2017 Fantasy Draft Game Plan

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What makes Tom Brady and Bill Belichick the greatest player-coach duo in NFL history is their preparation, in-game execution, and ability to adapt on the fly - as many would say the Patriots are playing chess while the other NFL teams are playing checkers. These same characteristics are also what gives fantasy owners a leg up on the competition during the draft process. Now the draft is just one piece of the puzzle but since it sets the framework for the team you'll be managing all season it's imperative that you're prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

So, before you draft, it's important to review and understand your league's settings because naturally, this will affect how you draft. How many QB's do you need to start? What positions can play in your flex? Is your league full point PPR, half-point PPR or standard scoring?

For the exercise below I'll be doing mock drafts using the FantasyPros.com Mock Draft Simulator. The league settings for the mock drafts are: 10 Team, PPR, QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, Flex, DST, K, 6 Bench.

The first thing that stands out to me here is that you're required to start 3 WR and since it's a PPR league you're likely going to be starting a WR in your flex spot. Under this assumption, the demand for starting WR (4) is double that of any other position (RB - 2). So, I'm more inclined to draft WR heavy because you're required to start a certain amount to fulfill roster requirements and since it's a point per reception format they're the position receiving the greatest boost.

After you have an understanding of how you'd like to ideally build your team it's time to lay out a draft plan. I would suggest running through a couple of different mock draft scenarios using one of the 1,000 mock draft simulators that are now out there today on ESPN, Yahoo etc just to get a feel for how each team pans out. The benefit of doing this is because no draft goes exactly according to plan, you'll need to be comfortable improvising on the fly, and it's often foolish to stick to your plan no matter what. By doing this you might miss out on values. For instance, late round QB is the trend these days, and I'm on board with the philosophy that there is no need to reach on a QB, but if Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are available in the late 3rd/early 4th round I'm taking them every day. Even though QB's are a dime-a-dozen position Rodgers and Brady are values at this point.

It also helps to know your league. If you know your league mates don't value the Quarterback and Tight End positions you can adjust accordingly. Maybe you know you can get Greg Olsen a round later than his ADP so it gives you the opportunity to pick up another RB or WR.

While drafting it's imperative that you are reactive to how your draft is going in order to create a roster that wins from a ceiling and floor standpoint week in and week out. What I mean by this is that when you're building your WR corp, for instance, I would suggest not drafting Golden Tate, Larry Fitzgerald and Jarvis Landry. While all these players are consistent performers there is zero upside since they don't often score touchdowns or rack up insane yardage totals because of their usage. So instead of drafting Landry as your WR3, how about drafting a Martavis Bryant or someone who can put up 30 points weeks every so often? It's good to have that balance.

That last point is also why I don't really agree with drafting off of an experts Top 200 Cheat Sheet because it doesn't factor in roster construction and it looks at everyone from a season long approach when Fantasy Football is really a week to week game. That's why I prefer laying players out in tiers so you can grab from each bucket to create a dynamic squad.

Every plan works if you pick the right players, right? So without further ado here are some mock teams that I've built.

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Team A (1st Overall)

(Projected Starters For Each Team Are In Bold)

QB - Russell Wilson

RB - David Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Doug Martin, Darren McFadden & Rex Burkhead

WR - Doug Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas, Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, Marvin Jones & Ted Ginn Jr

TE - Tyler Eifert & Austin Hooper

Draft Review: I absolutely love this team. I'm honestly open to arguments for Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown over David Johnson at 1.01 but every time I have the 1st pick I can't pass up DJ. After building an RB foundation I went on a run of WR's which has been my theme of drafting this season. Baldwin, Demaryius, Diggs, and Hill I believe are 4 of the Top 20 WR's in fantasy this year and create a nice combination of a very high weekly floor with a built in ceiling. Baldwin and Hill have shown huge week-winning upside in the past while Diggs is on the cusp of a breakout. I'm a Russell Wilson truther, if you put him in New Orleans offense he'd be just as productive as Drew Brees, and grabbing him in the 6th Round is a solid value. At TE, I'm on board with taking Tyler Eifert in the 9th round since the injury risk is already baked into the cost to obtain him. I also scooped up Austin Hooper later in the draft as insurance. Doug Martin and Darren McFadden compliment one another as Martin is suspended for the first 3 games of the season while McFadden will be the head honcho in the Dallas backfield while Zeke serves his suspension. McFadden is a guy who I'm willing to take earlier than most because he's going to put up RB2 production at a minimum and anytime you can guarantee like 4-6 starting caliber weeks out of a guy you're picking in the 2nd half of your draft you're getting a great return on your investment.

Team B (5th Overall)

QB - Marcus Mariota

RB - Isaiah Crowell, Dalvin Cook, Carlos Hyde, Ameer Abdullah, Jonathan Williams

WR - Odell Beckham Jr, Dez Bryant, Tyrell Williams, Kenny Britt, Corey Davis, Robby Anderson, Cooper Kupp

TE - Rob Gronkowski

Draft Review: The TD upside on this squad is enormous. Odell, Dez, and Gronk are 10+ TD guys annually given full health. Obviously, there is a risk in this approach since Dez and Gronk have been recent injury histories but you're not going to win leagues by playing safe. In the middle rounds, I scooped up 4 RB's who project to be RB2's at a minimum. Crowell and Cook are playing behind improved offensive lines and have larger pass catching roles than presumed. Hyde and Abdullah roles are also ambiguous since we've never seen them handle full workloads for a whole season but they are talented backs who were 2nd round picks for a reason. Marcus Mariota in the 9th is the reasonable landing spot for him. One of the more criminally underrated players this offseason is Tyrell Williams who is coming off a Top 15 season at the WR position last year. I'm scooping him up in the middle rounds all day. He's a better player than the already injured Mike Williams. Corey Davis has been injured most of training camp but received rave reviews earlier this offseason. Much like Michael Thomas last year, I can see Davis really becoming a core piece of your team later on in the year in his rookie season.

Team C (10th Overall)

QB - Tom Brady

RB - Carlos Hyde, Ameer Abdullah, Darren McFadden, Paul Perkins, Kareem Hunt & Rex Burkhead

WR - AJ Green, Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Eric Decker & Robby Anderson

TE - Jimmy Graham

Draft Review: Like I stated above if Tom Brady is available in the late 3rd/4th round I have to pull the trigger on him. At the WR Corps, you're not going to get a better 1-2 punc than AJ Green and Dez Bryant. I doubled up on Chargers WR's and that's not something I would totally suggest doing due to the week-to-week volatility that might ensue. Robby Anderson is a perfect late round dart through as he's the only Jets WR with a pulse at this point. Again I took pretty much a zero RB approach by not selecting one until the 6th round so I'll delve a little more into my selections here. I swear I'm going to live and die by Carlos Hyde this year but he's such a value at even the 4th and 5th rounds of drafts. Hyde was slandered by 49ers beat reporters this Spring and there was all this buzz around Joe Williams. Joe Williams is a f'ing scat back and even though he was hand picked by Kyle Shanahan that doesn't mean logic is going to be thrown out the window. Kyle Shanahan also hand picked Tevin Coleman in Atlanta and Freeman still held down that backfield the past two years. Speaking of the Atlanta backfield, Paul Perkins is a similar talent to Devonta Freeman. I love Perkins as a player but I just can't get over how much of a disaster the Giants running game has been in recent years but in the middle rounds he's the perfect flier. Kareem Hunt should be more of a 4th round pick after Spencer Ware's injury.

No team comes out perfect. Every team will have an area of weakness that needs to be address but it's up to you to decide which area your are most confident in addressing during the season. For me it's filling the RB2 position. 

If you're not on board with my drafting approach you can find a couple other mock drafts using different approaches.

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Team A (1st Overall - RB Heavy)

QB: Cam Newton

RB: David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Ty Montgomery, Derrick Henry, Thomas Rawls

WR: Allen Robinson, Larry Fitzgerald, Willie Snead, Eric Decker, Randall Cobb, Cooper Kupp, Chris Hogan

TE: Rob Gronkowski

Team B (5th Overall - Balanced)

QB: Jameis Winston

RB: Lesean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Danny Woodhead, Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden

WR: Doug Baldwin, Brandin Cooks, Larry Fitzgerald, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Matthews, Sterling Shepard, Tyler Lockett

TE: Zach Ertz

Team C (10th Overall - RB Heavy/Early QB)

QB: Tom Brady

RB: Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Mark Ingram, Kareem Hunt, James White

WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, Desean Jackson, Randall Cobb, Rishard Matthews, Ted Ginn, Chris Hogan

TE: Jimmy Graham

Why I'm All In On Ezekiel Elliott This Year

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott was the consensus number one pick in dynasty rookie drafts this offseason but it seems as if that same fantasy football community is still skeptical of Elliott being considered a 1st round pick in redraft leagues this year. Why would you take a rookie in the 1st round? He hasn't even played a down in the NFL yet. People said Trent Richardson was a can't miss prospect. How did that turn out?

Well lets just start right there. Yes, Trent Richardson's career has gone about as well as Draymond Green's 2016 so far, but he did put up over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 12 TD's as a rookie. T-Rich was a legit RB1 for fantasy purposes his first year in the league.

While we're at it lets try to tackle the notion that rookie RB's are rarely the difference makers they're made out to be. Just in the past 10 years there have been 11 rookie RB's who have put up elite production. So it does happen.

Some other notable names who just missed this list but still accumulated over 1,200 yards from scrimmage is the aforementioned Trent Richardson, Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Maurice Jones-Drew.

Now that Bell is suspended it seems as if David Johnson and Todd Gurley are now battling one another for the preseason RB1 crown. They're both entering their second season. David Johnson fell short of making the list above but was a rookie who won leagues for people last year. UDFA Thomas Rawls carried fantasy owners to the playoffs. It also wouldn't hurt to mention the slew of other rookie RB's who made major contributions at times last year: Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, TJ Yeldon, Buck Allen and Duke Johnson.

Elliott was the 4th overall pick because he is a pretty special running back prospect. Where he shines compared to most rookies is his work in the passing game. He isn't a liability in pass protection or as a receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, Elliott allowed only one pressure on 102 snaps as a pass blocker. Elliott is also a skilled receiver out of the backfield hauling in 55 receptions over the past two years. All this goes to show is that there will be no need to have a complementary back to pair alongside Elliott. He's not your typical rookie and he can handle all the responsibilities of a vet. When you combine this with his outstanding balance, vision and power as a runner he really is a complete package fit to excel in any scheme. Every carry Elliott is seemingly carrying a defender or two an extra couple yards.

When you pair Elliott's talent with the Cowboy's offensive line the sky is the limit. Dallas' incredible offensive line already boasts 3 All-Pros in their prime and is arguably going to be a better all around unit now that the human bulldozer, La'el Collins, will spend the whole year at LG. For those unfamiliar with Collins he was a projected 1st Round pick who the Cowboys were able to sign for pennies as an undrafted free agent last offseason. Backup Ronald Leary, who would be a starter for many teams, provides depth if any Cowboy player were to get injured. The Cowboys offensive line is a frightening group for defenses and the running backs who have played behind this juggernaut the past two years have all produced.

Take Darren McFadden for instance. The former #4 overall pick in the 2008 draft, had averaged 3.34 yards per carry over his prior 3 years in Oakland. McFadden then chose to sign with Dallas and ultimately resurrected his career. Run DMC racked up over 1,400 yards from scrimmage on his way to an RB13 finish in fantasy. These are impressive number considering the fact that McFadden only started 10 games. McFadden initially shared duties with the troubled Joseph Randle and took over the starting duties in Week 6. From that date on McFadden averaged 107.8 total yards per game, best in the league among RB's over that span. Over that stretch he compiled 960 rushing yards on 202 carries, good for 4.75 YPC. I should also mention that McFadden put up the majority of these numbers on a decimated Cowboys team that was without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Teams could put stack the box and Dallas was still able to run the ball with ease.

In 2014, DeMarco Murray racked up 2,261 yards from scrimmage and 13 TD's on his way to a RB1 finish. His season is most famous for the absurd amount of carries (392) but he still averaged 4.7 YPC. Murray was also busy in the passing game as well, catching a career high 57 balls.

Believe it or not that isn't even the best season by running back associated with Dallas Cowboys OC, Scott Linehan. Back in 2006 when Linehan was named the St Louis Rams Head Coach he was able to get his hands on a 23-year old RB named Steven Jackson. Linehan's Rams road Jackson to one of the most impressive season ever by a running back - 346 carries, 1,528 rushing yards, 13 TD, 90 receptions, 806 yards, 3 TD. Jackson's 2,334 yards from scrimmage is the 6th highest total in NFL history.

The Cowboys aren't afraid to have a bellcow back and you shouldn't worry about Elliott being able to carry the load. His last two years in Columbus he averaged a tad over 300 touches per year. He doesn't wear down late in games and certainly doesn't as the season progresses as he carried Ohio State to a National Championship in 2015 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2016. These touch totals also don't include the hits he takes serving as a lead blocker at times in Urban Meyer's spread attack.

Jerry Jones is getting older and is desperate to put a winning product out on the field. When the Cowboys were healthy in 2014 they road Murray to a 12-4 regular season and were one controversial play away from possibly making the NFC Championship Game. I look for the Cowboys to use that same formula this coming year with Elliott. MMQB's Peter King recently threw out a 375 carry number for Elliott. While that number isn't out of the question, as we saw the Cowboys run Murray into the ground in 2014, I think it's fair to say that Elliott should get around 300 carries and 40 receptions. If he indeed gets that workload his numbers might look something like this:

300 carries, 1,410 yards, 4.7 YPC, 40 receptions, 320 yards. 

1,730 total yards is a crazy number to just assume for a running back but I don't think it's that out of the question. A dormant Darren McFadden put up over 1,400 yards in a year where he didn't obtain the starting job until Week 6. The Cowboys ran the ball 508 times in 2014 and 408 times in 2015. Those two seasons were complete opposite of one another so lets just split the difference right now and imagine that Dallas runs the ball 458 times this year. That still leaves 100 carries for lets say McFadden, 50 for Alfred Morris and 8 for Lance Dunbar. Seems reasonable enough. The projections above aren't even including touchdowns, which are fickle and hard to predict. Murray had 13 total touchdowns when the Cowboys offense was running on all cylinders in 2014.

I understand the skepticism that comes with drafting Elliott. It's much easier to rationalize taking someone who has already performed at an elite level. The Cowboys have a fairly accomplished duo behind Zeke in McFadden and Alfred Morris, but Dallas didn't use the #4 pick on Zeke so he could be apart of a timeshare. Again I can't state enough how perfect of a spot Dallas is for a running back. It's what gives him the edge over the likes of Gurley, Johnson, Miller and Peterson at this moment. With the Cowboys uncertain future I believe Jerry Jones viewed Elliott as the missing piece of the puzzle to his new age Big 3 of Romo, Zeke and Dez. Time will only tell if they reach the heights of AIkman, Emmitt and Irvin.

TSO Report: San Francisco 49ers WR - Bruce Ellington

Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Bruce Ellington

Height: 5'9"

Weight:  197 LBS

College: South Carolina

Drafted: 4th Round, 104th Overall by San Francisco in 2014

Experience: 3rd Season

2015 Season Stats: 13 Rec, 19 Targets, 153 Yards, 11.8 YPC, 0 TD

Talent:

The 4th round pick in the 2014 draft out of South Carolina has mostly made a name for himself as a return specialist during his first two years in the league. Ellington is a little known commodity around the NFL because of this but don't be fooled. Ellington is one of the more dynamic athletes in the NFL who is just waiting to be unleashed.

To show how remarkable of an athlete Ellington is I compared him to some of the more high profile WR's from his draft class. You'll see he compares well and has the highest SPARQ score. SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) is a methodology designed to measure athleticism. Clearly his career isn't in the same company as his counterparts but it'll give you a general idea of his untapped potential and upside.

It's also fun to mention that Ellington was the starting point guard of the Gamecocks basketball team and is the cousin of Cardinals RB, Andre Ellington. Obviously he has the athletic chops but how does it translate to the football field? Lets take a look below.

In his limited opportunities in the preseason and regular season Ellington has proven he can be a playmaker at the NFL level. Ellington shows off his sensational burst in the open field and even runs with great balance and low center of gravity. This allows him to breeze through glancing blows and shed defenders despite his diminutive size. Another endearing quality of Ellington's is that he's not afraid to play with a brash physicality, with and without the ball.

It's great to be a special athlete and all but it's even more important to see how a player stacks up against some of the best in the game. Ellington was only in on 14% of the Niners offensive snaps this past year but thankfully I was able to find a couple examples of Ellington squaring up with some of the better young defensive backs in the NFL. Below, Ellington beats Los Angeles Rams DB, Trumaine Johnson, and Detroit Lions DB, Darius Slay, with ease on vertical routes.

Ellington has also shown the ability to work the middle of the field on post, curls and crossing routes.

The more I watched of Ellington the more I came away impressed. Ellington still showed the package of skills that earned him my #12 WR ranking in that prolific 2014 class. He's still a headache to bottle up in the open field while showing ability to get on top of defenses. Ellington is likely destined to be a slot WR in the NFL, but he has the ability win on the inside and outside at the NFL level.

Although a passing game is better off not flowing through a player like Ellington, he still has all the talent to become a key cog in an NFL offense, the same way Julian Edelman, Randall Cobb and Jarvis Landry have become for their respective teams.

Situation:

To wrap your head around why I would even feel the need the write an article on a player who has 19 career receptions entering his third season in the league you'll need to understand the situation he is now being thrust into.

The arrival of Chip Kelly turns the lethargic 49ers offense into one of the more uptempo attacks in the NFL. During Chip Kelly's 3 years in Philadelphia the Eagles averaged 1,094 plays per year. In contrast, the 49ers averaged 979 plays during that time. The 115 play difference per season equates to an extra 1.68 games worth of plays in a Chip Kelly offense.

The cast of characters in San Francisco is an ugly bunch but thankfully fantasy football doesn't discriminate. The increase in plays creates more attempts, carries and receptions for all parties involved. There will be value in this offense. Who will be a worthwhile fantasy asset outside of Torrey Smith and Carlos Hyde, who knows? But there is one player who you should target later in your drafts.

Of course, that player would be Bruce Ellington who was working with the 1st team as the slot WR in OTA's. If Chip Kelly's play calling is anything similar to years past, Ellington has a chance to be an integral piece of the Niners passing attack. In 2015, the Eagles essentially ran their passing game through their slot WR, Jordan Matthews, who was targeted 128 times. That rate of 8 targets per game was good for 19th best in the NFL. Sandwiched between fantasy studs Brandin Cooks and Dez Bryant.

While 2015 shows the upside that the slot WR role can have in a Chip Kelly offense the 2014 version of the Eagles offense more closely resembles the current 49ers personnel. When the Eagles offense was flying high it was powered by the running game and vertical passing attack. Carlos Hyde isn't Shady McCoy but he's a talented back in his own right. Torrey Smith will occupy the X-Receiver role and will present Chip Kelly with a deep threat that he lacked in 2015. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both had career years in this role which bodes well for Torrey Smith, who was dud his first year in the bay. In 2014, Jordan Matthews again held down the slot WR position and finished with 103 targets for 67 receptions, 872 yards and 8 TD. Good for WR24 in standard leagues.

Chip Kelly's offense is all about spacing and that same philosophy translates to getting his athletes the ball in space. One of the trademarks of the passing game is getting the ball out quick. Jordan Matthews more times than not was running a simple crossing route. Be it a drag or slant. Matthews finished 8th among Wideouts in 2015 in YAC (Yards After Catch). He was 19th among Wideouts in 2014. We've seen how dynamic Ellington can be in space. This plays directly into his skill set.

The major question surrounding the Niners this year is who will win the the QB battle between Colin Kapernick and Blaine Gabbert? Fans understandably don't have much faith in either but let me remind you that Chip Kelly made Nick Foles a Pro Bowl QB. In 2013, Foles threw for 27 TD and 2 INT and had the 3rd highest passer rating in NFL history (119.2). It might not be pretty at times, as we saw in 2014 and 2015, but there is always production.

Opportunity:

With the departure of Anquon Boldin the 49ers now find themselves battling the Cleveland Browns for worst receiving corps in the NFL. Outside of Torrey Smith, only Jerome Simpson has more than 50 career receptions and he hasn't been relevant since 2013. Quinton Patton has yet to carve out a role in his first few years in the league and there are also a couple newcomers to take note of. Aaron Burbridge is a rookie out of Michigan State who is likely just a possession receiver at the next level. 6'4" Eric Rogers was just signed from the CFL and is an intriguing talent but is unproven in his own right.  Bruce Ellington is really the only one who profiles as your prototypical slot WR.

It's also important to note that Kelly typically has three wideouts on the field at a time. According to Jon Moore of RotoViz, who also wrote an outstanding piece on Ellington, the Eagles used 3 WR sets on 69% of plays, compared to the 49ers who used that personnel 41% of the time in 2015. So again there is plenty of opportunity to go around and Bruce Ellington seems lined up to capitalize on it.

Since February there has a been a steady drum beat that Chip Kelly was intrigued with Bruce Ellington's skill set and he has every reason to be. Ellington can play inside and outside as a WR. He has some experience playing out of the backfield and has even shown off his arm a few times in college. I wouldn't be surprised if Chip possibly pulled that trick out of his bag this year. In a San Francisco Bee article dated February 26th, Kelly was quoted as saying, "When you look at just the short time that I've seen just film of him you're like, 'Wow - that kid can do some interesting things. Then its our job to figure out how we can use that to help us win games."

But again, what kind of opportunity are we looking at? Well for starters, 158 targets open up with the departures of Boldin, Vernon Davis, Reggie Bush and Jarryd Hayne.

Now, what about those additional 115 plays that we mentioned earlier? Well if the 49ers pass at the same clip the Eagles did last year (60%), and considering the Niners will likely have the same negative pass heavy game scripts this coming year it's realistic, then that adds an additional 69 targets that will be spread around. That brings the unaccounted for target total up to 227. I'd expect Torrey Smith to get upwards of 120 target this coming year. That's almost doubles his total from 2015. Even with factoring that in there is still so much opportunity for the taking in this passing game.

Outlook:

Look, we're a month or so away from finding out what the 49ers really having in store for Ellington but he has all the ingredients for a breakout season. According to FantasyPros.com, Ellington currently doesn't have an ADP and is listed as WR79. If you're drafting in the coming weeks I suggest taking the leap of faith and using one of your last picks on Ellington. You should be looking for upside in the 2nd half of your draft and Ellington fits that profile.

The best way I can sell it to you is by asking what if I told you there was a WR with the athleticism of Odell Beckham Jr, the skill-set of Randall Cobb, slated to be the slot WR in a Chip Kelly offense? Does that intrigue you now? Is that worth a late round pick instead of taking a washed up vet like James Jones? I think so.

Ellington checks off all the boxes and I'm looking forward to that drum beat getting louder and louder as the season approaches. If nothing else at least Wisconsin fans can attest that given the opportunity to be an integral piece of an offense Bruce Ellington can be lethal. 

(In his final collegiate game Bruce Ellington had 6 receptions for 140 yards and 2 TD's. He also threw for one score on his way to guiding South Carolina to victory in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.)

Rookie Radar - Training Camp Preview

AP Photo / Jim Mone

AP Photo / Jim Mone

Who will be this years David Johnson or Todd Gurley? Those two aforementioned rookies carried their owners to fantasy championships last year and are nearly consensus 1st round picks heading into year 2. Are there any players from the 2016 rookie class that could have a similar impact?

The below rankings are based on how I view these players as talents in combination with their potential role with their new team and what we're hearing from each organization regarding each specific player. These rankings are bound to fluctuate as the weeks pass but are meant to keep you in the know of who the next studs on Sundays will be.

1. Ezekiel Elliott - RB - Dallas Cowboys - Barring an injury Elliott will hold down this top stop for the foreseeable future. There is already talk out of Cowboys camp that the #4 overall pick could crack 300 carries, which certainly is in the realm of possibilities. Dallas has invested so heavily in Elliott and their Offensive Line in recent years that I expect them to rely on the ground-and-pound approach that led them to a 12-4 season back in 2014. Now Elliott has some solid backs behind him in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris but Zeke is a supreme talent to all of them.

2. Sterling Shepard -  WR - New York Giants - The 40th overall pick in this years draft seems to have a hold on the WR2 position in New York. Shepard was one of my favorite players in this draft class and he falls into a perfect situation in New York. New head coach, Ben McAddo, has Eli Manning playing the best ball of his career and in that passing game Shepard could see upwards of 100 targets.

3. Laquon Treadwell - WR - Minnesota Vikings - Treadwell should find himself as the starter opposite Stefon Diggs come Week 1. Diggs had an impressive rookie season but  I believe Treadwell can finally fill the primary WR void that the Vikings have lacked for years. Treadwell has a little Dez Bryant to his game. Treadwell plays with a more quiet rage and physicality that can be seen with his blocking in the run game and "my ball" mentality when it's headed his way. While the Vikings have a run oriented approach on offense Bridgewater has already sung praise of Treadwell in offseason workouts saying, "He's going to be big for this team."

4. Corey Coleman - WR - Cleveland Browns - While Coleman's raw athletic ability is something to marvel at I'm in the camp that believes his transition to the NFL will come with more bumps in the road than some think. NFL defenses will present much more  of a challenge than the Big 12. However, it appears he'll have all the opportunity to work through his struggles as the Browns depth chart is deprived of talent at the wide receiver position. At this point, Coleman should receive near WR1 target totals and is an intriguing boom/bust WR.

5. Michael Thomas - WR - New Orleans Saints - I'm excited to see how Thomas' rookie year pans out. It appears he was drafted to fill Marques Colston's role in the offense which fits his skill set perfectly. If Thomas is used in that "Big Slot" role that we've seen Colston, Jordan Matthews and Larry Fitzgerald be productive in, he should produce right away. In meantime, lets see how Thomas absorbs the playbook and if he wins a starting job.

6. Derrick Henry - RB - Tennessee Titans - Titans Head Coach, Mike Mularkey, came out and stated they were going to play an "Exotic Smashmouth" style of football. I'm not exactly sure what that means but it appears Mularkey is committed to that approach with the selection of RT Jack Conklin in the 1st Round and RB Derrick Henry in the 2nd. Henry will have to compete with DeMarco Murray for touches. OC Terry Robiskie stated they plan to use the "hot hand" approach in the backfield. Due to his limitations as a receiver I expect Henry might be limited to 1st or 2nd Round work as a rookie.

7. Josh Docston - WR - Washington Redskins - I fear I have Doctson too low here but it's because I'm unsure of the opportunity he'll be thrust into right away. Kirk Cousins suddenly has a bevy of weapons to throw to (Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder). I do consider Doctson easily the best WR of this group and in due time he'll be the WR1 but it might take a half a season. Doctson is incredible to watch.

8. Devontae Booker - RB - Denver Broncos - CJ Anderson is the unquestioned starter in Denver but don't forget that Ronnie Hillman was still able to carve out a semi-meaningful role for himself this past season even when CJ got rolling. In the 2nd half of the season Hillman still averaged 16 touches a game. What does this have to do with Devontae Booker? Well I think Booker is a superior all around back to Hillman and has the talent to overtake that role. Gary Kubiak loves running the ball and CJ Anderson has yet make it through a 16 game season unscathed so Booker could be come a premium handcuff as well.

9. Jordan Howard - RB - Chicago Bears - Truthfully I'm not sold on Jordan Howard or Jeremy Langford but I think they compliment one another and could be a serviceable duo. The way I see it now Howard takes over the between the tackles and the all important goal line work, while Langford is the primary back on passing downs. As the season approaches I think Howard's value will rise in fantasy circles.

10. Paul Perkins - RB - New York Giants - I'm probably more bullish on Perkins than I should be considering the stable of backs he has to pass on the depth chart but I believe in his talent. First, can we all send up a quick prayer that the Giants will stop handing the ball off to Andre Williams? Thank you. Perkins is a little like Devonta Freeman. He's a three down back without a true standout trait but enough ability to be a functional starter for an NFL team. Currently Rashad Jennings stands in his way with Shane Vereen likely having the passing down duties on lock. Those two have some injury history so Perkins might just be one call away.

11. Kenneth Dixon - RB - Baltimore Ravens - Dixon is perfect for Mark Trestman's scheme, the problem is the ambiguity of where he falls on the depth chart at this point. Justin Forsett will likely get the first crack at the job. Buck Allen was serviceable at the end of last season. Then factor in Trent Richardson, Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Obviously the cast of characters will dwindle down as the season approaches. For now it's just a waiting game to see when Dixon falls on the depth chart.

12. CJ Prosise - RB - Seattle Seahawks - David Johnson's do not come along every year but if there is a back whose story could look similar to Johnson's it would be Prosise. Much like David Johnson, CJ Prosise will likely make his mark early as a receiver out of the backfield. His role could expand if Thomas Rawls isn't healthy or effective coming off his ankle injury. Prosise in general is raw since he's only spent one year at running back but the upside is all there.

13. DeAndre Washington - RB - Oakland Raiders - I admittedly need to take a closer look at Washington but I wasn't too impressed with the brief viewing of him during the draft process. However the Raiders brass doesn't seem to be too crazy about Latavius Murray and Washington seems primed to take receiving down duties. Washington hauled in 124 passes at Texas Tech. Washington looks to be Murray's primary handcuff as the season approaches.

14. Leonte Carroo - WR - Miami Dolphins - I don't see Carroo ever becoming a star but he'll be a household name to casual fantasy players sooner than you think. Carroo's thick build, detailed route running and physicality as a possession receiver has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin. Carroo is a polished product who can play on in the inside and outside and could become an asset in the passing game right away.

15. Will Fuller - WR - Houston Texans - Fuller's astonishing speed brings a much needed deep element to the Texans passing game and complements DeAndre Hopkins well. Fuller has his issue with drops but his big play ability certainly will make up for that some weeks. Think Ted Ginn with Fuller.

16. Tyler Boyd - WR - Cincinnati Bengals - With the departure of Mohammad Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency Boyd steps into a promising situation where he's likely WR3 on their depth chart. He's smooth but has limitations athletically and will probably be most effect in the slot.

17. Wendell Smallwood - RB - Philadelphia Eagles - Smallwood quietly lead the Big 12 in rushing this past year and in Doug Pederson run based approach he could become a fantasy darling If Ryan Mathews goes down. Darren Sproles will certainly steal touches but I think Smallwood is more apt to take on the bigger workload in that scenario.

18. Jared Goff - QB - St Louis - Jared Goff will enter training camp as No. 2 on the depth chart but we all know he'll be thrown in the fire right away. Goff was easily the best QB prospect in this class and should turn into a solid starter in the league but don't think he'll have much fantasy value as long as Jeff Fisher is calling the shots.

19. Tajae Sharpe - WR - Tennessee Titans - In June it was announced that Sharpe would open training camp as a starter. Who knows if this is a ploy to motivate talented but troubled WR Dorial Green-Beckham. The 5th Round pick out of UMass is just a solid possession Wide Receiver. 

20. Kenyan Drake - RB - Miami Dolphins - Drake is quick-twitch explosive play maker who will likely have the chance to carve out a receiving role out of the backfield to go along with his involvement in the return game. I don't see him as a threat to take over Jay Ajayi's role as the starter.

21. Austin Hooper - TE - Atlanta Falcons - Historically rookie Tight Ends don't have much impact but I think Hooper has the ability to push Jacob Tamme for the job. Hooper is well-rounded prospect who should be able to hold his own in the run game to start and can be a factor in the passing game given the opportunity. In the long run I think Hooper will fill the void that Tony Gonzalez left years ago.

22. Hunter Henry - TE - San Diego Chargers - Antonio Gates is still the sheriff in town but I have a hunch that San Diego has plans to sprinkle Henry into the mix at times. I can see Henry stealing like 20 snaps a game with a few targets coming his way out of the gate. 

23. Daniel Braverman - WR - Chicago Bears - Braverman is your prototypical slot WR who would fit in perfectly between Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery. Marquess Wilson is re-broke his foot at minicamp so it seems like Braverman will be competing with Eddie Royal, who disappointed his first year in Chicago, and Josh Bellamy for the WR3 and WR4 position.

24. Paxton Lynch - QB - Denver Broncos - Lynch fell into a perfect situation. He's an ideal fit for Gary Kubiak's system and is surrounded by a talented cast of characters. The media will likely make Brock Osweiler comparisons due to their similar stature but Lynch is much more talented. I expect Lynch to see the field here and there in his rookie season, which won't translate to much fantasy value but if Mark Sanchez flames out Lynch will move up quite a bit on this list.

25. Carson Wentz - QB - Philadelphia Eagles - Wentz is the QB of the future in Philly but it looks like he'll be watching from the sidelines to start things off. Once the reins are handed over, and since Sam Bradford is a china doll it could happen sooner than expected, Wentz will be an intriguing fantasy option because of his ability in the run game.

TSO Report: Seattle Seahawks WR - Tyler Lockett

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Tyler Lockett

Height: 5'10"

Weight:  182 LBS

College: Kansas State

Drafted: 3rd Round, 69th Overall by Seattle in 2015

Experience: 2nd Season

2015 Season Stats: 51 Rec, 69 Targets, 664 Yards, 13.0 YPC, 6 TD, KOR TD, PR TD

Talent:

The Seahawks gave up a bundle of picks in the 2015 NFL Draft (3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th) in order to move up in the 3rd round to select the dynamic Wide Receiver and Return Specialist out of Kansas State. Lockett's game changing talent was apparent from the get-go as he took a kickoff return to the house in his first preseason game. This was a sign of things to come, as Lockett was a spark plug and momentum changer throughout his rookie season for the Seahawks.

Lockett's game is built off his quickness, speed and vision. These traits are best on display when Lockett is flipping field position as a return specialist. In the regular season, Lockett returned both a kickoff and punt for touchdowns, which led to him being named 1st Team All Pro as a kick returner.

Weighing 182 lbs soaking wet, Lockett is able to win as a wide receiver due to his precise and sharp route running, paired along with his sudden burst and 4.40 speed. Due to his nuance as a route runner Lockett is able to gain separation against defensive backs, often for big plays deep down the field.

This offseason Lockett has worked with teammate Doug Baldwin on his releases from the line of scrimmage. Reflecting on his rookie season, Lockett was recently quoted as saying, “I felt like off-the-line I was a C." Coming out of school many draft analysts, myself included, questioned Lockett's ability to consistently beat tight physical coverage, which he didn't see much of in the Big 12. Seeing as he's already putting in the work to prefect that aspect of route running while being able to go up against Richard Sherman on a daily basis in practice I'm excited to see what the already special teams maven can develop into as a wide receiver.

Fans have been quick to throw out Antonio Brown comparisons after watching Lockett this past season but we need to pump the breaks on that for the time being. I see Lockett developing into the likes of a TY Hilton, Brandin Cook and John Brown. Which is great company to be a part of.

Situation:

Lockett has drawn praise from Seahawks personnel from the day they traded up to acquire him. Entering his second season his role is only going to continue to grow. Lockett has the #2 WR job locked down, opposite Doug Baldwin, and there is growing optimism that the Seahawks will turn to a more pass oriented approached with the Beast Mode era now in the rear-view mirror.

Seeing how Russell Wilson finished up last season it would be hard not to put more weight on Wilson's arm and legs. Take a peak at the numbers below and realize that Wilson accomplished this without Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham and Thomas Rawls for the majority of these games.

Russell Wilson's Last 7 Regular Season Games of 2015: 71% Comp%, 1,906 Yards, 24 TD , 1 INT, 132.8 QB Rating, 198 Rushing Yards, TD

The Seahawks shifted towards a quick passing game, funneling touches to their playmakers and allowing them to work in space paired with the occasionally deep shot to talents like Baldwin, Lockett or Kearse. Wilson's incredible efficiency and ability to thrive in chaos gels well with a player of Lockett's talent; who is nearly impossible to cover when a play breaks from it's design and turns into school yard football. 

Russell Wilson has long been recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in the league but until the second half of last season he's never quite put up the counting numbers of the likes of Brees, Brady and Rodgers.

Taking a deeper dive into the Seahawks offense there are still concerns over what the Offensive Line will amount too. It was one of the worst in the NFL for stretches last season and they lost two starters in Free Agency. JR Sweezy bolted for Tampa Bay and Russell Okung signed with Denver. With even more glaring holes in an already terrible unit he Seahawks invested heavily in the offensive line in the draft selecting Germain Ifedi in the 1st Round and Rees Odhiambo in the 3rd. Both are seen more as projects than plug and play material. It will be interesting to see how the position battles all shake out in training camp.

The Seahawks also compiled a trio of running backs to compete with Rawls and demigod, Christine Michael. The most intriguing player of the backs taken is CJ Procise, who is a WR turned RB. Procise should fill the role of Fred Jackson in the passing game (41 targets, 32 receptions in 2015) with the opportunity to become an exciting every down back if Rawls is unable to recover from his broken ankle.

Opportunity:

Russell Wilson passing attempts have increased every single season he's been in the NFL. Considering that Lockett will likely be the #2 WR in this offense his target total and role in the offense will increase by default.

So who does Lockett have to compete with for targets? Doug Baldwin led the team in targets with 103, former All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham came in 2nd with 71, Lockett was 3rd with 69 barely edging out veteran Jermaine Kearse with 68.

Breaking it down further to Red Zone targets Doug Baldwin again led the pack with 17. Graham and Kearse tied with 9 and Lockett compiled a measly 4.

Now regression will come into play this season for Doug Baldwin and the status of Graham is unclear, so Red Zone targets will get shuffled around but when you understand how Seattle used Lockett the total from last season makes sense. Obviously Lockett made plenty of plays downfield but on a route to route basis he was used primarily in the short passing game. Simple quick hitting routes such as slants, flares and bubble screens.

One of the biggest stories this offseason for Seattle is the status of Jimmy Graham, who is recovering from rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee in Week 11 of last season. This is one of the toughest injuries to come back from. Victor Cruz for example hasn't seen the field since tearing his patellar tendon in early October of 2014. So it's no sure bet that Graham is back on the field to start the season and if he does see game action how effective he'll be. With that being said it's imperative we take a look to see how the offense functioned without Graham and what that may mean for Lockett.

In the 5 games after Graham went down Lockett averaged: 6.4 Targets Per Game, 4.6 Rec, 63.6 Yards, 3 TD

If you extrapolate that to a 16 game season Lockett's numbers would be: 102 Targets, 73 Rec, 1,018 Yards, 9 TD

In other words these are similar to Doug Baldwin's 2015 season (103 Targets, 78 Rec, 1,069 Yards, 14 TD) with TD regression.

Another name to keep in the back of your mind is Paul Richardson, the former 2nd round pick in 2014. He missed nearly all of 2015 due to a torn ACL and could have a role in the WR corps this coming year.

Outlook:

As a rookie Lockett was eased in his role as a starting WR and still put up 51 Receptions, 664 Yards and 6 TD. Those numbers should be seen as his absolute baseline and I think his sophomore season will end up comparing similarly to that of John Brown's. Think something along the lines of 65 Receptions, 1,000 Yards and 7 TD. Not to mention that his role in the special teams game could definitely serve as the cherry on top some weeks.

TSO Report: San Diego Chargers RB - Melvin Gordon

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Melvin Gordon

Height: 6'1"

Weight:  215 LBS

College: Wisconsin

Drafted: 1st Round, 15th Overall by San Diego in 2015

Experience: 2nd Season

2015 Season Stats: 184 Att, 641 Yards, 3.5 YPC, 0 TD, 33 Rec, 192 Yards, 0 TD

Talent:

Unfortunately Melvin Gordon's first career NFL carry was a microcosm of his rookie season.

Gordon struggled to flash the traits and ability that made him a 1st round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and it's now uncertain if that time will ever come. In February it was reported that Gordon has the meniscus in his left knee repaired, which was expected. Gordon missed the final two games of his rookie season due to the injury. However, a couple weeks ago it was revealed that Gordon also had microfracture surgery on that same knee. Just like there is no such thing as a mild concussion, there is no such thing as a minor microfracture surgery. Microfracture surgery is when holes are poked (micro fractures, get it) in the bone to stimulate cartilage growth. It is never done as a preemptive measure to clean something up and has a 8-9 month recovery that requires extensive downtime. It has a 75-80% success rate. Travis Kelce and Vontaze Burfict are the biggest names to recently come back from it. Now seeing as Gordon had the procedure in January and the Chargers GM came out and said the size and location of the surgery were favorable then maybe there is hope Gordon is ready come week 1. I'm hesitant to believe that there is nothing to worry about and would hope the Chargers would proceed with caution with a 23-year old that they invested so much in.

As if the knee wasn't worrisome enough Gordon's fumbling issues followed him to the NFL as well. In 2015, MGIII coughed up the rock 6 times in all, losing 4. This ultimately led to him being benched twice during his rookie season.

On a more positive note, Gordon did impress as a receiver out of the backfield. Most of these receptions were simple down dumps or swing passes - in a way substituting for the anemic run game. Gordon's ability in the passing game, both as a receiver and pass blocker, were his biggest critiques coming out of Wisconsin. ESPN's, Todd McShay, graded Gordon out as "Below Average". Gordon quickly dispelled that notion and it's a great reminder to the scouting community that just because a player wasn't asked to do something doesn't mean they can't. Although he only had 22 receptions in college I thought there were pretty good examples of Gordon adjusting to balls and using proper hand technique when called upon.

Gordon never got rolling in the run game, for plenty of reasons that we'll touch on, but he did show glimpses of his electrifying burst to the second level and unique ability to put moves on defenders without really losing speed. Could Gordon have been more decisive on some runs, sure. That will hopefully come with time in the NFL but for playing behind a bunch of turnstiles masquerading as offensive lineman, he did an admirable job of getting what he could.

Situation:

2015 was definitely a year to forget for the Chargers. It started off with Antonio Gates missing the first 4 weeks due to suspension. Then the offensive line didn't even last a full regular season game together before San Diego was forced to play musical chairs along the line. Ladarius Green, Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson also missed major chucks of the year due to injury.

Pro Football Focus rated the San Diego Offensive Line as the worst unit in the NFL. They graded out as the worst pass blocking unit and came in 2nd to last in run blocking. Plenty of blame can be put on the massive amount of injuries that occurred along the line. The Chargers used 24 different offensive line combinations in 2015. Going across the line the Chargers had 5 different players line up at Left Tackle, 6 at Left Guard, 3 at Center, 5 at Right Guard and 4 at Right Tackle. Orlando Franklin, King Dunlap and DJ Fluker aren't perennial all-pros but when healthy the line has the potential to be in the top half of the league. The only direction they can go is up.

Ken Whisenhunt returns to San Diego after a historically bad tenure as the Head Coach of the Tennessee Titans. He'll take over the Offensive Coordinator duties again and will hopefully rekindle the magic that earned him the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2013. Whisenhunt took the Chargers from 31st in the league in yards per game to 5th in his one year calling the shots. In 2013, the Chargers finished 4th in passing yards per game and 13th in rushing yards per game. 

All things considered, the Chargers definitely have the talent to make that same turnaround again. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have put together Hall of Fame worthy careers and are still going strong. Keenan Allen is one of the most underrated WR's in the NFL. Gordon and Woodhead perfectly complement one another and the Chargers even brought in more talent this offseason. The Chargers signed speedster WR Travis Benjamin in free agency. He'll bring a new element to the Chargers offense that it's lacked for a little bit. They also selected Arkansas TE Hunter Henry in the 2nd round of the draft. Henry is a skilled possession receiving TE who can fill the shoes of Ladarius Green and will wait in the wings until Gates calls it a career.

So what does this all mean for Gordon? Even with all the talent around him If he's healthy he'll have plenty of opportunity to produce. In 2013, Ryan Matthews had a career year and finished as RB 12. He racked up over 300+ touches for 1,400+ yards and 7 TDs. Meanwhile, Danny Woodhead finished as RB 19 (standard scoring). Woodhead racked up a little over 1,000 yards and 8 TD's in typical Woodhead fashion, making most of his impact as the little jitterbug receiver out of the back field.

Whisenhunt was critiqued for the pass heavy attacks the past two seasons in Tennessee but I'd hope he'd reel it back in and revert back to what worked in his previous tenure here. Previous to San Diego, the only other time Whisenhunt was an OC was in Pittsburgh from 2004-2006. During those years his team led the NFL in carries twice. The one year it didn't Willie Parker was still RB5.

Opportunity:

Gordon will have every opportunity to take on a lead back role again. The Chargers didn't bring anyone in this offseason to compete, which also means they feel good about Gordon being healthy for the regular season. Danny Woodhead should still hold down the 3rd down receiving back role. 3rd string RB Brandon Oliver has shown the skills to fill in either role if needed.

As a rookie Gordon played in 36.1% of snaps. Danny Woodhead on the other hand saw action on 49.9%. Now these numbers are a little misleading because Gordon missed two game and his fumbling issues led to an increased role for Woodhead in the red zone but I wanted to compare the snap counts with similar RBBC situations around the league.

Two situations that I found similar to San Diego's were Cleveland and Cincinnati's. Both these teams have a clear between the tackles back and a receiving specialist. Come to show their splits were pretty close to what we saw in San Diego and in a passing league that makes sense. In 2015, Duke Johnson was in 50.8% of snaps while Isaiah Crowell was in on 42.9%. In Cinncinnati, Giovani Bernard was in on 55.0% of snaps while Jeremy Hill was in on 43.3%.

Looking forward to 2016, you would assume that a healthy Gordon's playing time would increase more towards the norm with the real possibility to take on a larger role in the offense.

As a rookie Gordon still averaged 15.5 touches per game so when on the field the Chargers were committed to feed him the ball. 

Outlook:

Gordon appears to be in a better overall situation this coming year. The addition of Ken Whisenhunt and a healthy offensive line brings hope that better days are ahead for the Chargers but the knee injury is still a huge concern for me. I'll want to see him out on the field showing he's back to his former self, which still needs work, before I'm a believer again. So at this moment I would not draft Gordon at his current ADP RB26, 75th overall. Some players currently around that ADP that I would rather have are Giovani Bernard, Marvin Jones, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Duke Johnson to name a few.

TSO Report: New Orleans Saints TE - Coby Fleener

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Coby Fleener

Height: 6'6"

Weight:  251 LBS

College: Stanford

Drafted: 2nd Round, 34th Overall by Indianapolis in 2012

Experience: 5th Season

2015 Season Stats: 54 Rec, 84 Targets, 491 Yards, 9.1 YPC, 3 TD 

Talent:

The Colts selected Coby Fleener atop the 2nd Round in 2012, teaming him up with former Stanford teammate, Andrew Luck. With the talent and chemistry the players already possessed the Colts envisioned the two becoming a dynamic duo in the passing game for the coming decade. Fleener was to play Robin to Andrew Luck's Batman.

Unfortunately this never came to fruition and four years later Fleener bolted to New Orleans in free agency. Fleener certainly wasn't a bust. In 2014 he finished as the 6th best TE in fantasy. However, when push came to shove the Colts decided to pay the often injured but more complete TE in Dwayne Allen. I realize you can't pay everyone and for all we know the Colts would have loved to bring Fleener back but I wouldn't be surprised if they viewed Fleener as just another guy.

Coming out of college Fleener was seen as this agile, seam splitting, move-TE prospect. So far that really hasn't been the case and it’s apparent the size and speed of the NFL has caught up to him. Athletically Fleener no longer stands out on a football field. He isn't sudden in his breaks or elusive player with the ball in his hands and really plays at one speed. The lack of a second gear in his routes and with the ball in his hands is why he struggles to separate from defenders and create more after the catch. Fleener still has ways to go as a run blocker and is really just a possession receiving TE. At this stage of his career he likely is what he is.

With that being said Fleener is still a mismatch vs certain linebackers and in the box safeties due to his 6'6" frame and acceptable speed. Fleener did a nice job finding the soft spot in zones as a route runner this past year. Fleener has some ugly drops on his resume and could be better in contested situations but I think the concern over his "shaky" hands are overblown. His drop rates fall in line with many of todays top TEs.

At the end of the day, Fleener is solid move TE, but not worth the money he received in free agency.

Situation:

Coby Fleener spent the first 4 years of his NFL career in a TEBC (Tight End By Committee), battling Dwayne Allen for snaps. He arrives in New Orleans after signing a 5-year, $36 Million deal and is in line to be a focal point of one of the most prolific passing games in the NFL He really couldn't be in a better situation.

Here are a couple fun tidbits to illustrate the situation he's entering:

- Drew Brees has led the NFL in passing yards 4 of the past 5 years. In 2013 he came in 2nd while having the 5th highest total in NFL history. If you're wondering, Peyton Manning set the all-time passing yards record that season.

- Drew Brees has been Top 7 in the league in passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns in each of his 10 seasons with the Saints.

- A Tight End on a Drew Brees team has finished as the TE1 in fantasy 4 times (Graham & Gates both 2 times). Other Top 10 performances include Graham and Ben Watson.

Below you'll see over the past 9 seasons Saints TE's compile on average: 147 targets, 98 receptions, 1,088 yards, 10 TD and a 22.86% market share of targets. To put this into perspective Drew Brees targets his TE's nearly the same as Aaron Rodgers targeted Randall Cobb last year, 22.5%. A reminder that Jordy Nelson didn't play in 2015. Some other target market share percentages you may find interesting: Calvin Johnson - 23.9%, Odell Beckham Jr - 25.3%, AJ Green - 26.1%, Emmanuel Sanders - 22.4%, Amari Cooper - 21.4%, TY Hilton - 21.6%, Brandin Cooks - 19.1% and Allen Robinson - 24.8%. Targets are an important piece of puzzle when evaluating tight ends and wide receivers because it lets you know how heavily involved they are in the offense.

I wanted to also look at this from a TE perspective. I looked at other top passing games that didn't have a high profile TE where the passing game was built around that player. If you have a Gronk or Eifert you're going to them in every high leverage situation you can get. That's not he case with a Ben Watson, Josh Hill or Coby Fleener.  I wanted to see how often prolific passing QBs targeted league average TEs. Comes to show that in 2015 Aaron Rodgers targeted a TE on 15.7% of pass plays. Carson Palmer 10.6%, Big Ben 16.1%, Eli Manning 17.6%, Matt Ryan 14.9%, Matt Stafford 15.9%. Drew Brees is still way ahead of the pack.

Now this is only a one year sample but based off Saints TE production over the years I think its fair to say Sean Payton and Drew Brees are more willing to get the TE involved no matter who is in the game.

Opportunity: 

The departures of Marques Colston, Ben Watson and Khiry Robinson free up 197 targets from last season.

Fleener will fill Ben Watson's shoes as the primary receiving TE and should be one of Drew Bree's favorite targets from the get go.  Backing up Fleener are TE's Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui. Hoomanawanui is the blocking TE of the bunch while Josh Hill offers some of the same value Fleener does. Coming into 2015 Hill was thought to be the top candidate to take over the starting TE job but lost it to 35-year old Ben Watson. My expectations for 2016 are that the distribution of targets amongst the TE will be similar to this past year. I think a 27-year old Fleener should have a little more gas in the tank as a receiver than aging Ben Watson. This past season Fleener was limited to more quick underneath passes and short crossing routes but in New Orleans he will be used to attack all levels of the field.

It will be interesting to see how the Saints deploy rookie 2nd round pick, WR Michael Thomas. Thomas admitted that he had a hard time picking up the playbook at Ohio State so it will be interesting to see if it takes him a while to get going. Thomas has the ability to play on the outside but it would be fun to see him used in the Marques Colston - jumbo slot WR role. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead round out receiving corp. They'll consume most of Brees targets with Brandon Coleman making a splash here and there. Just enough to make you remember he's around.

Quietly Mark Ingram is one of the most complete all around back in the NFL. He's really come along as a receiver. Tim Hightower and CJ Spiller will be competing for touches behind Ingram.

Outlook: 

The opportunity is there for Fleener to have a career year in the voluminous Saints passing attack.

According to fantasydraftpros.com consensus ADP (Average Draft Position) board Fleener currently rests at TE11 and 115th overall. I expect that ADP to rise as the season approaches but as it stands right now that would be a major steal. I'd even go as far as saying that Fleener could be TE5, behind Gronk, Eifert, Olsen, Reed and ahead of Barnidge, Kelce and Walker.

Fleener is an excellent example of how a players situation and opportunity can turn a ho-hum player into an intriguing building block for your fantasy teams.