Re-draft leagues are almost at their conclusion and dynasty leagues are about to enter the next phase of their never-ending cycle. Since readers ask, I'll share that I'm in seven leagues. I made the playoffs in six and advanced in four of the six -- perhaps five if the updated IDP score changes and I didn't lose by 0.16 points.
Matt Bitonti and I are in the championship of the staff IDP Dynasty League — a league I have not won in the eight years of its existence but have been one of the two highest-scoring teams for most of its history. I think I've lost in the semis in at least five of those eight years, maybe more.
Last year, Bitonti beat me in the semis on his way to a championship appearance. He's the highest-scoring team this year. I'm the third-highest scorer, knocking off Daniel Simpkins, who had the second-highest scorer. The funny thing is that Simpkins, Jeff Haseley, I comprise the most prolific-scoring division of the three, fielding three of the four top scorers this year and this has been common in recent seasons.
I'm hoping to break through this year. It's probably the one I want the most of the 4-5 leagues where I have a shot, all dynasty and keeper formats and three of them have complete IDP.
Wish me luck and while you do, I'll share 10 players on my wish list for next year and beyond. This is neither an exhaustive list nor one based on the best potential values. These players intrigue me for a variety of reasons:
- They're already clear fantasy starters or have shown glimpses of becoming one.
- I saw notable skills on film.
- I'm intrigued or inspired by their off-field stories.
Next week, I'll share players I don't want on my teams. I might wind up with some of them because even when I give No-Fly Lists each summer, there are always scenarios where I believe a player from such a list will be worth the risk. Here we go...
My football upbringing is rooted in the old AFC Central Division, which makes up most of the current AFC North. These teams have an ingrained history of physical football and take pride in that part of the game. While I haven't shared much on Harris at Footballguys this year, it's because it took all of one game for me to know he'd remain on my wish lists.
It wasn't even a good statistical performance that sold me. Harris looks terrific behind a Steelers' offensive line that is a shell of what it was during Le'Veon Bell's prime. I doubt there are many detractors of Harris, considering that he's a top-five fantasy back despite the paucity of talent with his supporting staff. Still, I know some have expressed doubts.
I remember similar widespread doubts about Bell during his rookie year despite personally being encouraged by what I studied. I still get mildly triggered when I hear the narrative that Bell was better the following year because he got quicker and faster. It was an excuse for not seeing a lot of the same things that Harris has shown behind a sub-par offensive line.
I can't wait to hear the fantasy outlier argument that Bell's workload in the receiving game was inflated due to a bad Steelers' offense and because that production won't be sustainable if the Steelers have more success throwing downfield, then Harris' value will drop because he's not productive enough as a runner. I hope it gets legs and becomes a compelling idea to the fantasy community because Harris' current fantasy production is where I see his media value for next year and beyond.
Harris is quick, shifty, smart, physical, and versatile. His production doesn't show the true caliber of skill on display to earn it. Go ahead and call him a volume producer and underrate him. I always like discounts.
Transitioning from a player I barely wrote about this year to one I mentioned often, Okwuegbunam has outproduced Noah Fant lately. If you read this column all year, you know that my rankings had Okwuegbunam ahead of Fant most of the summer to get your attention to the following point: Fant is overrated and dependent on plays that get him open whereas Okwuegbunam is underrated and can get open in one-on-one situations with greater facility than Fant.
Despite needing time off to rehabilitate 2020's ACL tear, Okwuegbunam has shown that he's a compelling all-around talent. He has more long-speed than Fant, he's bigger, stronger, and he's a better route runner. He has also been more productive this month. He excels as a contested-catch option.
Fant's contract expires after the 2022 season whereas Okwuegbunam's ends in 2024 and it's likely that he'll benefit from a veteran quarterback seeking a new locale with the shortlist of candidates including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan.
What Fant does well as a receiver makes him productive, but he's a lesser version of Mike Gesicki in the sense that he needs a lot of surrounding talent to deliver an elite season because he's not the mismatch option who can create on his own against top coverage. He might get that chance next year, but I'm banking on Denver remaining a two-tight end system in 2022 and Okwuegbunam's skills being too compelling to put in a corner.
Most people have written off Trautman. They "gave him a chance" as a rookie, heard the promising things written about him, and maybe even saw a few good plays in 2020. They wrote off Trautman this year after he didn't make a huge splash in training camp and Juwan Johnson, a big and slow wide receiver attempting to pass as a tight end, had some nice catches during the summer and scored two touchdowns in the season opener.
After a non-descript season and an injury that cost him a month, Trautman's a fantasy nobody. In other words, he's going through the stage of the reactionary fan cycle that we typically see with a young player who hasn't delivered during his first two seasons in the league.
Tight ends often need 3-4 years to deliver. Dawson Knox finally showed up in his third season. Dalton Schultz's emergence in 2021 is his fourth season in the league. Mike Gesicki, the No 7 option last year? Third-year. Logan Thomas, the No. 3 option? Although he's a six-year NFL veteran who has spent eight years trying to become a legitimate contributor, he didn't begin playing tight end until 2017. So, it took him three years to acclimate as a tight end.
Darren Waller? Yep, Year Four.
Trautman may not be as good of an athlete in every facet comparable to Knox or Waller, but he's quicker, stronger, and faster than Geskick, Thomas, and Schultz. He has excellent footwork and he uses his hands well to release from the line of scrimmage. If the Saints acquire one of the aging veterans, Trautman could be the breakout player you wish you didn't write off.
I've had Moore in one of my IDP leagues for at least three years. He's a good tackler and he generates 1-2 sacks a year as a blitzer. Best of all, he's a terrific coverage option from the slot and underrated outside. During the four seasons of his five-year career where he's played at least 14 games, Moore has double-digit pass defenses.
Moore is a smart player who has a feel for when to peel off his primary responsibility and attack routes near him. It can appear as if he has ESP but it's simply his ability to process disparate pieces of information and make timely decisions. The Colts are an emerging defensive unit and Moore has another two years on his contract.
A former UDFA from FAU, Al-Shaair's football story is well worth reading about. And when you read it, you'll begin to understand why I value him. Al-Shaair is the uncommon individual with maturity beyond his year who has beaten the odds because of an uncompromising work ethic, faith in himself, and a drive to emerge from a humbling environment.
There are a lot of NFL stories that look like this. Some are like this in their own way, but many are the product of feature writers and aren't as impressive as the selling--err, telling of them.
I know about this after spending a decade as a former feature writer and associate editor for a publication outside of this field. Features are either assigned by the editor or are pitched to the editor. Both methods involve selling the subject matter. Writers and editors use the aspects of stories that they anticipate will be most popular with the public and that means flirting with the cliche while trying to deny its existence.
In this case, we have the player from humble beginnings whose drive helped him prove the doubters wrong:
He was only 180 pounds in high school...the biggest reason high school players are five-star prospects is that they've reached their "adult dimensions" earlier than most. Growth happens a lot in college, but we like to use that as fodder for the underdog archetype, which is sometimes worthwhile but often overused.
He came from a poor family and/or unfortunate circumstances... This is the rule more than the exception in the NFL.
He wasn't drafted...Roughly 30 percent of the league is comprised of undrafted players. It's not the majority, but it's not uncommon.
Al-Shaair's story checks all of these boxes and like many who make it, he worked hard. However, he also works smart and he's mature, which is something most feature writers have no clue whether that's true. Paired with Fred Warner, I think Al-Shaair will remain a starter in this 49ers defense even when Dre Greenlaw is healthy next year.
If you play IDP, you know Al-Shaair has been a borderline LB1. I think LB2 value will be sustainable for years to come.
Since Week 12, Reynolds has been the No. 15 receiver in PPR formats. Since Week 12, Reynolds has been used closer to the way he was at Texas A&M. Since Week 12, Reynolds has worked with a quarterback familiar with him.
Since 2016, I've been a believer in Reynolds' potential to become a starter in the NFL and deliver starter-caliber fantasy production in most formats.
I mentioned Waddle and Reynolds last week, but it's worth mentioning both again because both haven't been used to their fullest capacity in the NFL. Waddle's rookie year for Miami is the wide receiver equivalent of a great jazz musician who plays simple horn parts in a Motown Review band. Occasionally, they'll give him a 15-second solo and you'll get a glimpse of his talent but the setting isn't conducive for delivering the full range of goods.
Next year, Waddle should have a fighting chance to show that he can stretch out and be a star. After all, the fantasy audience already knows this is possible based on the limited role.
Aaron Jones is awesome. So is Dillon. Jones is elusive. So is Dillon. Jones can catch. So can Dillon.
Jones plays big. Dillon is big and plays bigger. Jones takes care of the ball. So does Dillon.
But Jones is the starter. Or is he?
Last weekend, the Packers told the FOX broadcast team that their weekly game plan is to give Jones and Dillon an even amount of touches. I traded for the opportunity to pick Dillon in multiple dynasty league rookie drafts two years ago because the perception that Dillon would be the worst of Eddie Lacy generated potential value I couldn't ignore.
Fast-forward to now, and Dillon is the RB24 in PPR formats. The latent risk with Dillon for the next 2-3 years is that the Packers can't find a suitable replacement for Aaron Rodgers and the ground game suffers.
Let's say this happens. At 26, he'll be free of the Packers and likely a sought-after big back who can deliver ala James Conner for a contender. Conner just so happens to be 26 and was written off after showing skills worthy of a starting role but the production in Pittsburgh was inconsistent due to injury and a lack of supporting cast to maximize a good runner's totals.
I'll take that risk with Dillon.
When Jacobs' contract expires in 2022, he'll be on his way to becoming 25 years old. As long as his nagging injuries are only nagging injuries and not chronic, degenerative, or career-changing issues, Jacobs will hit the market as an experienced back in one of the most demanding forms of the West Coast offense that has struggled to field a quality offensive line and underutilized Jacobs as a receiver.
I"ll continue betting on him because as he gets older, the more likely his value will drop in the eyes of fantasy GMs who look at the year's Jacobs has been in the league and the underwhelming production to high expectations and begin to write him off.
Marshawn Lynch's production tailed off for three consecutive years after a strong rookie season in Buffalo. The Seahawks acquired the 25-year-old Lynch and he delivered four consecutive seasons with 1,400-1,700 yards from scrimmage and 12-17 touchdowns.
Jacobs is a different type of talent than Lynch but he's closer to Lynch's level of talent than his production indicates.
A part of the 2022 NFL Running Back class, Brooks forced a split with Trey Sermon in 2018, leading the team with 1,056 rushing yards and scoring only 1 less touchdown (12) than Sermon. One of the reasons Brooks earned this opportunity was an injury to Rodney Anderson, a first-round caliber talent at the position who had even more receiver chops than his former teammate Joe Mixon but couldn't stay healthy and Anderson's injury history made him a huge draft-day risk.
In 2019, Brooks earned the starting gig, leading a trio of backs that included Sermon and Rhamondre Stevenson, who joined the team after a JUCO stint where he rushed for 2,000 yards. Sermon opted to join Ohio State where he overtook Master Teague for the starting gig in 2020. Brooks opted out in 2020 and this gave way for Stevenson to up his draft status to a mid-round selection.
Mixon, Anderson, Sermon, and Stevenson were all starter-caliber talents based on their film. Anderson's injuries did him in. Sermon still has a shot at a long career if he can either earn a real opportunity in San Francisco or get traded to a team that wants nuance and versatility over speed to the edge on Toss.
Brooks may be the least physically impressive athlete of the quintet. And because he played with top receivers at the position like Anderson, Stevenson, and Eric Gray, his reputation as a versatile threat will be underrated in the same way we've seen with Leonard Fournett and Jonathan Taylor.
However, Brooks might have the smartest approach to his position of the runners that the Sooners have had in recent years. And because we know that the majority of NFL decision-makers often err on a dumb approach to running backs, overvaluing speed and yardage and undervaluing footwork, contact balance, receiving technique, and decision-making based on the blocking scheme, Brooks might not even be a third or fourth-round selection.
Brooks understands how to read the field pre-snap and get the most from his blockers during the play.
He also displays the details required to develop into a top pass protector at the position. In an era of scouting where I hear "effort is enough for the player to earn a good grade," Brooks already offers much more.
I kind of hope he falls to the fourth or fifth round. He'll be a value.
As long as he doesn't fall to the 49ers...