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. A PPR format is assumed.
Now that we've gotten that riveting introduction out of the way, let's get down to business. Shall we?
1. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Let's just start with the resume:
He comes with the pedigree of a workhorse back. As we all know, the Steelers are no stranger to riding a workhorse. I caved and stole this stat from Matthew Berry to really drive this point home, but from 2013-2018 the Steelers lead back averaged 20 touches per game.
Add in Harris, a player who totaled two or more rushing scores in nine of 13 games last season and well, I'll take my chances with those 20 touches every week. With that kind of volume, he is talented enough to produce RB1 numbers.
The main argument against Harris seems to be the condition of his o-line (spoiler alert, not good). Personally, I’d be more worried about that if I didn’t see him as a true three-down back. But if you won’t take it from me, take it from Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert.
In July, Colbert stated he would be “disappointed” if Harris doesn’t turn out to be a three-down back.
He went on to say how they drafted him because they thought he could be a three-down back at the NFL level.
That is the expectation in Pittsburgh. It is now my expectation as well.
He is currently sitting at RB10 in my (PPR) rankings but even then, I may be too low. I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish top-seven. His ADP has him as a second-round pick at the moment, and I'm here to tell you that is just right. Depending on how you feel about Ekeler/Aaron Jones, I could even see him as a late first rounder.
2. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: I love Terry McLaurin. (I'm president of the fan club, in fact) I loved him playing with dollar store QBs, and I love him even more now that he'll be playing with the best QB he's ever had. At least, as far as his fantasy value is concerned.
To put things into perspective, the last three seasons Fitzpatrick has started at least 12 games, he's been responsible for a top-15 fantasy WR (PPR scoring). Another stolen stat from Matthew Berry, I'm killing it, I know. Jokes aside, here's the list of said beneficiaries:
If you combine all those players stats, their season averages under Fitzmagic would be: 86.7 receptions, 1,313 yards, 10.7 TDs, off 8.9 targets per game.
This is a match made in heaven for McLaurin, a player who averaged 19.3 PPG when targeted eight or more times last season.
Fitzpatrick has reached a point in his career where he's not afraid to let it rip, force throws in to coverage and give his receivers a chance. Let's be honest, what does he have to lose? One thing is for sure, when targeting Terry McScorin' that behavior is going to be rewarded.
Here are just a few accolades McLaurin has piled up since entering the league:
Simply put, McLaurin is a true WR1. His ceiling is very high this season, and I don't want to miss the boom.
(I've drafted three teams so far and he is on every one of them. So, my money is literally where my mouth is on this one.)
I have Terry as my WR8 at the moment, which means I'm more than comfortable with him as my WR1. He is an easy pick for me in the back half of the second round.
3. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
This is kind of a low hanging fruit, if you ask me. Yet, others are not so convinced. Here's my reasoning:
Julio Jones is gone. The same player who hasn't seen less than 148 targets or 83 receptions in each of the last three seasons he played at least 14 games for the Falcons. (Hint: that work has to go somewhere)
Matt Ryan has proved capable of supporting multiple fantasy-relevant pass catchers in the past. Ex: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, Mohammed Sanu... All of which have had success with one or the other present at the same time.
It wasn't too long ago that Austin Hooper finished back-to-back seasons as TE6 (TE3 in PPG in 2019) as Atlanta's TE. I'm not saying Pitts is a better player than Hooper (I'm also not saying the opposite), but on paper, he puts him to shame as an athlete.
"But rookie tight ends never have success right away," you say.
I’m not saying Pitts has 1,000 yards right out of the gate, but in order to finish as a top-tier fantasy TE he doesn't need to.
Mind you, Calvin Ridley had 800 yards and 10 TD's his rookie year. My point being: if you can play, Matty Ice is going to get you the ball. Granted, Pitts is not a receiver, but that should only work in his favor.
He’s simply too fast/athletic to be covered by a linebacker and too large to be covered by a DB in the red zone.
His nearly seven foot wingspan puts him in a class of his own. (83 3/8” is the longest of any wide receiver or tight end in the last 20 years). Not to mention a 6’6 frame and a 41-inch vertical jump (higher than Julio Jones) to utilize every bit of that reach.
Forget his basketball-type athleticism and 4.44 speed... Simply put, there are going to be some balls that he, and only he, can catch. The man is going to be a matchup nightmare and that’s just inevitable.
If he’s still there in the sixth-round, don't hesitate to hit that big green DRAFT button.
4. Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Two falcons in a row? I must be expecting them to be good this year, right?
Sorry Falcons fans, but no. I am not.
HOWEVER... I do think there will be plenty of fantasy value for an offense that should be playing a lot of catch up.
There is no starting RB being slept on as heavily as Mike Davis is this year. He currently has an ADP of 63rd overall (via FantasyPros). You can look all you want, but you wont find another bell-cow RB, basically guaranteed a full workload like Davis, in that range (sixth round).
We're talking about a player that caught five or more passes in SEVEN of his 12 games as a starter in Carolina last season (Alvin Kamara is the only other RB that had more in 2020) The same player whose FLOOR was 8.1 PPR points in 2020. The same player who scored a TD in every game he received at least 20 touches. He also happened to average 20.5 PPG in said games.
Now he joins Atlanta, filling the same role that saw Todd Gurley rush for nine TD's in his first nine games last season, and score less than 9.7 PPR points just once in that span.
Do me a favor... Just for this exercise, without Googling it, name Atlanta's backup RB. Kudos to you if you can, but I think it's safe to say most of us can't. Even if you could, so what? None are a threat to steal the job as far as I'm concerned.
New Falcons HC Arthur Smith was the Titans OC last season. If you didn't know, they finished 2020 with the third-highest run percentage in the league. I'm not saying Mike Davis is even close to the RB Derrick Henry is, but Smith certainly has some tendencies when it comes to play-calling.
Some more elite RB comparisons? I thought you'd never ask. Only Nick Chubb forced more missed tackles per carry than Davis. No RB forced more missed tackles than Davis in the receiving game.
I can do this all day. The list of reasons why Mike Davis should be a lock for fantasy production continues. The only part I'm having trouble with is finding concrete reasons why he wouldn't.
If anyone can make a compelling argument as to why he's currently a sixth round pick, I'd love to hear it. Until then, I'll be targeting him heavily thank you very much.
Now, do I think he holds this job all season/receives 20+ touches every single game? Not necessarily. But at his current price, you won't find any RB with the opportunity he will begin the season with.
High floor + high ceiling + opportunity + current ADP = (and I don't use this term lightly) bust-proof.
5. Sam Darnold, QB, Carolina Panthers
For this next exercise, choose your receiving core:
- Christian McCaffery, Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, AND first-round WR Terrance Marshall
- Jamison Crowder
Which one do you think gives you the best chance of success?
Of course, it's not that simple. But then again, maybe it is. Darnold goes from having nothing to work with in New York, an actual dumpster-fire of a coaching situation, to an up-and-coming Carolina offense with a, dare I say, elite receiving core. Arguably the best in the league...
Anderson, Moore and McCaffery have all finished with 1,000+ receiving yards within the last two seasons.
Darnold is going to be like a kid in a candy shop.
It's easy to point to his career numbers without looking beneath the surface and write him off as a bust. But keep in mind, he has just 38 career starts under his belt. That's less than three seasons worth of games. He's 24 YEARS OLD for crying out loud!
In my opinion, Darnold hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's capable of yet.
As of now, he's free. His FantasyPros ADP is 279th overall. In layman's terms: undrafted. You could take him with your last pick in the draft. Hell, you could just grab him off the waiver wire after the draft. And why not?
FantasyPros strength of schedule metric gives the Panthers the 11th easiest schedule among QB's this season.
Last season, Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater was QB10 in fantasy weeks 1-10 with the aforementioned receiving core (minus McCaffery... RIP my fantasy team). Teddy Two Gloves... A player who is now on his fifth NFL team, and was once Darnold's backup. And if Bridgewater can do it...
I'm not exactly suggesting you take Darnold as your QB1 in most redraft leagues, but I am planting my flag here saying I think he'll have a good year, better than most expect.
He's a fine QB2 target especially in superflex leagues. He is essentially risk-free at his current price. As of now, I can't justify putting him any higher than QB20 in my rankings, but I have a feeling he will certainly make a case to rise up the ranks in 2021.
LATE ROUND STEALS: Myles Gaskin (MIA), Tyler Boyd (CIN), Jerry Jeudy (DEN), Corey Davis (NYJ), Gerald Everett (SEA), Tua Tagovailoa (MIA), Marquez Callaway (NO)
1. Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
This is tough because I like Jacobs as a player. I had a few shares of him last season and for the most part he was good to me. So it is with a heavy heart that I must make him the face of the AVOID section.
Unfortunately for Jacobs's fantasy prospects, the Raiders signed Kenyan Drake in the offseason. Say what you will about Drake (and I’ve definitely said some bad things about him in the past… he was on this list last year) but he’s a decent goal-line back.
Last season, Drake scored nine TD's on his 21 carries inside the five (42 percent) Among players with at least 15 carries inside the five, only Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and Cam Newton were better. I’m not saying Jacobs can’t rush in the red zone, but there’s a reason they brought Drake in.
Part of that reason is Jacobs inefficiency on the goal-line. Last season, he scored on just five of his 18 carries inside the five yard-line (27 percent).
Enter Kenyan Drake, a player with no such problem. They pay him starting RB money ($11mil guaranteed). They use him a lot. He steals Josh Jacobs TDs and therefore fantasy points, decreasing Jacobs fantasy value. It's simple math.
Jacobs has shown he is a good RB, but the truth is he needs the volume if he's going to produce in fantasy.
In 2020, as the unquestioned lead-back, he had less than 20 touches in 10 of 15 games. He scored over 20 PPR Points just four times. Three of those games? You guessed it. He needed 20+ touches to get there.
I can't imagine his touches go up with Drake around. Especially in the redzone (where Jacobs scored nine of his 12 TDs in 2020).
After finishing with an inneficient 3.9 YPC and now undoubtedly facing more competition for reps than he was all of last year, I don't exactly trust Jacobs as anything more than a flex.
His current third-round ADP (27th overall via FantasyPros) is far too rich for me. I wouldn't even think about drafting him until the fifth round. Even then, I might pass.
2. Kenny Golladay, WR, New York Giants
Golladay makes his second annual appearance on the pre-season players to avoid list. Congrats Kenny.
Granted, last year I may have only been right because of his injury, but hey, a win is a win. Golladay goes from being the unquestioned WR1 in Detroit (22.1 percent target share), to WR1-A in a questionable Giants offense with significantly more mouths to feed.
In New York, he'll have to compete for touches with former-stud Evan Engram, target-hog Sterling Shepard, the very underrated Darius Slayton, off-season addition Kyle Rudolph, new first-round receiver Kadarius Toney... Oh, and Saquon Barkley who happens to enjoy catching the ball as well.
Competing for high-quality touches from Matthew Stafford, basically unimpeded, is one thing. Being forced to play with Daniel "Dimes" Jones and the over-crowded Giants offense is something else entirely.
Last season, Stafford was ninth in fantasy points per attempt and 11th in TD rate. Jones was bottom-six in both categories. It's safe to say that Golladay's quality of looks will decrease by a significant margin.
We've already addressed volume is a concern.
"But Golladay has made due with low volume in the past!" you scream.
Yes, his claim to fame has traditionally been his prowess as a deep threat. He's been able to make up for his lack of volume by racking up points on big plays. The issue with that is, only four teams threw less deep passes than the Giants last season. And it isn't as if they didn't have weapons to do so.
Surprisingly. for a team that was trailing a lot last season, the Giants finished 26th in total pass attempts.
If all this wasn't bad enough, Golladay's durability is also a huge concern as well. He has played a full 16 games just once in his four-year NFL career. He's already dealing with a leg injury and we haven't even started the season!
Currently, Golladay is being ranked somewhere in the WR24-28 range. That means he falls into the WR2 discussion. While I won't argue he has the talent to live up to those expectations, I personally view him as more of a risky WR3. You could take a flier, but a sixth-round pick (ADP: 66th overall via FantasyPros) feels like a steep price to me.
3. D'Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions
This is in no way a knock on Swift's talent. I actually think he's capable of being a three-down back. Apparently so do many others, as his ADP of 33rd overall (via FantasyPros) would indicate. But brother (or sister) that's just a price I'm not willing to pay.
Currently, he is being drafted/valued as a high-end RB2 with potential to enter the RB1 discussion. I believe he has RB1 potential as well (In fact, between you and me, he is the one player on the 'avoid' list I'm most concerned I'll be wrong about) but, as far as his usage goes, he's more likely to fall short of RB1 numbers than not.
I have him ranked as my RB18 for this season, so I'm slightly less bullish on Swift than most. I believe I have a few good reasons.
Reason number one: his efficiency (per touch) left a bit to be desired. His 4.57 YPC, 2.41 yards after contact per attempt, his 17 avoided tackles and his .15 avoided tackles per attempt all rank outside the top-20 for qualified RBs... In each category.
Reason number two: new Lions OC Anthony Lynn is notorious for maddening committee approaches when it comes to RBs. Just ask anyone who owned Melvin Gordon 2018-2019. Or Austin Ekeler last season... I mean, Joshua Kelley? Really?
If he's willing to feed Kelley as often as he did, imagine how he'll use Jamaal Williams. Williams strength as an RB has always been catching the ball, seemingly foreshadowing whats on the horizon for Swift. You guessed it: less third downs.
Williams is going to be involved more than any Swift owner is going to appreciate. Make no mistake, he's a capable back that's going to command a healthy share of the backfield touches, and no doubt vulture some of Swift's points.
Over the past two seasons, Williams averages 13.5 PPG when he receives 10 or more touches. That kind of productivity only makes his case for staying on the field stronger.
Reason number three: he has tough sledding ahead of him. FantasyPros strength of schedule metric pins the Lions with the second-hardest schedule for an RB in 2021.
Reason number four: he's hurt! There are concerns Swift may not even play week one! His apparent groin injury has sidelined him for most of training camp, and every preseason game so far.
Just the other day, Lions HC Dan Campbell said, "We don’t know if he’s gonna be there. We don’t know, even if he is, how much we’re going to get out of him.”
Campbell also went on to state his concern about Swift's conditioning after missing so much time.
That doesn't sound very encouraging to me. You'll have to forgive me if I'm not the most optimistic about his usage out of the gate.
Keep in mind, I'm not saying avoid Swift altogether. I do love his talent. He'll be playing for a team that's projected to be one of the worst in the league this season, so there will be garbage-time points. But at his current range (third round) I do believe there are safer bets for guaranteed production, and safer bets to actually start the season healthy.
I'm personally more comfortable with Swift as a late fourth-round/early fifth-round pick.
4. Robert Tonyan, TE, Green Bay Packers
I like Tonyan a lot. I love that he gets to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers. He's fun to root for. I'd let him date my sister if I had one. However, I wouldn't draft him on my fantasy football team this season.
At least, not while expecting him to duplicate his TD totals from a year ago that is.
Long story short: I don’t think he’s going to meet the lofty expectations many have for him after last season. But, allow me to elaborate.
In 2020, the man scored 11 touchdowns on 59 catches (roughly 19 percent). In essence that means he caught a TD about once every five catches. While impressive, that is almost certainly unsustainable.
Regression is imminent, to put it lightly.
Without the TDs, you may not like what you get. Tonyan had less than 50 yards in 12/16 games last season, and less than 40 in 10/16. In the seven games where he didn’t score, he averaged just 4.8 PPG.
Now, there’s no reason why Tonyan can’t make up for that TD regression with an increase in volume. Maybe he gets more catches/yards. Maybe. While it's certainly not out of the question for Rodgers to throw another 45+ TDs, it's also not exactly likely.
Without those extra TDs to go Tonyan's way, the PPG averages are going to dry up. And if/when they do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m fine with Tonyan as a late round pick, when there’s eight or nine other TEs off the board. But please, and I mean PLEASE (I’m lookin at you guys who draft their entire starting roster, kicker and all, before drafting bench players) do yourself a favor, and don’t pass on league-winning upside/depth in the sixth round for the sake of securing a TE.
(Note: Tonyan's ADP is actually 100th overall via FantasyPros, making him a projected tenth-round pick. I am on board with him in this range. However I've already seen him go much higher in too many mock/actual drafts for me to condone, which is why I felt his inclusion was necessary.)
5. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
I understand there’s gonna be that one guy in your league who bought all the draft day hype and thinks because he's been touted as the greatest franchise QB prospect since Andrew Luck, Trevor Lawrence is going to be the second-coming of Jesus. And While he may look like Jesus, I’d stay away from him in fantasy year one.
Just because we were spoiled with Justin Herbert, half a season of Joe Burrow, and a little bit of Jalen Hurts in 2020, it doesn’t mean rookie QBs are guaranteed to produce. Most often they’re far from it.
Lawrence is joining an offense that was bottom-five in total yards per game, and bottom-three in total points scored. T-Law is primed to elevate said offense, but it's unlikely he remedies all their problems entirely.
Sure, he has decent weapons around him. DJ Chark is a former thousand-yard receiver, Marvin Jones is always handy. Laviska Shenault can be exciting.
If you ask me, the most trustworthy player on that offense is James Robinson. He's a good receiver, but he isn't going to do Lawrence's fantasy value any favors. At least not like Travis Etienne would have.
Although he hadn't played a down in the NFL yet, the loss of Etienne shouldn't be understated.
Etienne's 588 receiving yards accounted for roughly 19 percent of Lawrence's passing yards last season. The Jags didn't spend a first round pick on a receiving weapon that already had an established connection with their franchise QB for nothing.
Etienne's average of 13.5 yards after the catch in 2020 was the most among all college RB's with at least 35 receptions. I'm pretty certain they had a role in mind for him.
Now, he is set to miss the 2021 season after requiring surgery for a mid-foot sprain, and that plan has gone out the window.
It's a new coaching staff, learning a new scheme. It's more likely than not it'll take a while for Lawrence to iron out the kinks. I expect there to be rookie mistakes and turnovers.
That being said, his ESPN ranking of QB14 seems a little aggressive to me.
Now, I’m not saying he can’t be a thing this year, in fact I’m sure I’ll like him as a streamer when the matchup is right. All I’m saying is, he's more likely to be a streamer than an actual viable fantasy starter right out of the gate. Personally, I'd avoid spending a draft pick on him.
OTHERS GOING TOO EARLY: Darrell Henderson (LAR), Jamaar Chase (CIN), Michael Thomas (NO), Courtland Sutton (DEN), Damien Harris (NE), Michael Carter (NYJ), Matt Ryan (ATL)
Photos courtesy of NFL.com
Steelers rookie Najee Harris and D'andre Swift are both popular RB2 targets this season. But one is being drafted too high, while the other may even be undervalued. Read the enclosed article to find out which is which.
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.