We're smack dab in the middle of summer. It's hotter than the hinges of Hell outside, chunks of Antarctica are floating away and we're still a couple of weeks from NFL training camps opening.
So let's talk about "Baby Driver," shall we? I promise there won't be any spoilers here for you slackers who haven't trekked to your local cinema to take in this modern classic. In fact, I don't even really want to write about the movie. I'd rather talk about the soundtrack. Or at least one song on the soundtrack.
That's right. There's more than one Young MC song. If we're being literal, he released eight albums -- including one in 2008 -- but in this case, I'm talking about "Know How." Still, he'll always be remembered for just one song. Honestly, Marvin Young could singlehandedly defeat a gaggle of dragons to win the War of the Five Kings and sit on the Iron Throne and he'd still be the dude who recorded "Bust a Move."
(Aside: One of the more famous lines from that song recently inspired a pretty entertaining Twitter debate. The correct answer is, of course, Larry.)
Anyway, I'm guessing you've probably figured out that this nonsensical trip through my personal pop culture junk drawer is a convoluted way of setting up this piece where I look at nine guys who likely blew up your fantasy season last year and try to determine if they're, ya know, more fantasy-friendly this year.
But still ... go see "Baby Driver."
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars:2016 stats - 3,905 pass yards, 23 pass TDs, 16 INTs, 270.10 fantasy points
2016 overview: The misleading part about Bortles' 2016 season was that he finished the campaign as the QB9. That says more about how standard fantasy scoring obscures bad quarterbacking than anything about Bortles being a competent signal-caller last year. The facts are these: Bortles had more passing attempts in 2016 yet produced 523 fewer yards, 12 fewer touchdowns and 40 fewer fantasy points. It looked and felt even worse than that.
What went wrong: Bortles' career has always been A Tale of Two Halves. Before halftime, it tends to look like he's seeing the game plan for the first time. Last season, nine of his 16 interceptions came before halftime -- six in the first quarter alone. Things tend to get better in the second half, though that's normally because the Jaguars are trailing and garbage time has begun. Those scenarios likely contributed to Bortles' 15:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the final two quarters. Garbage points would be a lot nicer -- and a lot less garbage-y -- if you didn't have the pain of sloppy play in the beginning.
You know what else is unhelpful? Not being accurate. If there's anything that would describe Blake Bortles' passing style last year ... it was inaccurate. Sure, we could parse it out. If he was throwing the ball within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, it was all good. Hence the reason Marqise Lee had his best season as a pro since most of his routes were of the shorter variety. The problem is that when you're losing, you tend to need to make up chunks of yardage in a hurry. That's really hard to do when you're only completing 38 percent of your passes beyond 10 yards. Yikes. For a more in-depth look at Bortles' 2016 transgressions, check out Zach Goodall at Big Cat Country.
What needs to improve: The biggest knock on Bortles has always been his mechanics. But he's working on it. Wait, that article was from 2014.
Are you noticing a theme? This isn't a new problem and entering his fourth season in the NFL it doesn't appear to be close to fixed. Expect another season of Bortles spraying the ball around the field like a broken lawn sprinkler.
2017 outlook: As long as standard fantasy scoring fails to punish successive and escalating turnovers with the appropriate level of harshness, Bortles will probably challenge to again be a top 10 fantasy quarterback. If you decide to take the plunge, remember this -- expect more than a few clunkers and try to avoid watching the first half of Jags games.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers:2016 stats - 3,509 pass yards, 19 pass TDs, 14 INTs, 254.30 fantasy points
2016 overview: After accounting for 45 total touchdowns on his way to the NFL's Most Valuable Player award after the 2015 season, most reasonable people agreed that Newton would take a step back. What few predicted was that Newton would suffer a nearly 135-point step back the following season. But here we are.
What went wrong: Well for starters, Newton played a portion of the season at notably less than 100 percent as he played through a shoulder injury. Then again, that doesn't explain what happened in the first 11 games of the season. So what did happen in the first 11 games?
To begin with, a quarterback not known for his accuracy was even less accurate in 2016. Newton's 52.9 percent completion rate was the lowest of his career while his 14 interceptions were the second-most. Having a dearth of game-breaking pass-catchers certainly didn't help matters. Kelvin Benjamin, anyone? Ted Ginn, perhaps?
For all of his passing issues, Newton has historically made up for it by running the football. But the tide began to turn in that respect last year. The Panthers quarterback made no secret of his displeasure at the perceived lack of protection he got from referees on hits from defensive players. It's likely that this contributed to Newton recording fewer than 100 rushing attempts for the first time in his career. If Newton isn't running and is even less accurate than usual. Well, that's probably not going to turn out well.
What needs to improve: The first thing would be for Newton to get completely healthy for a new season. However, that seems unlikely after shoulder surgery in the spring threatens to have him at less than 100 percent at the start of the regular season. The upside is that Carolina added rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to the roster in a move that brings some more dynamic pass-catching threats to the offense.
2017 outlook: Honestly? It's not positive. I'd like to be optimistic that adding McCaffrey and Samuel will help. But we're talking about a semi-scattershot quarterback coming off shoulder surgery working with a head coach and offensive coordinator that would like to limit how often he runs the football -- thus removing the attribute that made him the most deadly in fantasy. That reads like a recipe for another QB2 finish.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks:2016 stats - 4,219 pass yards, 21 pass TDs, 11 INTs, 268.10 fantasy points
2016 overview: Remember in the back half of the 2015 season when Wilson was hotter than a Phoenix sidewalk in July and we all thought it meant he was finally becoming an elite fantasy quarterback? Funny story ... it didn't quite happen. Wilson wasn't awful. He just wasn't great. With only three 300-yard passing games and just five games with multiple touchdown tosses, he didn't look quite as DangeRuss as many of us predicted coming into the season.
What went wrong: A lot of the Seahawks offensive woes stemmed from an offensive line that struggled as both a run and passing front. Only five teams allowed more sacks than the 'Hawks last year -- a number that might have been greater were it not for Wilson's mobility. Even in spite of his mobility, the Seahawks' signal-caller logged the lowest rushing totals of his career. But on the flip side, he set a career high with two receptions. So there's that.
During their Super Bowl runs, the 'Hawks were fueled by a BeastMode-powered run game. Last year, the combo of a bad offensive line and a less-than-stellar rotation of backs sunk Seattle to the NFL's 25th-ranked rushing attack. It's hard to make a one-dimensional offense work. It's even harder when you don't have an elite passing game to counterbalance it. The Seahawks have some nice pieces with Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, but few would call it elite.
Overall, this offense was fairly pedestrian. Seattle was tied for 18th in total points scored (354) and had five games with 12 or fewer points during the season. It doesn't take a football genius to realize that you won't get a ton of fantasy points from offensive players that can't find the end zone.
What needs to improve: First and foremost would be an upgrade along the offensive line. Seattle signed Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi in the offseason and are reportedly playing around with different combinations along the o-line. Nonetheless, they're still expected to have one of the worst units in the league this year.
2017 outlook: Wilson should once again flirt with being a top 10 fantasy quarterback as long as Doug Baldwin stays healthy and Jimmy Graham continues the late-season progression we saw from him last year. It wouldn't hurt if someone like Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett or even C.J. Prosise blossomed into an additional playmaker. But until the 'Hawks completely figure out the offensive line woes, there will be a cap on Wilson's production.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams:2016 stats - 885 rush yards, 6 rush TDs, 327 rec yards, 0 rec TDs, 155.20 fantasy points
2016 overview: There wasn't a clearer picture of a fantasy football bust in 2016 than Gurley. After being considered by some the No. 1 overall pick, Gurley struggled in a "middle school offense" to finish 20th among fantasy rushers. There's no way around it. It was just ungood.
What went wrong: Plenty of digital words have been pecked out on how exactly things went sideways for Gurley last season. I even got into a little bit of it myself when I debated James Koh about the 2017 fantasy fortunes of Jordan Howard. But I'll give you a bit of the rundown here.
Let's start with the offensive line. I could recite some of the metrics used to measure the performance of the Rams' front five. Let's just say that they were bad. Very bad. Which made life difficult for Gurley. You wouldn't be too effective either if you had defenders in your face every time you touched the ball. In fact, the Rams offense as a whole was pretty awful and allowed defenses to stack the box against Gurley. Ironically, the passing game was better last season when Gurley was much less productive as a runner.
Yet, the man himself deserves some of the blame. Gurley began to look tentative with the football in his hands, exacerbating his frustrating status as a boom-or-bust runner. After a rough 2016, those four mind-blowing starts at the beginning of his career are starting to get further away in the rearview mirror.
What needs to improve: The short answer is: everything. The offensive line needs to be a lot better which would help the offense as a whole. It would also help open some more holes for Gurley. Whether that happens remains to be seen. But what is encouraging is that offensive wunderkind Sean McVay is now in Los Angeles and reportedly has big plans to get Gurley much more involved in the offense. That would be a welcome development.
2017 outlook: Plenty of people will be cautious about reaching for Gurley in drafts mostly because the Rams haven't proven they can field a competent offense. But it's hard to think that things will be as bad for Gurley as they were last season. Target him as a mid-tier RB2 this year.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans:2016 stats - 1,073 rush yards, 5 rush TDs, 188 rec yards, 1 rec TDs, 160.10 fantasy points
2016 overview: This was supposed to be it. The time that Lamar Miller got all of the carries he never saw in Miami. We were all set to witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational
battle station running back. This was our moment. And it fell flat. Miller barely crossed the 1,000 rushing yard mark and just crept inside the top 20 at his position. Le sigh.
What went wrong: Football is a team sport and Brock Osweiler proved that a floundering quarterback can sink an entire offense and its fantasy potential. Those sounds you hear are the dejected sighs of everyone who had DeAndre Hopkins on their roster last season. That definitely had something to do with Miller's struggles. When defenses don't respect your passing game, they're going to load up against the run.
Per Matt Harmon and Next Gen Stats, Miller faced stacked boxes on more than 22 percent of his carries -- a pretty high number when you take into account how often the Texans lined up with three receivers.
But it's also fair to suggest that the Dolphins knew what they were doing by limiting his touches during his Miami tenure. His 268 carries in 2016 far surpassed his previous career high yet it was apparent that he was beginning to wear down late in the season, which was likely the rationale for Houston drafting D'Onta Foreman as a potential short-yardage/goal line/general rotation back to relieve some of the pressure. Could it be that the days of Miller as a bell cow are over?
What needs to improve: Quarterback. Quarterback. Quarterback. The Texans obviously knew that they needed an upgrade at the position after last season. Who knows if Tom Savage is that upgrade. But it never hurts to try, right? The baseline hope is that it can't be as bad as last year. If it is ... then Deshaun Watson probably gets on the field sooner than expected.
Also ... is Lamar Miller really a true workhorse back? Plenty of people (myself included) felt like the only thing missing from Miller being an elite fantasy back was just opportunity. He got the latter. We didn't get the former. Now with Foreman on the roster, we might not get another chance to find out.
2017 outlook: Miller might not reach 250 carries again this season but in this Brave New World where true workhorses are endangered species, he'll still have plenty of early-round appeal. Nonetheless, the ceiling could be around 1,300 total yards and six to eight scores which isn't terrible. Just not the elite numbers we once hoped for.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals:2016 stats - 839 rush yards, 9 rush TDs, 174 rec yards, 0 rec TD, 155.30 fantasy points
2016 overview: Hill was a fantasy star as a rookie in 2014. We waited for him to do it again in 2015. Then we waited for him to do it again in 2016. We're still waiting. The only thing that has remotely kept Hill afloat as a fantasy option is his nose for the end zone. With 30 total scores (29 rushing) in three NFL seasons, he's kept fantasy managers in suspense.
What went wrong: To put it plainly, Hill just hasn't been a very effective runner over the past couple of years. After bursting on the scene with a 5.1 yards per carry average, Hill hasn't touched four YPC since. If he could get somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-275 carries, it might not be such a big deal. But with Giovani Bernard splitting touches in past seasons and Joe Mixon expected to do the same this year, that level of workload will be nearly impossible to attain. I guess we'll have to count on him continuing to be a touchdown machine.
What needs to improve: There are really only two things that can change Hill's outlook on fantasy life -- either he goes back to being the guy who averages 5.1 yards per carry or he convinces the Bengals to give him all of the carries. While the former seems more likely than the latter, I wouldn't advise holding your breath for either of them.
It probably wouldn't hurt to see some slightly improved play along the offensive line as well. But considering the Bengals ranked 14th as a run-blocking unit per Football Outsiders, it's not as though they were abysmal last year. Still ... every little bit helps.
2017 outlook: The Bengals coaching staff keeps telling us that Hill will have a role in the offense. I believe that. I also believe that said role might not be as big as it's been in the past now that Joe Mixon is there as a playmaking hybrid of Hill and Bernard. We might have seen Hill's fantasy ceiling as a rusher. If the touchdowns aren't there, his scoring will fall off a cliff. Proceed with caution.
2016 overview: The Cowboys offense flourished last season with Dak Prescott at the controls and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Unfortunately, Dez Bryant wasn't quite as involved in the party as many would have hoped. He finished second on the team in targets, receptions and yards behind Cole Beasley (admittedly in three fewer games) and posted fewer than 800 receiving yards for a second straight season.
What went wrong: To begin with, it was also the second straight season in which Bryant dealt with injuries that kept him off the field. It wasn't as bad as 2015 when foot and ankle issues caused him to miss seven games, but a hairline fracture in his knee still cost him three contests last season. Sometimes your best ability is your availability. It's something that has hampered Bryant the past two years.
It would be easy to say that Bryant's absence contributed to a lack of familiarity between him and Prescott. But that doesn't really fit. In Week 2, Bryant was targeted 12 times with seven catches for 102 yards. Then after returning from his injury in Week 8, he went 4-113-1 on 14 targets.
More accurately, there was just less opportunity for Bryant last season. With Elliott behind a top-tier offensive line, the Cowboys became more of a run-heavy outfit. In 2016, Dallas ran the ball 49 percent of the time. Compare that to the preceding five seasons when the pass-run split was 60-40. Simply put, if you're not throwing the ball as often, your receivers aren't going to see as many targets. Add in that Cole Beasley emerged as a reliable receiver from the slot and Bryant was destined to see his target share shrink even more.
What needs to improve: Can you list health as a possible point of improvement? I guess you can. I guess I just did. I know it's not as simple as writing "I will stay healthy" on a chalkboard over and over again, Bart Simpson-style. But ... maybe try that one year just to see if it works? Whatever. We'd all just like to see Dez stay healthy for a full season again.
Also -- and this is just a request Dak Prescott -- but can we get Dez back to being a 130-target player again this season? Yes, some of it does involve Dez staying healthy for a full season. But at his best, Bryant remains a touchdown monster even if he wasn't the preferred option in the red zone (second in targets behind Jason Witten).
2017 outlook: As long as Dez is healthy, he's too talented not to be productive. The big fear is that the Cowboys offense continues to be a run-heavy, slow-paced, clock-killing attack. That would mean another year of fewer overall targets for Dallas pass-catchers in general and for Bryant in particular. Nonetheless, he's still a low-end WR1 who's worth a second or third-round selection.
For the first three seasons of his career, Hopkins averaged nearly 1,200 receiving yards per season. Would you care to remember who his quarterbacks were during that stretch? Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden and this year's presumptive starter Tom Savage. And yet, Hopkins was still a star and enormous playmaker.
Last season, Nuk's catch rate plummeted to 51.7 percent and he was limited to just 954 receiving yards on 151 targets. By the end of the year, his frustration was visible as his quarterback tossed balls at his feet or well over his head. All of which brings me back to my original point. Brock Osweiler.
What must improve: The Texans realized that they needed to make a change under center, if for nothing more than the mental health of the rest of their offensive skill players. They did that by moving Osweiler to Cleveland and drafting Deshaun Watson to compete with Savage for the starting gig. Obviously, it remains to be seen if that will completely solve the issues. But it's a start.
2017 outlook: There's reason to be optimistic again! We don't ask for much. Just someone who can consistently deliver the ball to Nuk on-target. (turns to look at Tom Savage) As long as that happens, everyone wins ... and that third-round price tag suddenly looks a lot like stealing.
And yes, I'm aware that I have Bortles listed earlier in this column ... but c'mon. In 2015, Bortles looked like he was on the verge of making the leap. Even at his lowest points last season, he was still fairly competent.
Yet for the most part, Thomas was a fading whisper of an echo of an afterthought in Jacksonville's passing game. Since being traded to Miami, there has been plenty written about why Thomas didn't work out in Duval -- most notably general manager Dave Caldwell saying Thomas never quite fit in with the offense. Seems like a recipe for nothingness. And that cake got baked.
2017 outlook: The jury is still out on whether or not Thomas is purely a Peyton Manning creation. This year could go a little ways toward letting us know. In the meantime, even in a fantasy world bereft of quality tight ends, it's hard to envision anyone spending a draft pick on Thomas. He'll be waiver wire fodder until he proves his fantasy worth again.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who is trying to figure out what to do about his pet bunny rabbit's apparent separation anxiety. His current idea is to set up a Ferris Bueller-like mannequin and pre-recorded sound bite machine whenever he goes out of town. Tweet him your rabbit care ideas @MarcasG. And if you read all of that, congrats. Find him on Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).