To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league in the month of July. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
Today we cover the AFC East. A new Head Coach in Miami should improve that offense but the Ryan Fitzpatrick holdout has us pumping the breaks on the Jets. The 4 game suspension of Brady forces us to discount the Patriots and are you ready to invest in some Bills? Let's dig in.
New York Jets
10th Passing DVOA, 21st Rushing DVOA
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick? / Geno Smith?? / Christian Hackenberg???
RB: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell
WR: Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Devin Smith
TE: Jace Amaro
The major question with this team is who will play the quarterback position? Ryan Fitzpatrick, he of the grizzled beard and Ivy League education, is playing his leverage to the hilt this offseason in trying to extract all the money from the Jets front office. Fitzpatrick might be overplaying his hand, but he’s a smart guy and has clearly done the math to calculate his walk away point. The passing game was surprisingly effective last year with Fitzy at the helm, aided by the Brandon Marshall trade and a healthy Eric Decker. Jace Amaro is a nice player who has fringe appeal at Tight End. However, all of that really gets thrown out the window if it’s Geno Smith under center. Rookie signal caller Christian Hackenberg is the nuclear option should Geno show no growth from his benching in the Rex Ryan era. Even if Fitzpatrick signs, don’t be shocked if we see a regression to the mean for him and his receivers. Fitzpatrick is, after all, a journeyman QB who hasn’t stuck anywhere for a significant stretch. Decker scored TDs at a seemingly unsustainable rate and you always need to be worried about that degrading effect he’s had in the huddle of his previous 3 stops.
The running game will now flow through the familiar face of Matt Forte and a similar back in Bilal Powell. It will be interesting to see how the Jets split the load between these two as Forte is used to serving as the bell cow but Powell is one of those guys that have earned a larger role in the offense. While Bears Nation certainly wishes Forte the best in all his future endeavors, one has to wonder if he’s kicking himself for his decision given the retirement of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the Fitzpatrick standoff. He may be staring longingly at the Patriots sideline twice this season, wondering what could have been.
24th Passing DVOA, 13th Rushing DVOA
QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake
WR: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Leonte Caroo, Kenny Stills
TE: Jordan Cameron
The Dolphins were a hard team to figure out last year with their inconsistent usage of Lamar Miller and a roller coaster of poor to excellent performances overall. Part of that was due to the unfortunate decision to return Joe Philbin for the 2015 season and then firing him early in the year. New Head Coach Adam Gase won’t have Miller around as he’s lining up for the Texans, and so the load falls to Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake. Ajayi is the presumptive favorite to take the starting role and is currently drafted as a low-end RB2. A 5th round pick out of Boise State a year ago, Ajayi is an exciting back who slipped a bit in the draft due to injury concerns. He’s got a lot of talent and flashed it last year when given a chance to show it. He’s an interesting guy to keep an eye on. Drake is the "other" back coming out of Alabama this year and was drafted in the 3rd round. He’s being drafted as a late round flier currently. Gase used plenty of Jeremy Langford last year so expect Drake to see the field. He’s certainly worth consideration at his current price.
At this point in Ryan Tannehill’s career, you probably know enough about him that you’re not going to roster him. Maybe quarterback whisperer Adam Gase can elevate his game, but the position is too deep to worry much about that. Of the weapons, Jarvis Landry is the most exciting with DeVante Parker worth a look. Landry is drafted as a mid-WR2 while Parker is getting picked in the WR3 range. I’d be a little worried about relying on this offense to support two receivers. I list Kenny Stills just to remind myself how big I missed on him last year – the sleeper that kept sleeping all season. Nothing to see here with Jordan Cameron. Move along.
New England Patriots
4th Passing DVOA, 12th Rushing DVOA
QB: Tom Brady / Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount
WR: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett
The big story with this team is the Tom Brady suspension. If you’re planning on taking Brady, don’t expect much of a discount. Despite possibly missing 25% of the season, he’s selected around the Brees area in the 6th round. This should go without saying but if you’re investing in Brady, have a sound QB in line for the first 4 games. It will be interesting to see how the passing game works by midseason with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and the newly acquired Martellus Bennett. Edelman is a great WR2 and worth the 4th round pick it’ll take to get him. Gronk is all world and will be in that late 1st / early 2nd area. You always worry about health with a guy like Gronk but there isn’t anyone more fun to own in the league. Bennett is a curious case. He’ll likely be the #4 target in this offense after Edelman, Gronk, and Lewis. But he’s a proven workhorse and should be a fun piece for Josh McDaniels to play with. My guess is that he’ll have a couple big games but ultimately disappoint those who are hoping for big things.
Never trust a Bill Belichick backfield. Never. Don’t do it. Dion Lewis was a great fit last year but is coming off injury and one has to worry about the impact of a Brady-less offense on a guy like Lewis. As tempting as it will be to invest somewhere in this backfield, it comes with a big warning label. Belichick will freely cycle between backs or wipe them from the game plan completely if it makes football sense. There are no consistent carries in this offense and you’re just as likely to hit a goose-egg as you are a 20+ point game.
12th Passing DVOA, 2nd Rushing DVOA
QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams
WR: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Greg Salas, Marquise Goodwin
TE: Charles Clay
Ground and Pound. Rex Ryan has made himself a polarizing figure in this league, but his strong defense and running game approach has delivered some real successes in this league. If there is a year where the Bills can return to the playoffs and possibly steal the division away from the Patriots, now is the time. LeSean McCoy is one of the most exciting runners in the game today. He can break ankles with his shift, lateral movement, and still has enough oomph to break long gainers. Injury concerns and competition from sensational backup Karlos Williams have dropped his draft stock to the Mark Ingram / Matt Forte range in the early 3rd round. If you’re willing to bet on his health, that’s pure profit. It might even be worth investing in McCoy and taking Williams as a handcuff.
The passing game is less exciting despite how efficient they were last season. Tyrod Taylor is definitely worth owning and is one of my favorite candidates for a matchup QB pair. Taylor provides juice with his legs and had up and down success with his arm. You can pair him with a guy like Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan and play matchups all year. The only real target in the passing game worth investing in is Sammy Watkins. Despite his health concerns, we still have to respect his ability as an emerging playmaker that can take over games. Watkins reminds me a lot of T.Y. Hilton – they’re being drafted right next to each other – and as a WR2, he gives you that dynamic presence that will likely win you 2-3 games with an explosive effort.
AFC East Review
The best TE in the game plays in this division and the second best might very well be on the same team (Bennett). Gronkowski is so good, he is likely the first player off the board in this division and the best pass catcher the AFC East has to offer. The best receivers are guys you want as WR2’s and even the running backs can be had at discounts due to injury (McCoy) or age / scheme concerns (Forte).
All AFC East Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only AFC East squads:
QB: Tom Brady (even with 4 game suspension)
RB: LeSean McCoy
RB: Matt Forte
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Rob Gronkowski