2016 Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Review: QBs and RBs

by Richard Savill
2016 Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Review

It's amazing the players that make headlines by the end of a season who barely get as much as a sentence back in August. Many players come to prominence during a campaign who get little or no attention as just practice squad hopers. I like that about fantasy football - you just never know. No matter what, your season depends a lot on these waiver grabs and staying ahead of your opponents just as interested.

Some of the unsung rookies, and even the undrafted ones, really challenge our perspective on the best ones built for the NFL. We knew Ezekiel Elliott was going to be good before the season, but why not David Johnson in 2015? Sometimes a lot of it comes down to chance, but NFL scouts can also be forgiven for being human. If talent perception was always perfect, then Brett Favre would have remained with the Falcons throughout his entire career.

Somehow you think Favre just wouldn't be as good if he didn't land with the Packers. And you'd probably be right. A player will excel if the team surrounding them allows their skills to flourish. We lavished our attention on Ezekiel Elliott because the Cowboys offense could perfectly hatch a talented rookie running back to explode. Expectations remained high because the situation with the Dallas offensive line has not let anyone down in recent years for that to happen.

The hard part now is looking ahead with your current waiver heroes. They came in and did the job in 2016. After 2015, the same hopes for example applied to players like Jeremy Langford  to carry a fantasy torch high . It wasn't to be. His temperature wasn't high after the season anyway and some of us were off the boil even to the point of thinking KaDeem Carey would ultimately be able to be the Bears bell cow. That wasn't right either.

So let's take the current temperature of some 2016 waiver pickups and try and project where the 2017 needle is likely to go.

2016 Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Review

Quarterbacks

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

Wentz exploded on the scene in the early weeks of 2016, but the shine came off after the Eagles bye in Week 4. He finished over the par-level of 15 fantasy points in three of his first four games, but went five straight weeks without getting close from Week 6 through 10. Wentz was a minor waiver grab in fantasy anyway, but quarterback streamers were disapponted in the sharp drop off.

2017 temperature: low to medium ↑
Wentz had the temperment of an NFL quarterback right out the gate. We saw that immediately and perhaps expected just a bit too much from the rookie sensation. He finished just 24th among fantasy quarterbacks, but all indications show he'll be on the rise as a more confident streaming option in 2017.

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Prescott surpassed Wentz and showed far greater potential than anyone expected. Prescott finished 6th in total fantasy points among quarterbacks, but his weekly average of 18.43 fantasy points put him at 11th. That made Prescott startable each and every week. You don't see that very often from rookies. There wasn't much of a quarterback controversy in Dallas because it wasn't even close. Romo lost the starting job because Prescott was winning games and Ezekiel Elliott opened the passing game up everywhere. Dallas has home field in the playoffs on the power of two great rookies. It's quite a show.

2017 temperature: high ↑
And it's not stopping. Prescott will likely enter draft boards in 2017 as a high QB2 or low QB1 - take your pick. Prescott could still be a Super Bowl quarterback, which would increase his prestige into the fantasy elites. What a story that would be. I would argue that starting a career with a Super Bowl might not be good for building your goals. When the immediate goal is already attained, restructuring your objectives might prove tricky. Russell Wilson got there in his second season, but his first season worked him into a happy warrior and developed him into the quarterback we know today.

Running Backs

Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

The highest running back you likely didn't draft is Jordan Howard. Howard finished in the top ten of running backs this season at 9th in average fantasy points. Howard moved into the feature role quickly in 2016. Although he wasn't activated until Week 2, the waiver rush began mid-week when it was announced Howard would be lead back against the Cowboys in Week 3. Howard took over the backfield convincingly by Week 4 in the Bears win over the Lions with a 23-111-0 rushing stat-line.

The rest of the season went well for Howard. Despite some minor scares of a full-blown committee with Langford and Carey, Howard became a strong fantasy RB2 in 2016. He was more or less consistent with matchup projections too - especially in Week 13 versus San Francisco where he put up his best fantasy numbers.

2017 temperature: high ↑
I think Howard is here to stay. Unlike Jeremy Langford who came into 2016 ranked on FantasyPros as RB22 (surprisingly ahead of Melvin Gordon, LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, etc.), Howard will likely be the 10th to 15th RB to come off the board in 2017. The Bears have so many issues to fix for next season, but the backfield is among the least of concerns.

Robert Kelley, Redskins

Back in August, I think everyone and his dog predicted the Matt Jones bust. You can point exactly to the moment where Matt Jones lost his job. It was in Week 7 against Detroit. Late in the first quarter, Kirk Cousins found Vernon Davis on a nice play action pass taking the Redskins to Detroit 7 yard-line. Matt Jones took the next 1st down carry and fumbled the ball into the end zone where the Lions fell on it for a touchback. What made this play worse is that Jones reached with the ball when he was not even close to breaking the plane on a paltry second effort. He already fumbled earlier in the quarter, but this one ended him. He was never activated again in 2016.

Kelley took over but he couldn't fill the bill much better than Jones. The one thing that made owners confident in Kelley as a flex was that he never fumbled - something Jones was all too prone. His best game and only 100+ yard rushing performance was against Green Bay in Week 11.

2017 temperature: medium ↔ ↓
There's an open competition for this backfield in 2017 and I'm hard pressed to believe that Kelley will improve and continue in the main role. Mack Brown, demonstrating some wheels for such a big back against the Bears in Week 16, surprisingly missed out on the Redskins game plan against the Giants in Week 17. Brown remained relegated to only special teams duty. Matt Jones may recover, but that's unlikely. I think a newcomer is what we should look for on the Redskins in 2017.

Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens

Credit: Keith Allison

Credit: Keith Allison

If there was a prize for the best waiver grab you could never start, Kenneth Dixon would be a top nominee. The problem holding Dixon back was Terrance West. The Ravens never went beyond a committee despite Dixon gaining more involvement in the latter half of the season.

So neither West or Dixon were trustworthy for fantasy in 2016. On the positive side, Dixon is an excellent pass catching back, so that's why PPR leaguers hung on to a hope that the Ravens would ultimately turn to Dixon more in the backfield. It never came and Dixon remained glued to your bench.

2017 temperature: low to medium ↑
There's only one direction for Dixon and that is up in 2017. The temperature is lukewarm because another season of backfield unknowns probably awaits us again. Fortunately, Harbaugh is the type of coach that doesn't stagnate on a system and will likely change the tactics of the offense for 2017. Improvement in pass protection must be on Dixon's off-season checklist, because that will help him secure that larger role we all wanted in 2016.

Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers

After Eddie Lacy went on IR, no other PPR waiver grab this season took the mid-season by storm like Ty Montgomery. His fantasy production was particulary strong in Week 15, where he popped for over 30 PPR points. If the Packers didn't decide to give a fair run to James Starks after he returned from a short term injury, then Montgomery might have brought more fantasy points along with the Packers playoff run. Montgomery got you good short-term fantasy playoff production, but not much else.

2017 temperature: low ↓
I think Montgomery goes back into the utility drawer where you keep string, rubber bands, batteries and old cell phones. Lacy will likely go on the open market for a new team, but I doubt it helps Montgomery shift into the role in Green Bay's offense. Christine Michael has a better chance for that. I expect the Packers will spend a draft pick on somebody, but Montgomery won't primarily be competing for next year's 53 as a running back.

C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks

You only got two good games from Prosise, but wow, we at least could see what this kid out of Notre Dame can do. He was one of those players that surprised the Seahawks to see him still on the board when their turn to draft came.

So they scooped him up.

I admit that I was lowish on Prosise early on as a fantasy prospect. I didn't think he quite had that right body frame like Zeke Elliott or David Johnson. Didn't matter. Prosise slips through tackles like butter and catches the football down the field like he was born to it.

2017 temperature: medium ↑
There's reason to be optimistic for Prosise in 2017, because Thomas Rawls just has not been the same guy since coming off rehab from his ankle surgery. Rawls continues banged up to this day, right into the Seahawks playoff game. If the Seahawks beat the Lions on Saturday, there's a chance we will get to see Prosise one more time in the divisional round as he nears recovery from his shoulder blade injury in November.

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

Ajayi lost significant ADP when the Dolphins acquired Arian Foster in the summer. Despite dropping to number two on the depth chart, he had enough value in the later rounds of  your league draft to make most fantasy rosters. Ajayi had such an awkward start to the season and with that healthy scratch in Week 1 against the Seahawks in Seattle, it started fantasy bust fears. Owners hung on, knowing Foster's injury history in recent times.

When Foster predictably lost time to injury, Ajayi still failed to get his job back in full and went piecemeal into a ridiculous four man committee that helped absolutely nothing. Even when Ajayi was in, he didn't play well either. By the end of September, many gave up Ajayi for a bust and dropped him.

Week 5 began the turnaround. In the Tennessee game he had the most carries and scored a touchdown for a modest, but promising 13-42-1 stat line. Waiver wires started buzzing. Then in Weeks 6 and 7 he did something that got him into the record books - two consecutive 200+ rushing games. He added a third in Week 16 to become only the fourth player in league history to have three 200+ rushing games in one season. Despite rather lackluster performances in between all that, Ajayi still managed third all-time on the Dolphins single season rushing list.

2017 temperature: high ↔ ↑
Ajayi will get strong attention in fantasy leagues next season. The upside is huge because this is now his backfield and the closest competitor is Kenyan Drake - a good running back in his own right and likely to be an elite handcuff. But even Drake's growing talent won't stop Ajayi from moving up the charts in 2017.

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