Welcome to Week 14 of the 2021 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discusses a question of talent versus fit, receivers playing below expectations, candidates who might emerge from relative anonymity, and a game of FF Fill in the Blank.
Talent Versus Fit
Matt Waldman: Javonte Williams is a talented back. Personally, I thought he was the safest runner of the 2021 class. That said, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, although a different style of runner, is talented, too, and the hype surrounding him in September was hysteria, especially after a productive opener against a bad Texas defense.
Williams has a style more conducive to every-down play than Edwards-Helaire and he's a bigger, stronger back. But the touting of Williams as an elite talent seems like the touting of every back who has a big game early in their career: Tevin Coleman, Trent Richardson, Edwards-Helaire, and several others.
In contrast, there were a lot of people truly concerned that Jonathan Taylor was a bust before the second half of the 2020 season and you would have thought Nick Chubb was a broken-down shell trying to match the old version of Frank Gore after a couple of preseason games and this included former players commenting about what they saw.
I broach this topic and provide additional color to it because I received an interesting question from a reader this weekend after they watched Williams lead fantasy scorers at running back:
Would you trade Saquon Barkley for Williams?
A long-held point about fantasy management is that when judging between two players that some may deem have relatively equal value -- and considering Barkley's injuries and surrounding talent, the tide may be turning on his perceived value -- upside has more value. In this case, there are few backs with greater upside on the field than Barkley.
Another long-held point for fantasy football is that the best fantasy running backs also have a reliable supporting cast: strong offensive line, good quarterback, and dangerous receivers so defenses cannot overplay the run. In this case, Williams has the superior offensive line and while the difference may appear marginal in fantasy football, Teddy Bridgewater is a more stable producer than Daniel Jones.
Two questions based on these points.
A) What do you prefer when drafting or trading for a running back when you have choices that you believe are close: Highest potential upside or best shot at consistent weekly production based on scheme and surrounding talent B) If Williams were named the starter tomorrow and the Broncos jettisoned Gordon to the bench (although he'll be gone at year's end anyway) Would you trade Barkley away for Williams and do you think it's a fair trade?
Jordan McNamara: When I am drafting a running back I want high potential outcomes. Running back is the worst position to seek consistency because you can easily secure peak weeks of backup players when there is an injury to a starter. For example, Javonte Williams was RB1 this past week when Melvin Gordon III was out, Alexander Mattison has had multiple starter weeks during Dalvin Cook's absence, and Rhamondre Stevenson may get playoff week starts if the Damien Harris injury is longstanding.
These high variance outcomes are easy to capitalize on because you will know when to start them when their starter is injured. Settling for a low upside consistent running back instead of high upside shots, is a limiting strategy that only caps your upside.
Regarding Williams and Barkley, there is little to think Barkley can outproduce Williams at this point. Barkley isn't performing as well as his teammate Devontae Booker despite similar touches which is incredible for a player of Barkley's perceived stature. If Gordon returns healthy, Barkley and Williams are close bets. If Gordon misses time, I think Williams is the right answer, so I'll take Williams over Barkley.
Mark Schofield: I strongly prefer consistent weekly production, taking into account the surrounding talent, offensive scheme, and offensive line. The ability to look at a player on your roster, slot him into a role -- in this case RB1 -- and just not worry about him is a great position to be in from a fantasy football/roster management perspective.
I would trade Barkley for Williams in an instant, and honestly, I am not sure it is a fair trade. Beyond the issues with Barkley's injury history, there are issues from an offensive line perspective that the Giants need to address, there are questions about the next offensive coordinator and what their scheme might look like, and there is also uncertainty about the general manager position in New York. If David Gettleman is fired, who is the next GM and what kind of offense will they construct? Williams is in a more stable environment -- relatively speaking -- and with a GM who drafted him and knows what he can do.
Troy King: I prefer a running back who can provide consistent production. It’s very difficult to find reliability week-to-week from any fantasy asset, so when I hit on it, it’s like a weight off my shoulders. Upside is obviously important, but sometimes it’s unrealized and that doesn’t help my lineup score points on a consistent basis.
In this particular scenario, I would trade Williams and it is a fair trade. Without Gordon, Williams would have the upside plus the ability to provide consistent production given the situation, offensive line, quarterback. The consistent volume Williams would see without Gordon plus his age makes it a fair deal.
Dan Hindery: My lean is typically towards talent and upside over the situation and floor production. Part of my focus on the upside is due to the formats I prefer. Most of my drafts are for best-ball teams in large-field tournaments, so my goal is to put together a lineup that stands out in a field of more than 100,000 entries versus trying to finish in the top half of a 12-team league to get into the playoffs.
One of my rules of thumb in redraft leagues is to not draft running backs at an ADP that is way lower than their dynasty ADP. The long-term and talent-focused view of dynasty tends to red flag the right players who the redraft folks are too high on. Mike Davis was a great example from last season. His dynasty trade value was pretty minimal yet people were still drafting him in the fifth round due to his situation. More often than not, that ends poorly.
My December dynasty trade value chart has Barkley and Williams tied for RB8 with the exact same trade value. In my eyes, this would be a perfectly fair and even trade. I have a very slight preference for Williams in dynasty. While Barkley is more proven, I would roll the dice on Williams, who is three years younger. While that may not seem like much, the prime of a running back career is usually so short that those age gaps that might appear trivial at other positions are major differentiators at the position.
Scott Bischoff: The answer for me is a blend of both. I understand that's a bit of a non-answer, so I'll parse that out a little. I prefer running backs with the ability to play on third downs quickly, as I think that gets them to their highest potential upside while keeping them somewhat consistent and near their floor. I like that approach because it takes game scripts slightly out of the picture.
As an aside, I think this is why there was such hype surrounding Edwards-Helaire. There was some expectation that he would benefit significantly from the Chiefs passing game (it did not help that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid referred to Edwards-Helaire as the next Brian Westbrook), which was unrealistic. That has not happened, and Edwards-Helaire has not lived up to the lofty expectations many in the fantasy community had for him.
If I view a player-for-player trade as being close, I will swing for the player with the highest potential upside, but I am not ignoring the "consistency" of each player. The Williams-for-Barkley trade is a fascinating question. I see Williams as the more consistent option with Barkley being capable of huge outburst-type weeks, but I did not expect Barkley to have a great year returning from injury. He puts tremendous force on his lower body to move the way he does, and I thought he would struggle at times this season.
For me, it is a forward-thinking move dependent on whether this is a redraft or dynasty question. For dynasty purposes, If I can trade Williams right now for a rare talent like Barkley, I am doing it and taking on whatever risk Barkley brings. In redraft leagues, I am content with keeping Williams as I think he is potentially the better performer in 2021. Yes, it is a fair trade.
Waldman: In dynasty, I think it's a little tougher to pass on Barkley and that was really the root of the question for me, but decided to keep the league format open-ended to get a range of answers based on the specialty/interest of the panelist. That said, I understand how one might look at Williams and decide he'll offer them 1-2 more years of viable starter production behind a better line and with a better quarterback.
That said, Russell Wilson supposedly says he'd approve a trade to the Giants (as well as the Broncos and Saints) and Wilson's play-action and rollout game will help Barkley at least moderately, even if the offensive line doesn't improve dramatically. After all, there was a four- or five-year period where Wilson took more as many or more hits/pressures from the pocket as Andrew Luck and Cam Newton and still delivered.
Drew Davenport: I prefer the consistent weekly production when considering running backs. I think the question has a large "eye of the beholder" component to it. Often our personalities drive our fantasy football decisions more than we'd like to admit and I'd consider this to be a perfect example. I'm more cautious by nature, in fantasy or my poker game or life in general, and I always prefer having the steady thing over going for the upside. Upside is tantalizing, but Dan makes an astute point that it is often something I care more about in large-field tournaments or best ball situations than when I'm running a lineup out there each week.
If Williams were to suddenly have the Denver backfield to himself I would trade Barkley for him in a heartbeat. I started to ask myself if it mattered whether it was Dynasty or Redraft format and realized it didn't matter. Barkley isn't an old man, he's still 24, but Williams is younger, with less injury history, and playing for a better organization. I think I can tick about every box I can think of in Williams' favor.
Further, it seems that Denver will continue to flirt with veteran quarterbacks and look to bring one in for a run with this offensive talent. They were rumored to be a serious contender for Aaron Rodgers this offseason, and now Russell Wilson has expressed interest in them. Regardless, the Broncos have a better line, a better quarterback, and a better future profile for any running back. All of that ignores the main issue I have, however, and that's been Barkley's checkered injury history. It is fair to wonder if he's ever going to put it together again and whether he's the same player he was four years ago. I'd cash in on whatever perceived value Barkley has left from his magical rookie campaign to grab Williams and wouldn't think twice.
Wide Receivers Performing below Expectation
Waldman: The following receivers have performed below the industry's expectations this year:
Pick the player you are most and least concerned about heading into 2022.
Hindery: I am least concerned about Jerry Jeudy because I believe in his talent and feel he has a great shot at continuing to develop due to his age (22-years old). Denver also looks well-positioned to make a major upgrade at the quarterback position this offseason, possibly with Aaron Rodgers.
I am most concerned about Allen Robinson. He seems to have fallen out of favor with the Bears, the second time that has happened in his career. When a player as talented as Robinson seems to wear out his welcome so quickly, it is a red flag that there may be some issues behind the scenes. Robinson will be 29-years old at the start of the 2022 season and will likely be transitioning to a new franchise. The hit rates on these late-career free agent signings on new teams at wide receiver is generally pretty low.
Davenport: I'm most concerned about Robinson. The problem with him is that not only has he disappeared with the quarterback change but he's also done so while his young counterpart Darnell Mooney has found success. A head coaching change in Chicago could be coming to shake things up, but the quarterbacks on the roster are probably going to be the same ones next year and their preference for Mooney wasn't an aberration (before Robinson got hurt). Mooney out-targeted Robinson 53 to 44 the first half of the season and I see no reason why this won't continue next year. This should knock Robinson out of the WR1/2 conversation next summer.
I'm least concerned about Jeudy. He's young and is still developing into his NFL skill set. With the moves Denver has made recently to lock up their wide receivers it looks like they are poised to make a serious run at a quarterback change. But even if Bridgewater is still there Jeudy fits well with his conservative style. It's been a bit of a perfect storm for Jeudy to have such a disappointing year so I'm not overly concerned about him going forward.
King: I'm most concerned about Robinson. His season this year has been quite the anomaly. He has been supplanted by Darnell Mooney as the WR1 on the team and his future is unknown. It is unlikely he re-signs with the Bears, which is a positive, but we have no idea if his future situation will necessarily be better. Also, he is currently 28 years old and has been dealing with a lot of nagging injuries. Tough to feel very optimistic compared to the other options.
I'm least concerned about Metcalf. He's a top-10 dynasty wide receiver. Whether it’s Russell Wilson throwing him the ball or another quarterback, Metcalf is going to be a focal point in the offense for years to come. Consistency has been a bit of an issue, but his overall upside is the highest among the choices.
Bischoff: The player I am least concerned about moving forward is Lockett. He is a tremendous route runner and can produce in any situation because of his ability to get open consistently. There is safety built into his game.
As the others have mentioned, Robinson is most concerning. His value going forward is super unclear. All of the players listed might play with a new quarterback in 2022, which brings a level of volatility to the entire group, but Robinson's complete vanishing act with the Bears is alarming. He may end up in a better situation in 2022, or he may not, and we can see how a bad situation impacts his game right now.
Schofield: Given how my mind works, I first think about the quarterback situations. Sutton and Jeudy might be playing with a different quarterback next year, should the Broncos address the position. Ben Roethlisberger is hinting about retirement again, which could mean Claypool is playing with a new quarterback. Robinson is playing on the franchise tag, so he might be elsewhere next year. That leaves us with Metcalf and Lockett. From where I sit, Lockett seems the most stable producer currently, and if the Seahawks go in a different direction at QB, given his route tree and the variety of ways he can be used in the passing game. Should Seattle go in a different direction, and start 2022 with a QB who is a different player than Russell Wilson, Lockett could still be productive, but Metcalf and what he does best might not fit with the new passer's skill-set. Following that long and twisted logic, Lockett is the one I'm most confident in for 2022.
As for the receiver that I'm most worried about, it is Robinson. I want to believe, much like I do with the quarterback position in Chicago, that his struggles this season are more due to scheme and coaching than anything else. But he has yet to eclipse 100 yards receiving in a game this year, he has been inconsistent in terms of separation, and the worry is lingering.
McNamara: There is a healthy amount of skepticism from me on this entire group of players, but Jeudy warrants a lot of concern. Denver spent more than 80 million dollars in contracts on Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton in the past month, which reinforces one of the ten worst offenses in the league the past two years. Those contracts lock Jeudy into a quagmire at the receiving position. Even if Jeudy is better than Sutton and Patrick (which is entirely possible if not probable), he will not see the clear usage necessary to be a difference-making player.
Tyler Lockett is cheap enough that I am not worried about missing on him. If I pick him in redraft or have him in dynasty, and he does not pan out, there is little downside, whereas he had top 15 WR finishes still in his range of outcomes if Russell Wilson returns healthy to Seattle in 2022. I like Lockett more than Metcalf because Lockett is cheaper, and it is not clear Metcalf is a better player than Lockett.
Waldman: I'm most concerned about Chase Claypool. Although his toe injury is part of his recent woes, Claypool's WR1 production as a rookie came when opposing defenses weren't making Claypool the priority that they have since the first 5-6 games. I studied the difference last year and it was clear that opposing defenses didn't cover Claypool downfield with the physicality that they did after Claypool burned the opposition in September and early October. Since then, Claypool has shown that he lacks that elite talent for winning the ball in those situations with consistency.
When facing zone coverage, the defenses shaded towards Juju Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson as the highest priorities, which left bigger openings for Claypool. This also changed after the first 5-6 weeks. Since this time, Claypool has not been a consistent starter. Anyone hanging on to him as a rebound candidate for WR1 value is only going to be rewarded if the Steelers add a great vertical thrower who can let Claypool run under the ball or earn uncontested back-shoulder plays. If Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson become Steelers, that will help. Otherwise? I think the Steelers have a player closer to Kenny Golladay, who is a nice athlete but an incomplete receiver who needs a top quarterback, surrounding talent, and/or a good scheme to deliver to his potential.
I agree with the Lockett love. He wins in a lot of ways. Losing Wilson, a great vertical thrower will hurt his production efficiency, but I expect him to become a high-end possession receiver if the new Seahawks' quarterback isn't a great vertical option.
Players Worth Monitoring
Waldman: Last week, I wrote a piece about players who have never earned sustained fantasy starter production but they are on my watchlist as candidates who could emerge or reignite their careers. Give us one player who has never had a full season as a QB1, RB2, WR3, or TE1 in a 12-team PPR or non-PPR format that you think is worth keeping tabs on. You can name a rookie, but if you do, I also want you to name a non-rookie.
Bischoff: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup needs more attention from fantasy managers. He is behind star receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, but he is more than capable of producing at a high level; he needs more opportunity. He technically may not fit here as he had a fairly strong 2019 season, catching 66 passes for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns, but Gallup is a 25-year-old soon to be free agent, and he is going to get paid by some team that sees him as a lead option in a passing attack.
King: We have seen glimpses of Gabriel Davis' potential upside during his rookie year as well as this year. As a rookie, he had seven touchdowns. He has three this year despite playing less than half the snaps. If he sees more opportunities, I believe he can become fantasy-relevant on a more consistent basis.
Davenport: Chase Edmonds is my pick here. Last year he narrowly missed an RB2 finish by finishing PPR RB25. But when Kenyan Drake left and Edmonds saw an expanded role this year he was exactly what I hoped he would be. Despite scoring just one touchdown before getting hurt, he was on pace for over 200 touches, over 1,200 total yards, and was the PPR RB16. That includes a game he left early and scored only 4 PPR points. Nevertheless, he was recording almost four receptions per game (a 17-game pace of 64 catches) and it feels like his mini-breakout has gone unnoticed. Edmonds is a guy I'm watching this offseason.
Schofield: A player I am going to monitor down the stretch, and into next drafting season, is tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with the Denver Broncos. Despite their draft capital investment into Noah Fant, the Iowa product has struggled to provide the kind of returns you would like to see from a first-round pick. This season Fant has 424 receiving yards on 49 catches (with 67 targets) for three touchdowns and averages 8.7 yards per reception. Okwuegbunam, with much fewer opportunities, has a touchdown and averages 9.8 yards per reception. All season long, those who cover the Broncos have been wondering if Fant would ever get involved in the offense more. But this past week, Fant and Okwuegbunam saw the same number of targets (four). If a new coaching staff comes in and gives him more opportunities, he could be a steal next draft cycle.
McNamara: Alexander Mattison is worth watching a lot down the stretch. Dalvin Cook has returned to practice this week, but it is not a sure thing Cook will play and if the Vikings fall out of playoff contention, there is a potential Cook is held out during key fantasy weeks. Mattison is locked into one of the best injury-away roles in the league at present and is a difference-making player when he starts.
Hindery: Cole Kmet is a watchlist player for me. We know that tight ends take a while to get up to speed. That is especially true for a player like Kmet who entered the NFL at 21-years old (he is still six months younger than Pat Freiermut, for example). At a young age, Kmet has carved out a decent market share of the receiving production. It is just an incredibly small pie in Chicago right now. If this passing offense ever makes a big leap, Kmet will be a fantasy TE1. There is some hope for this Bears unit moving forward. A change in coaching could do wonders and Justin Fields could make a big leap in his second season as we saw from Josh Allen a few years ago.
FF Fill in The Blank
Waldman: Pick one of the following statements, put a player in the blank.
- "_______ _________ is the most frustrating player to watch."
- "I wish I could know what it's like to (name a skill that is specific to his position) like _______."
- "Although I rarely operate on definitive statements with fantasy football, I will never draft __________."
- "I hate _____ but if he joined my favorite team, I would love him."
Explain your answers.
Hindery: Watching Andy Dalton throw four interceptions last weekend against the Cardinals reminded me he is the most frustrating player to watch. If there were no redeemable qualities to his play, he would be less frustrating. However, he can have stretches where he is in control and accurate.
It was enough to put an organization like the Bengals in a bind for the better part of a decade. Dalton was good enough that he was not easy to replace, especially since he usually led the team to a winning record and non-premium draft pick. But there was always an indescribable something missing with his game that led you to believe he would never be able to get the team to the promised land. He is not unique in this.
Fans of teams like the Raiders, Browns, 49ers, Dolphins, Giants, and others may find themselves in a similar boat. You can always point at other reasons why the team is not where it should be and find paths to incremental improvement but you are stuck in organizational limbo with a “franchise quarterback” who is not good enough to win it all.
Schofield: If you had asked me this question on Monday morning, it would have been an easy answer. "I wish I could know what it's like to move in the pocket like Tom Brady."
But then I saw Josh Allen throw cannon shots in the wind Monday night that still, somehow, managed to find their target. So as someone who always struggled to throw a football -- which therefore explains my background as an option quarterback -- I wish I could know what it's like to throw like Josh Allen.
McNamara: I tore the labrum in my shoulder when I was 17 and because of youthful indiscretion, continued to play baseball for a couple of years and never got my shoulder fixed. I haven't really picked up a baseball, nor thrown anything overhand for 15 years because of the discomfort. I watch in amazement when I see Stafford and Mahomes with these sidearm angles they pull out every week. My arm would spontaneously combust if I tried to pull it off.
Bischoff: I stare in complete and utter amazement when I watch Titans running back Derrick Henry run the football. It is the way he plays, from the physicality and ability to bounce off defenders (we're talking about massive and strong athletes) to running away from them. It feels humiliating, almost like they can do nothing, and he knows it. Yes, I would love to know what it feels like to run through, over, and away from some of the best athletes in the world tasked with stopping me and failing.
Davenport: I wish I could know what it's like to change direction suddenly like Kadarius Toney or Tyreek Hill. Short-area quickness is something I've never had. As someone who has played sports my whole life I've always had plenty of speed, but at 6'3" and over 200 pounds for most of my career my change of direction was like a battleship. Possessing that type of quickness would be an incredible thing to feel on a playing field.
King: Miles Sanders is the most frustrating player to watch. It’s not necessarily all his fault, but his sporadic usage is mind-numbing. You end up being conflicted because he is too talented to bench, but he is unreliable many weeks due to injury or usage. He has only had two games in the Top 24 this season. Hopefully next year we can see more consistency from him.
Waldman: My God, there are so many "I wish I could know what it's like..." answers for me. Some of the candidates that I must mention include:
- I wish I could know what it's like to have the elusiveness and contact balance of Barry Sanders. The guy must have had ballbearings for ankles.
- I wish I could know what it's like to have the sternum-crunching power of Earl Campbell on that run against the Rams where the jersey gets ripped off him after powering through what seemed like the entire defense.
- I wish I could know what it's like to have Brandon Lloyd's hand-eye coordination on some of the most Matrix-like adjustments to the football that I've ever seen.
- I wish I could know what it's like to have the overall game of Lawrence Taylor, who could rush the passer, stop the run, and cover in space with game-changing ability.