“Defense wins championships,” is a football axiom (cliché) often credited to legendary University of Alabama head coach Bear Bryant. And while defense may win college and pro football championships, offense wins fantasy football championships.
If a team believes in its quarterback, the best ways to set up its offense for success are to protect that quarterback and surround him with talent. No one has to convince the Titans, who drafted a veritable arsenal of offensive weapons for Marcus Mariota; the Chargers, who reloaded their receiving corps for Philip Rivers; the Giants, who targeted pass-catching tight end Evan Engram for Eli Manning in Round 1; the Steelers, already boasting an embarrassment of riches on offense with the Killer B’s and the newly (conditionally) reinstated Martavis Bryant, who still added a second round wide receiver for Ben Roethlisberger; or even the defending champion New England Patriots, who turned their first round pick into game-breaking wide receiver Brandin Cooks. An influx of talent at the skill positions and/or upgrades for a less-than-stellar offensive line can vastly improve the fantasy fortunes for a quarterback. Conversely, a team that does little or nothing in the draft to help its quarterback can set him up for failure. These five teams did their quarterbacks no favors in the Draft last month.
I won’t dispute that the Dolphins needed help on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in reworking their front seven. They were 29th in total yards allowed and 30th in rushing yards allowed last year. But despite glowing accounts of Ryan Tannehill’s improved leadership and footwork in 2016 under first-year head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphins ranked 26th in passing offense and Tannehill was fantasy QB #27. It would have been nice to see the Dolphins invest in their offensive line prior to the fifth round, or land one of the Draft’s premier tight end prospects. Their depth chart at tight end currently consists of Anthony Fasano and whatever Julius Thomas has left in the tank. Fasano hasn’t had more than 30 receptions or 4 touchdowns in a season since 2012. Thomas hasn’t eclipsed 455 receiving yards or 5 touchdowns since Peyton Manning was his quarterback. It’s simply hard to envision a significant fantasy leap for Tannehill in 2017 with no tangible upgrades to the Dolphins’ offense.
Bottom Line: Footwork isn’t everything. I would avoid Ryan Tannehill as anything other than a low-end QB2 in 2017.
As much as I love the Colts’ selection of Marlon Mack, it’s fair to wonder who’s going to block for he and teammate Andrew Luck in 2017. The Indianapolis offensive line is…not great. The Colts allowed the 5th most sacks last season, and getting your franchise player put on his back over 40 times is not a great recipe for success. It’s also concerning for Andrew Luck’s long-term health. Recall that Luck missed over half of the 2015 season due to a kidney, shoulder, and rib injuries. The Colts addressed well-founded defensive concerns in the Draft’s first three rounds but neglected the offensive line until Round 4, where they selected OT Zach Banner from USC. While Banner could improve the outlooks of Frank Gore and Marlon Mack if he cracks the lineup this season, his biggest question marks are as a pass blocker.
Bottom Line: A healthy Luck is always a strong bet to be a top-tier QB1. But until the Colts do more to address their offensive line, the risk of injury is at least a slight concern. Ideally, Andrew Luck complimenting various defensive players for “nice hits” would not be a highlight from his mic’d up segments.
J.J. Watt’s reaction to the Colts’ draft, probably.
It’s hard to pick on a team who had needs at almost literally every position, and yet, here we are. But before I kick them while they’re down, let’s give credit where it’s due: the Browns drafted extremely well on the defensive side of the ball. DE Myles Garrett, S Jabril Peppers, and DL Larry Ogunjobi could all start and should all be impact players as rookies. Now that I’ve complimented the Browns, on to the derision.who is their starting quarterback? Cody Kessler? Brock Osweiler? Surely, the Browns wouldn’t throw talented, but very raw prospect DeShone Kizer to the wolves as a rookie…would they? In 2016, Cleveland ranked 30th in total yards, 31st in total points, and 32nd in sacks allowed (and they were dead-last by an incredible margin of 17 sacks). They did select TE David Njoku out of Miami with the last of their three first-round picks, and while there’s no denying Njoku’s raw athletic ability and great potential, he’s widely viewed as a work-in-progress. He only started nine games at “The U,” and still needs to improve his catch focus and route-running. 2017 is probably going to be another very long season for Cleveland’s offense, and a painful one for whoever is under center.
Bottom Line: DeShone Kizer is a nice stash candidate in dynasty leagues, but there is no other reason to draft a Browns quarterback in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers
Like with Cleveland, it’s hard to criticize San Francisco’s 2017 draft (which was, overall, quite good), but that’s obviously not going to stop me. The 49ers acquired two potential studs on defense, yadda yadda yadda. The selection of rookie RB Joe Williams in Round 4 may prove to be a steal — new head coach Kyle Shanahan apparently pounded the table for him — but there are a lot of red flags. For a team with very little at the skill positions, San Francisco didn’t take a pass catcher until Round 5 (TE George Kittle, who is much more of a blocker than a receiver), and given that the 49ers allowed the third-most sacks in 2016, you would like to have seen them draft some offensive line help. Kyle Shanahan demonstrated impressive quarterback whispering with his development of Kirk Cousins in Washington and polishing of Matt Ryan’s game to an MVP level in Atlanta, so perhaps he sees something in developmental rookie QB C.J. Beathard that the rest of us don’t. Brian Hoyer is a reliable veteran and game manager who should give the 49ers a nice bridge to their quarterback of the future. Personally, I don’t think that player is currently on the roster. The 49ers offense ranked 27th in total points in 2016, and even with Shanahan at the helm, they didn’t give themselves enough ammunition in the Draft to significantly improve upon that in 2017.
Bottom Line: The 49ers could very well be in the early stages of building a stellar defense, but don’t hang your fantasy hopes on any of their QBs in 2017.
This is the first time the Ravens have ever completed the draft without selecting a RB or WR
— Bo Smolka (@bsmolka) April 29, 2017
Like the other teams on this list, and much to the chagrin of their fan base, they drafted defense. The Ravens, who allowed only 5 fewer QB hits than the 49ers in 2016, ignored their offensive line until the fourth round, where they selected G Nico Siragusa (no relation to Tony), a future starter whose glaring weakness is pass protection. After finishing 21st in total points last year, the Ravens took the bold strategy of ignoring the skill positions in this year’s draft.On one hand, the Ravens’ defense could be scary good again very soon. On the other hand, it might have to be in order to carry the team’s subpar offense and slow down AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. At least Bear Bryant would approve.
Bottom Line: Though Joe Flacco’s “elite” status may be up for debate in real life*, his 2017 fantasy outlook is middling, at best. Without any weapons to speak of, I would be disappointed to have Flacco as a QB2 this season.
*Just kidding, it isn’t. He’s not.