Fantasy Football Volume II

Wide Receivers: The thing I like best about fantasy sports is there are so many different ways to build a winning team. I’ve mentioned before that the NFFC tends to favor large rosters. The Cutline leagues which I prefer feature 26 man rosters. This allows me to usually focus on running backs early. I will rarely go four rounds without collecting two running backs. I usually have a couple of them after three rounds. Then I draft a bunch of wide receivers and I’m typically able to mine some WR gold out of the lower reaches of the ADP.  Then I mix and match my WR stable against opposing secondaries.

That said, if you’re picking late in the first round, doubling up on WR this year looks like a great strategy as well. Just know that if you’re picking 10th in a 12 team draft and you start off WR/WR, when your pick comes around in round three, you’re going to find the top 15-18 running backs off the board. I don’t like feeling compelled to take a back with that 3/34 pick and I almost always see more value in the WR available in that range than in the available running backs.

The WR pool is always deep. Tiers upon tiers. I’m listing these mostly in order of how you can probably expect to them come off the board and less by preference, especially once we get out of the top 20. My rankings can and will change based on camp news and my own pre-season observations. The capsules for each player should give you an idea of how I feel about their fantasy league potential for this season.

Antonio Brown is the gold standard. Still in a gradual downslope of the prime years of a Hall of Fame career.  I think you can justify picking him in the top three, but I have him seventh overall right now.

I think Antonio represents his own tier and DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, Jr, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas comprise the second tier. They are all going to approach or surpass 150 targets a game and post terrific numbers if healthy.  I don’t see major injury red flags with any of them. OBJ figures to be 100% after his season ending ankle injury. Jones is often dealing with some leg issue. But it’s rarely enough to hold him down. I would draft any of these guys in the top 12 with complete confidence.

I think the next tier is comprised of Davante Adams, Keenan Allen and AJ Green. Adams has shown steady improvement during his career. He led the NFL with 22 TD receptions the last two seasons and the 25 year old seems poised for a career year with Aaron Rodgers back under center. Green showed some dropoff in his age 29 season, but a broken offensive line may have been more to blame than anything else. Green has made the Pro Bowl seven times in seven seasons. His consistency is nearly unmatched. There is no way I will own Keenan Allen at this price. His three seasons prior to his sensational 2017 were injury marred and awful.

Mike Evans has alternated 12 touchdown seasons with 3 and 5 touchdowns seasons the last four years and those scores are the difference between a top 10 WR and a top 20 WR. He’s due for double digits this season, but he has Fitz for three games before the Uber-Grabber appears. I rarely own him.

Doug Baldwin is a player I’ve always liked. He has a Rod Smith kind of edge to his game, which I consider a high compliment to any football player. His tweaked knee should worry me more, but I think he’ll be fine and this is actually a buying opportunity. Wilson has nobody else to throw to now, especially in the red zone and Baldwin will fit his game into whatever role they need. He’ll see more targets than ever, especially in the red zone with Jimmy Graham gone. Only Antonio Brown has scored more touchdowns through the air (31) the last three years than Baldwin’s 29.

For such a little dude, TY Hilton has proven very durable as one of the premier deep threats in the NFL. His value rises sharply with a healthy Andrew Luck around. His only weakness is he gets very few looks inside the red zone. A common problem for undersized speedsters.

Happy 25th Birthday, Allen Robinson. You have certainly seen it all, young man. Promising rookie season. Stellar sophomore campaign. Horrible third season, compiling 517 fewer yards and eight fewer touchdowns from an identical 151 targets. Year four, you tear your ACL. I don’t think you injured yourself on purpose to avoid spending another season racing downfield, chasing after hopelessly uncatchable passes from Blake Bortles, but I wouldn’t blame you. Whether Matt Trubisky will be a big upgrade is yet to be seen. You get a Mulligan, either way.

While we’re on the topic of guys who don’t get looks inside the red zone, let’s talk about Tyreek Hill. Hill was 22nd among WR in targets last season with 105, but 168 WR/RB/TE saw more red zone targets then the paltry four Hill received. He became the only WR since 2000 to post a top 10 fantasy WR season while receiving fewer than 20% of his team’s targets and fewer than 10% (way fewer) of his team’s red zone targets. Targets are one of the most important factors in WR success and Hill maximized his targets last season unlike anyone has in 17 years. It will be asking a lot for a repeat performance.

Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are so linked, their ADP’s are a virtually identical 28.27 and 28.31 respectively. Adam is a volume guy  and Diggs is considered more explosive. The Vikings are waiting for Diggs to blow up, but he tends to collect minor injuries. When completely healthy, which is a major caveat, he has top five WR talent. He’s really ideal in a optimum lineup format so you can get his big games and miss his weaker efforts.

Larry Fitzgerald is back for another season and should see plenty of looks. The talent around him is improved and there’s no reason not to expect another 100 catch, 1100 yard, six TD season from him.

Jarvis Landry is a possession receiver in a far different situation. His 400 catches in his first four seasons shattered the previous record of 342 by Anquan Bolden. Unfortunately, Landry only amassed 4038 yards across all those receptions and that 10.1 YPR is inferior to a number of tight ends and a handful of running backs. Cleveland claims they will use him outside more after spending nearly all of his snaps in Miami in the slot. Also, Cleveland. I’m unlikely to own him this year.

Sticking with possession guys, Golden Tate is one of my favorite WR in the NFL. I really wanted the Broncos to sign him in 2014, but I was satisfied when we signed Emmanuel Sanders instead. Tate is extraordinarily efficient, annually ranking among the leaders in catch rate and yards after the catch. Tough, hardnosed dude who plays through injuries and still performs. People are worried because rising star Kenny Golladay saw the field over Tate in some two WR sets, but the Lions utilize two WR less than 20% of the time. Not an issue, IMO.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is a guy I’ve written about a lot this summer. Strong, ruggedly built and competitive. He left a large body of impressive work @ USC. Really amazing value for Pittsburgh last April. Stellar catch rate and when Antonio Brown was out of the lineup from Weeks 15-17, Smith-Schuster threw out a 21/332/2 receiving line and added a 96 yard kickoff return touchdown. No WR in the NFL posted better numbers during that stretch.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both outstanding value this season with ADP’s of roughly 40 and 70, respectively. I’m a big believer in both of them. I also like Courtland Sutton in the end game and I think he will get a good number of looks this season.

Amari Cooper just didn’t look very good last season. His catch rate was an abysmal even coin flip. He has the fourth worst drop rate in the NFL over the last three seasons @ 13.62%. From Scott Barrett of PFF: “Cooper led the league in drops (18) and drop rate (20.0 percent) in his rookie season (2015), but then seemed to get past the issue in 2016, dropping only four passes. In 2017, Cooper again led the league in drop rate (17.2 percent). Not only are these numbers bad, but they’re historically bad. Since 2007, there have only been three players to see at least 100 targets and post a drop rate of 17 percent or worse: Braylon Edwards (2007 and 2008), Greg Little (2011) and Cooper (2015 and 2017).” Yikes!

Josh Gordon  has Julio Jones level talent. It’s crazy to depend on him, but equally crazy not to get a share or two if the discount seems right and you have a strong WR1 locked up. Let your tolerance for risk aversion be your guide. Gordon is pretty much the epitome of high risk/high reward.

Brandin Cooks has benefitted from having Drew Brees and Tom Brady as his quarterbacks and he’s got another pretty good one in Jared Goff. Hard to believe he’s on his third team in five years because he’s been undeniably productive. The Rams gave him a lot of money and I expect him to maintain a solid target rate.

Marvin Jones is one of the top deep threats in the NFL. People are expecting regression from the nine touchdown receptions, but he led the league in YPC with an even 18 yards a grab. One caveat is Jones saw decreased target share and production when Kenny Golladay was healthy and Golladay figures to play way more snaps this season. If you’re reading between the lines in this and Tate’s writeups, you’re picking up that Kenny Golladay is a major breakout candidate in 2018.

Cooper Kupp was one of my favorite players to own last season. Projected by many to be the most plug and play receiver in the last draft, Kupp lived up to that billing by playing like a veteran from day one. One surprise, was he got 23 red zone looks, tied for third in the NFL. That isn’t certain to repeat, but Brandin Cooks is not a red zone guy and the Rams tight ends are minimally involved, so Kupp and Robert Woods might divvy them up more evenly this season. Woods only had nine last year. Woods is dependable, but he’s been a very low ceiling wideout throughout his career.

Michael Crabtree was bad last season. His YPC was at a career low and he posted his worst catch rate in seven years. He still managed to find the end zone eight times last season and touchdowns have generally driven his fantasy value. He has always produced solid numbers when he sees enough volume and nobody vacated more targets than Baltimore last season. Obviously, having Joe Flacco throwing to him is not an exciting prospect. The Ravens also brought in John Brown and Willie Snead and drafted two tight ends, so the whole offense is kind of up in the air.

Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan figure to vacuum up the large number of vacated targets from last season. Edelman is 32, coming off a knee injury and he’ll miss four games. He will provide Jarvis Landy like numbers when healthy. Hogan seems kind of overrated. He has never played a full season and seems like a bit of an injury magnet. There are several WR in his ADP range that I prefer.

We might as well stick with guys I’m not crazy about at their current ADP. Alshon Jeffery is one. His catch rate has declined five straight years and bottomed out @ 47.5% last year. Nelson Agholor, who doesn’t excite me, either, managed a career best 65.3% with the supremely accurate Carson Wentz, so it’s a problem. Also, Wentz does a tremendous job of spreading around the offense. I’m not high on any Eagles WR this year.

Sammy Watkins has pretty consistently underperformed his draft position, both real and fantasy, for most of his career. Watkins seems like a guy who sees his performance markedly diminish when he’s playing through injuries and he has had his share. I never draft him and I won’t again this season.

Okay, back to guys I’m likely to draft this year.

Marquise Goodwin is the WR to own in San Francisco. Arguably the fastest man in the NFL, he blossomed the second Jimmy Garoppolo took the field. He’s a guy you want to own and he’s being underdrafted even in sharp leagues. He’s being drafted in the same range as 32 year old, coming off a bad neck Pierre Garcon and that’s nuts.

Corey Davis is a bit of a gamble, but he’s a good gamble to take. The Titans picked him fifth overall because they absolutely loved him. He came to camp last year with a balky hamstring and it plagued him all year. He was super durable @ Western Michigan, so I hope this was an aberration. Tennessee’s offense could flourish this year with the switch from Mike Mularkey and Terry Robikie’s dated bullshit to hotshot OC and head coach in waiting Matt LaFleur’s schemes. After a couple seasons under Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur is ready to take over a Titans offense that has a lot of underutilized talent. They’ve been moving Davis around in camp because he’s equally adept on the outside or outmuscling defenders from the slot.

Chris Godwin is a great breakout candidate in his second season and I am trying to own him on every team. He was dynamite in the second half and simply prorating his numbers over a full year yields 68 catches and 1050 yards. Numbers he could easily surpass. Highly recommended. The Bucs say DeSean Jackson is still in their plans, but he’s a soon to be 32 year old deep threat who saw his YPC fall off badly last year and his targets are likely to drop off, too.

Will Fuller has been hurt a lot, but he and Deshaun Watson blew the league up while they were both healthy last year. In four games from weeks 4-7, they connected on seven touchdowns. Including scoring plays of 59, 48, 39 and 20 yards. Fuller has come to camp 20 pounds heavier, but he has retained his game breaking speed. Better option in standard scoring format than PPR.

Kenny Stills has consistently outplayed DaVante Parker and that should continue as the underachieving Parker is already nursing an injury. The Dolphins ae overloaded with slot guys as Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola and my little buddy, 5’6” slam dunk artist Jakeem Grant jockey for reps. The Dolphins insist Wilson can play outside and he becomes a bit more interesting if this is true. Wilson was a very efficient, but underused player in KC. He’s worth keeping on your radar.

Jamison Crowder was a popular pick last season and he killed his owners in the first six weeks. Injuries to Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed opened things up for him, but it concerns me how easily Gruden can lose him in the game plan. I’m leery of the entire Washington offense. Does anyone envision deep threat Paul Richardson and Alex Smith, both new to the team, will develop chemistry quickly, because I don’t.

Robby Anderson minus two games > all the other Jets receivers. He’s a baller and hopefully he’s smarter after his most recent brush with stupidity. Quincy Enunwa had a very promising 2016 season, but missed all of 2017 after undergoing surgery on his neck. He is back and appears healthy and he’s a pretty live sleeper.

Sterling Shepard is a nice young WR with excellent hands, but targets and red zone looks might be hard to come by with OBJ, Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram around. His quarterback is also borderline terrible.

Kelvin Benjamin is happier in Buffalo than he was in Carolina, but his situation is worse and I tend to steer away from poorly conditioned players because they tend to be injury prone. I won’t own him  unless the discount is severe.

Marquise Lee heads a young and vastly improved Jaguar receiving group. Lee is always on the injury list, but he still makes plays. Unfortunately, he has shown little knack for getting into the end zone. DeDe Westbrook is more dynamic, but I think Keelan Cole might be their best wideout in 2018. The UDFA is a total football junkie. He improved dramatically from month to month last season and really blew up down the stretch. He had a monstrous 16 catches for 393 yards in a three game stretch during weeks 13-15. Donte Moncrief has to be the oldest looking 24 year old in the NFL. I hope they don’t play him just because they’re paying him. DJ Chark is having a hard time even getting on the field.

Cameron Meredith had an outstanding season for Chicago in 2016, but missed last season with a blown ACL. He has soft hands and should gain Drew Brees trust quickly. Does Brees make players around him better? Consider that 32 year old Ted Ginn posted an absolutely stellar catch rate of 75.7% last season, which shattered his previous high of 60.2%, which he posted in his second year in the league. It’s their rookie Tre’Quan Smith who has really caught my eye. He had the second best catch rate in college football last season and he was particularly good on deep balls. He has been ridiculously wide open throughout camp with Taysom Hill and Tom Savage throwing to him. Future star in this league.

Mike Williams had a pretty TD catch the other day, but it came against scrubs. Tyrell Williams appears to be hanging onto his starting job for the time being. Mike is a breakout candidate, but I could see him busting, too.

John Ross, the other wildly overdrafted WR from his class is not blowing people away in Cincy, either.

Devin Funchess is the number one WR in Carolina by default, but he’s merely a placeholder for DJ Moore who has been everything the Panthers hoped for from the first WR off the board in April. He should make an immediate impact and Cam’s inaccuracy won’t faze him after the three year long Bad Ball Drill that was his college career with the wretched assortment of quarterbacks Maryland fielded.

Michael Gallup has the clearest path to 100 targets of any WR drafted this year. He’s looking really good so far. I like him better than Allen Hurns who profles much better as a sidekick than a number one receiver.

This is arguably the best rookie WR class since 2014 and half a dozen or more could make fantasy impact this season.  I’ve already mentioned Courtland Sutton, Tre’Quan Smith, DJ Moore and Jimmy Gallup. The extremely polished Anthony Miller and the electric Christian Kirk are both poised to begin their NFL careers as starters. Calvin Ridley is too refined and talented to sit for very long. For some stupid reason, the Falcons have him returning kickoffs. Dante Pettis was a dynamic three sport athlete and he’s having an excellent camp. He could be starting by mid-season. Lightning bug Keke Coutee is making a push for the starting slot receiver job in Houston. Finally, James Washington is a must own if you get Antonio Brown or Juju Smith-Schuster and probably not a bad addition regardless.

I think I need to wrap up the wideouts. I probably missed a couple guys and skipped a few others on purpose. If someone you’re interested in was passed over, let me know.

Tight Ends: I like to wait on tight ends, but I will select a high end option If he drops far enough. There’s no reason to pick one until round 7 or 8 in a 12 team league and you can wait even longer in 10 team leagues.

I will never own Rob Gronkowski at his late second round ADP. He has only posted back to back healthy seasons once and I’m too risk averse to take a tight end that high if I can’t count on him.

Travis Kelce slides into round four pretty frequently and the big knucklehead is one of the more consistent players in the NFL. I never go into a draft or auction looking for him, but I’m open to getting him if he slides.

Zach Ertz is productive, but like Gronk, I’m leery of using a premium pick on a tight end that gets hurt a lot. The presence of Dallas Goedert as a handcuff and partner in 12 personnel sets makes Ertz less daunting a proposition.

Evan Engram won’t be this cheap again for a while. People are offering a lot of uninformed speculation about him right now. First, the idea that he’ll be the forgotten man on offense with OBJ back and Barkley arriving. He could shed 20 targets from last season and still have enough opportunities to shine. I heard someone who should know better claim he has bad hands, which is very untrue. He posted a low catch rate for a tight end last season, but that was due to a mid-season slump. He kind of hit the wall, and simultaneously, the Giants season imploded. He was being targeted a lot because the scuffling Giants had few other options. The pressure from irate fans and the additional defensive attention definitely got to him, but he rebounded nicely down the stretch. I think Shepard will be the one losing targets and I see Engram as a top three TE at worst this season.

Jimmy Graham is going to be Aaron Rodgers red zone target this season and that doesn’t seem like it can fail, but literally no tight end has ever put up numbers with Rodgers except the much criticized Jermichael Finley? I have some mild trepidation.

Greg Olsen is back from injury and presumably ready to be a high target tight end who gets his touchdowns stolen by his quarterback once again. I said his backup Ian Thomas was the best tight end in this draft and the Panthers are utterly in love with him. Minimal fantasy value likely this year unless Olsen goes down again, though.

If you missed on these five, forget about tight ends for a few rounds. Let the one you pick be the one that falls to you at value.

Delanie Walker has been very consistent and a toe injury is probably going to depress his draft stock for a while. It doesn’t seem serious and it feels like a buying opportunity.

Kyle Rudolph’s a solid pass catcher and Kirk like his tight ends. He has to slide, though. He’s being valued off his never to be repeated 132 target 2016, so I’ve been passing on him this year.

Trey Burton is going off the board fairly high in sharp leagues as Matt Nagy is promising to make him the new Travis Kelce. Well worth picking and his floor is high as well as his ceiling.

David Njoku crushes the eyeball test as easily as he crushes the hearts of linebackers.

Another dropoff. Questions abound for the remaining tight ends.

Will Jordan Reed ever be healthy? Man, I wish, because he was a cheat code when at 100%. Doubt it, though.

Can George Kittle carve out a meaningful role in the 49er offense? A separated shoulder this summer is setting him behind, but it’s hard to picture Garrett Celek keeping a healthy Kittle off the field.

Will OJ Howard and Cameron Brate get in each other’s way all year? Possibly. But also possible that OJ won’t be this cheap again for a decade.

Will Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron get in each other’s way all year? Possibly, but I would draft Doyle if I had to pick one.

Can Tyler Eifert stay healthy this year? Hard to picture it, but he’s healthy at this moment in time. Tyler Kroft is waiting in the wings.

Can Hayden Hurst make an impact right away? IMO, he can and he will. Rookie TE’s tend to disappoint, but Hurst is a 25 year old rookie who looks extremely polished. The Ravens have been trying in vain to find a tight end since Todd Heap retired and they finally have one.

Will Mike Gesicki who is a freak athletically, contribute this season? I think it will happen for him in Miami, but maybe not right away.

Why won’t people let Ricky Seals-Jones take a piss? It doesn’t matter now. He’s the unquestioned starter in AZ and a decent breakout candidate.

Does post-post-post-hype sleeper Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally break out now that everybody has stopped expecting it?

There are a handful of other decent options. Austin Hooper, Jared Cook, Ben Watson and Charles Clay are all playable. Aim higher.

Defense/Special Teams: You don’t want to be the first owner to pick a defense is a pretty good rule of thumb. I would avoid picking the Jaguars in round 10, but if nobody has a defense by round 12, maybe it’s not the worst choice. But, don’t expect them to manhandle teams the way they did last season while playing a last place schedule. They caught about 2/3 of the teams they played last season in offensive disarray. They only played Deshaun Watson in the second half of his first game. They drew TJ Yates in the next Houston game. They got Jacoby Brissett twice; Flacco with no receivers and before Alex Collins took over @ RB; the Bengals with their O line in tatters; DeShone Kiser; they were swept by a Titans team that stumbled all season.

The Rams are a little cheaper and if Aaron Donald reports, maybe even a little better.

I would say if you can get the Vikings, Broncos, Chargers, Eagles, Ravens, Texans or Saints, you’re doing pretty good.

I think the Lions, Panthers, Bears, Titans, Bills and Falcons are solid plays, too.

People are drafting the Steelers like they still have Ryan Shazier. They’re still picking the Patriots who scored as many fantasy points as Dallas last season. I’m not touching these teams this year, nor the Seahawks.

You can play the schedule, too. I took the Steelers in a bunch of leagues last season because they played few competent offenses in their first 10 games or so. This season, their potential fantasy playoff slate is tough with the Patriots and Saints in weeks 15/16. Another reason to pass on them.

Kickers: Draft a kicker.

The difference between the top scoring fantasy kicker last year and the 10th highest was a mere 28 points. Justin Tucker, Stephen Gostkowski and Greg Zuerlein are probably the steadiest guys, but there’s no compelling reason to prioritize getting one or to pick your kicker with anything but your last or next to last pick. Look for guys in domes if possible.