Fantasy Football 2018: The Fantasy Forgottens
What is a Fantasy Forgotten?
A fantasy forgotten is a player who sustained an injury at some point during the last offseason, consequently, missing the entire 2017 campaign but is expected to return to a notable role in 2018. Don’t get me wrong, I know we’re all avid NFL fans, but since there are at least 2,880 players in the league at the start of training camp — per league rules, each team is permitted to carry 90 players in training camp, later cutting each roster down to 53 immediately prior to the start of the regular season — there is bound to be a few that slip through the crack. So, here is a little refresher course about the most notable fantasy assets primed to make an impactful comeback in the upcoming fantasy football campaign.
Impacted Player: Jay Cutler
We all know the deal with Ryan Tannehill. After suffering an ACL injury in December of 2016, which cost him the remainder of the campaign, he elected against knee surgery that offseason and believed he would be good to go for 2017. However, his knee was worse-off than originally expected. In early August, the 29-year-old signal caller suffered a non-contact injury in the same knee he injured just eight months before. As a result, the team announced that their franchise quarterback would undergo a reconstructive knee surgery roughly one-week following his most recent injury, which would ultimately cost him his season. The Dolphins made the obvious decision and placed Tannehill on the injured reserve list and brought in Jay Cutler.
Although there was some buzz that Cutler could come in, play well and take Tannehill’s job long-term, the past-his-prime veteran failed to deliver on his part — as if we expected anything less from Smokin’ Jay. While appearing in 14 games, Cutler put up a dismal 2,666-19-14 stat line, completing only 62 percent of his passes. It was his worst statistical season when playing in at least 14 games since 2012. Playing on a one-year deal, there is no chance Cutler returns. In fact, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase had already shown us his hand about just who will be the team’s starting QB for Week 1. Shortly following the conclusion of the 2017 season, Gase told the press that he “sees” Tannehill as the starter. And since he just signed a six-year, $95.272 million deal in 2015, no one should be too surprised at their decision.
While Tannehill is primed to open the 2018 season under center for the Dolphins, things won’t get any easier for him upon his highly-anticipated return. Why? He’s expected to lose his top and most-surehanded pass-catcher, Jarvis Landry, at some point this offseason if not the near future. Over the weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine, Landry informed the team that he is signing his franchise tag, likely with the hopes of accelerating a trade out of town. Now that reports are suggesting that there are a handful of teams that view the target-hounding wideout as a WR1, it appears he’ll be moved sooner rather than later. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Dolphins dealt away Jay Ajayi to the Eagles at the 2017 trade deadline. Ajayi was the Dolphins’ starting running back the last time Tannehill took the field. And while Kenyan Drake flashed some upside, he remains an uncertainty in the backfield due to a lack of history on his resume.
With question marks in the backfield, at wide receiver, tight end — the Dolphins are expected to part ways with Julius Thomas by the March 14 start of the new league year — and even on the offensive line, Tannehill will return to an offense in shambles much different than the one that helped the Dolphins qualify for the 2016 postseason before suffering the initial knee injury.
I never saw Tannehill as an impactful fantasy asset. In his six NFL seasons, he finished as a top 10 fantasy QB only once (QB8 in 2014) and hasn’t closed a campaign better than the QB17 (2015) since. With so much uncertainty surrounding him, I’m going to take the cautious route when it comes to Tannehill this offseason. As a matter of fact, I’m not touching him whatsoever and will keep him buried in my rankings until the Dolphins make the personnel upgrades necessary to give him some much-need help. Let’s face it, there are quarterbacks who make the rest of their team better, and then there are quarterbacks who need a vast amount of talent around them to succeed. The latter very much applies to Tannehill. While he’ll return to a notable role as the Dolphins starter, he’ll remain in fantasy limbo for the foreseeable future.
Impacted Player: Kareem Hunt
With the quarterback position behind us, it’s time to move on to running backs beginning with Spencer Ware of the Kansas City Chiefs. Oh right, remember him? Ware might be one of those players lost in people’s memories. Why? Two words, one name, Kareem Hunt. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s backtrack.
In 2015, Jamaal Charles was still considered one of the league’s top running backs. However, after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 that year, his career took a turn for the worse, downward spiraling from the top to barely scratching the surface of relevancy in 2018. In Charles’ absence — after only appearing in five games in 2015, he would only play in three games the following season since his knee never fully healed, prompting a second surgery — Ware would flourish.
Playing two seasons (2015-2016) in Charles’ relief, Ware accumulated 1,324 yards and nine touchdowns on 286 carries as a rusher and accumulated a 39-452-2 stat line as a receiver while appearing in 25 games. As a result of his uplifting performance, plus, the regressions and injury woes of Charles, Kansas City chose to part ways with the team’s all-time leading rusher, opening the door for Ware to step into the starting job.
However, Ware didn’t last very long as the Chiefs’ RB1. In actuality, he only made it through about two and a half preseason games before he tore his PCL, which abruptly ended his season. In comes Hunt and the rest is history. The rookie rusher blew up in Week 1 and never looked back. Totaling 1,782 yards and seven TDs on 325 touches — he averaged roughly 5.48 yards per touch — Hunt finished as the RB1 in standard fantasy formats with 242.20 points. Barring injury, he is a lock to retain his starting job in 2018.
As I stated above, Hunt is on the fast track to enter Week 1 as Kansas City’s RB1. However, since Ware had previously shown quite a bit of promise, I’m fully expecting him to be in the mix next season. The NFL is a multi-back league. Moreover, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a multi-back coach. Dating back to his tenure with the Eagles, Reid had always employed two sometimes three running backs systems that were effective more times than not — in 2003 Reid’s three-headed monster backfield of Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter combined for 1,613 yards and 20 TDs. With a combination of Hunt, Ware and while three is a crowd, we can even toss Charcandrick West’s name in there, the Chiefs’ backfield has a chance to be something special in 2018. And while some may believe Hunt won’t lose touches, I’d think again.
While Hunt will remain a top running back to own this year, Ware will also be in the mix in the mid-to-late rounds — and not only as a handcuff. Since the Chiefs are rolling out a second-year signal caller with only one career game under his belt — while Pat Mahomes was successful in his first career start, he just doesn’t have enough on his resume for me to hang my hat on — I believe Reid and the Chiefs will heavily lean on their running backs in 2018, even more so than we’ve seen in the past. And if they plan on relieving some of the pressure off the shoulders of the young and inexperienced Mahomes, leaning on Hunt and Ware is the wise decision.
On February 28, ESPN’s Mike Clay spoke to Andy Reid at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. In the thread of tweets below via Clay’s handle, Reid’s replies further suggest that Ware will indeed be a factor in 2018.
Spoke with Andy Reid off to the side a bit – Said he has a history of using multiple backs and Hunt and Spencer Ware are similar backs so both will be involved…
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) February 28, 2018
While it’s still early in the offseason, my forecast for Ware is a positive one. In dynasty formats, he’s a tremendous buy-low option right now. And if by any chance Hunt is the Chiefs’ one-man wrecking crew next season, which I highly doubt, you’d at least be getting his handcuff at a modest price tag.
Impacted Player: Robby Anderson
Quincy Enunwa was a solid fantasy asset in 2016. While the Jets were in turmoil — it was the season that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic fizzled and the Jets wide receiver corps was decimated by injury and underproductive. However, one player stood out. And yes you’ve guessed it, I’m referring to Enunwa. Although he appeared in all 16 games, his production picked up as the season progressed. Accumulating a 58-587-4 stat line on 105 targets while averaging 14.8 yards per catch, Enunwa finished 2016 as the WR42 with 111.8 fantasy points.
Entering 2017 Enunwa had all the hype. The Jets, while in dire straits, shed all their bad contracts and aging veterans that offseason and were ultimately sending 53 “has beens and never will be’s” on to the field every week — see the movie “Major League.”
As a result of all their personnel movement, Enunwa was the team’s WR1. Then, after fantasy owners — including myself — were targeting him and selecting him in the later rounds of fantasy drafts all offseason, the unforeseen happened. He injured his neck at minicamp, which led to his placement on the season-ending injured reserve list. As if things couldn’t get any worse and it wasn’t even Week 1 yet. But we all know how this ends. Led by journeyman Josh McCown, the Jets were holding their own in games last season — they even put up big numbers at times, especially from a fantasy football perspective. And with Enunwa out, Robby Anderson emerged as New York’s WR1 in breakout fashion, finishing as the WR16 with 137 fantasy points.
However, before a debate could be had about who would open the 2018 campaign as the Jets’ top wideout, Anderson caught his second arrest in a year and will likely face disciplinary action from the league, causing him to fall on the team’s WR depth chart. And on top of that, Enunwa is a restricted free agent. But that doesn’t worry me. I think New York retains him on an original round tender, a steal considering the going rate for No.2 and No. 3 receivers nowadays. Although there is always that chance he can move on, it wouldn’t change my mind on him fantasy-wise. He’s a talented player. He may never develop into a WR1, but that’s not the dispute here. Assuming he remains and the Anderson situation plays out unfavorably, I’d go all-in on Enunwa at his presumed late-round ADP.
Impacted Player: Chris Hogan/ Danny Amendola
Although he’s dealt with injury issues in the past, Julian Edelman never missed more than seven games in a single season through his eight-year career leading up to 2017. Then, in the Patriots’ third preseason game last August, the veteran wideout sustained a knee injury, which was later diagnosed a torn ACL, ending his season. However, without Edelman, the Patriots’ offense didn’t skip a beat. But c’mon, did anyone really think they would? It was next man up as usual in New England. And behind Edelman, Chris Hogan was waiting in the wings. Hauling in 33 receptions for 438 yards and five touchdowns, Hogan took full advantage of his opportunity for the first eight games of the year. Then, in Week 8, he sustained a shoulder injury against the Chargers which pretty much ended his regular season except for a one-catch, one-yard appearance in Week 14.
If you thought Hogan was effective, Danny Amendola, the next, next man up behind Edelman, was that much more impressive. Bouncing back from an injury-stricken 2016 campaign in which he produced a dismal 23-243-4 stat line — which made me think his career was winding down –Amendola put up 61 catches for 659 yards and a pair of scores in 15 regular season contests.
The Patriots have a decision to make in regards to Amendola. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Amendola could demand roughly $3-to-$5 million on the open market. A price that may be too rich for New England’s blood for a 32-year-old wideout who lingers at the bottom of the depth chart when the team is at full strength.
At this point, it is tough to tell what the Patriots are going to do with their personnel — they run a tight ship that remains quiet. But one thing is for certain, Edelman is on track to return in time for training camp. Assuming they retain Hogan and re-sign Amendola, the Patriots’ WR depth chart appears overcrowded once again. Will that affect Edelman’s fantasy value in 2018 though? I highly doubt it.
Edelman is one of Brady’s most trustworthy and reliable pass-catchers — perhaps his most reliable not named Rob Gronkowski – and if he does, in fact, return at full health, he’s entering his age-32 season and should have plenty of treads left on the tires to make a significant impact from a fantasy standpoint. Accumulating fewer than 130.6 fantasy points only once since 2013 — he contributed 111.5 in nine games during an injury-shortened 2015 campaign — Edelman could be one of the early favorites to earn the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Impacted Player: A player to be named later
“Do you like that,” as Kirk Cousins would say — I’m referencing my player to be named later mention. If you’re wondering why I said that then you weren’t paying any attention to the Bears’ passing game last season. And for good reason. They had none. The Bears finished dead last in total passing, likely due to the absence of Cameron Meredith.
The 25-year-old Meredith first broke onto the scene in 2016, his second year as a pro. Finishing as the WR41 with 113.5 fantasy points, Meredith led all Bears wideouts with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns on 97 targets while only appearing in 14 games. On track to open 2017 on as Chicago’s WR1 — Alshon Jeffery left Chicago to sign with the Super Bowl Champion Eagles last offseason — Meredith’s season was cut short before it even began. Similar to Julian Edelman above, Meredith’s season was cut short due to a torn ACL suffered in the third preseason game.
Meredith should return to one of the most favorable scenarios on this list. Even if the Bears address the wide receiver position with a notable addition this offseason, Meredith, a restricted free agent, should also be expected to return — I believe the Bears will retain Meredith on an original round tender. If that’s the case, Meredith will open 2018 as the WR2 at worst on a Bears’ offense primed to break out under the reigns of new head coach and offensive guru Matt Nagy.
With adequate production out of the backfield led by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, opposing defenses will be forced to put an extra man in the box, which will open up passing lanes for Mitchell Trubisky to take full advantage. And if Trubisky is playing well, Meredith will surely benefit. I’m buying Meredith right now before his price tag shoots up. And that will most certainly happen as this offseason grows older.
Thank you for reading my 2018 Fantasy Football Forgottens! I hope you enjoyed it! Want more of my content? Follow me on Twitter @therealnflguru and check out my @GridironExperts archive here. And before I forget, Mike Hauff and I debate fantasy football as well as other NFL news notes and nuggets on our show @Faceoff. You can follow us on Twitter, hear us on the Gridiron Experts Podcast Network, or watch us on Youtube.