Fantasy Players to Watch for 2016

It's getting to be that time of year again when everyone drafts their fantasy teams for 2016. Every season has unique circumstances, each coach his tendencies, and each player his ups and downs. The trick is putting all that in a blender & coming up with a winning draft strategy before anything happens. They're basically mock drafts of productive players...that's what it boils down to.

Each season has its over-rated players (Steelers' RBs this season, for example), under-rated players, over-hyped players, and Rookie Reaches. Yes, I recall when rookie RB Ryan Matthews was taken in the middle of the first round, like Ezekiel Elliott will likely go this year. 

For this piece I haven't a set number to spew out for you. It's as much a snapshot of what's in my mind right now; besides, you'll have about another month before you likely draft & things change, but you need to start getting an idea about the strategy you're planning on using right now.

Also, when I say "C3FF value draft spot," that's where you should begin to think about drafting the player if you're seeking a value pick as opposed to a need pick. It's a 14-team half-PPR league for those needing a point of reference.

Rising Fantasy Studs

David Johnson, RB, ARI -- By draft day,  this guy won't be anybody's secret, and in some leagues he might even be the top pick overall if it's a full-PPR league especially. The Cardinals' offense has all the shiny insides of a well-running Pachinko machine and Bruce Arians likes to go with One Guy in the backfield. Last season, David outgrew the older Johnson (can I say that without getting fined by the FCC?) and showed us he has all the tools to do damage up the middle, around the corner, and through the air. Sign him.  

C3FF value draft spot -- middle of rd one.

Tevin Coleman, RB, ATL -- Coleman got injured last season and Devonta Freeman took his place, started out on fire, and had a great fantasy year all around. However, that won't stop Coleman from returning and probably grabbing most of the carries back. Coleman's simply a superior back to Freeman and should see increasing playing time during the year sooner rather than later. The good thing is Coleman's gonna be a good bit under-the-radar due to Freeman's success last season in his backup role. Fantasy owners will likely be split on which back they want & uninformed owners will take Freeman over Coleman when the opposite is more likely the way to go.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 4th round

Matt Jones, RB, WAS -- Jones is the explosive game-changer that Alfred Morris never was. Alfred was a good, steady 3 yards & a cloud of dust guy, but Jones is going to take over the job with the Redskins' share of carries more or less by default. He had an up & down season last year, but flashed enough for the brass to hand him the keys to the backfield.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 2nd round

Donte Moncrief, WR, IND -- The young Colt is already one of the games top-ten slot WRs and with Neckbeard's horrid season last year, everyone's production looks to increase for 2016. BTW, am I not the only one who thinks "it's Rigged" (h/t The Donald) when a guy with the last name of "Luck" winds up on a team with a horseshoe on the helmet? At any rate, the Colts' O-line couldn't be worse than last year's and they've taken steps to address it. Moncrief should be once again a thousand-yard receiver who can hit home runs. Also, since he's now a veteran, there won't be any learning curves involved.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 5th rd

Duke Johnson, RB, CLE -- Duke caught over 60 passes as a rookie and nobody ever gives Cleveland's offense ANY respect. Remember the year Josh Gordon had consecutive 200-yd receiving games? I got him in the 10th round. While I doubt many will sneak up on the NFL's fantasy owners quite like that this season, Cleveland is a team that most owners will continue to ignore. Duke should be the exception, since TE Gary Barnidge is no longer a secret. Duke's receiving will help in half-PPR league scoring like the C3FF rules have.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 2nd round

Last year's top two NFL draft picks -- Both the Tampa Bay QB and Tennessee QB should see similar year-end fantasy numbers but for different reasons. Tampa Bay's offense likely will be more explosive overall, giving Winston the edge in the raw passing stats, but Mariota will likely throw fewer picks and will make up any fantasy point shortfall with his legs.

C3FF value draft spot(s) -- 8th round for either

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL -- Zeke is The Rookie to draft in 2016. Not since 1977 & picking a rookie named Tony Dorsett has everything lined up so well for a rookie RB, whether in Dallas or otherwise. He plays the right position to make a huge fantasy impact as a rookie. He has the best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL to run behind. Dez Bryant and Tony Romo will be healthy in the passing game. You couldn't slide into a better position on your first day at your new job in ANY field...not just the Gridiron. The 'Boys went 12-4 when they had a healthy DeMarco Murray and ran, ran, part to protect a shaky D and a QB with an aching back. I see a return to a similar attack by Jason Garrett for 2016 as they return to playing to their strength while protecting an aging (36) Tony Romo.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 1st round

Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA -- Lockett broke out last year as Russell Wilson's favorite target, despite having spent for TE Jimmy Graham. Lockett just sees to fit the system a lot better and is extremely explosive. Combine that with Wilson's magic deep-ball touch and you've got a good recipe for some huge FP posts from Lockett again in 2016. Beast Mode in the backfield retired but the running game didn't miss a beat when 2016's starter, Thomas Rawls, stepped in. The biggest question on this team is their horrible offensive line...none of the 5 projected starters actually started at their projected starting positions for 2016 in the past if memory serves. Suffice it to say, Wilson's mobility might be his biggest asset and the line is what will put a cap on offensive production by any Seahawks player because we know their defense sets the tone.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 5th round

Producers not on the Radar

DeAndre Washington, RB, Raiders -- Washington is overshadowed by Latavius Murray in Oakland, but they are (or already have) built one of the most dynamic young teams in the NFL. With Murray getting all the press, Washington should be a good spot-starter and depth at the RB spot. He can chew up yardage with few touches. With Murray in a contract year, I'd think the Raiders would want to keep a rough cap on his numbers anyway. He is a rookie, so he should be watched as camp & the pre-season progresses.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 9th round

Travis Benjamin, WR, CLE -- Do you faithful readers know that Benjamin led the NFL's WRs in fantasy points through about the 6th game of the year last year? That's from memory so I may be off a week or two, but he was up there for a while then faded along with the rest of the team. While Duke Johnson gets his FP from the backfield, Benjamin should from the outside.

C3FF value draft spot -- middle of 6th round

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, TEN -- This huge physical freak (a Megatronesque 6'5 237 lbs) was an early pick last year but injured & didn't play. He's as big a boom-or-bust candidate as there is, but his upside is nearly unlimited since the Titans have a young gun QB, an accomplished RB with a massive rookie in Derrick Henry backing up DeMarco Murray, but no real threats at WR. That should change with a healthy "DGB" playing. Remember, he's had a year to absorb the NFL so when he does take the field, he shouldn't be starting from square one. With his sky-high upside, however, someone will take a chance on him. He wasn't productive last year but should really be so this year if healthy.

C3FF value draft spot -- end of 5th round

Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI -- A supposed WR1 without the stats but the paycheck? Uh-uh. While he's as big & strong as they come, with vice-grip hands, the facts are that the Bears' offense isn't settled with Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett making exits, plus the fact that Jeffery can't stay healthy equals a HUGE reach by some desperate fantasy GM. Jeffery borders on undraftable due to the high premium on him. Don't be that guy or gal who picks him in the 3rd round!

C3FF value draft spot -- late 6th round

John Brown, WR, ARI -- Another producer in the Arizona offense, among many, Brown has somewhat-quietly piled up a couple of solid seasons entering the NFL. These days, rookie wideouts aren't considered studs unless they grab a thousand yards from the gate, but Brown's in a great situation for a breakout season. He has other weapons all over that the defense has to account for. He has a very solid veteran QB, an established coach, and speed that kills.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 7th round

Eric Decker, WR, NYJ -- Several things at work here. Decker has been productive in several different systems & cities, giving him "fantasy cred" among those managers who are really paying attention. I've been undervaluing him myself for years and he always "surprises" me with his production. Well, he won't be a surprise this year, but many fantasy GMs are used to the "...but it's the JETS" when talking about the passing game. Don't forget that the Amish Rifle had 31 TD passes last year & re-signed, although "they" say Geno "Jawbroken" Smith will start. We'll see how long THAT lasts, but it's nice to know should he falter, Fitzpatrick is there too. Decker should have yet another very solid year in fantasy production.

C3FF value draft spot -- mid 5th round

Players to Generally Avoid

Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT -- Yeah, there, I said it. Seems like for the past three seasons, Bell has been a top-two fantasy RB choice, but only one of those years he actually produced. When he's not sitting out a month for smoking weed, he's an injury risk. DeAngelo Williams owners from last year can be thankful for that, but why on Earth should one pick a player in the first round who CANNOT score any FP at all for 25% of the season...more, if you consider week 17 is never a bye week so in effect, Bell's missing FIVE games. Everybody misses that last one, but you get the point. No reason to actively avoid him because he'll be drafted early...hopefully by someone else.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 3rd round

Ted Ginn, Jr., WR, CAR -- It's not that he's over-rated, it's that the "dropsies" he has always suffered from will raise the blood pressure of whoever his fantasy GM happens to be. It's pretty bad when a "50/50 ball" for Teddy is when he's 10 yards behind the guy playing man-coverage on him and he has nothing but open field in front of him and the ball gets thrown his way. I've never, ever seen such a long-standing NFL player with such an ongoing case of Agoraphobia in my entire life. But it's not JUST that -- Kelvin Benjamin's return and Devin Funchess' growth means Ted will at best be their 3rd WR & still has to share targets with Cam's Blankie, TE Greg Olsen. Teddy Ten Thumbs' production this year in TDs might be half that he had in 2015. Buyer Beware & remember to draft him no earlier than the number of thumbs the man has.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 10th round

ALL New England RBs -- Unless you're intimately familiar with the way Bill Belichick game-plans, be wise to steer clear of all Deflatriot running backs. BB has earned a reputation similar to that of Mike "Shanahanigans" Shanahan of Denver Broncos back-to-back Super Bowl wins fame. At one point one season, he was down to his 6th-string starter at RB...and still didn't use him consistently from one game to the next. BB does that with RBs all healthy. Wise to avoid 'em all. Lots of people are high on Dion Lewis, who could well be a thousand-yard rusher for all we know, but he'll have his maddening games where he'll see like 5 touches for 17 yards and no TDs. Unless you can forecast those, best not to even try.

C3FF value draft spot -- the Waiver Wire; Lewis -- early 4th if you wish to navigate that path

Markus Wheaton, WR, PIT -- With Martavius Bryant out for the 2016 campaign, Markus Wheaton will be asked to take on the WR2 role in the Steel City. Wheaton's no Bryant, but defenses are going to be a lot more concerned with Antonio Brown anyway. Markus could still play like Wil (Star Trek: TNG fans awake out there?) but could well be pushed down so far in the rankings that much production at all would be a boost. Wheaton's a guy that you CAN draft, but he really has to fall and likely won't be around due to the overall explosive nature of Pittsburgh's O.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 9th round

Devante Adams, WR, GB -- The rising 3rd-year pro is in a prime spot to jump up in production as this is the area of a WR's career where that leap generally comes, if it does at all. However, I'm of the mind that Adams not only won't make that leap, but won't even be in the NFL by the end of next season. He certainly won't be in Green Bay once his rookie contract is up. Adams has been one of those maddening guys who looks great out of pads but once on the field, he looks completely average. With all the injuries at the position last season, Adams still couldn't step things up. A healthy Jordy Nelson & Randall "Tex" Cobb (my nickname for him; Google the kickboxing guy of the same name) should mean Adams still can't play the WR3 slot. In fact, look down the depth chart for someone ELSE to take over that role if you want a GB WR sleeper candidate.

C3FF value draft spot -- the Waiver Wire

Jordan Reed, TE, WASH -- Reed has been, unfortunately, a concussion magnet and should be near if not at the top of the "DND" (Do Not Draft) list. If NOTHING else, edit your draft list just in case you can't make the live draft at the last minute and put his name on the "exclude" list.

C3FF value draft spot -- the Waiver Wire

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers -- Hyde led the NFL's RBs in FP after the first game, where he picked up about A THIRD OF HIS SEASON TOTAL. Things look even worse now that scam-artist Chip Kelly has taken over the reigns as Head Botcher of the Bay Area. I've been on-record pretty much as soon as Kelly stepped into the NFL saying his offense wouldn't translate into the NFL and so far, it hasn't. AT all. Hyde's hype is just that -- hype. On the bright side, the 49'ers IDPs should have better seasons simply due to having more chances at making a tackle. Carlos should be the "main" ball carrier but that's like saying Posluszny, Paul is the Jag's best veteran defensive player. Meh.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 7th round

Tavon Austin, WR, RAMS -- I know about the hype for him going into the season. He has a rookie QB throwing the ball. Well, that's fine, but he has been in the NFL for a few years now and hasn't shown anything beyond the single 3-TD game his rookie year. His fantasy value upside might actually come from the fact that the Rams started using him as sort of a Dexter McCluster RB/WR type, but the fact remains that while he can really fly, he's 5'8" & a buck seventy-five and last year was his only season out of three where he saw action in every game. If you have a need for a flier on a guy, at least he should get some touches but he won't be the primary option in the running game (uh...Gurley?) or the passing game, although he led the team last year...with 52 receptions. He only averaged 9.1 YPC, so his speed doesn't help except for the fact he'll find his way into the end zone once every few games. 

C3FF value draft spot -- early 6th round

Pick 'em up, but Only if they Slide -- A LOT

Blake Bortles, QB, JAX -- I'm not saying Bortles will bust since he's got quite a nice group of young talent along with him at the skill positions. He should; the Jags spent most of the last 3 drafts shoring up those spots while getting LB Myles Jack, thought to be a top-five talent, in the SECOND ROUND. THAT was a "coup" for their GM, even if Jack won't play at all this season (although he likely will). What I AM saying is I think Bortles' stock has peaked and in order to get VALUE out of him, you'll have to wait on him...certainly don't even take a look until both Big Ben AND Brady are off the board, Brady's 4-game suspension non-withstanding. In fact, you might even take Brady & Bortles in consecutive rounds so long as you take Brady first. The Jags play 3 of 4 home games to start & Bortles would make a decent match-up guy waiting for Brady's suspension to finish peeling off. The Jags open at home against Green Bay, then at San Diego, then home against the Ravens & Colts. None of those four defenses is scary these days. With Brady's suspension putting him at about the round 7 or 8 mark....

C3FF value draft spot -- early 9th round

Jordan Matthews, WR, PHI -- This is a tough call, since Philadelphia got rid of their dangerous receivers when Chip Kelly tried to implicitly blame his personnel for the failure of his offense. Not to worry; SF's offense will also fail, no matter who he puts in, so Philadelphia is left to recover with Matthews and Riley Cooper. Matthews has shown good ability, but once again, his price is high right now and his production will depend on the health of Sam Bradford...not a connection I'd choose to depend upon.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 6th round

Devante Parker, WR, MIA -- This section of my post really deals with not-so-secret "sleeper" candidates and goes into those that aren't really a "sleeper" any longer. Parker's ability isn't in question, it's his production and health. His upside for 2016 is going to be limited, depending on the long-awaited growth of QB Ryan Tannehill, now that the team has finally solidified their offensive line. Lots of variables, such as new Head Coach Adam Gase and the fact that slot receiver Jarvis Landry is who the passing game runs through. Parker looks to be the deep threat to complement the ONE guy named "Jarvis" in the Universe who somehow avoided being a butler in adulthood. 

C3FF value draft spot -- middle of 8th round

Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG -- A rookie that everyone EXPECTS to produce equals "not a fantasy football draft VALUE" in pretty much any season. People say he should produce because "nobody else is around to take it from him." Hardly an endorsement of his prowess but rather a backhanded slap at the complete lack of depth the Giants have at the position. Seems like Mr. Fragile Ego himself, OhHell Sick'Em Junior, is enough to make the passing game go, according to the "eggspurts." Eli's no Dan Marino in the regular season and I've never put high value on rookie WRs simply due to the nature of the NFL.

C3FF value draft spot -- end of 8th round

Greg Olsen, TE, CAR -- Olsen hasn't lost anything since last year but rather should be more crowded as a target with Kelvin Benjamin's return and rising second-year pro Devin Funchess. I think his numbers will be slightly depressed in catches and yards but he'll still be a top-five fantasy TE in Carolina's uniquely designed power offense. The man can almost catch the ball with even his face, but he should see a dip in his targets in 2016.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 6th round

Brandin Cooks, WR, NO -- Again, he's no secret and has been drafted probably TOO highly his entire (so far short) career. Now's the time where GMs might possibly back off him and give him a bit more room to slide, given the fact that he gets banged-up during the season and has average durability at best. He's still the team's #1 WR, but Brees always seems to find multiple targets and should again this year...even without TE Ben Watson and deep-threat WR Kenny Stills, who went to the 'Fins before the 2015 season. It's unclear if the Saints will be able to run like they plan to given their shoddy defense.

C3FF value draft spot -- late 4th round

The Sleepers

Devin Funchess, WR, CAR -- Funchess has the size (6'4 215) and YAC ability to really become an explosive receiver week in and week out after the proverbial light bulb seemed to go off for Devin around week ten last season. Although teammate Benjamin should be the first guy off the draft board for Carolina's WR corps, I am 99% sure that Devin's the one that will have a better value for a given GM as a result. He'll go several full rounds after Kelvin, but his production should be similar. Kelvin will have a few more TDs, but Funch will lead the team's WRs in catches and yards. None of the team's WRs will top 1200 yards/10 TDs because of several big targets and Cam's power running in the red zone will limit any single target's TDs. It's truly an offense where the love is spread around in any given week.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 6th round

Stephon Diggs, WR, MIN -- Clearly, Minnesota's a team on the rise and they've done it in a fashion similar to that of the Panthers. They got their QB a couple of years ago, built up their defense in the process, and have gotten some solid players the past few years through the draft. However, QB Teddy Bridgewater doesn't throw many INTs OR TDs. He had the fewest TD passes (19) of any 16-game starter. A lot of that was due to the plays called and with All Day in the backfield, they didn't want Teddy B to take chances. They'll want to open things up a bit more this year, but the passing game has to make several leaps before it becomes the "scary part" of Minnesota's offense.  All that said, Diggs is the WR to target if you're looking for a guy with multiple reasons his production should significantly increase in 2016 from his 52/720/4 line last season.

C3FF value draft spot -- early 7th round

Keenan Allen, WR, SD -- Allen's one who had a great rookie season then hit the Sophomore Slump in 2015, then was injured for about half of last year. He has never been labeled as a burner & never will be; he's one of those route-runners that can shake just about anybody and has great hands. The two consecutive sub-par seasons should put his name at least somewhat back to bed as a sleeper candidate, but I think the Chargers should have a good offense again in 2016. Phillip Rivers is putting up borderline HOF career stats, and a healthy Allen could wind up being his top target. Who cares if he grows his head-hair upside-down?

C3FF value draft spot -- late 7th round


Rip van Winkle Never Slept this Deeply

Brandon Wegher, RB, CAR -- Panthers fans know this guy; others might through HBO's "Hard Knocks." Wegher showed some explosion during the pre-season in 2015, made the team, but didn't see action as he was stuck at 4th on the depth chart. This year, keep an eye on the backfield depth chart. If Fozzie Whitaker is missing but Wegher is still there when the 53-man roster is published, it means Wegher's on the rise. In fact, Wegher showed me a lot more in practice and in pre-season than Whitaker ever did. I think he'll take over 3rd down and pass/run downs from the former Muppet Show stand-up comic (Fozzie) and with Main Man Jonathan Stewart's age becoming a factor (as well as injury history), Wegher's role could grow much bigger than even he imagined by year's end...right when the FFL playoffs hit. If you can grab Wegher and stick him on your bench, you should be a stronger team in the second half of the season for it and probably is a bit too tempting to stay on the league's waiver wire too long once the season starts.

C3FF value draft spot -- the last round

Willie Snead, WR, NO -- Snead had just shy of a thousand-yard rookie campaign and with all the Salary Cap tumult in New Orleans, options on both sides of the ball will be limited. Drew Brees hasn't (yet) shown signs of slowing down, and as long as he's upright, he's as dangerous as they come. Snead's not such a "deep sleeper" per se, but he just isn't getting the attention and love he deserves with his play. I see him increasing his production in 2016, but realistically speaking, there are other GMs out there who know about him. Many still don't, though.

C3FF value draft spot -- middle of 6th round

Josh Ferguson, RB, IND -- He's about as deep a sleeper candidate as you'll find. An undrafted rookie free agent, but remember, he's in pass-happy Indy. Frank Gore is ancient and can only overachieve for so long at age 33 and in fact did slow down last season, averaging only 3.7 YPC, down from his hefty 4.5 YPC career average so he's clearly on the decline. Ferguson is indeed a long shot, but has enough upside to consider drafting...late.

C3FF value draft spot -- the penultimate round (penultimate = next to last for you Falcons fans)

Sammie Coates, WR, PIT -- Should Markus Wheaton struggle, Sammie Coates could literally catch the ball & run with it. He's as impressive a physical specimen as there is, he's strong, and he can flat-out fly. The knock on him is questionable hands, but if Wheaton isn't getting it done, Coates should see plenty of targets with defenders doubling Antonio Brown. Keep an eye on the Wheaton-Coates battle in pre-season.

C3FF value draft spot -- 11th round

But it's Too Early to Really Know -- Right?

Nary a fantasy season was won on August first, but if you're not at least starting to brush up on this year's fantasy football outlook, you're already behind. I hope to have at least given you a place to start. Things change in summer at the flick of an ACL (right, Kelvin?) and sometimes just in getting "cleated," right OhHell Sick'Em Junior? Thankfully, Junior will be a-okay. I'm sure he's already been looking ahead to playing against Josh Norman twice a year now...that is, if he ever STOPPED!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye