What We Learned: 2021 Preseason
Check back here every week to listen to Tim: analyze what we saw, discuss who's trending up or down, and jump to some wild conclusions.
Disclaimer: This list is not intended to make you reach on players, or avoid them altogether. It is simply a reflection of their current value and whether or not I believe they have an appropriate price tag. Players to target are either appropriately priced, or steals at their average draft position (ADP). Players to avoid are those I designate as overvalued or being drafted too early.
Now that we've gotten that riveting introduction out of the way, let's get to business. Shall we?
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2019, Edwards-Helaire became first running back in SEC history with over 1,000 rush yards and 50 receptions in a season. We know the kid can play. Now you're telling me he's in the hands of Andy Reid? ANDY REID of all people?! What more can you ask for?
The Chiefs head coach stated that he thinks Edwards-Helaire might be better than Brian Westbrook...
For those of you who don’t remember how good Westbrook was under Andy Reid, here’s some stats.
Anyone who has watched professional football for the last decade can tell you Andy Reid brings nothing but success/fantasy relevance for any true RB1 he gets his hands on.
If you combined McCoy, Charles and Hunt into one player, since 2011 their average finish (PPR scoring) would be RB6.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, Chiefs RB2 Damien Williams recently opted out of the 2020 season. Which means CEH has no competition for touches in the backfield. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
Reid has already complimented CEH's instincts in pass protection in a recent interview with Steve Marriuci, and we know he isn’t afraid to throw a rookie into a workhorse role if he feels that player is ready. He did it with Hunt in 2017. Remember how that went?
“Shoulda started me idiot,” as Hunt so articulately put it after exploding for three TD's in his NFL debut.
One thing's for certain, we don’t want to make the same mistake twice by passing on CEH when the time comes.
I realize his ADP has sky-rocketed since the Damien Williams news, and he's currently being drafted in the top-10 overall. I'm here to tell you, I'm fine with it.
The way I see it, Edwards-Helaire should be the seventh/eighth player off the board depending on how you feel about Derrick Henry. @ me if you'd like to argue about it.
2. AJ Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
Size, speed, hands, first-class RAC ability, 1,000 yards and eight TD's right out of the gate. He's able to play the deep threat role, possession role or slot role.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is, Brown checks all the boxes. If he falls to you in the fourth round, don’t blow it. This kid is special. If you won’t take my word for it, I’ll kindly provide you with a link to his highlight tape below.
He’s got a certain ball carrier vision that just screams ‘elite’ to me. But if you don’t go for the intangible stuff, here some concrete evidence from Brown's 2019 season:
It’s important to note that Brown only had three games with five or more catches. The most he had in any game was eight. He was only targeted more than eight times once. Which are all shockingly low totals for a player who finished with over 1,000 yards. But the way I look at it, that just speaks to how impressive his final stats actually were.
Despite not catching more than four balls in over 75% of his games, Brown paced the 2019 WR class in yards and TD’s.
It’s one thing to outplay a room of guys that includes DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel and Hollywood Brown. But it’s another to outplay pretty much everybody else in the league.
Only Michael Thomas had more top-10 outings than Brown’s five in 2019.
It’s unreasonable to expect him to retain his current TD rate, but I’d argue that an increase in volume is not only probable, it is inevitable.
He finished with 1,051 yards and eight TD’s on just 84 targets. Imagine what he could do with 110+ targets...
It’s true the Titans run-heavy approach may limit Brown’s ceiling from a volume standpoint, but given what he could do with just 52 receptions last season, a slight increase in usage should go a long way.
I have him at WR17 (there a lot of very good receivers out there) but I have a feeling that's too low.
His current FantasyPros ADP of 41st overall (round five) feels like a steal to me. His ESPN ADP of 33rd overall, I'm also fine with. Top-10 upside for the price of a WR2? Count me in.
3. TY Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
In case there was any confusion, Colts Offensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni recently stated "T.Y. Hilton is who this pass offense runs through."
People forget before getting injured in week four last season, Hilton was WR5 (PPR) through three games. And that was playing with Jacoby Brissett who, while not terrible, is far from consistent.
In season's where Hilton plays 14 games or more, he averages 131 targets, 75 catches, 1230 yards and six TD's per season.
If one thing is for certain this season, it's that new Colts QB, Phillip Rivers, going to be looking for someone to fill that trusty Keenan Allen role.
Over the last four years, Rivers has supported AT LEAST one 1,000+ yard/6+ TD receiver each season.
Despite lackluster play in 2019, Rivers actually managed to put forth his highest YPG (288.4) in a season since 2015. Compare that to Brissett's 2019 average of just 196.1 YPG, and there’s some volume to be found there for Hilton.
Besides, who else is Philliam going to throw to? Jack Doyle? C'mon. How many times have we heard that one?
Michael Pittman is a talented player who, no doubt, should steal some attention. He might need more time to develop than other rookies, or he might be an absolute beast out of the gate. Either way, I don’t see a reason why the two can't co-exist.
If we say Rivers is going to throw for 4,200 yards (his career season-average ... hasn't finished with anything less since 2012) and Hilton has 1,200 of those, that still leaves 3,000 yards to go around. As evidenced by last season, Rivers is clearly capable of supporting multiple 1,000-yard receivers.
In 2019, both Mike Williams AND Keenan Allen finished with over 1,000 yards. And Williams did it on only 49 catches. Austin Ekeler was pretty damn close to 1,000 receiving yards himself (92 rec, 993 yds, eight TD's).
If you assume T.Y. plays to his averages, he would finish a 16-game season with 234.0 PPR points.
Last season that would have landed him at WR14 just above Robert Woods (232.9). If you give him just one extra TD, he would have had enough points to be WR12 last season, just behind Devante Parker...
I’m not saying Hilton is getting any younger, I'm just saying when he’s on the field, he’s pretty exceptional. Too exceptional to be falling to the sixth round, if you ask me. His current FantasyPros ADP at the time I'm writing this: 59th overall. That's WR27...
If you can land Hilton in the sixth or seventh round it's robbery.
4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans
Cooks may be the single most undervalued player in this years rankings. The departure of DeAndre Hopkins means the door is wide open for Cooks to step into the WR1 role.
Currently, Cooks is being drafted after players like: De'Andre Swift (who, as of now, hasn’t played a snap in the NFL), Marvin Jones (who finished with 1,000+ yards just once in his career, and has never registered more than 65 catches in a season), even his own teammate Will Fuller (for as good as he is, has never played a full 16 games, never finished a season with more than 670 yards or 49 catches.)
Cooks is no Hopkins, nobody is saying he is. But while he's not going to be winning those jump balls in the back of the end zone, he does have a pretty consistent track record as a 1,000-yard receiver.
Prior to last season (where he suffered two concussions that limited his availability/productivity) Cooks recorded four consecutive seasons with 1,000+ yards, 100+ targets, and 65 or more receptions.
Do you mean to tell me we’re counting out a player in the prime of his career altogether after one down season? Couldn’t be me chief.
If I find myself in need of a WR3/4 in the eighth round and I see Brandin Cooks staring me in the face, I’m pulling the trigger all day. He could end up garnering you a HUGE return on investment. Worst case scenario he fizzles out and you didn’t really risk all that much with an eighth rounder. So what are you worried about?
With the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans have 167 vacated targets entering 2020. Deshaun Watson has to throw to somebody, doesn’t he?
I know Will Fuller is still there, and don’t get me wrong he’s an incredibly talented player. But unfortunately you can’t rely on him.
When Fuller plays, he’s great (even when he had to play with Brock Osweiler). But the fact is, he doesn’t always play. Over the last three seasons, Fuller has missed a total of 20 games.
Cooks on the other hand, prior to last season, finished four full seasons in a row, racking up 1,000+ yards in each of them.
If you’re worried about the change in scenery, don’t be. Cooks accomplished the aforementioned four consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns with three different teams in the past five years (Saints x2, Patriots, Rams).
He knows the drill. He also knows the drill when it comes to being a teams top receiving threat. At his current ESPN ADP (80th overall) you should know the drill as well. Target the man.
5. Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns
If there is one thing I’ve learned since I first watched him play at LSU, it's that nothing can stop the machine that is Jarvis Landry.
EVERY YEAR he is slept on, and every year he delivers. Landry's current ADP FantasyPros is 68th overall. That’s WR29.
He finished as WR12 in PPR scoring last season...
I’ll just let that marinate.
From weeks 8-17 last year, the man was the third-highest scoring fantasy WR in the league.
With no less than 81 catches in any season of his career (AVG's 94 per season), Landry is the very definition of a high-floor player.
Since entering the league, Landry has NEVER finished lower than 18th in PPR scoring at his position (highest: 5th).
It’s fair to note Juice has displayed a traditionally low ceiling in the past due to his possession-type role. However, it’s fair to wonder if he has overcome these woes.
Just last season, Landry posted career-highs in:
The man caught a first down on 2/3 of his receptions last season. If that doesn’t scream ‘Go-To Guy’ I don’t know what does.
The way I see it, there is room for both Beckham and Landry to shine but it all depends on which Baker Mayfield shows up this season. At least we know that if Mayfield doesn’t play good, it won’t necessarily be a bad thing for Landry.
LATE ROUND STEALS: Marquise Brown (BAL), Diontae Johnson (PIT), Raheem Mostert (SF), Jordan Howard (MIA), Jamison Crowder (NYJ), Dallas Goedert (PHI), Aaron Rodgers (GB)
1. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Look, I get it. After being traded from Miami, from week seven on, Drake was RB7 in PPR scoring. If you owned him in the fantasy playoffs last season, you’re probably crazy about him. I can’t blame you.
In eight games with the Cardinals, Drake accumulated 643 yards and eight TD's on the ground. He averaged 19.9 FPPG over that span. Therefore, he's a bonafied RB1, right? Not for me.
Yes, I saw what he accomplished. No, I don’t think it continues.
Keep in mind, Kenyan Drake has been around for a while. He’s been in the league since 2016, albeit on the Dolphins, and up until this point, he hadn’t made any sort of significant splash.
That's not to say he didn’t possibly break his own mold last season, but do we all of a sudden see him as a three-down/1,000 yard back?
Is he all of a sudden a more talented player than David Johnson, a man that finished the 2016 season with over 2,000 total yards and 20 TD's?
I personally can’t see it.
Before last season, Drakes career-high for rushing yards in a season was just 644. His career-high for rush TD's in a season was just four.
Sure, the change of scenery seemed to benefit him greatly, but I wonder how long that momentum can last.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Arizona Cardinals have the 21st ranked offensive line, with the ninth-worst run blocking grade. According to FantasyPros strength of schedule metrics, the Cardinals have the 12th-toughest schedule for an RB in 2020.
The truth is, 63 percent of Drake's points with the Cardinals came during three games (week 9, week 15, week 16). Granted, he WENT OFF in those games, racking up over 140 total yards and finding the endzone in each.
However, if you remove the three games in question, Drake averaged just 11.6 FPPG and 46 rush YPG with the Cardinals. Plus, volume could end up being a concern. He received 20+ touches in just three of his eight games with Arizona. It's a small sample size, but it's less than 50 percent.
I’m fine with Drake as an RB2/3, but I personally can’t get on board with his current ESPN ADP of RB9.
Now, I have him ranked sort of similarly at RB14, but I’m keeping him on a short leash, and avoiding him at his current value. He's currently ranked as the 10th overall player on ESPN... I mean, have we lost our minds? I'll be damned if I'm taking him above Austin Ekeler, Joe Mixon, or any of the league's top 5-7 WR's.
Third round? Sure. But a top-20 overall player? Not on my watch.
2. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccanneers
We love Gronk, I know. But, it’s been nearly two years since he’s been on a football field. I'm simply saying we all might want to temper our expectations.
The fact is, things will be different for Gronk because he’ll be competing for targets with two of the best WR's in the game. Sure, he has that connection with Brady, but the last time they were on the field together, Gronk produced just 47 catches, 682 yards and three TD’s in 13 games (133.2 PPR points, would have landed him at TE13 last season).
As opposed to a very Gronk-like 69-1084-8 stat line in 14 games the season prior.
The last time Gronk played in the NFL was the first time in his career that he played more than ten games and didn’t finish as a top-ten fantasy TE (PPR scoring).
I’m not saying he doesn’t bounce back and I’m not saying he isn’t still Gronk. I’m just saying the most recent sample we have isn’t very encouraging from a fantasy perspective.
Also, like I briefly touched upon before, he’ll have WAY more competition for targets, arguably more than he ever had in New England.
His current FantasyPros ADP is 74th overall, which is a bit steep for me, especially considering FantasyPros strength of schedule metrics have the Bucs pegged with the third-hardest schedule for a TE in 2020.
Again, I’m fine with Gronk as your TE1, I just wouldn’t reach too far.
ESPN has Gronk at a much more comfortable spot for me at 113 overall. But I already know, based off his name alone, he will be taken earlier than his ADP suggests.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t scoop him up if he’s still there in the ninth/tenth round, but please, do yourself a favor and don’t take him with one of your first six picks. I’m talking to you Patriots fans.
3. Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
I personally find the current ADP for Golladay (WR7 on FantasyPros, WR8 on ESPN) much too high. Some will point to his league-high 3.82 fantasy points per touch (second only to AJ Brown) and say he belongs in the top-ten. I say that it's unsustainable.
In 16 games last season, Golladay had:
On tape it’s clear to see why Golladay has so much appeal. He is a very talented guy, and to be fair, he did have to play with a backup quarterback for half the season, making his top-nine PPR finish that much more impressive. But, I’m not comfortable with someone so inconsistent (from a fantasy perspective) as my sole WR1.
Remember how Stafford was on an absolute tear before he got injured (weeks 7-9) last season? It's true Golladay scored 20+ PPR points in two of those games, but he also finished with just one catch for 21 yards in the other. Which is exactly my point.
Inconsistency isn't guaranteed, but I'd like to see it before I believe it.
Now, listen carefully. I'm not saying don't draft Golladay.
He's a great player that I'm sure will have a fine season. But personally I just don’t see him as more valuable than Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, or DJ Moore... all guys he is currently being drafted above.
4. Phillip Rivers, QB, Indianapolis Colts
You know I love T.Y. this season, but that doesn’t mean I’m big on Phillip. His new team may have the highest graded offensive line in the league according to Pro Football Focus, but they are more of a run-blocking unit than anything else.
Last season, Rivers threw more INT (7) than TDS (6) when under pressure. The Chargers were seventh in preventing QB pressure in 2019. Phil’s new team? 25th. Yeah I stole that stat from Matthew Berry. What are you gonna do about it?
Now let’s be honest, Phil is a fine streamer on most weeks. But riding him as your starting QB is risky. He hasn’t finished in the top-ten at the position since 2013.
Matthew Berry (can you tell I use him for reference a lot?) recently posted a statistic about Rivers that blew my mind:
In 220+ career games, Phillip has NEVER scored more than 30 fantasy points in a game.
Absolutely bonkers, but true. If he couldn’t do it with his high-powered Chargers offense, something tells me it’ll be even more difficult with the Colts.
Chances are you’re only considering Rivers for a Superflex/2QB league, if you are even considering him at all. But even then, someone like Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or even Joe Burrow likely have a much higher ceiling than the ‘Bolo-tie Bandit’.
5. Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
For as good as he was late last season, I’m not sold on him as a WR2.
Last season, Sutton had a 26% target share for the Broncos. He finished with more than five catches just three times... He topped 20.0 PPR points just twice.
I can't imagine that his usage goes up considering Denver recently added stud rookie WR's Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler along with one of the leagues best receiving backs in Melvin Gordon.
That’s a lot of targets that are going to dry up for Sutton. Any logical person would come to the conclusion that his production is going to suffer.
He’s proved me wrong before, but if he outplays his current ESPN ADP of WR14 (barring an unforeseen injury to one of his teammates) I would be shocked.
He is ranked more appropriately at WR24 on FantasyPros. And even then I might go lower.
OTHER PLAYERS GOING TOO EARLY: Johnathan Taylor (IND), De'Andre Swift (DET), Hunter Henry (LAC), Austin Hooper (CLE), Cam Akers (LAR)
Photo Courtesy of NFL.com
AJ Brown and Kenny Golladay led all NFL WR's in fantasy points per touch last season. But one is being drafted too high, while one is being massively undervalued.
Tim Brosnan, Fantasy Sports Analyst/Freelance Journalist
Tim Brosnan is a college-educated sports journalist from the New Haven, Connecticut area.
Brosnan earned his Bachelor's Degree from Castleton University where he majored in Media & Communication, with a focus in Journalism.
During his tenure as the sports editor of the Castleton Spartan newspaper, Brosnan created the segment 'Tim's Fantasy Tips'. It began as a simple weekly start/sit column, but since then, the idea has grown into so much more.
Brosnan has taken his experience/passion for fantasy football and combined it with his journalistic know-how in order to bring you a completely original, well-informed, multi-layered fantasy football advice experience.
We hope you enjoy.