Don't look now ... actually, scratch that, DO look now because NFL Fantasy LIVE is back on your television screen!
I'll give you a few moments to celebrate.
OK. As you hopefully know, NFL Fantasy LIVE is back for a five-part series this week called "NFL Fantasy LIVE: Top 50 Players of 2016," airing each night on NFL Network at 8:00 p.m. ET. The show kicked off on Monday night with a bang, as the group unveiled the first 10 players on the list. Oh right, the list. The list was compiled using the aggregate ranking from our esteemed panel of analysts, so it's not just one person's rankings -- it's the best picture as to how our collective group of football addicts view the fantasy landscape in 2016. Good stuff, right?
So, each night I'll provide a reaction and analysis piece on the latest 10 players who have been unveiled. Below, you'll find the list of players, followed by my take on each player's inclusion. Let's get to it!
- Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
- T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
- Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
- Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
- Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
- Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins
- Jordan Reed, TE, Washington
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
- Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders
- Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Tyler Eifert was one of the steals of fantasy drafts last year thanks to his freakish efficiency in the red zone. Eifert saw 15 targets from 20 or fewer yards out, catching 12 of them with 11 resulting in touchdowns. That helped Eifert post eye-popping conversion rates, as 25 percent of his receptions and nearly 18 percent of his targets ended up as touchdowns (for reference, Gronk's conversion rates were 15.3 and 9.2, respectively). There are two factors holding Eifert back in 2015, and potentially from being higher on this list -- his health, and the fear of touchdown regression. Current reports make it seem like Eifert will miss some regular season games after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. In regards to regression, it'll be hard for Eifert to maintain that level of efficiency on a similar number of targets. On the plus side, once he comes back, he'll have the benefit of a likely larger share of the passing game, as Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left in free agency. This could help balance out a dip in efficiency and keep his fantasy scoring afloat. All told, Eifert is a risk as a top-50 pick right now, but he certainly has the talent and opportunity to end up as a top scorer at his position when the 2016 season is all said and done.
I'm breaking a Hollywood rule and ruining the magic here, but this list was compiled from our rankings a little earlier in the offseason, when a few of us (myself included) might have been a bit too low on old T.Y. Hilton. (Hey, TV takes time to produce! Cut us some slack). He didn't have a flashy season last year, but let's not forget he was without Andrew Luck for nine games. As @14teammocker points on on Twitter, Hilton was the WR22 last year with 47 percent of his targets coming from Matt Hasselbeck. However, when you split up Hilton's games into those he played with Luck, and those without, he had shockingly similar production. In games with Luck, Hilton posted a 31-548-3 stat line on 65 targets, versus a line of 38-576-2 (69 targets) in games without Luck. Hilton should be higher on the list, and be smack dab in the tier of high-end WR2s given Luck's return under center, and the fact that Donte Moncriefcould be set for a massive season. It's worth re-investing in this passing game, folks -- don't let last year cloud your judgment.
Emmanuel Sanders and the whole Denver passing attack is one of the most puzzling units to figure out for fantasy. The quarterback position remains unsettled with Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch vying for the gig. Specifically for Sanders, he is entering the final year of his contract, but talks with the Broncos on an extension have been put on hold. Sanders is a talented wideout, but his recent run of fantasy success was buoyed by Peyton Manning and a high-flying passing offense. With Gary Kubiak likely shifting gears to a more run-heavy approach, Sanders might have to do more with less volume in 2016. It's appealing that Sanders is playing for a new contract, but having him appear in the top 50 over a potentially safer, higher-upside wide receiver might have been a reach.
Greg Olsen at No. 47 (what would be a fifth-round pick if this were a draft) feels just right. He'll still see over 100 targets for the Panthers offense, and is one of Cam Newton's most trusted targets. His upside isn't as high as Eifert or Rob Gronkowski or Jordan Reed, but his floor is much safer. Olsen hasn't missed a game since 2007, while those other three missed a combined seven games last year alone.
No, Doug Baldwin will not score 14 touchdowns again in 2016. Yes, he will be worth at least a fifth-round pick. The team rewarded Baldwin with a four-year contract extension this offseason, as Baldwin had blossomed into one of the most efficient wide receivers in the league. He's also a beast in the red zone. Over the four years he has played with Russell Wilson, he's commanded 18.9 percent of the red zone looks. In 2015, that number jumped to a 28.3 percent market share, with it skyrocketing to an absurd 48 percent from Weeks 12-17 (after Jimmy Graham went down with his season-ending knee injury). Baldwin won't see 48 percent of the red zone looks for the whole season in 2016, but mid-20s isn't out of the question. Add in that Seattle could be shifting more pass-heavy in general, and Baldwin has the look of a strong WR2 candidate who could post somewhere around 1,100-plus yards and eight-10 touchdowns.
Jay Ajayi has been one of the most talked about fantasy sleepers this offseason, and for good reason. He's expected to inherit a healthy workload now that Lamar Miller is in Houston, he'll be operating in Adam Gase's offense that has been friendly to fantasy running backs (Knowshon Moreno, C.J. Anderson, Matt Forte, Jeremy Langford), and there's little competition behind him for touches aside from rookie Kenyan Drake stealing some passing down work. His ADP should stay around Round 4 or 5 the rest of the summer, so a ranking in the 40s on this list feels spot on.
Were it not for a length injury history, Jordan Reed would be even higher on thist list. In most fantasy drafts this fall he'll likely go before the fifth round (he went 33rd overall in the fourth round of our recent staff mock draft). Reed's ceiling is finishing as the TE1, as he's a matchup nightmare and the favorite target of Kirk Cousins. If Reed can stay healthy, he'll far out-produce his ADP. And that potential might just be a risk worth taking even earlier than the fifth.
Kelvin Benjamin is way too high on this list. He's a good player, but benefited from a massive target share in his rookie season as 27.7 percent of Cam Newton's targets went in his direction. There are already rumblings out of Carolina that Benjamin won't be such a target hog in 2016, and the team will deploy more of a committee approach at the position. He's also only had one year in the league and is coming off major knee surgery. Let's pump the breaks on him in the fifth round, people.
I've come back around on Latavius Murray after initially slotting him a little lower in my rankings. The Raiders defense is vastly improved from 2015, which should lead to more positive game scripts where the team relies on Murray to salt away leads, as Evan Silva mentioned on a recent "Fantasy Feast" podcast. The addition of DeAndre Washington could cut into Murray's passing game work, but he was horribly inefficient in that role last year. Washington spelling Murray a bit from the absurd 71.6 percent of the backfield opportunities (carries and targets) he saw last season could keep him fresher and make him more effective as well. The Raiders figure to have a strong offense as well and could be on the winning side of a few more games this fall. All of that makes me feel much better about taking a shot at Latavius Murray in this fifth or sixth-round range.
Ryan Mathews finished as the RB33 in 2015 on just 23 percent of the total backfield touches, so even a modest workload increase should push him firmly into the RB2 tier. Mathews' 5.1 yards per carry behind the Philadelphia offensinve line in 2015 were the second most in the NFL among backs with 100-plus carries (Thomas Rawls, 5.6). Doug Pederson is the new head coach in Philly, and as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City he funneled nearly 65 of the backfield touches through Jamaal Charles. While Mathews isn't that caliber of player, if he receives close to that market share of the backfield he could be one of the steals of fantasy drafts, especially in the fifth-round range.
So there you have it. That's my reaction and anslysis to the first 10 players from "NFL Fantasy LIVE: Top 50 Players of 2016." Check back tomorrow for my reaction to the next 10 players ... after you watch the show on NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET. You can find each night's piece at www.nfl.com/fantasytop50.
Until next time ...