In many ways, fantasy football is a game of trust. You trust that Aaron Rodgers will be the player he’s shown to be. You trust that Andy Reid will produce a good offense but mess up the clock. You trust that the NFL will never figure out the helmet rule or the catch rule.
When you’re conducting your draft or setting your weekly lineup, you’re deciding who you trust. Setting a lineup each week is an exercise in balancing trust and upside — it’s more fun to click “submit” when you are happy with the roster you’re setting than when you think, “Well, I hate my chances, but oh well.”
All that said, sometimes there’s a reason to use a guy you don’t trust. DeSean Jackson, for example, went three years (2014-16) without a single game between 6 and 10 standard fantasy points. He was the ultimate boom/bust player, and even though you could rarely trust him, sometimes you are an underdog and you just have to hope it’s one of the “boom” weeks.
This isn’t about the Julio Joneses or the world. You can’t “trust” Jones in the traditional sense, because he lumps his production into a handful of huge games more than most top-level fantasy performers. This is the next step down, players about whom you can enjoy clicking “submit” each week … and some you can’t. Below, we’re looking at a handful of trust/don’t trust options for the 2018 season.
TRUST: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Brees had an awful fantasy year by his standards in 2017. On top of a frustrating full-season total (he finished 11th in QB fantasy scoring), Brees only had three weeks in which he finished as a top-12 quarterback. But there are reasons for that. Alvin Kamara’s explosion onto the scene meant Brees had to pass less often, as did the team’s surge to the top of the standings, giving them positive gamescripts most of the year. The second point first: Vegas projects the Saints to fall off by 2.5 wins in 2018, tied for the largest decline in the league, meaning fewer positive gamescripts, meaning more passes from Brees. And as great as Kamara was, there are several signs for regression built in going forward. Brees led the league with an 80.7 percent adjusted completion percentage last year (correcting for drops, throwaways, etc.) and still finished fourth in the league in passing yards despite his lowest pass attempt total in a decade. He’ll be fine.
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DON’T TRUST: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
I know, I know, I’m a party pooper. But Watson, going second in ADP on most sites and ranked as a top-five quarterback by just about everyone, is only QB11 in my current rankings, and I’m more likely to drop him a few spots than I am to raise him. Despite the ridiculous fantasy numbers (25.0 fantasy points per game, fourth-best in the last decade), Watson was … not great last year. His PFF passing grade of 64.1 ranked only 30th-best among 45 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, and his production was buoyed by an oh-so-incredibly-unsustainable 9.3 touchdown percentage that couldn’t be a better bet for regression if you printed “regression” on the back of his jersey. Watson is my pick for the biggest bust of 2018.
TRUST: Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Howard has not been a good receiver in his career. With a minimum of 40 targets over 2016-2017, Howard’s drop rate (21.2) is worst among all running backs by a lot — Kenyan Drake’s is second-worst at 12.8. His PFF receiving grade in 2017 was 39.7, fourth-worst of 87 qualified running backs. But that hides one of Howard’s real virtues — he’s a strong pass-blocker. His pass-block grade of 75.6 ranked 23rd last year, well ahead of Tarik Cohen’s 66.2 that ranked 42nd. That means Howard won’t be coming off the field on third down as much as his receiving skills might indicate — Cohen’s a complement, not a replacement. Howard’s going to be on the field all the time, and he’s going to get as many carries as any back not named Ezekiel Elliott, and he’s going to push for RB1 status yet again, even as his ADP is carrying him down the RB2 ranks.
DON’T TRUST: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Okay, hold on. I’m not saying not to draft Elliott high — he’s my No. 5 overall draft pick. And he’ll probably be fine. But one of Elliott’s biggest virtues through his first two years has been the offensive line he’s running behind. PFF’s rankings in early July had the unit as the second-best in the league, behind only Philadelphia. Since then, though, rookie Connor Williams has struggled in the preseason, Zack Martin has been dealing with a knee injury (though he’ll probably be fine), and most importantly, Travis Frederick has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome and could miss a big chunk of the season. Suddenly, this unit looks as healthy and reliable as the Chargers’ secondary or the Ravens’ tight ends. If Dallas can’t block for Elliott (and Dak Prescott) as well as in the past, the offense overall will struggle, and Elliott’s yardage will suffer. He’s still going to be an RB1. But this could take him from “candidate to be first overall” to “back-end RB1.”
TRUST: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
It feels weird to have to reassure people to trust a receiver with four straight 1,400-yard seasons, who has finished seventh or better in PPR scoring four straight years, who is … well, Julio Jones. But the sentiment of “never again” with Jones is pervasive this preseason, owing to his lack of touchdowns and penchant for lumping the lion’s share of his scoring into only a few weeks. Both are serious recency bias concerns, though. He averaged about half a touchdown a game through his career before 2017, then 0.19 per game last year. He had one game with 90-plus yards and a score last year after 11 in 2015 and 2016 combined. He’s fine. Believe in the stud.
DON’T TRUST: Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots
Cherry-pick the best numbers from Hogan’s five-year career and you get 41 receptions for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns … or last year’s No. 43 WR. Never mind the occasional murmurs that the Patriots might still add another receiver before the season (I’ve seen rumors of Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, even a trade for Demaryius Thomas) — Hogan’s best-case scenario is the No. 1 receiver role for four weeks while Julian Edelman is suspended, and even that is tenuous with Rob Gronkowski and James White sure to get plenty of targets and one or more of Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios and Cordarrelle Patterson also hanging around. He’s a fine flier. He’s not a fine fantasy starter.
TRUST: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, TEs
DON’T TRUST: All the rest of the tight ends
Maybe this is extreme, but the tight end position in 2018 is the biggest case of haves and have-nots we’ve seen in a while. People are back in on Greg Olsen, but I think there were warning signs even before his 2017 injury. Jimmy Graham’s fantasy numbers in 2017 were buoyed by touchdown success that might not repeat. Evan Engram will lose targets to Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. Kyle Rudolph went from 120 targets in 2017 to 76 in 2018 thanks to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. There are warning signs everywhere. My policy in drafts this year is to take one of the Big Three if they make it to me at a sensible draft slot, and if not, take two tight ends with my last two pre-DST/K picks. There’s not enough upside anywhere else.
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