When I was in high school I used to train for baseball at a local baseball training facility in “upstate” New York. Those were my moments of respite from the daily grind of school work, chores, etc. Small responsibilities and expectations in retrospect. One day I walked through the industrial double doors of that training facility, and found my oasis in a state of utter chaos. Camera crews were running around. Photographers were fiercely clicking away. Throngs of individuals I’d never seen at the center before were lining the protective netting. I made my way to an opening, and was able to see the source of all this commotion. My idol, Mariano Rivera, was pitching off of a fake turf mound for an instructional video. The name of that video: Calm Before The Storm.
We are now experiencing the calm before the storm for this year’s fantasy football season. The majority of drafts are about to go underway, and we’re in the thick of Week 3 preseason games. Calm before the storm does not mean you sit back, relax, and let things run their course. No. It’s a moment to reassess, re-evaluate, and strengthen your overall knowledge of the fantasy football landscape in preparation of the dive into the NFL season. That is the purpose of this article. To aid you in your last minute adjustments and calculations, and attempt to give you a clearer picture of the season to come.
Over the past few weeks I’ve ranked the top 100 wide receivers for the 2018 season, and I’ve highlighted some key players who I perceived to be a great value on your draft day. It’s just as important to know which players to avoid drafting as it is to know which ones to target. So, it’s only right that we flip the script. For this article I’m going to focus on a handful of coveted wide receivers that I’m either fading on or avoiding in drafts altogether (given their current ADP of course).
Tyreek “The Freak”! Few players are as electric as this third year speedster. Hills transition from an swiss army knife type player in his rookie year to a top-10 WR last year was, for lack of a better word, astounding. He has all the makings of being able to repeat that level of production if it weren’t for two things standing in his way: 1.) an unproven starter in Patrick Mahomes, and 2.) the arrival of Sammy Watkins. Hill finished his 2017 campaign as the WR #9 in PPR on just 105 targets for 75 receptions, 1,183 yards and 7 touchdowns. His catch rate was a staggering 71.4%! That efficiency is incredible, but I argue it won’t be easy to replicate. For one, he no longer has Alex Smith under center. Patrick Mahomes could be the truth in Kansas City. I’m not banking on him being able to recreate the level of success Alex Smith had during his last season as a Chief. Mahomes is known for having a long arm, yet Smith ranked 2nd in the NFL last season (behind Brees) on Deep Ball Completion Percentage with 48.5%. It’s unlikely the unproven Mahomes will be more successful in that department despite his canon.
Now we have to figure in Sammy Watkins, aka, the proverbial bust. May he bust no more. Watkins joined the Rams last season about a week before the season kicked off. He had no time to learn the offense or gel with Goff, yet he still managed 8 touchdowns on just 70 targets. Watkins has now had an entire offseason to learn the Chiefs’ offense and develop a rapport with Mahomes. Assuming Watkins stays healthy for the course of the season he figures to see an increase in targets, which would eat into Hill’s target volume. Ten of Watkins’ 70 targets came within the red zone, making him the second most targeted wide receiver for the Rams in the red zone after Cooper Kupp. Hill saw only four red zone targets last season, and capitalized just one time. Kelce & Hunt took up the majority of the red zone work for the Chiefs, and will continue to do so. Watkins’ playmaking ability and reliability in the red zone will certainly factor into Hill’s production. Hill is currently being drafted off the board as the WR #10. That price far outweighs Hill’s inevitable regression.
There’s no denying Cooks’ talent and ability. He’s finished the last three seasons as the WR #13 in 2015, the WR #10 in 2016, and the WR #15 last season. In that time span he’s averaged 120 targets, 76 receptions, and 1,131 yards. The finishes are not doubt impressive, and his averages are borderline elite. My issue with Cooks is two-fold. He is joining a team that has a significant downgrade at the quarterback position. Drew Brees is a future hall of fame quarterback, and (now this makes my skin crawl saying this as a Jets fan) Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Jared Goff is simply put, not even close to the same caliber of quarterback. That isn’t to say he can’t continue to ascend at the position. It would be irresponsible to consider him in the same breath as Brees or Brady.
Now, let’s breakdown how Cooks will figure in to the Rams’ offense. On paper, Cooks’ arrival to LA looks like a replacement for Sammy Watkins. Watkins, as mentioned above, had just 70 targets over a 15 game span last season. He turned 39 of those targets into receptions with 8 touchdowns, with 10 red zone targets. I have no doubt that Cooks will be more involved in the offense than Sammy, but there is a cap on his volumethat significantly hinders his fantasy outlook for 2018. The LA offense is designed to run first then spread the ball around. They won’t stray from that given their success last season. Cooks’ production stems from the volume of targets he’s received over the past three seasons. Cooper Kupp’s & Robert Woods’ roles in the LA offense are more or less solidified, which significantly caps Cooks’ upside. It’s unlikely that Cooks receives the level of targets he’s seen since 2015. I’m predicting that Cooks will see sub-100 targets, and will finish with less than 1,000 yards. He’s starting to fall a bit in ADP, but that could easily swing the other direction. Keep an eye on his ADP as you head into your drafts. If he falls to the 5th or even 6th rounds he’ll be worth consideration. Anything before that, and I’m avoiding.
Listen. I love Josh Gordon. I could not be happier for the man for battling back from addiction and substance abuse, and having the mental toughness to fight for his NFL career. Outside of my admiration for Gordon, he’s shaping up to be an bust this season.
Five Years. That’s the number of years it’s been since a Flash Gordon has had a week where he posted WR1 numbers. When he finally returned to the NFL last season, he was getting roughly 8 targets a game. It’s highly improbably that Gordon’s target volume from last season will carry through this year. The arrival of Jarvis Landry and Tyrod (pronounced Tuh-rod) Taylor will see to that. Jarvis is a short yardage target hog, and Tyrod Taylor has historically been a short yardage passer averaging 5.5 competed air yards on just 420 passing attempts last season. Duke Johnson Jr. & David Njoku will also benefit from Tyrod’s tendency for the shorter passes. This does not, however, benefit our guy Josh Gordon. Gordon’s the burner, the field stretcher, who excels at getting behind defenses and making them pay after the catch. He relies on those deeper passes that Tyrod, thus far, has been reluctant to throw. With Mayfield under center things could improve for Gordon, but as things stand right now, dislocated finger and all, Tyrod is their starter Week 1.
The issue is, if Gordon hits he’s a league winner. That’s the kind of upside that we all know, and have been craving for HALF A DECADE! But there’s just so much risk at his current draft price. In addition to his target volume being at risk, Gordon has missed the entirety of training camp thus far. He’s apparently back with the team now, but did not participate in Thursday’s matchup against the Eagles. According to the team he will be eased into football activities. His absence has cost him so much valuable time getting to learn the new Todd Haley offensive system, and to develop a rapport with his new quarterbacks. It’s not hopeless for Gordon, but he’s not someone I’ll be drafting in 2018 given his 4th round price tag on Draft Day.
Marvin Jones Jr.:
It’s always fun to see teammates gel. Last season we saw Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. & Matty Stafford connect for some significant fantasy impact. The Lions’ wide receiver duo was on the cusp of being within top-12 at the position. The storyline that matters is Marvin Jones Jr. finishing as the WR #12. A finish that is likely to repeat while Kenny Golladay remains a member of the Detroit Lions’ wide receiver corps.
Some bold Lions fans dub Golladay as Megatron 2.0. I would never risk such an assumption. That said, he’s a hell of a wide receiver. At 6-foot-4, 215 lbs. he is essentially built to do everything Marvin Jones was initially brought on to do, but better. It’s tough to make such claims given Golladay’s lackluster performance last season. When you take a closer look, though, at how Golladay impacted Jones Jr.’s season it becomes a bit more clear how he will significant dampen Marvin’s 2018 season. When Golladay was on the field Jones Jr.’s target rate plummeted from roughly 6 targets to just 3 targets. That’s a 50% reduction. Golladay is fully healthy coming into this season, and has had a year to further acclimate to the NFL and develop his skills at the position. Golladay is currently still listed as the WR3 on the Lions’ depth chart, but make no mistake that he has more than a fair chance of winning that WR2 this season.
Jones’ biggest weakness in 2017 was his inefficiency in the red zone. He ranked 21st in red zone targets last season with 15, and only managed to rein in four touchdowns for an underwhelming 26.66% conversion rate. Despite this underwhelming number Jones still finished as the leading scorer for the Lions last season with nine touchdowns. The Lions have since made moves to strengthen their O-Line. They also signed the “Hammer” of the NFL LeGarrette Blount, and drafted one of the more talented rookie running backs in Kerryon Johnson. In case you were curious the Lions’ running backs totaled for just ten touchdowns last season which ranked 21st in the NFL. The Lions RB’s inevitable improvement spells an unavoidable touchdown regression for Jones Jr. This touchdown regression coupled with the strength at the Lions’ wide receiver position makes Jones Jr. undraftable at his current early 5th Round ADP. I’d rather take a late round flyer on Golladay than risk a 4th or 5th round pick on Jones Jr.
The age of Crabtree’s fantasy relevance is coming to an end. He was signed by the Ravens this offseason, and now has to contend for targets being thrown by “is-he-or-is-he-not elite” Joe Flacco. I’m leaning toward he is not. Crabtree is also coming off a down year where he only caught 58 of his 101 targets for 618 yards and 8 touchdowns. Even though the Raiders as a whole were a total garbage fire, those numbers don’t inspire much confidence. Crabtree was able to salvage his fantasy season on the backs of those eight touchdowns, and finish as the WR #30. This downturn is indicative of Crabtree’s fantasy outlook for 2018.
Last season Crabtree received 14 red zone targets. Eleven of these targets came within the 10-yard line. That doesn’t bode well for Crabtree on a Flacco-led offense. Since 2015 the highest targeted player in the red zone for the Ravens has been either a tight end or a running back/fullback. The last wide receiver Flacco targeted heavily in the red zone was Steve Smith Sr. in 2014. Crabtree is now on the wrong side of 30, on a team whose offense has been underwhelming the past few seasons, and will be contending for targets with John Brown, Willie Snead, and Hayden Hurst. He will need to be extremely efficient with his red zone targets to have a fantasy impact, as even still it’s unlikely that Crabtree will see 100+ targets given the competition. If John Brown can manage to get his sickle cell trait under control he will be the WR1 on the Ravens this season. Everything just points to Crabtree having a down year in 2018. His draft price isn’t as steep as his peers listed above, but he’s going around the same area as players, like Marquise Goodwin, who I would rather have on my roster in a heartbeat.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel and Kyle Amore live on Sunday August 19th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #133 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts live August 16th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #89 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will take a close look at some possible ADP steals in our drafts this season.
My guest this week is Andy Macuga. He is the former Head Football and Baseball Coach for Borrego Springs H.S. out in the San Diego area. Andy is also a 6 year veteran of Major League Fantasy Sports leagues and a frequent radio guest.