Succeeding in fantasy football drafts is not just about who you take and when, it’s about who you passed up in favor of your selections. That consideration of opportunity cost is at the heart of this annual post, because the players listed are usually pretty good, in and of themselves, but better options for fantasy teams are available where they’re going.
In other words, the reason you do not draft these players is because they don’t merit their average draft position (ADP). At some point, of course, every player is worth drafting — even, say, Nathan Peterman could make for a reasonable pick, in a league with, you know, 200 bench spots (have fun with that draft).
For this exercise, I’m defaulting to half-PPR scoring and using the ADP information helpfully aggregated by our friends at Fantasy Pros, compared to my own rankings (which I’ve embedded at the bottom). On with the list!
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys (ADP: 4 | me: 8)
It’s easy to see the temptation in rolling the dice on Elliott after the big three of, in some order, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey come off the board. The Dallas back has been a fantasy stalwart since going fourth overall in the real NFL draft in 2016, and in 2018 his receptions leaped to 77, from 58 combined over his first two seasons.
It’s just too risky at this point, though, especially given the latest developments, including Elliott returning to the beaches of Cabo San Lucas (with a new 'do!) in a reported huff after Jerry Jones’s “Zeke who?” crack. The Cowboys owner was put in his jovial mood by the recent preseason performance of rookie running back Tony Pollard, whose impressive work in training camp could have Dallas executives feeling confident about their team’s ability to weather a prolonged Elliott absence.
For his part, Elliott may not be in a huge hurry to return, either, having already missed an Aug. 6 deadline to have this season count toward the four he needs to eventually become a free agent (he still has two years left on his rookie deal). He’ll be back at some point — quite possibly soon enough that this analysis will quickly be rendered irrelevant — but even then, Pollard might have done enough to carve out an appreciable role and eat into Elliott’s touches.
I would plunk for Elliott if he fell to eight, which isn’t a huge difference, but you don’t need former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson’s draft chart to tell you that every pick this high counts in a big way. From picks four through seven, I would rather have David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell, stud RBs with none of Elliott’s uncertainty (the shoe’s really on the other foot for Bell this year, huh?), or one of the several elite WRs available (preferably, per my rankings, Julio Jones or Davante Adams).
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams (ADP: 14 | me: 22)
There are just too many red flags for me to feel comfortable with Gurley that close to the first round. It’s already a near-certainty Gurley won’t get the workload that, in the past, has made him a No. 1 pick in fantasy, so at 14 you’re essentially paying for a best-case scenario in which he puts up something like 70 percent of his previous output.
That could definitely happen, but then there are all the possible downsides, including weeks when his arthritic knee acts up and he barely plays at all, as well as Los Angeles potentially putting him on ice late in the season if it is close to wrapping up its division. It stands to reason that the Rams, who heavily worked Gurley in the regular season last year only to have him nowhere near full strength for their Super Bowl run, might opt for a much different approach this time.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (ADP: 20 | me: 37)
No “Do not draft” list would be complete without a reminder to wait at QB, if only because of the unmatched depth at the position (in one-QB leagues without a superflex position, that is). Also of note is the fact that it’s been a decade and a half since a QB repeated as No. 1 in fantasy scoring (shout-out to Daunte Culpepper!).
I know, I know, Mahomes went bonkers last season and appears to have everything back in place for another monster campaign. It’s just very unlikely that 50-TD seasons will be the norm for him, and the shorter he falls of that mark, the closer he drifts back to the pack.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers (ADP: 26 | me: 47)
As with Elliott, Gordon just needs to end his holdout by late October or November to ensure he gets paid and has his contract status advanced next year. Unlike the Cowboys, though, who are merely hopeful that Pollard can be something special, the Chargers already know they have capable replacements in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson.
Add in that Gordon isn’t widely viewed as on the same talent level as Elliott, or as key to his team’s success, and it’s easier to envision the Chargers playing hardball. That, in turn, makes Gordon a shaky pick in the third round, when so many other good RBs (such as Kerryon Johnson, Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette and Marlon Mack) tend to be available.
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals (ADP: 48 | me: 62)
It’s unclear when Green will return from his ankle injury, but some estimates from analysts with medical backgrounds point to Week 3 at the earliest, and more likely Weeks 4 or 5. At that point we can only hope that the 31-year-old Green, who has missed games in three of the past five seasons, will actually stay healthy, and even then he’d be toiling for a Cincinnati squad that appears to have some major issues on the offensive line.
I love the talent of Green, who practically defines “silky smooth” and can go up and get it with the best of 'em, but I can’t stomach taking this version of him ahead of the likes of Tyler Lockett, Cooper Kupp and even Bengals teammate Tyler Boyd.
Bears D/ST (ADP: 78 | me: yeesh)
That’s just ridiculous. No defense is worth a seventh-round pick, or even, as some sites’ ADPs have it, a ninth-rounder. Or a 10th or an 11th or … you get the idea.
Sure, Chicago was terrific last year, but so was Jacksonville in 2017, and after being the defense “worth reaching for” in 2018 fantasy drafts, the Jags went on to finish 12th. And that’s just one example — there are plenty more going back through the years.
Heck, the 2012 Bears were 40 points better than the next-best fantasy defense (per fantasydata.com), only to plummet to 18th the following season. If the best fantasy QB never repeats the following year, at least he usually sticks around the top, whereas the D/ST position experiences much greater volatility. So, please, let someone else do the reaching.
Dante Pettis, WR, 49ers (ADP: 87 | me: 110)
Even if the alarming struggles of San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo don’t scare you off, the worrisome training-camp reports on Pettis probably should. Coach Kyle Shanahan even suggested recently that the second-year WR wasn’t assured of a starting spot, while rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd have created a buzz .
Even assuming Pettis does lock up a starting gig, he has little chance of actually being the Niners’ top pass-catcher, given the presence of kingpin TE George Kittle. It’s not like he’s particularly expensive, at the listed ADP, but Pettis has no business going off the board ahead of Josh Gordon (have to think his ADP is going nowhere but up, up and away), Sammy Watkins or Curtis Samuel, to name just a few.
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