Fitz on Fantasy: WRs and TEs to Dodge When Drafting
This is the last in a four-part series on players I’m targeting and players I’m avoiding in this month’s fantasy drafts.
Now it’s time to look at a few guys I’m fading at wide receiver and tight end. I don’t necessarily think these players will have poor seasons; I just don’t like them at their cost. (The ADP information here is provided by FantasyPros.com.)
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (WR10) Mea culpa: I actually did just draft Tyreek, but it was a unique set of circumstances. I had started RB-RB in a league that requires you to start six (!) receivers every week, and I wanted a big-play wideout to go with the boring possession guys I’d inevitably be drafting later. And Hill will make big plays. His sub-4.3 speed is lethal. All seven of his TD catches last year covered 30 or more yards, and nine of his receptions covered 40 or more yards. But that’s a tough act to repeat. Odds are that Hill won’t dial long distance quite as often this year, and the 5-10, 185-pound Hill hasn’t been used as a red-zone target very often.
Hill will have to develop chemistry with a new quarterback, the raw but rocket-armed Patrick Mahomes. Travis Kelce will get plenty of targets, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has talked about wanting to get RB Kareem Hunt more involved in the passing game, and WR Sammy Watkins is now aboard via free agency, so Hill faces target pressure. The Chiefs play three of their first five games against the Chargers, Broncos and Jaguars, all of whom had top-four pass defenses last season. I see Hill as a WR2 with high week-to-week volatility, not as a WR1.
Josh Gordon, Browns (WR22) This is a hero pick. This is a pick for fantasy owners who care about getting a reaction in the draft room. This is a pick for owners who’d rather look for a magic elixir than try to win at the margins.
Gordon enthusiasts are chasing his 2013 numbers: 14 games, 87 catches, 1,646 yards, nine touchdowns, 18.9 yards per catch. Since then he’s mostly been on suspension for substance-abuse violations. He’s played 10 games in the last four years. He has one touchdown in those 10 games and a catch rate of 46.7%. His numbers for those games, prorated over a full 16-game season, would work out to 67 catches for 1,021 yards – not bad, but not 2013 numbers either.
That magical 2013 season happened largely because the Browns had so little skill-position talent on the roster besides Gordon. The other starting wide receiver was Greg Little, who had 41 catches for 465 yards. Willis McGahee, playing in his final season, led the team in rushing with 377 rushing yards on an average of 2.7 yards per carry. This year’s Browns have Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb. They’re not going to force-feed Gordon the way they did five years ago.
The risk with Gordon is huge – another substance-abuse violation would end his season – and the potential reward isn’t as lucrative as the optimists would have you believe. I’m pulling for Gordon to stay clean and have a good season. I just don’t think it’s very sensible to take him in the early rounds of fantasy drafts.
Alshon Jeffery, Eagles (WR25) Avoiding players who aren’t starting the year healthy is generally good policy. Jeffery had offseason surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He hasn’t been able to take part in contact drills or preseason games, and his Week 1 availability remains unclear. Jeffery has a fairly extensive history of soft-tissue injuries, and he’s been suspended once for PED use. Weekly target counts for Jeffery could fluctuate with TE Zach Ertz and WRs Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace in the picture. I love Jeffery’s size and his vise-grip hands, but I don’t like him at this price when he’s not 100% healthy.
Will Fuller, Texans (WR29) Fuller had seven TD catches in the four games he played with Deshaun Watson, scoring on more than half of his receptions. The third-year receiver has stopwatch-melting speed, but the enthusiasm has gotten to be a bit much. Fuller had only two TD catches as a rookie on 47 receptions. At 6-0 and 180 pounds, he probably isn’t going to get a lot of looks in the red zone, and the presence of DeAndre Hopkins puts a tight lid on Fuller’s target potential. Fuller has only exceeded 60 yards in five of 24 games with the Texans. (The slightly built Fuller has missed eight games during his two years in Houston.)
Devin Funchess, Panthers (WR34) After two unproductive seasons, Funchess finally elevated his game last year and had 63 catches for 840 yards and eight touchdowns, finishing WR21 in fantasy scoring. But with Greg Olson out with a foot injury and Kelvin Benjamin traded to the Bills, Funchess was pretty much the only viable target Cam Newton had for much of the season other than Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. Now Olsen is back, and Carolina spent a first-round draft pick on Maryland’s D.J. Moore, who’s looked terrific so far. And McCaffrey is going to catch a lot of passes this year, it seems.
With the kind of receiver Funchess is (big and slow), it stands to reason that he’s going to be somewhat TD-dependent, and with so many capable pass catchers now on hand – not to mention Newton’s proclivity to run the ball into the end zone himself – Funchess might not have a very stable TD floor.
Devante Parker, Dolphins (WR42) Not even Linus would spend another night in the pumpkin patch waiting for Parker to show. First-round draft pedigree and an alluring combination of size (6-3, 209) and speed (4.45) bought Parker the patience of fantasy owners – to a point. There’s not much sand left in the top of that hourglass. Parker has eight TD catches in 42 career games and has never reached 750 receiving yards in a single season. Target-hog WR Jarvis Landry has left Miami, but Parker was reportedly having a mediocre training camp before breaking his finger, and now his status for Week 1 is uncertain. It’s time for us to MoveOn.org.
Calvin Ridley, Falcons (WR46) It’s funny how often wide receivers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft go into their rookie seasons with ADPs like Ridley’s, disappoint fantasy owners in Year One, and then go into Year Two with much lower ADPs. (Cincinnati’s John Ross is a perfect example.)
Rookie wideouts rarely hit the ground running (the Class of 2014 notwithstanding), and Ridley is stepping into the playpen of one of the biggest target hogs in the game. What do people think Ridley is going to do this year with Julio Jones dominating targets for the Falcons? Maybe 50 catches and 650 yards? There are so many better options with higher ADPs. I’d rather have Mike Wallace, whose ADP is WR82.
Geronimo Allison, Packers (WR71) A popular late-round target, Allison has a chance to be the third receiver for an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, which is appealing. But there had to be reasons why the Packers drafted three wide receivers. Maybe one of them is that Allison is a slow undrafted free agent who put up pedestrian numbers at the University of Illinois and whose best player comp according to PlayerProfiler.com is someone named Jaz Reynolds. There are better darts to throw in the late rounds of drafts. If your aim is true, don’t target Allison.
Zach Ertz, Eagles (TE3) Most fantasy owners see a “Big Three” at tight end this year: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Ertz. Maybe Ertz belongs at the top of the next tier rather than at the bottom of this one, because I’m straining to see the difference between Ertz and Delanie Walker apart from seven years of age and Ertz’s TD spike last year.
The Eagles have a pretty good group of wide receivers if everyone is healthy – Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace – and they also drafted Dallas Goedert, who might be the best pass-catching tight end in this year’s rookie class. It’s also worth noting that Ertz has had two concussions in the last three seasons, and both of them caused him to miss the following game.
Evan Engram, Giants (TE6) Scoffing at the notion that rookie tight ends never do much in fantasy football, Engram caught 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns last year. But Odell Beckham Jr. missed 12 games, and Sterling Shepard missed five. Beckham and Engram are healthy now, and the Giants just drafted an incredible pass-catching RB in Saquon Barkley. There should be no doubts about Engram’s talent after what he did last season, but the intramural target competition is likely to shrink Engram’s numbers.
Jordan Reed, Redskins (TE9) According to the website Sports Injury Predictor, Reed has sustained 21 different injuries since 2010, including six concussions and five hamstring injuries. He only started running again a month before the start of training camp after last year’s toe injury. Face it: He’s gonna get hurt again.
The talent and the upside here are attractive, no question, and a lot of people believe the price has been marked down to the point where the risk is worth it. After all, even if Reed gets hurt, you can pick up another tight end and at least get replacement value. Counterpoint: Replacement value at the TE position sucks. And because the pool of waiver-wire tight ends is always so thin, if you draft Reed, you’ll probably feel compelled to draft a second TE – a surcharge that has to be factored into the price. Essentially, you’ll be getting Ticketmastered at tight end.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins (TE22) The Dolphins have a flashing neon “vacancy” tight end and lost a bunch of targets when Jarvis Landry left for Cleveland. Enter Gesicki, a second-round pick from Penn State who crushed the Scouting Combine and has a look that says, “I got this.” But Gesicki’s average of 9.9 yards per catch last season (and he averaged under 10.0 YPC as a sophomore, too) indicates that there’s not as much big-play potential here as his timed speed suggests. And the conventional wisdom about rookie tight ends not offering much help in fantasy football is conventional for a reason: They’re almost always lousy investments. I’m not betting on Gesicki to shatter the rookie-TE paradigm.