Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don’t, and you’re painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here’s our view on three intriguing August over/unders.
Strangely, Ameer Abdullah is quite possibly the most divisive player currently in fantasy drafts. His zealots shout “MID-DRAFT STEAL” while skeptics preach “AVOID.” Where do you stand in the controversy? Will the Lions RB BREAKOUT or BUST in 2017?
Brad – BUST. For some unexplained reason, fantasy Twitter is willing to die on the Abdullah hill. When his name is brought up in conversation, tempers, over 140 characters, immediately flare. Though in line 200-plus carries, it’s somewhat maniacal to believe he’s this year’s Melvin Gordon. Outside of the alleged increased workload and film dissector comps to Devonta Freeman there is little to no evidence a statistical explosion is imminent. Zero.
The last time we saw him over a measurable sample size, as a rookie in 2015, he blew the pants off no one. On 143 carries he forced a mere 12 missed tackles, played a minor pass-game role and struggled protecting the football. His resulting 0.08 tackles avoided per attempt ranked No. 118 at the position. Not exactly a leg churner either (2.0 YAC in ’15), Abdullah lacks the essential talents all successful running backs need – jukes and power. Hurting his cause, he also isn’t the preferred short-field receiving option. That gig belongs to Theo Riddick, and to a lesser extent, Golden Tate. Throw in the possibility Zach Zenner may steal goal-line touches and the fact Detroit’s offensive line was dreadful in run-blocking last year (No. 30 per Player Profiler) and he’s not a recommended buy at his inflated top-60 price. Over 16 games, you’re looking at maybe 1,100 combined yards with 4-5 touchdowns.
Dalton – BUST. He’ll cede goal-line work to Zach Zenner and third-down work (and most of the team’s receptions out of the backfield) to Theo Riddick. So where’s the upside? We are talking about a back coming off a Lisfranc tear, which is about as serious of an injury as it gets. He’s totaled four touchdowns in his career and when he last played a full season, he was ranked No. 63 in fantasy points per opportunity (0.66). The Lions haven’t finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game since 1998! Averaging a rank of No. 27th in the NFL over that span. Abdullah is coming off a major injury, is stuck in a poor situation, and it remains to be seen if he’s even any good. I’ll pass.
Liz – BREAKOUT. I’ve been pounding the table for an @Ameerguapo bounce back since June. Owners whooped up ALL the noise (pun intended) for two straight years, and now they’re turning on their boy. That’s fine. They can have their recency bias and I’ll take the discount on an RB2.
Abdullah may have lost the fantasy community’s faith after underwhelming in back-to-back campaigns, but the Lions remain staunchly in support of their former second round pick. Management did zero to address the position during the draft, choosing to focus primarily on the defense. With little competition behind him, Abdullah figures to be prominently featured. In fact, the team’s website estimated a 200 carry season, which would come out to 12.5 rushing attempts per game. Totally believable considering he averaged 10.7 attempts per contest as a ROOKIE.
Back to health and showcasing impressive burst, Abdullah is Detroit’s “guy” (which RBs coach David Walker confirmed last week). He even received first-team reps (over “Doc” Zenner) at the goal-line a week ago. Sure, the offensive line is still in flux, but the additions of Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang should help. Abdullah’s athletic ability in tandem with his situation could earn him 1,200 combined yards and 9 total scores this season.
FILL IN THE BLANK. The one player you currently own the most shares of is _________.
Dalton – BRANDIN COOKS. I get there’s risk with any wide receiver switching teams, and the Patriots aren’t exactly predictable. Moreover, his speed lends itself best for turf, and it’s usually not the greatest idea to upgrade someone leaving the New Orleans offense. But Cooks has been given rave reviews so far, and joining New England could easily prove an upgrade (for as good as Drew Brees is, rarely have his receivers seen even 150 targets throughout his career, as he loves to spread the wealth). The Patriots traded a first-round pick for Cooks, who’s easily the team’s best (and only?) deep threat. Cooks finished with the sixth-most fantasy points per target (2.11) last year despite seeing a modest 11 in the red zone (he hauled in 10 of them). I’m grabbing him anytime he falls to me in round two.
Liz – JAY AJAYI. Picking from the 10-12 spot in twelve-team exercises, I’ve been hitting RB hard, nabbing Ajayi and Fournette seemingly back-to-back. My adoration for the rookie in Jacksonville is well documented, but slotting in Ajayi as my RB1 has me smiling bigger than FILA execs after checking Bey’s IG account.
Leading the league in yards-after-contact per attempt last season and managing the fourth most breakaway runs, Ajayi proved to be one of the most powerfully elusive players in the game. Averaging 4.9 YPC against a base front (56.5%) and 5.0 YPC when facing a light front (40.8%), Ajayi should continue to dominate with Jay Cutler under center.
Defenses will have to account for Cutty’s canon in tandem with downfield weapons Davante Parker and Kenny Stills, which should keep lanes relatively open for the team’s 6-foot-tall and 221 pound running back. Ranked inside my top-ten players at the position, Ajayi’s dual-threat ability, in tandem with the lack of depth on the roster, make him a no-brainer selection in the first round.
Brad – TYRELL WILLIAMS. The cold shoulder Williams has received is dumbfounding. With rookie Mike Williams already shelved for the year, the overlooked wideout is set to build on his breakthrough 2016 (69-1059-7, WR22). In that out-of-left-field campaign, he finished No. 8 in yards after catch, No. 11 in contested catch rate and No. 12 in red-zone receptions. Yes, Keenan Allen and his jelly knees are back in the mix and Hunter Henry’s presence is expected to grow, but Williams should entice 21-23 percent of the targets share. A more versatile version of his predecessor Malcom Floyd, he’s a bargain buy at his mid-80s ADP (86.7, WR41), a weapon who could easily match or exceed last year’s production. Based on the above info, I strongly feel I’ve rooked the competition by consistently grabbing him in Rounds 8-9.
Cleveland coaches have tossed out numerous superlatives to describe Duke Johnson’s summer performance. Assign a PERCENTAGE CHANCE the RB leads the NFL in receptions.
Liz – 5 PERCENT. It’s entirely certain that Johnson will exist as the Browns’ slot receiver, with Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt manning the outside. However, he’ll have to average more than 6.5 catches per contest for an entire sixteen-week season to top 104 grabs. For reference, similarly skilled Theo Riddick averaged 5.5 receptions per start last year. It’s not impossible, but Hue Jackson is also never going to put the ball in the air as frequently as Jim Bob Cooter.
A running backs specialist, Jackson has never been either the offensive coordinator or head coach of a team that closed out a season among the top-ten in terms of pass attempts. With uncertainty and youth under center, the Browns figure to be a run-first operation again in 2017. Johnson is likely to surpass his 61 catch floor, but I’d be shocked if he tops 70 receptions by winter’s end.
Brad – 17 PERCENT. David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are the odds on favorites to take the RB receptions crown, but Duke is in the Danny Woodhead-Bilal Powell-Christian McCaffrey-Theo Riddick tier of dark horses. He’s explosive, elusive and deceptively powerful, a player overshadowed by Isaiah Crowell. Not convinced? Gaze at his secondary profile from last year and a number of stats jump off the screen. He ranked top-five in breakaway run rate, yards after contact per touch and juke rate. If coaching staff claims he’s set for an increased role come to fruition and his opportunity share upticks from 35 to 40-45 percent, he has a true shot at 70 catches. Keep in mind Cleveland will face several negative game scripts once again. He likely won’t set the position pace, but he’s a much cheaper version of Woodhead (102.1 ADP vs. 64.8) capable of 1,000 combined yards with 3-5 TDs.
Dalton – 15 PERCENT. I’m guessing this means leading in receptions among running backs, because otherwise I’d give Johnson a less than one percent chance. He’s averaged 57 catches during his two years in the league, and it sure sounds like Cleveland plans on expanding his role in 2017. Isaiah Crowell is very solid, but the Browns are going to be playing from behind the vast majority of the time, and Johnson had just two drops on 74 targets last season. He also finished No. 2 in JUKE RATE among all backs in the league. So he definitely has a chance, but it’s tough to go much higher than 15 percent against the field.