2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

2017 Fantasy Football Contract Year Players: Verifying Value

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In professional golf, winning just one single major tournament solidifies a golfer’s career in the sport for at least five years. A major winner gets invitations to all the other majors and may suffer a bad season without much loss of career stability. In other words, performing well in one season with a shiny piece of hardware gives a guy a much easier approach shot for further prestige.

In the NFL, you win career privileges with performance too. Important among those privileges are contract leverage and job security. League expectancy for a career on average is very short term – about three years. All players, rookie or not, want job security. Money is one thing, but keeping it rolling in is another.

So, in a contract year, the incentive to perform well is paramount for a playing career in the NFL. It’s something fantasy football gets an incidental benefit from. Whether a player is getting extra motivation by money or whatever, we don’t care what the carrot is as long as there is that impetus to produce.

2017 Fantasy Football Contract Year Players

A contract year player is no guarantee of performance or health. You only have to look at Eddie Lacy in 2016 to see that. However, some contract season performances have made an impact. DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Doug Martin in 2015 are examples. I would caution not to make contracts a prime consideration in your fantasy drafts, but as perhaps an extra factor to help deciding between two players of near equal value.

Try this theory out by doing a 5-minute Mock Draft using the Draft Wizard at FantasyPros.

Quarterbacks

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

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Perhaps the noisiest contract negotiations are ongoing with Kirk Cousins. The controversy over a long-term contract for him went beyond the deadline for signing franchise-tag players. The finger pointing is all out in the public and even the new VP of Player Personnel, the easy-going Doug Williams, couldn’t settle matters down. So it’s another season, another tag for Cousins.

I think the Redskins front office could learn a thing or two from fantasy football. If they want to know the value of Kirk Cousins, just look at the ECR rankings. The team is lucky to have him after the RGIII bust, but they just do not want to commit to his services with a deserving long-term contract. There has to be a lot from the side of Cousins causing this rift too.

All the frostiness aside, fantasy football is just fine with Cousins because his passing arsenal still looks loaded despite some anxiety early in the off-season. No matter what his future is, Cousins will attempt to prove to the NFL that he belongs with a solid team bringing better than average credentials.

The fine print: Cousins can survive a down season and still get a decent contract somewhere in the NFL. His calling card would boost well with a good 2017 performance, but this depends more on team record within the NFC East than on his own personal stat numbers.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

It’s easy to forget that Stafford led the Lions into NFL playoffs last season with a record of 9-7. Yet, Stafford remains a guy who gets little respect in fantasy football. Even in the era of Calvin Johnson, Stafford consistently held lukewarm season rankings in fantasy. In two quarterback leagues, he’s always a solid target for everybody.

Stafford is up for contract in 2018, but the situation certainly doesn’t help him much. The Lions are much the same team on offense in 2017 with more possession ideals than even in 2016. That big play guy is just not there anymore and Stafford will have to rely on a shorter-range game to get respectable fantasy numbers week to week.

He has a big plus in experience, but without a consistent playmaker to throw to, Stafford is at the dance without a partner. He can try to make something out of Kenny Golladay, who is the very definition of an under the radar fantasy prospect.

The fine print: Apart from a rookie hopeful to help notch him up, this contract year for Stafford looks bland and “as you were.”

Some other notable quarterbacks in a contract year:

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

Running Backs

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

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The critics of Freeman in fantasy football have never quite got over his 2015 breakout season. They propped up Tevin Coleman as the odds on favorite for lead back, supported by Freeman, and not the other way around, remember? Those critics probably won’t give up until they get that, “see I told you so” season from Freeman. However, this might be the wrong year for anyone to predict a bust.

Without going into several overbearing statistics, I’d like to point out just one thing. Freeman’s projections are pointing slightly downward on FantasyPros from 2016, but I think this is taking into account that his snap count more or less hovers around an average of 58%. If anything, there is still plenty of room for Devonta Freeman to widen that gap between he and Tevin Coleman. I’m more than certain Freeman is the better running back of the two on the Falcons.

You see, Freeman possesses something very special that RB1s have – a field presence. It’s one of those attributes that are intangible. I reviewed his 2016 film, some 2015, and there he is, this little ball of red iron blasting through defenses like butter. Even on the occasions where the defense stuffs the play, the hard running talent Freeman possesses is always evident.

The fine print: With back-to-back 1000+ yard seasons and a good bucket of receiving yards to go with it, Freeman has all the incentive he needs in 2017 to avoid any sign of decline to sell a new contract. One of the best early round fantasy draft choices.

Update Aug 12: Freeman signed a five-year deal with the Falcons this past week. It shows the level of confidence they have for Freeman moving forward.

Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks

Marshawn Lynch created in the fantasy mind-set that Seattle was always a run-first offense. So enormous was the Beast Mode effect, that even today the idea lingers. 2017 will tell us roughly how this new backfield design operates.

Thomas Rawls, out most of 2016 with injury, came back in time for the Seahawks’ run to the playoffs, but could not establish any strong consistency. He managed only one single breakout game (15-106-2) and even that came against the broken down Panthers in Week 13 at Century Link.

Getting back into the groove after an injury where a player returns to a situation not quite the same as when he left requires some adjustment. Rawls feels stronger and better after a restful off-season. His OTA reports show him to be in fine form. The only thing holding Rawls back from a strong free agency is getting the opportunity.

The fine print: Rawls may have the motivatation, but Eddie Lacy (on a one-year deal) will have the first bite of the pie. Pun intended. For me, it is actually CJ Prosise who I’d rather put chips on in Seattle. His style of running better fits the backfield character the Seahawks have in development.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

The reports out of San Francisco have left fantasy pundits a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to Carlos Hyde this season. 2016 took a decent turn for him considering the scattered nature of the Chip Kelly offense. Yet with Kyle Shanahan now in control, you would think the future for Hyde was on an even better course for consistency. Well, ‘yes and no’ turns out to be the answer.

Hyde continues his reputation as an injury risk for fantasy. He has yet to play a full 16 games since his rookie season, but still managed to play 13 games in 2016 with generally better than average success.

In a recent podcast of The Fantasy Edge, Alex Hamrick points out the success Kyle Shanahan has in restructuring backfields into effective units. Carlos Hyde and his part in the new structure is a subject of debate because of the hot and cold comments coming from the team about him. The 49ers beat reporters seem just as perplexed.

The fine print: The flow appears to still be going in the right direction for Hyde in his contract year. Nevertheless, hedging your bets by handcuffing him with Joe Williams makes good sense. You then have cover for both Hyde missing any time for injury and those lingering doubts about usage. The venerable Tim Hightower, although still strong, dims in cuff comparison because the volume of workload comes against a harder ceiling for production.

Some other notable running backs in a contract year:

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Shane Vereen, New York Giants

Wide Receivers

Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

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A good example of a coaching success. The improvement in all departments for Davante Adams in 2016 over his dismal 2015 “year of the drop” sent fantasy football for a loop. So forward is Adams now, that Randall Cobb now seems a risky boom-buster.

Targets up 29%. Receptions up 50%. Yardage up 106%. Overall catch percentage from 53.2% to 62%. Yes, Aaron Rodgers has a lot to do with these increases, but Adams delivered them. The trust factor is the overall plus, but there are no statistics for that.

The fine print: Nothing like a contract year to get your first 1000+ receiving season and Adams might get it. Some expect a regression because they feel he overachieved in 2016. I’d rather go with the glass half-full on Adams.

Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts

A player coming off a season stat-stunted by injury. If there ever was an elixir to perform in a contract season, this is it. Almost from day one as a rookie, the expected breakout for Moncrief remains unfulfilled.

Other factors are frustrating hopes for a comeback. First, there’s Andrew Luck. The surgery on his throwing shoulder has resulted in an agonizingly slow rehab. Luck’s return in time for the season opener remains an open question.

Second, the target spread. TY Hilton should remain well above the 125 elite threshold, so he’s okay. Moncrief should manage 100+ targets, but not easily, because the rest of the pack aren’t all that far behind.

The fine print: Moncrief can only suit up and do his best. A 1000+ yard season is perhaps a big ask, however his touchdown playmaking ability is a fine alternate way for him to gain contract prestige.

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

Well, this is it. Sammy Watkins wants to remain on the Bills with a new contract. Injury history contributed to the Bills from picking up his 5th-year option, so this is truly a “show me” season for Watkins. It’s a prime concern in fantasy. Watkins has the ability for the WR1 level, but his stubborn injuries, particularly to the feet, always prevent that next step.

The risk is there in drafting Watkins, but potential owners can take heart in his attitude to the situation. He doesn’t shoot off on the Bills at for not picking up his option and instead realizes he’ll have to earn his place.

The fine print: Watkins ADP stands at a rather expensive 35th on FantasyPros. If Watkins performs up to his ability without complication, the returns could be a bonanza. I’d still take the rookie Zay Jones if drafting Watkins to at least have some kind of sleeper insurance.

Update Aug 12: The Watkins trade should almost signal why the Bills did not extend his contract. He’s still in a “show me” situation – except it’s now with the Rams.

Some other notable wide receivers in a contract year:

John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
Tyrell Williams, San Diego Chargers
Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

Tight Ends

C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans

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The gap in contract size between Fiedorowicz and some other name tight ends is wide. His current contract is about $4m, whereas someone like Jimmy Graham is $40m. As a draft sleeper tight end, you kind of expect that.

The question is if Fido at 25 years of age takes the next step up. He’s on an offense that is transitioning quarterbacks through Tom Savage to ultimately Deshaun Watson somewhere in 2017. Nonetheless, Fiedorowicz’s usage saw a large uptick in 2016, from 24 targets to 89. Although the overall yardage and touchdowns increased based on that, he is well below his TE1 league peers.

The fine print: Fiedorowicz has a low ceiling because of the new scenario in the Houston offense. However, it is a soft ceiling with some flexible upside depending on how things turn out. A late, late round sleeper.

Some other notable tight ends in a contract year:

Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
Erik Swoope, Indianapolis Colts
Niles Paul, Washington Redskins


2017 Fantasy Football Position Previews
QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight Ends

For more F6P preseason coverage please visit our 2017 Draft Kit section.

About Richard Savill

Richard is an NFL Fantasy Football Writer and Editor of Fantasy Six Pack. Host of The Fantasy Edge Podcast. FantasyPros Contributor. Member of the FSWA. Richard is known for his "outside the box" insight into NFL fantasy football. Winner of the 16-Team 2015 FSWA challenge.

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