In August 1952, the first edition of Mad magazine hit the stands
with its “cover boy” Alfred E. Neuman proclaiming “What
me worry?” It was more of a statement, than a question, saying
he was not concerned about what other people thought as he was confident,
composed and self-assured.
It also could be referencing a fantasy owner who is confident
in his thinking when he selects an early-round player with flaws
(even if they are very, very tiny flaws). Because we all know
you don’t usually win a championship in the first few rounds,
but you can lose it if your key player comes up small.
There are primarily four reasons an early-round selection can
fail you; 1) Injuries; 2) reduction in usage percentage; 3) undefined
or changing role and 4) “career-year” syndrome.
Let’s analyze players in each of these categories.
McCaffrey (ADP 2.0) has played just 10 of 33 games the past two
season and was not available in any of the last two fantasy playoffs.
Yet he remains an elite player when he’s on the field with a career
average of 22.4 FPts/G over 58 games. That’s higher than what
produced last season in leading all running backs. Back in June
I wrote an entire piece on where
to draft CMC which may help you out.
Barkley is a different story. He was a superstar rookie (24 FPts/G),
a solid performer in season two (18.8), then fell off the proverbial
cliff the past two season averaging 7.7 and 11.6 points. He’s
now two years removed from a torn ACL, but also missed four weeks
with a sprained ankle last year and was hampered even when he
returned in Week 11. Can he become the healthy Barkley of old?
Probably not and his ADP reflects that (21.3). But with a new
head coach and offensive mind in Brian Daboll (former OC in Buffalo)
and an improved OL, he could become a low-end RB1/high RB2 and
the end-of-the-second-round is a fair price to pay.
In 2020 while in a three-way RBBC with Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram,
rookie J.K. Dobbins (ADP 40.3) was the best of the trio (averaging
6.0 ypc for 805 yards and nine touchdowns). In 2022, Dobbins (coming
off a lost 2021 season due to a preseason ACL injury) is expected
to be the No. 1 guy in a backfield with Edwards, again, and Mike Davis. As I write this, there is a war of words between reporter
Ian Rapoport and Dobbins over whether he will be ready for Week
1 (Dobbins says yes) versus “expected to start the season
on the PUP list” (Rapoport). I tend to believe the player
on this one. But Dobbins still has to deal with the other veteran
running backs and a quarterback who vultures short rushing touchdowns.
As the 21st running back off the board, he’d be someone’s
second running back starter and that’s concerning.
Chris Godwin (ADP 59.7) tore an ACL in Week 15 last season and
will almost certainly not be ready for Opening Day. With a long-term
contract in his pocket, it is in the best interest of both the
player and the team to be conservative about his return. And even
when he gets back on the field, you shouldn’t expect vintage
Godwin until 2023. But, he could be of value later in the season
and into the fantasy playoffs when it will have been a year since
the injury. And, of course, because Tom Brady likes to throw to
a guy with reliable hands and Godwin certainly has them. As the
22nd wideout off the board, owners are being a bit too positive
about his return value and I recommend waiting until later (if
he lasts) or passing on him unless you can get him for WR3 value.
Michael Thomas (ADP 66.7) may have the longest-running ankle
injury in NFL history. He was horrible for seven games in 2020
(12 FPts/G after averaging 23.4 in 2019) and didn’t play
a down in 2021. We saw an encouraging 30-second clip of Thomas
this spring, but until we see him actually on the field in a preseason
game doing what Thomas can do, he’s a huge question mark.
Also, for your consideration, his quarterback is no longer Hall
of Famer Drew Brees, but Jameis Winston. Winston is a capable
quarterback, but the offense isn’t as prolific as under
Brees. I’d be happy to pay the price, and even a little
more, if I see Thomas running and cutting well in a preseason
game, but if you are drafting in July, it’s a tough decision.
If you have already drafted two good receivers and he’s
your No. 3 then it’s probably worth the gamble.
Usage Percentage –
(ADP 11) is an elite talent, but was his value inflated by being
thrown passes by future Hall of Famer Aaron
Rodgers? Probably, but that’s being discounted by his being
the fourth wideout off the board behind Cooper
Jefferson and Ja’Marr
Chase after finishing second and first at the position the
past two seasons. Also, he’ll have to share his targets with two
really good pass-catchers in wideout Hunter
Renfrow and tight end Darren
Waller. He had no competition for targets last season when
he saw 169 targets and the next highest totals were running back
(65) and wideout Allen
Lazard (60). It’s been five seasons since Adams had to share
targets equally (2017 he had 117, Randall
Cobb 92 and Jordy Nelson 88) and he only averaged 15.9 FPts/G
that season. In Las Vegas Renfrow led the team with 128 targets
and Waller had 93 while playing in just 11 games. Can Adams “play
well with others?” Can Derek
Carr keep all three happy? I’m positive Carr will make sure
his old college teammate gets his fair share, but he may not be
able to feed him “Rodgers-style.” I would prefer Stefon
Diggs (ADP 13) over Adams in 2022.
Speaking of Jones (ADP 20), the Packers’ talented back
disappointed fantasy owners in 2021 as his production fell from
18.5 FPts/G in 2020 to 15.4. He had four single-digit games which
is a pretty difficult accomplishment for a guy with his catching
ability. His rushing attempts have fallen from a high of 236 in
2019 to just 171 last season while his receptions stayed relatively
the same (52 in 2021, 47 in 2020 and 49 in 2019). Meanwhile, 2020
second-round pick AJ Dillon saw 187 carries last season and averaged
11.0 FPts/G. That’s concerning, as I think the Packers have
frequently decided to “save” Jones wear-and tear during
the regular season in preparation for the playoff run. That’s
good thinking for the team, but devastating for fantasy owners.
I’m passing on Jones at this price point.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (ADP 74) has been getting a lot of attention
and hype since finishing the 2021 season on a roll. He averaged
24.9 FPts/G from Week 13 through the end of the season on 11.2
targets per game. Kupp averaged 25.7 FPts/G to lead all of the
NFL. St. Brown has risen from the 40th wideout off the board to
the 31st just over the past three weeks. But beware, he had little-to-no
competition for those targets last season. Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Josh Reynolds twice and Shane Zylstra posted the second-highest
wide receiver target totals during St. Brown’s hot streak.
Barring injuries, the wide receiver room is much more talented
in 2022. D.J. Chark (who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019) was
signed away from Jacksonville and the team spent a top draft pick
on Jameson Williams out of Alabama. Reynolds is still around and
running back D’Andre Swift is a factor in the passing game
with 78 targets last season, up from 57 in 2020. I’m expecting
St. Brown to see a significant drop in his target share, not at
first, but when Williams returns from his ACL injury. St. Brown
may be worth the price for the first half of the season, but if
you draft him, be prepared to jettison him before the mid-point
of the fantasy season before his value takes a big hit.
Undefined or changing role –
Deebo Samuel (ADP 19.3) had a breakout season and was the No.
3 receiver in the NFL producing 338 fantasy points. But he was
also used as the primary running back for the back part of the
season as the 49ers made their playoff run. He was forced into
the role when San Francisco was dealing with massive injuries
to the running back room. So what will Samuel’s role be
if all the running backs stay healthy? Will he return to the outside
and stay there? That’s a lot safer, health-wise, but what
would that do to his fantasy production? And what of the talk
that he wanted out of San Francisco? He’ll be a UFA in 2023
and is currently extremely underpaid at under $5 million? Could
he be traded? Those are a lot of questions for your late second-round
selection. You could probably have Tyreek Hill (who also has some
questions) or a reliable option like Mike Evans. I think I’d
take Mr. Evans before Samuel.
Patterson (82.3), like Samuel, was a wide receiver playing
running back. After never averaging more than 9.4 fantasy points
in any season and averaging just 2.9 FPts/G from 2019-2020, he
produced 14.7 points a game in a dual running back/wide receiver
role in 2021. But the Falcons were forced into playing him in
the backfield when free agent signee Mike
Davis turned out to be a bust (138-503-3). This off-season
Atlanta added Tyler
Allgeier in the draft and signed veteran Damien
Williams. Williams didn’t do much in Chicago, but previously
ran well for Andy Reid in Kansas City. Meanwhile, Allgeier rushed
for 1,600 yards and 23 touchdowns at BYU. The Falcons might be
short-handed in the receiver room with Russell
Gage in Tampa Bay and Calvin
Ridley suspended so they may use Patterson more at wideout.
This could reduce his value.
Career Year Syndrome –
It wasn’t James Conner’s (ADP 32) best season, but
his 17.2 FPts/G was his best since 2018. What makes me worry is
how touchdown-dependent his 2021 season was statistically. His
rushing yardage wasn’t particularly good (a career-worst
3.7 ypc), but he got into the end zone 15 times running and three
more times through the air. That’s 41.9% of his fantasy
points from touchdowns. Over his first four seasons (all in Pittsburgh)
he averaged 25.7% of his points by reaching the end zone. Darrel Williams (formerly of Kansas City) was also efficient in getting
into the end zone scoring six times on 14 attempts from inside
the 5-yard line. Any loss of Conner’s red zone carries (he
scored 10 times on 16 attempts from inside the 5-yard line) could
have a huge effect on his point totals and therefore fantasy value.
Damien Harris, like Conner, was a monster when close to the goal
line. He scored nine times on 14 attempts inside the 5-yard line
and 15 times in total. He’s not part of the Patriots’
passing game (18 receptions for 132 yards) so like Conner is touchdown
dependent as 42% of his points came on scored. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson proved to be a talented runner (4.6 ypc) and could take
rushing opportunities away from Harris, so beware of taking Harris
at his current price (ADP 63.7) because you know how fickle Bill
Belichick is with running backs.
OK calm down everyone, I’m not saying Cooper
Kupp (ADP 5.3) sucks or anything like that, I’m just saying
he had a “career year” where everything went right and he stayed
healthy for 17 games. He saw the most targets inside the 20-yard
line in the league (37), had the most receptions (26) and caught
the most touchdowns (13). Robert
Woods got injured halfway through the season, Odell
Beckham Jr. played half a season (they had a combined 117
targets) and Stafford fed a healthy Kupp early and often (league-high
191 targets for 145 receptions, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns).
Could he repeat those numbers? Yes. Will he repeat those numbers?
Probably not. That’s why it’s called a “career-year.” The Rams
Robinson in the off-season and third receiver Van
Jefferson took a big jump forward (50-802-6). And who knows?
Maybe free agent OBJ will return to the Rams when he’s healthy.
Meanwhile, the Rams get a healthy Cam
Akers back and he along with Darrell
Henderson might get more run at the expense of the passing
game. It’s not inconceivable that Jefferson or Chase or Diggs
produce more than Kupp in 2022.