This guy has been a target monster and those numbers should increase even more without Brandon Marshall. You can like Kevin White’s potential all you want, but he’s already hurt and faces a tough challenge of being productive in the early going. When that happens, Jay Cutler latches onto his most trustworthy target, beyond the point of being stubborn. It helps that he’ll play the Demaryius Thomas role in Adam Gase’s offense after a spectacular season by Matt Forte, so they’ll find various ways to get him the ball. Preference is nearly everything in fantasy football, but Alshon Jeffery is a top-7 wide receiver heading into your draft.
Must-Start: Jonathan Stewart
First and foremost, shout out to Jonathan Stewart for rocking it in the last half of the season and helping me capture another fantasy football championship. Just had to throw that in there. DeAngelo Williams is out-of-town now, and the Carolina Panthers will continue to pound the football. It’s finally Stewart’s ground game, flanking the dual-threat that Cam Newton is, so the boxes he has to run against will have one or two fewer defenders. The field might not be spread right away with a pair of young receivers. They have to demand attention that a veteran might have already earned, but don’t forget the elite Greg Olsen over the middle and a strong defense to keep games closer. The volume will be there from opening kickoff and I see a productive season in store, flirting around the top-10 or so.
Fallback Plan: Doug Martin
Love Smith is a defensive coach, so although there has been a perception of him liking Charles Sims, they went out and got a new offensive coordinator for a reason. Dirk Koetter, formerly with the rival Atlanta Falcons, has gotten a first-hand look at Doug Martin since coming into the league. Sims, the second year running back, will certainly be involved to change the pace. Martin will get another opportunity to be featured, and it also helps to have a rookie quarterback as far as touches are concerned. If the passing game can open things up, especially with a trio of 6’5 targets, even better for Martin and the Buccaneers.
Fallback Plan: Sam Bradford
Let’s not over-think things here. A former number one pick that won Rookie of the Year, playing for Chip Kelly that has won 10 games in both seasons so far with three quarterbacks. The offense is as QB-proof as one can get, especially with that trio forming the best backfield in the league, which is more of a QB’s best friend than a tight end is actually. Look, if you believe in the statistics that Bradford only has a 10% chance of re-injuring his knee, to that I say allocate as much talent at the other positions then pick him later on. The smarter decision would be to snag him, if you are interested in his situation, as your backup. You can stash him for a bye week, maybe he outplays your starter that isn’t a top-5 QB, or he becomes trade bait. However, it’s understandable if you want to stay away from him entirely and put him on your blacklist.
Watch List: Niles Paul
The tight end got a chance to start in the absence of Jordan Reed, who again enters the season banged up. Reed can’t seem to get on the field and stay there. Paul was almost snagged away by the Falcons in free agency, but wisely, the Washington Redskins made it a priority to re-signed him. Whether you believe in Robert Griffin as a quarterback, or the offensive line that just brought in a first round pick in Brandon Scherff, tight ends are the safety outlet. Paul has desirable features with his size and speed, and looks pretty smooth when he goes for YAC. Coach Jay Gruden used to run dual-tight end sets back in Cincinnati, I don’t see why he wouldn’t implement that in D.C. Paul is someone I would say should get the nod to start over Reed to begin with, but it’s more of a situation to monitor than anything else. If the starting role is his and he’s on your team, you’ll be happier with him than most other options at the brutal tight end position.
Watch List: Leonard Hankerson
In Washing Leonard Hankerson showed flashes of getting open, in the middle of the field and deep. He got nicked up and finds himself replacing Harry Douglas. You have reason to believe Atlanta will still get Devin Hester some snaps as a receiver, but Hankerson is turning heads this offseason and could have more opportunities than one would think. For instance, the aging Roddy White is still productive, but he has missed some games along with Julio Jones. Those spot-starting weeks are golden in fantasy football. You can’t really bet on him as a 4th or 5th receiver, but perhaps 6th or someone worthy to watch as the season progresses. He’ll get snaps in 3-wide formations, but it will likely take an unfortunate injury to one of his teammates to really be relevant. Plus, the Falcons should look towards a more balanced offense under Kyle Shanahan, and they upgraded a little bit at tight end with Jacob Tamme.