NFL Off-Season Moves, Taking Advantage of the Unknown

0
1061

I love CHANGE, can’t get enough of it. I absolutely subscribe to the mantra ‘New is always better.’ If there’s a different route that I can take to get somewhere, I’m going to take it. New item on the menu at a favorite restaurant of mine? Sign me up. Many people are the opposite, preferring the comfort of the known quantity to the unpredictability of the unknown.

This need to stay with what they know can work in our favor when it comes to DFS and fantasy football in general. I’m going to take a look at a few off-season moves and try to determine how we can capitalize on them from a fantasy perspective before the rest of the public catches on to their new roles.

LEGARRETTE BLOUNT TO THE EAGLES – LeGarrette Blount would qualify as a ‘known quantity’ for DFS players last year. The formula for rostering him was simple: look at the Vegas odds for the Patriots game and if they were favored by 7 or more points you locked him into your lineup at a reasonable cost. Not only would he be good for a touchdown or 2 (even 3) but he surpassed 100 yards on the ground 25% of the time. Even less surprising were the teams he would beat up on the ground – Miami in a 7-point win, Houston in a 27-0 thumping, the Landry Jones led Steelers in an 11-point win and the hapless 49ers – a team that bled yards on the ground to nearly everybody.

At first glance his move to the Eagles appears to be a negative for fantasy purposes. Blount leaves a very balanced Patriots offense that ran the ball on 43% of their plays last year, good for 6th in the entire league. If you filter those results to only include 1st and 2nd down (Blount very rarely sees the field on third down due to his limited pass-catching ability) they kept it on the ground 51% of the time. In comparison, the Eagles ran the ball the 16th most times in the league with that number dropping to 21st when eliminating 3rd down play calls. It is a safe assumption to expect his yardage totals to decrease from last year.

Where Blount really paid off for his fantasy owners last season was in the red zone. He was one of the most touchdown dependant players in the league, scoring 116.1 standard fantasy points from his yardage and a staggering 108 via touchdowns. I noted the difference in offensive philosophy between New England and Philadelphia earlier but once they got into scoring position some similarities began to emerge. New England led the league with 107 rushing attempts in the red zone and scored 20 TDs. Not far behind them in 6th place were the Eagles with 73 rushing attempts and 13 touchdowns.

With Blount presumably taking over Ryan Mathews’ role in the offense he will have many opportunities to at least come close to last years exceptional TD totals. His current best ball ADP (average draft position) of 31st at the RB position shows that the public is still of the mindset that he is no longer the value he once was, and his DFS ownership over the first few weeks of the season will reflect that as well.

There isn’t much concern over who will fill Blount’s role in New England this season. Mike Gillislee was brought over from the rival Bills as a free agent and appears to have the first crack at the Blount role, at least in the red zone. His yardage numbers aren’t likely to be as gaudy as he must contend with a (as of right now) healthy Dion Lewis and dependable James White all season.

His red zone efficiency with the Bills was exceptional last year (7 touchdowns on 18 red zone touches) and should get even better rushing in an offense that spent more time in the red zone than every team but Atlanta last season.

TERRELLE PRYOR TO THE REDSKINS – 214 targets have left the offense of the Washington Redskins this offseason with the losses of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Terrelle Pryor comes in from Cleveland to attempt to pick up some of the slack from those departures. He had 140 targets of his own in 2016 from the likes of Josh McCown, Cody Kessler and Robert Griffin III. Moving to an offense with Kirk Cousins at QB can only mean good things for Pryor.

He’s guaranteed to get a sizable target share in this offense as one of the top options with holdover Jamison Crowder, TE Jordan Reed and last years first round pick Josh Doctson. Pryor was very successful in the short passing game last season, scoring all 4 of his touchdowns on low aDot throws and snaring 66 of his 77 receptions on these types of plays. One area where he struggled was on the deep pass as this carousel of quarterbacks couldn’t seem to hook up with him 20+ yards down the field.

If you combine their numbers for the season the Browns QBs had passer ratings of 65, 65 and 41 when targeting receivers deep left, deep center and deep right. Substitute Kirk Cousins in and you are looking at a QB with passer ratings of 94, 118 and 78 to these zones.

If Pryor can come anywhere near his 140 targets from last year (40 coming via the deep ball) with a much more competent QB throwing him the ball his numbers have nowhere to go but up. Another 4-touchdown season for Pryor would have to be considered a colossal disappointment considering his likely target share in this pass happy offense. I will be buying on Pryor in all fantasy formats.

MARTELLUS BENNETT TO THE PACKERS – Martellus Bennett has moved from one prolific offense to another, signing with the Green Bay Packers after spending last season with the Super Bowl winning Patriots. Bennett put up a reasonable stat line last season with 55 receptions, 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was a successful red zone threat, scoring 3 touchdowns on 5 targets inside the 5-yard line and an additional TD on 2 targets inside the 10.

I mentioned previously that New England ran the ball more than any other team and his new team is quite the opposite. Green Bay ran more pass plays in the red zone than any other team and it wasn’t even close – their 141 pass plays surpassed Atlanta’s 122 by a sizeable margin. QB Aaron Rodgers tended to lock in on his favorite targets once he reached this area of the field, with Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams receiving 10 and 8 targets inside the 5 and no other receiver getting more than 4.

If Bennett can gain the trust of Rodgers not only will he put himself in a great position to score but he will likely have a negative impact on the fantasy outlook of Nelson and Adams. The 7 touchdowns Bennett scored last year are more likely to represent his floor than his ceiling in 2017 and rostering him early in the year could separate you from the pack in DFS.

The role he leaves behind is already filled as well. New England made an offseason trade to acquire Dwayne Allen from Indianapolis and he will take over the TE2 spot behind Rob Gronkowski in New England. Touchdown opportunities are always aplenty in the Pats offense and Allen is even more valuable as insurance to the injury prone Gronk.

PETERSON TO THE SAINTS – Rostering a Saints running back last year was an agonizing experience. To nearly all outside observers Mark Ingram was the most capable back on the roster and the one you wanted to play in any given week. The season-long narrative of ‘Sean Payton hates Mark Ingram’ kept gaining steam as time wore on.

One game he was benched after a fumble and didn’t see the field again. The list of touchdown vultures seemed to grow larger and larger as the season went on with Tim Hightower stealing red zone work, John Kuhn getting goal line carries, Drew Brees sneaking the ball in and even a Coby Fleener rushing touchdown took fantasy points away from Ingram.

If you thought last year was an uphill battle for him this year looks like it could be impossible. Not only did New Orleans draft likely 3rd down back Alvin Kamara in the draft, Adrian Peterson also signed with the team in free agency and is motivated to prove himself after a lost season in Minnesota last year.

Figuring out how this timeshare will play out over the season could be a key to winning many season-long fantasy leagues and figuring it out week-to-week will be extremely advantageous for DFS.

The Saints offense will again be exceptional. Drew Brees is a world class QB with a multitude of weapons to spread the ball around to. In the NFL, an elite QB will raise the floor of any running back simply due to the scoring opportunities he creates. New Orleans ranked 5th in red zone carries last season with 74 and that number will be high once again as this team is built to score, therefore each week the Saints should have a productive fantasy RB.

Peterson is an exceptional talent and a freak athlete and if given the touches I’m sure he will thrive. Ingram is also a top running back in the league and has shown that he can do good things in this offense. Unlike playing LeGarrette Blount as a favorite, rostering Peterson or Ingram will be anything but a known quantity, at least early in the year.

The presence of Kamara should also bring down ownership as his role is currently undefined. The key here is that we do know the offense will support a top fantasy RB – it has in the past and will continue to do so. What we don’t know is who it will be, as the determining factor will be their opportunities and not their talent levels. I won’t be recommending either of them for cash games at all but in GPP lineups we can take advantage of the likely lower ownership on these guys.

UNDER THE RADAR ADDITIONS

LANCE DUNBAR TO THE RAMS – Benny Cunningham saw most of the passing down snaps behind Todd Gurley last season but he has since moved on to the Bears. While Gurley had a disappointing season rushing in one of the league’s worst offenses he did possess a high floor for a few weeks when Cunningham was injured.

Gurley was able to stay on the field for many of the passing downs those weeks, adding valuable PPR points. With Lance Dunbar signing on in the off-season that floor drops back down to what it was before.

Dunbar is one of the top pass catching backs in the league (and one of the best pass blockers) and new Rams coach Sean McVay had plenty of success using 3rd down specialist Chris Thompson in the passing game last year in Washington. My expectation would be that Gurley’s role does not increase at all and I would not be surprised if he even lost some work to the underrated and dependable Dunbar.

MIKE TOLBERT TO THE BILLS – I mentioned earlier Mike Gillislee’s red zone success playing in Buffalo. Perhaps the most telling stat there was how often he was used in the red zone, often stealing TDs (and more importantly for us, fantasy points) from stud LeSean McCoy.

The Bills come into the season with new management and a new coaching staff but the signing of Tolbert indicates they at least have interest in a tough, physical run game. If he starts getting some goal line touches in place of McCoy it still won’t give him much valuable DFS upside but it is something to be aware of when rostering McCoy.

RONALD LEARY TO THE BRONCOS – From his position at left guard Ronald Leary wont be scoring any fantasy points for you no matter what scoring system you are looking at. His offseason move does have implications for a couple of players, most notably Ezekiel Elliot and CJ Anderson.

The Cowboys offensive line took some hits in the offseason with the loss of Leary and the retirement of tackle Doug Free so expecting Ezekiel Elliott to repeat his rushing success from a year ago might be wishful thinking. I do expect Elliott’s role in the receiving game to increase and potentially make up for any lost yardage, but expecting LeVeon Bell or David Johnson type production is a tad premature at this point.

The one benefitting most from this signing is CJ Anderson. He is currently holding a best ball ADP of 21st amongst all running backs and if Leary can help the Broncos run game as much as he did the Cowboys Anderson will be a steal.

There are no guarantees he is the starter but he should enter training camp as the clear favorite over Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker. Opportunity is the name of the game for running backs in fantasy football so if one of those two wins the job in camp they will become as valuable as I expect Anderson to be.

This is just a small sample of the many transactions that occur during the NFL offseason. Each individual move has an impact, some more than others. While we can never be 100 percent sure what difference each move will make we can use the data available to us to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to predicting these new roles.