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Each week, Footballguys staff members will share the big movers in their respective Dynasty Rankings. Since the contributors will rotate, please check in weekly. The focus of this article will be on the “why” more than the movement itself. Dynasty Rankings are fluid and we hope that sharing the rationale will help you in your quest to create dynasties with all of your teams. The diversity of rankings will result in a variety of opinions weekly.
Matthew Stafford - A few short years ago, Stafford was a consensus top-three dynasty quarterback. He seems to be regressing right before our eyes over the past few years though. Week 5 was an absolute disaster for Stafford and the Lions. After his third interception, Stafford was benched. Through five games, Stafford has more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six). With the Lions sitting winless, even Stafford’s status as the long-term franchise quarterback has come into question. Stafford is still only 27-years old and perhaps could bounce back under a new coaching staff and behind an improved offensive line. However, it’s hard to be optimistic about his short and medium-term prospects. In dynasty, it makes little sense to invest heavily in a quarterback like Stafford when there are so many recent fantasy waiver-wire pickups at the position (Tyrod Taylor, Carson Palmer, Josh McCown, etc.) outperforming him.
Blake Bortles - Despite being taken 3rd overall in the 2014 NFL draft, Bortles generally was considered the 3rd most desirable rookie quarterback in dynasty rookie drafts behind (1) Johnny Manziel and (2) Teddy Bridgewater, and in some circles also behind 2nd rounder Derek Carr. The lack of respect Bortles had in rookie drafts puzzled me a little; he fell to me in some drafts so I took him each time he was available in the late 2nd round. His rookie season was nothing to brag about -- not the disaster Manziel was but also not the budding successes Bridgewater and Carr seemed to be, and it would be fair to say after his initial campaign that things could go either way. I think we're beginning to see our answer now as the 2015 season unfolds. Bortles is making the solid second year step that successful quarterback generally make (and unsuccessful ones like Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel don't make), and is developing some nice chemistry with second year receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. He has averaged 279 passing yards the last four games (extrapolates to 4,464 for a season) and has 9/2 TD/INT over that period. There's still plenty of room to improve (just a 57.1% completion pct. this year) but with TE Julius Thomas to return from injury soon and 2014 2nd rounder Marqise Lee hopefully getting healthy and mixing in at some point, Bortles looks to be moving up the dynasty rankings.
Matthew Stafford - I tried to give Stafford the benefit of the doubt during the first month of the season but lowered him in my rankings last week and will do so again this week. He once showed such exciting results (5,038 yards and 41/16 TD/INT in only his 3rd season in 2011) and potential to be a star in the NFL for a long time, but he has never come close to those TD totals since, and in both 2013 and 2014 his passing yards have declined. In 2015 things just aren't clicking at all, especially lately. He has a 6/8 TD/INT ratio, his yards per attempt is just 6.2 (about a full yard/attempt below his career norm), and he appears to be losing confidence behind a porous offensive line that isn't giving him any time to throw. In Week 5 Stafford threw three interceptions, all on poor throws, and eventually the game got so out of hand for the 0-5 Lions that he was benched (though his job is safe said his coach). Just my opinion, but the play calling under the new Lions' regime is very unimaginative with little besides short passes (even to Calvin Johnson most of the time) and until / unless head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi get more aggressive and unchain Stafford a little, and they fix some of the line problems, Stafford will continue to under-perform vs. the ability I know he has. Unfortunately, we may not see a lot of improvement until the current staff is fired and a new offensive philosophy is in place.
Ryan Tannehill - Tannehill was the 9th best fantasy quarterback in 2014 and the stars seemed aligned for continued growth in 2015. Unfortunately the Dolphins are a disaster and the team has already replaced its head coach. While I'm not ready to give up on Tannehill, particularly if a new coach can optimize the system, I do worry that my preseason ebullience went too far.
Andy Dalton - Dalton has been one of the best passers in the NFL thus far, and he's been consistent to boot. While his legacy will ultimately be defined by what he does (or doesn't do) in the playoffs, his status as a fantasy commodity has never been stronger.
Teddy Bridgewater - Bridgewater is young and has all the raw ingredients to become an elite player. Yet, his play this year has left MUCH to be desired. He's at times a game manager and at other times mistake prone. I need to see more from Bridgewater in the coming weeks before I raise his dynasty ranking back into QB1 territory.
Devonta Freeman - What more does Freeman have to do to sway those of us who were reluctant to believe? He's young, has dominated in Shanahan's scheme, and has proven to his coaches and teammates that he can handle a massive workload. In a league without many bellcows, Freeman is a must have commodity. He moves all of the way up to RB5 from RB24.
Latavius Murray - Murray hasn't been as consistent as Devonta Freeman or Doug Martin this year, but he's shown plenty of game-breaking ability. He'll only go so far as the Raiders game script takes him; but that appears to be a much more advantageous position entering October than it seemed in August.
Jamaal Charles - Charles suffered a torn ACL in Week Five (his 2nd torn ACL as an NFL running back) and given his age, this could spell the end to an impressive career. Even if Charles makes a full recovery, he'll be on the wrong side of 30 and will have to re-earn his role. He moves all of the way to RB24 from RB4.
Dion Lewis - With all but the handful of truly elite running backs, you almost have to think of things in terms of short windows of productivity and not worry about three or more years down the road. Unless he’s a truly elite back, it doesn’t matter if the player is age 22, 25 or 27. You just never know how much staying power the runner will have. It is too easy for teams to decide to use a committee approach (see: C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Morris, etc.) to really bank on projecting running back value too far out into future years. With that in mind, it makes sense to highly value any back who is currently producing at a high level and has a realistic chance of having a productive two or three year stretch. Lewis is a great example. He recently signed an extension through 2017 and has emerged as the lead back (and a key passing target) on the best offense in the league. Don’t worry too much about draft pedigree, age or other factors. Lewis is putting up points right now and shows no signs of falling off any time in the immediate future. How many backs can you say that about today? Lewis is a top-15 dynasty running back in PPR leagues.
Marshawn Lynch & Thomas Rawls - One of the early supporters of Thomas Rawls I can remember early this offseason was Sigmund Bloom, who talked favorably of him in one of his articles and also in some message board posts. Praise by Sigmund always gets my attention. An undrafted rookie, Rawls had a steep climb to get to where he is now, for he was looking up at bell cow back Marshawn Lynch, dependable back up Robert Turbin, enigmatic but highly talented (or so it is said?) Christine Michael, as well as the usual cast of minor characters in an NFL camp. Rawls just kept doing his thing, and excelling, and now Turbin is in Cleveland, Michael is in Dallas, and Lynch has been slowed with hamstring problems. Rawls has responded the last three weeks with 56 carries for 321 yards (5.73 YPC) and a breakaway 69 yard TD. Importantly from a dynasty perspective, not only is Rawls showing he can do the job, but Marshawn Lynch has had massive usage the last four years averaging well over 300 carries per year including playoffs. Beast Mode turns 30 in April, has had recurring hamstring and back issues, and is a strong candidate to be one of those RBs that just suddenly breaks down and falls off the proverbial RB cliff. My rankings will now reflect more of that danger for Lynch as well as the growing likelihood that Rawls is the running back of the future, a future that may come sooner than many think.
Jamaal Charles - Obviously the ACL tear this weekend ends any 2015 value for him for his fantasy owners, and his dynasty ranking has to tumble. The question becomes 'but how much?' It was already frustrating to Charles dynasty owners that coach Andy Reid continually limited his opportunities (just 209 carries and 40 catches in 2014, and averaging under 15 carries per game this year before the injury), but Charles always managed to overcome that by being so productive per touch (never a YPC below 5.0 in any season and typically getting double digit TDs). Charles turns 29 in December though, and this is his second ACL tear (also one in 2011), and since this one happened five weeks into the season it would be difficult to see him being at full speed to start the 2016 season. I don't see the Chiefs looking to replace him any time soon -- his contract is reasonable in that regard -- but from a dynasty perspective I think I have to discount his remaining dynasty value pretty severely. I'd look at his overall value differently if her were young in running back terms, but he'll be close to 30 when his knee is again 100% the second half of next season. So, the rest of this year lost plus the prospect of half of next season being limited, along with Reid already limiting his touches. This all causes me to drop Charles significantly.
Willie Snead & Brandon Coleman - Much preseason talk was of Brandon Coleman's rise in dynasty value. He had surpassed Nick Toon as the WR3 for the Saints behind Cooks and Colston, and at the start of the regular season it looked like he also had passed Colston. People (including me) were eager to own big bodied Coleman, reasoning that with TE Jimmy Graham's departure and the decline of 32 year old Colston, Coleman could be the next big target for Drew Brees and a possible star. Well, that hasn't exactly happened. Coleman had the dropsies the first few weeks of the season, and his targets have since declined to the point that in Weeks 4 and 5 he was targeted just once each game. It looks like, for now at least, he has lost the trust of Brees and coach Payton. Meanwhile, fellow second year undrafted receiver Willie Snead was barely talked about in preseason but made the roster. He had a quiet Week 1 but has come on like gangbusters with 21 catches the last four games including 6-89 in Week 4 and 6-141 in Week 5. I haven't given up on Coleman entirely. Colston is old and on the decline, and now a bit injured, so Coleman may still have an important big man role down the line, but the shining star has definitely been Snead. Brees clearly likes him (11 targets last game), and the Saints' awful defense insures their offense will be throwing the rock a lot.
Allen Robinson - I have had Allen Robinson ranked pretty respectably for dynasty all offseason and early season, generally around WR20 or so. Many of us saw the 'it' factor in Robinson last year and had high hopes for him coming into this year. His rookie totals weren't great in 2014 (48-548-2) but that was in just 10 games due to injury. Moreover, not only was he a rookie but he was working with a rookie quarterback in Blake Bortles. Good news: Bortles is getting better, and Robinson is all that and a bag of chips. Robinson has averaged 94 yards receiving the last four games, with four TDs, and has looked brilliant doing it. On the basis of what I'm seeing so far, the second year leap for receivers is in full effect for Robinson and he needs to move up my rankings from about WR20 to just outside the top 10. He could be generally looked upon as one the truly elite receivers in the NFL before long.
Amari Cooper - Cooper has steadily climbed my rankings and is now firmly entrenched as a Top 10 option. Cooper has fit into the NFL immediately and looks like a 5-year veteran in most situations.
Allen Robinson - I shouldn't have let my confidence in Allen Robinson waver in the first place; and am happy to vault him back into my fringe WR1 rankings. Robinson is young, in his prime, and most importantly Blake Bortles appears to have a decent future versus our prior expectation that Bortles wasn't long for the franchise job.
Allen Hurns and Willie Snead -- Both previously unranked and now fantasy WR3. Snead is leading the Saints in most offensive categories, while Hurns has been an every week starter for Jacksonville. Both are you, have clearly defined roles, are showing an ascendant trajectory, and can be had for value even after their strong starts.
Calvin Johnson - Is Calvin Johnson finished as a fantasy WR1? The question that would have seemed preposterous even a few weeks ago is certainly worth asking at this point. The offense in Detroit is a mess and Johnson is on pace for a 1,000 yard, 3 touchdown season. He also looks like he has lost a step at age 30 (and after suffering a multitude of injuries in recent years). We’ve seen Roddy White, Chad Johnson and other wide receivers fall off a cliff quickly soon after hitting 30-years old in recent years. Perhaps Johnson is headed down the same path. While it’s too late to truly sell high, you may be able to find an owner who still believes in Calvin Johnson as a fantasy WR1 and get a decent package in return. If you wait too much longer, Johnson’s value could really crater.
Travis Benjamin, WR (UP)- Benjamin’s fast start to the season looked fluky. He was getting few snaps, only a handful of targets and was pretty much a deep-threat only. His huge Week 2 performance came on only four targets. Quietly over the past three weeks, Benjamin has seen his role continue to grow. While he hasn’t any long touchdowns since Week 2, his usage has been extremely encouraging. Benjamin is developing into a true #1 WR for the Browns. He has had double-digit targets in each of the last three games and has been able to create plenty of separation.
Allen Hurns - Hurns keeps getting better and Blake Bortles is showing signs of real growth as well. I’ve been slow to buy into the 23-year old who went undrafted in 2014, but at this point you have to take notice of what Hurns is doing. He is on pace for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first third of the season. Even if his pace does slow somewhat and he only ends up with 1,100 yards and 7 touchdowns (or something similar), he is still an ascending player and one that is relatively safe to plug into your lineup on a week-to-week basis. While I singled out Hurns, the entire core group of young Jacksonville skill position talent is on the upswing. Allen Robinson looks like a potential fantasy WR1 opposite of Hurns and Bortles (10 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions) is emerging as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league. T.J. Yeldon looks like he could end up being the second best of the 2015 rookie running back class and the emergence of Bortles, Robinson and Hurns is great news for Yeldon’s dynasty owners.
Tyler Eifert - Eifert is a matchup problem and an impact red zone tool. He moves up to TE2 in my rankings.
Jordan Reed - I don't mean for this to be a downer column, I really don't, but having already dumpster-fired Jamaal Charles' value I'm going to pile on here by doing the same to poor Jordan Reed. I love the guy when he plays, and he absolutely could be a top 5 dynasty tight end if he could stay on the field. He piles up stats when he plays and he is only 25. Unfortunately he just cannot stay healthy, and more unfortunately it's not just the hamstring and other bodily injuries with him (of which there have been a number), it's the multiple concussions in college and the pros. Each time I want to inch him up the rankings something new happens and I'm reminded that he's too dangerous to rank highly (the most important ability is availability as they say), and now he has a new concussion. Will he play in two weeks? Will he play again this season or be shut down? Could he even go the way of Jahvid Best and Steve Young and others, and finally realize (or have someone realize for him) that it's simply not in his best interest for the rest of his life to ever play football again? I don't know, but I do know he is moving down my rankings because he can't be counted on the rest of this year, and maybe ever. A shame, because he is so productive and a real fantasy asset when he does play.