The moral arc of the fantasy universe is chaotic, but it all bends toward balance. You can't have up without down. Dark without light. Ketchup without mustard. For every batch of sleepers, there are a corresponding number of players to avoid. And for every player that's being drafted too low, there are many who are being drafted too high.
I've always believed that you shouldn't be afraid to reach a little higher to get your guys. But there's a limit. If you are confident that a player can live up to or even exceed his ADP, it's okay to move a little early. These aren't those guys.
Allow me to pour cold water on your fantasy draft day dreams. You're welcome.
Last week in this space, I talked about Melvin Gordon being an under drafted option. In part, because Williams is being over drafted. I won’t rehash all the reasons I feel this way. You can read them here.
What I will say is that Williams’ continued stay in the early round of fantasy drafts has been the most baffling thing I can recall. Most fantasy enthusiasts have been upfront in saying his ADP doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yet his ADP still hasn’t taken the hit that many expected. Let that be a reminder that even if most of your league doesn’t like a certain player at a certain spot, it only takes one to draft a guy early.
The story of Akers’ 2021 season was summertime hype to in-season sadness after an Achilles injury translated to postseason puffery when he was able to return way ahead of schedule. Of course, that ended with a heaping helping of “meh” after Akers struggled running the football. This year, the hype has been much more muted but not enough to keep him from slipping past the third round in drafts. The problem? Sean McVay. Or maybe Darrell Henderson.
Or some combination of the two. All offseason, when asked about his running back situation, McVay always talked about Akers and Henderson in tandem. It fits with the coach’s previous statements that he had no plans to give anyone a Todd Gurley-like workload again. It’s been noted that the Rams were a fairly one-back team last year, but it also belies a running back room that had a lot of players who were varying degrees of banged up. Which might also be a good time to point out that Akers and Henderson have been varying degrees of banged up this offseason. Approach with caution.
Evans has been so steady during his career that we’ve started to take it for granted. Seventy catches, 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns? Yawn. He and Keenan Allen can shake hands as the guys with WR1 upside who no one gets excited about drafting anymore. In 2022, there might be a real reason.
As the Bucs offense has added pieces and been tweaked schematically, Evans’ role has accordingly shifted. Most notably, his average route depth. It’s been on a steady decline over the past few seasons -- going from 14.5 yards in 2018 to 11.7 yards last year. That's already worrisome for a guy who’s never put up enormous reception totals (he has just two career seasons with more than 80 receptions). It’s even more worrisome when you realize that the Bucs are going to have to mix and match along the offensive line. If Tom Brady doesn’t have much time to throw, will Evans’ yardage totals come down even more. In that case, his touchdown scoring prowess will be mandatory to maintain his overall fantasy production.
Every year, we say that touchdown regression is coming for Thielen. And every year, he gives us the proverbial finger on his way to another productive scoring year. But yeah …touchdown regression is coming. I don’t care if it makes me sound like a guy standing on a street corner warning that the world is ending. Because y’know what … one day that guy is gonna be right.
The biggest reason it could happen this year is because of a change in play-caller. Kevin O’Connell spread the ball around when he was helping to steer the ship in Los Angeles. It’s why astute fantasy managers (which is a nicer term than “degenerates”) have been hammering Irv Smith, Jr. and K.J. Osborn as sleepers this season. Knowing that Dalvin Cook still needs his touches, there won’t be an increase in passing volume. Those targets must come from somewhere and it’s not likely that Justin Jefferson is giving up too many opportunities. This could be the beginning of the end of Thielen as fantasy relevant.
Call it a case of selective amnesia or maybe I unknowingly had a mind wipe during the summer, but I was knocked slightly backward to see that Harris ran for 15 touchdowns last year. It’s a huge number by itself. It’s particularly meaty in an offense that was middle-of-the-road last year, scoring 48 touchdowns. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record (does anyone under the age of 35 understand that reference anymore?), regression is coming.
The biggest threat to Harris repeating last year’s numbers is The Rise of Rhamondre. There have been plenty of debates on the Interwebz about the relative value of Rhamondre Stevenson in fantasy drafts. While his ADP is up for debate, there’s little argument that Stevenson will have a substantial role in the offense – one that could include goal line work. For what it’s worth, the Patriots have added a little bit to their receiving corps. Granted, the bar for improvement was set nearly underground after the past couple of seasons. But it could mean slightly greater passing volume, which would also work against Harris.
I haven’t been able to bring myself to get on board with Cooper ever since he left Dallas. Upon his arrival in Cleveland, Baker Mayfield was still the quarterback of record. Mayfield’s history didn’t inspire much confidence in Cooper being the same player he was with the Cowboys. On the surface, Deshaun Watson’s arrival should have been reason for optimism. But it was apparent from the beginning that Watson was going to serve some type of suspension. It was just a matter of how long. I was partially out when it looked like the ban would be six games. I’m totally out at 11 games.
Jacoby Brissett might be a decent bridge quarterback in real life. Though I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary. But he’s done very little to elevate his receivers in fantasy. In two seasons as a full-time starter, Brissett’s most productive option was a 28-year-old T.Y. Hilton … who finished an unremarkable 24th among receivers. That was on a team with an underwhelming run game led by Frank Gore. This year, Brissett might be throwing to a 28-year-old Cooper, but he also has Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to lean on in the backfield. That means I’m taking a pass on any Cleveland pass catchers.
We all love shiny new things in fantasy football – especially rookies. We love rookies even more when they land in spots that look favorable on the surface. Hence why Cook is a deep league fantasy favorite. He joins one of the most high-powered attacks in the league. He’s part of a backfield that has never committed fully to one running back (pour one out for Devin Singletary).
But the problem with an offense that has never committed to one running back is, well … it's not going to commit to one running back. Singletary isn’t fully going away. His strong stretch late last season proved he can handle a substantial workload if needed. Cook’s upside comes as a pass catcher, but can he garner enough targets to have standalone value? Not to mention that Zack Moss is still lurking. Moss won’t get enough touches to be fantasy relevant, but he could do enough to wreck someone else’s value. Oh, by the way, even if Josh Allen runs less this year, he could still take enough goal line work to create headaches for anyone drafting a Bills running back.
Go back and look at the list of the top 10 fantasy receivers from last season. If you need musical accompaniment, I’d suggest The Muppets classic “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other." It won’t take you long to figure out which name doesn't fit in that category. Renfrow had almost as many targets last year (128) as he did in his first two seasons combined (148). But that was mainly out of necessity. Injuries had Darren Waller in and out of the lineup. Henry Ruggs was let go after a horrific accident. Bryan Edwards underwhelmed, and Zay Jones was Zay Jones.
This year, the Raiders shouldn’t be in such dire straits when it comes to targets. Not sure if you heard, but they added Davante Adams in the offseason. Waller is looking healthy and ready to go. That alone makes it hard for Renfrow to get back to 100 targets. Las Vegas also added noted pass-catching running back Brandon Bolden to the mix, which means some cheap targets could go his way, as well. Renfrow’s not a deep threat and not likely to pick up yardage in chunks. That could relegate him potentially to the ranks of WR3s in 2022. It is likely also to affect …
The preseason started with a bit of shock and awe for Jacobs. Shock that he got so much run in Vegas’ first preseason game. And a bit of “aww … maybe we should avoid drafting him?” The Raiders have held firm that they have no plans to trade Jacobs. But that doesn’t mean that they plan to feature him, either.
As mentioned previously, the addition of Bolden gives the Raiders a running back that can catch passes out of the backfield. It’s how they would have preferred to use Kenyan Drake last year, had he not missed five games. It seems pretty unlikely that Jacobs will get back to the career-high 64 targets he had last season. That would be OK if we could lean on his ability as a runner. But he was incredibly inefficient with his 217 carries last year and now has rookie Zamir White looking over his shoulder to take some opportunities. Jacobs has landed squarely in the dreaded “RB Dead Zone” and still feels unattractive at that spot, as well.
I believed in Sanders from the moment he was drafted and wanted him to be a workhorse in Philly. But eventually, you have to listen to what the team is telling you. And the Eagles have told us loud and clear that they don’t feel the same way. Then to compound matters, Sanders pointedly told fantasy managers not to draft him. I never want it to be said that I didn’t respect the man’s wishes.
But seriously, Sanders' usage has declined consistently over his three NFL seasons. Add to it that he hasn’t been the most durable back, missing a combined nine games over the past two years. His ADP feels like a reflection of fantasy managers making panic picks to fill running back slots rather than an actual assessment of what his production could be this year. If I’m going to target an Eagles running back, I’ll take my shot at Kenneth Gainwell much later in the draft.
I’m not sure who’s going to be more upset with me when they read this – Jets Twitter or Dynasty Fantasy Twitter. Everyone loves Breece Hall. See my above comment about shiny new things. I want to love Breece Hall. If I was deeper in the dynasty streets, I might love Breece Hall more. But this year, I can’t love Breece Hall. At least not at the spot I’d have to draft him in order to get him. Before you get too twisted up, this isn’t some sort of love letter for Michael Carter (though I do think he’s a good back). I don’t have a strong opinion on whether he will – or should be – the starter this year.
But I do know that he’s not going anywhere. He played admirably last season for the Jets. Even with a new coaching staff in place, it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to become persona non grata. So, Hall managers will already have to deal with that headache. Then there’s the issue of the Jets offense itself. 2022 has brought optimism from fantasy enthusiasts that New York could be better this year. Maybe. But this team isn’t projected to win a lot of games. Game script could be a factor. Hall has pass-catching ability, but how many targets will be available – especially with fellow rookie Garrett Wilson offering a tantalizing option in the passing game. Hall as more than a third running back feels mighty optimistic.
Last season, I faded Swift and lived to regret it. This season, I’m fading Swift … at cost. I could end up feeling silly again this year, but I’ll contend that my argument is different. Last year, I thought Swift would get game-scripted out of opportunities. Instead, he saw way more targets than I anticipated and had an excellent season. This year, I don’t think game script is going to impact Swift’s snap share. Instead, I wonder if there will be enough targets to go around in the Lions offense. OK, maybe my argument isn’t so different this year.
Hear me out. Amon-Ra St. Brown was a mid-season revelation last year and figures to keep a large share of the targets. T.J. Hockenson is healthy again and will be involved. D.J. Chark is a new addition to the offense and should see his fair share of targets on the outside. Finally, we expect rookie Jameson Williams to arrive sometime later this season. Lest we forget, Jared Goff is still the quarterback of an offense that was middle-of-the-road in passing volume last year. This aerial attack probably will only support two pass catchers at most. If Swift isn’t gobbling up targets, it’s hard to see him making up the difference with his rushing work. I look forward to once again being proven wrong.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who can't get the Hot Dog Song out of his head. Send him your latest earworm or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.