Fitz on Fantasy: QBs and RBs to Dodge When Drafting
The running joke is that fantasy football is easy when you pick the right players. But I think fantasy drafts are less about trying to pick the right players than trying to avoid the wrong players. Matt Kelley of PlayerProfiler.com used a golf analogy to express this on my podcast this week: You don’t have to knock down pins with every pick. You just have to keep your ball out of hazards.
Earlier this week I took a look at some of my favorite targets in fantasy drafts – first QBs and RBs, then WRs and TEs. Now I’ll discuss some of the players I’m avoiding in drafts this year, starting with QBs and RBs. I don’t necessarily think these players will have poor seasons; I just don’t like them at their current cost. (The ADP information here is provided by FantasyPros.com.)
Deshaun Watson, Texans (QB2) The QB position is deep this year. I can’t remember a year in which it was deeper, and I was playing this stupid game back when Nirvana released “Nevermind.” That positional depth is just one of the reasons it would be crazy to take Watson in the fourth round, which is where he’s typically going in drafts. (His overall ADP is 40.)
Watson went berserk in his six starts last year, with 18 TD passes and a pair of TD runs. He averaged 266 passing yards and 42 rushing yards per start, the last of which was a 402-yard, four-TD game against the Seahawks. We know that Watson’s otherworldly 9.3% TD rate is going to float back down to more terrestrial levels. (To put that number into perspective, Aaron Rodgers has a career TD rate of 6.4%.) Watson has now torn both of his ACLs, his offensive line isn’t good, and he might not play in a lot of shootouts now that J.J. Watt is back and the Houston defense is in better shape. At Watson’s current price, he’d have to go bonkers again to return a profit for you. Let someone else draft him early.
Carson Wentz, Eagles (QB7) It’s hard to knock a guy who has “next Aaron Rodgers” in his range of career outcomes. Wentz is terrific, and Eagles fans are lucky to have him. But last year’s 7.5% TD rate is destined to slip, and – here’s the deal-breaker for me – it was less than nine months ago that Wentz tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee. We still don’t know whether Wentz will play in Week 1. Even if he does, reduced mobility could compromise his ability to buy time to make high-value throws downfield.
Jared Goff, Rams (QB14) It’s silly to get too hung up on what a player’s game scripts might look like in the season ahead. The margin of error on those types of predictions is wide. (It’s more a chasm of error.) That said, the Rams could field an amazing defense this year if they can coax holdout DT Aaron Donald back into the fold. The CB tandem of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib figures to be stifling, and Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers should raise plenty of hell up front. If opponents can’t put up points on the Rams, Goff isn’t going be throwing as often as other starting quarterbacks.
Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar has noted that eight of Goff’s 28 TD passes last season came on passes completed behind the line of scrimmage – pretty fluky stuff. Also, the rest of the league now has a season’s worth of tape on the new-and-improved version of Goff. A lot of drafters are going to get too enamored with Goff’s 2017 numbers, but there could be some recoil.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (QB17) Prescott finished QB6 in fantasy scoring in 2016 and got off to a fast start last year, but then the Ezekiel Elliott suspension finally kicked in, stud left tackle Tyron Smith got hurt, and the Dallas passing game went kerflooey. Zeke is back and Smith is healthy, but Dallas is woefully short on pass-catching talent. The Cowboys’ modus operandi will be to run the ball often and play at a slow pace. Prescott simply isn’t positioned to be a QB1 in fantasy this year.
Tyrod Taylor (QB22) Tyrod has long been an underrated quarterback, and he has a pretty good supporting cast in Cleveland. What I don’t like about him are his chances of holding off No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield, no matter how much vape smoke Browns head coach Hue Jackson is blowing about Taylor starting for the entire season. Whatever over/under number Vegas is setting on the number of games Tyrod starts this year, put me down for $200 on the under.
Kareem Hunt, Chiefs (RB8) I’m not pulling any fire alarms here. I’d happily take Hunt at pick 1.11 or 1.12. But he’s typically coming off the board in the 1.08-1.10 range. I’d take Melvin Gordon, Odell Beckham and (maybe) DeAndre Hopkins ahead of Hunt (and if I took Beckham or Hopkins, I’d probably take the best available running back in the second round).
Hunt went nine consecutive games without a touchdown last season in a drought that lasted from early October to early December. If he had been a little more productive in the middle of the season, we’d probably be viewing him as a top-five pick. A season-ending injury to Spencer Ware last season ensured major volume for Hunt, but now Ware is back, and the versatile Damien Williams is on hand, too. And you know there will be a handful of games where Chiefs head coach Andy Reid drives Hunt owners insane by completely abandoning the running game.
Jordan Howard, Bears (RB13) Howard catches passes like a man wearing oven mitts. Naturally, new Bears head coach Matt Nagy is talking up Howard’s pass catching and his ability to be a three-down contributor, but it’s hard to take such talk seriously if you’ve seen some of his 14 drops over the past seasons. Howard’s yardage per carry and rushing success rate (a useful Football Outsiders metric) both fell off from 2015 to 2016. Howard is an above-average runner, and I might be fretting unnecessarily about his 2018 outlook, but I don’t know if he’ll be a good fit for a Nagy-designed offense. Nagy is an Andy Reid disciple, and Reid’s system has always favored versatile run-catch backs. I don’t want to invest significant draft capital in a player when I don’t have a decent idea of what his season is going to look like.
LeSean McCoy, Bills (RB14) The red flags are flapping like a stiff wind off Lake Erie. The Bills have lost three quality starters on the offensive line: Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. They’re likely going to be starting a rookie quarterback for most of the season, which means they’ve basically sent an evite to NFL safeties, asking them to come to the eight-man-box party.
And then there’s the really troublesome stuff. McCoy’s former girlfriend has filed a personal injury lawsuit against him, and police in Milton, Georgia, are investigating an alleged home invasion in which McCoy’s ex was attacked. A friend of McCoy’s girlfriend posted a graphic photo on Instagram showing the victim’s facial injuries and accusing McCoy of domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse. Even if McCoy isn’t disciplined, he might be hard-pressed to return RB14 value in such an oxygen-deprived offensive ecosystem. With the legal storm clouds on the horizon, I’m sheltering in place.
Derrick Henry, Titans (RB18) Henry finished RB25 in fantasy scoring last year while sharing work with DeMarco Murray. Now he’s going to share work with Dion Lewis, who’s probably better than 2017 Murray, yet Henry has a top-20 ADP. Granted, the 6-3, 247-pound Henry offers some attractive TD upside in an offense that should become more prolific under new coordinator Matt LaFleur, but Henry’s ADP still seems overly optimistic.
Lamar Miller, Texans (RB21) I’m fine with Miller’s positional ADP, but he’s typically coming off the board in the latter part of the fourth round, and at that point I’ll be drafting around him. His rushing efficiency has been on a two-year slide, and the Texans’ mediocre offensive line might not help him reverse the tailspin. D’onta Foreman will probably start the season on the PUP list after tearing his Achilles’ last year, but he’s expected back at some point to challenge for work, and Alfred Blue outcarried Miller over the Texans’ final three games of 2017.
Ronald Jones, Buccaneers (RB25) The rookie from USC has shown poorly in training camp, according to reports, and now finds himself behind Peyton Barber on the depth chart. It’s not as if Jones has a passing-down role to fall back on. He didn’t catch many passes in college, and Buccaneers RB coach Tim Spencer just openly questioned Jones’ pass-catching ability. Jones is only 205 pounds, yet he isn’t especially fast (4.54 speed) for a smaller back. Maybe Jones will find his sea legs and have a productive rookie season, but it appears that RoJo may have been a second-round reach for the Buccaneers, and his ADP of RB25 makes him look like a reach in fantasy drafts.
Marlon Mack, Colts (RB33) The Colts’ backfield is murkier than a Scottish bog. Mack opened with the first team in the Colts’ preseason debut, but he promptly strained his hamstring and hasn’t returned yet. Mack has a bad habit of trying to bounce runs outside – a big reason why a third of his carries went for zero or negative yardage last season. After outsnapping Frank Gore in Weeks 7-8 last year, Mack was barely playing a quarter of the Colts’ offensive snaps by the end of the season, even though Indy was out of the playoff hunt and had nothing to lose by giving Mack an extended audition. Now he’ll be pressed for playing time by two rookies – Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins – and possibly by Robert Turbin and/or Christine Michael. Mack’s ADP assumes substantial playing time, and I’m just not ready to make that assumption.
Devontae Booker (RB43) To buy into Booker at his ADP, you’d have to think that he has a chance to share early-down work with rookie Royce Freeman, and I’m not sure I like those odds. Booker has averaged 3.6 yards per carry over his first two seasons and has scored six touchdown in 29 games. He’s a competent receiver and pass blocker, so there’s a good chance he’ll get snaps on passing downs. I just think RB43 is too expensive for a passing-down back unless he has the track record of, say, Duke Johnson or James White.
Kenneth Dixon (RB66) Stop the ride. I want to get off. Dixon looked good in the Ravens’ second preseason game, but after having my heart broken by injuries and a PED suspension, I have become immune to his siren song. There’s too much competition in the Baltimore backfield, with Alex Collins the incumbent starter and Buck Allen the pass-catching back. It would probably take an injury to Collins or Allen for Dixon to get any sort of foothold in the Ravens’ offense, and Dixon has had trouble staying healthy himself, missing all of 2017 with a torn meniscus.