Many were predicting a breakout season for Raiders quarterback
Derek Carr heading into the 2017 season, as the young passer was
coming off of the best season of his career in 2016. Four weeks
into the season, however, that breakout season fell apart as Carr
suffered a transverse process fracture in his back, which Carr
later said was actually three broken bones. While he played through
the pain and discomfort, Carr hurt fantasy owners badly as back
spasms caused erratic play, causing him to barely finish as even
a QB2 despite having one of the league’s best wide receiver tandems
in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
While he should be much healthier after a full offseason to heal,
back injuries often creep back up on athletes and can cause problems.
What’s worse is, NFL teams often mask those injuries on
the injury report by being vague about the location and severity.
This can be difficult on fantasy owners as we don’t have
a good idea whether or not the player is dealing with an injury
or if he simply had a bad string of games. Additionally, Carr
will now be without his favorite target Michael Crabtree and will
be learning a completely new offensive system, making it easy
to see why Carr is going undrafted in many standard formats.
Oakland did add Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, along with
Doug Martin who has made an impact in the passing game in the
past, but it’s hard to argue that those players will make a significant
enough impact on Carr to make him anything more than a streaming
option at the quarterback position this season.
“Beast Mode” disappointed fantasy owners last season
as the entire Raiders, and specifically their offensive line took
a gigantic step back in 2017. Lynch accumulated just 891 yards
on the ground, but did score nine touchdowns, for a pace of 4.3
yards per carry in what was a truly ugly offense.
One of the most underreported realities about Lynch’s 2017
season is that he was actually excellent at eluding defenders
both by juking and by running through them. Advanced metrics show
that while his final totals left a lot to be desired, Lynch was
actually way better than he should have been given the abysmal
situation he was given. By comparison, Doug Martin - Lynch’s
new backfield-mate - was one of the least-efficient backs in the
league by these same metrics. Unless there was some sort of monumental
shift in the abilities of one or both of these players, it would
stand to reason that Lynch should have no real concerns about
being the primary back in Oakland this season.
The new Jon Gruden offense in Oakland figures to feature more
west coast concepts, including passes to the running back, but
those might not necessarily go Lynch’s way. Lynch hasn’t
caught more than 36 passes in a season since 2008 and his yards
per reception are often mediocre on the opportunities he does
get. That does hurt his draft stock in PPR formats, but Lynch
is one of the few backs in the league who has produced multiple
double-digit touchdown seasons throughout his career, and there’s
a real chance that he does it again if the Oakland offense is
even just a bit better than it was in 2017.
Lynch fights through a lot of injuries which is good for availability
but can be unfortunate for fantasy purposes as he is often unproductive
in the games he plays while injured. With just a bit of improvement
in the offensive line, as many predict will happen, and a healthy
Carr, Lynch could be a big time value this season, especially
given the lack of serious competition behind him. He should be
in line for around 250 total touches, which should make him a
solid RB2 most weeks.
Young backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington have both been
relatively productive when given opportunities but the new coaching
staff in Oakland has no allegiance to them and seemingly didn’t
believe they were a good enough tandem behind starter Marshawn
Lynch. To fill that void, the Raiders opted to bring in another
veteran back, Doug Martin, who had spent the previous six seasons
in Tampa Bay.
One of the league’s least consistent producers, Martin
has posted sub-3.0 yards per carry numbers in back-to-back seasons
heading into 2018, but also had a monster 2015 where he went off
for 1,402 rushing yards at nearly 5.0 yards per carry. There are
times when Martin looks like a top-10 back in the league and other
times when he looks like he should probably be hanging up the
cleats. While he won’t likely battle Lynch for starter snaps,
Martin does figure to be involved in the offense this season -
the question is where and when. Martin does have a 49-catch season
on his resume and a does average 8.4 yards per reception over
the course of his career, which is a great number for a running
back. He’s actually been over nine yards per reception in
each of his past two seasons, but the sample size is low as he’s
caught just 23 total passes over that two-year span. Still, the
per-touch numbers look good in the passing game and that could
allow him to be the primary receiving back on the team as backups
Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington have failed to do much in
that role and Lynch himself has never been much of a pass catcher.
Martin is a low-cost option that does have upside as a potential
bell-cow back if Lynch gets hurt, especially given coach Gruden’s
adoration for him. However, after a four-game suspension to start
the 2017 season due to a PED violation, Martin does bring fantasy
owners additional risk of a long suspension if he failed another
test, but it seems likely that he was using those PEDs to recover
from injury during rather than that he has a serious problem.
The top-drafted fantasy asset in Oakland is once again wide receiver
Amari Cooper despite him being among the biggest busts in fantasy
this past season. Cooper was almost astonishingly unproductive
on a per-target basis in 2017 as he caught just 50 percent of
the passes that came his way, which put him among the very worst
receivers in the league. It’s worth noting that Cooper might
have not been healthy at all in 2017, as he started the season
on the injury report for the first six weeks with a knee sprain,
then suffered a sprained ankle and a concussion in Week 12. Cooper
also has earned the label as a pass dropper and there’s
really no denying that he’s had a ton of drops in his young
career, but that can statistic also be a bit misleading. Cooper
actually dropped four passes in one game (Week 1) in 2017, but
he ended up getting targeted 13 times, which still allowed him
to produce a quality fantasy day with five catches for 62 yards
and a touchdown.
With 2017 in the rear-view mirror, we now look forward to 2018
where Cooper has serious potential to lead all NFL players in
targets. Coach Gruden has made it well known that he is planning
to use Cooper as the “main vein” of the Oakland passing
game. With outside receivers Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant
joining the team, the Raiders could also end up utilizing Cooper
more in the slot on three-receiver sets. He’s produced some
of his biggest games when he’s seen increased snaps out
of the slot, and research shows that targets out of the slot are
actually substantially more effective than those out wide throughout
the league, so Cooper could be in for a big jump in efficiency
this season. Even if he’s still subpar in catch rate, though,
target volume alone could lead to Cooper being a high-end WR2
or even a low-end WR1 this season.
His draft cost is substantially lower this season than it has
been in either of his past two seasons, so there is some upside
in taking Cooper where he’s currently going in fantasy drafts
and there really shouldn’t be much downside, provided that he
stays healthy. After turning 24 years old this past June, Cooper
is still not even near his prime as an NFL wide receiver. He’s
only six months older than rookie Calvin Ridley but he already
has two 1000-yard NFL seasons under his belt. He struggled this
past season, but so did the entire Raiders offense, including
QB Derek Carr who himself dealt with a back injury throughout
the season. Don’t let an injury-plagued 2017 change your perception
of this talented young playmaker who could break out as an elite
fantasy WR1 this season if everything clicks in Oakland.
Perhaps the most underappreciated elite-level-producer in fantasy
over the past decade, Jordy Nelson only saw a low-ball option
from Green Bay this offseason and ended up signing a relatively
low-risk, two-year, $15 Million contract in Oakland. After being
one of the league’s top pass catchers throughout his run
in Green Bay, one has to wonder - did the Packers cut the cord
after realizing that Nelson simply doesn’t have anything
While he was a bust for fantasy purposes on the season, Nelson
was leading the league in receiving touchdowns prior to Rodgers’
injury in 2017. From that point on, however, Nelson fell far behind
Davante Adams on the Packers pecking order and became completely
unusable for fantasy purposes by end the season. Nelson struggled
to generate separation in 2017 and that showed in the box scores.
Even if you remove the games with Brett Hundley behind center,
Nelson accumulated just 318 yards in the seven games that Aaron
Rodgers started for the Packers. If you extrapolate that out over
a 16-game season, that’d be a pace of just 727 yards for the season.
While he was a big time touchdown producer, we know that touchdowns
can often be fluky and he was doing that with a one-in-a-generational-type
quarterback in Rodgers. Now that he’s in Oakland, there has to
be serious questions as to whether or not Nelson still has enough
left in the gas tank to produce without one of the greatest players
of all-time throwing him the ball. Derek Carr is good, but he’s
not Aaron Rodgers good.
The bright side of things is that with Amari Cooper having some
of the ugliest red zone numbers in football since coming into
the league and Martavis Bryant potentially facing a suspension,
there’s a great change that Nelson sees a huge chunk of the red
zone targets, and specifically the end zone targets in the Oakland
passing game. Even if he’s lost a step in terms of route-running
and speed, Nelson still has great size and strength, which makes
him a nightmare to defend for smaller defensive backs. His days
of 15-touchdown seasons are probably in the past, but Nelson could
still put up eight to 10 touchdowns this season, which would certainly
put him in consideration as a weekly starter for fantasy purposes.
Rumors of a pending suspension for another substance-abuse policy
violation cloud the fantasy prospects of the Raiders’ newly-acquired
receiver Martavis Bryant. The Raiders declined to comment about
the rumors which broke in mid-June, but admitted that they are
waiting from the league regarding potential disciplinary action
for Bryant. The team traded a third-round 2018 NFL Draft pick
to the Steelers in exchange for the controversial, yet highly
talented pass catcher this offseason. Bryant has a long history
of off-field substance abuse issues which led to him missing the
entire 2016 season due to a suspension. A repeat violation would
seemingly mean another lost season for the 26-year-old. It’s
rare that rumors like this surface without any substance behind
them, but there’s always the possibility that Bryant will
get through this situation without any further problems.
Still, concerns about Bryant don’t stop simply at substance abuse.
He was rumored to be a locker room distraction in Pittsburgh after
falling behind rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster in the target totem
pole in 2017. Not only that, but his productivity dipped greatly
in his return to the NFL this past season. Bryant had scored a
touchdown at a pace of once every 14 targets that he saw through
his first two seasons in the league - a rate of 7.1 percent. That
number fell to just 3.6 percent in 2017 as he scored just three
times in 15 games. Bryant’s yards per reception also fell from
17.3 yards per reception in 2014 and 2015 to just 12.1 yards per
reception in 2017.
There’s no question that Bryant possesses unbelievable
athleticism and he could end up being the No.2 target in this
Oakland offense, but there are enough questions as to his availability,
mental state and overall production that avoiding him in fantasy
is probably the right move this draft season.
Raiders tight end Jared Cook saw 86 targets in 2017 (tied for
ninth-most), which he converted for a career-high 54 receptions,
and that was with Michael Crabtree still on the roster. With serious
questions at wide receiver heading into the season, Cook could
very well end up second on the roster in targets in 2018. Raiders
coach Jon Gruden raved at OTAs about Cook’s speed and the
team has been experimenting moving him around the field to create
mismatches. Utilizing Cook’s speed and athleticism could
be a way to stretch defenses, which is an important part of what
the Raiders will need to do to improve as an offense this season.
Tight end as a whole is very weak this season and there aren’t
many players at the position who figure to see 80-plus targets.
Many of the tight ends who did see 80 targets in 2017 are not
likely to repeat that number, including Jason Witten, who is now
retired; Jimmy Graham, who is on a new team; Evan Engram, who
has to deal with the return of Odell Beckham Jr and the addition
of Saquon Barkley in the passing game; as well as both Eric Ebron
and Jack Doyle who are now battling one another for targets in
the same offense. If he stays healthy, Cook figures to improve
on the 86 targets he saw this past season, which could see him
finish in the top five at the position in that ever-important
On the downside, at 6’5” and 250-plus pounds, Cook
has not proven to be the red zone threat that one might expect.
He’s scored just 19 touchdowns in his nine-year NFL career,
including just three total touchdowns over his past three seasons.
Cook can be very streaky and difficult to predict from a fantasy
standpoint, but that does make him an ideal candidate for best-ball
formats where you can take the highs and not worry so much about
His current ADP sees him going extremely late or even undrafted
in many leagues, so there’s not much opportunity cost here.
He’s probably worth a shot to roster in deep leagues or
teams with questions at the position given his high floor.