The 2017 season was filled with surprises, both good and bad. Last week we looked at the biggest surprise for each of the 16 AFC teams. This week we turn our attention to what the biggest surprises were inside the NFC and offer some insight on what to expect from these players in the year ahead.
Didn’t have a single RB finish inside top 50
David Johnson suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 1 and decimated fantasy teams in the process. The Cardinals had an even tougher time replacing that production. Adrian Peterson, who was traded to the team in October and only played in six games for Arizona before getting hurt, led the team with 448 rushing yards, 129 rushing attempts and two rushing touchdowns. Johnson is reportedly at 100 percent in his recovery from the wrist injury and will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2018.
Julio Jones scored just three touchdowns
Despite finishing sixth in targets (143), ninth in receptions (99) and second in receiving yards (144), Jones was mostly considered a disappointment in fantasy circles. The reason was simple – he scored just three touchdowns and two of his scores came in one game. Jones has only had double digits scores once over his seven years in the league, but 2017’s total was his lowest mark outside of 2013 when he only played five games due to injury. He remains a top-tier option at wide receiver despite the low scoring output.
Cam Newton kept running
Head coach Ron Rivera suggested in training camp he wanted to protect Newton by having him run less in 2017, but it didn’t happen. In fact, Newton finished with a career-high 754 rushing yards. He was the leader among quarterbacks in rushing yards, attempts (139), and rushing touchdowns (6). The next-closest QB in rushing attempts was Dak Prescott, who ran the ball 44 less times than Newton. When Newton is running at that rate it’s hard to find a better fantasy quarterback.
Kendall Wright finished as team’s top wideout
The Bears finished tied dead last with the Colts with just 13 passing touchdowns. Chicago’s receiving corps was the worst in the league. They didn’t have a single wide receiver reach 60 catches, 615 yards or three touchdowns. Alshon Jeffery fled in free agency. Cameron Meredith and Kevin White both went down with injuries. Wright was the only player at the position to play all 16 games and he finished with a pedestrian 59/614/1 stat line. The rebuild will continue in 2018 and the Bears have much to address on offense.
Dez Bryant wasn’t a top-25 WR
Bryant played in all 16 games for the first time since 2014 this past season and played a career-high 894 offensive snaps. However, it didn’t lead to much production. He finished with just 69 catches on 126 targets for 838 yards and six touchdowns. That he managed just 12.1 yards per reception, 6.7 yards per target and had only eight catches of 20-plus yards all suggest his days of being an elite wide receiver are over. The veteran should be viewed as a low-end WR2, but will likely be overvalued again in 2018.
Marvin Jones finished as a WR1
Jones enjoyed a stellar second season in Detroit, finishing with 61 catches on 105 targets for 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns. He remained one of the best downfield threats in the NFL as he had a league-high 16 catches of 20-plus yards and 16.1 average depth of target. The Lions’ wideout averaged 83.4 yards per contest and scored in seven of his final 11 games. Despite finishing as WR5 in standard and WR11 in PPR formats, expect Jones to fall outside the top 20 at wide receiver in 2018 drafts. Given his upside, that price could lead to significant value.
Davante Adams catches 10 touchdowns
In what was somewhat a lost season in Green Bay following Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone, Adams was a bright spot. He finished with 10 touchdowns despite playing half the season with a fill-in quarterback and missing the last two games with a concussion. Only DeAndre Hopkins made more trips to the end zone at wide receiver. Adams pulled in 74 of his 108 targets for 885 yards. The Packers already signed him to a four-year, $58.75 million extension this offseason and the 25-year-old has clearly emerged as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
Todd Gurley finished as the fantasy MVP
The Ram rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 788 receiving yards and six scores through the air. Gurley was spectacular during Weeks 14-16 when the fantasy playoffs transpire as he tallied a record 123.1 PPR total fantasy points, the most by any player at any position since the 1970 merger. He also set the record for the most points ever by a player during Weeks 15-16 with 94.6 points. He will be in the conversation as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.
Adam Thielen was a top-10 WR
Even though he scored just four times, Thielen finished eighth in PPR formats as he pulled 91 of his 135 targets for 1,276 yards. He became just the third player during the common draft era (1967) to have 90 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards. Thielen was a model of consistency all season. He had nine or more points in 14 of his 16 contests and finished inside the top 10 six times. He will remain a viable WR1 option in PPR leagues and a top-15 option in all formats in 2018.
Running back duo makes history
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram became the first pair of running back teammates to reach 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage in the same season. They also became the only teammates in NFL history with 1,300-plus scrimmage yards and more than 10 touchdowns in a single year. The Saints averaged 129.4 rushing yards per game at a pace of 4.7 yards per carry as a team. They also led the league with 23 rushing touchdowns. Regression is likely ahead, but both players should be treated as RB1s as we turn the page to 2018.
Evan Engram had a historic rookie campaign for fantasy
After the team was decimated by injuries at wide receiver, Engram became a focal point for Eli Manning. His 108 targets, 64 receptions and 722 receiving yards were the most by a rookie tight end during the PFF Era. Engram figures to be a top-five tight end heading into his second season and currently sits as the consensus No. 5 tight end in PFF’s early 2018 rankings.
Carson Wentz was the MVP before injury
Even though he missed three games with a knee injury, Wentz set a single-season Eagles’ record with 33 passing touchdowns and finished seventh in fantasy points at the position. Not too shabby for a guy who went undrafted in most leagues. The second-year signal-caller threw for multiple scores in 10 of his 13 contests with four 300-yard games through the air. Due to the fact he suffered his injury in Week 13, Wentz could be hard-pressed to be ready for Week 1. Still just 25, he has a very bright future ahead.
Jimmy Garoppolo was even better than expected
Following a trade deadline deal, Garoppolo started the final five games of 2017 season for the 49ers and he was QB7 during that span with 87 fantasy points as he led the 49ers to five straight wins, including the last three coming versus playoff teams. If you project his production over 16 games he would’ve netted 278.4 fantasy points, which would’ve placed him 10th among quarterbacks for the season. Likely to be overhyped a bit, Garoppolo figures to be a backend QB1 with some upside in the season ahead.
Russell Wilson was fantasy’s top quarterback
After finishing 2016 as QB14, Wilson landed atop the position in fantasy points this past season. It marked the third time in four years in which the Seahawks’ signal-caller has finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback. He became the first player in league history to account for 100 percent of his team’s passing yards and at least 30 percent of his team’s rushing yards in a single season. His consistency and his durability (never missed a game) make Wilson one of the best bets at the position heading into 2018.
Mike Evans wasn’t a top-15 WR
Evans was perhaps the biggest non-injury disappointment in fantasy in 2017. He was targeted 132 times, but turned that into just 71 catches, and while he did finish with 1,004 yards, he only scored five touchdowns. The lack of scoring is troubling when you consider he finished second in the league with 20 end-zone targets. He’s now scored five or fewer times in two of the last three seasons. Despite the struggles, Evans’ talent is undeniable and he’s still just 24 years old. Look for a bounceback campaign in the upcoming season.
Kirk Cousins wound up as high-end QB1
He lost Jordan Reed for most of the season, Terrelle Pryor proved to be a colossal bust, and the Redskins lacked a featured back. None of that stood in the way of Cousins finishing in fifth in fantasy points. He wound up with 27 touchdown passes, but threw for 824 less yards than he did a year earlier. The veteran continues to get production on the ground though. He rushed for a career-high 179 yards and four touchdowns. Over the last three years he’s now rushed for 13 scores. Cousins will be one of the more interesting names to watch this offseason after receiving the franchise tag the past two years.