“Be careful what you chase. You just might catch it.” — A “Lesterism” from my late, great uncle, Lester Gold.
On the top floor of Building 4 at ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut, campus is an area known as the “Executive Level,” where John Skipper and other members of the company’s top management have offices.
And as I stood outside the Executive Level in the spring of 2008, my heart was beating superfast. I had been at ESPN for about a year and this was my first time in this area. I had been granted a meeting with one of the high-up big muckety-mucks. And as I was called in, I wiped my palms on my pants, gulped and walked slowly into a very big office.
We spoke about what the company had accomplished in fantasy sports over the past year and the many things we still needed to get to. I mentioned Fantasy Football Now, the Sunday morning show we had launched on ESPN.com and Mobile ESPN the previous year. The show had been successful from a critical and viewership perspective, even winning a Sports Emmy.
He nodded. He knew all this and was complimentary. But now it was time. He looked at me, slightly impatiently. Like all big executives, he was short on time and wanted me to get to it.
“I think ESPN should do a daily fantasy sports show,” I said.
This was before the advent of DFS, of course. I was talking about a Monday-through-Friday show on one of the networks. That was my pitch. That’s why I was there. Would ESPN consider doing a half-hour devoted to fantasy sports every day?
He thanked me for my passion, told me how important fantasy was to the company and that he’d discuss it with others, as the company would weigh this along with everything else it needed to accomplish given limited time and resources.
Six months after that, I was back in his office and had the same meeting. And then six months after that. And then another six months after that. I kept at it for quite a while, trying to stay on top of it without being too annoying, checking in twice a year or so and trying to come up with some slightly different angle each time. The response was always the same: “Thanks for your passion. Let us discuss internally.”
Eventually, somewhere around 2011, I realized I had been at ESPN for five years. At some point you just have to take “no” for an answer. So I gave up. No more meetings, no more pitches, I figured if they ever decided they wanted to do something around fantasy on a weekday basis, they knew where to find me. I focused on the podcast, the column and the Sunday show, Fantasy Football Now.
And then, slowly, a funny thing happened. You know how, when you’re single and looking, you can never find someone? And then the minute you say, “screw it” and stop looking — like, genuinely stop looking — that’s when it happens? Same thing sorta happened here.
Over the next five years the podcast, the column and Fantasy Football Now continued to grow. We added video to the podcast and that did well. And then, in the spring of 2016, I got a request to go see Norby Williamson, executive vice president for production at ESPN. I didn’t really know Norby very well, other than the occasional “hi” in the hallway; we’d never had a chance to interact, so I was surprised by the invitation. But when an EVP ask you to meet, your only plausible answer is, “When and where?”
And in a rare occurrence for me on the Executive Level, someone was now pitching me: “I want to do a 24-hour marathon in August, all about fantasy football. What do you think?” And he laid out for me his vision for the whole thing. I loved it, of course, and I’ll be damned if ESPN didn’t pull it off.
The marathon ended up being 28 hours, actually, and Adam Schefter and I stayed up all 28 hours, appearing on TV every hour. It was only the most fun I’ve ever had on television.
It did well for us on a lot of levels, including driving the two largest days of signups for ESPN Fantasy Football in our company’s history. They did the marathon again this past spring for our Tournament Challenge game around the NCAA tournament and, well, the second annual Fantasy Football Marathon starts today. Adam and I, along with a cast of thousands, will once again get you everything you could possibly want to know about fantasy football this year and then, like, 15 more things. Lots of great surprises are in store. Tune in if you get a chance.
I never in a million years thought ESPN would devote 28 straight hours to fantasy football, but if you think that surprised me, you should have seen my jaw drop when Norby called me into his office once again this past spring.
“We’re gonna do the Marathon again,” he told me. I nodded. This wasn’t a surprise, given how well the first one had been received.
“And then,” he continued, “I wanna use the marathon to help launch a daily show.”
He continued. “You ever seen ‘Mad Money’ with Jim Cramer?”
“Well, what do you think about a format sort of like that but with you, around fantasy football?”
We discussed further. Cramer’s show was just an initial idea for a starting point. One person, small studio, speaking directly to the camera and then it would be adjusted to my personality. What did I think?
What did I think?
What did I think?!?!
I was thrilled, of course. Beyond belief. It had been my dream since I got to ESPN, and one that I genuinely thought would never happen. I had given up even hoping for it.
SO WHAT DID I THINK?!?
I felt excitement. Joy. Pride.
And incredible nervousness.
I’ve been incredibly blessed in my career, and other than first getting the job at ESPN, this is the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had in my professional life.
ESPN is the largest sports media company in the world. That’s not bragging; that’s just a fact. And now that sports media company is going to put on a fantasy football show every single weekday during the football season? With me? Gulp.
“Be careful what you chase. You just might catch it.”
I’ve thought about that quote all summer long.
If you have followed my career for any amount of time, you know how important promoting the fantasy sports industry is to me. I’ve written it before, but it’s desperately important to me to leave fantasy better than I found it — it has been damn good to me. Again, other than my first job at ESPN, this is the biggest opportunity of my life. And if it doesn’t work, it’s on me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not working solo. There are many, many people across a variety of ESPN departments (way too many to list here) who have worked insanely hard to get this show off the ground and continue to work on it to make me reasonably presentable to a TV audience in a short period of time. And that is no small task. You see, back to the spring, when they sent Ed Eck (the show runner) and me off to develop the show, Norby gave us just one rule: “It can’t look or feel like anything else on ESPN. It has to be completely different.”
ESPN is the most successful sports network in the history of the world, so I’m not sure many would want to go away from a formula that has worked for so long. But Ed and I embraced it and have repeated it often to folks as more and more people joined our goofy little show to help us out.
It’s something we said to my Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast producer, Daniel Dopp, when we recruited him. And to his credit, Daniel — known as “Secret Squirrel” to fans because of his service in Air Force intelligence — bought in and has joined the TV show as a producer and on-air personality.
And it’s what we have clung to when an idea has come up that has made us laugh and we all look at each other and ask, “Are we really gonna do that?” Apparently we are.
When I was in college, there was a student stand-up comedy competition. Kind of an open-mic night, and to keep it moving between inexperienced college kids trying stand-up, there was a professional stand-up as a host, telling jokes and keeping the crowd laughing. His name was Leroy Seabrooks, and I remember him being very funny, but at one point during his set, Leroy told one joke that didn’t land.
And he just looked at the audience and said, “That’s OK. I think that joke is hilarious. Most of these jokes are for you guys. But that joke? That one was for Leroy.”
A little later he told another joke that didn’t go over. And without missing a beat he just shrugged and said, “That one was for Leroy.” Got a laugh.
And then maybe 20 minutes later a very nervous freshman got up. And even in an open-mic-night atmosphere, where kids are not great and the audience forgiving, this kid was brutal. Just crickets after every joke. Finally, he told a joke so bad it killed the room. You could literally hear a pin drop as there was complete silence for what seemed like an eternity. He looked like a deer caught in headlights, all alone on the stage. And then, as if inspired by desperation, he straightened up and pointed at our emcee. “That one was for Leroy!”
Brought the house down.
I told that story to my friends at Syracuse University and, as we ended up doing a student sitcom there, every time someone wanted to do a joke that made us laugh, but someone else was worried it might not work for the audience, the writer would just defend it. “Hey, that one’s for Leroy.” When I moved to L.A. and became a sitcom writer and screenwriter, I had a loan out/production company. I called it Leroy Productions.
I’m guessing in the PR handbook the rule is to be superconfident when talking about your new show. About “how awesome it’ll be, change the world, greatest thing ever, blah blah blah.”
But honestly, I can’t say that. I have no idea.
Here’s all I can say. Starting Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN, and then at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2 every weekday after that, we are going to put on a half-hour fantasy football show. It’ll be available on WatchESPN and the ESPN App, with clips from it on ESPN.com, the ESPN Fantasy App and on the ESPN YouTube channel. We will produce the show for as long as they let us. That’s literally the only promise I can make. Is it any good? Hopefully you’ll check it out and decided for yourself.
Actually, I can make a second promise. It will be unlike this column, the podcast, Fantasy Football Now or anything else I do for ESPN. You won’t be seeing the same thing you just read or heard or saw on another platform. The one thing, however, that will carry over from the other things I do is my attitude, which has always been to embrace the fact that fantasy, first and foremost, is supposed to be fun.
I’ve always tried to make owners smarter and give them some analysis or point of view they may not have thought about while trying to make a dry subject like stats funny and more accessible. We are going to attempt to do that on the show. And for better or very possibly worse, it’s like nothing else on ESPN.
I hope you will give it a chance. And when you do, I hope you will like it. But honestly, the whole show is for Leroy.
Which brings us, meandering slowly, into the 19th annual preseason edition of Love/Hate.
Whether it’s a TV show, your fantasy football team or anything else that is really important to you, realize that no one cares about it as much as you do. At the end of the day, yes, there will always be some factors you can’t control, but ultimately, it lies with you. The choices you make, the reactions you have to challenges, and the players you pick.
I will spend almost every waking moment this year working toward helping you win at fantasy football. I want you to win. Desperately. I truly care about your team. But not nearly as much as you do.
At the end of it all, you’re the one who has to live with it, not me or anyone else. So take what I write (and what anyone else writes) with a grain of salt. Absorb it all and make your own choice. Before we get to actual football players, a few ground rules.
Understand I hate the terms “sleeper” and “bust.” I believe there are no such things. Every single player can be either a sleeper or a bust. It just comes down to what it costs to acquire said player and whether that player exceeds or falls short of that cost.
A player’s perceived value is baked into his draft price. There’s a reason David Johnson is going first and why Ameer Abdullah is not. As of today, one is considered much more valuable than the other. To put a number on it, we’ll use our ESPN average draft positions. If I love a guy, it means I’d draft him sooner than his ADP. If I hate him, I think he’s going too early. It doesn’t mean that because I love Mike Wallace, I’d draft him before Julian Edelman, whom I hate. If you want to see whom I’d draft before whom, check out my rankings. So PLEASE use this column as intended. It is NOT a sleepers and busts column. Rather, a market inefficiency column. With bad jokes.
To answer a common question every year, there’s a reason there are so many more loves than hates. You don’t really need me to tell you not to draft Jared Goff. His value and rank reflect that he’s not thought of highly in fantasy. I am from the “there’s no such thing as a bad pick after Round 12” philosophy. So that means I am choosing “hates” only from guys who are high enough to be drafted with big expectations. That’s a very finite group.
If you choose to ignore these caveats and your season goes to hell, don’t blame me. Remember, only a poor craftsman blames his tools. That’s all I am: your tool. Wait, that came out wrong. Which is odd, given that I’ve used that joke eight years in a row now. What? I’m saving the good stuff for the TV show.
Quarterbacks I love in 2017
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: OK, OK. I hear you. Keep your voice down. The guy in the next stall thinks you’re weird. I know you think this is a homer pick. Just like you did last year when he was on this list (ADP of QB13 last year, finished as QB5) or just like you did the year before that when I talked him up all preseason and he finished in the top 10 as well. Just because I’m a homer doesn’t mean I’m wrong, and while I have questions about Washington’s defense and win total this season, the offense is going to put up points. A lot of them. The past two years, Cousins is third in completion percentage, fourth in passing yards, seventh in pass attempts and third in QB rushing touchdowns. That’s right, Cousins has nine rushing touchdowns the past two years. Some are scrambles, but many of them were designed plays. He’s much more mobile than he gets credit for. The other thing that’s great is he’s not a guy who goes up and down with big games and then disappears. Per Tristan H. Cockcroft’s consistency ratings, only Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan had a higher “start percentage” — meaning weeks they finished in the top 10 at the position — than Cousins last season. The one area he and the ‘Skins struggled in last season? The red zone, where Cousins was 24th in the NFL in completion percentage. So what did they do? Went out and got 6-foot-4 Terrelle Pryor Sr., plus they get 6-foot-2 Josh Doctson back from injury (hopefully, he said, fingers crossed). Cousins is betting on himself this year for a contract, and at the end of it, it’ll be a bet he wins. I’m along for the ride.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: There’s risk here, of course, as he’s coming off an injury and has missed time each of his two seasons in the NFL. But given the depth of the QB position, I’m OK with the risk based on the enormous upside. There will be a solid option available in the waiver pool if it doesn’t work out, but I believe it will. You’ve probably heard me mention the stat last season that, from Weeks 5-12, no QB scored more fantasy points than Mariota (in fact, only David Johnson scored more at any position in PPR). It’s cherry-picking stats given the time frame, and naysayers will point to the ridiculously easy schedule, but still, it points to the potential he has to perform at an elite level for a sustained period of time. He has been the most efficient red zone quarterback since entering the NFL (33 TD passes and no interceptions), and now the Titans add the second-highest-scoring red zone receiver since 2012 in Eric Decker, along with talented 6-foot-3 rookie Corey Davis, to returnees Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. Playing behind an offensive line that last season was fifth best in pass protection rate (the percentage of plays the offense controls the line of scrimmage on dropbacks), the 6-foot-4 Mariota will have plenty of time to find one of his talented receivers. I expect the Titans to not be as run-heavy this season with more weapons to throw to, and Mariota will return top-10 value at QB2 prices.
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers: I feel Rivers’ pain. Much like him, I had to move my place of work from where I had developed comfort. OK, so my move was across the ESPN campus, but the sentiment remains the same. I had to move, but I’m working with the same team and producing the same quality of content this season as the many that came before. Criminally underrated, Rivers enters 2017 having posted four straight seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns, a claim that only Drew Brees can also make. Last season’s 14th-best QB, Rivers had a brutal career-high 21 interceptions, costing him 42 fantasy points. If you give him just the 13 interceptions he averaged from 2006 to 2015, he finishes last season as QB8. And realize he played last season without Keenan Allen. Foreshadowing here, but I believe Keenan stays healthy here, and that’s huge. During the past four seasons (Keenan Allen’s career), Rivers has a 69.8 completion percentage, averages 7.9 yards per attempt and has a 2.4 TD/INT ratio with Allen on the field. Without Allen, it’s a 60.8 percent completion rate, 7.3 yards per attempt and a 1.7 TD/INT ratio. Do it another way: Take the 38 games he has played with Allen, average them out for 16 games and you get 4,597 passing yards, 31 TDs and 13 interceptions. He’s currently going as QB19. Come on people.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills: So there is only one player in the NFL who has at least 3,000 passing yards and at least 550 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons. That man? Tyrod Taylor. You’ll win a lot of bar bets with that one after, of course, you’ve scared off any possible romantic liaisons with your nerd football stats. Before you yell Sammy Watkins at me, realize that with Sammy Watkins, Taylor averaged 18.9 fantasy points per game in ESPN scoring. Without Sammy: 18.3 fantasy points per game. (To put those numbers in perspective, the past two years Russell Wilson is averaging 18.95.) The rushing helps keep his fantasy floor high (at least 30 rushing yards in 19 of 29 games, more than any QB in the NFL), plus a familiarity with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (they were together in Baltimore) helps, as Dennison is a fan of getting the QB out in space and will certainly take advantage of Tyrod’s mobility. Taylor was a top-10 QB last season (when Watkins missed eight games and was a decoy for a few others), yet he is going 21st among QBs (21st!). Taylor is an insane draft-day bargain.
Others receiving votes: Jameis Winston is the only QB in the NFL to throw for at least 4,000 yards in his first two seasons, and now he adds DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. I also expect his rushing touchdowns to improve a bit from last year’s one. Believe the hype. … Andy Dalton is going 20th among QBs. Nothing sexy here, except he was last year’s QB12 without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert or Giovani Bernard for most of it. He gets all of them back healthy and adds rookies Joe Mixon and John Ross. By the way, fun fact about the Red Rifle: Only Cam Newton has more rushing touchdowns among QBs since 2012 than Dalton. … There are only three rookies in NFL history to throw for more yards than Carson Wentz did last season and now they’ve added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles were quietly sixth in total pass attempts last season, head coach (and, ahem, former NFL QB) Doug Pederson likes to throw and throw he shall, as Wentz takes the next step. … Healthy and only a year removed from a top-five fantasy finish, you could do much worse than Carson Palmer, currently going as QB18.
Quarterbacks I hate in 2017
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Another great NFL QB who drives me nuts fantasy-wise, Big Ben has played all 16 games in a season just three times in a 13-year NFL career. So you say, fine, Berry. I’ll have to find a replacement for a few games. To which I say, Sparky (note: This assumes your name is Sparky), not just a few games. You have to find a replacement for at least eight games, because he’s literally unstartable on the road. During the past three years, Ben has averaged 13.71 fantasy points per game on the road, or the 22nd-best QB in fantasy. The Steelers consistently go conservative when on the road, as they are averaging 70 fewer passing yards and two fewer passing touchdowns per game away from Heinz Field the past three seasons. Starting in 2010, here are the final finishes for Roethlisberger as a fantasy QB on ESPN: 17th, 13th, 18th, 12th, 5th, 20th and 18th. And yet, I see him consistently going between QB8 and QB12. No thanks.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: OK, so a funny thing happened on the way to Jim Bob Cooter’s induction into the Fantasy Hall of Fame: The Lions kind of became a ball-control team. During the second half of last season, Detroit was 11th in average time of possession and averaged the third-most plays per drive. Gone was the gunslinger and instead we had … a dink and dunker? Well, sort of. Stafford was 21st in yards per pass attempt in the second half of 2016, and after a red-hot start, he had zero or one passing touchdowns in seven of his final 10 games. He also rushed for two in that time frame, but come on, you’re not counting on that. While his playing in all 16 games contributed to the seventh-best QB fantasy point total, he was just 19th among QBs in fantasy points per game in the season’s second half, behind Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill, among 16 others.
An improved offensive line and the return of Ameer Abdullah makes me think this offense is heading toward more balance this season, not toward reversing its second-half play. I love Stafford as a player and I’ll never tire of Jim Bob Cooter jokes, but in his past 16 OUTDOOR games, Stafford has averaged just 15.4 points a game, which would have been QB21 territory last season. “So he’s worse outside a dome, Berry. Who isn’t?” you say. Well, three of his four games in Weeks 13-16 are outdoors, during the fantasy stretch run/playoffs. Those expecting anything close to last year’s QB7 finish will be sorely disappointed.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: The weird part is I actually am a Dak believer. As an NFL quarterback, that is. Not a fluke. That said, there two things he did last year that inflated his fantasy value and I see both of them regressing. First, his rushing. He ran for six touchdowns. Since 2002, there have been only three quarterbacks to run for five-plus touchdowns in multiple seasons: Cam Newton, Michael Vick and Tim Tebow. Remember, Jameis Winston ran for six his rookie year, and then just one last season.
To put it another way, since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been only eight rookie quarterbacks to rush for six touchdowns. All of the previous seven decreased in rushing touchdowns the following season except Tebow, who tied his number (and that was because they wouldn’t let him throw). So the rushing will regress, and the interceptions will increase. Prescott’s TD/INT ratio was 5.75. Since 2001, of QBs with at least 450 passing attempts, there have been only four seasons with a better ratio: Aaron Rodgers twice (2011, 2014) and Tom Brady twice (2007, 2010). That’s it. Not Peyton, not Brees. All due respect, I’m not ready to say Prescott is peak Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. They are different quarterbacks in different situations obviously, but this piece of it feels very Nick Foles-esque to me. Did the league figure him out? He was QB13 from Weeks 12-16 (he didn’t really play in Week 17). Dinking and dunking last season, Prescott threw only 42 passes at least 20 yards downfield, tied for 26th in the league with Alex Smith. With the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, I don’t see them going away from a run-heavy attack, either. Dak will be fine this year, but he’s more of a QB2 to me and yet, he’s being drafted as a legit QB1. I’m not convinced.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans: Just pointing out that a QB that is currently NOT ACTUALLY A STARTER is being drafted ahead of guys such as Carson Wentz, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton, all of whom (except Wentz) have had a lot of fantasy success in the NFL and, you know, HAVE AN ACTUAL STARTING JOB. In fairness, he’s being drafted in a lower percentage of leagues than those guys, but he’s ahead of them in ADP. I love Watson in dynasty and think he starts sooner than later, but in a re-draft league, he should not be drafted. Especially not ahead of the guys I just listed.
Running backs I love in 2017
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders: At some point, it boils down to this: You believe or you do not believe. I’m on board. I mentioned this in my 100 facts you need to know before you draft column, but it bears repeating here. As bad as Lynch was in 2015, he was still ninth in rushing yards after first contact per carry. Banged up and yet, still Beast Mode. Problem was (in addition to health), he ranked 43rd of 44 qualified runners in yards before first contact. In other words, the line was terrible. Now a year removed (and fresher), he’s playing behind an offensive line that last season helped the Raiders average 120 rushing yards a game and a top-six finish in rushing touchdowns. People are worried about reports that Lynch might get only 200 carries. You know who else got 200 carries or so last season? Latavius Murray, who was RB13 despite missing two games and is not nearly as good at football as Lynch. Beast Mode will get all the goal line work on a team that will score a lot.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns: Yes, I’m discussing a Cleveland athlete on an ESPN platform and it’s not LeBron. I’ll probably be fired tomorrow. But on the off chance I’m still around, get used to me talking up Isaiah this summer. I mentioned him as a big winner in the free-agency edition of “Love/Hate” for two big reasons: What the Browns did on the offensive line and what the Browns did not do at quarterback.
On the line, they brought back guard Joel Bitonio while signing guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter. Of course, they still have stud left tackle Joe Thomas, too. This is very quietly one of the best lines in football. And at QB, they, um, traded for Brock Osweiler. Whoever starts for Cleveland, Hue Jackson does not want them throwing it. The Browns are going to be a run-first team and run they will with Crowell, who quietly had a top-15 season in 2016. Crow is one of only six backs in the NFL under the age of 30 with at least 145 carries in each of the past three seasons, and he has never missed a game in his NFL career. Crowell averaged almost five yards a carry last season, so he has RB1 upside at a low-end RB2/flex price in most rankings. And now, the 225-pound bruiser is poised to get the rock a ton behind a great O-line. Don’t take my word for it. Take coach Jackson’s, as told to Pat McManamon: “I beat myself up [for not running Isaiah Crowell more in 2016].”
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars: When new coach Doug Marrone says he wants Blake Bortles throwing it zero times a game, he means it and not just because he has watched Bortles throw. As head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2013-14, Marrone rushed on 41 percent of plays, seventh most in the NFL. He wants to slow down the game, control the clock and grind out wins with his defense. Whether that will work remains to be seen, but either way, Fournette is going to touch the ball a lot. Like, a lot a lot. The Jags were ninth in rushing yards before first contact per rush last year, so they can actually block and now they have someone to block for. As I was writing this, the team announced a vague foot injury for Fournette and were “keeping an eye on it,” but assuming all checks out fine, I’m on the bandwagon.
Danny Woodhead and Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens: Even though West’s ADP is slowly rising in the wake of Kenneth Dixon‘s injury, both are still being criminally undervalued on ESPN. Last season was Marty Mornhinweg’s first as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and based on how he used his backfield, it should be no surprise that the Ravens signed Woodhead this offseason. Running backs and fullbacks accounted for 26.9 percent of all Baltimore receptions last season (for reference, Odell Beckham Jr. was responsible for 26.8 percent of Giants receptions), and that’s saying something when you consider that the Ravens have led the league in pass attempts in each of the past two years. Consider this: Woodhead ranks seventh among running backs in receiving yards since 2013 … and he has missed 27 games during that stretch. Injuries are a concern, of course, but if healthy he’s a potential RB1 in PPR leagues going in the seventh round and outside the top 20 RBs.
Meanwhile, West is better than you think. He’s not great, but he is better than you think. I’m hoping that’s a TV review of me. Anyway, last year the Ravens gave nine carries to RBs inside an opponent’s 5-yard line. Seven of those nine went to West. Yeah, it was a tough year for Baltimore, but the percentage is what I am focusing on. West ranked 11th in yards after first contact per rush, yet he’s currently going as RB36 in the 11th round. Sure, it’s PPR, but still. He’s a legit flex in PPR with potential RB2 numbers based on touchdown potential. Obviously a greater value in non-PPR formats.
LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s not gonna score 18 touchdowns again. I know it, you know it, my mother, who doesn’t even play fantasy football, knows it. But people are so busy screaming “regression” from their Barcaloungers (just go with it) that they fail to realize the Eagles gave Ryan Mathews 69.6 percent of their running back carries inside the 5-yard line last season. Pederson likes to give it to one guy when they get close and that guy, this year, is gonna be LeGarrette Blount. The Eagles, who last season actually had a better yards before first contact per rush average than the Patriots, have a good offensive line, especially considering they should have Lane Johnson all season. Blount is currently going as RB27 in the ninth round, but I like him to be better than that, even in PPR.
Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints: So it’s very simple. The past three years the Saints have 49 rushing touchdowns, fourth most in the NFL. This is a team that scores a lot and is not afraid to run it when in close. In fact, last season there were 246 non-Mark Ingram running back touches, so there’s work to be had here. And even if you believe Peterson is no longer the guy he once was — and if you want to bet against Peterson, knock yourself out … I’m not gonna — he should have a much easier time running. In the past five years, Peterson had the second-most rushes in the NFL against eight-plus defenders in the box. You think anyone is putting eight in the box against Drew Brees? In the same time frame, Saints RBs have been 18th in the NFL in rushes against eight-plus defenders. He has as good a chance as any to get double-digit touchdowns this season, just as he has in every season he has played at least 12 games. He’s going as RB26 in the eighth round, but he’s a legit RB2 to me with, you know, Adrian Peterson upside.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals: If you want nothing to do with Mixon because rooting for him will make your stomach churn, believe me, I get it. And you definitely won’t be alone. But from a pure fantasy football point of view, he’s gonna have a huge year. From the eye test, he’s the most gifted runner in this rookie class, a true three-down back. Hopefully, reports of Jeremy Hill working with the first team will depress his ADP. He’s going in RB2 territory right now, but frankly, I think he earns it. In each of the past four years, the Bengals and Carolina Panthers are the only teams with 440-plus rushing attempts. Cincy will continue to run the ball a tremendous amount. Even with an ineffective run game last season, the Bengals were still top 10 in rushing attempts and only five teams had more rushing scores. So we know they’ll run, but with whom? Giovani Bernard is coming off a major injury, and in the yards-per-carry category, of the 27 running backs with at least 275 carries over the past two years, Jeremy Hill ranks … 27th. You don’t take Joe Mixon and all the off-the-field baggage he brings just for “running back depth.” He’s going to start for the Bengals sooner than later and he’s got a legit shot to be a top-10 running back on a points-per-game basis once he gets the gig.
Others receiving votes: “Fat Rob” Kelley is better in non-PPR than PPR, but after becoming the starter in Week 8, he ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards after contact per rush and was 15th among RBs in PPR fantasy points (13th in non-PPR). … Jacquizz Rodgers is currently going as RB48. In games in which he has gotten at least 15 carries, he’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry and was RB13 last year in Weeks 5-8 when he got a shot. He’s gonna start three games and possibly many more, given Doug Martin‘s injury history and uneven production. And oh yeah, he’s basically free. … As required by fantasy analyst law, I’m on the Kareem Hunt bandwagon. More about him in Spencer Ware‘s “hate” section. … You can get Eddie Lacy in the eighth round and Thomas Rawls in the 14th right now. I LOVE the idea of grabbing both and having the “Seahawks RB” for two cheap picks. Rawls is currently running with the first-team, but as I write this in mid-August, I don’t think we know who will be the guy yet. But Rawls, along with guys like Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Hill (despite what I wrote about Mixon) and Matt Forte are easy-to-acquire veterans who have both had success in the NFL (and fantasy) and a potential path to playing time that isn’t hard to imagine. … Rookies going late that I like? Alvin Kamara, D’Onta Foreman and James Conner (just remember what the Pittsburgh RB does if anything happens to Le’Veon Bell). … Meanwhile, in a deep PPR league? Kyle Juszczyk is gonna catch a lot of balls this year. … Speaking of the 49ers, a respected NFL scout I speak with, who is NOT with the 49ers, passed this along to me on draft day: “I’m taking Joe Williams with my last pick in every fantasy draft I can this year.”
Running backs I hate in 2017
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints: Here are his carries per game the past three seasons: 17.4 in 2014, 13.8 in 2015 and 12.8 last season. I don’t know why Sean Payton hates Mark Ingram or wants to keep him in bubble wrap, but not since Lamar Miller was a Miami Dolphin has there been a more frustrating fantasy usage experience. And now with a future first-ballot Hall of Famer on the team, it ain’t headed back in the right direction anytime soon. Especially since Ingram played all 16 games last year for only the second time in six years, the plan worked for New Orleans and kept him healthy. At the end of the season, he’ll be fine in terms of total points, but trust me here, there is no player more frustrating to own. When they let Coby Fleener vulture him at the goal line (again!), don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs: So this is from ESPN.com’s scouting report on Kareem Hunt: Has exceptional ball security … his elusiveness in space should make him a receiving weapon in the NFL. While he lacks top-end spend, Hunt creates his own yards thanks to a high-level combination of balance, vision and lower-body strength.
But me being down on Ware isn’t just because of the threat of Hunt stealing some or all of his work. After Ware averaged just 3.3 yards per carry after his 10th carry last season (down from 4.9 yards per carry on his first 10 rush attempts of the game), the Chiefs may realize he profiles better as a specialist than a bell cow. Scoring on just 16.7 percent of his rush attempts inside of the 10-yard line (league RB average: 31 percent) is somewhat due to bad luck, but also somewhat on him. Either way, there are a lot of other RBs in Ware’s range that feel safer to me with more upside. Hunt’s ADP is twice that of Ware’s. I’ll take my chances on the rookie.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions: On Aug. 13, 2015, Abdullah took the handoff and, on his third professional carry in a preseason game against the New York Jets, raced for a 45-yard gain. You’d have thought Kim Kardashian appeared naked on a magazine cover the way the internet broke that night, and his ADP was through the roof before the game (preseason Week 1) even reached the half. Well, we celebrated the two-year anniversary of that game on Sunday and Abdullah is still being overdrafted. Yet to stay healthy in two NFL seasons, Abdullah is unlikely to get goal line work (that’ll be Zach Zenner) and will come off the field for Theo Riddick in many passing situations. The Lions improved the offensive line this offseason, adding T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner, but LT Taylor Decker‘s injury sets them back. Ultimately, I know Abdullah is a popular post-hype guy, but even though I think Detroit runs more this season (see Stafford, Matthew), I don’t see a clear path to a lot of touchdowns or receptions as long as Zenner and Riddick are healthy.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons: So Coleman scored once on 89 touches as a rookie, but then he exploded for 11 scores on 149 touches last season. Where does the “real” Coleman project? Likely somewhere in the middle, and that’s a problem considering he plays for the same team as the only running back in the league to notch 1,000 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons in Devonta Freeman. Only Mike Gillislee (12.6) had a lower carries-per-TD mark than Coleman (14.8) last season. As Mike Clay points out, “he registered only three carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line [he scored on all three] and had zero end zone targets.” That makes the 11 TDs even more impressive/unlikely to repeat. I prefer him more as a handcuff to Freeman than a viable flex play this year.
Wide receivers I love in 2017
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers: There is a difference between “injury prone” and “unlucky,” and I’m firmly #teamunlucky on Allen. Look at his injuries: Broken right collarbone in 2014, lacerated kidney in 2015, torn ACL last year. That’s just unlucky. I mean, come on, who lacerates his kidney? If you look at his past 16 games with Philip Rivers, he has averaged 17.5 fantasy points per game, which would have been WR7 last season, just one point per game less than Odell Beckham Jr. Wide receiver is so deep this year, remember that the difference between WR10 and WR33 last season was less than three points a game. So getting a potential WR1 in Round 5 (18th taken at the position)? All day, every day. The depth is good enough that I am willing to take the risk, because replacement level is high. But just like Matthew Stafford was unlucky early in his career, one of these days Allen is going to play all 16, and when he does, watch out. I’m saying this is the year that happens.
Terrelle Pryor Sr., Washington Redskins: Podcast fans know how much of a fan I am of this guy. Field Yates ate like a champ last year so I could enjoy my buddy Pryor on all teams (drafted, by the way, not picked up). Anyway, like I said with Cousins, this has more to do with my wanting to win fantasy leagues than it does my Redskins fandom. Last season, Cousins led the NFL with 37 completions that traveled 20-plus yards in the air, completing 48.1 percent of his attempts in the process (fifth best). The only QB in the past decade to achieve both of those thresholds in a single season was Peyton Manning in 2013. The 6-foot-4 Pryor now joins the team to not only help those red zone issues, but help stretch the field. Pryor tied for the fourth-most targets on 20-plus-yard passes last season and ranked 10th in air yards per target while on the Browns. After spending a summer working out with Randy Moss and Antonio Brown, Pryor gets a great QB, fantasy-friendly offense and 216 targets available with the departure of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
And while we are at it …
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins: He is starting to pick up some hype, but I’m still not sure it is enough. He ranked fifth in PPR fantasy points (third in non-PPR) from the slot in 2016, a role that will be his and his alone again this year. Chemistry is difficult to quantify with numbers, but so is putting men on the moon and we figured that out. Receivers with a higher reception percentage and more receiving yards than Crowder over the past two seasons: Larry Fitzgerald and Doug Baldwin. That’s it. You know, WR5 and WR6 since 2015. NBD. Speaking with different Redskins coaches this past offseason and they all, to a guy, say the same thing about Crowder: Love. Kid can do it all and has just scratched the surface. He won’t get all the red zone looks he got last season, but I expect volume to make up for that.
Brandon Marshall, New York Giants: So, that sucked. I owned Marshall in two leagues last year. Brutal. So I get it. But do you think it was because he could no longer play or the Jets were just a dumpster fire? Since 2012, Marshall leads the wide receiver position in red zone fantasy points. In that same time frame, Eli Manning has thrown the seventh-most red zone passes. Even toward the tail end of his career, you could argue Manning is the best QB Marshall has ever played with. You want more numbers to back a nice touchdown bounce-back? During the past three seasons, 68 percent of red zone wide receiver touchdowns in the NFL have gone to a player who stands at least 6-foot tall. Odell Beckham Jr.: 5-foot-11. Sterling Shepard: 5-foot-10. Brandon Marshall: 6-foot-4. Marshall will see the No. 2 corner for the first time in a long time in his career, as teams that shadow will put their best guy on Beckham. That makes Marshall criminally undervalued at WR31 in the eighth round.
Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens: I don’t even like Mike Wallace. I’m serious. But he has been a top-30 WR in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL, including last year, when Wallace finished as a top-25 WR in his first season in Baltimore (in both PPR and non-PPR). He is currently going as WR39. Yes, they signed Jeremy Maclin, but come on. Even if Maclin is productive and stays healthy (not givens), Wallace was able to put up numbers with Steve Smith there last year and that’s the role Maclin will fill. With Smith, Dennis Pitta, Kamar Aiken and Kyle Juszczyk no longer in the mix, there are more than 300 targets from last year that are up for grabs. Did I mention the Ravens have led the NFL in pass attempts each of the past two years? WR39!
Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers: I wrote this in my free-agency Love/Hate column back in early April, but it bears repeating here since you may have missed it and nothing has changed, except my resolve that he will be a target monster in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. I actually think Brian Hoyer is a decent QB and he is also familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s offense from their time together in Cleveland. He is certainly good enough to get it to Garcon, as Shanahan has almost always had at least one elite fantasy wide receiver in his offenses, from Andre Johnson to Julio Jones to Pierre Garcon himself. Yes, Kyle was the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2013 when Garcon had his ridiculous 113 catches (on 184 targets!), 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Expect San Fran to be down and throwing a lot this season, and Garcon, who was paid well to come to the 49ers, will get a huge target share from his former coach. Currently being drafted as a WR4, his upside is as top-20 receiver.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bryant is a crazy talent who has obvious risk. I feel the same way about Bryant that I do about Keenan Allen. Given the depth at WR, I am taking chances on guys who could explode if everything goes right. Bryant fits the bill of a player who can win your league. He was a top-20 WR on a points-per-game basis in 2015, and there were 183 targets to Pittsburgh WRs not named Antonio Brown last season. Big (6-foot-4, 211 pounds), fast (4.42 40 time) and with a stud QB and fantasy-friendly offense, he’s a big play waiting to happen and the only thing that worries me about my “Big Ben hate” call. But assuming Bryant gets reinstated this year, I’m all in on him.
Also receiving votes: Expectations are that Golden Tate is expected to be going out of the slot more, much like he was in 2015. The past two years, Matthew Stafford has thrown the eighth-most passes to the slot and that’s where Anquan Boldin caught seven of his eight touchdowns last season. I’m also a Kenny Golladay believer, so some of those red zone looks will go to him, but I do expect Tate to improve on the four touchdowns he had last season. … From Week 5 on last season, Cameron Meredith was WR18 in fantasy, and in the final six weeks he averaged more than eight targets a game and was WR10. Meredith is currently being drafted as WR44, but he will be a target monster and red zone threat on a team that will throw a lot and be better (not great, just not horrific) on offense than people think. … People forget, two years ago John Brown posted a 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown season when Michael Floyd was still on the team and Larry Fitzgerald was two years younger. Now healthy, Brown is the No. 2 in a fantasy-friendly offense and going in the 12th round as WR45. I like his chances of beating that ADP. … Tyrell Williams, I’m sorry, but at 6-foot-4 and fast, Williams, who was last year’s WR19 is currently going as WR42. If you take out the games he played against Denver last season (because let’s face it, you’re not starting him against Denver), he would have been WR13. Yes, that was without Keenan Allen, but fine. I don’t need him to be WR13. I just need him to be better than WR42, which, as long as Mike Williams is hurt, is a stone-cold lock. … Finally, if you want a deep rookie no one will care about, I kinda like ArDarius Stewart to put up nice junk-time numbers for the Jets.
Wide receivers I hate in 2017
Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams: Crazy-talented, but it boils down to this. I think Tyrod Taylor is a pretty good NFL quarterback. As of now, I don’t think Jared Goff is. I think Sean McVay is a great offensive mind and the Rams are going to be a much better offense this year. But McVay is not a miracle worker. Watkins is a deep threat going to play with a guy who, at least last season, didn’t want to throw deep, as his 6.94 air yards per pass attempt was ahead of only Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. One more stat that Kyle Soppe dug up: In the past 10 years, there have been 349 instances where a QB attempted 200-plus passes. Goff’s 2016 season ranks 345th in yards per pass attempt. The four guys he beat? Jimmy Clausen (2010), JaMarcus Russell (2009), Brady Quinn (2009) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2008). Maybe Goff gets better in Year 2 with some actual playmakers around him, including a good coach, but unless Watkins drops into WR4 territory, I’m going to let someone else find out.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots: Love Edelman as both a player and a potential Tinder profile picture, but I guess it all depends on how you feel about Brandin Cooks. And a healthy Gronk. It wasn’t until Week 12 last year against an awful Jets pass defense that Edelman produced 15-plus PPR fantasy points in a game in which Rob Gronkowski played. Now, he has done it in previous years, but still. Cooks, one of four receivers with at least 75 catches and eight receiving touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, is in town, and Gronk is fully healthy. Edelman’s volume should go down and he has never really been a huge touchdown threat (three last season on just 14 red zone targets, and his career high is seven), so while he’ll be fine in PPR, it’s highly unlikely he ever wins you the week the way a guy like Keenan Allen (going one pick ahead of him on ESPN) or Michael Crabtree (going five picks later) could.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins: Not sure if you are noticing a theme here, but talk about no upside. (Go ahead, talk about it. I bet a picture of Jarvis Landry will magically appear. Or is that just me? How long have I been writing this thing?) Call me a Yater, but I don’t see Jay Cutler taking Landry to elite levels. My guess is they don’t let him throw it all that much. With Adam Gase calling plays in Chicago in 2015, the Bears had the fifth-highest rush percentage in the NFL. Last season, Miami called the second-fewest passes in the league. The emergence of DeVante Parker (Cutler does like his big-body guy on the perimeter), plus the addition of Julius Thomas means Landry is not improving on last season’s paltry nine red zone targets. He’s fine, but you need guys who can win you a week from time to time. I don’t see that as being likely this year for Landry.
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars: So Robinson’s yards per reception dropped from 17.5 in 2015 to 12.1 last season, due in part to his yards after the catch dropping from 4.4 to 2.8. Robinson posted career lows in reception percentage, targets per route and receptions per route. That’s a bunch of stats to tell what you already know. He was brutal last season and it never got better (Weeks 11-15, he was WR75). With a run-heavy game plan expected this year, you can no longer count on volume to help. Maybe Blake Bortles gets it together or maybe the running game falls apart and 2016 is a hazy memory, but I’d much rather have a guy like Kelvin Benjamin (who’s going after him) than Robinson, who is merely a low WR3/WR4 these days. Don’t Bortle your draft, look elsewhere for at least your first two WRs.
Tight ends I love in 2017
Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots), Jordan Reed (Washington Redskins) and Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals): So, you don’t need me to tell you they are studs when healthy. If you do, well, you’ll have to take my word for it. They are. And this year, where they are going in drafts, that injury risk has been baked in. So I just wanted to drop this nugget: In the past three years, 39.4 percent of top-10 TE finishes in PPR leagues have come from tight ends who were not drafted entering that season. There are a lot of tight ends going in the 11-20 range who I like, and that doesn’t even include a Dwayne Allen or Vernon Davis type if one of them gets hurt. Much like at wide receiver, I feel tight end is deeper than it has been in years past and the upside of this trio is worth the injury risk. I spoke a lot about this in my Draft-Day Manifesto, regarding drafting players in terms of range of outcomes. All these guys have “win you your week” upside that most tight ends don’t. At their current price points — end of Round 2 for Gronk, Round 5 for Reed, Round 9 for Eifert — I’m good with the risk.
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks: Rave reviews out of camp are normal and it’s Jimmy Graham, what are they gonna say? But last year’s TE4 was actually … unlucky? Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been quoted as saying Graham should get even more red zone looks this year. This, after a season in which he was third in red zone targets among tight ends. And that’s scary when you think of this: Graham is just 5-for-18 on end-zone targets during his Seahawks career (that’s a 28 percent catch rate). League average, incidentally, is 37 percent. You telling me Jimmy Graham isn’t league average? He has been unlucky and health has been an issue. Especially when you consider that from 2010-14, Graham caught 28 of 52 end-zone targets (54 percent). Even if he doesn’t get an increase in targets, had he caught 54 percent of his end-zone targets he would have been TE2 last season. Graham could easily be TE1 this season and I believe he is in the upper tier of tight ends, even though he isn’t being drafted as one (currently going sixth, behind Delanie Walker and sometimes behind Kyle Rudolph as well).
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts: Yeah, yeah, we are all on Doyle. By the time late August rolls around, he won’t be a sleeper anymore because every fantasy analyst in the universe will have talked him up. But Doyle is another guy who made the “Love” list in my free-agency “Love/Hate” column in early April. It’s real simple. In the past three years, 25 percent of Andrew Luck‘s completions, 24 percent of his passing yards and a whopping 37 percent of his touchdowns have gone to tight ends. New Colts general manager Chris Ballard let Dwayne Allen go and instead signed Doyle to a $19 million deal, in part because no tight end had a higher catch percentage last season than young Jack Doyle. He’s not the deepest of sleepers because, again, I think he’s going to be on everyone’s sleeper list, but whatever. He was on mine in April, so screw it. I’m sticking with him. I cannot believe he is going as TE18 right now on ESPN. Top-10 guy for me.
Others receiving votes: Hunter Henry was not a fluke last year. In speaking with a Chargers offensive assistant at the combine, I was told that there was a concerted effort to get Antonio Gates the record for touchdowns by a tight end (he is currently tied). Said the coach, “Henry should have had 12 touchdowns last year.” Now you could argue that one of the reasons Henry was open is because teams knew they wanted to get Gates the record, so they had Gates blanketed, but by the time you get your argument out I’ve already moved on. Henry has Philip Rivers’ trust in the red zone, no small thing, and with Gates’ snaps being cut back even more in his age-37 season, Henry should get enough volume that will make up for whatever potential regression there might be. … Austin Hooper scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl and, with Jacob Tamme gone, the 6-foot-3, 254-pounder is the starting tight end on a great Falcons offense that had 10 tight end touchdowns last season. … Health, not talent, has always been the issue for Julius Thomas and while he no longer has Peyton Manning, he is reunited with Adam Gase. Jay Cutler likes his tight ends – the past three years, 27 percent of his completions have gone to tight ends. That’s Andrew Luck territory — so JT makes a nice, cheap, upside pick at his current price of TE20 (14th round). … Finally, you’re not drafting him because he is suspended for the first two games, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins is someone with a lot of talent and, well, there’s not a lot of that on the Jets right now. Remember, he did play with Josh McCown some in Tampa.
Tight ends I hate in 2017
Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers: Ah, 2011. Lady Gaga was shooting up the charts with “Born This Way.” We met the big-screen version of Steve Rogers and saw the latest in red skin technology in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and Charlie Sheen introduced us to the phrase “Tiger Blood.” It was also the year that Jermichael Finley finished as a top-10 fantasy tight end in both overall scoring and on a points-per-game basis.
It’s also the only time that has happened for an Aaron Rodgers tight end. I don’t get the Martellus Bennett hype. For the record, he is not close to peak Jermichael Finley in terms of upside. Bill Belichick, who seems to know a thing or two about football and tight ends, and after seeing Bennett for a year and winning a Super Bowl with him, was like, “Yeah, we’re good.” Prior to last season, Bennett had never been a huge touchdown machine, and three of his seven last season came against Cleveland, which probably shouldn’t even count. Let’s play a quick game:
Percentage of Rodgers’ completions that have gone to TEs:
2008-10: 19.6 percent
2011-13: 18.6 percent
2014-16: 17.1 percent
OK, class, are these numbers trending in the right or wrong direction? In 2016, all the people who slobbered over Jared Cook finally getting to “play with a real QB” got disappointed. All Green Bay tight ends accounted for just 16 percent of Rodgers’ completions, 15.9 percent of his targets and 15.4 percent of the receiving yards. For the sake of comparison, Gary Barnidge (TE20 last season) received 16.3 percent of completions, 15.1 percent of targets, and 16.6 percent of the receiving yards in Cleveland. There’s probably a reason Martellus is now on his fifth team in a 10-year NFL career and his third team in three years. But instead of worrying about that, ask yourself why Rodgers would suddenly start throwing to the tight end in a significant way in his 10th season as a starting QB, when all of his receiving weapons from last season are back. (That’s right, I don’t consider Jared Cook a weapon.)
Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders: It’s always nice when a transition works out. Look, it was a great play in the playoffs. Amazing, even. But in fantasy we care about the regular season and we care about touchdowns, and over the past two years, Cook has one touchdown. ONE. Aaron Rodgers threw for 40 touchdowns last season and literally one of them went to Cook. Do you know how hard it is to play 26 games at tight end in two years and score only one touchdown? Here’s a list of some tight ends with more touchdowns during the past two seasons than Cook: Demetrius Harris, Darren Waller, Troy Niklas, Jake Stoneburner and John Phillips. Maybe it’s because the Raiders didn’t have anyone good to throw to, but during Derek Carr‘s three seasons in Oakland, the Raiders rank 23rd in receptions by TEs, 28th in receiving yards and tied for 25th in receiving TDs. Last season, specifically (Carr’s best season), they tied for third fewest in tight end targets. Cook looks great in a uniform and I am sure he’s a nice person, but I am not a fan. Currently going as TE15, last year’s TE36 (again, WITH AARON RODGERS) is all yours.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A bigger name than fantasy producer this year, Howard (a very good blocker in college) may be more of a run-blocker than a pass-catcher early on, especially with the emergence of Cameron Brate, who will certainly eat into his target share. Among rookie tight ends since 2001, only Jeremy Shockey in 2002 caught more than 55 passes, and only Rob Gronkowski in 2010 reached double-digit TDs. There is a long history (Hunter Henry not withstanding) of rookie tight ends taking time. I’m on board in dynasty, but not in re-draft leagues.
And that, my friends, is Love Hate 2017. And you thought the Fantasy Marathon was only on TV. Please remember this is written in early-to-mid August. Roles and opportunities, information about players and schemes, draft trends, health and results in the preseason all play a factor in the overall assessment, and if you refuse to keep your mind open and are unwilling to change an opinion of a player once you get new info, that’s a quick way to lose. The next few weeks are crucial. So be sure to read my 100 Facts column,which will give a lot of context to every single thing you read this preseason, especially from me. It’s probably my favorite column of the year.
Follow me on Twitter and become my friend on social media (I am @matthewberrytmr on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat and I am @matthewberry on the free Fantasy Life App. If you want a response the Fantasy Life app is easiest place to get a hold of me. Listen to our daily Fantasy Focus podcast, watch the new show, watch Fantasy Football Now on Sundays in the Fall (now starting at 10am and going for three hours). Read all the articles, news blurbs and rankings updates, watch the preseason games until it’s time to draft, mock draft like crazy and then make your decision and not anyone else’s. Make the choices you want. For Leroy.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto – is trying to write shorter articles this year. So far, off to a bad start. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.