Fantasy Football: Recapping Wild Card Weekend winners and losers
Jamey Eisenberg gives you the winners and losers from Wild Card Weekend when it comes to the players and their 2018 Fantasy value.
Now that Wild Card Weekend is over, it's time to recap the games and see who helped or hurt their Fantasy value heading into the 2018 season. We'll do this every week through the Super Bowl.
And one player who remains stuck in the middle is Marcus Mariota, who was impressive in helping the Titans upset the Chiefs 22-21, but didn't do much to enhance his Fantasy value. He will still be a low-end No. 1 quarterback at best in 2018.
Mariota was 19 of 31 passing for 205 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and he ran for 46 yards on eight carries. One of his touchdown passes was to himself, which was the highlight play of the first round of the playoffs.
In the third quarter, with the Titans trailing 21-3, Mariota rolled to his left and appeared to target Corey Davis on a pass in the back of the end zone. The ball was deflected by Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis back to Mariota, who caught it and dove for the touchdown. Tennessee scored 19 unanswered points from there to win the game.
Forget about the receiving production since it was a fluke, and without the touchdown pass, Mariota had 199 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception and 46 rushing yards, which is good for 15 Fantasy points. He scored 15 points or fewer in seven games this past season and had 20 or more points just three times.
That kind of production is hard to trust as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, and Mariota will be just a late-round pick in the majority of leagues next season. So while the Titans were a winner in Wild Card Weekend, and Mariota had a major hand in making that happen, he still feels like a loser when it comes to his future Fantasy value.
Brees didn't have a great Fantasy season compared to his usual expectations, and he finished No. 6 among quarterbacks. He also had just eight games with at least 20 Fantasy points in 2017 and only three with at least 25 points -- with none above 30. But he scored 25 Fantasy points against the Panthers and showed he can still get the job done when needed, even at 38. We'll see how he does in the Divisional Round at Minnesota, and he scored just 17 Fantasy points against the Vikings on the road in Week 1. He's a free agent this offseason, but he's expected to return to the Saints. And despite being 39 next season, and New Orleans still expected to possess a dominant run game with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Brees will remain a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback in all leagues. He'll likely be a great value pick with a mid-round selection, and he still has the upside to be a top-five quarterback.
Newton was extremely inconsistent in 2017 despite being the No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. He had nine games with 16 Fantasy points or fewer and six games with at least 22 points, but he was impressive against the Saints. He had 28 Fantasy points in the playoff loss, and he looked back to his MVP form of 2015. Including the playoffs, Newton closed the season averaging 23.3 Fantasy points in his final four games, and that was the biggest stretch of the season when he had a healthy Greg Olsen. With Olsen, Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey and hopefully one more receiving threat, Newton can continue to improve in 2018. He remains a solid No. 1 quarterback in all leagues.
Gurley didn't have a great game by his standards against the Falcons, but he also did nothing to hurt his status as the No. 1 overall pick heading into 2018. I was actually impressed by his performance in a game where the Rams struggled on offense that he managed 111 total yards. Including the playoffs, Gurley had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in all but one game, which was Week 5 against Seattle. He closed the season with at least 100 rushing yards three games in a row, and he had at least three catches eight games in a row. Gurley burned us as one of the top picks in 2016 when he was bust. But what Gurley showed us in 2017 under coach Sean McVay, along with an improved offensive line and quarterback in Jared Goff, should give you confidence that he should be safe and highly productive again in 2018.
Henry had his best game in the NFL against the Chiefs, and he scored 24 Fantasy points in a standard league. He now has six games in his career, including the playoffs, with at least 14 carries, and he's scored double digits in Fantasy points in all of them, which has happened in two games in a row. DeMarco Murray (knee) was out for those two games, and we hope Murray has played his last game for the Titans. Henry deserves a featured role, and he would be a Fantasy star if that happens next season. We'll see what the Titans plan to do with Murray, who turns 30 in February and still has two years remaining on his contract, but if he returns to Tennessee it should be as a backup. Henry has the ability to be a No. 1 running back -- in Fantasy and reality -- and the Titans should make that happen.
McCoy, despite playing through an ankle injury, was the entire Buffalo offense against the Jaguars. He led the team in rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards and targets, and he didn't look anything like a 29-year-old running back. He also closed the season with at least 11 Fantasy points in a standard league, including the playoffs, in four of his final five games. The Bills will likely have a different look on offense in 2018, especially at quarterback, but McCoy should return as the starting running back, even at 30. He'll be a risky pick in the second round in the majority of leagues given his age and wear and tear, but he was one of just six running backs in 2017 with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 50 receptions, joining Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon and Mark Ingram.
McCaffrey must love facing the Saints because he has two games with at least six catches for 101 yards in three meetings, and he's scored two receiving touchdowns against them over that span. Now, we just have to hope McCaffrey has that kind of success against the rest of the NFL in 2018. He finished the 2017 season as the No. 14 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and he was third in receptions among running backs with 80, trailing only Bell and Kamara. His receiving totals were impressive with 651 yards and five touchdowns on 113 targets, which led all running backs, but he needs to improve as a rusher. He had 117 carries for 435 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Jonathan Stewart is likely to remain in Carolina, but hopefully he takes on more of a secondary role to McCaffrey. I plan to draft McCaffrey in the third round in standard leagues and the second round in PPR.
Thomas didn't get the headlines for the Saints in their victory against the Panthers, but he was arguably their second-best offensive player behind Brees. And he just continued his strong play to end the 2017 season, which should make him a first-round pick in 2018. Including the playoffs, Thomas has either 90 receiving yards or a touchdown in six of his final nine games. Some Fantasy owners consider his 2017 campaign a disappointment in standard leagues because he scored single digits in Fantasy points in six of his first eight games, but he made up for it with his strong finish. He was actually the No. 6 receiver in standard leagues with 104 catches for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns on 149 targets, and he was third in the NFL in receptions and sixth in targets. He's entering his third season in the NFL in 2018, and as long as Brees returns, Thomas should be the No. 4 receiver off the board in most leagues behind DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham. You can take Julio Jones, Mike Evans or even Davante Adams ahead of Thomas if you want, but I'm drafting him in the first round. He's only getting better, and a monster season is on the horizon in 2018.
Hill was the No. 5 Fantasy receiver in 2017 with 75 catches for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns on 105 targets during the regular season, and he also added 17 carries for 59 yards. Including the playoffs, he closed the season with at least 75 receiving yards or a touchdown in five games in a row. Things are expected to change for the Chiefs in 2018 at quarterback, with Patrick Mahomes likely taking over for Alex Smith, and that should enhance Hill's game with more downfield throws. Hill likely won't get drafted as a No. 1 Fantasy receiver in 2018, but he should be viewed as a high-end No. 2 option. He's worth drafting by Round 4 in all formats.
Woods established himself as the No. 1 receiver for the Rams this season, and he was excellent in the playoff loss against the Falcons. He led the Rams in targets, receptions and receiving yards against Atlanta, and he finished 2017 as the No. 25 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues with 56 catches for 781 yards and five touchdowns on 85 targets. Cooper Kupp was No. 22, but Woods missed three games with a shoulder injury and sat out Week 17 to rest for the playoffs. If you project Woods' stats over 16 games, he would have finished with 75 catches for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns, and hopefully that's the player who shows up in 2018. The Rams have to decide about bringing back Sammy Watkins as a free agent, but Woods and Kupp should be the top options in the passing game for Goff, along with Gurley. Woods will be an excellent mid-round pick next season.
Olsen had a lost season in 2017 because of a foot injury, and he was limited to just seven games. But he can still play when healthy. Including the playoffs, he had at least six targets in four games, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in two of them. I expect Olsen to be a great value pick in 2018 because he will be the No. 4 Fantasy tight end at best on Draft Day behind Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Olsen will be in a contract year, which should provide additional motivation, and he has a solid track record, which includes three seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards prior to 2017 and four seasons of at least 73 catches. He also has at least six touchdown catches in three of his past five years. If you're looking for a top three tight end that you can find after Round 4, plan to draft Olsen next season.
You know the story by now. Smith probably played his final game for the Chiefs in the playoff loss to the Titans since Kansas City is ready to turn the reins over to Mahomes in 2018. And that should happen despite Smith coming off a career year where he set new highs in passing yards (4,042) and passing touchdowns (26). The question now becomes where Smith ends up, and some potential landing spots could be Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville or Minnesota. Where he plays in 2018 will ultimately determine his Fantasy value, and he could end up as a winner. But no one is going to draft Smith as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback despite his production in 2017, and he finished the season as the No. 3 quarterback behind only Russell Wilson and Newton.
Ryan played well in helping the Falcons beat the Rams, but he once again had a mediocre Fantasy performance with just 14 points. Including the playoffs, he now has just two games this year with more than 20 Fantasy points, with a high of 22 in Week 9. He finished the season as the No. 15 Fantasy quarterback, and he will open next year as a No. 2 quarterback in the majority of leagues on Draft Day. There's still plenty of bounce-back potential for Ryan, who was the No. 2 quarterback in 2016, and he will likely be a great value pick in 2018 with a late-round selection. But he has not been a good Fantasy quarterback in 2017, and we'll see how he finishes in the playoffs now that Atlanta has advanced to the divisional round at Philadelphia this week.
Bortles joined Otto Graham and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win a playoff game with more rushing yards than passing yards. Even Tim Tebow avoided that distinction when he helped the Broncos beat the Steelers in 2011. Bortles had shown some promise as a Fantasy quarterback to close the season when he scored at least 22 points in five of his past seven games, including the playoffs, but he's way too inconsistent to trust -- in Fantasy and reality. We'll see what happens with the Jaguars in the playoffs, and they travel to Pittsburgh for the divisional round this week. But Jacksonville will have to replace Bortles if the team wants to be a legitimate Super Bowl threat, and Bortles might not be the starter in 2018. Even if he is, he's still just a low-end No. 2 Fantasy quarterback on Draft Day.
Taylor's tenure as the starter for the Bills might have ended with a head injury in the playoff loss to the Jaguars. He was slammed to the ground late in the fourth quarter, and Nathan Peterman finished the game for Buffalo. The Bills are likely going to replace Taylor as their starter, and we'll see where he ends up in 2018. He can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and it would be nice to see him play with a quality receiving corps. His best receiver during his time with Buffalo was Sammy Watkins, and this year he dealt with Kelvin Benjamin, Deonte Thompson, Zay Jones and Charles Clay as his best weapons, along with McCoy out of the backfield. We'll see where Taylor lands this offseason, but he likely won't be drafted in the majority of Fantasy leagues.
Ingram will be a standout Fantasy running back in 2018, assuming he remains with the Saints. And he will be worth drafting in the second round in standard leagues and no later than Round 3 in PPR. But he should lose work to Kamara next season, and the game against the Panthers was the first time since New Orleans traded Adrian Peterson prior to Week 6 that Kamara had more carries than Ingram. That could prove troublesome in 2018, especially if Kamara continues to improve as expected. Now, it's not like Kamara was great against Carolina since he had just 10 carries for 23 yards and one catch for 10 yards on three targets, but Kamara is more explosive than Ingram. Don't be surprised if Ingram starts to decline next year the more the Saints start giving the ball to Kamara.
Stewart had another mediocre year in 2017, and he ended the season with a mediocre performance against the Saints. For the season, Stewart had four games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, and he finished the year with 198 carries for 680 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and six touchdowns and eight catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. Most Fantasy owners, myself included, would like to see McCaffrey be the lead running back for the Panthers, and Stewart should be in the background as the backup. Stewart is expected to return to Carolina in 2018, but he should only be drafted with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues.
Watkins is a free agent this offseason, so we have to see where he ends up. His one-year experiment with the Rams was not good, and he was clearly the No. 3 receiver behind Woods and Kupp. He could return to the Rams, which would keep him in the same role, and he finished 2017 with 39 catches for 593 yards and eight touchdowns on 70 targets. Watkins only had four games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, and he was a complete disappointment given how explosive the Los Angeles offense was this past year. Watkins will be a mid-round selection at best in 2018 depending on where he plays.
Matthews has proven to be serviceable as the No. 1 receiver for the Titans over the past two years, but there has to be a change in 2018 with Corey Davis taking over that role. Matthews was behind Davis (seven targets) and Eric Decker (five) for targets against the Chiefs, and he should struggle to lead Tennessee in targets in 2018, especially if Delanie Walker is back. I do think Matthews will be a good value pick in the later rounds next season since he could be a spot starter in Fantasy, but he should take a back seat to Davis for the Titans in his sophomore year.
The Jaguars receivers were messy against the Bills with Marqise Lee healthy after being out the final two games with an ankle injury, and Lee, Allen Hurns and Keelan Cole combined for no catches against Buffalo, with all three having one target each. This could be a problem heading into next season depending on what Jacksonville does with Lee, who is a free agent, and Allen Robinson, who is also a free agent and coming off a torn ACL. There is a lot of upside for Westbrook and Cole, and hopefully they get featured opportunities in 2018, as well as a potential upgrade at quarterback. But if Robinson and Lee return, that upside is capped, so it's a situation to monitor this offseason.
Benjamin did not play well after joining the Bills in a trade from the Panthers. He was dealing with a knee injury for the second half of the year, but he had no games with double digits in Fantasy points in standard leagues with Buffalo. He's expected to return to Buffalo in 2018, and he will likely be the No. 1 receiver barring a complete overhaul of the position. Benjamin also will have a new quarterback with Taylor not expected to return. We'll see what happens with Buffalo's offense this offseason, but Benjamin should only be drafted with a mid-round pick at best in the majority of leagues.
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