Fantasy Football 2021: Buying or Selling Top Preseason Fallers

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Buying or Selling Top Preseason Fallers

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Fantasy football managers must consider training camp and preseason news when they make their decisions on draft day, but they should also avoid overreactions to early developments as teams iron out wrinkles across the roster.

    All 32 clubs have gone through weeks of training camp practices, released depth charts and played in at least one preseason game. In some cases, that's enough material to adjust player rankings on a fantasy draft board.

    However, managers shouldn't use an early progress report, a depth chart subject to change or an exhibition contest with mostly backups to dictate projections for every player's 2021 outlook. Keep an open mind as coaches tweak rotations and find what works best for their game plans. 

    Let's take a look at eight players whose average draft position (ADP) could drop significantly based on what happened in Week 1 of the preseason and the latest out of camp. We'll decide whether to buy or sell each player at their current ADP in 12-team points-per-reception leagues provided by Fantasy Football Calculator.

RB Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    ADP: 4.01 (Round 4, Pick 1)

    Last season, Miles Sanders missed four games and still had 87 more touches than Boston Scott (192-105), but the latter could close the gap in 2021.

    Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP believes we'll see both running backs fairly active in the upcoming term.

    "I think Sanders and Scott could end up basically splitting touches this season. Scott has been great in the passing game," Shorr-Parks tweeted.

    Though Shorr-Parks didn't give a clear estimation of the workloads for the two tailbacks, Scott's pass-catching ability could cut into Sanders' opportunities as a receiver. In 2020, the latter saw 52 targets compared to 36 for the former.

    Earlier in the offseason, running backs coach Jemal Singleton indicated the Eagles will use a committee approach in the backfield, per The Athletic's Zach Berman:

    "You need a first- and second-down runner with that really elite ability. You need a guy that can pass protect on third down and be short yardage. You need a back that can run routes and you can put him out in empty. It's really a combination of that. I think the days of, 'he's an every-down back,' that's a little skewed these days because of the speed, because of the contact.”

    Bear in mind, the Eagles re-signed a 6'0", 224-pound ball-carrier in Jordan Howard and selected dual-threat running back Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round of this year's draft. On top of that, quarterback Jalen Hurts could contribute to the rushing attack with his ability to tuck and run with the ball. He rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns in four starts last year.

    With multiple variables at play for Philadelphia's ground game, avoid Sanders in the fourth round of fantasy drafts. 

    Verdict: Sell

QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    ADP: 5.11

    A player who battles an injury during the offseason raises major concerns even if the team downplays the issue. Sometimes, the fantasy risk is worth the reward.

    Quarterback Dak Prescott could throw for 5,000-plus yards and 35-plus touchdowns with wideouts Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup on the perimeter. Tight end Dalton Schultz may also have a decent role in the aerial attack after he caught 63 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns last season. 

    All things considered, Prescott has to clear some hurdles with his health. According to ESPN's Todd Archer, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback had a second MRI on his shoulder, and it's "healing well." But at the end of July, Prescott experienced soreness in his shoulder and didn't throw for two weeks.

    Over the past week, Prescott has resumed throwing activities and told reporters that he wants to play in the Cowboys' third preseason game against the Houston Texans.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy won't push Prescott to play, but he emphasized preparation for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a press conference with reporters:

    "We'll see how the week goes, but there's no urgency from my perspective to see Dak play against Houston. This is more about we don't want to create a setback possibly. His volume of throwing leading up to that point, I mean, he was probably in midseason form from the amount of work he put in over the summer, coming out of the OTAs. Just trying to get that volume back to where it belongs."

    Based on the positive signs from Prescott's second MRI, fantasy managers shouldn't worry too much about what seems like a minor injury. Dallas will likely have its quarterback under center for Week 1.

    With Prescott's recovery trending in the right direction, he's worth a gamble late in the fifth round because of the Cowboys' loaded pass-catching group and healthy offensive line. 

    Verdict: Buy

RB Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    ADP: 4.05

    The Miami Dolphins listed Myles Gaskin as the starter on their unofficial depth chart, but Malcolm Brown played more snaps (16-7) in the first preseason game. The former didn't see the field on third down, nor did he handle any carries inside the 5-yard line.

    Perhaps the Dolphins wanted an extensive look at Brown, whom they signed in the offseason, but head coach Brian Flores' postgame comments about the running back rotation should set off alarm bells with regard to Gaskin's role.

    "I mean, well, you saw all three backs played. All of them got carries, so pick one and put them in, basically," Flores said. "We like all three guys. They all do good things. And I think we saw that today. And we'll just keep working all three guys."

    Salvon Ahmed, the third tailback in the Dolphins' backfield rotation, had the most productive Week 1 preseason outing, logging 71 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage. In 2020, he had a couple of standout performances, rushing for 85 yards and a score against the Los Angeles Chargers and 122 yards with a touchdown against the New England Patriots. 

    Last season, Gaskin racked up 584 rushing yards, 388 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. He has the skill set to serve in an every-down role, but Brown and Ahmed will likely compromise his touch volume. Gaskin shouldn't cross your draft radar until the seventh round. 

    Verdict: Sell

WR Kenny Golladay, New York Giants

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    ADP: 7.04

    Kenny Golladay signed a four-year, $72 million contract that stirred up offseason buzz, but he's unlikely to produce any highlights during the preseason.

    Within the first week of training camp, Golladay pulled his hamstring, and his timeline for return was set at two to three weeks, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.

    Because of its investment in Golladay, Big Blue will likely hold him out of action until he's back to 100 percent. While that's the logical approach, the Pro Bowl wideout will miss out on meaningful reps with quarterback Daniel Jones in their first offseason together. 

    Managers may look at wideouts Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton as safer options because they have experience in coordinator Jason Garrett's offense and a rapport with Jones. 

    Nevertheless, Golladay should come off the sideline as an immediate threat in the red zone. Just two years ago, he led the league in touchdown receptions (11). The 6'4", 214-pound wideout is also a big-play receiver, averaging 16.8 yards per catch for his career. 

    Assuming Golladay shakes off a minor injury, he'll have plenty of opportunities in the passing game as the Giants' go-to target in 2021.

    Verdict: Buy

RB Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

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    D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    ADP: 5.10

    This offseason, the San Francisco 49ers signed Wayne Gallman II and selected Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell in the third and sixth rounds of this year's draft, respectively, which indicates a potential shakeup for the backfield.

    Sermon, whose stock is on the rise, logged the second-most carries (nine) in the 49ers' first preseason game behind JaMycal Hasty (10 carries). With nothing to prove, Mostert didn't suit up.

    As Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, Mostert "remains the leader" in the 49ers' running back group, but he believes the team will divvy up the touches among multiple players and fail to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

    The Athletic's Matt Barrows expects Sermon to take on a big role as the 49ers "aspire" to run the ball at least 500 times in the upcoming season. With that volume on the ground, two tailbacks could produce solid numbers, but Mostert doesn't have an edge over his running mates in the passing game. 

    Mostert has caught 30 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns over the past two seasons. Sermon, Gallman, Hasty and Mitchell aren't top-notch receivers out of the backfield, but they're capable pass-catchers, which will allow head coach Kyle Shanahan to use a rotation in that role. 

    Once Jeff Wilson Jr. recovers from meniscus surgery, managers will probably have a nightmare situation with the 49ers' backfield. Mostert should drop closer to the middle of 12-team PPR drafts. 

    Verdict: Sell

QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    ADP: 9.12

    Joe Burrow might have extinguished his bounce-back buzz with a candid assessment of his offseason progress coming off a torn ACL and MCL.

    While talking to reporters, Burrow highlighted the obstacles he faces as the regular season approaches:

    "Right now it's just putting the mental and physical together, getting my feet back under me in the pocket with people around me. That's the last step for me, get my pocket presence back and understand when I'm pressured and when I'm not ... I kinda have to temper my expectations of myself down a little bit so I don't get too frustrated. When we get closer to Game 1 [of the regular season], if this is still happening, then the panic button will start off. But right now, there's no panic button going on. Just got to get the reps back."

    Burrow's comments will hurt his fantasy stock, but he's still an intriguing buy-low option.

    The Bengals have one of the league's most talented three-receiver sets with Tee Higgins, who caught 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie; Tyler Boyd, a sixth-year veteran with two 1,000-plus-yard seasons; and this year's fifth overall pick, Ja'Marr Chase.

    Last year, through 10 games, Burrow established a rapport with Higgins and Boyd. In 2019, Chase won the Fred Biletnikoff Award with Burrow as his quarterback.

    Burrow may show reluctance to use his legs, but he has the pass-catching group to build confidence in his arm once he's on the field for live action.

    Physically ready to play, Burrow needs to take the first hit on the field to help regain his pocket presence. He has plenty of upside with his weapons, which makes him a solid pick at the end of the ninth round.

    Verdict: Buy

WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    ADP: 6.01

    As expected, Michael Thomas' ADP plummeted after NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted about the "recommended" four-month timetable for the two-time All-Pro wideout's recovery from ankle surgery.

    New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that Thomas should have undergone surgery sooner, which likely led to some friction between the two sides. Nevertheless, they had a "recent meeting to clear the air," per Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson.

    Even if Payton and Thomas have patched up their differences, the wideout doesn't have a clear-cut target date for his return.

    As part of the healing process, Thomas has to feel comfortable running and cutting to create separation from defenders. Furthermore, the sixth-year veteran must adjust to a new full-time starting quarterback. Last season, he played four games with Taysom Hill starting under center. Jameis Winston, meanwhile, connected with him on one completion for 12 yards. 

    With Thomas' indefinite absence and his adjustment to a new starting signal-caller, managers will have much better options in the sixth round. 

    Verdict: Sell

RB David Johnson, Houston Texans

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    ADP: 8.04

    The Houston Texans loaded up on running backs this offseason, signing Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead. 

    As a result, David Johnson isn't in an ideal fantasy situation. He's come to terms with a limited role, per The Athletic's Aaron Reiss.

    "Obviously, as it's going on, in the moment it's tough," Johnson said about his decreased workload. "But I think in the long run, it will just help out the team as a whole."

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Johnson restructured his contract, which has $4.3 million in guarantees for the 2021 season. Though he'll likely make the final roster, the seventh-year veteran will be battling for snaps in a backup position.

    The Texans listed Lindsay and Ingram as co-starters on their unofficial depth chart. The latter didn't suit up for the first preseason game, which may indicate his secure standing on the roster. Between 2019 and 2020, he played under new head coach David Culley, who served as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens.

    Johnson hasn't touched the ball more than 180 times in a single term since 2018. He's also missed seven games over the last two years. Within a crowded backfield, the 29-year-old running back may see the bulk of his work in the passing game, which relegates him to a deep flex option. He's not worth an eighth-round pick.

    Verdict: Sell


    Average draft positions are current as of Wednesday courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator