At this point of the NFL offseason, fantasy football rankings can be all over the place. Because training camp has yet to start, there are a lot of factors that remain to be determined. Many players’ roles are up in the air before they are defined later this summer in camp and the preseason. I’ve scoured Fantasy Pros‘ averages taken from various fantasy experts to find some players I think are undervalued considering where they are currently projected.
All of the preseason hype in the Colts backfield is surrounding newcomer Marlon Mack, but don’t make the mistake of forgetting about Turbin. Turbin was an underachieving journeyman before he got to Indianapolis, but his outstanding play and efficiency in 2016 earned him a new contract to stay with the team this offseason. 34-year-old Frank Gore is going to lose touches to both Turbin and Mack. Both are capable pass-catchers, and Turbin is one of the better pass-protecting running backs in the league. He was ultra-efficient in 2016, converting a first down or touchdown on 50.7% of his 73 touches. Expect to see this guy’s role expand beyond the short-yardage and goal line scenarios from last year.
Williams burst onto the scene to the tune of 69 catches for 1,059 yards (15.3 avg) and 7 touchdowns in 2016. The volume — especially the 120 targets — is a direct reflection of all of the Chargers’ injuries on offense. However, why would Williams fade away now after proving his worth? Philip Rivers obviously knows that he can count on the big 6-4 target. Plus, Williams can stretch the field. Don’t expect Allen’s return and the acquisition of Mike Williams to kill Tyrell Williams’ value. Allen still has to prove that he can stay healthy, and Mike Williams has to get on the field in general following his offseason back injury.
I had a good feeling about Thielen last year, and he turned out to be a stud for the Minnesota Vikings. He is still falling low in fantasy drafts, so I’ll have to keep reminding about him. Sam Bradford is the type of quarterback that is going to stick like glue to the players that he trusts, and the second half of 2016 proved that Thielen fits the bill. He had 51 targets in the final eight games, and he rounded out a solid stat line of 69 catches for 967 yards (14.0 avg) and 5 touchdowns. He is a polished receiver, able to run a diverse route tree as well as get separation from his defenders. Thielen is much more trustworthy than teammate Laquon Treadwell, who many people are warming up to.
Brown had an outstanding start to his career, totaling 113 catches for 1,699 yards (15.0 avg) and 12 touchdowns from 2014-’15. He had people comparing him to the likes of Marvin Harrison, actually. And then, 2016 happened. To put it lightly, he was dealing with some serious stuff. According to 98.7 FM in Arizona, Brown started out with hamstring issues, which led to blood tests that revealed sickle-cell trait. After that, a cyst was discovered on his spine. But now, by all accounts, Brown is back to himself, ready to build on the momentum he had in his first two years. He was a mid-round fantasy draft projection last summer. With his downfall last year, you can get him at a bargain this year.
Anytime you play with the New England Patriots, your stock rises. For Blount, he’s never better than when in Foxborough. In parts of four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers, Blount has averaged 122.8 carries for 551.3 yards and 3.8 touchdowns. However, in four years with the Pats, he averaged 169.3 carries for 729.3 yards and 8.5 touchdowns. He’s with the Philadelphia Eagles now, and at the age of 30, you’d assume it’s time to come down after his career year in 2016. While I don’t think there’s any way he touches what he did in 2016, he is Philadelphia’s best option at running back. Ryan Mathews is an injury waiting to happen. Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey aren’t full-time backs. Corey Clement is very “meh”. This RBBC approach will sort itself out, and Blount will come out on top.
Reports out of Baltimore Ravens OTA’s were that Joe Flacco’s passes were magnets into Woodhead’s hands. In the last three years, Woodhead has suffered season-ending injuries in the form of a broken leg (2014) and a torn ACL (2016). The silver lining in this is that his ACL tear happened very early in the 2016 season, meaning he is 10 months removed from any injury. He is back on the field with no restrictions. In Woodhead’s two most recent healthy seasons (2013 and 2015), he caught 156 total passes. He appears to be back on track with that in 2017, especially with Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon suspended for the first four games.
The only thing that kept Abdullah from breaking out in 2016 was a Lisfranc injury suffered at the beginning of the season. The elusive, multi-dimensional back now gets to run (and catch) behind a re-tooled offensive line that added T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner this offseason. An injury to starting left tackle Taylor Decker may cost him some regular season time, but is not expected to keep him out all year. Let’s put it this way — if Abdullah doesn’t break out this season, he might never.
Powell is ripe for a very productive season in New York. While fans of the Jets need to brace for an awful season for their team, fantasy owners considering Powell for their roster, prepare for the contrary. First is the fact that starter Matt Forte is declining and dealing with injury. He’s 31, it’s natural. The Jets began to funnel more and more touches to Powell in 2016, as he out-touched Forte 134-71 in the final half of the season. As aforementioned, Forte struggled with injury in that time, but at his age, the body doesn’t exactly improve. With nothing inspiring at quarterback for the Jets, the offense is going to be looking for some sort of productivity from its backfield. These types of struggling offenses embrace pass-catching running backs like Powell.
I expect Rivers to throw it all over the yard this fall. Between Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates, Rivers has a diverse, deep group of quality pass-catchers. Mix in the fact that he’s already a fearless gunslinger, and you get a recipe for a very productive fantasy season. Rivers has been a starter for 11 years, and he’s eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in eight of them. He’s had at least 25 touchdown passes in nine. With this being arguably his deepest supporting cast to date, Rivers has great value considering he is currently ranked QB15.
In the fantasy realm, although Stafford is a consistent performer year in and year out, there are always sexier options. It makes him an afterthought, but he always finishes among the top half of QB’s. Over the last six years, Stafford averages 4,705.5 total yards and 29.8 touchdowns. He does it with consistency — there aren’t huge outliers skewing these numbers. Drafting a QB like Stafford late allows you to build up your RB and WR crop first.
Jake Arthur is the Indianapolis Colts Team Manager, Director of Fantasy Football Content, Assistant Director of NFL Content and a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot. He is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @JakeArthurPFS on Twitter as well as on Facebook. Check out his other work HERE.