Dynasty Watch: Can You Trust This Comeback Kid?
Dynasty rankings are in constant flux, and staying informed is the key to making roster decisions for your fantasy football team. The Dynasty Watch series is your regular season guide through the shifting dynasty landscape. This week, we’ll take a look at what to do with a player who has resurrected his career and some of the big movers after Week 12.
Back From the Dead
“Never trust a Patriots running back” – Confucius, probably
The Dion Lewis hype train was chugging right along in the lead-up to the 2016 season. He had emerged as a PPR machine during the first half of New England’s 2015 campaign and all reports were that he was going to be healthy for the start of training camp. Despite returning from an ACL tear to a team where backfield roles have historically been fluid, dynasty drafters were taking him in the late-fifth to mid-sixth round, on average.
That seemed like an amazing amount of trust for a journeyman RB going into his sixth year of professional football who only really had seven good games on his resume. With a two-year contract in hand though, Lewis appeared to be a safe bet to stay a big part of the Patriots offense. His knee had other ideas, as he required a second surgery and didn’t return until late in the year, where he had a reduced role.
Fast forward to the 2017 offseason and drafters were wary. He showed promise in his late-season return from injury – particularly his three touchdown performance in the divisional round of the playoffs – but his passing-down role had clearly been usurped by James White. Lewis had fallen but was still hovering around the 10th round.
And then Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee happened. Lewis fell completely off the map and was even going undrafted in some spots. His usage early in the season seemed to justify the steep drop in ADP, but a funny thing happened as the season went on.
Lewis came back from the dead, but this time he was doing it as the primary rusher, not a pass-receiver. With double-digit carries in each of his last six games, Lewis leads the Patriots in rushing attempts over that span, and his 5.1 yards per carry on the season ranks him among the league’s best. If the season were to end today, his ADP would probably fall somewhere in the neighborhood of his initial 2017 ADP, falling somewhere in the ninth or 10th round.
There’s a lot to unpack here with Lewis. He’s a free agent at the end of this season, which means there’s a chance he doesn’t return to the Patriots. White is the only RB who appears locked in for New England in 2018, as Burkhead is also a free agent and the frequently inactive Gillislee can be cut with zero dead cap. A move away from New England could put Lewis in a less crowded backfield, but it would also mean departing an offense that is consistently among the best in the league.
If Lewis were to go to a new team it’s hard to envision him being a workhorse, but could he be the lead back in a committee?At 5-foot-8 and 193 pounds, Lewis isn’t what most would consider a prototypical between-the-tackles runner, but that’s exactly how the Patriots have been using him.
And he’s been excelling in the role, breaking tackles and ranking well in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating.
Dion Lewis makes you miss pic.twitter.com/DAHwTBko96— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 28, 2017
At this point in his career, I think it’s fair to say we’ve seen enough to say that a healthy Lewis is capable of making plays in the NFL, but there are still some obstacles to him being a safe dynasty asset.
The aforementioned uncertainty about his team and role going forward is primary among those obstacles. Staying on the Patriots keeps him in a high-powered offense but caps his ceiling with the way Bill Belichek spreads out work among his backs. Also, his emergence at the expense of Gillislee reinforces the fact that on the Patriots any slip in performance can lead to the next-man-up stealing your job.
The other option is that he doesn’t re-sign with New England and takes a deal elsewhere. Moving to another team is a complete wildcard, and it’s impossible to predict how it would play out even if he landed in a seemingly favorable situation.
There’s also Lewis’ age and injury history. It feels like Lewis hasn’t been around that long, but he’ll enter next season at the age of 28. While it’s wise not to get too caught up in projecting long careers even for young RBs, it still suppresses his dynasty value a bit relative to his younger cohorts.
His lengthy recovery from his ACL injury – and the fact that he needed a second surgery – is still fresh in the minds of most owners. Lewis also lost a season to a fractured fibula in 2013. With two extended absences under his belt, there’s a perception among some that Lewis is injury prone. With two completely unrelated injuries though, there’s not much evidence to back that up. Labeling any RB injury-prone is probably unwise due to variance and the overall high injury rate at the position, but there’s really not much in Lewis’ history to suggest it’s more of a worry than normal for an RB.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding Lewis, but the only one that really concerns me is where he’ll end up next year. With all the uncertainty keeping his price down in many leagues, I’ll gladly buy Lewis from an owner who thinks he’s selling high and trust that he’s good enough to continue to get significant touches wherever he ends up playing in 2018.1
Sleeper of the Week
The injury to Robert Woods opened up some temporary opportunity for a Rams wide receiver, and Josh Reynolds was the man to step up and fill the role. With Woods likely to miss multiple weeks, the Rams will get to take an extended look at Reynolds, who has a chance to play himself into a larger role on the team next year. Sammy Watkins will be a free agent and Tavon Austin will have a somewhat reasonable amount of dead cap if cut.2
Reynolds has the type of prospect profile without any huge blemishes, but also nothing that really stands out. He’s not old, but he’s not extremely young either. He’s reasonably athletic, but not a freak. He was a vertical threat with a nice YPR, but nothing truly eye-popping. His final year market share was solid, but not mind-blowing. All of this led to him being drafted in the middle of the fourth round – right in the middle of the draft.
While that might not be the type of player to get us excited, it’s still the type of player who has a shot to develop into an NFL WR. On a Rams team that suddenly looks like an offensive force to be reckoned with, Reynolds could emerge as a solid asset in future years.
His TD this week means that he’ll no longer be under the radar, and there’s a good chance he was already owned in deeper leagues where a fourth-round WR with three targets through 11 weeks was still an asset worth holding. In leagues where he’s available though, he makes a solid pickup who can produce for as long as Woods is out, or as a stash for 2018 where he might be a permanent starter for Sean McVay.3
Ricky Seals-Jones – Again playing limited snaps, Seals-Jones was targeted on a ridiculous percentage of his routes and managed to find the end zone. I still have a hard time getting excited about him, but he needs to be owned in most leagues just in case there’s something to his emergence. The Cardinals have room for pass-catchers to step up in their offense, and there are even rumblings that the quarterback who seems to love him, Blaine Gabbert, could continue to start there in 2018.
Joe Mixon – The week Mixon truthers have been waiting for, and all it took was a home game against the Browns. While I don’t count myself as a truther, I’ve been advocating buying Mixon if he could be acquired for less than this year’s draft cost4 as owners started to panic. One good performance doesn’t really validate that take, but with his continued heavy volume it’s probable there are some more performances like this in his future.
Kenny Golladay – He has only 13 catches in his injury-shortened rookie year, but seemingly every one of those has gone for massive yardage with his YPR sitting at a ridiculous 21.5. As I noted earlier in the season, Golladay is exciting long-term, but the players in front of him on the depth chart appear locked in for another year at minimum and possible longer. He’s a great piece for a rebuilding team and a trade chip for a contender.
Jamaal Williams – Had a big game with two TDs and some nice receiving work, but continues to be inefficient as a runner. While it’s generally wise to fade efficiency for RBs with locked in workloads, for players on a crowded depth chart it’s an important factor since it can affect their playing time. So far, Williams hasn’t done much to show that he would deserve a lead role over Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery when those backs are healthy.
Dede Westbrook – Had a massive 10 targets as Patrick Peterson shut down Marqise Lee for much of the game. He has yet to break off a big play, but his usage thus far has been encouraging. With Allen Hurns missing time, he should continue to see opportunity to play his way into increased value.
Patrick Mahomes – While Andy Reid is insistent that Alex Smith will be his QB going forward, it’s no longer crazy to think that Mahomes could replace him like it was during Smith’s hot streak to start the season. I’m still doubtful that Reid would make a switch in season,5 but the possibility of Mahomes starting 2018 seems a lot more likely now than it did a couple months ago.
De’Veon Smith – With Dolphins RBs dropping like flies, Smith is likely to be called up to back up Kenyan Drake. Is the undrafted free agent from Michigan a player we should keep an eye on?
His forty time isn’t in the Box Score Scout, but it’s reported as being 4.85. That’s slow, even for a guy his size. There’s nothing to suggest Smith is anything more than a warm body to serve as a backup and potentially vulture some short-yardage and goal-line work. He’s unlikely to develop into a dynasty asset.
Alvin Kamara – While he’s certainly earned the current enthusiasm surrounding him, it’s important to remember that he is definitely not going to continue to average more than seven yards per carry in the NFL. That’s not a knock on him, and he continues to climb up the rankings, but just something to keep in mind when considering his exploding value.
Samaje Perine – With back-to-back 100-yard games, Perine is showing he can be used as a workhorse. Most importantly, he’s holding on to the ball and avoiding the fumbles that could put him back in the doghouse. While the return of Chris Thompson in 2018 will eat into his potential workload, his play over the final games of the season has the potential to secure his spot on the depth chart ahead of Rob Kelley.
Kareem Hunt – The whole Chiefs offense has struggled as of late, and Hunt has struggled along with it. If Leonard Fournette wasn’t limited by his troublesome ankle, his solid play and great pedigree would probably have him ahead of Hunt, but it’s hard to ignore what has been a chronic problem for the big back. Hunt is in a great system for his skillset and could flash again any week.
Mack Hollins – Eagles rookie and college special teams standout Hollins has been making a few big plays throughout the year and generating some buzz as a future part of the team. What makes this somewhat likely is that the Eagles have a very tight salary cap situation and cheap, young players will need to be a big part of their plan next year. Don’t expect much from him this year, but he’s a useful stash for 2018.
Evan Engram – The Giants offense is already a mess, but the benching of Eli Manning had the potential to make things even worse, and the quality of his QB play in the future is far from certain.
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My personal rankings are up over at the RotoViz rankings page. Here are some of the guys who have made moves this week.
Giovani Bernard – The Bengals are leaning heavily on Mixon, and Bernard has been relegated to an afterthought. Still just 26 years old and with an excellent history of production through his first four seasons, Bernard is a guy I wouldn’t mind buying cheap. Reviving his value might require escaping the Bengals though, and he’s under team control there for another two years on a very reasonably priced contract. The talent is there, but the opportunity might be hard to find.
Devontae Booker – While he did once again get more work than C.J. Anderson, the entire Denver offense was so dreadful that it’s difficult to evaluate him. Until Denver stops rolling out the worst collection of QBs in the league, no one in the backfield is going to have an opportunity to help their dynasty value. Teams targeting Booker should be doing so with 2018 in mind, where Anderon can be cut with no cap hit and a free agent signing or trade for a QB could revive their putrid offense.
T.J. Yeldon – From an inactive early in the season to having a legitimate role in the Jaguars offense, Yeldon has crept back into the dynasty conversation. He’s never going to be a threat to a healthy Fournette, but as a backup and receiving back he’ll have value in deeper leagues. There’s also the possibility the Jaguars could move him during the offseason, and he could find an expanded role elsewhere.
Kenyan Drake – It’s time for the Drake show. With every other RB on the current depth chart injured, Drake will get an opportunity to show what he can do in a full-time role. His performance over the next few weeks could solidify him as a major part of the offense next year if he plays well while also making him a Zero-RB winner here in 2017.
Derrick Henry – Every four weeks or so during the past two seasons, Henry has a big game and it starts creating buzz that he’s set to take over the Tennessee backfield. It’s a monthly tradition at this point. As I noted last time Henry had a big game, Demarco Murray can be released with zero dead cap in 2018. Henry’s emergence will eventually happen, and every underwhelming game by Murray makes it look more likely that 2018 is when it will happen.
Byron Marshall – Playing sporadically as a passing-down back for the Redskins, Marshall is worth knowing in the event that anything happens to Perine. Beyond that, there’s not much to be excited about with him.
Devin Funchess – Establishing himself as a legitimate WR2, we’ll have to wait at least one more week to see if Greg Olsen’s return has any impact. At this point though, Funchess appears to be the new Kelvin Benjamin, and it’s worth noting that he’s playing in his third season at the same age as Benjamin played in his first. There’s still a lot of potential for growth.6
Julio Jones – I touched on Julio as a buy earlier in the season as his scoring wasn’t matching his workload. It may feel like Jones has been around forever, but he’s still just 28 years old and fits the profile of a WR who can be productive well into his 30s.
Johnny Holton – Neil Dutton has you covered for all you need to know about the most obscure Oakland WR who stands to benefit from the Michael Crabtree suspension and Amari Cooper injury. While he’ll probably run behind Cordarelle Patterson and Seth Roberts, he’s also the least know quantity, and as such has the higher potential to increase his value in a way the others can’t.
Phillip Dorsett – There are some Dorsett truthers who were expecting him to emerge after Chris Hogan’s injury, but he’s done virtually nothing with his increased playing time. It looks like it’s time to move on.
Robby Anderson – He’s the WR14 on the season. Let that one sink in. Anderson’s TD pace is unlikely to continue, but it would be foolish to ignore what he’s been able to do so far over his first two seasons. With a 4.34 forty time, Anderson is the discount Will Fuller. His QB situation and role in a churning depth chart may be in flux next year, but he’s starting to make a believer out of me as a guy who could stick as a top-36 WR if the Jets can maintain any kind of a reasonably decent offense next year.
Paul Richardson – Continues to play well and set himself up nicely for free agency. Could one of Tanner McEvoy or Amara Darboh step into his role next year if he were to leave? Neither looks particularly poised to step into the role, but there could be some targets available behind Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett if the Seahawks don’t bring any big free agent or rookie WRs.
Josh Doctson – Played every offensive snap for the Redskins this week, but was easily outproduced by Jamison Crowder. It’s only Doctson’s first full, healthy season, but he was an older prospect and is already 25 years old. He’s shown flashes with some big plays and four TDs already on the season – including one this week – but he hasn’t emerged in the way that a guy like Funchess is currently doing.
Coby Fleener – The argument for Fleener on the Saints has always been that the pass-catching TE on the Saints is a valuable role. That’s disappeared this year as the Saints have shifted to a more run-heavy offense. Fleener is still being utilized as the primary pass-catcher among the TEs, but game script has kept him off the field in many games. Fleener’s dead cap drops significantly next year, but he’s still not an easy cut. He’ll need a shift in offensive philosophy to return to relevance, but it’s clear he’s not a big part of their plans at the moment.
Jared Cook – He’s on pace for the highest yardage total of his career, even if he’s only managed to find the end zone once this year. It feels like Cook has always found a way to disappoint, but it’s possible he’s finally found a home in Oakland at age 30. Coming off two down games, he might be easy to acquire as a throw-in player in a trade in deep or TE-premium leagues and has the potential to continue to put up reasonable production at least through next year.
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- Assuming his owner isn’t asking too much, of course. (back)
- Five million, versus the mind-boggling 20 million dollar hit it would have taken to cut him this year. Austin isn’t frequently used as a traditional WR anyway though. (back)
- Bonus: I also still think the Phenom Index all-star Pharoh Cooper is worth a stash in very deep leagues. Yes, Reynolds was obviously the next man up and Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp will still be starting next year, but Cooper is still very young and has made some big plays in the return game. (back)
- Pick 1.04-1.05 (back)
- Nor do I think he should, as the Chiefs’ current problems run much deeper than their QB play (back)
- Note that Funchess missed practice on Wednesday with a toe injury. (back)