The later you get in drafts, the less notions of “value” and “reaching” matter, and the more you should just go ahead and grab players you really want. Rewinding to the highest rounds, however, increases the importance of nailing that sweet spot between a player’s expected production and the likelihood that he can vastly outproduce his draft position and lead your fake team to very real elation.
With that in mind, let’s start with a player whom I have just a couple of places lower than his ADP, since that slight deduction could make all the difference in draft outcomes. Note that I am using half-PPR ADP aggregated on Monday from several sites by Fantasy Pros. You can also see my full positional rankings for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
Fantasy Pros overall ADP: 3 | My overall ranking: 6
It isn’t much, but agreeing with where I have Henry means zigging early where others tend to zag. He is the third player off the board at all four sites mined by Fantasy Pros, including Yahoo Sports and Fantasy Football Calculator. Heck, even his full-PPR ADP, which includes ESPN and NFL.com, has him as the fourth overall pick.
So consider this do-not-draft advice to be narrowly aimed at those of you holding the first, second, third, fourth and fifth picks in leagues that award any kind of points for receptions, because that goes to the issue with Henry: He doesn’t catch many passes. The 19 he notched last year represented a career high, and that lack of involvement in the passing games caps his upside. Meanwhile, there is plenty of potential downside: Henry will be 28 when the season ends, he is entering his sixth NFL season at a position not known for longevity and he has led the league in carries in each of the past two seasons.
Of course, Henry has also led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns in the past two seasons, and perhaps the normal laws of RB deterioration and risk don’t apply to someone of his superhero-esque stature. By the same token, it’s also worth pointing out that even while posting the eighth-most rushing yards in NFL history last season, with a whopping 17 touchdowns, he still only finished a somewhat distant third in total scoring among RBs, and an even more distant fourth in per-game scoring if we include Christian McCaffrey’s three weeks of massive production. So if you are taking Henry third overall this year, you are counting on him being the exception to various rules without his heavy workload catching up in any way. That could happen, but it doesn’t seem like a great bet.
Nick Chubb, RB, Browns
FP: 6 | Me: 18
We can go shorter here than with Henry because many of the same points apply. Okay, mostly one point: Chubb also doesn’t catch many passes, at least not since Kareem Hunt began playing for Cleveland. That’s important because pass targets — not even receptions themselves, but simply targets — are worth much more than carries in any PPR format. That means a back like Chubb, as marvelously talented a runner as he is, can only get your fantasy team so far, and you should be more or less shooting for the moon with your early-round RB picks.
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, I’ve always been told that you can’t win your league in the first couple of rounds, but you can lose it. So isn’t Chubb the kind of safe pick who can help me not lose?" Um, no. Chubb is a running back, and therefore not a particularly “safe” pick in any round. We have been reminded of that with the misfortune befalling Cam Akers, Travis Etienne, J.K. Dobbins and fantasy players who already drafted them. If you want safe in the early rounds, go with Travis Kelce or one of the many available kingpin wide receivers.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
FP: 17 | Me: 46
Taking quarterbacks early in one-QB leagues raises problematic issues of opportunity cost, because of the value to fantasy rosters of elite options at positions that take up multiple spots in starting lineups. Mahomes is my top-ranked QB, but unless I already have Kelce or Tyreek Hill and want to go for a devastating stack, I’d prefer to wait at quarterback at least until the first few tiers at RB and WR have been depleted.
For a quarterback to be worth a top-20 pick, he generally needs to produce an all-time great season. Mahomes did just that in 2018, as did Lamar Jackson in 2019, but neither blew away the field last season, when Kyler Murray scored the most fantasy points. That gets to this pertinent factoid: No QB has repeated as the top scorer at his position since Drew Brees in 2011 and 2012 (per PFF). It’s a position with a fair amount of predictability in terms of who will finish in the top eight or so, but not so much when it comes to forecasting the No. 1 spot. Thus you probably don’t want to be the first to draft a quarterback unless they all fall well past the second round.
David Montgomery, RB, Bears
FP: 28 | Me: 39
I could just note that Montgomery lands in the running back dead zone, and leave it at that. Well, I would probably still want to add that I’m also fading fellow Rounds-3-though-6 backs Josh Jacobs (31 | 57), Miles Sanders (37 | 51), Myles Gaskin (48 | 73), Mike Davis (53 | 67) and Ronald Jones II (72 | 87).
However, as the most desired of that group, Montgomery merits some analysis, particularly given that he finished an impressive (-sounding) sixth among fantasy RBs last season. He was able to dominate Chicago’s workload, especially after Tarik Cohen suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season, and was the only NFL RB with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards. As many have noted, though, a large portion of that rushing tally came in a late-season stretch against four of the league’s most atrocious run defenses, and while Cohen might not be ready to reclaim his passing-downs role to start the season, the Bears added an accomplished receiving back in Damien Williams. Rookie RB Khalil Herbert, a sixth-round pick, has also generated positive buzz, so Montgomery figures to have a harder time hoarding the touches than he did while competing with Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce.
Then there’s Justin Fields, who could start vulturing touchdowns from all of the Bears’ backs even before the 11th overall pick inevitably takes over as Chicago’s starting QB.
Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings
FP: 49 | Me: 69
Thielen was a top-10 performer at his position last year, just as he was in 2017, 2018 and through the first six weeks of 2019 before a lingering hamstring injury marred that season. So why do I have him ranked 30th at WR this year? A combination of red flags, including his age (31) and the Vikings’ vulnerability to coronavirus protocol-related disruptions. Of greater concern was Thielen’s reliance on touchdowns to prop up his 2020 fantasy scoring; his 14 end zone trips were a career high, and much more than the six touchdown he averaged over the previous four seasons.
While emerging TE Irv Smith’s knee surgery could help keep Thielen’s red-zone target rate high in the early going, the veteran receiver showed signs of slippage in other areas last season, finishing 24th among WRs in yards, 28th in targets and 41st in yards per target. Thielen should be steady this season but I don’t see a lot of high-end outcomes for him, making it impossible to rank him above so many other enticing options, including a slew of second-year standouts such as Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Chase Claypool and Jerry Jeudy.
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
FP: 73 | Me: 150
If the aforementioned enticing options have me pushing Thielen down my board, you best believe I’m in no hurry to draft a WR with Thomas’s issues. The biggest one, of course, is that he was placed Tuesday on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he must sit out the Saints’ first six games. That fresh piece of news will almost certainly tank his listed ADP even before we get to anything else, including the fact that when he returns, it will be to new starting quarterback Jameis Winston, with whom Thomas won’t have the chemistry he shared with Drew Brees.
Winston wasn’t on hand when Thomas set an NFL record in 2019 with 149 receptions, and in the latter’s absence, the former Buccaneers QB will have many more weeks to develop a rapport with WR Marquez Callaway that has already resulted in several highlight plays in the preseason. Star RB Alvin Kamara will also be sure to get his, and there will be other mouths to feed in a New Orleans passing game likely to be less voluminous than it was with Brees.
Dallas Goedert, TE, Eagles
FP: 88 | Me: 127
At the start of the fantasy drafting season, Goedert’s ADP was inflated by the widespread expectation that fellow Eagles TE Zach Ertz would be on a different team by September. Well, here we are, and there in Philly remains Ertz. There’s still time for Ertz to be dealt, but if you’re drafting now, you have to assume that won’t be the case.
An Eagles team still with Ertz is a far less hospitable place for Goedert’s fantasy prospects, because Goedert is a far better blocker and thus is more likely to be used in that role when both are on the field. Philadelphia also traded up in the first round of April’s draft to snag record-setting Alabama WR Devonta Smith, who is set to take the field alongside 2020 first-round WR Jalen Reagor. It is unclear how big a target share Goedert will command, and while I love his talent I won’t rank him as if he is in an appreciably better situation than, for example, Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki or Cole Kmet.