A lot of players in fantasy football are known quantities. We know that if Christian McCaffrey stays healthy, he will put up monster numbers; that Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are high-volume pocket passers who won’t give you any rushing; that Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will be the main focus in the league’s most explosive offense.
But if we knew everything, fantasy football would be easy. The real challenge is figuring out what to do with the wild cards.
Every year there are a handful of players who have a massive range of outcomes, and no matter how much you project before the season starts, their fortunes could swing wildly in one direction or another after Week 1. Sometimes they’re worth the risk — upside is key in fantasy — but if you take too many swings and misses, you could find yourself out of playoff contention in November.
Here’s a list of guys in the early-to-middle rounds who fall in that “wild card” category, and what to do with them:
One could make the argument that Hurts has the widest range of outcomes for a player in recent fantasy memory. If you extrapolate his four-game sample size out to a full 17-game season, he was on pace for more than 4,500 passing yards and more than 1,500 rush yards. His 16-game pace last year, had he started every game, would have made him the QB1 overall.
The upside is enormous, but the downside is very real. He just barely completed over 50 percent of his passes in 2020. Plus, the Eagles don’t exactly seem committed to him – new head coach Nick Sirianni has danced around naming him as the starter, and Philadelphia has been the team most linked to Deshaun Watson, should he be traded.
Hurts could break fantasy football, or he could be out of a job halfway through the season. Though he is certainly a good fantasy quarterback, we don’t know whether or not he is a good real-life NFL QB, and that matters when nothing is guaranteed — as is the case with Hurts.
Advice: Take him over guys like Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence, but make sure to invest in a good backup.
Barkley still carries a first-round ADP, but it hasn’t been a full year since he tore his ACL, and we haven’t really seen him at the height of his powers since the end of the 2019 season. Though he has been activated off the PUP list and is practicing for the Giants, there is no guarantee Barkley will return to being the player we know right away — if at all.
Barkley is an athletic freak and could go the Adrian Peterson route, returning to dominance in his first year post-ACL (2,314 scrimmage yards and an MVP award in 2012). He could also go the Dalvin Cook route, and struggle in his ACL return (10 games started, 920 scrimmage yards in 2018 before returning to form the following year). Something in between feels most likely, but if he starts slow, you may not be in playoff contention by the time he turns it on down the stretch.
Advice: If he falls to round two, pounce. In round one, you might prefer Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott or Jonathan Taylor. Make sure to pay close attention to camp reports surrounding Barkley’s health.
Two things can be true about Montgomery: 1, that he is a legitimately good RB who broke out in 2020, and 2, that a soft schedule and a complete lack of competition for touches led to his RB6 overall finish. His projection depends on whether you buy more into the talent or the opportunity.
And apart from that, so much is different about the 2021 Bears. This was one of the pass-happiest teams in the league with Nick Foles and more run-heavy with Mitch Trubisky in 2020 — what will they do with Justin Fields and Andy Dalton? Montgomery played close to 85 percent of the snaps down the stretch last season — how much will Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert eat into his carries? With Tarik Cohen back, can Montgomery manage 50-plus catches for a second straight year? There’s legit 1,500-plus yard, 10-plus touchdown upside for Monty, but it’s hard to ignore the possibility that 2020 was an outlier season.
Advice: Don’t let him fall too far. He’s a better bet than Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders or J.K. Dobbins.
A lot of the reasons behind Jeudy’s wide variance aren’t necessarily within his control. Drops are a narrative surrounding the second-year player, but six of his nine came in a single game. And when you put things into perspective, 836 yards isn’t bad considering how much of a hot mess the Broncos’ QB situation was with Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien.
The problem is, all Denver did was bring in Teddy Bridgewater for the Who Cares QB Competition of 2021, and a winner has yet to be declared. Jeudy had a high average depth of target with Lock (13.5 yards), but Lock had the highest bad throw percentage of any QB with more than 150 attempts.
Bridgewater is more accurate, but his intended air yards per throw hovered in the Roethlisberger range (7.1 yards), which could limit the opportunity for Jeudy to make big plays. The talent is there — he has apparently been excellent in training camp — and a second-year breakout is very much in the cards. But it’s just as likely that whatever QB is under center tanks his season.
Advice: Take the risk. He has way more upside than similarly-priced WRs like Deebo Samuel, Robby Anderson, Tyler Boyd and Jarvis Landry – at a point in the draft where risk is necessary.
We’ve all heard about how rookie tight ends never have success. The only 1,000-yard rookie tight end in history is Mike Ditka, all the way back in 1961. The only rookie TE above 700 yards since 2002 was Evan Engram in 2017 (yikes). Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates all failed to reach 550 yards their rookie years.
Yet at the same time, we’ve all heard how Pitts is “not just any tight end.” He’s the highest drafted player at the position in league history. He has been called the best tight end prospect in history. And — perhaps most importantly — he’s not really a tight end. OK, that’s what his player card says, but he’s really just a big receiver who should primarily be a pass catcher. If Atlanta puts his hand in the dirt and has him block on 50 percent of the snaps, it wasted the pick.
Does Pitts take the snaps vacated by Julio Jones, a similar pass-catching beast? And if so, how does that affect the rookie wall tight ends usually hit? So much of his situation is unprecedented. If you draft him in the fourth round, you may be looking for a level of production he doesn’t reach. And if you pass on him, you may come to think, “How could I have been so stupid passing on a generational talent?”
Advice: It’s hard to find a tougher call in a fantasy draft. If he falls to the late fifth or sixth round, you don’t have one of the top three TEs and you like your roster otherwise, consider taking him. Before that, consider the guaranteed production of a Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson.
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