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Hype train or smoke screen: Taylor, Agholor, Martin

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We all know that the long months of the offseason can cause fantasy owners to artificially build up the stock of players' potential. These situations only get crazier the closer we get to the season. Sometimes these boosts are hype trains that fantasy owners should gleefully board on the way to a league-winning investment in a player. Other times, the buildup is just a smoke screen caused by overblown praise from the team, or a misdiagnosis of the player or their situation. In this edition, we'll look at a potential starting quarterback, a rookie receiver and a reinvigorated running back.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills

 

It was common knowledge that the Bills quarterback position would be a liability in the 2015 season. However, it still seemed crazy when the team insisted Tyrod Taylor had a chance to earn the job all the way back in May. After all, this former sixth-round pick has 35 pass attempts to his name. However, here we sit in late August, and the idea is still alive.

We are not yet sure if the Bills will name Tyrod Taylor their starting quarterback, or not. One thing is for sure, however. As fantasy owners, we should be actively rooting for Taylor to win the job. In his now legendary article detailing "the fantasy football Konami Code," Rich Hribar detailed the history of the running quarterback. The findings conclude that a passer willing to use his legs as a weapon is essentially a cheat code in the fantasy scoring system. If named the starter in Buffalo, Taylor has an excellent chance to join that esteemed group.

Yes, Taylor has a career passer rating of 47.2 and a completion percentage 54.3 percent. But frankly, his passing acumen, or lack thereof, just isn't a big factor in his fantasy evaluation.

Let's take a look back in recent history for a framework of expectations for Taylor. No, we won't bother with making comparisons to touted running quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. Instead we will examine the results brought on by the stretch of starts made by two quarterbacks widely regarded as deficient passers, Tim Tebow and Terrelle Pryor. Teams are more inclined to let those players turn it loose on the ground, and do not need to hold them back to protect an investment.

Tim Tebow got into the starting lineup after a dreadful start to the Broncos 2011 season. He ended up making 11 starts in a miraculous run to the playoffs. On the way, Tebow finished as a fantasy QB1 in eight of his 11 starts. That's right; Tim Tebow, he of the 46.5 completion percentage, was a top-12 scorer at the quarterback position in far more weeks than he was not. Can't throw, poor mechanics; doesn't matter. Tim Tebow was a viable fantasy quarterback when he started games.

Two years after Tebow-mania, another famous running college quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, ascended to the starting job in Oakland. Pryor made nine starts in 2013, and completed 57.4 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns to 11 interception. Again, does not matter, because even Pryor was a QB1 in five of his nine starts. You read that right; current Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was a top-12 fantasy quarterback in over half of his starts. He failed as a passer to such a tremendous degree he had to switch positions just to stay in the NFL. But he did not fail the fantasy players who streamed him in good matchups.

Every game, all season

Just like these two subpar passers did in the past, Tyrod Taylor's running ability will make him a viable fantasy quarterback. As a collegiate athlete, Taylor ran for 2,196 yards and 23 touchdowns over four seasons, and ripped off a 4.51 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In case anyone forgot he was a dynamic runner, he creased the Panthers defense for a 7.8 yards-per-carry average in the Bills' preseason debut.

Taylor turned in yet another solid preseason outing against the Browns on Thursday night. He threw 10 passes, completing seven for 65 yards. He made several nice throws, and moved the offense. Most importantly, he once again looked like a dynamic force on the ground, with four carries for 41 yard. Taylor is busting off runs at over nine yards-per-carry in the preseason. Despite a meager passing game, he amassed 6.7 fantasy points. This is the kind of safe floor the rushing quarterback provides. Taylor played the entire first half and looked good outside of one poor decision leading to a long sack. With Matt Cassel never even seeing the field, he may have all but locked up the starting job last night.

Tyrod Taylor is unlikely to be the Bills answer at the quarterback position. Whether he is or not has no bearing to fantasy owners. What we know is that, as recent history shows, Taylor has a better than 50-50 chance to put up QB1 numbers whenever he starts. Even if he provides no upgrade, just from a pure entertainment perspective, watching Tyrod run around the yard certainly makes the Bills offense more watchable than anything Matt Cassel brings to the table. This development would force us to reevaluate how we view all the other Buffalo fantasy players.

If Tyrod Taylor is indeed the Bills starting quarterback, we have no other option than to board the hype train. A player with strong weekly QB1 potential will be available for free in drafts, and a total value in daily leagues. You can use the cheat code to pass up selecting a quarterback early, and grab this high-weekly ceiling asset. Fantasy owners have no choice but to be on #TeamTyrod.

Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

 

When Jeremy Maclin departed from the Eagles in free agency, they lost a massive chunk of their receiving production. The now former Philadelphia wideout accounted for 23 percent of the team's targets, 30.3 percent of their receiving yards and 40 percent of the aerial touchdowns in a career year as the outside receiver in Chip Kelly's passing game. Oddly enough, the Eagles tasked Maclin with replacing DeSean Jackson, who was also coming off a career year in that same role. Both are playing elsewhere, and the role is vacant.

Jordan Matthews is set to return value on his current ADP, but he plays the "big slot" role in Kelly's offense. He is not in line to replace Maclin's outside receiver role. One of the players set to do so is first-round rookie, Nelson Agholor.

Agholor was one of my favorite receivers in this year's class. I had him ranked fourth among wide receivers, higher than DaVante Parker and other highly regarded players. Agholor's film is a real joy for a number of reasons. With the ball in his hands, he's fearless and competitive. It often takes multiple defenders to bring him down. Despite an average frame, Agholor can pluck passes out of the air, and high point the ball. We saw both skills on display in the Eagles' preseason debut. There was also a pristine refinement to the way Agholor dealt with press coverage, and ran his routes at USC. He looked like a player ready-made to contribute to an NFL offense right away.

With Matthews tearing through the middle of defenses, Agholor will take up the spot vacated by Maclin. The rookie carries some similarities to the player he's replacing, as well. Though, he's a much more refined version than the veteran was coming out of school, and Agholor could wind up being a better version of Maclin in the long-term.

The combination of Matthews and Agholor looked impressive against the Colts on Sunday. This could be one of the best wide receiver tandems in just a few seasons. For 2015, Matthews will likely lead the team in all relevant receiving categories. However, don't count out Agholor seeing a comparable amount of targets if he locks down the starting spot as an outside receiver. Do not be surprised if Agholor, a player this team highly coveted, ends up being the most productive rookie receiver this year. He's tailor-made for the role he'll play in the Eagles passing game, and may be one of the two or three most talented players on their offense right now.

We've only seen him make a few catches in the preseason, but Agholor's ADP is already high. He's currently a late sixth-, early seventh-round pick in 12 team leagues at WR32. Last year's WR32 in standard scoring was Eddie Royal with 62 catches, 778 yards and seven touchdowns. If Agholor secures a starting job, he's talented enough to match, or exceed those numbers. Of course, that is not a guarantee. Agholor did have a drop, and mishandled another pass in his preseason debut. He will have to fight off a challenge from second-year wide receiver (and ex-Oregon Duck) Josh Huff.

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There are safer picks in the mid-rounds of your draft, but few possess the upside that Nelson Agholor does. The Eagles led the league in plays run last season, and field a system that will go through the ground game, and Matthews and Agholor. It's not the safest or coziest hype train, but we can trust Agholor's fantasy stock enough to get on board.

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Fantasy owners have been burned by Doug Martin for the last two seasons, especially in 2013, after he disappointed following up on a dynamic rookie campaign. However, as time is a flat circle, Martin once again has our interest.

It all started when new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, went to bat to keep the veteran running back in Tampa Bay. Martin's game tape impressed Koetter, despite the running back's statistical struggles last season. Martin repaid the favor by slimming down, and reportedly looking much faster in camp.

As the signs point to Martin earning the first crack at the starting gig, and Charles Sims falling into a strictly passing-down role, the stage is set for a comeback. Fantasy masses threw Martin to the scrapheap, and he is thought of as a player who built his reputation off one big game (against the Raiders) during his rookie year. It is true that 17.3 percent of his rookie season yards came from that four-touchdown explosion. However, if you completely removed that game from his 2012 stat line, Martin would have still finished with 1,203 yards, seven rushing touchdowns and 45 receptions. No one would turn their nose up at those numbers, and many would have still been excited about the young running back.

Three years later, Martin certainly does not have the same shine surrounding him. He's had trouble with injuries, and has developed a number of poor habits in his running style. Perhaps he was lacking patience knowing he had to prove himself to a coaching staff led by Lovie Smith, which has shown from Day 1 they had no interest in him. The new regime in Tampa took every chance they could to prop up "their guy" in last year's third-round pick, Charles Sims. Of course, that was before Koetter's arrival. With a new and accomplished offensive mind in town, the tune is now all Martin positivity.

A stage is rather uninteresting without actors to play the requisite parts, and that's our problem here. While the buzz is positive, we don't yet know that Martin will perform. This story could be nothing more than the usual offseason news cycle providing false positivity. Despite Koetter's positive impressions, Martin did struggle on film last year. Perhaps the cut weight helps, but he's looked sluggish at times.

Martin's preseason debut gave us a mixed bag of results, albeit in limited exposure. On one hand, Martin did show the quickness and burst we needed to see from him. As an individual, he's earning our trust back. However, his offensive line was disastrous, and defenders frequently met Martin in the backfield soon after he got the handoff. Given how poor the defense is, the Bucs are not likely to be in favorable run-based game scripts. These two factors could be what prevents a Martin revival from taking place.

A month ago, the appeal with Martin was how late you could draft him. Rarely can you find a starting NFL running back for a bargain-basement price in your fantasy drafts. Sadly, fantasy owners cannot have nice things, and with these positive reports swirling, Martin's ADP rose from the sixth round to the fifth round in just a month.

At that price, we must be a little wearier, even if he's made major strides in his game, given the situation.

The Doug Martin hype train is back. Not at the "full steam ahead" pace it carried in 2013, but he's back on our radar as an RB2 candidate. Whether you decide to board or not is a price-oriented decision. If you have to take Martin at or above his 5.06 ADP, it's inadvisable to hop on. Should your league mates permit you to grab him later than that, it's a smart, safer choice. It's easy to tell the story of Martin's bounce back, and it's worth paying a reasonable draft cost to find out, but it is by far a destined reality.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB. He respects DeAndre Hopkins' sense of style and his membership on #TeamSmallDog just as much as his football abilities.

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