Team Tendencies and Trends: The AFC East
The AFC East is a minefield when it comes to weather. All open stadiums. Three out of the four located in areas heavily affected by winter conditions. Miami still listed in the Top 5 for cities most vulnerable to hurricanes. New England aside, this division can cause some headaches from a week to week trends standpoint. The key is to identify the positive trends and make lineup decisions from there.
Wide Receiver, 2nd Round
Sammy Watkins? Gone. Robert Woods? Gone. Anquan Boldin? Signed and retired. This leaves a large vacuum for Zay Jones to fill even with the acquisition of Jordan Matthews. But this is a completely different offense due to the roster turnover.
While Taylor’s volume drops, he’s still looking to pass downfield or use his legs to extend drives. Jones’ speed and athleticism made him a downfield asset in East Carolina, but there are some holes to his game. His struggles against man and press coverage are noteworthy. Unable to find consistent separation, his greatest success came on intermediate passes or against zone coverages. Expect Taylor’s 2017 AY/A to be in between his 2015 and 206 performance based on Jones’ strength. And who benefits the most from Tyrod in high wind situations?
Trends show that all of Tyrod’s receivers over the last two years have seen their targets drop as weather conditions deteriorate. All have primarily played on the outside. Charles Clay’s rapport with Taylor has grown to becoming a reliable midfield target. If Rick Dennison melds the offense to Jones’ strengths, Zay can find early success here.
Quarterback, 5th Round
After the offseason drama regarding Tyrod’s contract, taking Nathan Peterman in the fifth round gives ‘TyGod’ fans some hope. But Peterman has the skills to play at the pro level. Smooth quick release allows him to accurately place intermediate throws. This helps both Zay Jones and Charles Clay. His arm strength is a concern. If forced to take the field, expect boosts to the short-range pass catchers and LeSean McCoy.
Ryan Tannehill’s injury and Jay Cutler’s signing will require an adjustment period. They have some time, but overall, it’s hard to see the drop from Tannehill to Cutler to be that significant. Expectations are that all of the starting offensive players should see their normal workloads. An Adam Gase led offense can shield poor quarterback play. Isaiah Ford’s swollen knee will keep him sidelined in 2017. But let’s review his skills and how they could fit into the team.
Wide Receiver, 7th Round
Isaiah Ford’s skills produce the greatest asset to a quarterback. Getting open. Ford’s route running and separation skills are exactly what a conservative, high percentage throw offense needs. But at 6’1” and only 194 lbs, there’s concern he can’t win the physical battle at the pro level.
Current and former Miami wide receivers have lost targets due to weather. DeVante Parker was getting some hype during camp. His size and speed likely reminds Cutler of Alshon Jeffery. Easy target. Kenny Stills was developing quite the rapport with Tannehill prior to his injury. Going back further, even Mike Wallace had adjust to working with Tannehill. The offense relies on its rushing game so Ford wouldn’t necessarily need to do much after the catch. If Ford does see the field, he must use his separation talents to win Cutler’s trust.
Trends showing Tannehill’s increasing AY/A over the years indicates he was becoming more comfortable as a passer and developing better chemistry with his weapons. His rush attempts, typically offering a nice floor, were tapering off alluding to more receiver usage. Cutler’s one year under Adam Gase paints a different picture. Much more conservative, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly Cutler can relearn from his old OC and utilize his teammates. Preseason will give owners an idea of who to target in season long/DFS.
New England Patriots
No Offensive Players Drafted
The loss of draft picks didn’t stop the Patriots from adding notable talent to their offense. The additions to all three receiving positions make New England a matchup nightmare. It’s already difficult to predict positional usage when Bill Belichick is involved. The goal here is to see is high winds tip their hand.
Let me get this straight. Both Brady’s pass attempts and AY/A INCREASE with wind speed? That’s unfair. This makes any piece of the offense a viable fantasy target. The loss of Julian Edelman likely decreases Brady’s total pass attempts in 2017, but the offense will still score efficiently. Pass/run splits will be investigated in a future piece, but for now, let’s look at his new targets.
The trade for Brandin Cooks caught many off guard. The former New Orleans speedster primarily played on the outside and offers what the Patriots need. A mismatch to pull the defense.
It was previously noted that Drew Brees appeared to struggle in high wind games during 2016. These trends added to the home/road split narrative. Tom Brady doesn’t have these limitations. The only remaining question is his week to week usage. If his speed is his strength, owners are advised to look at his weekly matchups for slower corners.
Again, more confusion. On its own, the Rex Burkhead signing made sense. Rex is 20 lbs. larger than James White and Dion Lewis with similar versatility and proven pass protection skills. He appeared in line for the early down role left by LeGarrette Blount. Then comes Mike Gillislee. His high efficiency power run style is more in line with what the fantasy community expects the ‘Blount Role’ to be. Rush attempts in 2016 showed an inverse trend when compared to previous years. Gillislee provides the larger upside, but the ‘do your job’ Belichick-ism indicates there’s a chance for Burkhead to take the field.
Like Cooks, Dwayne Allen presents another viable target while pulling defenses away from the rest of the offense. A strong blocker and reliable receiver, Allen must prove himself after an injury riddled stint in Indianapolis. He serves as an option in two tight end sets or a backup to Rob Gronkowski should he go down again.
In games where both Gronk and Bennett played, trends show that the two saw similar workloads with Gronk still being the primary target. Injuries to both tight ends skew the results, but it’s important to note that both can be useful. Early reports indicate Allen is still trying to learn the offense. If he makes the final roster and stays healthy, he will be more than just a handcuff to Gronk.
New York Jets
Hard to get excited about a team that appears to be headed to an 0-16 season. Lost their two best receivers. Brought in Josh McCown. Quincy Enunwa out for the season with a neck injury. The rookies will see action at some point this season given the team’s outlook. Let’s see how they’d be used.
Wide Receiver, 3rd Round
Physical. Tough. Plays bigger than his size. All have been used to describe ArDarius Stewart. The Alabama product played from multiple positions within the offense during college. Slot receiver. Wingback as a blocker. Outside. Stewart made most of his yardage being a YAC monster ripping through zone defenses.
This works for McCown. His teams are typically trailing which helps explain his steady volume and AY/A profile over his previous teams. The only hole in Stewart’s game is his ability to separate. On the cusp of being labeled a gadget player, he must prove his talents on the outside.
Wide Receiver, 4th Round
Chad Hansen amassed most of his college production on the outside. His struggles against man coverage suggest his separation skills aren’t yet up to par. We’ve seen before that teams will put their players in situations to succeed. If true here, Hansen’s size and raw athleticism could be utilized from the slot while he improves at the overall position.
Robby Anderson saw consistent work last year with Brandon Marshall and Enunwa on the outside. Hansen doesn’t possess the same speed as Anderson, but his natural skills can prove effective from this position.
Tight End, 5th Round
Just picture it. McCown’s in the red zone looking for an open target. You’d think the chances are good he’d notice 6’5” Jordan Leggett. But history isn’t on the side of the converted wide receiver.
Tight ends have seen average usage in the past, but that took a nose dive in 2015 and 2016. This points to a lot of the problems within the offense, but there isn’t much fantasy value here.
Running Back, 6th Round
Elijah McGuire has a similar build to Powell, but lacks the field vision and agility displayed by Powell in 2016. McGuire suffered a foot injury early his senior year affecting his season and combine performance. If healthy, his pass catching skills could put him into the mix should Forte succumb to Father Time during the season.
The data trends are skewed by weak sample size, but both backs saw ample work in both the rushing and passing game. While it’s possible the team could sign a larger veteran for early down work, consider McGuire in line for a change of pace role if called upon.