B/R App Community 2021 Fantasy Football Mailbag: Toughest Questions Answered

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 4, 2021

B/R App Community 2021 Fantasy Football Mailbag: Toughest Questions Answered

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The NFL preseason is almost here. Before you know it, the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be opening the regular season Sept. 9. And now that the calendar has turned to August, it's the most wonderful time of year for fantasy football enthusiasts.

    It's draft season.

    While it's a time of great excitement and enthusiasm, it's also a time of uncertainty and questions galore. Who should be the first few players selected in 2021? When is the best time to address the quarterback position? Who are the late-round picks who will lead you to glory?

    In an effort to provide some answers to fantasy managers, I combed through their questions on the Bleacher Report app and selected some to respond to.

    Now let's get this show on the road, beginning with the first question fantasy managers will ask themselves once their drafts gets underway.    

You Are on the Clock

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Is CMC [Christian McCaffrey] worth taking 1.01 again? Are his injuries from last year worrisome? — @nahttodaydeath

    Last year at this time, there was no question that Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey should be the first overall pick. The fifth-year pro had just become the third running back in league history to top 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season and was coming off his second straight year with over 1,000 rushing yards and 100 catches.    

    But things didn't go according to plan. McCaffrey suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and then got back on the field just long enough to separate his shoulder. He only played three games all season.

    That said, McCaffrey has been practicing without limitations, and there has been no indication that he's anything but 100 percent. Per Steve Reed of the Associated Press, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule is excited to have McCaffrey back.

    "We're anxious to get Christian out there [because] he's a difference-maker," Rhule said. "In the National Football League, you only get so many difference-makers, and he's our difference-maker."

    McCaffrey's injury-marred 2020 can't be ignored. But this isn't the same as Saquon Barkley's ACL tear. The injuries McCaffrey suffered have had more than enough time to heal.

    Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans topped 2,000 rushing yards last year. But he's a non-factor in the passing game, and every 2,000-yard back before Henry has experienced a sizable dip in production the next year. 

    Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings has never made it through an entire NFL season. Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints has a new quarterback, and Michael Thomas (ankle surgery) is expected to miss the start of the season, meaning he won't be there to draw defensive attention.

    Never mind that McCaffrey has a higher fantasy ceiling than every other back on that list.

    The 25-year-old isn't a risk-free pick—those are in short supply in 2021. But if you have the first overall pick in your fantasy league (standard or PPR), McCaffrey is the player you should take.

We're No. 3!

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    [Alvin] Kamara, [Saquon] Barkley or [Derrick] Henry at 1.03? 12 man PPR. — @DetroitSports69

    This is something of a loaded question, if only because each of these running backs carries a major question mark.

    For Derrick Henry (who is being drafted third overall on average), it's his workload.

    He carried the ball a staggering 396 times (counting the playoffs) on the way to over 2,000 rushing yards in 2020. That puts him in the crosshairs of both the Curse of 370 (in the past, backs who amass 370 carries in a season generally see a substantial decline in production the following campaign) and the fact that the other backs who hit 2K on the ground all saw their rushing numbers drop the following year.

    For Alvin Kamara, it's the situation around him. With Drew Brees gone, the quarterback situation in New Orleans is unsettled and then some. Now with Michael Thomas set to miss regular-season games after ankle surgery, opposing defenses are undoubtedly going to be out to stop Kamara.    

    For Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants, the question is health. There has at least been some encouraging news regarding his surgically repaired knee (ACL) of late, but the fourth-year veteran still isn't practicing. His status for the season opener against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium isn't certain.  

    Frankly, Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys merits more consideration at third overall than Barkley, although Elliott's down 2020 season raises questions as well. But if you're choosing between the three options listed, Henry is the guy despite his lack of passing-game involvement. He held up just fine in 2020 despite a massive workload the year before and should once again be among the league's leaders in carries.

Patience Is a Virtue

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    What is the sweet spot for drafting a starting QB? — @ShamSlam

    Drafting a quarterback too early is one of the most common mistakes.

    There's no question that Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is fantastic. There's a reason he's the highest-paid player in the NFL. But using a second-round pick on Mahomes is a waste of draft capital.

    Quarterback is the deepest position in fantasy by a fair margin. Given that depth, drafting an elite QB early just isn't necessary even in 12-team leagues.

    When you look at the "advantage" of having a high-end quarterback in fantasy, it becomes that much more evident that it just isn't worth it.

    The highest-scoring fantasy QB in 2020 (Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills) outscored the No. 12 quarterback (Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons) by just seven fantasy points per game. It's a smaller gap than between the No. 1 running back and No. 24 running back (assuming two weekly starters), the No. 1 wide receiver and No. 24 (or No. 36 wideout) and the No. 1 tight end and No. 12 tight end.

    In other words, the "edge" afforded by drafting an elite QB isn't worth the deficit created at another position. You will wind up in the red.

    And that's without taking into consideration that the first quarterback drafted hasn't actually finished No. 1 in a decade.

    Now, if Mahomes is sitting there in Round 5, this narrative changes somewhat. But you can wait until a half-dozen quarterbacks are taken and still get Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Or wait until every other team has selected a starter and land Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons or Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans.

    Use the depth to your advantage and be patient.    

Slap on the Cuffs

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Who is the No. 1 "Handcuff" RB in the league? — @CryingCarr

    There isn't a consensus among fantasy managers as to the value of handcuff running backs. And frankly, a lot of the backs people point to as handcuffs are more of complementary backs, like Kareem Hunt of the Browns, Nyheim Hines of the Colts or Tarik Cohen of the Bears.

    A true handcuff has minimal standalone value. But if the back in front of him goes down, it's on.

    That said, it's not hard to pinpoint the top three handcuffs in the league, especially since all three back up runners who are going in the top five of many drafts. If you roster one of those three elite backs, an insurance policy is an excellent idea.

                                                 

    1. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 103.8)

    Pollard was actually more effective on a per-touch basis last year than Ezekiel Elliott, but there's no question that Elliott is the guy in the Dallas backfield. However, when Pollard filled in for injured Elliott in Week 15 last year, he piled up 132 total yards and two scores on 18 touches.

                                         

    2. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 114.0)

    Of the three running backs listed here, Murray likely has the most stand-alone value. He's recorded at least 140 carries in each of the past three seasons. Alvin Kamara has missed two games since 2019 (excluding Week 17). In those games, Murray was a top-five fantasy back.

                                            

    3. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 113.2)

    If Dalvin Cook is healthy, Mattison is essentially a non-factor in fantasy leagues. But Cook has missed time in all four professional seasons, and when he's been sidelined or limited, the Vikings have been willing to employ Mattison in a featured role, including two games with at least 20 carries in 2020.

Late-Round Running Back Fliers

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    Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

    With the running back position seemingly not so deep this year, who are some late-round targets with potential to outperform their ADP? — @Rhettro

    It's not so much that the running back position is significantly shallower than in recent years. Fantasy managers are just whaling away on the position in the early rounds of most drafts.

    This is a year in which it'll take a courageous soul to try the Zero RB strategy.

    That said, there are some late-round dart throws, with ADPs outside of the top 85 picks at Fantasy Football Calculator, who have the potential to develop into at least low-end weekly starters.

              

    Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 87.7)

    At first glance, the Moss-Devin Singletary timeshare in Buffalo doesn't appear to offer fantasy managers much in the way of appeal. But down the stretch last year, the Bills leaned more heavily on Moss, and he responded with 4.8 yards per carry in the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16). If Moss can get 60-plus percent of the backfield snaps in 2021, he'll outperform his Round 8 asking price.

                      

    Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions (ADP: 107.4)

    Williams has drawn rave reviews from both his new coach and teammates after averaging nearly 750 yards from scrimmage and more than four touchdowns per season over four years with the Green Bay Packers. D'Andre Swift may be the No. 1 back in Detroit, but Williams is at the least going to get some third-down and complementary work. Swift also missed three games as a rookie in 2020.

                                           

    Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins (ADP: N/A)

    Brown isn't just flying under the radar. He's completely off it. The seventh-year veteran isn't a worldbeater by any stretch. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 101 rushing attempts for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. But he could earn some short-yardage and goal-line work off the get and have a more substantial role if Myles Gaskin is injured or struggles.    

The Colts Conundrum

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    What impact will the Wentz injury have on Jonathan Taylor's fantasy value? — @StephenAyeeSmith

    Fantasy managers dread training-camp and preseason injuries almost as much as NFL teams. They can be season-killers. It's the reason why waiting as long as possible to conduct your league's draft is a smart move.

    The foot injury that will sideline Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz for the next five-to-12 weeks (if not longer) isn't a catastrophe from a fantasy perspective. Wentz was being drafted as a backup in most leagues, and wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and T.Y. Hilton were more late-round dart throws than real building blocks.

    All three are essentially undraftable now.

    The biggest question facing fantasy managers is how to treat Taylor.

    Per Fantasy Football Calculator, in recent PPR mock drafts the second-year running back has an ADP of RB8 and the ninth overall pick, which is right about where he was going pre-injury.

    If you are the glass half-full type, then with Wentz out, Taylor will undoubtedly be the focal point of the offense. With Jacob Eason or Brett Hundley under center, Taylor could not only see more carries but also have quite a few dump-offs in the passing game. Touches equal opportunity.

    For the glass half-empty crowd, there's the fact that Eason and Hundley, um, suck. Teams are going to load the box in an effort to stop Taylor. And if the Colts start falling behind with regularity, it could mean more snaps for passing-down back Nyheim Hines and less action for Taylor.

    This could change if the Colts add another quarterback (paging Nick Foles), but while Taylor's ADP hasn't changed much, he's a much riskier first-round pick than he was a week ago. That's doubly true (and then some) after All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson suffered a foot injury of his own. His recovery timetable is also five-to-12 weeks.

    Before the Wentz news broke, I took part in a mock draft at B/R in which I drafted Taylor eighth overall. If that draft were held again today, I'd take Aaron Jones of the Packers, Nick Chubb of the Browns and Austin Ekeler of the Chargers ahead of Taylor.   

Tight End Values

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Who will be a sold TE this year that might surprise some of us? — @SmokingGun 

    There are essentially three types of tight ends in fantasy in 2021.

    There are the unquestioned Big Three of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle, elite options who also carry high price tags. There is a second tier that includes Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson and rookie Kyle Pitts.

    Then there's, well, everyone else.

    That isn't to say there isn't a difference among that massive third group. But once you hit that tier, a compelling argument can be made that waiting for an upside play late is the best use of draft capital.

    There are a few players who have an excellent shot of outperforming their modest ADPs at Fantasy Football Calculator.

                    

    Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: 124.4)

    Higbee disappointed last season after ending the 2019 campaign on a hot streak. However, the 28-year-old should benefit both from the departure of Gerald Everett in free agency and the arrival of quarterback Matthew Stafford.

    Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 145.1)

    With longtime starter Kyle Rudolph no longer in the Twin Cities, the door is open for Smith to take a major step forward in his third professional season. If early reports from training camp are any indication, the 22-year-old former Alabama star is intent on a breakout campaign.

                     

    Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 153.4)

    Cook is doing his best to give Ryan Fitzpatrick a run for his money as the king of the journeymen. He'll open his 13th professional season playing for his sixth team. Last year, Hunter Henry (now with the New England Patriots) logged 93 targets in 14 games for the Chargers. The last time Cook was targeted 100 times (2018) he posted a 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns and finished as a top-five tight in PPR points.

Keeper Quandary

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    In in a league where you get three keepers. Who do you stash out of [Calvin] Ridley, Lamar [Jackson], James Robinson, [Brandon] Aiyuk or Diontae Johnson? — @jcru38

    First off, while I don't mean to be "that guy," this team has a significant problem. In a league with three keepers per team, 20-plus running backs will already be gone before the draft even starts. Not having one of those backs is an issue, but Robinson isn't worth a spot after the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne in April.

    One spot is a no-brainer. With Julio Jones now in Tennessee, Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons should be among the league leaders in targets, giving the fourth-year pro a legitimate chance to be fantasy's No. 1 wide receiver in 2021.

    The second spot is less clear. But after reeling in 60 catches for 748 yards and adding another 77 yards on the ground in 12 games as a rookie, Brandon Aiyuk of the San Francisco 49ers showed the potential for big-time production. If there's a wide receiver being drafted outside of the top 25 who has a real chance to crack the top 12, then Aiyuk is that guy.

    The final spot comes down to either Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson or Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Johnson set career highs almost across the board on the way to finishing inside WR2 territory in 2020, and given the depth at quarterback, a compelling argument can be made that loading up on receivers and tossing Jackson back is the best play.

    But Johnson didn't crack 1,000 receiving yards last year despite 144 targets, the eighth-most in the league. Last year's WR21 PPR finish is a lot closer to his ceiling than his floor.

    That's not worth sacrificing a top-five quarterback.

Rapid Fire

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    There are some questions in life that cannot be answered. Why does the word "orange" hardly rhyme with anything? How is it we can put a man on the moon but can't make a cereal that stays crispy in milk? Why would any rational person draft a kicker before the final round of a fantasy draft?

    Other questions, however, can be answered in a sentence or two. And for those questions, we have Rapid Fire?

                     

    In a dynasty draft with the 1.01, do I draft [Patrick] Mahomes or CMC? — @Hoaly22

    In dynasty leagues, quarterbacks have increased value. But even then, the depth at the position means that there will be viable starters available on the 2.12/3.01 turn. Wait until then to consider a quarterback, and take Christian McCaffrey.

            

    Saquon [Barkley] or Zeke [Elliott] at 1.06? Full PPR. — @mhan1

    Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys is coming off the worst season of his NFL career, failing to hit 1,000 rushing yards while averaging a career-low 4.0 yards per carry. But Elliott also isn't returning from an ACL tear and playing behind maybe the NFL's worst offensive line. Take him over Barkley.

    Keeper question: Chase Edmonds in the 14th [round], Damien Harris in the 16th [round] or Diontae Johnson in the 9th? 10 team PPR. -- @mr27

    Generally speaking, I lean toward keeping running backs, as the pool of available talent at wide receiver is much deeper. However, both Edmonds in Arizona and Harris in New England are part of a committee attack and not especially likely to crack the top 20. Keep Johnson—and be ready to bang away at RB in the early rounds of the draft.

                       

    [David] Montgomery a top 8 RB? — @Bucanate

    As the 16th running back off draft boards on average, David Montgomery of the Chicago Bears is a nice value as a fantasy RB2 with top-10 upside in the third round after last year's fourth-place fantasy finish. But with Tarik Cohen likely returning and siphoning some passing-down work, another top-eight season is a best-case scenario. Don't draft at ceiling.

                      

    Dynasty PPR 2QB League…Trade away A.J. Brown and 1st pick in 2022 for Dak [Prescott]? — @IrishLos

    There are a lot of variables here, not the least of which are the other quarterbacks and wide receivers on the roster and whether this manager feels their team is a contender. But in a vacuum, Brown and a first-rounder isn't a bad price to pay in a two-QB league for a young signal-caller at the helm of one of the NFL's best offenses.

           

    How big a jump should we expect from J.K. Dobbins? Is he the Ravens guaranteed RB1? — @pablosanzibar

    Dobbins is an immensely talented young running back who could easily crack the top 10 at his position if the touches are there. But Baltimore didn't re-up Gus Edwards at $4.5 million per season so he could watch Dobbins play. Edwards had 153 touches last year, and his presence makes Dobbins more of a fantasy RB2 than bell-cow RB1. With an ADP of 25th overall (and RB15), Dobbins is being drafted toward the higher end of reasonable expectations.

                      

    Does Rashod Bateman have a legitimate chance to be this year's Justin Jefferson? — @Tygerdude

    Bateman is a talented young receiver, but the Ravens were dead last in both pass attempts and passing yards per game in 2020. The volume needed to support a Jefferson-esque breakout as a rookie just isn't there. It's far more likely that a player like Ja'Marr Chase of the Bengals or DeVonta Smith of the Eagles paces first-year wideouts in 2021. Bateman is more likely to finish outside of the top five rookie WRs than in that top slot.

            

    Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks

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