Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Bump & Run: Mailbag Edition

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


I wear a lot of hats here at Rotoworld, especially during football season. One day, I’m “Power Rankings Guy,” the next I’m “Roundtable Guy.” But of all the hats I wear, I think the label I enjoy most is “Live Chat Guy.” I always look forward to the hour (well usually an hour and a half) that I spend answering your fantasy questions each week. I live for solving your start/sit conundrums, but it’s been almost five whole months since the end of the regular season and I’m starting to get Live Chat withdrawals. So let’s scratch that itch and get to a few reader questions. What say you, Twitterverse?

 

Got lucky snagging Evan Engram off waivers to fill my tight end void last year. Is Mike Gesicki this year’s Engram and will he see the lion’s share of Jarvis Landry’s missing targets?

 

What’s funny about Engram is that he actually graded out as one of the worst tight ends in football last year. He led all tight ends in drops with 11 and earned PFF’s third-lowest run-blocking grade at the position behind only Troy Niklas and Vernon Davis. But we don’t care about any of that in fantasy. In the fantasy realm, it’s all about opportunity and with Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both hurt (Sterling Shepard also missed five games due to injury), Engram drew more targets than every tight end except for Travis Kelce. That was enough to propel Engram into the TE1 ranks while also cementing his status as a staple of DFS lineups.

 

It’s hard to judge Gesicki when we haven’t seen him play an NFL snap yet, but I agree that he’ll be someone to monitor in upcoming drafts. Gesicki didn’t block a lick at Penn State but he was one of the better receiving tight ends in college football, corralling 51 passes for 501 yards and nine touchdowns this past season. The Dolphins invested a fair amount in Gesicki by drafting him 42nd overall (fun fact: Rob Gronkowski was also drafted 42nd in 2010) and he’s certainly an impressive athlete for his size (6’6”/252). Miami filled its slot void by signing Danny Amendola this offseason, but even if he stays healthy (that’s always a big if with Amendola), I don’t see him coming close to the 160 targets Landry drew in 2017. That should open up looks for Gesicki, especially in the short passing game, where Ryan Tannehill has traditionally done most of his damage.

 

We know he’s not a polished blocker yet and perhaps he never will be, but if the Dolphins are willing to look past that, I think Gesicki can be an immediate weapon for Tannehill inside the red zone. After years of striking out at tight end with injury-prone underachievers like Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron, I think Miami hit the nail on the head with Gesicki. I consider him a strong dynasty stash and a nice flyer late in drafts with potential for both volume and touchdowns.

 

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Which second-year running back do you see making the biggest leap and whose stock will drop the most?

 

Marlon Mack is one name that comes to mind. A fourth-rounder out of South Florida, Mack showed flashes as a rookie last season (583 yards and four touchdowns on 114 touches) but was never able to overtake Frank Gore for top billing in Indy’s backfield. Gore, of course, has moved on to Miami, leaving Mack atop the Colts’ running back depth chart. Fifth-round rookie Jordan Wilkins should be involved on some level while Robert Turbin (eight touchdowns in 2016) has the potential to be a goal-line nuisance. Mack didn’t play well enough last year (3.8 yards per carry, four drops on 33 targets) for Frank Reich to simply hand him the starting job, but I think his play-making ability (six carries of 20-plus yards last season) gives him a leg up on his backfield competition.

 

If you had asked me this question 24 hours ago, Christian McCaffrey probably would have been my top choice. McCaffrey was a PPR monster last year—his 80 catches were third-most among running backs—and he appeared to be poised for a full workload following Jonathan Stewart’s release. But the Panthers altered their backfield equation Monday by signing Broncos cast-off C.J. Anderson, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season. I imagine McCaffrey’s role will be similar to the one he had last year, which means he’ll still offer plenty of appeal in PPR formats. Unfortunately, it looks like he’ll again cede early-down work to a bigger, veteran back.

 

When this question was posed to me on Twitter, one commenter suggested Joe Mixon as a breakout candidate. Mixon frustrated the heck out of fantasy owners last year by averaging a mere 3.5 yards per carry but at least he had the benefit of volume. Only two rookies—Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette—earned more carries than Mixon last season. That’s impressive, especially considering he played all of 38 snaps in Weeks 1 and 2 before the Bengals fired in-over-his-head offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. The former Oklahoma Sooner saved the best for last though, averaging a robust 5.02 yards per carry over his final four games. Giovani Bernard will remain a key cog on passing downs (Jeremy Hill is gone, though he wasn’t much of a factor last year anyway) but that shouldn’t stop Mixon from seeing upwards of 20 touches a game and most, if not all, of Cincy’s goal-line work. If you’re looking for a sophomore running back to take a step forward this season, Mixon is probably your safest bet.

 

As for running backs who could disappoint … maybe Fournette? The LSU alum was a world-beater early in 2017 with seven touchdowns in his first six outings but he faded down the stretch while battling injuries. Jacksonville’s offense should still be pretty run-centric and Fournette did impress with a three-touchdown game at Pittsburgh in the postseason, but I think he carries a much higher bust potential than his sophomore counterparts Hunt and Alvin Kamara.

 

Obviously the draft killed any hopes of a Wayne Gallman breakout (the same could also be said of Samaje Perine in Washington) and I still don’t have a great read on Green Bay’s backfield, though I expect it will be some combination of sophomores Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. One player we’re forgetting about is Dalvin Cook, who looked like he was ready to take the league by storm until he tore his ACL in Week 4. It always takes a leap of faith to draft someone coming off a serious knee injury but all signs point to Cook being ready for Week 1 and I expect him to be a big-time contributor on one of the league’s best offenses. Another sophomore back to keep an eye out for is Tarik Cohen, who should be more involved in the Bears’ passing attack this season. Considering Jordan Howard’s immense struggles as a pass-catcher, that’s probably for the best.

 

Could Allen Hurns emerge as a WR2 or better in PPR? Is 80-950-7 within reach?

 

I’m not ready to call him a WR2, but your point is well-taken. The Cowboys’ offense will undoubtedly run through Ezekiel Elliott but someone in the receiving corps will have to step up in the absence of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. That duo accounted for almost 45 percent of the Cowboys’ targets last year. Now Hurns is no Dez but he does have a 1,000-yard season on his resume and should be thought of as the Cowboys’ de facto No. 1 receiver. Bryant averaged just over eight targets per game throughout his Cowboys tenure, which computes to roughly 130 targets over a 16-game season. That would blow away Hurns’ current career-high of 104 targets, which he set during his breakout 2015 campaign.

 

The Cowboys were expected to go after one of the draft’s top wide receivers, perhaps Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton, but instead settled for Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, who fell to them in the third round. Gallup could very well have a Week 1 role, but for now, it’s safe to assume Dallas will roll with Hurns, Terrance Williams and slot receiver Cole Beasley in base sets. It doesn’t say a lot for Hurns that the Jaguars cut him in favor of Donte Moncrief (it didn’t help that his contract was an albatross) and I’m reluctant to give him my seal of approval after consecutive sub-500-yard seasons. But I’m at least confident he’ll receive better quarterback play than he did in Jacksonville (some might disagree, but I consider Dak Prescott a noticeable upgrade on Blake Bortles). And even if it’s by process of elimination, his volume should be relatively strong. I compare Hurns to a guy like Pierre Garcon—never your first choice but a volume-dependent WR3/flex who, under the right circumstances, could be a weekly starter in PPR.

 

I think your projection is in the range of outcomes for Hurns, but probably on the high end of it. If Hurns can stay on the field (injuries have cost him 11 games over the past two years), it wouldn’t surprise me if he duplicated the 69-838-6 line that Dez posted last season. To give you an idea of how he’s being valued, Hurns went 120th (WR50) in a recent draft conducted at ESPN’s annual rankings summit. I wouldn’t stake my reputation on him, but I do think Hurns could be a value pick late in drafts. 



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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