Welcome to Week 2 of the 2021 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discuss and debate the 49ers backfield, the state of the Baltimore Ravens offense, waiver-wire candidates with a twist (see below), and they will self-evaluate their team management style.
- 49ers Backfield
- State of the Ravens Offense
- Waiver-Wire Candidates with a Twist
- Fantasy Team Management Tendencies
Matt Waldman: Raheem Mostert is out for the year. Trey Sermon, by all accounts of mainstay beat writers since May, earned the vast majority of reps as the No.2 back and split time with Mostert all summer. However, he was a healthy scratch on Sunday and there are a variety of speculated reasons for it. Elijah Mitchell had a strong fantasy effort and JaMycal Hasty earned a key red-zone look.
- Who is your priority addition?
- Are you dropping anyone?
- Any situations where you're keeping multiple options?
- Do you have half a mind to avoid all of it?
I've shared my advice in multiple places, including this week's Top 10. What's your advice for fantasy managers about this backfield that has one of the best offensive lines and run games in the league in terms of play design and personnel?
Adam Harstad: Every team has to field a special teams unit, but no team wants to risk starters on special teams if they don't have to, and no team wants to devote roster spots to guys who only contribute on special teams if they don't have to. This means teams always prefer backups who can contribute to special teams.
The 49ers had one of the most prolific and productive return specialists of recent years in Richie James, but James injured his knee in late August, had surgery, and went on injured reserve. Raheem Mostert was the clear starter at running back, and San Francisco wanted a backup who could also return kicks, which was Mitchell, not Sermon.
Interesting "butterfly flaps his wings" thought: if Richie James doesn't injure his knee this offseason, Trey Sermon is probably active today.— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) September 12, 2021
And y'all thought returners didn't matter. (I mean, not y'all y'all, but some hypothetical y'all that doesn't follow me on Twitter.)
Now that Mostert is hurt, San Francisco isn't looking at Mitchell, Sermon, and Hasty as "clear backups", but as "potential starters", so the calculus changes. Just because Mitchell was ahead of Sermon in Week 1 doesn't mean it'll hold in Week 2 (or Week 8, or Week 16).
I'd also point to last year's Rams as an example of the dangers of overreacting. In Week 1, Cam Akers had 15 touches for 43 yards, Darrell Henderson had 3 touches for 6 yards, and Malcolm Brown had 21 touches for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. Plenty of fantasy managers dropped Akers and Henderson for Brown. (I was among them.)
The result? Henderson was the star of Week 2, earned the starting job by Week 3, and was a Top 20 fantasy back through Week 10. Akers started slowly, but by Week 11 had caught his stride and from Week 12 on averaged 113 yards per game, cementing himself as a Top 12 back before his offseason Achilles injury. And Brown never started a game and never topped 60 yards the rest of the way.
Any of San Francisco's three backs could plausibly be league-winners this year. Or none of them could, as Raheem Mostert (or Jeff Wilson) could return at midseason and take over again. All three are worth a spot at the end of the bench for a couple of weeks until we find out more information.
Dan Hindery: Elijah Mitchell is a high-priority waiver wire target. There is some risk given how fickle Kyle Shanahan has proven to be with his running backs but the upside is massive, as well. Raheem Mostert is droppable. No way would I consider dropping Trey Sermon. I see Sermon’s value as pretty similar to what it was during fantasy draft season. His competition is now Mitchell instead of Mostert. If I have Sermon and am able to add Mitchell, I would absolutely keep them both. Whoever the projected starter is going into a given week should be in your lineup. At worst, the other is an injury handcuff. This is a favorable enough fantasy situation that the potential headaches (possibly not knowing who the starter is from week to week) are worth it given the upside. We have seen Mostert have 200-yard, 4-touchdown games.
James Brimacombe: It's a long season so how I would approach this backfield would be to get the cheapest piece of the running game that you can right now. Mitchell looks like the pricey option now so if I miss out on the waiver wire on him I am looking in Hasty’s direction. Trey Sermon will come at a high price as owners drafted him early in drafts and are the true believers in him and will want a premium in return. I think JaMycal Hasty would be my answer for the long term buy cheap and hold and see how it goes. If you have a big enough roster I would also take some stabs at Jeff Wilson and hold on to him for the second half of the season.
Chad Parsons: My answer to the 49ers backfield is anyone but Elijah Mitchell. I am in the camp that Trey Sermon and JaMycal Hasty are both more enticing fantasy options and better NFL running backs. I was aggressive to acquire Hasty off waiver wires over the past two weeks and since Wayne Gallman was released. Sermon has Day 2 pedigree, was a trade-up target by San Francisco, and does everything well.
While inactive Week 1, Sermon's activation will challenge Mitchell immediately for the 1A role here. If Hasty is dropped (possible post-Week 2), I would pick him up as a stash. This backfield mandates three running backs being rostered most of the time due to their rotation and the reward of being 'right' with the RB1. Also, typically the RB2 is at least a flex consideration in a given week for fantasy lineups.
If in a dynasty league with at least roster spots, or 20-plus in redraft, keeping multiple 49ers running backs is not an issue. If able to go Round-Two to Round-One future pick upgrade with Elijah Mitchell post-Week 1, I would take it and run in dynasty. A Round Two pick alone would have him as a hold, but, like Ty'Son Williams, if a Round-Two pick and an injury-away option from another backfield would be the most realistic return to pull the trigger.
Scott Bischoff: I want at least one piece of the 49ers’ backfield. I would prioritize Sermon above all others, followed by Mitchell then Hasty. While Mitchell will be going for high free-agent dollars, it might make some sense to get Hasty right now. There is too much value to drop any of these backs with so much unknown right now. As tempting as it is to avoid the situation, the reality is the 49ers’ ground game is so strong that you need to tolerate the week-to-week frustration to cash in on the big weeks that are coming.
Mark Schofield: Frankly, I have half a mind to avoid this altogether, but as we will see later that is more of a "me" problem than a "you" problem, dear reader. I am not ready to move on from Trey Sermon at all, as I believe the Week 1 inactive status was more a referendum on who can play special teams and questions at other positions, than on Sermon. Matt Waldman and I dove into this issue at length in this week's RSP Quick Game podcast.
Now, Elijah Mitchell is a target on waivers for sure, because he fits the mold of the type of back that Kyle Shanahan likes to use, the Tevin Coleman back. But even then, Shanahan relied upon Devonta Freeman alongside him, which speaks to the idea that there is still a role for Sermon.
Dave Kluge: I understand the mad dash to go out and acquire Elijah Mitchell, but I did not participate in it myself. We’ve seen Kyle Shanahan deploy a slew of running backs in San Francisco throughout the last few years, and I’m not convinced that Mitchell will suddenly buck that trend. Trey Sermon’s absence is a bit worrisome but beat reporters were giving strong reports all offseason, and I’m not ready to give up on him just yet.
Additionally, JaMycal Hasty will carve out a role for himself, and Jeff Wilson Jr. still has a chance to return this season. Last year, the 49ers had five different running backs that each had a week as the team’s leader in carries. That can be blamed on injuries, but Shanahan has shown that he’s more than willing to let any back take the lead role. That type of uncertainty made me a bit apprehensive in splashing a lot of FAAB on Mitchell. I’ve pivoted to Hasty as a much cheaper arbitrage...
Victoria Geary: If Trey Sermon was dropped in any of your leagues, I would be looking to add him to the back end of my redraft rosters. I want to preface that I have relatively zero trust in the 49ers backfield, as head coach Kyle Shanahan has both said and done some unexpected things already through only one week of the 2021 season. Most notably, Shanahan had Sermon as a healthy scratch in Week 1 and barely utilized fantasy darling Brandon Aiyuk, recently citing he needs to “be a lot better than the guy behind him” if he wants to be on the field.
I didn't feel comfortable blowing all of my redraft FAAB or waiver priorities on Elijah Mitchell as we have seen Shanahan rotate his backs by playing the hot hand week in and week out. Jeff Wilson will likely come back at some point this season, muddying the waters even more. I left the headache of 49ers backfield start/sit to my league-mates, and though I may be wrong on this, I’m going off of the last few years of myself and many others struggling with this backfield in their week to week matchups.
The State of the Ravens' Offense
Waldman: With more than a dozen players on IR which includes their top two backs, their best ball-hawking corner, and their top draft pick at wide receiver as well as a revamped OL that doesn't look as good as it was in 2019-20, and an overtime loss to the Raiders on Monday Night Football, the Ravens are a fascinating team to follow and a potential fantasy nightmare.
However, we often find fantasy value from these scenarios because players emerge as reliable contributors.
- Is there value to be found in the Ravens backfield? If so, who are you targeting and why?
- Is there value to be found in the receiving corps? If so, who are you targeting and why?
- Does your valuation of Lamar Jackson change?
I've shared my thoughts on the Ravens offense after reviewing the coach's tape of the game in this week's Gut Check. Please share yours and be specific about league types when discussing these points.
Geary: Even though the Ravens backfield is a bit of a head-scratcher so far this season, there is absolutely value to be found at running back in redraft leagues. Once J.K. Dobbins was trusted by the coaching staff and found his footing in 2020, he was the overall RB10 from Weeks 11 through 17, scoring 17.0 fantasy points per game. It’s worth noting the Ravens have a decent upcoming schedule against the Chiefs, Lions, Broncos, and Colts. We should begin to see one of Ty'Son Williams or Latavius Murray pull away as the lead back as the month goes on, and even though Murray may have a veteran edge, Williams looked confident and explosive in his NFL rookie debut this past week. I have targeted Williams in many of my redraft leagues but both backs can currently be acquired at a fairly low cost due to the looming uncertainty.
When examing the receiving Baltimore receiving game, the first question that comes to mind: was Sammy Watkins’ performance just a mirage of his past Week 1 explosion, or has he sincerely established himself in this offense? My eyes will be on Watkins over the next few weeks, although Hollywood Brown looked quick and seemed to build off of his production from the end of the 2020 season.
Watkins’ presence likely helps Brown and takes the pressure off of him being the number one wide receiver. However, the cheapest piece of this receiving corps you can acquire right now is rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Bateman is currently on IR and can easily be slotted into one of your IR spots before he comes back from injury.
Due to the Ravens' overall schedule and the horrendous injury luck they have experienced throughout the offseason, I was worried Lamar Jackson would have to put every game on his shoulders. I wasn’t as high on Jackson for this reason, but that doesn’t mean I think he can’t lead this team to multiple victories and another playoff run. The Ravens are well-coached and lost a tough road matchup against the Raiders in Week 1. I think the team and Jackson will be just fine, but Jackson’s fantasy ceiling may not be as high as it was in years past.
Schofield: There is still value to be had in the Ravens' backfield because as we have seen over the years the idea from Greg Roman is to focus on the ground game with a bevy of intriguing run-game concepts, to set up what Baltimore looks to accomplish in the passing game. I think in the short term the player to target is Latavius Murray, because, despite the touchdown run from Ty'Son Williams, he showed some hesitancy on the ground in the second half, perhaps fearing a fumble, and left some meat on the bone as a result. Murray might not be the explosive, home run threat that Williams is, but he is going to get the bulk of opportunities because while he might not turn plays into home runs, he is going to get you every inch available on the ground on a given design.
While I am not personally going to be targeting any of the Ravens' receivers, if a player emerged Monday night that could be worth targeting, it might just be Sammy Watkins. There might not be a more polarizing receiver in recent history than Watkins, but at least in Week 1, it was Watkins who led the Ravens in targets. On Baltimore's biggest passing play of the night, it was Watkins that Roman called a concept for, putting him on the inside of a trips formation to isolate him on a linebacker.
Jackson will be fine and will put up numbers thanks to his rushing ability and, well, the fact that it looks like the Ravens might struggle to protect him, thereby opening up more opportunities to scramble.
Waldman: since we last talked about this on our pod, Mark, I'm a little worried that Jackson's rushing suffers if the Ravens backs cannot execute the option game we've seen in the past. When reviewing Monday Night's tape, the Ravens didn't use a lot of read plays or any option looks and that likely has to do with the lack of rapport between these backs with Jackson. I think this made Jackson far less efficient and it narrowed the breadth and effectiveness of the run game's playbook because they couldn't lean on their best plays. This may change with additional weeks of practice and work in games, but if Jackson doesn't get those easy outside runs where he earns 8-12 yards untouched due to the run designs, I'm more concerned about him getting beaten up this year.
Bischoff: There is clear value in the Ravens’ backfield, but we have to set proper expectations to avoid disappointment. Neither Williams nor Murray is a clear-cut starting option as long as they are part of a committee. However, both are strong options if one of them grabs a starting role and a majority of work in the Ravens offense.
In redraft formats, I am leaning toward Murray as he has been a reliable option on third down in a pass-heavy offense before coming to Baltimore. Also, his touchdown upside is tough to ignore. Williams looked explosive in the first half on Monday, and he may grab this job before all is said and done. I would prioritize him in dynasty leagues.
It is tough to rely on Watkins or Brown as stable options in this passing offense as it currently stands. Brown is capable of a monster game or two, but the volatility makes him too risky for now. Similar things can be said for Watkins. The “X” factor here is rookie receiver Rashod Bateman, and how he can help quarterback Lamar Jackson take the next step as a passer.
Bateman had the look of a “lock” first-round pick based on the 2019 Minnesota film, but his situation got muddy in 2020 dealing with Covid and other issues. He is a different type of player than Brown or Watkins, and he can win to all parts of the field which will help Jackson. It would not surprise me if Bateman gets a nice amount of volume, helping to open the offense as a whole. Now is a great time to make a play for Bateman in dynasty formats as he is still injured. .
Jackson looked a little off Monday night, but the offense needs a little time to get going after all the losses of personnel. Jackson has done enough as a fantasy producer and if he has another down week or two, I would make strong offers to get him in a trade in both redraft and dynasty formats.
Parsons: The segmented movement of news with the Ravens backfield has led to the currently relevant pieces of Ty'Son Williams and Latavius Murray earning roster spots on nearly every fantasy team. If Le'Veon Bell becomes a strong producer or Devonta Freeman, there may be waiver moves to make, but as of now, it is mainly from a trade angle.
In redraft, I would not be making a strong move for Williams or Murray. I view the situation as relatively fluid but the quick shift from Williams early in Week 1 (but only nine total carries) to Murray more as the game progressed to align with that of a new player (Murray arrived recently) getting up to speed in-game and the plan was to slow-play Murray.
However, Murray is a trusty veteran and will be a tough hurdle for Williams to keep in the 1B or RB2 role in the macro view. Murray is the play of the two, as the longer-term (meaning the next couple of months) play. In dynasty, if a Round 2 pick and another team's injury-away or 1B back is possible as a return for Williams, I would take it and run post-Week 1. I think Williams will ultimately need another injury (Murray) to prevail, or at least have stronger odds to prevail.
I took shots on Sammy Watkins of the receiving group for Baltimore. I don't view Marquise Brown as a true alpha receiver to render other options fighting for scraps in a passing game. Watkins, when healthy, can be the 1A or 1B of a passing game still, especially a depth chart like Baltimore's. Also, as a big fan of Rashod Bateman, I expect him to rise quickly once healthy a la Brandon Aiyuk a year ago. It may not be until midseason or later-season, but expect a flash-infused (at a minimum) Year 1 for Bateman with a TBD arrival date.
I have been below market on Lamar Jackson consistently throughout his career. He has thrown that in my face at times from the fantasy lens with his breathtaking rushing ability and mixed in a 35-touchdown passing season. However, his lack of injuries to date considering his brandish running style and taking hits for his non-Cam Newton-like frame is one of the wonders of the NFL. I keep expecting it (and have Tyler Huntley rostered plenty this year in QB-premium formats) to benefit. However, Jackson continues to evade the big injury like his less dynamic NFL defenders in the open field.
Brimacombe: Both Ty'Son Williams and Latavius Murray flipped flopped usage from the first half to the second half. It looked like Williams had plenty of juice to start the game. Murray looked slower but may have more experience with pass protection although he didn't earn any reps in this game. I don’t want to overpay for either back right now as I think we are going to see a split in touches moving forward.
Marquise Brown looked quick to me and with the running game still in question I want to invest in this passing game with Lamar Jackson moving forward. Brown looks like the main guy and looks to benefit from having Sammy Watkins on the team as well. Brown gives you huge upside each week but he always comes with some lingering injury concerns.
I want more Lamar Jackson right now. I think after a Week 1 loss and not a perfect game from him is going to take a hit on his value. Anytime you can get Jackson on a discount is when you want to pounce.
Hindery: There is some value to be found in the Ravens backfield but probably not that much. I see Latavius Murray emerging as the leader of a committee, racking up 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns, and having minimal pass-game usage. He could be a low-end RB2 in standard scoring and more of a flex-option or bye-week fill-in for PPR leagues. Ty'Son Williams has a good shot to remain in the rotation and could have modest fantasy value like Gus Edwards did in 2020.
Kluge: There is absolutely value to be found in this backfield as the Ravens have run more than any other team in back-to-back seasons. But right now, it's anyone's guess who can come out on top. We've seen Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins all find success as the primary back for the Ravens.
Despite the injuries to the O-line, I still think that having Lamar Jackson will keep them in a run-first mindset. Although Dobbins looked great down the stretch last year, this team doesn't need a dynamic back as much as they need a between-the-tackles, one-cut runner. As fun as Ty'Son Williams has looked throughout the preseason, Latavius Murray could end up with the valuable workload here.
I know what you're thinking: "Murray is 31 years old and couldn't make the Saints' final roster." That sounds eerily similar to the narrative surrounding 2019 Mark Ingram II before he racked up over 1,250 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns.
Williams has a history with the team and that's why he got the first crack at the job in Week 1, but Murray should be stashed in all formats. His skill set as a hard-nosed downhill runner could earn him snaps in this depleted backfield.
Regardless of his situation, Lamar Jackson is going to be able to produce in fantasy football. His ability to extend plays and pick up yards on the ground is in a tier with only Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. I'm slightly worried about the Ravens’ ability to make a deep push into the playoffs with these injuries, but Jackson will remain a top-tier QB1 until he proves otherwise.
Early in Monday's game, the Ravens drew up pass plays and did their best to keep Jackson in the pocket. Even against a relentless pass-rushing attack, Jackson was elusive enough to only take three sacks. Once the game got tight though, Jackson showcased his abilities as a runner and that's where his value lies. On their final drive in the fourth quarter, Jackson ran on four-of-seven offensive snaps, picking up 35 yards.
That being said, Jackson was my QB1 in the offseason. After seeing the offensive line struggles, lack of play-making ability from the receivers, and a hodge-podge of running backs, I've moved Patrick Mahomes II and Kyler Murray ahead of Jackson in my rankings.
Waiver-Wire Recommendations (With A Twist...)
Waldman: Here's a list of players from Yahoo! who are on less than 30 percent of that format's rosters:
- RB Eli Mitchell
- RB JaMycal Hasty
- WR Zach Pascal
- TE Juwan Johnson
- QB Mac Jones
- QB Taylor Heinecke
- RB Mark Ingram II
- WR Tim Patrick
- WR Sammy Watkins
- WR Bryan Edwards
- WR Christian Kirk
- TE Pharaoh Brown
- WR Van Jefferson
- TE Olbert Okwuegbunam
- TE Tyler Conklin
- Tell me which player from the list you think is most likely to be selected that has the best ceiling of production this year?
- Tell me which player is most likely to still be on a lot of waiver wires who you are monitoring because you think they still have great upside but the opportunities/play has you a bit tentative to bite this week but will bid a lot next week if he makes good in Week 2.
- Which player is Fool's Gold?
Brimacombe: Elijah Mitchell has the biggest ceiling and is a potential league winner as he hits on the best running team in the league, a well-balanced offense that will ease him in, and he won’t have to handle 20+ touches a game which might actually benefit him. He is the name that stands out above all others Week 1 waiver adds.
Mark Ingram II is a guy that I really just don’t want to even consider adding but with the volume he saw in Week 1 I am reconsidering. I want to monitor him some but he will be scooped up this week just because of his volume this week. I would rather hold off on him and wait and see how Week 2 goes for him but on the flip side I would look for a player like Phillip Lindsay if he gets dropped or is on the waiver wire I would focus on him and hope he out volumes Ingram in the next few weeks.
Tyler Conklin seems like a guy that we want to make a thing as the Vikings are desperate for someone anyone making plays behind Jefferson and Thielen, but he's Fool's Gold to me.
Hindery: As James said, Mitchell has the highest ceiling. We have seen Alfred Morris lead the NFL in rushing yards in this system. We have seen Raheem Mostert have absolutely monster fantasy games. I would not bet my life savings that Mitchell holds onto the starting job all season. In fact, that seems unlikely. But it is also not an unrealistic way for this to play out either and that possibility gives Mitchell the most fantasy upside of any potential Week 1 waiver add.
In leagues with deeper benches, I am making a waiver claim on Juwan Johnson now. In leagues where benches aren’t quite as deep, he is near the top of my watchlist. I want to see him do it again and prove his two-touchdown in Week 1 was not a fluke. Given his strong camp performance, physical tools, and the dearth of other options in the passing game, Johnson has a real chance to keep producing.
Parsons: When I think ceiling of impact, I think running back. Even a 3-4 week stretch as a clear starter can change a fantasy season. Both Mitchell and Hasty fit the bill as 'hold even if they are running as the RB3 for the 49ers' for a point in the season. Jeffery Wilson (currently on IR) also qualifies on that depth chart as a name to remember later in the season. If 3-4 backs get clarified to 1-2 for moments over the next four months, the impact potential is there. Hasty could easily be dropped if Trey Sermon starts producing and Hasty is the clear RB3 with Mitchell ahead of him. Monitor any Hasty drops (no pun intended) in future weeks to get cheap-free exposure to the backfield when he was a meaningful pickup pre-Week 1.
Okwuegbunam and Pharaoh Brown are two whom I like but are tough to trust. Juwan Johnson is my favorite lower-rostered tight end. I was aggressive last week and this week, but Johnson is largely on rosters in applicable formats now. Brown showed well, but it was a perfect storm game for Houston and Jordan Akins still saw plenty of snaps despite no production. For Okwuegbunam, Jerry Jeudy out places a premium on more playmakers in the passing game in general, independent of position
Zach Pascal is the Fool's Gold of the commonly-added players for this week. Pascal had multiple touchdowns on a Colts passing game which has plenty of similar talent or better than Pascal. This is unlikely to be a high-flying passing game either, so the total pie will lag if they can help it weekly with a quality defense and multiple running backs on whom to center the offense.
Schofield: Christian Kirk is the player I am targeting right now. Kliff Kingsbury to his credit — and my surprise — called a very good game in Week 1. He also did a lot with DeAndre Hopkins on one boundary and A.J. Green on the other, opening up opportunities for slot receivers. Kirk got a lot of those targets and caught a beautiful rainbow of a throw from Kyler Murray for a touchdown. On that play, Kirk was the primary read, and Murray when right to him for the long TD, and when you see coaches calling plays for specific players, you take notice.
Waldman: He was my top waiver wire add recommendation on Chris Harris' Waiver Podcast this week. I liked what I saw as well and you make a great point about Kingsbury designing plays for his players. It's encouraging when a player like Kirk earns some specific first-read opportunities.
Schofield: I have my finger hovering over Bryan Edwards in a lot of leagues I am in because while I was happy to see his targets and performance down the stretch, there are reasons to hesitate. Baltimore went with a ton of blitzes, including Cover-0 blitzes, late in that game that freed up opportunities for Edwards that might not be available week-to-week. If his production continues against different looks, you might want to pounce.
Waldman: I'm a little more optimistic because Derek Carr went to Edwards as his first read multiple times with the game on the line after Edwards was only the first read in 3-4 other situations out of 30 routes that he ran before these late-game scenarios. As you said, that's a concern but with Carr deciding to go Edwards's way and make one serious trust throw that reflects the easy rapport Carr has said he's had with Edwards since last year, I'm thinking we're going to see a lot more.
Scofield: I loved seeing what Tyrod Taylor and the Houston Texans did in Week 1, but they will not be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars each week. Therefore, as great as Pharoah Brown played on Sunday, including a tremendous one-handed catch on a deep route against yes, a Cover-0 blitz, I'm not ready to jump in just yet.
Bischoff: As tempting as it is to throw in Mitchell’s name here, I will go with quarterback Taylor Heinecke. Heinecke takes over as the starter for an offense with excellent downfield weapons, and he should be able to produce at a high level throughout the rest of the season. He is a nice depth addition to a fantasy roster.
Johnson is super intriguing, and I’m tempted to make a move now but I am holding off for a week. He is behind tight end Adam Trautman, and I need to see a bit more from Johnson to make the move. I will echo James’ sentiments on Conklin as Fool's Gold.
Geary: Scott and I are in lock-step here. Heinecke isn’t as much of a downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick as most people think. The only downside is that Fitzpatrick received all offseason reps with the starters, so Heinecke may take a few weeks to gain his footing, but I believe he can still lead this team to a division title. He has the pieces around him to succeed and a defense to help him when he falters. Zach Pascal could be a surprise as well if he continues to build on his rapport with quarterback Carson Wentz as his favorite end zone target.
Johnson is also a player I am monitoring because of his productive outing but the volume was small Teammate Adam Trautman had a 30 percent target share from quarterback Jameis Winston (six targets) and played on more snaps than Johnson, forcing me to temper future expectations for Johnson. However, the situation is fluid and is certainly worth monitoring to see if one of these tight ends emerges as a favorite target for Winston.
The 49ers backfield is the riskiest “Fool’s Gold” from this list, but instead, I’ll also go with Conklin. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are the top targets for Kirk Cousins, and last week's emergence of second-year wide receiver KJ Osborn (nine targets) complicates a potential breakout for Conklin even more. Couple these things with the. Vikings' run-first scheme and Conklin is best left on your wire.
Fantasy Management: Style And Tendencies
Matt Waldman: Weeks 1-3 are the most reactive periods of the hobby. Last year is a good example. Clyde Edwards Helaire was hailed an elite fantasy producer after the Chiefs bullied what turned out to be a lowly Texans squad. Benny Snell was considered better than James Conner based on some highly questionable in-game observations from the masses.
If you acted fast with those two situations, you probably overpaid and got diminishing returns. However, UDFA James Robinson became a top-10 fantasy back after a strong summer and Josh Allen remained hot all year after two up-and-down seasons and a lot of doubts about his development.
Then there were patience plays like Jonathan Taylor, a back who, by midseason, was compared to Trent Richardson by his fan base and fantasy analysts, and he wound up the No.6 fantasy runner down the stretch.
These are uncommon scenarios by the numbers when looking at the annual sample size of events unfolding in the league, but not rare. I'd argue, that the fantasy GM who wins a league is the uncommon person during that moment, although the odds are not rare.
Here's the deal. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses as fantasy analysts and fantasy GMs. With what I shared as the backdrop, answer these three questions. I ask them hoping for some vulnerability and insight into your process for our readers:
- Are you a patient GM or action-oriented? I imagine you err on the side of your strength, but some don't, so do you err on the side of action or inaction as a fantasy GM? Why do you think that is (good and bad)?
- If fantasy championships are like a table, the draft, waivers, lineup management, and trades are four potential legs you can use to construct the table. What are your strongest and weakest legs?
- Which positions are you the best at acquiring? The worst? And in which manner of acquisition (waivers or trades)
- Which positions are you the best/worst at picking for your starting lineups?
Geary: I am usually aggressive in taking action, sometimes to a fault in years past. Dropping a player in the first few weeks is such a tough decision, especially because they are usually guys you did your research on and have a soft spot for. Knowing when to drop a player is such an important part of the game. When Kamara began to emerge slowly as a rookie a few years ago, I remember being very aggressive in trying to acquire him in most leagues. He ended up being on a large percentage of playoff rosters. It is important to remember to have fun with this game and trust your gut. Adjust in future years when your process works out or fails!
My strongest legs of the table are usually the draft and waivers. You hear this all the time but it is true: your league is not won or lost at the draft. ANYTHING can happen — injuries, trades, depth chart shockers, the emergence of rookie superstars, and much more throughout the year. Having a platform that gives you breaking news is key for quick moves on the wire.
Subscribing to the Footballguys daily email blasts is also extremely beneficial, as they cover so much information to keep you informed and up to date, fully digestible in just a few minutes. Staying informed is not something every one of your league mates is doing, so it gives you a consistent edge especially on waivers. My own lineup management is my “weakest” leg, which is why I now GIVE fantasy advice (because at times I can’t seem to trust my gut and take my own advice!)
I am the best at acquiring running backs and wide receivers, as not everyone in my redraft leagues stays informed or up to date on snap count trends, usage, targets, and more. Many people simply look at last week’s box scores before submitting their waiver claims, so staying on top of important trends gives me an edge more often than not.
I will tilt over my flex positions in every league most weeks because they have the power to legitimately make or break your week sometimes. I am usually pretty good at selecting my starting quarterbacks and running backs.
Waldman: Flex plays are always a difficult proposition, Victoria. This is especially true when I'm stuck between a back or a wide receiver in a deep league where neither guy is a known starter but they've given me compelling reasons to add them and use them during a bye week.
Schofield: Here, dear reader, is where you learn about Uncle Mark and his fear of conflict and confrontations.
Because I am a patient GM, to a fault. I find myself talking myself out of most trades, or even proposing trades, because of that fear. It is a flaw, a character one, and something that I really need to overcome. Yet I rationalize it with the idea that "I'm just being patient, I'm not going to overreact," but when your running back room looks like James Robinson, Javonte Williams, A.J. Dillon, and Gio Bernard, as it does on one of my rosters, you might need to tinker a bit.
But I'm already finding ways to justify my 0-1 start...
So to use Mr. Waldman's table analogy, the draft is my strongest and trades are my weakest. Because the draft is familiar footing, and something that I alone can control. Having spent hours and hours each week studying players, and offenses, and schemes, both at the pro and college level, that is where I am most comfortable. But having to negotiate, and dare we say to interact with other humans? Not my strongest suit.
In terms of acquiring players, I'm probably best at adding receivers, usually through waivers. Because since I spend pretty much 18 hours each Monday studying quarterbacks -- and by extension their offenses -- I get a feel for usage, play design, and how teams are using receivers. Leading to moments like my Christian Kirk recommendation above. But anything running back-related? Forget it. Maybe it's the old QB in me, but the running game scares me.
When it comes to setting lineups, quarterbacks remain a strength. Again, the hours of quarterback study, offensive play design study, etc tend to pay off there. Yet looking at running backs again is a problem for me. I tend to get bogged down in the Xs and Os there and, as I have found over the years, that does not always pan out the way it does for me in the passing game. I remember years ago recommending Rex Burkhead one week against the Saints because the Saints' defense had given up some big plays on outside zone designs the prior week. Well, like a good defensive coordinator would, he spent some time that week in practice sorting those issues out. Oh, and any RB recommendation involving New England usually fails to pan out...
Waldman: I'm definitely patient to a fault, Mark. Because we both study a lot of players. I have to think so when you spend a lot of time evaluating a player, it's easy to err on the side of talent when the opportunity and team fit may not match up.
While I rarely make trades, I've dramatically improved my skill at the craft since I met my wife, Alicia. Her deep understanding of the craft of negotiation — and I'm not talking your old man's belief in his negotiation skills because of the price he got on a house or car, but the process of negotiating multi-million dollar contracts on behalf of international businesses — has helped me set the stage for productive conversations that lead to win-win deals and gaining trust in league mates to deal with me. I've also learned to stockpile positions in dynasty drafts rather than draft for need and this allows me to made deals where I am giving up high-producing players isn't painful because I'm often 3-4 deep.
I've made a lot more winning deals on draft day as well as midseason trades during the past 10 years compared to my first 15 years of playing fantasy football. I once traded away Michael Vick for Byron Leftwich. I'll never forget that. Last year alone, I got excellent deals for Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, and Jonathan Taylor before the season began. Still, I'll never forget the Vick-Leftwich trade. Awful!
That said, there are leagues where I'm so low on emotional bandwidth when someone contacts me that I don't use these principles at all and I limit future opportunities.
I'm not good at correctly bidding on free agents. I don't have a good feel for the proper amount of a bid. I either vastly overbid or don't come close to the winning bid. However, because I'm a patient GM and tend to draft well, I often can be in the position to speculate during First-Come, First-Serve free agency after waiver bidding and add players who become values 1-2 weeks later and at no cost. When I am not in this position, I can destroy a team's season with my bidding inadequacies. Funny enough, you'd think my past history as a winning auction GM with great drafts would help me here, but the dynamics of blind bidding are so different.
Most people would presume that running back is my strength as a GM because of my track record with the position as an evaluator. It's ok for re-draft purposes, but I'm better at assessing receiver talent in re-drafts and from the waiver wire. When I err with player acquisition, I'm usually a year too early with running backs and tight ends in re-draft formats.
Bischoff: I tend to suffer from a touch of inaction at times because I don’t like to cut players I liked enough to draft. The problem there is when it is time to make a move, the players that may have helped the most are long gone. Playing the “what if” game is silly, but I just did it above in describing what I am doing with tight end Juwan Johnson. There is admittedly a touch of hubris to this approach, and it is something I am working on.
I feel I am at my strength in the draft, grabbing players that can outperform their draft position. I am at my weakest with waiver additions and lineup management. I have outlined my paralysis in terms of moving on from draft selections and adding league-winning types of waiver-wire additions. The lineup issue can be difficult at times when there are multiple options to choose from. An example from Week 1 was sitting wide receiver Corey Davis (a player I targeted much earlier in drafts than his ADP) in favor of other players. There is a disconnect at times from the “he is a breakout guy I’m drafting early” to let’s sit him in Week 1, and as I read what I just wrote I am shaking my head at the cognitive dissonance here.
Waldman: Scott, I've played in enough leagues with writers who are counted on for advice and don't follow the good advice they've given thousands or even millions of readers. It's more common than you think.
Bischoff: That's comforting. I am definitely better at targeting players in trades than waiver-wire additions, but my answer is biased because I am generally not trading for waiver-wire types, so obviously there has been more success trading for roster locks. I have had more success acquiring running backs and wide receivers than other positions. As an example, I will target young running backs (players who have underperformed that I liked in the scouting process) whose teams have gone out to bolster their offensive lines with early draft picks. It is easier for me to pick quarterbacks for starting lineups than other positions. The other positions feel more volatile and there is a wide range of outcomes there.
Parsons: I am patient with my core players but move quickly with the back-end of my roster, whether redraft or dynasty. These are typically ancillary running backs, so when a depth chart turns sub-optimal, like Malcolm Brown playing behind Salvon Ahmed or Joshua Kelley being RB4 and inactive, I react quickly to move to more clarified Samaje Perine and Jeremy McNichols types as RB2 types. With higher-level investments - a good example is Jalen Reagor, one of my favorites from the 2020 class - I am slow to move off them with pedigree and a prospect profile of appeal entering the NFL.
Of the two, my flaw in the past is being more on the side on inaction with my offseason or preseason takes on players and offenses. The past 1-2 seasons I have worked hard to be more liquid with the final few roster spots, which affects every aspect of a fantasy team from the later rounds of a draft to the positions on my bench to keep investments in acquiring players in those roster spots low so there is minimal allegiance to them from a cost perspective.
Trading and waivers are significant strengths of mine to build and improve teams. The preemptive pickup has become so regularly associated with my podcasts and articles, it might as well be my tagline on such content. The weak leg is definitely lineups. There is such emotion and personal responsibility tied to setting lineups and it is beyond easy to second guess a decision when you look on Monday or Tuesday and see one swap as the difference between a win and a loss.
I use Footballguys projections and Start Rate as anchor points and try, as much as possible, to keep my personal whims away from those resources. As a general community (see 'The League' where fiddling with their lineup all week was a common theme of the show) we obsess about sit-start decisions plenty. It's understandable, but also something very difficult to track well over the long-term to ask the question 'am I good or bad at setting lineups?' Having good options on your bench is a plus, but it can also make lineups more difficult (aka good problems to have). Have a studs-and-duds roster can make lineups a breeze to set, but the lack of depth can derail teams in a single Sunday of injuries.
Running back is my bread and butter with collecting and tiers injury-away options for low-cost while others wait for full clarity of 'this player is the starter, now we know' before truly diving in - for a much higher cost if they are available at all. One historical example is when leagues flocked to Spencer Ware a few seasons ago as the new Chiefs starter for 'empty the holster' level waiver bids late in the year, I added a bevy of Damien Williams shares as the new next man up at the moment for minimal bids. Ware got hurt the next game and Williams took teams into title games and won plenty of them that year.
My other lower-leverage positional interest is the backup tight-end marketplace in 2TE formats. I love evaluating those deeper plays who, like running backs or quarterbacks, are an injury away from relevance. Wide receivers are tricky in general and especially for me of the skill positions. I acknowledge its risk and may pivot or adaptation is sticking with the older veterans with a strong track record of being a team's WR1 and a quality producer. I still have my favorite 'yet to breakout' receiver names every season, but know it's a rabbit hole I have ventured down too often with too many sunken roster spots in the past. Pretend the bad habit is not there and not even an option and its temptation are minimized.
Running back and wide receiver are pretty straightforward - start the top option for an NFL offense. Have too many of those for your lineup? That's a good problem to have. Don't have enough? Things getting interesting for lineup decisions. Quarterback and tight end are far more difficult for me as most tight ends do not see enough usage to have a good sense of what is next and a touchdown swings production plenty. For quarterbacks, it takes a few weeks into the season to get a sense of which matchups are good-bad for the position, and rushing production is another variable week-to-week with a rogue score on the ground or 2-3 chunk runs affecting their outcome. Of the two, successfully navigating a tight end-by-committee throughout the season is my toughest lineup task.
Hindery: I am probably overly patient with players who I drafted, waiting on them to turn things around instead of cutting bait early in the season. A.J. Green is an example from last season where I let him hang around on my roster well past the point where it should have been obvious he wasn’t going to help my team.
Wide receiver is probably my weakest. I sometimes chase youth and upside too much and pass up more sure things.
Brimacombe: I am very action-oriented when it comes to managing my fantasy teams. The reason is that the year is a short window and you have to make quick decisions. We only have a set amount of weeks each season so you have to be quick in how you evaluate which players to hold or acquire. I do flip-flop some if I have some great starting players I can afford to be more patient with my bench players and don’t mind holding for longer periods of time to build a better playoff-minded roster to try to crush in the playoff rounds.
Right off the bat, my weakest leg would be my trading ability. I often have a Best Ball mind and making trades takes me to a whole other place which is my downfall. My strongest leg would be the draft as I draft hundreds of teams in Best Ball before I hit my redrafts and feel like I have ADP and values memorized in the draft room.
Not sure I have a best or worst position that I acquire. I am a value drafter most times and I like to build very balanced teams. I probably would say Tight End is the spot I tend to forget about and punt on more than the other positions.
Waldman: That makes sense, James. If your craft is doing hundreds of drafts, then understanding draft dynamics takes precedence to the specific positional strengths. What about lineup choices?
Brimacombe: The onesie positions such as QB and TE are always tough for me as often I have balanced teams so I will have a couple of players at both those positions that are equal in talent which gives me a headache each week on knowing who to start.
Waldman: That was excellent, I think our readers will like seeing where each of us discussed strengths and weaknesses within our games. I always find when an individual share what he or she has struggled to become good at is more valuable than the knowledge they share based on something that they never had trouble with it.
Good luck this weekend and may your fantasy lessons be easy this year. If not, we'll be back next week to hopefully help you out.