including his first NFL touchdown. Kroft has the looks of a good tight end but Eifert has become an elite player. What does that mean for Kroft in 2016 and beyond?

New Orleans at Atlanta

FATW – Khiry Robinson

The offensive free agents are not impressive among these teams so I went with a restricted free agent with some intrigue in Robinson. He had his opportunity cut short in 2015 with a fractured tibia, losing out on a chance to audition for teams after Mark Ingram was hurt. Khiry is still a runner who has averaged over four yards per carry for his career and showed a dimension in the passing game this year that has not been seen. Even stepping into a committee would be an improvement on the mess he faced in New Orleans.

Filed under “completely unexpected” is the 2015 season of Willie Snead. The 23 year old never had an NFL reception prior to 2015, bouncing from Carolina to New Orleans in the process. Now, Snead is just 51 yards from 1000 receiving yards and has one more season under his current contract. With a full season under his belt, can Snead repeat the surprise season?

Lost in the great seasons of Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman is Matt Ryan, a quarterback who has yet to crack 20 passing touchdowns this year. This is the lowest touchdown rate of his career (3.3% of attempts) and his adjusted yards per attempt (accounting for interceptions) is currently 6.9, the second time in the past three years below seven. Do the Falcons just need better receiving options opposite Julio or has Ryan plateaued as an average quarterback?

Philadelphia at New York Giants

FATW – Sam Bradford

While Rueben Randle is tempting, Bradford represents one of the few quarterbacks set to hit the market with starting experience. He has career highs in yards per attempt, completion rate, and lowest sack rate (for the #QBWinz guys, Bradford could notch his first .500 season with a win). There are multiple playoff level teams who could be in the market for a veteran quarterback this offseason.

I am not quite willing to call Jordan Matthews’ season a disappointment. He does have at least three receptions in every game this year and touchdowns in four of his last five games. This offense struggled as a whole and while Matthews did not meet the lofty expectations many owners had, he should still surpass 80 receptions and 1000 yards, not bad for a second year receiver.

With four seasons in the NFL, Randle has shown himself to be an inefficient receiver but one capable of big plays. The Giants have used him more in a possession role this year, which does not fit his profile and has shown with a decrease in targets as a result of separation issues. Randle could leave this offseason and find a team more willing to utilize his downfield capabilities, something the Giants no longer need thanks to Odell Beckham.

Afternoon Games

Saint Louis at San Francisco

FATW – Brian Quick

At 26, Quick has a chance to put this miserable season behind him and start fresh on a team interesting in passing the ball. Prior to 2015, Quick was an efficient receiver with big play capabilities. He will be competing with a handful of mid-twenties wide receivers looking for a starting spot in 2016.

It looks like Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham should be the primary running backs this week. Todd Gurley is doubtful to play so expect the aforementioned pair to play to their strengths. Cunningham in particular has something to play for as he enters free agency and could be a nice receiving back committee member in 2016.

Should we be thinking about Blaine Gabbert as a 2016 starting quarterback? He has come a long way from his Jaguars days, evident by the positive touchdown to interception ratio (9:6) along with career highs in pass accuracy (63%) and yards per attempt (7.0). Gabbert is still just 26 years old so a career revival is not out of the question.

Oakland at Kansas City

FATW – Chase Daniel

With all due respect to fellow unrestricted free agent Rod Streater, Daniel has the look of a starter just in need of a chance. Go back and think about the quarterback rotations in Houston and Saint Louis. Now try to convince yourself that Daniel is not a better option. At just 29, Daniel has a chance to provide value to dynasty owners who are willing to give him a roster spot.

When Amari Cooper was hobbled last week, it was Andre Holmes who took the snaps. While that is not exciting, it is important for those looking to handcuff or simply keep tabs on potential injury replacements. Holmes remains a poor hands receiver (47% career catch rate) but does have some athletic ability. Keep him on the outskirts of your 2016 radar.

While the “game manager” tag will always exist with Alex Smith, he has value and this year, set a handful of career highs (with one game left to play). His rushing yards (437), passing yards (3330), and interception rate (1.1%, league lowest) are all personal bests for the 31 year old. Considering the Smith stigma with wide receivers, Jeremy Maclin is just one reception away from tying his 2014 total even though he missed a game this year.

Seattle at Arizona

FATW – Chris Johnson

Just two months ago, Johnson was carrying the load for the Cardinals and contract extension was being discussed. Now, a different Johnson (David) holds the reigns and Chris Johnson’s future looks unclear. He would need another good situation to return value but he could be a nice one year rental in the right spot.

Set to be a free agent, Jermaine Kearse has set career highs across the board and has come up big in the fantasy playoffs, totaling 17 catches in the last three games including a touchdown. Kearse is more known for his run blocking and sure hands than explosiveness, but those traits should be enough to drive interest for the soon to be 26 year old receiver. Tyler Lockett and his owners eagerly await his decision.

Over the last four weeks, Michael Floyd is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 387. Three of those games were over 100 yards and all four featured him catching at least five passes. In the second half of 2015, Floyd has averaged 86 yards per contest to John Brown’s 57 on 5.2 receptions compared to 3.4 for Brown. By the way, Brown is just four months younger than Floyd.

Tampa Bay at Carolina

FATW – Doug Martin

Martin found the right time to revitalize his career, averaging just over 90 rushing yards per game on a career high 5.0 yards per carry. The team has found roles for him and Charles Sims, which seems to work well on an emerging offense. Tampa Bay looks to be in a good cap position heading into the offseason so there is a good chance Martin is back in 2016.

Most dynasty owners like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and there is good reason to expect a leap in 2016. He has four touchdowns on just 18 receptions this year and has doubled his yards per game (from 24 to 48) despite seeing just 0.7 more receptions per contest. That is a result of his downfield prowess, going from 10.5 yards per reception up to 16.1 per catch. ASJ could easily be a top five tight end by the end of next year.

With Fozzy Whittaker injured, rookie Cameron Artis-Payne has another hurdle removed from primary carries in week 17. CAP has looked capable the last two weeks while shouldering a larger portion of the team’s backfield responsibilities. Jonathan Stewart remains the starter, and has a large contract, so CAP is fighting for complementary carries in 2016.

San Diego at Denver

FATW – Brock Osweiler

This game is loaded with key free agents: Osweiler, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, Ronnie Hillman, and C.J. Anderson (restricted) among others. Brock is the choice because of his potential situation and the possibilities with a full offseason as the starter. Someone is going to throw money at Osweiler this offseason, but will it be the Broncos?

As mentioned, the tight end position is uncertain for the Chargers in 2016. Both options are free agents and while Green is more explosive, Gates has the more reliable hands. Whoever stays, hopefully not both, will be a TE1 for at least 2016.

Count me as someone who believes Anderson was hindered by the early season injuries. He averaged just 2.7 yards per carry before the bye week, then saw 6.1 yards per carry with all four of his rushing touchdowns during that time. Anderson lost his workload as a result of an injury that sapped his explosiveness. That should be back now and I will be buying for 2016.

Sunday Night Game

Minnesota at Green Bay

FATW – James Starks and James Jones

Going with a couple of veterans who may have outplayed their younger counterparts in 2015. The Packers do prefer to sign their own free agents so both could be back. Those decisions may say more about Eddie Lacy and the harem of soon to be third year receivers than it does the actual free agents.

After some early season issues, Jarius Wright has caught 19 of his last 21 targets and has become the second best option at wide receiver after Stefon Diggs. That does not hold much water in a conservative offense like this, but Wright should be more involved in 2016 while some of the less efficient options are phased out.

The bloodbath at Arizona last week showed that a vicious pass rush (nine sacks) can rattle even the best quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers was sacked a total of 49 times the last two years combined and has 41 this year alone. The team needs to address the offensive line quickly to preserve their franchise signal caller, although as a Bears fan, I am ok if they decide otherwise.

*All numbers courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference