By: Nate Leer
During the NFL playoffs, I like to scout players for the next fantasy football season. From time to time a player emerges that lets us, and maybe more importantly his coaches, know that he is ready to be a featured player in the future for that team. There are also situations in which a player puts an exclamation point on their regular season by showing up huge against tough competition in the playoffs. Either way, watching for anything I can learn in this year’s playoffs gives me a bit of an edge next year.
I won 2 out of the 4 fantasy football leagues I played in with money on the line and in both my TE was Travis Kelce. That was more than just a lucky coincidence. I felt like Kelce could blow up partially based on how he performed in last year’s playoffs. Last year Kelce showed what he could do with a lot of targets, averaging 75+ yards over 2 games while getting almost 10 targets a game. That was a big jump for Kelce compared to his rather lackluster regular season. If you were a Kelce believer like me, you may have also wondered whether KC was underutilizing Kelce. Turns out he could produce with more targets even against quality Ds in Houston and New England. Kelce built on that postseason production with a monster year for a TE this year.
Here are 4 players that impressed:
1. Jared Cook – TE – GB – The most impressive stat for Cook this postseason is 32 – his number of targets over 3 games, 7 more than any other Packer. Watching the games, QB Aaron Rodgers repeatedly targeted Cook in crucial situations. I think this bodes well for Cook to have an even better season next year in his 2nd year in a real O. To be fair, Cook still has his share of drops but clearly Rodgers trusts him to get open. You could do worse next year in what may be the weakest year for fantasy TEs ever.
2. Dak Prescott – QB – Dal – As one of the very few people who saw Dak coming before the draft, I have been watching him closely for signs of regression. However, Dak overcame adversity in the game against Green Bay to display the cool demeanor and playmaking skills that made him by far the best rookie QB in 2016. To me, the question for next year is where he is slotted in fantasy QB rankings. QB is as deep as ever so it will be very much a matter of opinion as to where he falls after the top 7 or 8 QBs. Is he better than young guns like Jameis Winston and (hopefully healthy) Marcus Mariota and vets such as Philip Rivers? Will Dak be even better with WR Dez Bryant healthier? I think he solidified himself as a QB1 for 2017.
3. Austin Hooper – TE – Atl – We can all see that the Falcons have an elite O and can throw the ball all over the field. Top flight QB Matt Ryan spreads the ball around and ATL has super stud WR Julio Jones. However, they have not had a clear cut #2 receiver since Roddy White left and have not had an impact TE for much longer. Hooper could start to fill both those roles going forward. Hooper has made the most of his targets this postseason and may be poised to become a solid low end fantasy TE next year. Given the situation in ALT, he even has some upside.
4. Thomas Rawls – RB – Sea – Rawls mostly disappointed down the stretch for his fantasy football owners, and for Seahawks fans. However, it is too soon to write him off as a fantasy football asset after seeing his performance in the playoffs. Maybe Rawls needed more time to get in sync with his O-line or maybe he finally was feeling 100%. Either way, Rawls was able to have a monster game against Detroit although he came back to earth some against ATL on limited carries. The big takeaway is that Rawls averaged well over 5 yards per carry in the playoffs and Seattle seemed to recognize that he could be a key to their success. If they feature Rawls again next year, he will definitely have good fantasy value, whether or not the likes of CJ Prosise and Alex Collins are present for the ‘Hawks.