NFL Boom or Bust in 2015
When we say “boom or bust,” we really mean there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding an NFL team heading into the start of a season. Everyone knows Aaron Rodgers will keep the Green Bay offense humming along in 2015, but most teams don’t come with that kind of pedigree of offensive success.
The following 5 teams are, in my opinion, this years biggest potential boom or bust NFL squads overall and in fantasy football. Some have just enough on offense to have a bright year, whereas some are set up to fail.
2014 Ranks: 13th in yards, 26th in points
The Redskins were an absolute disaster in 2013, and only marginally better in 2014. Traditionally, most teams that see three or more quarterbacks get multiple starts in a single season don’t have the greatest offensive production.
The first question for Washington isn’t isn’t who’s the quarterback, though; it’s how he’s going to perform. To this point, we’ve seen the highest highs and the lowest lows from Robert Griffin III. Whether you believe the Redskins offense will boom or bust boils down to whether Griffin can recapture that rookie magic.
The playmakers on offense are there. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon remain an excellent 1-2 punch at receiver, and Alfred Morris just barely missed out on cracking the top 12 in RB points in 2014. The tight ends, Jordan Reed and Niles Paul, are good enough if not spectacular.
Washington fans will point out their abysmal offensive line play in 2014 (31st in pass blocking, according to Football Outsiders) as the source of poor quarterback play. In 2015, that line looks to improve dramatically. Bill Callahan, a key component in the Cowboys’ resurgent offensive line, is now in Washington, and the players already feel the difference. As veteran center Kory Lichtensteiger said, “We’ll definitely get better if we don’t die first.” Couple that with fifth overall selection Brandon Scherff, the 2014 Outland Trophy winner, and you have the makings of a much-improved offensive front moving forward.
Can Griffin take advantage of his situation to recapture the magic? He has the talent, the opportunity, and his coach’s backing, and should enter 2015 healthy. Give me one more chance with the former Heisman winner. If the Redskins fail again in 2015, it won’t be because of the offense.
2014 Ranks: 3rd in points, 5th in yards
Hang on, hang on, I know what you’re thinking. How could the Philadelphia offense be anything but excellent in 2015? Chip Kelly! DeMarco Murray! …Tim Tebow (just kidding)
I’m not saying you need to avoid the Eagles’ offense this year, but don’t blindly assume Philadelphia will provide top fantasy scorers. You need to be careful not to overdraft players wearing green in Philly this season. Kelly and his team are invested in offensive output, and chances are they’ll find it, but chances are it won’t look like the fantasy goldmine you imagine.
We don’t need to say much about Philadelphia’s offensive line. They’re a top-five unit, along with Dallas, and though age is creeping up on them, there’s no reason to believe they’ll slide from the upper echelon this season.
The quarterback situation is dicey. Mark Sanchez could well open the season as the starter with Matt Barkley as his backup while Sam Bradford works toward getting healthy again. Although Sanchez performed well enough in 2014, anyone expecting him to be a viable fantasy starter for a full season will be disappointed.
The receivers have a lot of hype around them, but are so far unproven. Top draft pick Nelson Agholor is getting high praise, but has yet to play in the NFL. Hype magnet Josh Huff has caught 2 passes in the NFL since November 10, 2014, and 8 passes in total. Riley Cooper is not a good receiver and will not be fantasy relevant again. Jordan Matthews showed promise last season, but still has only 3 100-yard games under his belt and now has to deal with teams giving him more attention after Jeremy Maclin’s departure.
The running backs are fantastic—if healthy. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have each had elite seasons, and have each had nagging injuries. Now they share a backfield with Darren Sproles behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. If one goes down, the other should be able to carry the load just fine.
However, therein lies the problem. Can you depend on Murray’s health after he carried the ball 436 times last season? Will Kelly feature him heavily, or split his carries with Mathews to keep his legs fresh? Until we see the Eagles in action, no one can say.
I predict good things for the Eagles’ offense. I’m no fool. However, this will look much more like a well-oiled machine with multiple contributing parts rather than a beast with one or two powerhouse players. Expect good (not great) production from individual Eagles players this year, and be careful not to overdraft them. If you need an injury fill-in, however, Philadelphia might have just the player for you.
Verdict: Real-life boom, fantasy bust
2014 Ranks: 23rd in points, 21st in yards
The Bears’ offense was an unmitigated disaster last season. Coming in with high expectations after finishing second in the league in points in 2013, the Bears never found any sort of rhythm in 2014 and saw Jay Cutler benched for Panthers bust Jimmy Clausen. Their supposed offensive guru, Mark Trestman, got the boot after just two seasons, and recently-canned Broncos coach John Fox now has control. What does it all mean?
Well, for starters, Jay Cutler is still going to be a good-but-not-great QB with some productive games and some duds. Expecting anything else at this point is just silly. Perfectly acceptable in 2-QB leagues, not draftable in others.
The offensive line is okay: not great, not awful, but okay. Ranking 15th in run blocking and 18th in pass protection doesn’t set the world on fire, but it doesn’t actively prevent progress either. The Bears are only a year removed from being a top-5 pass protecting line in 2013, so we know the potential for excellence is there.
Alshon Jeffery is the real deal and shouldn’t suffer from the loss of Brandon Marshall. He has the talent to go up against top corners and win, and even in last year’s embarrassment of a season, Jeffery managed to finish 11th among all fantasy WRs. Kevin White has everything to prove, same as any rookie, and should have the opportunity to shine early behind a well-established top receiver in Jeffery.
Martellus Bennett finally seems to have found his groove in Chicago. John Fox made great use of Julius Thomas the last two seasons, and I’d be quite surprised to see Bennett slip out of the top 6 TEs this year.
The Bears’ greatest offensive weapon remains Matt Forte, though, until he proves otherwise. Forte consistently lives up to fantasy owners’ first round picks and has a rare combination of durability and production. There is some concern that John Fox might limit Forte’s role to keep him fresh, but Fox didn’t coach a back in Denver near Forte’s talent level. Expect his receptions to go way down, but don’t overreact and let him slide too far. As always, he’ll justify that high selection.
With Forte, Jeffery, and Bennett leading the charge, and a coach with a pedigree of success at the helm, the Bears should provide plenty of fantasy goodness this season. Don’t be surprised if White becomes fantasy relevant quickly, either.
San Francisco 49ers
2014 Ranks: 25th in points, 20th in yards
With the departure of Jim Harbaugh and the arrival of Jim Tomsula, the 49ers find themselves at the beginning of an uncertain new era. After such a rough offseason, what can we expect from Tomsula and new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst in 2015?
The offensive line isn’t too bad; Football Outsiders had the 49ers 10th in run blocking and 30th in pass blocking in 2014, but that pass blocking rank is just one symptom of what was a generally anemic passing attack. They lost Iupati, but cohesion and discipline help offensive lines more than star players. So, will things improve?
Qualifiers aside, this offensive line still isn’t close to the elite unit it was in 2012 and won’t have a dramatic positive effect on the offense. There’s some hype about Carlos Hyde taking over for Frank Gore, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back and could struggle under a defense-minded head coach and an OC who spent the last four years as a quarterbacks coach.
Speaking of quarterbacks, I like the talent of Colin Kaepernick, but not the mentorship surrounding him. He lit the world on fire in his first year and has failed to progress much since. Now, the man who was in charge of his stunted development is the offensive coordinator for the whole team, and several reports indicate he wasn’t exactly the 49ers first choice for the job. Yikes.
The 49ers have pieces—Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Hyde—but those pieces are inconsistent or aging, and the depth behind them is too unproven to rely on this offense.
San Diego Chargers
2014 Ranks: 17th in points, 18th in yards
In Week 6 of last season, the Chargers topped many news outlets’ power rankings and Philip Rivers was widely considered a leader in the MVP race. Fast forward to Week 9, and the Chargers were reeling after a brutal 37-0 shellacking at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. A few weeks after that, rumors that Rivers was playing through a serious back injury began to take form. Despite everything, Rivers threw over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, and the Chargers finished 9-7.
Looking ahead to 2015, the Chargers’ offense looks pretty shiny. No news on Rivers’ injury has surfaced since February, and since the last we heard was that surgery wouldn’t be necessary, no news is good news. Assuming the San Diego QB is healthy and ready to go, how does this offense look moving forward?
On paper, things look better than last season. The Bolts traded up to acquire Melvin Gordon in the first round, and there’s nothing standing between the talented rookie and a heavy workload. You can read Jason Willan’s fantasy breakdown on Gordon for more details. Don’t forget Danny Woodhead, either. The diminutive back is lethal on passing downs and was one of Rivers’ favorite targets before going down early last season.
San Diego has an excellent offensive line (3rd in run blocking, 8th in pass protection on FO), anchored by tackles King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker. Orlando Franklin should help beef up the middle of the line after coming over from Denver. Expect nothing less than another top-10 season for this line.
Keenan Allen disappointed a lot of fantasy owners in 2014 after failing to live up to his top-12 WR billing, but I’m looking to get Allen on the rebound. Allen was the victim of a false sophomore slump that wasn’t the product of his ability, but rather his responsibility. His coaches asked him to fulfill different roles for his offense, and he did. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that didn’t translate into the yards and touchdowns we expected. Look for Allen to produce more like he did in 2013 this season.
Old man Antonio Gates might not be at OTAs, but who can blame him? He’s entering the final year of his contract going into his 12th season. After finishing second among all tight ends in fantasy points last season, it’s safe to say he’ll be an undervalued option yet again.
The Chargers have a lot of moving pieces—a new feature back, a quarterback coming off a mysterious injury, receivers who disappointed last season and a tight end past his prime—but don’t let the uncertainty distract you. There are too many good parts here to have a disappointing bottom-half finish in both scoring and yards for the second consecutive year. My money is on an offensive explosion in San Diego this season.