Week 2 of the NFL season has passed and we finally have some statistics and trends we can observe, rather than just going based off of last season and what our gut tells us will happen. Listen, we all love our team after draft day, everyone does. The NFL is ever changing however and if fantasy football fans want to survive the long tumultuous season and ultimately end up with a coveted league championship, we must be ever changing as well. The ability to adapt, change the way we evaluate certain players and identify trends before they fully take hold are qualities that separate a fantasy football champ from a fantasy football chump. Patience is a virtue, but in fantasy it can spell your doom.
So in the column I'm going to identify players at each position that have made a substantial leap or decline from the position they were drafted, and let you know if I think it will continue for the rest of the season or if they will fall back to earth. As an added bonus, since I'm such a generous person, I'll identify a few players I think could rise or fall in value over the next few weeks and have the ability to give you production above or below their current ranking.
Stairway to Heaven
Matt Forte ADP: RB17 (tier: RB2) Current Ranking: RB2 (tier: RB1)
Matt Forte has come bursting into the season in a way that makes Father Time say “damn, that guy is an absolute beast!” The 30 year old nine year veteran has shown no sign of slowing down, averaging 29 touches per game and boasting one of the highest snap percentages among running backs at 81%. Forte has been outstanding and if you drafted him in the fourth round odds are he has carried you to a 2-0 record. While the combination of talent and volume is what has made Forte valuable, I would be lying if I said the volume didn't concern me. While some analysts may tell you that Forte is an injury risk, I don't believe that to be true.
Forte has only had two seasons since 2009 that he didn't play all 16 games and he only missed three and four games in those two seasons. So Forte is locked and loaded as a top 5 back the rest of the way right? Not necessarily, very few backs in the league can withstand the punishment of 25 to 30 touches per game without eventually breaking down. So I believe one of two things will happen, either his usage will drop in which case his value does as well or his usage won't drop in which case he either gets injured or beaten up and his efficiency is adversely affected. So what should you do? I'm not going to sit here and say you need to get rid of Forte, as he will still be a very valuable piece on your roster. I do however believe that his usage will decline as Chad Galey integrates Bilal Powell into the offense. I think Forte will be a very high end RB2 going forward, so if you can get top 5 value for him, make the trade, if not then keep him and feel really good about it.
Stefon Diggs ADP WR42 (tier: WR5) Current rank WR1 (tier: WR1)
In the immortal words of Cyrus from The Warriors, “Can you dig it?” Well, through the first two weeks of the season fantasy owners can definitely dig it. Coming into his second season, Diggs was pegged as one of the players that could make a leap but the loss of Teddy Bridgewater raised questions about his ability to make an impact in a low volume, run heavy offense. Diggs has answered those questions and then some catching 17 passes for 285 yards despite having two different starting quarterbacks in as many weeks. Diggs has displayed some elite level skills with extremely precise route running, deceptive speed and has rewarded anyone that invested a 12th round pick in him more than they could have imagined.
The main question I have about Diggs moving forward is: will he be able to continue to produce at an elite level now that Adrian Peterson is most likely out for the season? While Diggs is definitely good enough to beat the single coverage he enjoyed when Peterson played, I question if he can be the main focal point of an offense. While Peterson looked abysmal the first two weeks, he was still the main focus of any opposing defense coming into the game. Without the fear of AP in the backfield, defenses will be able to roll more coverage towards Diggs and send exotic blitz packages at Sam Bradford, which should lead to a downturn in Diggs production.
Last year Diggs had an outstanding three game stretch accounting for 332 yards and two touchdowns, but as defenses started giving him more attention he fell off that pace considerably. I view Diggs as a high end WR3 at this point, someone that will have big games that win you your week, but also will have weeks without much useful production. He should stay on your roster, and in your starting lineup while he is hot, but if someone is willing to give you too ten receiver value for him, I would sell him in a heartbeat.
Larry Fitzgerald ADP WR28 (tier: WR3) Current rank WR5 (tier: WR1)
Add Larry Fitzgerald to the list of older players that most football fans sent to the retirement home too early. Coming into the season one of the most frequently asked questions was; which Cardinals wide receiver do you want this year? Michael Floyd and John Brown were the sexier names, with Brown’s big play ability and Floyd emerging as the top targeted receiver the second half of the season.
Through the first two weeks, Fitzgerald has left little doubt that he’s the receiver you want in that offense, and answered any questions fantasy owners had about his age. Fitzgerald is second in the league in red zone targets, accounting for three touchdowns in two games on those targets. He also leads the Cardinals in targets by a comfortable margin accounting for 20 targets to Michael Floyds 13 and has played in 89% of offensive snaps with Floyd and John Brown only playing 80% and 42% respectively.
As for the rest of the year, Fitz should comfortably be a top 12 receiver and considering most people drafted him as their WR2/ Flex, he's going to win a lot of leagues for them.
Matt Stafford ADP QB17 (tier QB2) Current rank: QB7 (QB1)
Jim Bob Cooter baby! Not only does he easily have one of the best names in the NFL, he also has proven to be one of the best offensive coordinators. Last year after week 10, when Cooter instituted his offense, Stafford was a top five quarterback and looks to be starting this season where he left off. Questions surrounding how the offense would adapt to the loss of Calvin Johnson pushed Stafford way down draft boards, but it appears that hate went way too far.
While Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers to ever play the game, the Lions’ offense seems to be fine without needing to design plays to get Calvin the football. Marvin Jones appears to be having a breakout campaign, and Theo Riddick has picked up exactly where he left off last season as one of the top receiving backs in the league. The Lions have been a joy to watch on offense and Stafford has been the perfect example of why fantasy owners should wait to draft a quarterback. While most people who draft a quarterback in the eleventh round end up streaming the position, Stafford owners shouldn't have that concern as he is locked and loaded as a top 10 quarterback and could have the best season of his career..
Highway to Hell
Todd Gurley ADP RB1 (tier: RB1) Current rank: RB43 (tier: RB5)
This is what we all get for believing in Jeff Fisher, well at least to the extent that anyone can really believe in Jeff Fisher. The Rams weren't projected to be an offensive juggernaut coming into the season, but I don't think anyone thought it would be this bad. The Rams have yet to have a touchdown in 2016 and while many players have seen the poor end of this, no player’s value has been as adversely affected as Gurley.
After rushing for 1,100 yards and 4.8 YPC his rookie campaign, Gurley has only accounted for 90 yards and 2.8 YPC this season. While Gurley probably won't return his draft day investment, he’s still an elite level talent and will get a lot of volume. I think he's a good person to try and trade for as he's a pretty safe bet to be a low end RB1/ high end RB2. The Rams probably won't turn into an offensive juggernaut, but they have to be better than this. I mean they're still a professional football team, right?
Mark Ingram ADP RB9 (tier: RB1) Current rank: RB26 (tier: RB3)
Marc Ingram emerged during his fifth season as a darling amongst fantasy owners. In a year ravaged by injuries and busts, Ingram was one of the most consistent backs in the league and through two games he has been anything but. As the feature back in one of the best offenses in the league, Ingram seemed like a sure fire bet to catch 60 passes and score double digit touchdowns. While Ingram has ran the ball at about his usual career pace, it's the catches and touchdowns that have been lacking. In 2015, the key to Ingram’s fantasy success was volume in the passing game, as he was the twelfth most targeted running back in football.
Through two games this season Ingram has only received 6 targets, putting him on just a 48 target pace for the year. Add that to him losing some passing down situations to Travaris Cadet, and Ingram seems unlikely to be able to repeat the same success he had last season. Another reason for the lack of targets has been improved weapons on the Saints offense. Brandon Cooks and Willie Snead have shown that the second half of 2015 wasn't a fluke and Michael Thomas is a nice threat on the outside, proving he has the talent to return the Saints 2nd round investment. Taking all of these factors into consideration, Ingram is most likely a lower end RB2, with a higher floor than some of the running backs in that tier, but a much lower ceiling.
Demaryius Thomas ADP WR16 (tier: WR2) Current rank WR36 (tier: WR4)
Demaryius will be fine they said. Simeon can't play any worse than Peyton last year they said. While part of that is true, Simeon hasn't been worse than Peyton, it hasn't translated too much fantasy success for Thomas. DT is still one of the most talented receivers in the league, but Kubiak has implemented an ultra-conservative offense that will help the Broncos win football games but will make fantasy owners lose them. Denver is 28th in the league in pass attempts at just 29.5 per game through two weeks.
Fantasy success isn't just about the player’s talent, it's also about volume. While there is little doubt that Thomas has the talent, he will lack the necessary volume to return the investments owners made in August. I view Thomas as a mid-tier WR3, one that I feel much more comfortable starting in PPR as he may catch 95 passes this year, unfortunately it will probably be for 900 yards and 3 touchdowns. If you can sell him based on name value do so, otherwise I'd put him on your bench aside from deep leagues and filling in for bye weeks.
Russell Wilson ADP QB3 (tier QB1) Current rank: QB27 (QB3)
There may be some trouble brewing on the offensive side of the ball in Seattle. Wilson has no doubt disappointed fantasy owners that invested a fifth round pick on him in hopes of having the NFL’s MVP. Heading into the season there was a lot of talk about the team transitioning from a Marshawn Lynch led offense to a Russell Wilson led offense, mostly stemming from a second half of 2015 when Wilson passed for almost 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The main problem for Wilson through the first 2 weeks has been his offensive line play. While the line has never been a high investment for Seattle, Wilson is generally able to make up for it with his mobility and ability to throw downfield on the run. This has been hampered by a week 1 high ankle sprain that has made him much more statuesque than were used to. Add that to an ineffective run game and defenses are able to focus their resources to rushing the passer in a way that spelled doom against Seattle in the past.
Unless their line play improves, or either Rawls or Michael emerge as a good option in that backfield, I view Russell Wilson as a high end QB2 with upside going forward. He still has a lot of name value, so I'd consider packaging Wilson in a trade to upgrade a positional player and receive a quarterback that the other owner may think is worse than Wilson, but the results show otherwise.
You Ain't Seen Nothin Yet
DeVante Parker: played on 92% of snaps and received 13 targets as the Dolphins were in catch up mode for most of the game.
DeVante Adams: Played on 72% of snaps and looks to be the definite number 3 receiver in Green Bay, a spot that made James Jones relevant for years.
Dwayne Washington: Has comparable numbers to David Johnson and with Ameer Abdullah out for at least 6 weeks he could be the Lions bell cow running back as they'd prefer Theo Riddick to not have that role.
Christine Michael: At the very least Rawls will be limited Sunday and I’m curious to see what he can do with the full workload in Seattle.
Ryan Tannehill: The #10 QB after last week with no running game and a defense that should give up a lot of points that could mean a lot of garbage time scoring.
Well I hope you enjoyed the first edition of "Tiers" in my beers, just hope it hasn't left a salty taste in your mouth. As we all know Fantasy Football can be fickle an these players paths could change instantly. Be sure to check back next week to see who's the newest player on the the Stairway to Heaven, and who's on that scary drive on the Highway to Hell.