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AFC East: Offseason Targets

© Photo by Seatacular

In this series, I’ll be selecting one player from each team, throughout each division, who I think presents an asymmetric acquisition opportunity at their current price. Saying that, I understand that asking prices will vary across leagues and some of these players may not be obtainable at an attractive price. In that event, I would caution anyone who feels compelled to still pursue such a trade that your probability of winning the trade is considerably lower. It could still pan out, but in this game we’re in the business of putting the probabilities in our favor, not the other way around. The flip side here is that we can conceivably underpay for an asset and still come out with a cold, hard “L”. In this case, underpaying has left us with what is most likely a very manageable loss. Having spewed that out like a sneeze/fart combo with a mouthful of alpha-getti, let’s get to it.

As always, I’m assuming a 0.5 PPR scoring format.

New England Patriots

Julian Edelman, WR

In what was undoubtedly my most difficult decision for this division, Julian Edelman comes away with it. The soon to be 34 year old should offer contending fantasy teams a solid depth option at WR this year in what projects to be umm a….. honestly I have no idea, of an offense. So now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me build (and then sell you) my case for Edelman.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at his new gunslinger QB Jarret Stidham. An alright, yet unspectacular 2 year starter at Auburn. Stidham does not strike me as someone who will have long (or even short) term success at the NFL level. To paint a more clear picture, Stidham broke 250 passing yards in 3 of 13 games in his final year there compiling a total 2794 passing yards. Admittedly, he did fare better as a passer in 2017 compiling a total of 3158 passing yards. Pretty vanilla stats, right? Now let me get to the interesting part. In both seasons, Stidham’s leading receiver and I really mean it when I say leading receiver, was Ryan Davis. Who? Mr. Davis is none other than Auburn’s all-time leader in receptions, compiling the vast majority of those while playing with Stidham. During 2017 and 2018 Davis amassed 100% or more receptions than the next leading receiver, who was Darius Slayton by the way. Where did Davis play? In the slot. Where does Edelman play? In the slot. Stidham had a lot of success in last year’s preseason utilizing his slot receivers. This is a trend I expect to continue and perhaps even accentuate as the 2020 season plays out.

Second, Edelman is good. Not only is he a good player, his competition for targets isn’t anything to scare me away. This is especially true considering he spends a majority of his time in the slot. As we all know, volume (however inefficient) produces decent to great fantasy results. He should have plenty of opportunity to pile up receptions next year.

Finally, and this point is more subjective, I expect the Patriots to be trailing more games than normal this year which should lead to more passing situations. I expect the offense to remain run-oriented, but I’m not sure how much success they’ll have if opponents are stacking the box consistently. They will be forced to get creative which should lead to some more manufactured touches for Edelman as one of their best playmakers.

At 34, and with an unproven QB, Edelman owners have been trying to unload him for weeks. For a contending team that needs WR depth this move makes a ton of sense and can be executed for a discount. Spend a little time politely bashing Stidham, the Pats offense and Edelman’s age and you’ll be surprised at how easily someone is willing to let him go.

Miami Dolphins

Jordan Howard, RB

I’ve been beating the drum (or dead horse, depending on how you look at it) on Jordan Howard since the Dolphins handed him that 2-year, $10 million contract. While the contract was somewhat surprising, it spoke loud and clear to me that the Dolphins plan on making him their featured runner. As they passed on RB after RB in the draft, and then traded a measly 5th round pick for Matt Breida, it solidified my opinion. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the tailwinds for Howard in 2020. Picking up where I left off, a lack of competition is always a nice tailwind. Howard enters 2020 as Miami’s early down bruiser and goal line back. I anticipate the split with Breida to be in the 60-40 neighborhood with upside for 70-30 and downside of something like 50-50. In the event of a 50-50 split, Howard should still see at least 12 carries a game while remaining the favorite for goal line totes. Sprinkle in the odd reception and we’re staring at a serviceable bye week fill-in or flex option. In the event of a more favorable split, the projections become rosier.

The Dolphins offense should be considerably better than it was last year. More success on offense will translate to more time on the field, and in turn, usage. Furthermore, the Dolphins made it a priority to upgrade their porous offensive line this offseason. The addition of free agents Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras were solid and then really building upon that in the draft, selecting Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley. We can at least take comfort in there being better running lanes than last year.

Third, and this one ties in a bit with my last point, the Dolphins defense, and team as a whole will be better. Now I know it’s hard to imagine a world where the Dolphins aren’t down 3+ scores at half but trust me, it will exist. This will translate to the Dolphins being able to run the ball in the third and fourth quarters of football games more often. A big positive for Howard, because as we know, opportunity equates to results.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get Howard for as cheap as you would have prior to the draft. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with paying slightly more to acquire a serviceable option at a premium position. On a relative basis, he’s extremely cheap and still only 25 years old.

Buffalo Bills

John Brown, WR

I’ll preface this by clearly stating that there isn’t really a Bill who gets me excited at current valuations. Understanding that, my take on Brown will be concise. So why did I bother to choose Brown? Well, that’s a really good question, and I’ll do my best to answer it. 

To begin, let’s give this little Brown noser some credit. He had an excellent season last year as the Bills’ top receiver. He posted 1060 yards while averaging 12.25 fantasy points per game in 0.5 PPR. Looking at what has undoubtedly been an abnormal offseason, Brown carries a high probability of entering 2020 as Josh Allen’s top target. While I have my concerns about Allen’s accuracy, Brown found a way to deliver in spite of it.

Now, let’s move onto the unknowns. The Bills paid a hefty price to bring in Stefon Diggs this offseason. What will his role be? What will the passing game look like? How will it evolve? I really don’t know. Beasley will still work out of the slot, and Knox could take a step forward. I’ll profess, I’m not optimistic that Allen can consistently support more than 1 receiver on a weekly basis. For fun, let’s imagine that he can support 2 receivers each week. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m smart enough to predict which ones they’ll be.

Another good question is, will the Bills run the ball as much as last season? Allen averaged only 28.8 pass attempts per game last year and has never completed more than 58.8% of his attempts in his short career. Furthermore, his deep ball completion percentage was among the worst in the NFL. I would hedge a guess the Bills continue to rely on their defense, and not Allen to win them games.

So what do I think Brown can do next year? I think he could provide some consistent production at the start of the season and then serve as a spot starter the rest of the way. His value has likely never been lower, and you can use the Diggs’ acquisition as leverage to get him at a discount. There’s also the outside chance that Josh Allen finds a way to support him and Diggs. In that event, he becomes a steal.

New York Jets

Jamison Crowder, WR

Rounding out the AFC East is last but not least, Adam Gase’s Jets. As a hater of all things related to Mr. Gase, I can’t overlook the fact that the Jets are going to be a better team than they were last year. Now before you get all riled up let me be clear, I’m not saying they’re going to be good, just less bad, if you will. In saying that, there are actually several players on the Jets who I think are worthy of inclusion in this spot but I believe that Crowder presents us with the most asymmetrical opportunity. 

Seemingly old as shit, Crowder will have just freshly turned 27 come the start of the next season. Anytime we can add some longevity to our bargain hunting is a plus in my books. In addition to his youth, Crowder (somehow) finished as the WR 33 through weeks 1-16 last year (apologies to all the sociopaths who play Week 17), averaging a respectable 9.5 PPG. What’s most impressive about that feat is that Crowder managed to do so while the Jets trotted out multiple dumpster fires at QB. When Darnold was in, we generally saw an uptick in Crowder’s performance. Provided Sammy can stay healthy this year, Crowder should again find success.

Next up, we take a look at the massive overhaul the Jets did to their offensive line this offseason. The additions of Becton, Van Roten, Fant, McGovern and Andrews are going to make this an improved unit in 2020. The more time Darnold has in the pocket, the more it benefits the Jets passing attack. Also, did I mention they signed Frank Gore AND Joe Flacco?

But what about the other Jets receivers you say? Well, the Jets replaced Robbie Anderson with Breshad Perriman in the offseason, and I see that as a lateral move with no severe impact on Crowder. What about Mims? Long-term I’m a fan of Denzel Mims but I’m not too sure what kind of impact he’ll have in his rookie season, particularly during the early stages of it. Chris Herndon’s return to the offense is too unpredictable for me to forecast at this point. I really enjoyed watching him during his rookie season and then disappointingly he only played 1 game last year. Fortunately, for Crowder, he is entrenched in the slot where he soaked up 122 targets last season. That was good for 16th in the NFL among all players, not exclusively wide receivers. So let’s say his target total takes a 10-15% hit this year; I would still be pleased owning someone who’s absorbing 110 (ish) targets a season.

Lastly, and I’ll keep this short, the Jets should still see plenty of positive game script next year. As we all know (and love), garbage time points can salvage any performance.

At this point in time, Crowder doesn’t even remotely have a hefty price tag attached to him. I expect his value to slowly appreciate as we approach and enter the 2020 season, at which point he may not be worth the price of admission. Talk up the additions of Mims, Herndon and Perriman to your leaguemate and land this little Crow on the cheap to bolster the back end of your WR corps.

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