The calm before the storm. That’s exactly how it feels right now during the NFL dark period. It gives us a time to catch our breath and take one final look at everything that has happened since free agency opened up back in March.
We’ll continue to tie a bow on several situations throughout the league in the buildup to training camp. Here are today’s five things to know:
1. Why Adrian Peterson isn’t one of our top-5 running backs
While Le’Veon Bell’s position atop the running back rankings this year is widely agreed upon, there’s been much debate as to who should come after the Steelers star. Some prefer the Rams' Todd Gurley, others David Johnson of the Cardinals, and still others are placing their chips on Vikings veteran Peterson.
Entering his age-31 season, Peterson is going through intense offseason workouts to try to defy Father Time and keep churning out 1,000-yard seasons. Of course, the NFL isn’t kind to aging running backs. Since 1990 there have been just 26 players to top 1,000 yards on the ground after their 30th birthday. The oldest players to do so were 32 years old: Ricky Williams with 1,121 yards in 2009, Emmitt Smith with 1,021 yards in 2001, and Mike Anderson with 1,014 in 2005.
To be fair, Peterson is one of the best running backs in NFL history. But even the greats will decline if they stay in the league long enough. The good news is that we don’t anticipate a drop-off in Peterson’s play this season. However, we don’t have him as a consensus top-5 fantasy running back this season. Peterson comes in at six in the PFF staff rankings, and while that might not sit well with some, there’s sound logic behind his being placed there.
With limited involvement in the Vikings’ passing game – just 33 targets last year – Peterson has a lower weekly floor than backs more involved in the passing game, such as Bell. Peterson certainly has massive weekly upside, but he also has the potential to put up some fantasy duds. In Week 1 last year, he went for just 31 yards on 10 carries. Likewise, he posted 18 yards on eight totes in Week 14.
You’re going to get these kinds of lines from even the best running backs, but the pass-catchers can at least salvage a respectable fantasy week. Devonta Freeman did this numerous times last season. In Week 13, he went 14-for-47 on the ground, but bailed out his fantasy owners with 10 catches for 56 yards. Even in standard scoring, that’s a respectable 10.3 fantasy points. So while Peterson’s massive ceiling is appealing, his slightly lower floor due to not being heavily involved as a receiver tips the scales just enough to move him outside of our top five fantasy running backs.
2. Coby Fleener is on the verge of a fantasy breakout
It’s a fun year for tight ends in fantasy. Sure, New England's Rob Gronkowski still remains at the top. But Washington's Jordan Reed has closed the canyon-like gap between Gronk and the No. 2 spot. We’re coming off a year where eight tight ends topped 100 targets, which was the most since 2011. Better yet, there are a lot of potential breakouts at the position who can still be drafted as a value. Case in point: new Saints TE Fleener.
Currently the No. 7 tight end coming off the board in ADP, Fleener steps into a very tight end-friendly offense in New Orleans. Last season, the Saints' Ben Watson tied with Kansas City's Travis Kelce for seventh in fantasy scoring.
I repeat: Ben Watson.
Fleener is a superior athlete who reportedly shined in minicamp practices. The New Orleans Advocate believes Fleener could finish second on the team in receiving behind top wideout Brandin Cooks. However, Willie Snead will also be in the mix for that distinction. Second or not, Fleener is poised to break out in a big way, especially with Drew Brees showing no signs of decline. Fleener’s fantasy arrow is pointing straight up.
3. Don’t overlook Mike Wallace
Early in the offseason, Ravens 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman was getting a lot of buzz as a possible breakout wide receiver. The second-year player missed all of his rookie campaign with a torn PCL, but he’s oozing with upside and has the speed of a thoroughbred. Unfortunately, the “welp” moment came in June when Perriman suffered a partially torn ACL. Initial reports suggested he’d be shelved for another year, but that prognosis changed following a knee scope. There’s now hope that he’ll be ready for the regular season following stem-cell injections. However, the Ravens still remain in “wait-and-see” mode with Perriman.
While there’s a lot of excitement surrounding this young receiver, the player who is getting largely overlooked on the Baltimore depth chart is Wallace. Sure, he’s coming off a very disappointing season in Minnesota, but this is a guy who was a top-25 fantasy option in each of the five previous seasons to last year. He’s still just 30 years old – which is by no means “old” for wide receivers – and he reportedly “looked sharp” in offseason practice.
Wallace isn’t a sexy pick who will draw “oohs” and “ahs” when you put his name on the draft board. But with Perriman banged up and Steve Smith returning from a torn Achilles at age 37, Wallace is in a good situation to produce. Better yet, you can get him for a bologna sandwich at the end of drafts with a current ADP in the middle of the 12th round.
4. Know the name: Kenneth Dixon
Staying in Baltimore, there’s an interesting situation to monitor through training camp at running back. Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com says the starting job is Justin Forsett’s to lose, but also notes that he’s going to have to fend off a talented group of young backs that includes Javorius Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon.
Of the two, Dixon is the player who really stands out. Allen did a nice job filling in for Forsett last year, scoring the sixth-most fantasy points among running backs from Week 11 on. However, Dixon enters the league following a prolific college career at Louisiana Tech where he scored 87 touchdowns and racked up 5,452 yards. A strong receiver who led all draft-eligible running backs in yards per route run (2.21), Dixon has very real three-down potential. With Forsett far from consistent last season – he posted negative grades in four of 10 games played – Dixon is worth a late-round flier in redraft leagues.
5. Falcons rookie Keanu Neal is squarely on the IDP radar.
One quick note for the IDP crowd. When it comes to draft strategy, it’s advisable to not place much stock in the defensive back position. There’s significantly more annual fluctuation in production at defensive back than at the other two IDP positions. Your best bet is to identify late-round players in good situations who have the potential to produce, and then be prepared to stream throughout the season.
A player to highlight on your draft boards this year is Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal. The No. 17 overall pick in April’s draft, Neal has prototype size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) for the position and proved to be a strong tackler at Florida – he racked 96 tackles last season despite missing two games. Better yet, he’s been working out with Kam Chancellor in the offseason. While that news might not resonate to some, Chancellor really emerged under current Falcons head coach Dan Quinn when he was with the Seahawks. Neal is the early favorite to start at strong safety for the Falcons, and has DB2-plus upside in that role.