As the 2016 season grows long in the tooth, your team is either a force to be reckoned with, in the playoff hunt or, sadly, simply going through the motions as your focus shifts to 2017. And focused you most certainly should be.
It’s very possible, likely even, that as you read this your trade deadline has passed and the window is closed for a late-season trade acquisition. But one of my favorite tactics is being early to the table when the season comes to a close and pouncing on opportunities when “last season” is still fresh in the minds of fellow coaches.
The goal here isn’t simply to add high priced players in hopes that they continue their productive ways but, instead, feeding on disappointment, frustration and lack of production as catalysts to add upside to my roster at bargain-basement prices. Understanding which players could be getting a change of scenery next year is a fantastic strategy to capitalize on injury, suspension or poor team situation. Best of all, many coaches in your league(s) likely aren’t paying attention to off-season free agency targets.
Following is a list of those players I’m buying now or early in the off-season as risk-reward upside plays if I can add them for rookie picks or depth-chart excess. Again, focus on players that carry a significant opportunity to increase production in a new situation, but at an attractive cost (in draft pick(s) or return player value). My preference has always been to use draft picks singly or in combination when I target a player, always starting from late round selections, moving toward the first.
An important point to remember when targeting players in return for draft picks is to ensure you understand the depth of the incoming rookie class as it pertains to your own team need(s). It’s all too easy to go rookie-blind, a term that I use to explain coaches who set their gaze upon young players with zero NFL experience instead of the opportunity to add proven NFL production. Any time you can add youth and production over youth and opportunity, I’ll take the former as long as we’re not talking true first-tier marquee names. Even then, it’s still worthy of consideration.
Let’s get to a few of the players I’m targeting for 2017. Note that this list is in no particular order and all “Target” value assumes the highest value offered – lower value is always preferred.
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Cordarrelle Patterson, WR MIN
Like most other analysts, I expected much more for Patterson following his selection by Minnesota in 2013. What followed was pedestrian production and sub-par receiving skills, quickly rendering him an after-thought. To wit, in many leagues recently, he could be found in the free agent pool and may still be now.
What has been noteworthy is Patterson’s increasing role with the Vikings in 2016. It’s no secret that Minnesota has struggled to find receiver consistency. As Stefon Diggs has most recently emerged, Patterson’s role has increased. If he can continue to garner 6+ targets a game to finish 2016, I believe his increased effectiveness combined with his undoubtable dynamic makes for an intriguing addition in the right NFL system.
Target: Round 3 rookie draft selection. If I could land Patterson for a fourth-round selection, I’d do so without further thought.
Robert Woods, WR BUF
My belief is that Buffalo will resign Woods but as he’ll likely meet or exceed career highs in receptions and yardage, testing the open market should be expected. Note, too, Buffalo is not a hotbed of receiver productivity, further increasing the chance that Woods moves on following 2016.
Woods is a receiver who could be considered a roster-clogger but at 24 years of age with 70 receptions and 900 yards, he presents upside potential with a new club.
Target: Round 4 rookie draft selection
Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI
I’ve always loved the combination of a disappointing year and looming free agency for players trying to recapture their glory years. Alshon Jeffery fits this mold perfectly.
The issue with Jeffery is that most still consider him a first-tier receiver, despite the fact that he’s all but certain to produce another sub-par campaign in 2016. In 2015, Jeffery could only amass 54 receptions, 807 yards and four touchdowns and while he is on pace to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards, he’s on pace for only two touchdowns. To make matters worse, at least for current owners, he’ll sit for four games due to a failed drug test (PED). He’s taken full accountability and it appears as though it was a supplement containing a banned substance.
An addition of Jeffery will come down to your bartering skills and the coach currently owning his rights. Injury concerns continue to dog Jeffery so focus on two years of poor production and injury to decrease his value.
Target: Round 2+ rookie draft selection. It’s not out of the question to risk a trade with a late-first selection, especially if you are a competing team. I’d look to acquire his rights before his contract situation is addressed.
Christine Michael, RB GB
Michael’s free agency status was setting up perfectly in that all signs pointed to his role decreasing in the second half of 2016 with Seattle. Then his somewhat shocking release graced the wires as owners revisited the feeling of what it’s like to be a Christine Michael owner. Before the dust had even settled, he was picked up by Green Bay and given another chance at extending his NFL career. One truly has to wonder just what goes on behind locker-room doors, at least when discussing Michael,s past.
I’ve never been overly impressed by Michael’s vision or running instincts but I haven’t seen many players that have his ability to get to, and through, the line of scrimmage (LoS) as quickly with his shoulders squared and ready for impact. He’s never been overly adept at running behind his pads and his speed to the LoS often comes with such momentum that his lack of patience thwarts the creation of running lanes before they can develop. On the positive side, behind an effective offensive line with consistent carries and he could be very productive. He never received consistent carries in Dallas.
Should Michael stick on the Packers’ roster, he’ll remain on my list for a possible buy-low acquisition.
Target: Round 4 rookie draft selection
Latavius Murray, RB OAK
Murray was on my radar for what I hoped would be a fantastic buy-low candidate early into his 2016 campaign. With the emergence of DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard Murray could have easily faded from view and he, once again, has battled the injury bug.
A running back that is easy to dislike in fantasy due to a frustrating combination of injuries and showing-up-small in good match-ups, all signs appear to be pointing to Murray’s exit following the season. Unfortunately for buy-low coaches, Murray always seems to come up big when least expected and, should he finish the season on a strong note, he could recapture some of his lost value, ultimately keeping him out of reach.
A purchase of Murray may be possible should his second-half performance end up as a disappointment. Should that occur, strike early with a second-round draft pick or below for a possibility of a bigger 2017 in new colors.
Target: Round 2 rookie draft selection
Colin Kaepernick, QB SF
If you’re thinking Hey, Kaepernick isn’t a true free agent you would be correct. Technically speaking, Kaep signed a restructured contract in October which will allow him to void the contract and enter free agency at the end of the year. All indications are that he will do just that.
Once one of my favorite players in the NFL, what has transpired has been a stunning combination of poor performance, bad personal decisions and the inability to stay out of the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons. After all but disappearing from the fantasy radar before year, Kaepernick found the spotlight again in 2016 with his “kneeling movement” for lack of a better term.
Love him or hate him, Kaep still possesses a rare combination of arm strength and speed dynamic which, if in the right system, could rekindle his flagging career. He should be available on-the-cheap in your league and he’s a perfect addition as a high upside QB3 role on your roster.
Target: Round 4 rookie draft selection
Martellus Bennett, TE NE
Bennett flirts with a tier-one ranking routinely in fantasy but seemingly just can’t get over the hump of consistency. In a new situation in New England, Bennett showed his dynamic early while filling in for injured Rob Gronkowski.
There exists little chance the Patriots will retain Bennett and anything close to his $5M salary in 2017, allowing him to test the open market. I fully expect the Jets or the Dolphins to pounce on their intra-divisional rival at their first opportunity, perhaps even Buffalo as well.
At 29 years of age, Bennett doesn’t offer cornerstone status but at the tight end position, fantasy coaches should be much more willing to exercise patience and use plug-and play tight ends until finding one that can offer one-to-two year functionality. Bennett may fill that role perfectly.
Target: Round 3 rookie draft selection
Remember that change of scenery can turn fantasy bronze into fantasy gold. By doing your homework now and/or early in the off-season, you can be more prepared than your competition and capitalize.
Always start trade offers slightly less than your assessed value until you can gauge your trade partner’s idea of value or, whenever possible, allow them to establish the value first. It only takes one or two cheap veteran additions to dramatically impact your fantasy performance.
Don’t be afraid to trade opportunity for production!
Follow Jeff on Twitter : @DLF_Jeff
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff