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2016 Fantasy Football Outlooks: AFC East Edition

The next quartet of teams in my Divisional Outlook Series reside in the AFC East. Here's what I expect from the top fantasy football options on the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, & Patriots heading into the 2016 season.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski enters 2016 as the most valuable fantasy option from the AFC East.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski enters 2016 as the most valuable fantasy option from the AFC East.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots, once again, find themselves entering a new season as the reigning AFC East champs.  After another impressive year en route to 12-4 record, the Pats have won this division for a whopping seven years in a row and twelve out of the past thirteen seasons - a truly remarkable feat.  Although New England has dominated the AFC East for years, head-to-head matchups between these divisional rivals are typically competitive, hard-fought games.  With a 10-6 record, the Jets did all they could to earn a playoff birth in 2015, but ultimately fell short in the last week of the regular season with a heartbreaking loss to Rex Ryan's Bills.  Buffalo dealt with a few key injuries on offense throughout the year, and finished 8-8.  Seemingly unable to take the annually-anticipated step in the right direction, the Dolphins could only pull together a 6-10 season while giving up the most points in the division and scoring the least.  That being said, even if the Pats run the division for another year, the AFC East, collectively, still has multiple fantasy football assets for the 2016 season.

*This particular series of articles is intended to break down every NFL team's 2016 offensive playmakers and discuss what impact they'll have on the wonderful world of Fantasy Football.  In each divisional write-up, I predict player outlooks for the upcoming season by separating each team's offense into two parts:  Passing Game + Running Game.  I'll update each divisional article as news and reports surface, so don't forget to check back regularly.*

Buffalo Bills

Passing game:

In his first NFL season as a starter, Tyrod Taylor proceeded to rack up 3035 passing yards with a clean 20:6 TD to INT ratio, along with 568 yards and 4 scores on the ground.  A sixth round pick in 2011, Tyrod finished as the 16th-best QB in standard fantasy leagues while missing a pair of games during the middle of the season.  At first glance, he's a an above-average mobile quarterback who is oftentimes classified as a mid-range QB2 for 2016.  But a closer look at his statistics tell a different narrative: Had Taylor not missed two contests, his 16-game pace would have placed him as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback of '16, one spot ahead of Drew Brees.  In a Bills offense that features Taylor's strengths by utilizing a run-heavy scheme to generate play action opportunities, it looks as if he should be able to post borderline QB1 statistics in 2016, and I'd be fine with grabbing him in double-digit rounds as my usual starter.

Of course, having a full slate of weapons in the passing game would surely help his chances of success.  After tallying 1047 receiving yards and 9 TDs in just 13 games, third year wideout Sammy Watkins will look to take another step towards becoming a dominant No. 1 receiver in the NFL.  However, a broken foot suffered early this offseason does not bode well for the speedy Clemson product, as this type of injury, which required a screw to be inserted, has oftentimes given star wideouts plenty of recovery setbacks (Dez, Julio, Edelman).  After ending 2015 on a hot streak, the injury news has certainly thrown a bit of cold water on the Bills' top WR, but Watkins says he plans to be back before (or during) training camp, claiming that his ultimate goal is to be 100% by Week 1.  Fantasy owners must closely monitor his recovery as the offseason rolls on, but if he's all systems go for opening week, Sammy should be drafted as a high-upside WR2 in fantasy.

In an offense that ranked 31st in pass attempts last season, Buffalo's secondary receiving options aren't the most attractive for fantasy purposes.  Robert Woods has been sturdy, yet unspectacular, during his three seasons in Buffalo.  A possession receiver best suited as a team's No. 2 or 3 option, Woods hasn't been able to eclipse 700 yards or 5 TDs since he entered the league.  On this run-heavy offense that will donate most of its targets to a soon-to-be healthy Watkins, Woods probably isn't worth stashing on your bench unless you play in a deep league.  Behind him, wideouts Greg Salas and Leonard Hankerson will likely be competing for the team's third WR spot, while an intriguingly large Dezmin Lewis has made some good impressions on his coaches this offseason.  But again, in Greg Roman's run-first scheme, there's a microscopic chance that any of these receivers make a fantasy impact in 2016.

Tight end Charles Clay underwhelmed in '15 after signing a fat contract in the offseason that sent him from Miami to Buffalo.  Clay has dealt with chronic knee issues for a while now, and was unable to finish last season due to a late-season back injury.  However, heading into this season, a healthy Clay should be able to develop more chemistry with Tyrod Taylor.  I'm expecting a low-end TE2 who would be more useful if Sammy Watkins were to miss time due to injury.

Running game:

In contrast to their passing game volume, the Bills ran the ball 509 times last season, good for second-most in the NFL.  LeSean McCoy, when healthy, was receiving 20+ touches per game in a workhorse role.  He was limited to 12 games before a late knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season, but averaged 98.9 yards from scrimmage when he was on the field.  A handful of injuries to his lower body definitely plant some red flags around Shady's draft stock, but he has shown no serious signs of decline and should remain Buffalo's centerpiece on offense.  Only 28 years old when the 2016 season kicks off, McCoy is still young and elusive enough to remain a borderline RB1 in fantasy football, albeit a riskier one.

His backup, Karlos Williams, averaged a very healthy 5.6 YPC in his rookie season.  Recently hit with a four-game suspension, this size-speed hybrid (6'1", 230 lbs + 4.48 dash) will have to sit on fantasy benches until his sentence is served.  This comes after multiple news blurbs about weight and conditioning problems.  Clearly, Williams has to put some serious work in before returning as McCoy's primary change-of-pace option.  If he can get into shape, he's still worth a late-round, and would likely slide into his old role as McCoy's handcuff - a valuable asset for fantasy owners.

As it stands now, rookie Jonathan Williams will not be suspended (this season) by the league for his recent DWI incident.  With Karlos Williams out until at least Week 5, he'll be battling Mike Gillislee for the No. 2 job to start the season.  After averaging 8.0 YPC in three of his five games last year, albeit in limited fashion, Gillislee figures to have the upper hand in this competition.  He's the Bills RB to draft if you want a handcuff in the early stages of the 2016 season.

Miami Dolphins

Passing game:

Now entering his fifth season in the NFL, expectations have never been higher for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.  It would be fair to say that the Texas A&M product has made slight improvements every year since being drafted 2012, but Tannehill hasn't exactly blossomed into a high-end starting quarterback yet.  After grading out as PFF's 18th-best overall QB in 2015, he'll now be experiencing his third different offensive coordinator in the past four seasons.  His newest scheme will be under HC Adam Gase, who has managed to extract above-average seasons from his QBs in recent years.  Not to mention he'll have the best set of pass catchers in his young NFL career in 2016, giving him a legitimate chance to finally take a noticeable step in 2016.  He's a mid-range QB2 that possesses back-end QB1 upside if a receiving group led by Landry and Parker can step up and consistently contribute.

Jarvis Landry has already exceeded early career expectations after a 1159 yard sophomore season that saw him reel in 111 catches, good for fourth-most in the NFL.  His 4 receiving TDs were a bit underwhelming, but Landry also sprinkled on 111 rushing yards and another score, en route to a top-15 standard format fantasy finish in 2016.  With plenty of young targets in Miami's plans this season, don't be surprised if Landry's reception total were to decrease, but his yardage could be matched and his TD total should rise.  A much more valuable PPR player, Landry will still be Tannehill's most trustworthy option in the passing game, but I'm looking for his high-end WR2 numbers to drop down into the low-end WR range in 2016.

A big (6'3", 218 lbs to be exact) reason that I believe Landry's numbers will decline this year is the hopeful emergence of second-year wideout DeVante Parker.  After battling a broken foot during the early weeks of 2015, Parker came on strong for the Dolphins down the stretch, grabbing 3 TDs and averaging 74 yards per contest over the final six weeks of the season.  Selected in the top half of the first round during last year's NFL draft, Parker obviously still has very lofty expectations in Miami.  If his health can cooperate for a full season, I think Parker could very well approach similar production to the aforementioned Jarvis Landry in 2016, but his high ceiling comes with a much lower floor.

After two solid seasons in New Orleans, Kenny Stills recorded a career-low 440 yards in his first year as a Dolphin.  He'll be looking to rebound in 2016, but will surely have some competition this offseason.  Although Adam Gase says he wants Stills more involved this season, my money is on rookie Leonte Carroo to win the No. 3 wideout job by the end of the season.  One of my favorite players to watch in college, Carroo doesn't have an imposing frame, but he consistently beats defenders with his physicality and ball skills.  While he probably doesn't have what it takes to unseat Landry or Parker for a starting WR role, it wouldn't be surprising to see Carroo make a fair share of big plays in '16 as Miami's possible third receiver.

Jordan Cameron was a major bust in 2015, but could definitely bounce back this season with a new offensive coaching staff.  He was a playmaker on the Browns before his first year in South Beach.  Currently being selected as the 21st TE in fantasy drafts this summer, there is a solid chance he outplays his low-end TE2 ADP, but he simply can't be trusted until he proves he has earned a role.

Running game:

After many speculated about Arian Foster landing in South Beach, that's just what happened late in July.  Claiming that he's back to his all-pro form, the Texans' leading rusher in team history finds himself as the veteran presence for Miami.  Foster wasn't very effective in limited action last season before tearing his achilles tendon, but even if his rushing struggles were to carry over into 2016,  he'll probably do most of his damage as a receiver.  Assuming he can even remotely resemble the version of himself from just a few seasons ago, the Dolphins would be foolish not to give him double digit touches per game.  Foster will surely return solid value in PPR leagues if healthy, but I like him as a borderline RB3 even in standard leagues, but his sharply rising ADP (now in the 50s) is a bit too rich for my taste.

Although Jay Ajayi was reportedly sharpening his receiving skills this summer in hopes of a three-down role, the arrival of Arian Foster should make the fantasy community pump the brakes.  Now, "J-Train" will have to do his work primarily as a tough-nosed grinder, as opposed to an all-purpose type of runner.  A young RB with similar metrics and running style to Chris Ivory, Jay Ajayi should handle plenty of early downs for Miami despite the recent signing.  After being talked up for the majority of the offseason, it would be downright shocking to see Foster run away with the job and deprive Ajayi of a steady workload.  He's still the favorite to "start" in Miami, but that so-called label isn't enough for me to draft him as anything more than an RB4 option, well behind Foster.  Ajayi's mid-90s ADP is roughly 40 spots lower than Foster, and he might be the superior draft selection in terms of "bang for your buck".

Alabama's Kenyan Drake was expected to operate as Ajayi's primary backup in 2016 after being selected in the fifth round of this year's draft, but things are different after adding Foster to the roster.  A talented rotational back in college, Drake enters his rookie season in what is now a relatively crowded backfield, with two running backs firmly ahead of him on the depth chart.  Kenyan Drake should have an occasional presence in the passing game and may also contribute on special teams, but he'll have trouble consistently finding his way onto the field with Foster and Ajayi doing most of the heavy lifting.

New York Jets

Passing game:

One of the biggest question marks in the entire NFL is who will be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets in Week 1.  It isn't common that an 11-year journeyman on his sixth professional team has a career-best season, but that's just what Ryan Fitzpatrick did in 2015.  Now entering his 12th season at age 33, Fitzmagic finally ended a long-running contract stalemate with the Jets earlier this offseason.  After throwing for a career-best 3905 yards and 31 TDs, anyone invested in Gang Green, whether they're fantasy owners or Jets fans, surely hope that Fitzpatrick can once again produce at a high level in 2016.  At the very least, Fitz offers QB2 value with a nice set of weapons in the passing game.  Like last year, he could find himself in the QB1 streaming discussion with favorable matchups.

Brandon Marshall has been a sturdy No. 1 wideout in the league for a decade now, and he's fresh off a monster 2015 campaign where he posted a dominant 109-1502-14 stat line.  In his 10-year NFL career, Marshall has gone over 1000 yards receiving in 8 seasons - his rookie year and an injury-riddled '14 season are the only exceptions.  Now 32 years old, Marshall probably doesn't have too many imposing seasons left in the tank, but after last year's display, I'm willing to bet he's got another one or two up his sleeve.  After a top-3 fantasy finish in standard leagues in 2015, B-Marsh will likely regress this season, but he would still provide borderline WR1 numbers now that his trusty signal-caller is back for Week 1.  He's a quality third-round selection in standard leagues.

If Marshall was Batman last season, Eric Decker was Robin, serving as a reliable sidekick to say the least.  Decker himself had quite the stats in '15, putting up 1027 yards and an impressive 12 TDs as the Jets' No. 2 option through the air, and was able to post 80+ yards and/or a touchdown in every game he played in.  The TD total will likely be a tough task to repeat, but the yardage and receptions (80) shouldn't be out of reach this season.  Decker was a perfect fit for Chan Gailey's spread offense, and he should be a safe, back-end WR2 in 2016.

Third-year wideout Quincy Enunwa would be the main beneficiary if Marshall or Decker were to get injured in 2016, but he still isn't worth a draft pick aside from very deep leagues.  Fitzpatrick has recently said that Enunwa will be a big part of New York's offense this season, but I'll believe it when I see it.  The Jets' 2015 second round pick, Devin Smith, had a miserable rookie season before tearing his ACL in December.  Now, Smith is unsure when he'll be back to 100%, giving fantasy owners no reason to draft the OSU product until further notice.

Tight end Jace Amaro enters what seems to be a make-or-break season after missing all of 2015.  The third-year TE wasn't drafted by the current Jets regime, and might have trouble finishing as a low-end TE2 option this season even if everything breaks right.  He's not worth drafting in most fantasy leagues, but a strong preseason could vault him into late-round consideration.

Running game:

After Chris Ivory "jetted" to Jacksonville, New York found a formidable replacement in veteran running back Matt Forte, formerly of the Bears.  Despite missing three games in the middle of the season, Forte finished as a top-10 fantasy RB in standard formats.  As a true workhorse in Chicago, Forte will probably see his touches decrease in New York, but he can still be an asset in fantasy football, especially in PPR leagues.  There are already rumors of him seeing snaps out of the slot in the Jets' spread attack, and he's told reporters in NY that the coaches view him as an every-down back.  Forte will turn 31 before the '16 season ends, but the Jets will feed him plenty of touches for as long as he stays upright and should spell him quite often to preserve his health.  He's a mid-range RB2 in my eyes.

Bilal Powell doesn't pose a major threat to Forte's workload, but he'll definitely get their touches in 2016...  Powell was just re-signed this offseason after an effective complimentary role in '15, and will steal some targets in the passing game.  He may even have decent standalone value as an RB4/5 if the Jets are serious about getting him the ball, like they say they are.

Khiry Robinson, an ex-Saint who has 7 TDs in his last seventeen healthy contests, was recently activated from the PUP list.  Robinson could theoretically hog a few touches around the goal line, but Powell is the No. 2 RB to own on the Jets.

New England Patriots

Passing game:

After avoiding a 4-game suspension last season, Tom Brady will have to bite the bullet in 2016 and serve his sentence to begin the year.  This obviously means his draft stock in fantasy football will suffer the consequences, but once he's back on the field, Brady jumps right into no-brainer QB1 territory.  Although Tom has an ADP of QB7, that doesn't reflect his probable performance on a week-to-week basis.  If you pick a solid stand-in QB for the first four games of your fantasy season, grabbing Brady late should work out just fine.  Unless he turns in a stellar performance in Week 1 or 2, Jimmy Garappolo won't be a feasible fantasy option during his four-game fill-in.

Julian Edelman was having a splendid '15 campaign before breaking his foot in Week 10.  As you may know, the dreaded foot fracture for wideouts can be a recurring issue, and Edelman went under the knife for the second time earlier this offseason.  He's expected to be back well before the start of the season, but this is a very concerning injury with possible setbacks - just ask Dez Bryant.  When healthy, Edelman is a solid WR2 for fantasy purposes.  Draft the Pats' top wideout accordingly, but if taking a slight risk isn't your thing, you may want to steer clear.

Danny Amendola is coming off an offseason of surgery as well, undergoing procedures for both his knee and ankle.  The good news is that he's expected to be ready for Week 1.  The bad news is, going on 31 years old, Amendola doesn't offer too much upside for fantasy football unless something were to happen to Edelman.  A younger NE wideout I'd prefer is newly-signed Chris Hogan, a sure-handed option coming over from the Bills.  Hogan has the size to play inside and outside for the Pats, and has supposedly generated some buzz this offseason.  He's a quality sleeper in Brady's methodical offense.

Though it seems unlikely that he makes much noise as a rookie, WR Malcom Mitchell out of Georgia has received praise from Patriot beat writers after quickly learning New England's complex offense.  By doing so, he could find himself in a great spot to succeed if/when a starting receiver gets injured.  Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, and annual disappointment Aaron Dobson will also fight for relevancy as well.

A notorious offseason party animal, Rob Gronkowski enters yet another fantasy season as the unquestioned favorite at tight end.  Following his major knee injury in 2013, Gronk has returned to elite production the past two seasons, averaging 1150 yards and 11.5 TDs while only missing one game each year.  If healthy for an entire season, Gronk could easily push for 1200 + 12 TDs once again in 2016.  He's the only player at his position worth considering in the first two rounds.  Although the Brady suspension doesn't help, I don't think Gronk will suffer too badly for the first four games with Garappolo at the helm.  After all, if you were quarterbacking a team with the gargantuan Gronkowski running routes, who would your go-to target be?

It's been a few years since New England has fielded two starter-worthy fantasy TEs.  Gronk and first-degree murderer Aaron Hernandez were a powerful pair of tight ends for the Patriots during their early years, but now Martellus Bennett should step in and be a serviceable option for fantasy owners.  Many thought Scott Chandler could emerge as a legit threat alongside Gronk in 2015, but that never came to fruition.  The more talented Bennett should have a much better chance to carry standalone value in New England, as the Pats will use plenty of two-TE formations on offense.  Currently being drafted as the 14th fantasy tight end, Marty B has low-end TE1 upside even with a healthy Gronkowski.

Running game:

In a backfield that changes for virtually every situation, there aren't many running backs that have carved out consistent roles for the Patriots.  One RB that might change that trend is the slippery Pitt product, Dion Lewis.  After bouncing around the league and dealing with injuries, Lewis finally got his chance to shine in 2015, and he didn't disappoint.  In his six healthy weeks, Lewis averaged 94.8 yards from scrimmage and accounted for 4 TDs.  If you take those averages and assume he plays a full 16-games, Dion would've been on pace for a ridiculous 1517 scrimmage yards and 10.7 touchdowns.  Those stats equate to 215.9 fantasy points in standard leagues, ranking him as the RB3 overall in a tier with Freeman and Peterson.  While those numbers will be nearly impossible to extrapolate, especially coming off a torn ACL, the Pats clearly have high hopes for Lewis after signing him to a three-year deal during the '15 season.  He currently comes with a reasonable RB19 ADP.  Check out this catch and run against the Cowboys last season (among other highlights) to see the incredibly elusive maneuvers that make Lewis a perfect fit in NE.

All of that praise for Lewis, and there's still more Patriot RBs to discuss.  LeGarrette Blount was brought back on a one-year deal this offseason after a hip injury ended his 2015 season in December.  A veteran running back that has earned the trust of the Patriots coaching staff, Blount will likely have a handful of quality fantasy performances, but predicting when they'll occur is the hard part.  He'll be invisible in the passing game, but if healthy, he could be a standard format low-end RB3 in select matchups.  He's a bargain at his RB42 price tag.


Like what you read?  Drop any comments or questions below, and be sure to check out my positional rankings plus other divisional outlooks for the upcoming fantasy football season!