AFC East Fantasy Football Preview: Studs, Sleepers, Division Winners and Losers
We're inching closer to the start of football season, which means two things: your favorite team is about to embark on a hopeful journey to the Super Bowl, and your fantasy football drafts are about to take place.
So, to get you prepped for both things, we'll be covering each team -- division by division -- over the next week in order to help you set expectations (analytically, of course) for what's about to happen on both the real and fake football field.
Let's count down the AFC East from worst to first, ranked entirely by our nERD metric, which measures the number of points we'd expect the team to win or lose by against an average one on a neutral field.
4. Miami Dolphins | nERD: -2.47 | Projected Record: 7.0-9.0
Fantasy Football Stud: Jarvis Landry
You can knock Jarvis Landry for a lot of things if you so choose. He doesn't have a ton of touchdown upside, he's heavily dependent on volume, and his average depth of target might be negative.
But dude gets touches, and it's hard to hate that.
Even though the Miami Dolphins brought in plenty of competition for him last year in DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, and Kenny Stills, Landry still managed to see 166 targets and finish fourth in the league with 110 receptions. He's facing stiff competition again this year with Parker fully healthy and Leonte Carroo joining the fold, but the team has shown in the past that they're going to get him the ball.
To bolster his value further, the Dolphins are even a bit creative in how they give him opportunities. He added 18 rushes, 36 punt returns, and 13 kick returns to his 110 receptions last year, giving him abundant opportunities to bolster his fantasy resume. He has his warts, but there's a reason he's a third-round pick, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Ryan Tannehill
I can feel your vomit coming through the screen at the thought of giving Ryan Tannehill another shot in fantasy football. It's hard to blame you after his flops in previous years when optimism has bubbled. Still, it's not all bad from a forward-looking perspective.
We've seen in the past that drafting an offensive lineman in the first round has an immediate effect on the team's efficiency. The Dolphins plucked highly-touted tackle Laremy Tunsil in the first round this year, which should help pacify one of the team's biggest bugaboos from 2015.
Additionally, Parker's health should bring additional offensive efficiency, giving Tannehill more red-zone opportunities. Parker performed extremely well in a small sample last year, and additional exposure to his Gucciness could help Tannehill return value. As the 22nd quarterback off the board, the cost if he doesn't pan out won't be too great.
3. Buffalo Bills | nERD: 1.60 | Projected Record: 8.1-7.9
Fantasy Football Stud: Sammy Watkins
From the team's Week 8 bye through the end of the year, the team threw 242 passes; 78 of those went to Watkins, a 32.2% market share. The only players to top that mark last year were Antonio Brown at 33.1% and Julio Jones at 32.9%. That's it. And Watkins did a lot when the ball was in his hands.
Of the 48 receivers with at least 80 targets, not a single one added more expected points per reception than Watkins. He had the volume, and he had the efficiency. Stud.
As for his injured foot, the Bills activated Watkins off of the physically unable to perform list, and he's eligible to practice. There will always be concerns about injuries with Watkins, but things are trending well enough to warrant his current ADP.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Tyrod Taylor
Out of 46 passers with at least 100 drop back last year, Taylor ranked 10th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, a spot that would make him intriguing if he didn't have rushing upside. Taylor clearly does, and that should make you salivate.
Just like the Bills had two studs, they've also got a pair of late-round targets. Tight end Charles Clay had a 19.8% target market share prior to missing the team's final three games, a much higher number than you'll find for most tight ends going as late as he is. The Bills may not have the league's most exciting offense, but they are friendly for fantasy owners.
2. New York Jets | nERD: 1.72 | Projected Record: 7.9-8.1
Fantasy Football Stud: Brandon Marshall
In the past three seasons in which Brandon Marshall has played all 16 games, his final season-long finishes at wide receiver are second, sixth, and third, respectively. Illitude to the max.
Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is officially back with the New York Jets, don't expect Marshall's early second-round price tag to decline. Fitzpatrick turned to Marshall 21 times in the red zone last season, and Marshall rewarded him by converting nine into touchdowns. No player has more receiving touchdowns the past four seasons than Marshall's 45, and we shouldn't expect him to fall off the cliff as he enters his age-32 season.
This isn't to toss shade at Eric Decker, either. Decker is third on that same list for touchdown receptions the past four years, and he converted 10 of his 28 red-zone targets into scores in 2015. They're both expensive, but they're both worth the price in this instance.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Bilal Powell
Bilal Powell beasted out down the stretch last season, averaging 13.7 half-PPR points per game his final six games after returning from an injury. Now, he's fully healthy, and all signs point to a similar role in 2016.
Earlier this month, NJ Advance Media's Darryl Slater said that Powell and Matt Forte would likely split carries in the team's backfield. Both have the ability to excel in the passing game, so you would assume there would be a split there, as well. However, Powell's going in the ninth round of PPR leagues, and Forte is in the fourth. This is probably more indicative that Forte is going way too high, but it also shows the value in Powell.
With Khiry Robinson on the roster, Powell doesn't figure to see a ton of goal-line work, limiting his upside a bit. But you aren't going to find many players with his floor as late as he's going, and he could be a solid security blanket for your bench.
1. New England Patriots | nERD: 7.06 | Projected Record: 9.5-6.5
Fantasy Football Stud: Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski has now played at least 10 games in five seasons during his career; he has had double-digit touchdowns in each and every one. He good.
It's fully valid if you have worries about Gronkowski and the rest of the team's high-priced assets because of Tom Brady's suspension, but Gronk may be the exception to that. He has elevated Brady's game to the extent where you believe he could excel no matter who is throwing the football.
Using the RotoViz game splits app, we can see that Brady has averaged 2.21 touchdowns and 0.48 interceptions per game in the 80 games Gronk has played in his career. In the 16 Gronkowski has missed, those numbers dip to 1.69 and 0.81, respectively. This guy is good enough to make a difference, and that's why it's justifiable to spend an early-round pick on him even with Brady on the shelf for a bit.
Fantasy Football Late-Round Target: Chris Hogan
Another day, another injury for the New England Patriots' receiving corps. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell is expected to miss around a month with a dislocated elbow, an unfortunate injury to say the least, but it further pries the window open for Chris Hogan.
Hogan sat last night along with many Patriots starters, including Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Keshawn Martin. ESPN's Mike Reiss reiterated after the game that Hogan is alongside Edelman and Amendola atop the team's depth chart, further validating his potential fantasy viability in his first year with the new squad. With Edelman and Amendola both undergoing multiple surgeries in the offseason, Hogan may be the team's top healthy option.
In drafting Hogan, you're drafting a situation. Once Brady returns, you're going to want exposure to the team's passing game, and Hogan is a cheap way to do so with his ADP currently sitting in the 13th round. If he can snag a role in the offense, he'd be an every-week contributor with fun upside.