NFL Coaching Changes: Derrick Henry and Other Falling Values
Last week, I touched on several players who should see a boost in 2018 fantasy football value in part because of how their new head coaches are likely to utilize them. This week, I will look at players who could be negatively affected by their new surroundings. This surely isn’t to say that any of these coaches are not qualified to lead an NFL franchise, nor does this mean that the players on this list are not draftable. It is simply to say that I believe the players below are overvalued and will disappoint fantasy owners this season in 2018.
Relevant: NFL Coaching Changes: Rising Values
6 Players Who May Suffer From NFL Coaching Changes
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry truthers and dynasty owners alike were dancing in the streets when DeMarco Murray was waived back in March. Murray out-touched Henry 223-187 last year despite appearing to have very little in the tank. Many analysts believed that Henry was in line for a massive boost in workload in his upcoming third NFL season. However, the Titans then went out and signed former Patriots’ running back Dion Lewis to essentially replace Murray. Lewis was one of the best backs in all of football last season and is certainly an upgrade over Murray. Henry averaged just under 12 touches per game last season, and I don’t see that number increasing by very much if at all. Rookie head coach Mike Vrabel will want to lean on a veteran running back like Lewis. In 2017, neither Murray nor Henry produced a top-20 fantasy season. I think it is possible that Henry sneaks into the top-20 this year, but it is far from a guarantee. Right now, Henry is being drafted in the second round. That is not a price I’m willing to pay for a running who is potentially on the wrong side of a timeshare.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Detroit Lions
It seems fantasy owners are putting a little too much stock in the idea that Detroit’s hire of former New England Patriots’ assistant coach Matt Patricia to be their head coach will favor former Patriot LeGarrette Blount. I do not subscribe to this theory. There are many factors going against Blount this season, including his age (he turns 32 this year) and an incredibly crowded Detroit backfield. The fact that Patricia spent time with Blount does not mean Blount will have a featured role in the Lions’ offense. It might mean quite the opposite. Patricia studied under the genius of Bill Belichick, who is famous for getting rid of players just before the bottom drops out from underneath them. Belichick rode Blount to the tune of 299 carries in 2016, the second-highest total in the league. He then predictably let Blount walk as a free agent. Now two years removed from that season, it would be silly to envision Patricia employing Blount as a workhorse at this stage in his career. It is much more likely that Blount sees 8-10 carries per game as part of a committee. This is not the type of situation I want to target with a sixth-round draft pick.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Please do not take his inclusion here to mean that I think Hilton will not be a starting fantasy wideout in 2018. All I am saying is that most people are assuming that the return of Andrew Luck immediately vaults Hilton back into WR1 territory, and I do not think that is the case. New head coach Frank Reich has always spread the wealth in the passing game and does not tend to endlessly pepper one wide receiver with targets. No wideout has had higher than a 21.3 percent target share in a Reich-led offense over the last four years. Hilton hasn’t seen a target share lower than that since Reggie Wayne’s final season in 2014. Hilton does benefit from Indianapolis having a very weak receiving corps, but tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron should be considered major threats to a possible Hilton monopoly on targets. Tight ends have been targeted on an average of over ten times per game in each of Reich’s last three seasons as an offensive coordinator. That makes me a little nervous about selecting Hilton in the third round of fantasy drafts. To me, he is more of a fourth or fifth-round pick. That might be considered picking nits a bit, but I do not love Hilton’s current ADP and I would not reach for him as my WR1.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Oakland Raiders
While I think the hiring of Jon Gruden as the Oakland Raiders’ new head coach will help vault quarterback Derek Carr’s 2018 fantasy stock, I am not sure the same can be said of wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson has been one of the most prolific wide receivers this decade, but turned in a dreadful 2017, particularly once Aaron Rodgers got hurt. Over the past couple of years, Nelson has truly thrived in the slot, albeit in limited opportunities. On the other hand, he has been about average when lined up on the outside. I just don’t know if I have the faith in Gruden and his staff to utilize Nelson where he is most effective at this stage in his career. Nobody will mistake Seth Roberts or Ryan Switzer for Nelson in terms of ability, but I worry that they may see slot snaps that should be going to Nelson. If Nelson is primarily deployed on the outside, he will be the proverbial square peg in a round hole. Nelson will need to man the slot in a three-receiver set alongside Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant if he is to be considered a WR2 slot and a fifth-round pick. I do not have the confidence in Gruden to make that adjustment, but am willing to be proven wrong.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Plenty of fantasy owners were drawn in by Corey Davis heading into 2017, only to be severely disappointed. The former fifth overall NFL draft pick did not score a regular season touchdown and at one point trailed Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota in touchdown catches. Davis finally broke out in Tennessee’s season-ending loss in New England, finishing that game with two touchdown catches. That performance provided a glimpse into what Davis can do, and once again is making him a very popular breakout candidate heading into 2018. However, he is being drafted as if that breakout is a fait accompli, which it most certainly is not. I just do not see that breakout taking place under Mike Vrabel. Vrabel will want to utilize both of his running backs, and I see each averaging double-digit touches per game. I just do not see the consistent volume necessary to consider Davis a weekly WR3, particularly with Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker still in the fold. We’re talking about a guy in Corey Davis who finished as the 102nd best (no, that is not a misprint) fantasy wide receiver last year, and now he’s being drafted in the sixth round? Um, no thanks.
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
As is the case with T.Y. Hilton, Engram’s place here should not be considered an indictment of any sort. Engram should still be drafted as a starting fantasy tight end. I just do not like him as the fourth tight end off the board. With new coach Pat Shurmur likely to focus on making the Giants’ running game a priority, Engram will fall to third in the pecking order behind Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. Shurmur’s tight ends have historically been featured once running back options have been exhausted due to injury. Another thing to remember is that in the four games Beckham and Engram played last season, Engram averaged just 5.4 fantasy points per game This was a far cry from the 8.0 he averaged in his other 11 games. With Beckham back and with Barkley now in the mix and likely to dominate touches, I do not see Engram approaching a second consecutive top-five fantasy finish in 2018. I have him eighth in my tight end rankings, and would much rather hope he falls to me in the sixth round than try to pluck him in the fifth.