Fantasy Football 2017: Breakouts, Regressions, Sleepers, & Busts

Winston and Mike Evans celebrating
By Keith Allison (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/}

The NFL has now wrapped up OTAs and minicamps, which means time is running out for you to start gathering information and constructing your list of targets for 2017’s fantasy football season. With just over two months to go, you better start cramming.

Alright, maybe you don’t have to start putting together your draft board right this second, but someone once told me it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Plus, as the old adage goes,  “championships are won in the offseason.”

So let’s start the march towards fantasy football supremacy together with a look at 2017’s potential breakouts, regressions, sleepers, and busts at each of the four major position groups. Unless you’re in one of my leagues, in which case, get lost.

NB: all fantasy points are based off standard scoring.

Breakout Candidates

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (QB)

2016 standing: QB16 (256.10 fantasy points)
2017 projection: QB6 (300 fantasy points)

Remember going to the grocery store with your parents as a kid and getting to pick out a candy bar to take home if you were good? You always felt well-compensated until you looked over to the line next to you and saw some other kid with a handful of candy bars. That spoiled little jerk is Jameis Winston. This offseason, while all the other kids were carrying their little box of M&Ms to the checkout, Winston’s parents might as well have bought him the whole damn store.

Lacking a secondary weapon to Mike Evans in the passing game, the Bucs signed prized deep-threat DeSean Jackson in free agency, and then added tight end OJ Howard and wideout Chris Godwin early in the draft. It’s safe to say there will be no shortage of weapons at Winston’s disposal this season.

The added firepower will catapult Winston into a mid-range QB1, so long as he can limit the INTs.

Ameer Abdullah, Lions (RB)

2016 standing: RB91 (21.80 fantasy points)
2017 projection: RB16 (170 fantasy points)

The Detroit Lions showed the NFL how highly they regard Ameer Abdullah this offseason by not adding any reputable competition to a backfield that ranked 30th in rushing last season. Abdullah’s 2016 was cut extremely short by a foot injury in Week 2. But the former Cornhusker proved to be a weapon in his one complete game, totaling 120 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in a 39-35 win over the Colts.

Moving into his third season, Abdullah has a much-improved offensive line to run behind, as the Lions added Ricky Wagner and TJ Lang in free agency. Of course, the loss of left tackle Taylor Decker this offseason will hurt, but I’m still very high on Abdullah. It doesn’t get much better than Lang and Wagner on the right side, and an underwhelming receiving corps provides optimism for the RB to get plenty of targets out of the backfield.

If, and this may be a big “if”, Abdullah can stay healthy, he’ll be an extremely reliable high-end RB2.

Jamison Crowder, Washington (WR)

2016 standing: WR30 (124.50 fantasy points)
2017 projection: WR14 (150 fantasy points)

Crowder leaping to make a catch
By Keith Allison (flickr)

In a loaded Washington receiving corps in 2016, Jamison Crowder still garnered 99 targets. Now, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have vacated, and Crowder’s role will expand.

Though Washington brought in Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson is healthy, Crowder is going to be the star. The explosive receiver was used mostly out of the slot last season, but Jay Gruden will have him moving all over the field this year.

Expect big things from the third-year WR in a pass-happy offense.

Eric Ebron, Lions (TE)

2016 standing: TE15 (83.2 fantasy points)
2017 projection: TE6 (115 fantasy points)

Eric Ebron’s 711 receiving yards in 2016 were nothing special … at first glance. When you consider he only played in 13 games, and was drastically slowed by injury in at least another two, his yardage stats look a lot more impressive.

Each year Ebron has become a more reliable target for Matthew Stafford, and I expect that trend to continue in his fourth season. I already mentioned the underwhelming receiving corps in Detroit, and Ebron accounts for the only big body in the lineup.

Look for his touchdown numbers to take a big jump (he only caught one last year), while nearing 900 yards receiving.

Regression Candidates

Matt Ryan, Falcons (QB)

2016 standing: QB2 (347.46 fantasy points)
2017 projection: QB8 (275 fantasy points)

In terms of the players on the field, the Falcon offense should look the exact same as 2016’s juggernaut unit. But I don’t expect the results to be the same without Kyle Shanahan calling the plays.

Before his 2016 MVP campaign, in which he threw 38 TDs, Matt Ryan had only thrown more than 30 TDs in a season once. He’s also coming off a career-low in interceptions (seven), having thrown 47, combined, over the previous three seasons.

I’m not suggesting Ryan shouldn’t be drafted, just not as a high-end QB1.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles (RB)

2016 standing: RB7 (225.90 fantasy points)
2017 projection: RB24 (130 fantasy points)

In 2016, LeGarrette Blount rushed for 18 TDs; in the previous three years, combined, he rushed for 18 TDs. Blount’s touchdowns won’t be the only number to regress in 2017. In a Patriot offense that was often playing with a huge lead, the power-back saw 299 carries. Sorry, Philadelphia, you won’t have the luxury of pounding the ball that often.

Davante Adams, Packers (WR)

Adams reaching for a ball
By Keith Allison (flickr)

2016 standing: WR7 (171.70 fantasy points)
2017 projection: WR30 (125 fantasy points)

The breakout everyone was expecting from Davante Adams in 2015 was late by a year. Last season, Adams played Jordy Nelson’s sidekick, hauling in 997 receiving yards and 12 TDs. But before you get carried away believing the fourth-year pass-catcher can build off that impressive season, let me stop you.

Randall Cobb is healthy and the Packers are eager to put the ball in his hands. Add in a massive target in Martellus Bennett, as well, and Adams’ workload is about to be severely cut.

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (TE)

2016 standing: TE3 (126.00 fantasy points)
2017 projection: TE9 (100 fantasy points)

Without anything that resembled a running game, and no time to push the ball down the field, Minnesota was forced to dump the ball off regardless of the down and distance. As a result, Kyle Rudolph saw an absurd 132 targets, up from 73 in 2015.

The Viking offense still won’t be an explosive unit in 2017, but they will run the ball more effectively, and Laquon Treadwell will emerge as an option in the passing game.

Sleeper Candidates

Eli Manning, Giants (QB)

2016 standing: QB21 (224.18 fantasy points)
2017 projection: QB12 (260 fantasy points)

Pardon my language, but it’s time for Eli Manning to s*** or get off the pot. Yes, his offensive line really let him down last season, but he has far too many weapons to be a completely useless fantasy option. The additions of Brandon Marshall and freakishly-athletic tight end Evan Engram provides Eli with a dream set of targets.

Right now, Manning is coming off draft boards somewhere between the 16th and 18th QB.

Samaje Perine, Washington (RB)

2016 standing: N/A
2017 projection: RB22 (135 fantasy points)

Perine, a former Sooner, may still be listed as the third back on Washington’s depth chart, but expect the rookie to climb to the top in training camp. He is the most complete back on the roster, and should garner a good chunk of the early-down work.

Perine is currently ranked anywhere from RB42-44.

Ted Ginn, Saints (WR)

2016 standing: WR47 (105.00 fantasy points)
2017 projection: WR28 (127 fantasy points)

After trading Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, the Saints’ hunt for a new deep threat landed on former Panther Ted Ginn. It’s unreasonable to believe Ginn will take over Cooks’ production, especially with the Saints wanting to run the ball a little more. However, a Drew Brees-led offense will have success putting the ball in the air.

Right now, Ginn is the 65th WR coming off draft boards.

Evan Engram, Giants (TE)

2016 standing: N/A
2017 projection: TE8 (105 fantasy points)

It may seem like there are a lot of mouths to feed in the Giants offense, but you don’t spend the 23rd-overall pick on a player you don’t intend to use. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall on the field with him, Engram will receive the least respect from opposing defenses early in the season. Expect Ben McAdoo to devise sets and use motion to create mismatches with Engram on the outside until opponents start giving him the respect he deserves.

Engram is currently ranked around TE20.

Bust Candidates

Blake Bortles, Jaguars (QB)

Bortles calling a timeout
By Keith Allison (flickr)

2016 standing: QB9 (270.10 fantasy points)
2017 projection: QB22 (220 fantasy points)

The days of Blake Bortles lighting up garbage time are a thing of the past. Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone are going to pound the rock and do whatever they can to prevent Bortles from turning the ball over, which means severely limiting his attempts.

Latavius Murray, Vikings (RB)

2016 standing: RB13 (175.20 fantasy points)
2017 projection: RB40 (90 fantasy points)

Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league last season, Latavius Murray averaged a pitiful 4.0 yards per carry. Now, he plays for a Vikings team that ranked dead-last in rushing yards and yards per attempt in 2016. Not to mention, Minnesota also spent a second-round pick on explosive prospect Dalvin Cook. Don’t expect Murray to be much more than a goal-line back.

Rishard Matthews, Titans (WR)

2016 standing: WR14 (146.50 fantasy points)
2017 projection: WR50 (95 fantasy points)

Even before the signing of Eric Decker, it was extremely difficult to envision Rishard Matthews duplicating his 2016 production. With Decker and Corey Davis now on the roster, Matthews will see a reduced number of snaps. There’s no chance he sees 108 targets again.

Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (TE)

2016 standing: TE6 (114.00 fantasy points)
2017 projection: TE20 (75 fantasy points)

I know I have Jameis Winston as a breakout candidate, but Cameron Brate won’t be utilized the way he was last season. As I mentioned, Tampa Bay lacked a secondary option to Mike Evans on the outside, which greatly benefited Brate’s fantasy value. Now the fourth-year TE will be in a heated battle with OJ Howard just to stay on the field in single tight end sets.