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2017 Fantasy Football Outlook: AFC East

Starting the 2017 Divisional Outlook series looking at the AFC East. Here's what I expect from the top fantasy football options on the Bills, Dolphins, Jets & Patriots this year.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s your AFC East preview:

  • Tom Brady somehow will put together a better season at 39-years-old than he did in his 20’s and lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl.
  • The Dolphins will flirt with the playoffs until the playoffs decides that it’s best for both of them to start seeing other people.
  • Tyrod Taylor will be an above average starting quarterback yet somehow by December we’ll be hearing plenty of rumors that the Bills want to move on.
  • The Jets will try their best to “Suck for Sam” but will panic when Josh McCown leds them to a 3-3 record so they then turn everything over to Christian Hackenberg who shows us all why the Jets should never draft a quarterback ever.

Can you tell that I find the AFC East highly predictable?

While the final standings of the AFC East might be predictable and it may seem like the Patriots are the only good team in the division, the same can’t be said for fantasy football talent. Actually, the AFC East has quite a few fantasy relevant names that you should be paying attention to heading into your fantasy football drafts.

Here’s a look at the Bills, Dolphins, Jets & Patriots and the fantasy names they house. Plus, I give a sleeper and bust potential disappointment for each team. (Each player has their Top 200 ranking where applicable.)

Buffalo Bills

Fantasy Names: LeSean McCoy (9), Sammy Watkins (32), Tyrod Taylor (140), Jonathan Williams (170)
Sleeper: Zay Jones (141)
Disappointment: Charles Clay

There’s really nothing the Bills do better than run the football. They’ve led the NFL in rushing yards per game and finished second in rushing attempts the past two seasons. After a slight setback year in 2015—one in which he still managed to finish a top 20 RB—LeSean McCoy returned to fantasy dominance last year tailing 248.3 total points, good for third among fantasy backs this past year. I shouldn’t really need to hype up McCoy anymore than that.

However, I can use the space to hype up Jonathan Williams. I know I put him in the “fantasy stars” category but that’s only because I promised just one sleeper and I think Zay Jones has a bit more upside than Williams does. But that’s not to say Williams doesn’t have plenty of fantasy potential entering his second season. Last year’s second-string running back Mike Gillislee left for New England in free agency (more on that later) leaving 101 rushing attempts up for grabs. Williams looks to be the shoe in for the backup role and in the Bills’ run heavy offense, he’ll still be able to produce fantasy points. Gillislee managed to finish the season averaging 7.8 FPPG in standard leagues.

For as good as the Bill’s rushing attack has been, their passing attack has been equally as bad. Buffalo finished 31st in pass attempts in 2015 and 32nd in 2016. But Pete, how could you be so hyped up on Tyrod Taylor? you might ask yourself. To that I would respond with a) read this and b) because he somehow consistently produces fantasy points and is criminally underrated when it comes to ADP. The reason Taylor is ranked 140 in our Top 200 rankings is because I have him at 113 while Jonathan and Ghoji have him in the 150’s. Again, if you don’t know why I’m so hyped on Taylor, read this.

The passing attack has also been less than ideal because the Bills’ best receiver can’t manage to stay healthy. Sammy Watkins has fantasy dominance written all over him, we just have yet to bathe in it’s full glory due to injuries. The closest we got was in 2015 when despite playing only 13 games, Watkins managed to produce 159 total points, good for 16th best among fantasy receivers that year. Here’s to hoping that he can last a full season.

But if he can’t, all eyes turn to rookie wideout Zay Jones. I initially had Williams as my sleeper but I went with Jones because of Watkins’ injury history. There is a good chance that Watkins misses time this season and if he does, Jones will quickly become the go-to-guy to move the Bills offense through the air. Jones established himself in college as one of the most dangerous high-volume receivers—he set the single-season NCAA record for receptions with 158 last year—and that skill set will immediately translate into the NFL.

I put Charles Clay as my disappointment because while being a top-20 tight end with Tyrod Taylor at the helm these last two seasons—both years finishing 18th in total points scored—he has yet to show the dominance that he flashed back in 2013 and 2014 in Miami. Also, there are only so many touches to go around and I could easily see him being the weakest link. Goodbye.

Miami Dolphins

Fantasy Names: Jarvis Landry (41), Ryan Tannehill (153), Devante Parker (92), Kenny Stills (136)
Sleeper: Julius Thomas (194)
Disappointment: Jay Ajayi (17)

This is one of the reasons I changed “bust” to “potential disappointment”. Let me start by saying that I don’t think Jay Ajayi will have a cataclysmic fall from grace; I don’t see him pulling a Todd Gurley and becoming absolutely useless in every fantasy measure by Week 3. However, I’m not jumping over the moon to get him in any of my mock drafts. I know that he quickly worked his way into all of our hearts and rightfully beloved by anyone who somehow had the foresight to add him before he ripped off back-to-back 200 yard games. However, I’m not sold his breakout 2016 season is going to translate to 2017. For starters, per Warren Sharp, 23% of Ajayi’s rushing yards came on only seven runs. SEVEN. Meanwhile, 57% of his runs gained three yards or fewer. His ADP is currently above DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, Lamar Miller, Isaiah Crowell and Carlos Hyde. I could easily talk myself into taking any of these backs ahead of Ajayi.

That all being said, Adam Gase clearly wants to run the football as evidenced by Ryan Tannehill setting a career low in attempts per game last year (29.9). But before you jump off the Tannehill bandwagon (if that’s even a thing) the lack of attempts actually helped Tannehill in pretty much every other statistic. He set career highs in completion percentage (67.1%), touchdown rate (4.9%), yards per attempt (7.7) and quarterback rating (93.5). Tannehill doesn’t have any real fantasy relevance in my mind until he can bring his touchdown numbers up. Hopefully with the red zone additions to the team (coming next) his touchdown numbers will improve this year.

Here’s why I think Tannehill could see an increase in touchdowns this year: the emergence of Devante Parker and the addition of Julius Thomas. It’s taken some time for Parker to make an impact on the league but of you listen to the Dolphins hype team, clearly this will be the year he just goes ballzerko all over the NFL and hopefully fantasy football. He certainly has the size and physical gifts to be a dominant receiver in this league and if he’s shown flashes of having big play ability. His total targets almost doubled from his rookie season to last year and that trend I’m sure will continue as the Dolphins staff tries to see what they have in their third year receiver.

I understand when it comes to Julius Thomas he’s been something of a major disappointment since leaving the Broncos and joining the Jaguars. First off, that should really come as a surprise to no one as he was going from the most explosive and dangerous offense in NFL history to Blake Bortles. Not exactly apples to apples. Now he’s finally reunited with Gase who was the offensive coordinator in Denver when Thomas was scoring touchdowns every other catch. His inability to block will likely keep him off the field between the 20’s but I could see Gase turning to Thomas once they’re in the redzone to be Tannehill’s security blanket. All of Thomas’ fantasy value will be built upon his touchdown production but he’s currently being taken in the 13th round and that to me is perfect “take a flier on a guy” range.

Finally, let me conclude with Jarvis Landry because while things may be looking up for Parker and Thomas and possibly Kenny Stills—though I’m not sure he’s scoring nine touchdowns again this year—things don’t seem to be coming up Landry in Miami. For starters, it’s not a great sign when your team invests $8 million a year into a player at your position just before you reach a contract year. That doesn’t scream “Hey Landry we want you back” to me. On the actual field, Gase’s change from a pass happy offense to one that runs the football didn’t treat Landry well as his targets fell from 166 to 131. Landry’s best production has always come in PPR formats because he a) gets an insane number of targets and catches and b) he doesn’t score touchdowns. He’s only reached five receiving touchdowns once and that was his rookie year. His touchdown production doesn’t seem to be trending upwards either as Thomas was clearly brought into help that area of the field. I know I can only pick one disappointment but Landry could also be looking at a letdown year when it comes to fantasy production.

New England Patriots

Fantasy Names: Rob Gronkowski (22), Tom Brady (37), Julian Edelman (53), James White (115), Rex Burkhead (162), Dion Lewis (146), Malcolm Mitchell (198)
Sleeper: Mike Gillislee (56)
Disappointment: Brandin Cooks (36)

Shall we start with the almost 40-year-old quarterback who just orchestrated the greatest Super Bowl comeback ever AND has shown zero signs of regressing? I start with Tom Brady because there really isn’t that much to say about him. He finished third among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game with 21.5, just 0.2 points less than Drew Brees. Yes Brady only played 12 games last year but you really think he wouldn’t have kept up this level of production all year long? So Brady is a lock for being amazing this year.

Rob Gronkowski scares me simply because of injury. I’ve said this at many points during the offseason—most notably here—and don’t think I need to go into too much more detail regarding the tight end. If Gronk manages to stay healthy all year long, he’s worth a pick wherever you can get your hands on him. It’s up to you where his health risk is outweighed by his sheer fantasy domination.

After those two the Patriots’ fantasy options take a step back. Julian Edelman’s value comes from PPR since he catches a lot of balls but doesn’t score a lot of touchdowns. James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis are all pass catching backs that could make an impact in the passing game but there are only so many touches to go around sadly. Of those three, Lewis is the odd man out. Burkhead was a free agent signing and White was just signed to a multi-year deal after his record setting Super Bowl. Lewis is coming off of yet another season ending injury. I could be wrong, but I’m not wasting a pick on Lewis in any of my fantasy drafts.

Mike Gillislee on the other hand is completely worth drafting. I know I just kinda grazed over the Patriots’ backfield but there is plenty of opportunity for rushing attempts in New England. With LeGarrette Blount leaving in free agency to join the Eagles—LOVE that get by the way—the Patriots head into 2017 with 299 carries unaccounted for. That’s more than half their carries floating around in the netherworld waiting to be pulled back in. Gillislee is fully capable of taking over the workload and becoming the lead back in New England. He had 101 carries for 577 yards—an impressive 5.7 yards per carry—and 8 touchdowns last season. In fact, he was ranked as Football Outsiders’ number one running back per DVOA in 2016. Not bad. The best thing we can hope for is that Gillislee takes over the goal line duties that gave Blount 18 touchdowns last season. While I could see the Patriots calling upon a more “hot hand”/running back committee outside of the red zone, the red zone is often reserved for one running back and one running back who can get you three yards when you need one. Gillislee is that guy.

Finally, to the Patriots’ biggest offseason acquisition: Brandin Cooks. I don’t hate Cooks as a fantasy option and his ADP has gone down ever so slightly since being traded to New England. What I’m not sold on with him is that he’ll be able to produce at the same level as he did in New Orleans. The Patriots only lost 174 passing targets this offseason and while that may seem like a lot and a great hole for Cooks to step into—Cooks had 117 targets with the Saints last season—let’s remember that Gronk only had 38 targets last year. Thirty. Eight. (He also still managed to post 540 yards for 21.6 yards per catch and three touchdowns. Forget everything I said earlier, if Gronk is available, TAKE HIM!) For comparison in 2015 when Gronk played 15 games, he had 120 targets which would eat up most all of the remaining 174 targets. I foresee Cooks’ targets, catches, yards and touchdowns all taking a dip and bumping him out of elite WR1 range. I don’t think Cooks will be bad, but I do think he will disappoint those who believe he’s going to be 2007 Randy Moss. I also could easily look like an idiot come Week 5 when Cooks is lighting the NFL on fire and scoring 15 FPPG with ease. That’s the problem with predicting my friends.

New York Jets

Fantasy Names: Quincy Enunwa (96), Matt Forte (100), Robby Anderson (178), ArDarius Stewart (199)
Sleeper: Bilal Powell (69)
Disappointment: The Jets

Here is the only good thing that will come out of the 2017 Jets: The world will finally know that Bilal Powell is an excellent real-life and fantasy football running back. Powell has long played the backup role in New York and has done so extremely well. He has always offered value in PPR formats given his pass catching ability but recently he’s developed into a more complete back and that was on full display last year. Through the final four games of the season last year, Powell averaged 20.5 carries, 103 yards—good for five yards a carry—and averaged over five catches. From a purely fantasy standpoint, Powell finished 16th among WR (for whatever reason Pro Football Reference recorded him as a WR for the season) and 22nd among RB in total points. Also, Powell is currently going in the 6th round—freaking Mark Ingram is going above him—so he offers a TON of value in my book there. Plus, If he can continue the level of production he showed last year into this season, he’ll be prying the starting role away from Matt Forte’s old man grip in no time.

Speaking of old man Matt Forte, I was going to put him as my disappointment but then I decided not to because I wanted to make a joke. Totally worth it. Also I didn’t put him there because I’m not sure people have the highest hopes for him. He had a decent year as a Jet but he’s just not the same guy he once was which is totally understandable given his age and the fact that he’s on an awful team. But mainly the age thing.

The Jets do have some interesting options at receiver now that they’ve decided to go with the youth movement and cut Eric Decker (which, mind you, was the best thing that could have happened to him). And I say interesting very lightly. More like “oh yea, I guess they should get a blurb written about them” level of intrigue. And all this sass has nothing to do with the receivers themselves. Quincy Enunwa put together a decent fantasy season last year totaling 111 points good for 44th among receivers. He needs to work on his drops but his targets will surely see jump even from the jump he had last year. I also think Robby Anderson and ArDarius Stewart could position themselves as potential waiver wire targets. My sass comes from not trusting whatever trash can with a jug machine attached to it the Jets roll out at quarterback. Josh McCown has been a career backup and Christian Hackenberg has done a better job this offseason hitting reporters than his receivers. Doesn’t matter what receivers you have on the field, they tend to not produce when their quarterback can’t get them the ball. Just ask DeAndre Hopkins.

Too long; didn’t read recap of the Jets: Bilal Powell. That’s the only person you need to know.

Poll

Who do you think will be the best fantasy player to come out of the AFC East

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    LeSean McCoy
    (9 votes)
  • 6%
    Jay Ajayi
    (1 vote)
  • 20%
    Gronk
    (3 votes)
  • 6%
    Bilal Powell, I guess, if I’m picking a player from each team
    (1 vote)
  • 6%
    Other (leave your pick in the comments!)
    (1 vote)
15 votes total Vote Now