Not every player makes our list of targets or players to avoid. We still have clarity on the value of some of those players, but there are others that vex us and elude our understanding even when (especially when) we are pondering whether to take them when we are on the clock. Big thanks to my Mon Valley Academic League rival Joe Wright for giving me the name “Rolaids” for these players. Sometimes it’s a relief when you see a player drafted ahead of you, and that’s how they make the all-Rolaids team.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, IND - Taylor was mighty impressive late last year, but it was against a weak schedule, Marlon Mack is back. Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly are hurt and we aren’t sure when Eric Fisher is going to play. Don’t ask who is going to play left tackle until Fisher is ready. We don’t know when Carson Wentz is going to play. There’s an ominous vibe around this offense right now and Taylor is the focal point. He has garnered good camp reviews and it sounds like he’s ready to take a step forward, but it feels iffy to take him in the top 20 right now, maybe even later.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Kenny Golladay, WR, NYG - The Giants offense will go as far as Daniel Jones will take them. Let that sink in. Jason Garrett hasn’t given us any confidence in his ability to elevate the play of this offense. The offensive line isn’t going to do Jones any favors. Where does that leave Barkley, who is on two injury-marred seasons in a row, and Golladay, who is struggling to establish chemistry with Jones and will now miss two weeks? The Giants offense feels like a sinking ship. Barkley isn’t an automatic first-round pick, and he isn’t even an automatic early second-round pick with the expectation that he might not return until Week 3. I’m not sure how far Golladay would have to fall for me to take him.
Dak Prescott, QB, Amari Cooper, WR, Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL - The Cowboys offense has massive positive blow-up potential with Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Zack Martin all back to reconstitute one of the best offensive lines in the league. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper returning from surgery felt like a formality until Prescott hurt a muscle in his throwing shoulder and Cooper was placed on the PUP list at the open of camp. The Cowboys offense showed us the negative blow-up potential last year and it’s difficult to just brush off Prescott and Cooper’s issues as inconsequential, especially as they relate to Elliott’s touchdown potential, when he could also be ceding some of his workload to the ascendent Tony Pollard at the margin. It won’t be a surprise at all if the Cowboys are a top-five offense and help fantasy teams win titles. I took Prescott in the mid-second and Cooper in the mid-sixth of the Draft Sharks Invitational where I saw both as values (it is a superflex league) - but that is a best-ball, go-big-or-go-home format where you are gunning to be the best not only in your league but all of the drafts in the contest. In a typical home league, investing in the Cowboys offense when their ADPs assume an elite offense is tougher to feel 100% confident about.
Julio Jones, WR, TEN - I want Jones to rampage through the AFC and remind everyone just how special it is to get to watch him play football. Even in a low-volume pass offense, he should still have enough opportunity to be a fantasy WR1. The hesitation comes into the picture when we remember that usually when an elite player is coming off of an injury-marred season and they get traded from the franchise that once saw them as an iconic, untouchable player, then that means the decline is impending. Maybe the Falcons only traded him because they had no other choice due to the cap hell they were left in. Jones can still return 2nd/3rd round value at a 4th round price, but if the downward trajectory continues, we should have seen it coming.
Mike Davis, RB, ATL, Myles Gaskin, RB, MIA, Darrell Henderson, RB, LAR - It’s not impossible as James Robinson showed us last year, but how often do running backs who are lead backs by default work out in fantasy leagues? We’ve all had bad experiences taking running backs who have an opportunity that exceeds their pedigree and track record. If you only have one running back it’s the fifth round, one or more of these backs might be staring you in the face, but players at other positions with a much higher chance of success will also be on the board. One, or maybe even all three of these backs could end up being the right choice at ADP, but the hesitation in taking them over more established talents at other positions is a feeling that is impossible to ignore when you’re on the clock.
Michael Thomas, WR, NO - When is Thomas is going to play this year? Shrug. How will he look when he returns? Shrug. What kind of quarterback play will the Saints get this year? Shrug. Is Thomas over the problems that made trade rumors surface during last season? Shrug. What round should we be willing to take Thomas in? Shrug. Upside bench plays like Elijah Moore, Mecole Hardman, and Darnell Mooney are better picks right now.
Josh Allen, QB, BUF - Allen’s breakout season was fun, and if Emmanuel Sanders stays healthy and Gabriel Davis takes a step forward in year two, there’s reason to think Allen can get even better. He also had a three-game stretch where he only accounted for three total touchdowns and under 600 passing yards. I still can’t shake a nagging feeling that Allen after Allen ran cold in the playoffs that most everything broke right for him last year and his results might not be duplicated. Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson go after him in drafts and they carry the same ceiling, if not higher.
Kareem Hunt, RB, CLE - Hunt is a great back who would be a second-, if not a first-round pick, if he was a lead back in a decent to good offense. He’s not. In the second half of the year, Hunt was up and down, and merely adequate at best as a fantasy RB2, and his role isn’t going to change this year. He was a little banged up, but still didn’t turn into a league winner when Nick Chubb missed time last year. The rookie running backs going off of the board around Hunt probably have a better chance to change your fantasy destiny even though they should only hope they become as good of an NFL running back as he is.
George Kittle, TE, Deebo Samuel, WR, Brandon Aiyuk, WR, SF - Trey Lance is the future and every day it seems like he will be the present at quarterback for the 49ers. That should mean a lower volume, but higher efficiency passing game. What will that look like on a week-to-week basis if all three of these players stay healthy (unlike last year). Kittle is at a position where we tolerate down weeks, but his potential ups and downs make Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson better picks in the end? Every time my pick is coming up in the late third and Kittle is still on the board, I hope that someone takes him so I don’t have to ponder when Pitts is *still* the right pick even though Kittle is there. Samuel and Aiyuk are both having good camps and their arrows are pointing up, but we already know that Kyle Shanahan is content to win with minimal pass attempts when the running game and defense are holding up their parts of the bargain. Will Aiyuk and Samuel have higher enough peaks to make the valleys endurable? Or will they rarely string two good weeks in a row and keep us guessing? All of this train of thought leads to a station where Trey Lance and Trey Sermon are waiting.
Joe Mixon, RB, CIN - Mixon is going to get the largest workload of his career in the best offense of his career. Is that enough to buy into him in the second round? I have felt compelled to take him in the mid-second when he is often the last of the tier with Antonio Gibson and Najee Harris (and Barkley and Taylor) but is it right to take him over much more sure things at wide receiver? Or over a lead back in a gold standard offense (Clyde Edwards-Helaire)? These questions haunt me.
Melvin Gordon III, RB, DEN - Gordon has gone from lead back and early-round pick to inconvenient veteran blocking the way for a rookie very quickly. Javonte Williams is obviously a player the Broncos are very high on, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be better than Gordon in his first year in the league. Gordon is still very useful and well-rounded and may outproduce his falling ADP by holding onto a co-lead back role, but it’s still easy to be reluctant about taking him, even in the double-digit rounds. Maybe that’s going too far in fading a player was still a solid weekly play last year coming in with a third-round ADP.
D'Andre Swift, RB, DET - Swift is an ascendent second-year back who will be running behind a very good run-blocking unit in an offense directed by a running back-friendly coordinator. He’s clearly more physically talented than Jamaal Williams, but not so overwhelmingly talented to force Williams into backup usage instead of committee back/hot hand usage. Swift can rack up catches in the likely numerous come from behind game scripts, but so can Williams. J.K. Dobbins and Chris Carson are close to him in ADP but are vastly more attractive picks. And David Montgomery might be just as good of a pick if the Bears get decent quarterback play. If I have to think about Swift as the best running back pick on the board in the late third/early fourth, I’m probably just going Kyle Pitts or Chris Godwin over him.