We’ve reached the halfway point of the NFL season and the boys in The Shop are all looking at their rosters. Some of them are patting themselves on the back for their brilliant draft choices while others are kicking themselves for the poor choices they made.
As always, injuries play a big part in who succeeds and who stinks out, but there are a lot of owners who are riding high because they made the right choice – whether due to good brain power or dump luck (Melvin Gordon fell to everyone who took him).
A lot of times, it isn’t strictly the numbers that players put up that make them valuable, it’s where they were drafted. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady were expected to put up big numbers. Matthew Stafford wasn’t.
As we start the stretch run, here are our picks for the most valuable fantasy players of 2016.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta – Ryan wasn’t among the top tier of quarterbacks, but has been lighting people up all year. In nine games, he has thrown for 330 yards or more five times and never thrown for less than 240 yards. He has at least one TD pass in every game and three or more in five of them. He’s a one-man killing machine.
Drew Brees, New Orleans – Fantasy owners have always loved Brees and why not? He’s having an average season for him – he’s on pace to throw for 42 touchdowns and 5,400 yards. That’s enough to win fantasy owners a lot of weeks.
Tom Brady, New England – His stock dropped because you knew he was going to miss four games to start the season. In the four he has played, he has thrown for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns. Over a full year, that comes out to more than 5,200 yards and 48 touchdowns, which makes many wonder why they devalued him on draft day.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego – After not scoring a TD as a rookie, his stock was way down on draft day. Through nine games, he has rushed for 768 yards, caught 28 passes for 284 more yards and scored 11 touchdowns, making him the No. 1 fantasy back of 2016.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas – The rookie has had 20 or more carries in six of eight games, has never had less than 15 carries, hasn’t rushed for less than 83 yards since Week 1 and is on pace to rush for 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns. In a year when running backs are hit and miss, Zeke has taken ownership of the position in his first season.
DeMarco Murray, Tennessee – In nine games, he has not only dominated the Titans ground game, averaging almost 20 carries and game and rushing for more than 800 yards, he is also Tennessee’s leading receiver with 35 catches and has scored nine touchdowns in nine games. He wasn’t a first-round pick, but is playing like it.
David Johnson, Arizona – Sure, he was a first-round pick, but he has lived up to every expectations. He’s on pace to rush for 1,400 yards, catch 70 passes for 800 more yards and score 16 touchdowns. Those who passed on him in the first round are still kicking themselves.
LaGarrette Blount, New England – The Patriots have historically mixed and match running backs, but not this season. Blount is on pace to rush for 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns, making him a must-start in every league.
Jay Ajayi, Miami – It took him time to get the starting job, but has been as dominant as anyone over the last month, putting together back-to-back 200-yard games. He could be the most dominant back in the second half of the season.
Matt Forte, New York Jets – He was supposed to hit the wall, right? Through nine games, he has scored eight touchdowns and has made it almost impossible to bench him.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay – He was a borderline top 10 receiver on draft day, but has outdone just about everyone. He’s on pace to catch 110 passes for 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns – numbers Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. would envy.
Julio Jones, Atlanta – Jones is on pace to catch almost 100 passes for 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a consistent backbreaker who can almost singlehandedly win weeks.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati – He only has three touchdowns, but has is on pace to catch about 120 passes for 1,800 yards – the kind of giant numbers that consistently win weeks for you.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay – He may be the most consistent fantasy player in the league. In eight games, he scored at least one touchdown in six of them and, although on pace to catch just 76 passes for 1,000 yards, but 14 touchdowns
Michael Crabtree, Oakland – Amari Cooper is the star, but Crabtree is on pace to top 1,000 yards and score double-digit touchdowns. Not too shabby for a guy who was available as long as he was.
Greg Olsen, Carolina – He was a high tight end pick, but is on pace to catch 90 passes for 1,350 yards. He has five or more receptions in all but one game and has 70 or more yards in five games. Tight end isn’t a lucrative fantasy position, but Olsen is the next best thing after Gronk.
Josh Lambo, San Diego – In nine games, he has scored less than seven points just once and has weekly scores of 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 13, 13 and 15.
The boys at The Shop were mixed in their reviews of who should be ranked higher, but the one thing they all agreed on was that the more of these players you have your team, the better you record likely is.
- This Atlanta offense is legit. In Thursday’s game, the Falcons had 11 possessions. One was deep in their own territory that ended with halftime. One was to take two kneel-downs to end the game. One ended with the fumble. The other eight? Five touchdowns and three field goals.
- Detroit is a fun team to watch – even though they likely won’t be in the playoffs. At some point this season, the Lions have been behind in every game they’ve played in the fourth quarter. They’re 5-4. Get out your horseshoes, boys. There is something lucky in Matt Stafford’s pocket.
- It’s looking almost impossible that the AFC West isn’t going to end up with three teams in the playoffs. One of them is going to win the division, but it’s starting to look like both AFC wild cards will be coming out of the division.
The Razor’s Edge
10. Don’t Ever Do That Again – It’s shocking that teams spend so much time practicing on-side kicks when they so often fail. But, we now have the template for what not to do. If you missed Chris Boswell’s Riverdance on-side kick attempt, find it on-line and laugh until you cry. The fact someone as respected as Mike Tomlin would allow such a play to even be attempted is shocking.
9. Why Are Ratings Down? – The NFL has tried to come up with rationale as to why the ratings for nationally televised games have been down. Perhaps its because they insist on making sure every team needs to be in the national spotlight at least once. That means that 0-8 Cleveland will be in the national spotlight Thursday night against Baltimore – not exactly Must-See TV.
8. The Year of the Cat…Not! – The Jaguars had a chance to make some noise Sunday. The Chiefs were without QB Alex Smith, RBs Jamaal Charles and Spencer Ware and WR Jeremy Maclin didn’t catch a pass. Kansas City was 1-of-14 on third down. Jacksonville ran 75 plays to KC’s 57. The Jags ran for 205 yards. The final? A 19-14 loss with four field goals and a touchdown scored against them – death by 1,000 paper cuts. But, four turnovers killed the Jags (the Chiefs had none). By every measure, Jacksonville should have won. Instead, they’re 2-6 and floating face down in the water.
7. Just For Kicks – The Jets continue to find new and interesting ways as they see their 2016 season swirl down the toilet. The Jets were in Miami and, after training most of the game, took the lead with five minutes to play 23-20 and appeared to have themselves headed for a division win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. Then they kicked off. The got a touchback but we inexplicably offside and had to kick again. The result? Kenyan Drake returned the kick 96 yards for a touchdown and the Jets lost again. January 1 can’t come soon enough in New York.
6. The Buc Doesn’t Stop Here (or anywhere) – Tampa Bay had a chance to make a big statement in the NFC South. Having beaten Atlanta is Georgia in Week 1, the Bucs led 14-13 in the second quarter Thursday with a chance to pull within a half game of the Falcons. But, they couldn’t stop Atlanta from scoring. The Falcons scored eight times and scored 27 unanswered points to blow the game open. The Bucs made a statement – a really bad one.
5. Steelers Wheel – The Steelers forced Ben Roethlisberger back into action because he can play hurt, right? Not so much. On their first 11 drives against Baltimore – not counting the kneel-down in the final three seconds of the first half – the drives couldn’t have been much worse. They were dismal – 3, 3, 5, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 1, 3 and 3. There were 10 punts (one blocked for a touchdown) and an interception. Landry Jones couldn’t have done much worse. The Steelers have no problem throwing Big Ben out there at less than 100 percent. On Sunday, it cost them dearly. Perhaps never has a 21-14 final score been so lopsided.
4. Broncos Bucked in Oaktown – The Raiders seemed like a cute little story as they kept piling up road wins, but they weren’t making much headway in the way of earning respect because they had lost to the two quality teams they had faced – Atlanta and Kansas City. That changed when the Broncos came to town Sunday night. The maligned Raiders defense dominated Denver. By the time the Broncos got their initial first down of the game, they were behind 13-0 and there was 11 minutes left in the first half. The Broncos may still be the best bet to knock off New England in the AFC, but, as things stand right now, they’re in third place in the AFC West.
3. The No Offense Huddle – When the Rams started 3-1, the pain felt in St. Louis was palpable. They had seen a 3-1 start in years and the California Dreamin’ was on point. However, four straight loss later – three of them in front of the hometown paying customers, has the Rams at 3-5 and drowning. Jeff Fisher has refused to put in No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, despite having an offense that has scored less than 20 points in six of eight games and 10 points or less in four – including the last two. The Rams defense has done enough to win games, but Case Keenum isn’t the answer – short-term or long-term.
2. Packing It In – It is starting to look more and more like only one playoff team is coming out of the NFC North. Coming into Sunday’s game with the Colts, the Green Bay Packers had basically lost to every team they played with a record above .500 (Minnesota, Dallas and Atlanta). They had been at home for more than a month before losing to Atlanta last week, so the Colts looked to be mincemeat in the pie. But, a funny thing happened on the way to a tie for the NFC North lead – the Colts handed them their ass. Indy went up 14-3 early and led 31-13 with 9:35 to play. The Packers are 1-2 on the road (and got taken to the wall by hapless Jacksonville in their only win) and play their next three games away from Lambeau, which could extend their downward spiral of losing three of their last four games coming off a 3-1 start. The cheese is binding up.
1. We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat – Remember when the Vikings were 5-0 and atop most of the power rankings in the NFL? Neither do they. Minnesota lost its third straight game, the last two to Chicago and Detroit, and this one was a heart punch. Trailing 13-9 because kicker Blair Walsh missed an extra point, Minnesota’s struggling offense needed a touchdown to win Sunday’s game. They drove 79 yards on 13 plays to score the apparent game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds to go leaving Detroit with no time outs. They inexplicably let Andre Roberts catch a 27-yard pass in the middle of the field and surrendered a 58-yard field goal to Matt Prater. They then allowed the Lions to march 87 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown in overtime. For once, the offense did its job and the vaunted Minnesota defense never got them back on the field to back it up.