Fantasy Football: 5 burning questions in the AFC East

Determining sophomore ceilings and floors for Darnold, Allen, N'Keal Harry's rookie outlook and are the Dolphins a fantasy disaster waiting to happen?

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First up is the AFC East, where a trio of 2018 first-round quarterbacks are hoping to close the gap in the NFL's most lopsided division, still completely dominated by Brady, Belichick and the Patriots.

1.) What type of rookie impact will Bill Belichick's first-ever first-round New England Patriots receiver make?

On one hand, as the 32nd overall pick in April, N'Keal Harry is New England's earliest drafted wideout under Belichick and Tom Brady. On the other, the two most recent Patriots receivers drafted prior to Harry who appeared in an NFL game on offense, Malcolm Mitchell and Aaron Dobson, double as the franchise's most successful rookie receivers: Dobson boasts a first-year franchise record 519 yards, and Mitchell averaged 8.35 yards per target.

Of course, those are very modest stats from a fantasy perspective — Dobson finished as WR60 and Mitchell was WR76 in standard scoring leagues — and it stands to reason that more recent picks would experience more success, relatively speaking, with passing games now as prolific as ever. But it also stands to reason that Dobson, hailing from Marshall where he never produced a season as dominant as Harry's 2018 with the Sun Devils, wasn't as equipped as Harry for the NFL jump, and Mitchell is an inferior athlete who produced as a rookie despite a gross preseason elbow injury.

It's also worth noting that Dobson and Mitchell thrived in part because of the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who started a career-low six games those seasons, and in spite Tom Brady tossing only 25 touchdowns in 2013 and missing the first four games with his "Deflategate" suspension three years later. With Brady somehow back near the height of his powers and nothing much to speak of in the Patriots' Gronk-less pass-catching corps after Julian Edelman, the table appears to be set for the hardworking Harry's arrival to mark another first: a reliable Patriots rookie fantasy WR3.

2.) Is Josh Allen's support group good enough to help determine how good Josh Allen can be?

As a rookie, Allen authored one of the better rushing seasons by a quarterback in NFL history, averaging 52.6 yards per game and totaling eight touchdowns. That dimension greatly enhanced his floor and helped Allen rank as QB20, ahead of other part-time starters, including Baker Mayfield and Marcus Mariota.

The flipside: the bazooka-armed Allen averaged more yards per rush (7.1) than pass (6.5), tossed more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) and converted a first down nearly as often with his legs (46.1 percent of his rushes) as just completing a pass (52.8 percent of his throws).

Now, Allen goes from perhaps the game's worst combination of pass catchers and blockers to, well, it's hard to know. In plug-and-play starting WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, TE Tyler Kroft and OL Mitch Morse (center), Quinton Spain (left guard), Spencer Long (right guard) and Cody Ford (right tackle), Buffalo has built a respectable QB incubator. It's just that there's little recent precedent we can think of for such wholesale changes.

The Bears almost entirely revamped Mitch Trubisky's pass-catching stable last season, but he also had a new coach and returned the same offensive line. Trubisky made vast strides, we should add, finishing as QB11 in per-game scoring. The Vikings successfully rebuilt most of their offensive line on the fly two seasons ago but had coaching and pass-catching continuity for new QB Case Keenum, who was QB15 (average).

Allen is more talented than both of those quarterbacks and, like each, should have a strong defense and adaptable play caller in Brian Daboll. Still, plenty of growing pains are in the offing and we expect him to be a better asset to fantasy owners seeking one of the year's higher upside backups than he is to the 2019 Bills, who will be better but ultimately held back by their still-raw leader.

3.) How do we balance the immense upside and inherent risk of the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell?

If you're a believer in targeting players who finished the previous season on a high note, as we are, Darnold is on your radar. In his last four rookie games, after returning from a foot injury, the No. 3 overall pick compiled a 6:1 TD-INT ratio, 8.05 adjusted yards per attempt and 99.1 rating. There were some tremendous flashes of his playmaking potential, buoyed by the sterling flourish from WR1 Robby Anderson, who returns in a contract year after a pleasantly quiet offseason.

It's unclear who'll be more wide-eyed this season, Darnold or new coach Adam Gase, by the arrival of Le'Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, Kelechi Osemele and Co. But we like the recipe here for a nice sophomore step from Darnold, especially after a harrowing first month of the season (vs. BUF, vs. CLE, at NE, at PHI, vs. DAL).

Bell is going off as RB7 around the ninth slot of the opening round according to Fantasy Football Calculator's current ADP data. Of course, there is no data to lean on when it comes to backs who have returned after stepping away healthy for a season in the prime of their careers. But are we sure Bell really left in his prime?

Remember, his 4.8 yards per attempt (4.0) AND touch (4.9) in 2017 bottomed out over a four-year span. Granted, he handled an absurd 406 regular-season touches, but that fuels our wariness more than our willingness to get back in on Bell as a tried-and-true RB1. If his price tag manages to fall nearly a full round, that's when our interest could rise.

4.) Can the Miami Dolphins avoid being a fantasy dunk tank, and if so, why?

There actually are a few nice buy-low candidates, like Kalen Ballage and, yes, DeVante Parker. But we don't see the infrastructure here to house any major fantasy forces. This situation reminds so much of Arizona last season ... and Josh Rosen isn't the lone common denominator.

There's a shortage of skill-position talent and even more so blocking-wise. Rosen could begin the season on the bench in favor of an imminently bench-able vet placeholder. The defense again figures to struggle. And Brian Flores may or may not be in over his head similar to Steve Wilks.

The schedule is also brutal, especially in the first half of the season, likely ramping up the first-overall-pick speculation by November. Again, we'll consider Parker, likely in his last Miami stand, and Ballage if the price is right, but few fantasy environments should create greater pause than this one.

5.) Who'll be the fantasy stud, dud on each club?


STUD: Sony Michel averaged 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in his first postseason.

DUD: Wait, the Patriots didn't draft a tight end this year and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jacob Hollister are gone?


STUD: With all the newcomers, it's two holdovers, LeSean McCoy and Robert Foster, poised to benefit the most.

DUD: Tyler Kroft got paid, but he'll get passed by in a hurry courtesy of third-rounder Dawson Knox.


STUD: Remember the 2018 fantasy playoffs? Robby Anderson is back for more.

DUD: There isn't a first-round back that scares us more than Le'Veon Bell.


STUD: Kenny Stills is sneaky underrated, averaging 641 yards and 6 touchdowns in four seasons in Miami.

DUD: If ever there was a season not to believe the spring DeVante Parker hype...

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