Four Downs – August 21st: Fantasy Football Observations Before Draft Day

For those of you like me with a flurry of fantasy football league drafts starting this week, it’s time to seriously get studying. A few weeks back I wrote a list of 30 players I liked or disliked but now it’s time to elaborate.

Unfortunately there will be no mention of Anquan Boldin, who I have repeatedly criticized the Cardinals for not signing. Well so much for that…Boldin retired Sunday after a brief stint in training camp with the Bills. In my mind, he’s certainly a player who deserves Hall-of-Fame consideration.

FIRST DOWN: Don’t believe the “experts” who advise waiting on the top QBs…Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are worth AT LEAST high 2nd round picks.

If you play in leagues where QBs achieve six points per passing touchdown, this is a no-brainer.

In his last three seasons (48 games), Rodgers has thrown for 12,630 combined yards and 109 touchdown passes. In that same time, he’s also run for nearly 1,000 combined yards and 7 TDs. It’s reasonable to expect another season of 4,200+ passing yards and 38 TDs…so why shouldn’t you give Rodgers serious consideration late in the 1st round of your drafts? Green Bay upgraded the tight end position by adding former Cowboy / Giant / Bear / Patriot Martellus Bennett and former Ram Lance Kendricks. His wide receivers are among the best in the league as a unit and the Packers’ primary RB, Ty Montgomery, is a converted wide receiver with excellent hands.

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Brady might very well have better offensive weapons with the additions of WR Brandin Cooks, RB Rex Burkhead (a pass-catching specialist), and TE Dwayne Allen, but his upside is more limited than Rodgers. The difference is…Brady’s floor is arguably higher than Rodgers’. A 4,200 yard season with 35 TDs seems like a virtual lock…unless New England crushes teams and rests Brady late in games / the season.

Most fantasy football “experts” advise waiting until at least the 3rd-4th round to draft one of these two players. If you’re looking for a distinct weekly advantage over your opponents, here’s a solution.

SECOND DOWN: Rookie running backs are your friends in 2017.

Depending on the size of your league, nearly 20 rookie running backs could be drafted in fantasy leagues this season. Here’s this guy’s ranking of a top-10:

1. Dalvin Cook (Vikings): My projected NFL Rookie of the Year. Has been super impressive in his first two preseason games. I’m higher on Cook than most but I have a strong gut feeling that I’ll be right. I’m not a Latavius Murray believer. Possible 3rd round pick with enormous upside!

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks

2. Christian McCaffery (Panthers): If you’re in a point-per-reception league and CMac gets the 15 touches per game Carolina is targeting, he’s definitely worthy of 3rd round consideration. Draft him without hesitation as your RB2.

3. Leonard Fournette (Jaguars): Competition Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon haven’t looked great (to say the least) in preseason games thus far. Despite an injury-prone 2016 season at LSU and a minor foot injury this preseason, I’m calling for an 8-10 rushing TD season for 2017’s #4 overall draft pick. 4th round candidate in fantasy leagues.

4. Joe Mixon (Bengals): His competition consists of plodder Jeremy Hill and the returning-from-major-knee-surgery Giovani Bernard. A 4th-5th round pick in PPR leagues with serious upside if he can control the starting job. Downgrade him a bit in standard leagues as he won’t score TDs all that often.

5. Kareem Hunt (Chiefs): The most notable exclusion to my preseason 30 fantasy list from several weeks back. Should be the primary ball-carrier in KC by midseason and his upside makes him an intriguing 6th-8th round selection in fantasy drafts.

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6. Samaje Perine (Redskins): I have to tap the brakes on this one a bit. I’ve been high on Perine since draft day but he has a ways to go to wrestle the ‘Skins starting RB job from Rob Kelley. It will happen at some point though. Worthy of a 9th-10th rounder as there’s later season upside with the former Oklahoma runner.

7. Chris Carson (Seahawks): The Oklahoma State rookie got first team reps (!!!) with Russell Wilson and company in Friday night’s preseason game. Might he have a chance to knock the overweight Eddie Lacy off the roster and possibly battle Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise for the starting job? Could be a prime boom-or-bust candidate.

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8. Jamal Williams (Packers): Might in fact be the guy if Ty Montgomery fails in his transition as a full-time RB. Late-round stash.

9. Alvin Kamara (Saints): Excellent pass-catcher but there’s just too much competition in New Orleans with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. Definitely a dynasty league candidate who could have David Johnson-like impact if he ever gets the full-time job.

10. Marlon Mack (Colts): Frank Gore is 100 in running back years and Robert Turbin doesn’t inspire much as a backup. Wouldn’t be shocked to see Mack start at least a handful of games in Indy this season.

Two to watch in case of an injury to the team’s starter: James Connor (Steelers) and Tarik Cohen (Bears).

THIRD DOWN: Don’t overdraft a tight end (aka patience is a virtue).

Rob Gronkowski, due to major injury concerns and increasing competition for targets in New England is no longer in the mix for a 1st round pick as he was the last two years. If you’re willing to gamble that he’ll stay healthy, the highest I’d draft him is around pick #20.

Rob Gronkowski

From there, Greg Olsen (Panthers) and Travis Kelce (Chiefs) will go in the 3rd-4th round and while they can be difference-makers, I’d rather take my RB2s and WR2s in those rounds.

Jordan Reed (Redskins) is very-talented but rivals Gronk for most games-missed at the position. He’s just not worth the risk for me.

My strategy is to find my starter in the 8th-9th round this season. A few potential candidates:

1. Zach Ertz (Eagles): Should receive plenty of targets in the middle of the field; in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he led Philly in most targets and receptions.

2. Jack Doyle (Colts): With Dwayne Allen in New England and Erik Swope already hurt, no one should rival Doyle for reps at the position. A prime sleeper candidate – especially if Andrew Luck is on the field in Indy.

3. Hunter Henry (Chargers): Had 8 TDs as a rookie in 2016 even though Philip Rivers was doing his best to feed future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates. Henry is a prime breakout candidate and I sure hope to get him on multiple teams this season.

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Looking for a deep sleeper who you’ll be able to pick up as a TE2 in Rounds 14 and beyond? The Jets’ Austin Sefarian-Jenkins might be clearly the most talented pass catcher on New York’s depleted roster. While I have a policy of avoiding all Jets on my fantasy teams this season, ASJ might become the one exception to this rule.

FOURTH DOWN: To think about fantasy playoff schedules…or not?

One of my favorite arguments when it comes to evaluating how to build your roster. Personally I’m AGAINST drafting for weeks 14-16 (and sometimes Week 17) because there is SO MUCH unpredictability in the league from week-to-week. Who knows which defenses will be the strongest come the end of the season? Who knows which players will be making an impact on the field that we never expected?

Draft the players you think will do well this entire season. To make the fantasy playoffs, you have to obviously succeed in Weeks 1-13. I’ve had teams in the past crush in Weeks 14-16…except they were in my leagues’ consolation brackets.

Another key to winning in the fantasy playoffs – pay close attention to your leagues’ waiver wire throughout the season. In-season tweaks are much more valuable to your ultimate success.

Each Friday I’ll try to throw in a few fantasy football tips for the upcoming week. Good luck this season (unless you’re in my leagues)!

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To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @eacohen83.

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