Jameis Winston: He was abnormally young for a rookie starting QB and threw for 4,042 yards and got 7.6 YPA, which are two thresholds Joe Flacco has never reached during his eight-year career (and last season was the first in which Flacco missed a game). Winston’s six rushing touchdowns were a fluke and unsustainable but so was Mike Evans hitting pay dirt just three times on 147 targets (after scoring 12 TDs as a rookie). Winston got into much better shape during the offseason, and the Bucs hit the jackpot during the fantasy playoffs, as they face New Orleans during Weeks 14 and 16. Winston just finished a rookie season that suggests he’s going to take a leap in year two, and he gets to face a historically bad Saints defense that yielded an 8.7 YPA with a 45:9 TD:INT ratio last season when it matters most in 2016.
Devin Funchess: He managed a solid 7.5 YPT mark during his lackluster rookie season last year, and all the reports during camp have been overwhelmingly positive. Meanwhile, Kelvin Benjamin is typically being drafted much higher, and not only did he get a much worse 7.0 YPT when he last played (which was 20 months ago), his recovery from major knee surgery has made him likely to be a rotational player early on in 2016. Funchess is rightfully soaring up draft boards.
Jeremy Langford: He posted some ugly “under the hood” stats last year, and his hands are a problem as someone who could be looked at as a major part as a receiver out of Chicago’s backfield. But Langford looked good during the Bears’ recent preseason game, and he’s going to be given a legit opportunity to be the team’s workhorse back. Langford scored seven touchdowns on 170 touches as a rookie last season, and the early buzz surrounding Jordan Howard has quieted. If for no other reason than pure opportunity given today’s RB landscape, Langford should be treated as a top-20 fantasy back and maybe even top-15.
Amari Cooper: Despite a bunch of drops, Cooper managed 1,070 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie with a QB who got 6.96 YPA, which ranked No. 26 in the NFL and behind both Sam Bradford and Brian Hoyer. It’s possible Derek Carr improves during his third year in the league, but more importantly, it’s recently been revealed Cooper played most of last season through plantar fasciitis that led to him barely practicing. I was skeptical at first about Cooper flying up draft boards assuming a big leap in year two as a foregone conclusion, but this revelation has me much more on board.
Robert Griffin: This may seem like a stretch for someone who hasn’t been fantasy relevant since his rookie year back in 2012, and quarterback is ridiculously deep. But for those who play in 2-QB leagues or utilize a “super flex,” RG3 is basically still free, and he opened some eyes with his performance Friday. Look at that, he even slid! Griffin somehow still owns a career 7.6 YPA mark, and there’s a chance he’ll be throwing to one of the most talented wide receivers in football during the final 12 games of the season. I admittedly remain skeptical, but I’m still bumping RG3 up my QB board based on upside over safer options with higher floors such as Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Matt Jones: Among the 47 running backs who qualified, Jones’ 3.4 YPC mark ranked last in 2016. Still, part of the battle is simply opportunity, and Jones was looking at a workhorse role in a young Washington offense that presents a good amount of potential (Kirk Cousins got 9.4 YPA with a 19:2 TD:INT ratio and a 126.1 QB Rating over the second half last season). But both Le’Veon Bell and Spencer Ware averaged more yards AFTER contact than Jones averaged YPC last season. Jones also fumbled five times in just 144 carries and is now dealing with a sprained shoulder that puts his Week 1 availability in question.
Dorial Green-Beckham: His arrow was already pointing down, but it’s now clear all the Titans hate from the coaching staff wasn’t just a motivational tactic, as they had no problem moving by far the most physically gifted wide receiver on their roster whom they just recently spent a second round pick on. One of DGB’s main problems was learning how to properly run routes, so being thrust into a new system doesn’t seem ideal, especially with a downgrade at QB. Not only should he be removed from your sleeper list, DGB should be off your cheat sheet altogether now.
Blake Bortles: He led the NFL in sacks, interceptions and fumbles last year, and while Jacksonville has made improvements on defense, spending big money on free agents often doesn’t lead to immediate improvements. Bortles is still going to throw a lot, but he owns a 6.79 career YPA, which is ugly. He has sneaky value as a runner, and I believe in both Allens, but there’s zero reason Bortles is typically going first during a tier that’s a dozen deep. A tier that features Marcus Mariota going more than 75 picks later.
Tyler Lockett: I really like Lockett, but he plays for an extreme run-heavy team that owns a strong defense. He saw four red-zone targets last year, which meant 90 receivers saw more looks inside the 20-yard line. And Doug Baldwin is good!
Tyler Eifert: His ADP is that of the TE6, which seems absurd for someone who may miss multiple weeks to open the year. Who knows how long it will take for Eifert to get back to full health even after he returns, and we haven’t even begun to speak about how regression screams out on someone who scored 13 touchdowns on 52 receptions (and 74 targets). Gary Barnidge is older and lacks pedigree, but he’s coming off a season in which he got 428 more yards than Eifert (with the same 8.3 YPT mark), scored nine touchdowns and could see a huge upgrade in QB play in 2016 and is the only one of the two currently healthy, yet he’s going nearly 25 picks later.