With the offseason in full swing, fantasy owners have already shifted their eyes to the fall. Draft season is fully underway, and speculation is continually mounting. Free agent training videos and prospect highlight reels are everywhere on social media. Therefore, it’s important to take a step back and look at what each NFL team really needs for next year. This series will take a look at each team by division and highlight an area of need along with a way to fulfill it. Owners can use the analysis here as a preview of what might happen over the next six months.
The AFC East
New England Patriots
Offensive Position of Need: Quarterback
Drop your pitchforks. I’m not saying Tom Brady’s done, nor am I speculating about a surprise retirement. He’ll be 41 by the start of the 2018 season, the team traded away their viable backups to Indianapolis and San Francisco, and their current backup is Brian Hoyer. I should’ve just started with Brian Hoyer.
Brady, on his own, has performed to fantasy owner expectations. In recent seasons, he’s produced as expected with respect to ADP.
Digging deeper, Brady’s in-season performances have been stellar as well.
Brady’s found himself in the QB1 ranks in almost half of his games during the fantasy season. For first-time owners or casual players, Brady is the prototypical “set it and forget it” player. He’s not a “league winner” necessarily, but with reasonable roster management, he’ll get you to the playoffs.
The Super Bowl emphasized the Patriots’ weakness on defense, and they only have draft picks in Rounds 1, 2, 3, and 6. Many current mocks have CBs, LBs, or DTs going to them at Pick No. 31 to help fix this issue. Drafting a QB in the second or third round falls in line with their tendencies, and a quarterback like Luke Falk could be a prospect that fits their style. Eye manipulation, anticipation, and pocket presence are all traits he’s consistently demonstrated on the field. He presents himself as an optimal project to train under TB12. Free agency options are limited, and many carry high price tags. If New England went this route, Teddy Bridgewater is a likely option based on realistic salary expectations. The draft will tell us more about the Patriots’ intentions for the future.
Offensive Position of Need: Wide Receiver
Throughout the Bills’ tumultuous 2018 season, the new coaching regime made it clear they were ready to move on from Tyrod Taylor who is one of fantasy football’s beloved QBs. However, regardless of who starts next season, they’ll need a reliable pass-catching group to succeed.
The list of their current wide receivers includes:
- Kelvin Benjamin
- Kaelin Clay
- Andre Holmes
- Zay Jones
- Jordan Matthews
- Brandon Tate
- Deonte Thompson
Only two from this list made the top-100 yardage rankings in 2017: Benjamin (701) and Thompson (578). To make matters worse, Benjamin produced 475 of his 701 yards while still in Carolina. In addition, no one on the list can function as a true X receiver. Zay Jones has trouble separating. Deonte Thompson is a deep threat, but not much else. Jordan Matthews is best out of the slot, and Kelvin Benjamin is … well, he’s trying.
This group fits the Bills conservative style (17.9 ppg, 27th ranked), but a roster churn at the position would serve them well. Either the QB or DT position will most likely be addressed in the first round with the 21st overall pick. They also just invested a second-round pick in Zay Jones. While they have invested high draft capital in WRs in back to back years before (2013 – Robert Woods – 2nd Round; 2014 – Sammy Watkins – 1st Round), the incoming wide receiver class doesn’t contain the same talent to justify that type of investment.
A free agent acquisition of Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson, or a Sammy Watkins reunion would open up the offense for a more balanced attack. Each has shown solid ability and can work the outside to give more opportunities underneath. Offensive performance hinges on their new quarterback, but boosting their pass-catching corps should be a priority for the Bills.
Offensive Position of Need: Tight End
The loss of Ryan Tannehill and the revival of Smokin’ Jay Cutler turned the Dolphins’ 2017 season upside down. Tannehill is set to return in 2018, but Jarvis Landry’s future with the team is uncertain, even after the team assigned the franchise tag to him earlier this week. A stronger presence at tight end would ease Tannehill’s return and partially fill in the gap if Landry is dealt away.
After Charles Clay’s departure, the TE position has been inconsistent. The reuniting of Julius Thomas and Adam Gase has not met the expectations of Dolphins fans or fantasy owners, and the remaining TEs on the roster are blocking tight ends. Tight-end prospects do not match the size/speed combinations offered by the 2017 class to warrant an 11th overall pick by the Dolphins. A second or third round TE selection that can catch and block (e.g. Dalton Schultz, Troy Fumagalli) would serve as a viable future replacement at the position.
Fantasy favorites fill the TE free agency list. Jimmy Graham, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or Trey Burton would immediately help the offense. However, Miami is limited by cap space (less than $10M). A one year “prove it” deal has become the more common method of bringing in free agents, but it’d hurt the team’s remaining space. This makes drafting a TE the likeliest option unless a trade is made to relieve some salary room.
New York Jets
Offensive Position of Need: Running Back
The Jets’ offense is in full disarray. The 38-year-old Josh McCown is the preferred starter by fans and coaches, and their wide receiver group is one-part injured and three-parts bust with a hint of upcoming suspension. The running back group is the only portion of the offense with a clear path forward in acquiring a running back to replace Matt Forte.
Forte’s age (32), injury-riddled 2017 season, and $4M cap hit are all the ammunition the Jets need for releasing him during the off-season. He’s fewer than 300 yards from 10,000 for his career, but his price tag makes him an easy cut candidate. But that doesn’t mean the Jets’ other RBs are the answer. Bilal Powell’s usage has been erratic, at best.
Forte’s missed games gave Powell his chance to show if he’s capable of shouldering the load long term.
Small sample size, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Bilal Powell’s story and Ty Montgomery’s. They each have similar size and ability but have been unable to convince their respective coaches to receive a full-time workload. If Powell will be a complementary back in 2018, expect the Jets to bring in am RB that fits the “first-down RB” archetype.
Free agency offers RBs that fit this mold but are limited talent-wise. Jeremy Hill, LeGarrette Blount, or Thomas Rawls would serve as cheap options if the team looks to shore up other areas (e.g. QB, LB). If the Jets choose to make a splash pick at No. 6, most of the top RB prospects will be available. Saquon Barkley or Derrius Guice are top consensus-ranked RBs, but let’s assume the Jets address their other needs in the first round. The second and third rounds, where they have two picks, should feature backs like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb has past medical concerns, but both have the potential to carry the load and fulfill the Jets’ need at the position.
Non-Linked Sources: Matt Waldman, ‘The Rookie Scouting Portfolio’; Pro Football Reference; Sharp Football Analysis