Fantasy Football Intelligence: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Or Why You Shouldn’t Draft in August)

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have said at least twice that drafting too early is a mistake, particularly if it is before the third week of the preseason. Not everybody listens to me, so I spent Saturday night talking this poor bastard off the ledge:

Sure, Luck’s retirement is an extreme, cruel, and hilarious example of my point, but every year at least one or two otherwise viable fantasy players have their seasons radically altered in the preseason. If you drafted early, hopefully you listened to me and let Miller be someone else’s problem.

In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link…

“Lamar Miller is like a bad burger that you keep eating even though it doesn’t taste that good. Every year his situation gets him drafted as a RB2 and he disappoints. Houston does not pound the ball in the red zone, they don’t give Miller a ton of work (20 touches only 4x last year) and Watson had as many rushing TDs as he did. He also gets nicked up, missing two games last year and spending time on the sidelines in others. Draft him as nothing more than a RB3 so you can only be pleasantly surprised.”

Nevertheless, I am still disappointed with the injury because now my opponents won’t have the opportunity to waste a pick on him.

Okay, point made, victory lap over. Let’s take a quick look at assumptions that have changed since the preview capsules and the last draft board were published. Be sure to review the updated draft board (and reprint it if you are using it for your standard league draft) as not every change to the board will be called out here.

Arizona – Added Michael Crabtree, but we still recommend Christian Kirk as the first AZ WR. Consider Crabtree or Fitzgerald only in deeper leagues where 60 WRs are getting drafted. I still find Murray and D. Johnson riskier than most since this will be a bad team on the wrong side of too many blowouts.

Atlanta – Ito Smith looks like the handcuff to Freeman. I remain higher on Freeman than most because I am bullish on Atlanta.

Baltimore – Their Back to the Future retro running game offense remains an unknown quantity but may not be as bad as first suspected. Jackson’s stats will be highly dependent on rushing and rushing TDs and while it may pay off in some weeks, I don’t think it will be consistent enough for him to be a weekly fantasy starter. I moved Ingram up a bit to back end RB2/RB3 range and added Mark Andrews to the bottom of the TE ranks.

Buffalo – Like Jackson, Jake Allen’s numbers are run dependent, but he can throw a bit better so he is a lower end backup with matchup viability. I don’t have any Bills in my top 36 RBs or 48 WRs, but if you have a big enough roster, consider stashing Devin Singletary on your bench. He won’t start the season, but will likely be leading the backfield by Thanksgiving. Perhaps he will get out there sooner if McCoy gets hurt. I added him to the bottom of the RB ranks. The passing game isn’t consistent enough to sustain a starting fantasy WR, but Zay Jones and John Brown will be the targets and can be streamed in an emergency.

Carolina – Newton and Russell Wilson are swapped on the board. We talked about a downgrade last week and while his injury doesn’t seem serious, I am less confident in Newton’s rushing and his judgment. He is still a back-end starter. McCaffrey is my RB4, in a tier by himself now because I have moved Elliott up based on the likelihood of him signing. This could change again so stay tuned. Moore and Samuel are in tiers 5 and 7 respectively, but they are close and Samuel may represent the better value.

Chicago – David Montgomery looks like he will have a significant role, but HC Matt Nagy is not playing regulars much in the preseason. Mike Davis will have a role and Tarik Cohen will be on the field a lot too, but I am comfortable drafting Montgomery as an upside RB3. I am more bearish on Allen Robinson than the consensus because we haven’t seen much since the end of last year and last year wasn’t great. If you must take a Bear receiver, look at Anthony Miller a few rounds later.

Cincinnati – No significant changes, though A.J. Green will drop if we don’t get more information this week.

Cleveland – Other than Mayfield, the skill positions didn’t get a lot of play. Chubb is slightly upgraded, but I still believe Hunt will cut into his fantasy value when owners can least afford it. Rashard Higgins replaces Antonio Calloway as the third WR, but both are outside the top 50 WRs. Kicker Austin Siebert may be viable, but he doesn’t have much of a track record beyond a good training camp.

Dallas – Prescott received an upgrade and is a borderline starter. The team has looked fairly good on offense and is managing the distractions. WR2 Michael Gallup was added to the 10th WR tier. Stories seem to indicate that Zeke is getting closer to a deal so I moved him up, but the situation is fluid until he shows up. If he isn’t signed by Labor Day, Pollard becomes draftable. Dallas starts the season with three games against NYG, WAS and MIA.

Denver – Emmanuel Sanders is looking good. We already had him him ~10 spots higher than his ADP so he hasn’t moved up further, but my confidence level in the pick is increasing and he may go up on the final board.

Detroit – Kerryon Johnson dropped a couple of spots mostly due to concerns about Detroit’s ability to move the ball and a so-so camp. I still think he is a mid-level RB2 with upside. Hockenson was added to the last tier of TEs.

Green Bay – No significant changes, but with Luck coming out of tier 2, Rodgers has a little more value. Also, while I left Crosby off my K board, if he holds the job in camp, he could be a starter.

Houston – Miller’s loss shouldn’t be catastrophic. In fact, I would argue that Luck’s retirement will have a greater impact on the Texans than Miller’s torn ACL because it paves the way for Houston to win the division, which I now expect. Duke Johnson enters the board as a RB3 in tier 9, but he is not a bell-cow. Look for the Texans to add a back to pair with him. Jay Ajayi was the immediate rumor, but it was initially shot down. Maybe they will have a reunion with D’Onta Foreman. Some suggested a trade for Melvin Gordon, but that seems like a long shot. Unless it is Gordon, anyone they add would be RB3 at best.

Indianapolis – Ten days ago, I wrote:

“Andrew Luck’s injury seems to have progressed from his calf to his bones and has settled as a high ankle sprain. Hmm. His health is about as clear as Jeffrey Epstein’s cause of death. Owners who bet on him last year got great value up until he threw up a goose egg (No TDs) in week 15. The Colts were poised for a big year and Luck looked like QB2 or 3 on the board until this injury. We don’t have to make the call on him yet, but the red flags are flying and the alarm bells are ringing for a great player who has had a lot of different health issues. If Luck misses significant time, the team will suffer and all Colts fantasy prospects take a major hit.”

And here we are. The retirement is a surprise, but the absence from the lineup shouldn’t be. The macro picture from a Fantasy Football Intelligence perspective is:

1. Indianapolis moves from an “A” to a “B” team and is a low end wild card at best.

2. Houston looks like an “A” and the division favorite.

3. Jacksonville, Tennessee and Atlanta probably add a win to their schedule.

4. Indy’s fantasy players take a meaningful hit, Jacksonville and Houston’s defenses get a bump.

See the board for the specific dropoffs, but Mack, Hilton and Ebron drop tiers. The defense will have some more pressure on it as well, but they should still have value. Chris Ballard and Frank Reich are professionals so I don’t think Indy will be a dumpster fire, but the upsides of the players and the team are significantly diminished. Adam Vinatieri may kick a few more field goals and may be a back end starter, but I wouldn’t draft him in the top 12 kickers.

Jacksonville – See above. Jacksonville was a winner this weekend. The defense goes from two problematic games with Indy to neutral matchups at worst. Depending on who gets better QB play, the Jags or Titans can possibly sneak ahead of Indy and take a run at a wild card. Dede Westbrook moves up the board based on his emergence as the top WR on the team. He looks like a legit WR3 with some upside.

Kansas City – They still look like the #1 fantasy offense. Damien Williams already got a boost last week; it looks like rookie Darwin Thompson may be the handcuff rather than Carlos Hyde who may get cut. Keep an eye on the situation if your rosters are big enough to consider handcuffs at the draft, but if Williams goes down, the production may be split up too much to do you much good. Sammy Watkins isn’t hurt yet and might merit an upgrade just for that. He is a WR3 and if you don’t manage to get anyone else, you may want to grab him so you have a piece of this offense. The defense remains a back end choice that works in a platoon.

L.A. Chargers – The Gordon uncertainty drags on. Josh Jackson and Austin Ekeler are not on the board yet, but they will be next Monday if Gordon hasn’t come in. Even so, they would be short term plays and valued accordingly. Other fantasy systems are more geared toward a week-to-week approach so I expect others to draft them before I would. Rivers dropped a spot but stays in the same tier as a back-end starter. Henry adds value as Ebron leaves the 2nd tier of TEs. The injury to Derwin James is a blow to the Chargers D, but they are still top 5.

L.A. Rams – It looks like Malcolm Brown is the handcuff for Gurley and if you handcuff anyone, Gurley is probably the guy. Some are looking at 3rd round rookie Darrell Henderson, but he is not looking like the backup for this season. Jared Goff is sneaky good and is great value in the 7th round if you can get him there. The Rams D is as good a bet as any to be #1 in fantasy.

Miami – Kenyan Drake returned to practice, likely creating a time share at RB with Kalen Ballage and ensuring that neither has much fantasy value. Neither is on the board because Miami’s visits to the end zone will be few and far between.

Minnesota – No changes here. Dalvin Cook looks like a bell-cow and Thielen and Diggs are unchanged on the board.

New England – The WR corps is rounding into shape as Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas are active. Thomas isn’t on the board yet but bears watching as a waiver pickup. Gordon is already slotted in as a solid WR3 and has upside, but also a lot of risk. If you draft him as WR2, you are counting on the upside which is a dangerous bet. Brady slips ahead of Rivers on the board and is a back end starter with upside. The benefit to Brady is that the Patriots are almost never shut down by any opponent so he should be consistent unless the play calling around the goal line doesn’t work out in a given week. Sony Michel has looked good when he is on the field and is a RB2. His injury history lowers him a tier from where he might otherwise belong. The Patriots defense is having a strong preseason and they have a friendly schedule with only 3-4 games where you’d definitely want to sit them.

N.Y. Giants – Evan Engram slots in as the #4 TE. Sterling Shepard looks good for week 1 and could be a back end WR3. If you need to draft a Golden Tate (suspended four games) replacement it is Cody Latimer, but unless you are in a huge league you shouldn’t be drafting Tate or Latimer. Eli Manning remains the starter, but the only thing that can save the Giants from last place in the NFC East is the Redskins.

N.Y. Jets – Darnold didn’t look as good in the third preseason game, but I still like the Jets to take a run at .500. They have some injuries on defense that will hurt them, but by and large, I have the Jets skill players at higher ranks than the fantasy consensus because they will win and score a bit more than expected.

Oakland – No changes here, just keep an eye on Antonio Brown’s head and his helmet. He is not without risk, but his position as WR11 (tier 4) on the board already reflects a downgrade based on the circus. Thanks to Matt Berry and Hard Knocks, Darren Waller may not sneak up on anyone, but if you are in the last tier of TEs, he is as likely as any to be productive. Josh Jacobs is slotted as a RB2, but it is mostly on faith. We haven’t seen a lot of him, but the Raiders cut Doug Martin so the volume of work should be there.

Philadelphia – Definitely a high powered “A” team, but the production is spread out. Beyond Wentz and Ertz, there will probably be some inconsistent fantasy performers as Wentz and Doug Pederson have a lot of weapons to exploit. Jordan Howard is our first RB off the board, but he is much safer as a RB3 with Miles Sanders in the picture. Alshon Jeffrey will be the best receiver, but DeSean Jackson will get looks. Nelson Agholor is still around, but if you have a big roster and some patience, consider rostering J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second round pick who has looked very good and who may be the #1 if Jeffrey were to go down.

Pittsburgh – I like the Steelers to win 10 games and the division. They are benefiting from less noise and fewer expectations. I haven’t yet, but may boost Conner to the top of RB tier 3, but either way, he and JuJu Smith-Schuster are primed for big years and Big Ben will again deliver value (he’s going in the 9th round). I have Roethlisberger at QB8 whereas fantasy consensus currently ranks him QB13. If your league has 6 point TD passes, his value relative to the running QBs is even greater. Reminder, he led the league in passing yards last year. The defense is solid.

San Francisco – I am less confident in my .500 prediction because there is more uncertainty than first thought. Garoppolo has been up and down and the RB and WR pictures are muddled. They may still get to .500, but Coleman and Breida are battling for RB touches, Pettis has not asserted himself as a #1 WR and Goodwin may be just as good. It may all get sorted out, but it keeps any of them from projecting as reliable fantasy starters as of today. There will be some useful players here, we are just not yet sure who they are.

Seattle – The Hawks look better than expected. Chris Carson moves up a few spots on the RB ranks. He is a mid-level RB2 with upside. Rashad Penny is the handcuff, but Carson looks like the man now. Due to other WR injuries, Tyler Lockett may see even more action than originally projected. Wilson also has a great rapport with him. He is currently at WR20 average ADP. If you get him as WR2, you should be very happy with the return, he could be a top 12 WR.

Tampa Bay – Winston still makes lots of bad reads and questionable decisions, but he will get a ton of volume. Particularly if you only lose 1 point for INTs, he will have some useful games. he is a backup on our list because there will be weeks when he is kept out of the end zone and the yardage won’t be enough with the three picks he’ll throw. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both high end WRs. Godwin may bring more value, but there has been a lot of talk about him now so don’t wait too long if you are a true believer. I think both WRs are good for 90 catches, 1,200 yards and 7-10 TDs. O.J. Howard leads a crowded TE picture and the running game still stinks.

Tennessee – Another beneficiary of Luck’s retirement, but more and more it looks like they have a QB problem. Derrick Henry hasn’t played but looks good for week 1. His value takes a hit if the team can’t pass, though they will likely try to be a run first team. Delanie Walker is looking better than expected and may jump into tier 3 of the final TE rankings. If the offense can keep up (and their starting LT is suspended for the first four games) the defense and coaching can keep them in the hunt for a wild card. We will learn a lot when they go into Cleveland in week 1 to face the new look Browns.

Washington – Derrius Guice got back on the field. He and Peterson are looking at a time share to start, limiting the value of both. Case Keenum is the starting QB but he doesn’t have a lot of weapons. Oft-injured Jordan Reed has a concussion. Their best player (LT Trent Williams) has no intention of ever playing for them again. Don’t draft any of these guys, just find a stick, break out the marshmallows and watch their season go up in flames.

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