Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: AFC East
More than ever, it feels as though the Patriots’ tyrannical reign over the AFC East has reached its end. They’ve proven us wrong before, but things are different this time around. What is their identity moving forward after Tom Brady flew south for the 2020 season? My post-draft fantasy preview is going to explore the unfamiliar complexion of the league’s most feared organization. Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, or whoever is under center, it doesn’t matter. Tom Brady’s influence on this team extends much farther than just his statistical output. New England has some existential questions they’re going to have to address. Queue the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo gave their finest performance in years behind a defense that instilled fear in the hearts of their opponents. Looking to expand on their coming-out party, the Bills brought in star wide receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings. If Diggs can help Buffalo’s young quarterback, Josh Allen, put it all together on offense, Buffalo is going to be a problem. As Buffalo eyes the throne, the Dolphins and Jets are looking to provide fans with a hopeful outlook following years of poor play. This division is in a state of flux as power shifts are shaking its foundation, and fantasy implications abound. Let’s gear up and explore the evolving AFC East with some post-draft fantasy previews!
Check out my other post-draft fantasy previews of the AFC here.
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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: AFC East
Sean McDermott should be damn proud of his coaching staff and players for their efforts last season. The Bills were a wildcard team, finishing at 10-6, but they felt more daunting than their record suggested. Their imposing defense was a force to be reckoned with and in large part made facing the Bills a challenging task. Buffalo was knocked out of the wildcard round after nearly upsetting Deshaun Watson’s Houston Texans. If not for Watson’s miraculous ability to stay on his feet following a vicious collision, they could have marched into Kansas City for a showdown with Patrick Mahomes. In the aftermath of their playoff heartbreak, Buffalo has emerged as a legitimate contender.
General Manager, Brandon Beane, deserves praise for the pieces he’s surrounded Josh Allen with on offense. Allen isn’t a conventional quarterback, to say the least, and he needs the right fit to flourish. Last offseason, the Bills were aggressive in free agency bringing in Cole Beasley and John Brown. They saw the fruits of their labor when Allen went from an abysmal 52.8% completion rate to 58.8%. The improvement still leaves Allen as a finalist for the league’s most inaccurate starting quarterback, but you can’t ignore growth. Bringing in a dynamic weapon like Stefon Diggs will further help the quarterback progress in his passing ability. For all of Allen’s flaws in the passing game, he has a penchant for throwing the deep ball. A receiver like Diggs is a perfect match for this aspect of Allen’s game.
Allen’s arm is never going to be the catalyst for a strong fantasy season. He makes his paydirt by running the ball. Last year, Allen ran for 510 yards and nine touchdowns, making him the top quarterback in rushing touchdowns, and third in yards. Putting together a top tier receiving unit provides him with a safe floor, but his scrambling is what gives him top-three upside. Allen is not only a safe QB1, but he has an opportunity to be a game-changer if he lives up to his true dual-threat potential.
Much to the chagrin of fantasy owners everywhere, Buffalo drafted former Utah running back, Zack Moss, in the third round. Their pick hardly comes as a surprise to those who follow Buffalo closely. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have both made statements about their beliefs in having more than one running back shouldering the load. We saw this last year when Frank Gore and Devin Singletary shared the backfield. Singletary was by far the more explosive option, but that didn’t stop Gore from getting touches. In wake of Gore’s departure from the team, Beane has already stated the team’s intentions of putting Moss in Gore’s vacant role, effectively robbing Singletary of top-12 upside. Gore and Singletary nearly split red-zone touches, and that doesn’t even take into account Allen’s nine rushing touchdowns. With Singletary splitting so much of the work, he’s firmly entrenched in RB2 territory.
Moss is going to be a nuisance for fantasy purposes next season. He won’t get enough work on a week-to-week basis to be a reliable fantasy asset, but his goal-line work will occasionally lodge him inside the top-24. There’s even a possibility that Moss sees more goal-line opportunities than Gore had last year. Moss is a younger, more physical back, and Beane has already talked about Moss having zero fumbles in college, where Singletary had four just as a rookie. If Moss pans out to be the bruiser they’re hoping for, he’ll vulture short-yardage touchdowns left and right. Moss has flex potential if you’re in a pinch with bye weeks or injuries.
The Bills went from having just a group of guys at wide receiver to boasting one of the best units in the league. John Brown rose to the occasion last year when he became Allen’s WR1, and Beasley performed well in the slot. Throwing Diggs into the mix adds a new dimension to this group. As mentioned above, Allen and Diggs form a natural union with their respective talents. Per playerprofiler.com, Diggs finished the season fifth in targets 20 yards and over, and Allen isn’t afraid to hoist one up there. Unfortunately, Diggs stands in Brown’s way of being a repeat fantasy success. Brown finished the season as the WR20 in half-point PPR leagues, but he’s relegated to a low-end WR3 following Diggs’ arrival. Beasley has never been an exciting option, but if you’re desperate in PPR leagues, you could do worse.
The big question is where Diggs will finish. Don’t get me wrong, Diggs is exceptionally talented, but it’s a stretch to consider him as having WR1 potential. He comes from a situation where his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was the 10th-ranked deep ball passer on the year. He now finds himself with the 33rd ranked quarterback in that same category. He’s undeniably the top option in the passing game, but in a crowded offense with an inefficient quarterback, he has top-15 upside at best.
Second-year player, Dawson Knox, is going to get his chance as the No. 1 tight end on the team. In his rookie season, Knox averaged 13.9 yards-per-reception, which put him third amongst all tight ends. He’s a talented pass-catcher, and returning veteran, Tyler Kroft, doesn’t provide much of a threat. Kroft has missed 16 games (an entire season’s worth) in the last two years, and even when he’s been healthy, he’s only been average. You can’t look past Knox’s talent, but he’s likely the fourth, third at best, option in the passing game. If you’re the type to take a dart throw on tight end with your last pick, knock yourself out.
Don’t look now, but Miami might be a decent team. The start of last season was historically bad, and even for Non-Dolphins fans, it was brutal to watch. The rule of fantasy was “if any of your players are facing Miami, get them in your lineup!” After an offseason where the team relentlessly pursued top names in free agency, the Dolphins are poised for a more respectable 2020 outing.
The big news in recent days is the team’s first-round selection of Tua Tagovailoa. Tua represents optimism for a new era in Miami. Midway through the season, it appeared the popular slogan of “Tank for Tua” was panning out for the Dolphins, but after losing seven straight games, Miami turned things around and won five of their last nine matchups. NFL journeyman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Fitzmagic, took over for the struggling Josh Rosen, after first being benched himself, and rejuvenated their offense. With a limited offseason at best, Fitzpatrick is a safer bet for the team to start the year.
Despite not having the first overall pick, Tua fell to the Dolphins at No. 5 after sustaining yet another injury. Squaring off against Mississippi State, Tua went down in the second quarter to a season-ending hip injury. The recovery of said injury and durability questions, in general, were the biggest narratives in draft season. Tua was once thought to be the undisputed first overall pick, but then injuries and the meteoric rise of Joe Burrow knocked him out of the top spot. Without an adequate offseason to acclimate incoming players, rookies like Tua and Justin Herbert are far less likely to see the field on day 1.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the most interesting players to follow when he’s given the chance to lead a team. Although wildly inconsistent, he’s had electric stretches of top-end play. If you have any Dolphins players, you’re going to want Fitzpatrick to be under center. He and DeVante Parker built chemistry with one another, which seemingly jumpstarted Parker’s career. Fitzpatrick won back the starting job in Week 7, and from that time through the end of the season he was the QB2. Fitzpatrick won’t replicate his success at the same level, as he rarely does, but he knows the offense well enough to keep Miami’s offensive weapons fantasy-relevant.
The veteran quarterback is too much of a wildcard to feel good about drafting him, but he’ll be in play as a weekly streamer. If we knew that Tua would sit for the entire 2020 season, Fitzpatrick would be draftable in 2QB leagues. Without knowing that answer, it’s best to scoop him up on the waiver-wire if he’s there.
Why is it that Jordan Howard doesn’t get any respect? Sure, he’s not the most explosive player, and he’s almost a non-factor in the passing game, but he’s productive. In four years, Howard is averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry, which isn’t outstanding, but it certainly isn’t bad. He’s also never had a season where he’s scored less than seven total touchdowns. That includes last season with the Eagles where he missed six, practically seven, games due to injury. Frankly, anybody is an upgrade from the dumpster fire that was Miami’s backfield last year.
Howard is going to be undervalued in drafts this season. Not only is he likely to get the majority of first and second down work, but he also has plenty of goal-line opportunities waiting. Miami traded a fifth-round pick to the 49ers in exchange for Matt Breida, as opposed to bringing in a rookie. While Breida will take away some rushing attempts and see the lion’s share of the passing downs, he’s not the archetypal red-zone rusher. Breida has always been forced to share the backfield in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme in San Francisco. In 14 games in 2018, he saw 27 red-zone touches, while Howard, who only played in nine games last season, saw 33.
Neither running back is going to be a flashy pick, but if you get them at the right spot, they could be of service to your team. Each back will look much different depending on league format. Howard is low-end RB2/high-end RB3 in standard, and Breida is around the same in PPR. Not every pick needs to be a home run. Take value where you can get it.
Better late than never. That’s DeVante Parker’s policy. Parker finally showed Miami what he was capable of in the back half of last season. From Week 10 and on, Parker only had two games where he saw less than 10 targets. That includes a Week 15 loss to the Giants where he received seven targets and managed to score twice. In that same string of games, Parker was the WR2. The man was on fire. There is, however, an asterisk on that impressive run. Preston Williams was placed on IR in Week 10.
Williams is returning this year to take some of the receiving work back from Parker. When both Parker and Williams were healthy, their production was similar. In half-point PPR leagues, Parker was the WR34 and Williams was the WR38 before he went down to injury. It’s natural to assume that Williams’ return is going to take some steam out of the Parker hype train. Parker won’t be the same fantasy contributor he was late last year, but he has an edge over Williams after developing a connection with Fitzpatrick. Expect a low-end WR2 year from Parker and you won’t be disappointed. As for his partner, don’t invest stock into Williams unless you’re in a deep league
Every year there are a handful of late-round tight ends that savvy owners attempt to parse through in hopes of hitting the tight end lottery. Mike Gesicki wasn’t a winning ticket to start the year, but his production took a turn once Williams was sidelined. Gesicki isn’t a volume guy, but he found the endzone five times in the eight games following Williams’ injury. Historically, new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, hasn’t used his tight ends as much as one would hope when considering Gesicki’s fantasy outlook. With Williams active, and Gailey calling the shots, Gesicki is a talented tight end who’s stuck in touchdown-dependent purgatory. The tight end landscape is shallow, so Gesicki still has low-end TE1 upside, but don’t target him until the double-digit rounds.
New England Patriots
Prepare yourselves for a New England team unlike anything we’ve seen in the last two decades. As time goes on, Bill Belichick fervently insists that Jarrett Stidham is their guy. Perhaps they didn’t view anyone on the free-agent market as long-term solutions. Or, perhaps the limited offseason has Belichick worried that a veteran won’t have the time needed to learn Josh McDaniels’ complex scheme. Thankfully, the Patriots have a stellar defense that will keep them afloat. Unless Stidham shows signs of being able to lead an offense, New England will move on in 2021. The team’s defense is too good to say they’re in a full rebuild, but they have to decide who they want to be in the future and who they need to bring in to fit that mold.
This is a difficult post-draft fantasy preview to go over, as most of the Patriots’ draft selections were on defense. Many experts thought New England would look to the draft for Brady’s replacement, but Belichick is sticking with his second-year guy.
Stidham threw a flimsy total of four passes last year. What could go wrong in only four attempts? Well, one of those four was a pick-six against the Jets. With a sample size that small, it’s not entirely fair to judge him for that. Still, it leaves us asking “Him?” It’s certainly an interesting decision, but who am I to question Belichick’s infinite wisdom? For all the talk of the passing game being poor last season, Tom Brady still threw the seventh-most passing yards in the league, and if he threw just two more touchdowns, he would have been in a six-way tie for eighth. Did it feel that way for fantasy, though? Outside of Julian Edelman and James White, Brady’s pass-catching weapons weren’t in consideration for fantasy purposes. New England didn’t address their wide receiver need in the draft. So, how comfortable can we be with Stidham now at the helm of a team with limited weapons? N’Keal Harry is healthy and ready to go, but that’s not enough to inspire confidence. Stidham won’t be on any of my teams this season.
Belichick is an unsolvable riddle when it comes to his running back usage. One minute you have someone performing, and the next he’s seeing limited work behind the next guy up. New England’s offense is a running back merry-go-round that only makes fantasy owners nauseous. Sony Michel struggled mightily last season, but when the team had their offensive tackle, Isaiah Wynn, on the field and healthy, Michel looked a little more like the guy they rode to a super bowl two years ago. On the year, Michel averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry, and it was impossible to feel good about him being in your lineup. This season, without Brady, expect to see an uptick in the running game.
Michel won’t be in the backfield alone. We should know by now that isn’t the Belichick way. The second-year player, Damien Harris is waiting in the wings, and Rex Burkhead and James White are still around as well. If you had to take one of these backs, it would be Michel, and he’s much better in standard leagues than in PPR. He’s not a bad RB3 option. Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead can be drafted with a late-round selection, but it’s better to focus on high-upside players in those rounds. Finally, that leaves us with James White. Brady’s departure tanks White’s fantasy value. White was the reliable safety valve that Brady went to over and over again. In the last four seasons, White has hauled in no fewer than 56 receptions. Belichick knows well enough to keep him involved in the passing game, but Stidham won’t be able to work with White the same way Brady did. Unless he’s your RB4/5 in PPR leagues, I wouldn’t bother taking him.
Not to sound overly sentimental, but it’s rare to see an on-field connection like the one Brady and Edelman had. They knew each other’s tendencies to a tee. That intangible factor is as important as anything else. Which is why with great sadness I tell you that Edelman is no better than a top-30 receiver in PPR leagues. He’ll fall into the 25-30 range due to his reception total alone. Edelman is arguably the best slot receiver in football, and his understanding of Belichick’s system can’t be understated. Belichick is going to get him the ball, and Stidham is likely going to rely on him as his top target.
If health doesn’t become a concern, Edelman will be an 80+ reception guy, but his yardage total could be concerning. In the three seasons that he’s managed to play all 16 games, he’s put up over 1,000 yards. Every other season he’s fallen short with injury. His highest total is 1,117 yards, and that was last season. Stidham is going to have difficulty sustaining that number, and Edelman is likely going to fall short of 1,000. Edelman is a big-time name, and that carries a lot of weight in drafts. Be wise about what you’re willing to spend on him.
The peripheral options like Mohammed Sanu Sr., N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Myers are far less valuable. If there’s one to take a gamble on, it would be Harry. He was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2019, and he missed nearly all of last season due to injury. Harry has the most upside of this group, but even that isn’t enough in this offense. As a late-round flier, Harry could be an interesting pick, but his potential breakout still feels a couple of seasons away.
Had the Patriots gone out and acquired O.J. Howard, this would be a much different conversation. As it stands, Matt LaCosse is New England’s first tight end on the depth chart, and he was non-existent last year. The Patriots selected two rookie tight ends in the draft, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene, but they aren’t going to be fantasy factors. For all of you New England fans, I don’t hate your team, I’m just not drafting them.
New York Jets
The Jets are a team that felt like they never really got a chance last season. Sam Darnold missed three games last year due to mono. In the 13 games he managed to play, the Jets were 7-6. If you’re following along with the math, then you know that they lost every single game without him. This was a 7-9 team that could have easily been 9-7. While that’s only a two-game difference, it would have taken them from a losing team to a winning one.
Head Coach, Adam Gase, came under fire for his playcalling last year, with fans calling for his job. Darnold was bullied by opposing defenses in the pocket, and Gase didn’t make Darnold’s life easier with his offensive scheme. The Jets were able to bring in offensive tackle, Mekhi Becton, in the draft, which should hopefully keep Darnold upright. Their receiving corps arguably got a tad better as well by bringing in Breshad Perriman and drafting Denzel Mims after losing Robby Anderson. Gase’s opportunity to retain his job is directly related to Darnold’s performance this year. If the offense can take a step in the right direction, he may be able to buy himself more time.
This isn’t a team that’s going to compete this year, but if they can groom Darnold, that will go a long way looking to the future. Now, can they please just make Jamaal Adams happy?
Sam Darnold hasn’t lived up to the expectations fans had after he was selected third overall in the 2018 draft. He still has time to prove himself as a solid quarterback in the league, but the Jets need to provide him with a proper supporting cast. Denzel Mims is an exciting young prospect, but putting him in a group with Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman isn’t going to cut it. The reemergence of Chris Herndon in the offense should also help, but again, it’s just not enough. They’re going to need to add more pieces next offseason. With the offensive line being recovered from injuries and upgraded, Darnold is going to have more time to work in the pocket and read through his progressions. He’s a weekly streamer candidate against weak defenses, but he’s not draft-worthy just yet. In 2QB leagues, you could consider him as your second option, but there are guys going in his range that have more upside.
A non-existent passing game and an injured offensive line made for a disastrous combination for Le’Veon Bell. He averaged a career-low 3.2 yards-per-carry. His receiving work remained among the top for running backs, but his overall efficiency held him back. He finished the year as the RB17 in half-point PPR leagues, and while he rarely lost you weeks, he also never won you any. His fantasy performance burned owners that take him in either the first or second rounds, and that will make his draft price plummet. If the offense as a whole can rebound, Le’Veon has the potential to be a steal in drafts.
Adam Gase recently said in an interview that he hopes to rotate other guys into the mix to take some responsibility off of Bell’s plate, but no one on the roster should concern fantasy owners. The Jets drafted La’Mical Perine in the fourth round, and Josh Adams and Kenneth Dixon are in the mix as well. Bell is far and away the best option in the backfield. He’s going to be drafted as an RB2, but he has RB1 upside.
What Breshad Perriman was able to do late last year with Jameis Winston was impressive, but it’s the first sign of life we’ve seen from him since he was drafted. Perriman’s lack of long-term production suggests that his performance down the stretch could be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Replacing Robby Anderson with him was a definite downgrade. Likely realizing this, the Jets did the right thing when they selected Denzel Mims in the second round. Mims is a fast, tall receiver, with a monster catch-radius. He’s a talented rookie walking into an opportunity for a large target share. Losing Anderson was a blow to this offense, but the combination of Perriman and Mims should make up for it.
Then there’s the sneaky Jamison Crowder. He finished just outside the top-24 last year in PPR. Of the three top options, he’s the only one who’s played with Darnold, and he’s the only one familiar with Gase’s system. You’re going to see Crowder receive a similar amount of targets next year, and he has a chance to take the leap into WR2 terrain in PPR.
Mims is a great round two selection in rookie drafts, and he’s worth a late pick in redraft. Perriman is worth taking another shot at deep in drafts, but Crowder is the only one of the three that owners can take with confidence.
Please, just stay on the field, Chris Herndon! Herndon flashed in his rookie year and there was hope of him building on his debut performance last season. Between his suspension and injury, he only saw the field long enough to snag one reception. Gase said recently of Herndon that he expected him to be a big part of the offense last year, but that the team is getting a good player with his return. Hopefully, that translates into opportunities for Herndon, but as exciting a prospect as he is, he’s too risky to consider drafting. Ryan Griffin is also on the team, and he could serve as an antagonist to Herndon believers out there. Watch Herndon closely in the first couple of weeks. If he flashes, scoop him up before your leagues beat you to the punch.
Take a look at Mick Ciallela’s post-draft fantasy previews for the NFC.
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