Gridiron Digest Fantasy Football Special: Saquon Barkley or Bust!

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 27, 2019

Gridiron Digest Fantasy Football Special: Saquon Barkley or Bust!

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Fantasy football draft season is in full swing, and this special edition of Gridiron Digest is chock-full of fantasy tips, insights and expert opinions, including:

    • A breakdown of the top of the first round: Should Saquon Barkley be the first overall pick? Or will the dysfunctional Giants offense ruin your fantasy season?

    • Fantasy-themed previews for the Browns and (uh-oh) Colts

    • Buzz, stats and camp notes on some of this year's so-called fantasy "sleepers"

    • Advice from the fantasy experts at on stacking the top of your board, from Football Outsiders on identifying overrated and underrated quarterbacks, and from DraftKings on building a money-winning DFS lineup.

    • A special fantasy edition of Point-Counterpoint.

    Plus, not-just-for-fantasy breakdowns of all of this weekend's dress rehearsal action, and much more!

    The draft has begun. You are on the clock. Who are you gonna take?

    Need more help with your fantasy football lineup? Matt Camp answers your Fantasy questions live on B/R Gridiron's new show, Your Fantasy Fire Drill. Download the B/R app now to submit your questions and tune in every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. 


Breaking Down the Big Four

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    If you are picking first overall in your fantasy draft, you know just what to do. Trade down! Swap draft positions with someone who doesn't know better! Schedule a doctor's appointment on draft day and let your brother-in-law take your place! Do anything else, but for heaven's sake, don't actually pick first!

    Oh, it's not so bad. Sure, there's pressure. And by the time the draft snakes back around to you, the only player left on the board will be Nathan Peterman and some Jaguars receivers. But picking first guarantees you the best player in the league. All you have to do is identify the guy who's about to rush for 1,300 yards, catch 75 passes and score 15 touchdowns, because 1,200 yards, 50 passes and 10 touchdowns just won't be enough when your RB2 is Andy Janovich.

    To make sure you make the right choice for your league, let's break down the top four candidates for the first overall pick:


    Saquon Barkley, Giants

    The 2018 stats: 2,028 scrimmage yards, 91 receptions, 15 total touchdowns

    The skills: He's basically Thor.

    The quarterback: Eli Manning, at least until John Mara is ready to let go and move on. (I have a great aunt who still sets a place at dinner for her husband who died in 1997. Just providing context here.) For all his faults, Manning is outstanding at checking down to Barkley for 15-yard catches on 3rd-and-20, which are bad for the Giants but great for fantasy.

    The situation: The Giants have almost no one else to give or throw the ball to, but their offensive line should be much better than it was last year.

    The fear: Barkley gets force fed but needs to break three tackles to get to the line of scrimmage against stacked fronts, resulting in lots of 20-carry, 70-yard rushing days that leave him a notch behind the other elite runners.

    The last word: Barkley has proven he can generate fantasy points in a dysfunctional offense, and his big-play capability makes him nearly Eli-proof. All other things being equal, he's the no-brainer best choice as the top pick. But all other things are rarely equal in fantasy football.


    Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

    The 2018 stats: 1,965 scrimmage yards, 107 receptions, 14 total touchdowns (including one passing!)

    The skills: He's like an elite all-purpose wide receiver playing running back. Shh…no one tell him how much money he is costing himself.

    The quarterback: Cam Newton, assuming his foot injury doesn't become a season-long issue. Newton draws defensive attention away from McCaffrey, but he also can generate his own rushing yardage and touchdowns.

    The situation: The Panthers are rebuilding their offensive line; results so far are very mixed. Their receiving corps is full of up-and-comers but has no clear go-to guy. Also, there's no committee or changeup back. Like, at all.

    The fear: The Panthers get better, and it makes fantasy McCaffrey worse. Curtis Samuel and/or DJ Moore emerge as primary targets, a healthy Newton rushes for six to 10 touchdowns, and McCaffrey ends up around 1,500 total yards and six or seven touchdowns: very good but not necessarily first-overall-pick production. That, or Newton's injury is serious and everything goes kablooie.

    The last word: McCaffrey's role in the Panthers passing game makes him a viable first-overall pick in PPR leagues or if your scoring system adds lots of extra weight to receiving yards and touchdowns. Otherwise, stick with Saquon.


    Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

    The 2018 stats: 2,001 scrimmage yards, 77 catches, nine total touchdowns

    The talent: He's a two-time NFL rushing champion.

    The quarterback: Dak Prescott. He may have his ups and downs, but he's proven that he has what it takes to help Elliott be a two-time rushing champion.

    The situation: The Cowboys All Pro linemen may all be healthy at the same time for once (Zach Martin's back issue isn't a major concern…yet). That means the only thing standing between Elliott and a huge fantasy season is his contract situation. But yeah, about that…

    The fear: Elliott's holdout goes Le'Veon Bell nuclear. Or his long holdout leads to a slow statistical start, like when Bell returned to the Steelers at the last moment in 2017. Or Elliott gets involved in another incident that earns him a spin of the NFL's Wheel of Morality. Or Jerry Jones orders more touches for Tony Pollard, to teach Elliott a less… keep Elliott fresh!

    The bottom line: Even if Elliott reports to camp moments after you read this, he's a better option to take at 3 or 4 this year than 1. Holdout concerns, Pollard's emergence and a relative lack of elite receiving value give Barkley and McCaffrey the leg up.


    Alvin Kamara, Saints

    The 2018 stats: 1,592 scrimmage yards, 81 catches, 18 total touchdowns

    The talent: He's more like an all-time great third-down back than the traditional workhorse. That makes him a better fit in the modern NFL, but old perceptions die hard.

    The quarterback: Drew Brees, all-time NFL passing leader. Brees' attempts and yardage have slipped drastically in the past two years, a trend that can work both for Kamara (more rushes) and against him (fewer targets).

    The situation: Latavius Murray replaces Mark Ingram as Kamara's committee co-chairman, which should mean more snaps and carries for Kamara. Michael Thomas and Kamara accounted for almost exactly 50 percent of Saints pass attempts last year, but the arrival of tight end Jared Cook and the emergence of other receivers could change that.

    The fear: There's a real possibility that Kamara drifts into a role somewhere between third-down back and slot receiver, which would be a disaster for a first-round fantasy pick.

    The last word: Kamara is like the candidate who wins one of those elections where everyone lists him as their second or third choice, but with different people splitting the first-choice votes. He's safe and he's good, but last year's 14 rushing touchdowns feel like a fluke. Kamara lacks that Barkley ceiling you need when picking first and waiting for the draft to snake back to you. 

Preseason Spotlight: Indianapolis Colts

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    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest will highlight a pair of teams with news, notes and insights. In keeping with the fantasy theme, this week we'll focus on two teams expected to generate some big offensive numbers this year. Let's start with a Colts segment that needed a wee bit of editing over the weekend.

    Real football outlook: Andrew Luck's sudden retirement Saturday immediately transformed the Colts from Super Bowl sleepers into Tank-for-Tua Tagovailoa candidates. Yet perhaps the Colts were neither as good as they looked on paper with Luck nor as hopeless as they now appear to be.

    Fantasy football outlook: Not too different than the real football outlook.

    Quarterback: Jacoby Brissett threw for 3,098 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus four rushing touchdowns, in 15-and-a-half games of relief for the injured Luck in 2017. The numbers are nearly worthless for fantasy, but keep in mind that Brissett was then a last-minute trade acquisition for a bad team with suspect coaching. Brissett now has two years in Frank Reich's system, better weapons and a much better offensive line. He could have the year Nick Foles is expected to have. That still won't help your fantasy team at quarterback, but it might keep other Colts players from statistically cratering.

    Running back: The Fantasy Football Calculator had Marlon Mack hovering around the early fourth round in PPR leagues and the middle of the third round in more traditional scoring systems. Slide him below chairman-of-committee types like Phillip Lindsay and Sony Michel on your draft board, but don't overreact too severely. ... Nyheim Hines is a PPR leech who could sneak up into the 80-catch range if the Colts spend the year playing from behind.

    Wide receiver: T.Y. Hilton had 57 catches for 966 yards and four touchdowns with Brissett in 2017. Like Mack, he should slide down your board but not off it. ... Deon Cain, a sixth-round pick who missed all of last season with an ACL tear, weaved his way for a touchdown just before the Luck-pocalypse on Saturday night and looked like a late-round super sleeper. Put him on your waiver watch list, but expecting a breakout season under these circumstances is a little ambitious. ... Eric Ebron didn't look like a wise bet to come close to last year's 13 touchdowns even with Luck under center. Ebron was hanging around a tight end tier with David Njoku and Jared Cook all summer. Like Mack and Hilton, he should slide to the bottom of that tier but not off a cliff.

    Defense: The Colts defense has minimal fantasy value. 

    Kicker: Adam Vinatieri scored 109 points in 2017. If anything, his value goes slightly up if the Colts trade extra points after touchdowns for field-goal attempts. He also has more job security than kickers literally half his age on better teams.

    Bottom line: Luck's retirement is a much bigger deal than anything that can be summed up in a breezy fantasy preview. The Colts have a new organizational direction to chart, but they also have a season to get through and much more talent on both sides of the ball than they had two years ago. Teams have won the AFC South with Blake Bortles, Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler at quarterback, so why not Brissett? Like your fantasy season, the Colts' season is just getting started.

Preseason Spotlight: Cleveland Browns

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Throughout the preseason, Gridiron Digest will highlight a pair of teams with news, notes and insights. In keeping with this week's fantasy theme, we now turn to the Browns.

    Real football outlook: Never has a team that has accomplished so little spent an offseason talking so much. But the Browns are fun, so we're all pretending they're not setting themselves up for an epic face-plant.

    Fantasy football outlook: Touchdowns! Touchdowns! Touchdowns!

    Quarterback: The biggest concern for Baker Mayfield isn't his post-Millennial Jim McMahon impersonation but the rickety line he plays behind. Mayfield will produce very good numbers, but spotty protection could keep him from producing great ones.

    Running backs: Nick Chubb is a fantasy enigma. He has the chops for both big gains and short touchdowns, but a relative lack of receiving value and the fear that Kareem Hunt will siphon off touches after his eight-game suspension make Chubb a high fantasy risk. If you are sold on Chubb, invest a mid-round pick in either Hunt or a rookie likely to earn an increased role in the second half of the year (think: Buffalo's Devin Singletary or Philly's Miles Sanders).

    Receivers: Pencil Odell Beckham Jr. in for 60 catches, 1,200 yards and about eight touchdowns. ... Pencil Jarvis Landry in for 120 catches, 600 yards and about eight touchdowns (including an end-around and at least one throw to Beckham). ... Tight end David Njoku only caught four touchdowns in each of his first two years but should benefit from all the space between Beckham's ultra-deep routes and Landry's micro-short ones.  ... Antonio Callaway is suspended for the first four games and may not have a niche when he returns. ... Rashan Higgins is a solid receiver stuck in a not-enough-footballs scenario. 

    Defense: Myles Garrett plus Olivier Vernon plus Sheldon Richardson equals at least 50 sacks, making the Browns an appealing fantasy defense. 

    Kicker: Rookie Austin Seibert may have won the job with four field goals Friday night. There will be plenty of scoring opportunities in this offense, so if you have the stomach for a rookie kicker, knock your socks off.

    Bottom line: The Browns sound like a group of players and coaches who think they have skipped the growing-pains stage of development, which is a sure sign that they have not skipped the growing-pains stage of development. They are more likely to be exciting than truly great this year, but excitement can help win you a fantasy championship. 

Stacking the Draft Board with Sigmund Bloom of

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Gridiron Digest wanted some advice for setting up our draft board, so we hit up co-owner Sigmund Bloom to walk us through the first two rounds, the running back tiers and just why all the cool kids wait so long to draft a quarterback.

    Gridiron Digest: What's the first question I need to answer before I sit down at my draft?

    Sigmund Bloom: You should ask whether you want to take Todd Gurley in the second round, knowing what we know and don't know. And if not, are you looking for Darrell Henderson in the sixth round as a potential league winner if Gurley's knee is never right again?


    Digest: After that, what should my approach be? 

    Bloom: The first four picks in almost every league are going to be Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara in some order. 

    If you draw a pick late in the first round, that's when your opinions about player values and teams come in. You may go for Travis Kelce in the first round. You may go with your top receiver. You may also look at David Johnson or Joe Mixon, but you may have to take a stand at that point.

    The question of Patrick Mahomes comes down to your scoring, but in a basic league, you can wait on quarterbacks. And maybe Zach Ertz and George Kittle come into the mix in the second or third rounds as elite options other than Kelce.


    Digest: Those are a lot of early-round tight ends.

    Bloom: Every year, there are at most five to seven consistent tight ends. If you don't get one of those, then some weeks you might start somebody who gets two catches for 15 yards. After the top three, there might be Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, maybe Hunter Henry. Then it's all aspirational: You're hoping for a geriatric guy to stay healthy or some young guy to break out. Most of those kinds of picks end up disappointing when the dust settles.


    Digest: What running backs deserve to go in the top two or three rounds, besides the ones you mentioned?

    Bloom: Le'Veon Bell deserves consideration. There's the question of what to do about Melvin Gordon. Nick Chubb is there in the second round. There are people worried about what Kareem Hunt's return from suspension after eight games will mean, but I'm not as worried.

    When you get to the third round, you get a lot of running backs who could produce like first rounders, "if." Devonta Freeman if he stays healthy. Kerryon Johnson, Aaron Jones or Derrick Henry if their teams feed them. Even Josh Jacobs wouldn't be a surprise. 

    You can get away with starting the draft by picking wide receiver-wide receiver if you hit with those picks.


    Digest: But that receiver-receiver strategy in the first two rounds is risky.

    Bloom: It is. But say you are picking around the turn in the first round. If you take Michael Thomas and Julio Jones, or Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, you're doing great, because you know exactly what you have. But if you take Le'Veon Bell and James Conner, you don't quite know what you have. You're trading position scarcity at running back for the certainty you get with wide receivers. Then if you can dial in running backs later that can perform like first rounders, that's almost an unfair advantage.


    Digest: If I don't target a wide receiver early, what should my strategy be at that position? 

    Bloom:  There's persistence of value at receiver through the third round or so. And then, wide receiver is all about players you think are going to take the next step this year. Chris Godwin, DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. Marcus Valdes-Scantling. Christian Kirk. Some of these guys are in new situations, so it's going to take some imagination, but they could be at the intersections of perfect storms.


    Digest: That leaves quarterback until the fifth, sixth or seventh round. 

    Bloom: Or later. Some drafts are more quarterback happy. But in our so-called expert leagues, we like to see who can wait the longest before taking a quarterback. 

    Because rushing stats are weighted so highly in most fantasy leagues, guys like Mitchell Trubisky, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson can make it unfair, and these guys are going outside of the top 12 or 15 quarterbacks in most drafts. Even Tom Brady, Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger are falling to 12 through 15 . If the punishment for not taking a quarterback until everyone has one is "oh no, now you have to start Philip Rivers," that's not much of a punishment.


    Digest: When speculating about a young receiver or an injured/holdout running back, how do you avoid analysis paralysis?

    Bloom: You can talk yourself into or out of anybody. You can tell yourself the story of how Todd Gurley is going to win your league as a second-round pick, or you can tell the story that Malcom Brown or Darrell Henderson is going to win your league for you in a later round. So maybe the best thing to do in a fantasy draft is to look at that list of names, find the ones that make your heart flutter when you see them, and just take those guys.


    Digest: When I do that, I wind up with four tight ends.

    Bloom: There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone likes a good tight end.

Fantasy Sleeper Digest

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Let's get real: There's no such thing as a "sleeper" anymore in a world where you can crowdsource five billion fantasy drafts on your smartphone 10 minutes before you sit down at the table. But Gridiron Digest has visited a few camps, watched gobs of preseason games and tracked some of the following players since they were in college, so we can help you sift through the speculator's market in the middle rounds. 

    Kalen Ballage, RB, Dolphins: Ballage is stuck in a miserable offense and is expected to split time with Kenyan Drake. But Drake has spent the preseason in a walking boot and is a dreadful pass protector with a history of ending up in the coach's doghouse for whiffing on blocks. Ballage is big, quick, useful as a receiver and has gotten positive camp buzz. He has crept from the 13th round to the eighth on fantasy boards during the summer, per Nab him if he's on the board around there and you need a high-upside RB3 or RB4. 

    Cole Beasley, WR, Bills: A 30-year-old slot receiver on a new team? Total brother-in-law pick, right? Beasley is only valuable in PPR leagues, where he's hovering around the 14th round. He has emerged in camp and the preseason as Josh Allen's checkdown security blanket, which should result in lots of targets and yards-after-catch opportunities. Beasley's ceiling is low, but 65-75 catches could stabilize your lineup if you went the "Zero WR" route.

    Evan Engram, TE, Giants: Someone besides Saquon Barkley will get touches, no matter how bad the Giants offense is. Engram has Travis Kelce-level talent and has looked phenomenal in Giants OTAs and practices. He was targeted 115 times as a rookie in 2017 and should see even more opportunities now that he's the best receiver on the roster, not counting the running back. 

    Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers: A former draftnik darling and perennial breakout candidate, Godwin scored seven touchdowns last year and should see more targets with DeSean Jackson and Adam Beasley gone. But beware: Godwin was leaving the board in the fourth round before his big preseason performance this weekend. Don't overpay for the No. 2 receiver on a bad team.

    Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions: Golladay is listed on lots of breakout lists, but if you need incentive to take the plunge, check out these Football Outsiders breakdowns by Bryan Knowles of receiver efficiency by route. Golladay led the league last year in efficiency on out routes and drag routes while finishing third on fly routes. Anyone that good at working inside, outside and deep is due for massive production.

    Justice Hill and Gus Edwards, RBs, Ravens: Hill was a productive no-nonsense runner at Oklahoma State who had a great camp and a strong preseason. He's worth a last-round look and should be a waiver watch/DFS bargain if he finds his way into the running back rotation. He's worth more in keeper leagues. Keep an eye on Gus Edwards as a last-rounder in non-PPR leagues or on the DFS discount rack. The Ravens used him as the fullback in some triple-option flavored plays, which could mean goal-line carries and a few leeched touchdowns.

    DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, WRs, Panthers: Both are former draftnik favorites with exceptional run-after-catch elusiveness. Either could become Cam Newton's go-to target. And don't underestimate the Norv Turner factor: Despite the Panthers offensive coordinator's many shortcomings, he's great at developing wide receivers (ever wonder how Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs became two of the NFL's best route-runners?). Samuel is slipping further than Moore in most leagues, which may make him a better value. 

    Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles: Sanders, a second-round pick, may be overvalued at this point; he has climbed from the mid-seventh round to early fifth over the last few weeks. Sanders has been the best running back at Eagles practices and has gotten long looks in preseason games, but he's guaranteed a committee role with Jordan Howard and (when healthy) Darren Sproles. He's a high-priority keeper-league acquisition, but a low ceiling for 2019 makes him a risky RB3 or RB4.

    Dede Westbrook, WR, Jaguars: Another third-year breakout candidate, Westbrook is Nick Foles' favorite target in John DeFilippo's offense, so he could produce Nelson Agholor's 2017 numbers (62 catches, 768 yards, eight touchdowns). That's great for a WR3 or WR4; just make sure you don't draft him as your WR2. 

Pat Mayo of DraftKings Stacks Up the DFS Scene

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    We'll admit it: The whole "daily fantasy" revolution passed Gridiron Digest by, so we asked DraftKings daily fantasy expert Pat Mayo to get us up to speed in time for the Fantasy Football Millionaire tournament in Week 1 and other DFS contests.

    Gridiron Digest: What can someone who plans to play a lot of DFS do in late August to get ready for the NFL season?

    Pat Mayo: You can review last year by checking out our columns by Adam Levitan on DraftKings about how the big-money winners did it. Some of them played 50 lineups, but other times it's someone who only played one lineup.

    And of course, some folks are playing preseason fantasy football right now. Acclimating yourself to the different rules and strategies before the season starts will give you a huge leg up.


    Digest: So knowing what type of contests you plan to play is as important as picking the best players?

    Mayo: It's not just tournament styles. You can play in a tournament like Fantasy Football Millionaire where only the first prize wins a million dollars. But there are lots of other tournaments, like 50-50 contests where you win if you beat half of the opponents. The strategy for beating 200,000 other people for a million dollars is much different than the strategy for just beating 50 percent of the other competitors. 


    Digest: It sounds like you have to be able to identify super-sleepers every week to win the big tournaments, whereas you can be more traditional in something like a 50-50.

    Mayo: It's usually the low-own players that make the difference. You play more of a balanced roster inside your salary cap in a cash game: guys with high floors. It's less volatile. Not that you don't want to target some low-own guys: You want to make your team a little bit different. 

    Say there's a week where there are no injuries at running back. Maybe you roll the dice by paying down at running back and spend on someone like Travis Kelce because you know that everyone else is paying so much for both their running backs that they have no money at tight end. Then you hit if that happens. 


    Digest: Week 1 player values were posted on DraftKings weeks ago. Is it really wise for someone to put together a Week 1 lineup so early?

    Mayo: I have a few Week 1 lineups already. You want to reserve your spot in some of the big contests. But the most important decisions have to be made on Sunday morning.

    You can always amend your lineups up until the games. So you can make a dummy lineup that you like at the moment, but it's subject to change when you change your mind.


    Digest: It sounds like a DFS novice like me might need to combine some wagering experience with the old-school August-draft-at-the-bar fantasy knowledge.

    Mayo: One of the best ways to generate points is to examine the odds of games. Look at the over-unders and determine what game is projected to score the most points. 

    In Week 1, it's the Chiefs versus the Jaguars. Everyone is going to have a lot of Chiefs players, because they score a lot of points. But very few people will have a lot of Jaguars players. If you wanted to construct a lineup with Nick Foles, Leonard Fournette and Dede Westbrook, or even someone like Geoff Swaim, the cheapest tight end on the board, you can build a stack that way, then add Tyreek Hill and fill the rest of your lineup from other games. 


    Digest: Those are lots of variables to consider. What's the biggest piece of advice you would give a longtime NFL fan dipping a toe into DFS for the first time?

    Mayo: Just go with the team that you want to play. If you're throwing a $20 entry into Fantasy Millionaire, pick the nine guys you want to play with, for entertainment value. We see single bullets win all the time.

Football Outsiders Breaks Down Overrated and Underrated QBs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Football Outsiders' KUBIAK fantasy projection tools have been helping folks win their leagues for well over a decade. And while running backs and receivers get all the fantasy attention, the right choice at quarterback can make or break your season. So Gridiron Digest asked FO assistant editor Vince Verhei, author of a pair of recent articles about overrated and underrated fantasy players, to help us sort through this year's quarterbacks.

    Gridiron Digest: The KUBIAK projection system ranks Tom Brady among the most overrated fantasy quarterbacks. Explain yourself, or else. 

    Vince Verhei: Brady is in uncharted waters. There has never been a quarterback as old as Tom Brady is right now who has had what you could call a "good" year. In the history of the NFL, there have been a total of 38 touchdowns thrown by players aged 42 or older, and the single-season record is 11, by Warren Moon. As soon as Brady throws 11 touchdowns—before Halloween, probably—he will set an all-time record for players his age. 

    He also lost Rob Gronkowski, a one-of-a-kind touchdown scoring machine. Now, since the overrated article was written, Josh Gordon was reinstated, so Brady has his physical freak back. Per our projections, the gap has narrowed somewhat, but he's still ranked about nine spots higher on the ESPN list than our list.


    Digest: And yet, the system ranks Ben Roethlisberger as underrated, despite the loss of Antonio Brown. 

    Verhei: Roethlisberger has made the Football Outsiders list of underrated fantasy quarterbacks five times in the last nine years. He does have a checkered past, and there are a lot of fantasy players who may not want to cheer for him every Sunday, so they pick the next quarterback down the list. He also gets hurt a lot and misses some games, but he was healthy last year, and he was third in fantasy scoring. 

    And yes, he has lost his top receiver over the past half decade. But the Steelers do have guys in the pipeline. Frankly, as good as Brown was, he was never as big a piece of the fantasy pie as Gronk was in New England.

    Digest: Jared Goff is listed as underrated. Why do you think the public is sleeping on him?

    Verhei: We think a lot of people are overreacting to the Super Bowl and his late-season slump. That slump coincided with Cooper Kupp being sidelined. With Kupp healthy again, the Rams will play more like what we saw over the greater part of the last two years. 


    Digest: Jameis Winston is also on the underrated list. Does the KUBIAK prediction assume that he will take a big leap forward under Bruce Arians? 

    Verhei: If you look at the games he started last year, he was a top-10 quarterback on a per-game basis. People are skeptical because he also has a checkered past, and at one point, he was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Those are good reasons to be skeptical, but Fitzpatrick's in Miami now. Winston is not going to be benched for Blaine Gabbert. It's impossible. So he doesn't have to improve at all. If he plays as good as last year for 16 games, he's a fantasy starter.


    Digest: Why is Russell Wilson overrated? What's not to love?

    Verhei: Wilson, like Brady, has lost his best receiver for many years when Doug Baldwin retired. DK Metcalf has already needed surgery. And everyone expects Seattle to pass more than they did last year—they can't pass any less, right?—but how much more? KUBIAK is a little reluctant to increase their pass attempts by that much.

    Brady, Wilson and Drew Brees (who also made the "overrated" list) are all Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. There are a lot of fantasy players who put too much stock in hardware. Just because a guy won a Super Bowl—or six—doesn't mean he's going to help you win your fantasy league this fall.

Dress Rehearsal Digest, Part 1

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    The third week of the preseason used to be the "Dress Rehearsal" week, when starters played until halftime and fans got a real sense of what each team would look like in the upcoming season. These days, some teams still give their starters real playing time, but others bench everyone, and a few play their games on 90-yard patches of lumpy Canadian tundra. 

    It's nearly impossible to take anything meaningful away from a hodgepodge where Tom Brady is starting in one game and someone named Tim Boyle is starting another, but over the next two segments, Gridiron Digest will do its best with quarterback overreactions, good-and-bad injury news and some late-round rookies who are opening eyes. 

    Redskins 19, Falcons 7: Derrius Guice looked good in his first live action since tearing his ACL last August, rushing 11 times for 44 yards behind the offensive line the Skins unironically consider their starting unit. A healthy Guice could make the difference between Washington finishing 5-11 and finishing 5-11 with better rushing stats. ... Linebacker Jermaine Grace has been the star of the Falcons preseason. He broke up a pass at the goal line Thursday, recorded an interception against the Dolphins and has generally been all over the field. Grace has been a knockaround practice-squader after getting dismissed from the University of Miami for an alleged memorabilia-for-luxury-car-rentals scam. Grace should make the Falcons' 53-man roster; given their past injury misfortune, he'll be starting by Week 12.

    Dolphins 22, Jaguars 7: Nick Foles (6-of-10 for 48 yards with one touchdown and one interception) looked like a bottom-tier starter or top-tier backup, which is precisely what he has always been, save for a few hours in February 2018. Why yes, Jaguars, you did guarantee him over $50 million. Enjoy! Meanwhile, Josh Rosen looked good with the second- and third-stringers, which is what he had to work with all last season in Arizona. Brian Flores admits he now has a complicated quarterback decision: Does he start Rosen behind a balsa wood offensive line so the second-year quarterback looks like an all-time bust, or bench him for stunt double Ryan Fitzpatrick, which will make him look like an all-time bust? Decisions, decisions. ... Jaguars first-round edge-rusher Josh Allen and Dolphins first-round defensive lineman Christian Wilkins are both going to be nightmares to block.

    Giants 25, Bengals 23: Let's let the Daniel Jones saga simmer for a moment. Third-round edge-rusher Oshane Ximines had a pair of sacks Thursday night. Defensive back Corey Ballentine, the sixth-round pick who was shot and wounded on draft weekend, had another excellent preseason effort. Factor Jones in and maybe, just maybe, general manager Dave Gettleman isn't quite the laughing stock folks made him out to be over the past two years? 

    Patriots 10, Panthers 3: Brian Burns had his second two-sack game of the preseason. Panthers fans who don't want to be depressed may want to focus on Burns and not the fact that Cam Newton sprained his foot behind an offensive line that, despite the additions of Matt Paradis and Greg Little, somehow appears to be getting worse.

    Ravens 26, Eagles 15: Eagles rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was the highlight of an excruciatingly dull game, with eight catches for 104 yards, a touchdown and several away-from-the-body grabs. Look for the Eagles to keep six receivers this season: Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, Arcega-Whitside, camp standout Greg Ward Jr. and (if healthy) special teams ace Mack Hollins. ... Also, the Ravens have now won 16 straight preseason games. They're the 2007 Patriots of things that don't matter.

    Buccaneers 13, Browns 12: Jameis Winston was sacked five times in the first half by Olivier Vernon and others in starter-on-starter action. So is the Browns pass rush that great, or is the Bucs offensive line that terrible? The short answer: yes.

    Bills 24, Lions 20: The Bills got a break when a serious-looking injury to cornerback Tre'Davious White turned out to be a quad contusion. The Lions got a break when a serious-looking injury to center Frank Ragnow turned out to be an ankle sprain. Otherwise, this game was a tedious succession of mistakes, injuries and penalties, which is about what you would expect from a regular-season Bills-Lions game, so maybe it really was a dress rehearsal.

    Raiders 22, Packers 21: Even Pop Warner kids deserve to play on a field with no sinkholes in the end zones. This game should never have been played. And if Jon Gruden really thinks the field was fine, then he deserves a wide receiver who wants to take his helmet choices all the way to the Supreme Court.

Dress Rehearsal Digest, Part 2

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    If we were forced to watch all of these games, you are forced to read about them. Those are the rules, folks. 

    Cowboys 34, Texans 0: Lamar Miller's ACL injury leaves newly acquired Duke Johnson, 31-year-old practice squad MVP Taiwan Jones and a bunch of guys even more obscure than Taiwan Jones as the Texans running backs. The team will do something about it as soon as its general managers play rock-paper-scissors to determine whose responsibility it is.  Also, while preseason results are meaningless, a 34-point loss in the dress rehearsal should tell us something about the Cowboys or the Texans. Probably the Texans.

    Rams 10, Broncos 6: Rams seventh-round pick Dakota Allen has 17 total tackles in the preseason and may challenge for the starting middle linebacker role while Micah Kiser is sidelined with a pectoral injury. Journeyman special teamer Bryce Hager is currently the starter, but Allen—who bounced from Texas Tech to East Mississippi Community College (aka Last Chance U) and back during a checkered college career, has both the athleticism and instincts to push for playing time.

    49ers 27, Chiefs 17: Jimmy Garoppolo rebounded from a miserable first series—he missed several routine short passes—to drop a few deep teardrops and lead three scoring drives against (mostly) Chiefs starters. Maybe Garoppolo is turning the corner on a very worrisome summer. And maybe it's a bad sign that we are still riding a preseason roller coaster with a quarterback entering his sixth NFL season. 

    Steelers 18, Titans 6: Second-year Steelers receiver James Washington caught a 41-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to go with his 40- and 43-yard receptions in the two previous preseason games. Look for Washington and veteran Donte Moncrief to split up most of the targets that used to go to Antonio Brown. ... The Titans starters looked overmatched on both sides of the ball, as they did against the Cowboys. Maybe we shouldn't bury the Colts just yet.

    Saints 28, Jets 13: Deonte Harris, a 5'6" undrafted rookie out of Assumption College, may have pulled away from a crowded field for the Saints' fifth receiver/return specialist spot with a 78-yard punt return touchdown and a 17-yard sideline grab Saturday. Harris also had a 26-yard punt return against the Chargers and some impressive kickoff returns. Want to see Harris' college highlights, played on fields surrounded by suburban backyards? Gridiron Digest (and Draft Diamonds) have got you covered

    Bears 27, Colts 17: This may have been the most meaningless preseason game in history: One team's starting quarterback retired, the other team steadfastly refuses to play any starters, and the whole second half felt like trying to make small-talk at a cocktail party after the host and hostess announced their divorce. 

    Seahawks 23, Chargers 15: Seahawks fourth-round pick Ugo Amadi had another strong game: six tackles, one of them for a loss, plus a quarterback hit. Amadi, who made the highlight reel last week as a punt gunner, won the NCAA's Lombardi Award for leadership last year and got off-the-scale marks for effort and intangibles at Oregon. The Seahawks need someone like him in their rebuilt Legion of Whom secondary. 

    Vikings 20, Cardinals 9: Back in my high school teaching days, many school dress codes forbade flip-flops for some reason. Once per year, some administrator would decide to enforce the ban, and suddenly half the faculty had flip-flops on the brain: Teachers began handing out detentions for footwear, getting into heated philosophical arguments about heel straps, allowing A-plus student to slide while nailing the D-minus kid for exactly the same footwear. Point being: The Cardinals' hand-clap false starts are the NFL officiating version of flip-flop mania. The referees are now scrutinizing gestures they have ignored for years simply because the hand-clap has gotten their attention, and they are not enforcing the rule uniformly because they now associate it with Kliff Kingsbury's offense, and also because the rule is poorly thought out and makes no sense. High school flip-flop mania always ended when everyone got busy and went back to ignoring the dress code and most other rules entirely, so NFL officials will be back to ignoring hand claps and being uncertain about what constitutes pass interference in no time. ... (Also: That Dalvin Cook touchdown sure was something, wasn't it?)

Point-Counterpoint Fantasy Special

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    We wrap up this week by asking the Point-Counterpoint guys their fantasy opinions, because that sounded like a good idea when we came up with it. 


    Is fantasy football ruining football for "real" fans?

    Point: Heavens, no. True fandom these days means leaving 10 DFS lineups for your PPR and IDP leagues, all based on the ECR for maximum ROI, then playing Apex Legends all day Sunday while keeping track of point totals on your phone, just like George Halas intended.

    Counterpoint: I don't even know what language you are speaking! Real fans engage with football the old-fashioned way: by laying 40 points for Arkansas to cover against East Wesleyan Medical College in a untelevised 11 a.m. kickoff and waiting to read the results in the Sunday newspaper.


    What are your draft strategies for Antonio Brown?

    Point: I selected him first overall because my league awards big bonus points for moments of self-actualization. I ran away with the championship with Le'Veon Bell last year.

    Counterpoint: I plan to start him for the first three weeks, when Jon Gruden will order Derek Carr to target him 20 times per game to keep him content and spitefully "prove" that there's no tension. Then I will cut him the day before he files a class-action suit for the right to wear fuzzy bunny slippers for My Cause, My Cleats.


    What is your policy on handcuff backs like Tony Pollard, Darrell Henderson and Austin Ekeler?

    Point: I drafted all of them. My entire lineup is built out of handcuffs and sleepers. Also, my entire retirement fund is invested in ultra-rare Yu Gi Oh cards.

    Counterpoint: I drafted Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon 1-2-3. Ride or die with the big guys! I also still keep Barry Sanders on the back of my bench. We'll see who has the last laugh when he unretires. Oh, and my Week 1 starting running backs are Nick Brossette and Zach Zenner.


    Do your leagues have any embarrassing rules for the player who finishes in last place?

    Point: Of course not! Everyone in our league gets a participation trophy, and I throw a party in January where we sit around in a circle and everyone says one thing that they liked best about everyone else's team. It's a fabulous self-esteem building exercise, though everyone turns out to be strangely busy that weekend. 

    Counterpoint: Yes. It involves jumper cables, a kiddie pool and several notarized liability waivers. 


    Finally, and we really dread asking you two this question: What are your thoughts on Andrew Luck's retirement?

    Point: The NFL has a unique culture, and not everyone fits in. Scouts and general managers need to gate-keep by asking incoming prospects the right questions. Do you have interests besides football, hunting and fishing? Did you like math in high school? Have you ever voluntarily read a book that wasn't about a football player, spy or cowboy? Have you ever rolled a 20-sided die? A player who answers "yes" to any of these questions needs to immediately get scratched off the draft board. This will ensure the highest-possible caliber of NFL product.

    Counterpoint: Don't worry, Luck will be back as soon as he gets tired of traveling the world with his beautiful young wife and realizes that it's his duty to be pummeled for our entertainment.