For fantasy football purposes, it’s easier to project a player’s usage and value when they return to the same team, so I’m here today to break down skill position players (RB, WR, TE) who find themselves in a new home in 2017. I’ve selected 13 fantasy-relevant players wearing a new jersey this season.
Brandin Cooks – (WR, New England Patriots)
New England acquired the fourth-year receiver out of Oregon State after he posted back-to-back 1,100+ yard seasons in New Orleans. He’s now the Patriots’ clear number one wide receiver with Julian Edelman sidelined with a torn ACL, and Edelman’s 165 targets from a season ago are up for grabs. As the number one, Cooks will face the third easiest WR1 schedule, according to ESPN’s Mike Clay. He’s currently going as the 8th overall WR in ESPN drafts with an ADP of 19.6.
Cooks’ line at the end of the season should be pretty sparkling but the problem, as ever in New England, is that it’s difficult to predict his usage on a week-to-week basis. Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels & Co. are notorious for heavily crafting their game plans to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and don’t care much about offensive balance. It’s possible that one week the Patriots might run the ball 50+ times with their deep stable of running backs. And is he as fast on grass as he is on the turf? Cooks might be working in slot and outside, so we don’t quite know yet how they’ll deploy him. It’s a situation to monitor closely. One thing for sure is that Cooks is a lucky man to go from one future Hall of Fame QB to another.
Brandon Marshall – (WR, New York Giants)
If you take out last season’s WR51 performance, Marshall finished as a top six fantasy wide receiver three of the last four seasons. He finished just 33rd in 2014 after playing in only 13 games. From 2012-2015, Marshall caught a robust 45 TD passes and will now draw second coverage in New York playing alongside Odell Beckham Jr. He’s coexisted with top receivers before: Alshon Jeffery and Eric Decker both had 1,000 yard seasons playing alongside Marshall when he was a top-six fantasy WR. He remains in Metlife Stadium but now has Eli Manning as his QB as opposed to the Jets’ sad ‘16 rotation of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. Marshall is my top pick at WR to have a bounce back season and outperform his ADP of WR31 (73 overall).
Adrian Peterson – (RB, New Orleans Saints)
The former Viking will change teams for the first time after 10 years in Minnesota and becomes backfield mates with Drew Brees, a combination that would have been horrifying for opposing defenses 5 years ago. But Peterson is now 32 years old with a lot of mileage on those legs, and he played only three games last year due to a knee injury. When healthy, he’s been a beast. In seven seasons with 14 or more games, AP has averaged 1,518 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, including 1,485 yards and 11 TDs just two seasons ago. While his playing time will be split with Mark Ingram, who averaged a career-low 12.8 touches in ‘16, defenses will be preoccupied in coverage against Drew Brees and AP should have room to run when he gets the rock. I love this new spot for him behind a much better offensive line and believe he still has another productive season or two left.
Marshawn Lynch – (RB, Oakland Raiders)
From 2011-2014, Lynch put together four seasons with an average 295 rushing attempts, 1,339 yards, and 12 touchdowns. After playing just seven games in 2015 and taking all of 2016 off, Lynch lands in his hometown of Oakland, fully rested. Beast Mode takes over as the starting back for Latavius Murray, who finished in the top eight in red zone rushing attempts each of the last two seasons. The Raiders possess a great offensive line and passing attack, so Lynch should see plenty of opportunities if he can stay healthy. He’s currently being drafted as RB13, but he’s in a good spot and could prove much more valuable.
Alshon Jeffery – (WR, Philadelphia Eagles)
Jeffery will take on the WR1 role in Philadelphia after spending his first five years in Chicago. It’s been all about health in Jeffery’s first five seasons, as he’s finished a Top 12 WR in both of his 16-game seasons, while finishing outside the Top 40 in his other three. Philly sees 20% of its 2016 targets gone with the departure of Jordan Matthews, and are expecting Carson Wentz to take a big step in his sophomore season after a year in which he averaged just 6.23 yards per attempt, better than only Brock Osweiler. Overall, his ADP of WR16 feels a bit ambitious.
Sammy Watkins – (WR, Los Angeles Rams)
The Clemson product takes his talents to L.A. for his fourth NFL season. He sees a QB downgrade from Tyrod Taylor to Jared Goff and must rapidly learn a new playbook and system after being acquired on August 11th. Watkins caught just two passes for eight yards in two preseason games, and doesn’t appear to be a priority for Jared Goff just yet. He’s going at WR28, and while I think Sean McVay will figure out a way to utilize his speed, there are other WRs around his draft point I feel much more comfortable rostering (Brandon Marshall, Stefon Diggs, DeVante Parker). Therefore, I’m avoiding Watkins in drafts this season as I don’t trust the completely unproven Goff to maximize Watkins’ ability.
Eddie Lacy – (RB, Seattle Seahawks)
After finishing as a top seven fantasy running back in his first two seasons, Lacy finished 24th in 2015 and played just five games last season. He enters a crowded backfield in Seattle where Thomas Rawls will begin the season as the starter. However, he leaves one of the most pass-happy teams in Green Bay to join a team that finished in the top three in rushing attempts three of the last four seasons. If anything happens to Rawls, Lacy could be a huge value pickup at just RB33, so I don’t mind taking a shot at him, especially since Rawls is going about 20 spots after Lacy. The situation isn’t ideal, but it could be well worth the risk if Lacy takes over as the starting back.
Eric Decker – (WR, Tennessee Titans)
The former Bronco and Jet finds his way to an offense on the rise in Tennessee. He’s listed as the WR1, but the Titans return their four target leaders from last season and spent their fifth overall pick on WR Corey Davis. He has the most proven fantasy talent on the team, however, as he put up two WR11 or better seasons in 2013 and 2015 while playing alongside Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas. But the Titans are a rush-first team and TE Delanie Walker has finished as the top target getter two of the last three seasons. Decker is in a decent spot but should be drafted as a WR2 or WR3.
Martellus Bennett – (TE, Green Bay Packers)
Aaron Rodgers’ new target enters the 2017 season after finishing as a top 10 fantasy tight end in three of his last four seasons. He joins a dynamic passing attack in Green Bay that has been searching for a more reliable tight end over the last several seasons. It’s difficult to predict the target share Bennett will see alongside a talented receiver corps, but his 6’6, 275-pound frame will be a nice big target for Rodgers in the red zone. Richard Rodgers (who remains in Green Bay) finished as the TE9 in 2015, catching 61 of 97 targets and nine touchdowns. Bennett is the more talented pass catcher with double-digit touchdown potential.
LeGarrette Blount – (RB, Philadelphia Eagles)
I have very little love for Blount in Philadelphia this season. He enters a completely different offensive scheme in which Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles both have more experience and success. News out of Philly hasn’t been very favorable for Blount, either, as Philadelphia Inquirer’s Zach Berman has speculated that the Eagles may be looking for a “better solution.” Outside of last year’s RB7 finish, Blount hasn’t finished inside the top 29 other than at 24th in his rookie season. He also offers little by way of pass catching points having caught just 46 passes in eight NFL seasons. Avoid.
Jordan Matthews – (WR, Buffalo Bills)
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bills ended up as the team with the fewest passing yards at season’s end, as they’ve finished in the bottom five of passing yards in three of the last four seasons and see their top two receivers gone from last season (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods). Also, Anquan Boldin retired just two weeks after signing, so they’ll trot out rookie Zay Jones as the WR1 in their opening game in a rush-first and rush-second offense. Also Tyrod Taylor is not the most accurate passer. It doesn’t up add up to fantasy relevance for Matthews this season, so I’ll be avoiding him in all drafts, even with an ADP of 125.
Ted Ginn Jr. – (WR, New Orleans Saints)
The 11th year speedster gets an opportunity this year to play on the Superdome turf for one of the most accurate passers in Drew Brees. Ginn Jr. had his best fantasy season in 2015, finishing as WR25. He’s currently going as WR52 in ESPN leagues, so I’ll happily take a shot at him in the later rounds. He’s proven pretty durable over his career and joins an offense that’s finished top-two in passing yards every season since 2010. Drew Brees has been an elite deep ball thrower alongside his normal great performance, so Ginn Jr. could have a big year in New Orleans with the value of a late round pick.
Mark Dankenbring (affectionately known as Dank) graduated from Miami University (OH) with degrees in Sports Management and Business Analytics. He’s been playing fantasy sports for nearly 10 years and has started to invest much of his time playing DFS since his graduation in May of 2017. He’s a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and currently lives in Cincinnati, OH. Follow him on Twitter @MarkDank.