Last week, I shared a Wish List. This week, I'm sharing my No-Thanks List.
This is a little different from my summer No-Fly List. I might draft these players in re-draft if the value is right but I am not actively seeking them out in dynasty and keeper leagues as trade targets. They're also players I'm open to dealing and I'm not one who makes a lot of trades. When I do, I believe I'm in a great position to elevate my team and I'll give up players that many still hold in high esteem but I no longer feel the same.
Receivers often pout. It's almost embedded in the position's DNA. And there's something understandable about the tendency when you really examine the position relative to the rest of the roles on a football field.
They often earn as many snaps as every other position but their involvement in the meaningful action is often restricted to a fraction of the plays. As a result, getting a shot at the football heightens the weight that those specific snaps carry emotionally for the player, the team, and the fans.
Not that it's right, but it's logical that receivers can get emotionally derailed in a contest if they aren't involved early enough. It's easy to psychologically check out of a game if you're not earning opportunities to make a meaningful contribution.
C'mon, Matt, these guys are pros, this isn't high school, they can handle this stuff.
That's right, it isn't high school, but since high school, most of these players have been the centerpieces of their offenses and the lack of opportunities have been few and far between. And when they earned limited opportunities, their physical skills helped them dominate the lesser athletes who were their competition and therefore, make a huge impact on the game.
When a wide receiver who has established himself as a go-to guy in the NFL isn't targeted as frequently as he was in the past and he's not making plays with the opportunities he's getting, it becomes a vicious cycle that can deteriorate to bad behavior.
Metcalf isn't a great example here. Coming off a great campaign in 2020, he started off well in Seattle's revamped passing game, making plays over the middle and in the red zone although not targeted as often as a deep threat. Metcalf was the No.10 PPR fantasy option at his position through the first five weeks of the year.
When Geno Smith took over for an injured Russell Wilson, Metcalf's value declined but he continued earning production at a top-20 rate, as the No.18 PPR fantasy option at his position from Weeks 6-9. When Wilson returned in Week 10, Metcalf's production nosedived. From Weeks 10-15, Metcalf barely cracked the top 50 PPR fantasy options at his position.
Wilson has been the No.14 fantasy QB during this span — not great but not as awful as some may expect. Tyler Lockett has been the No.15 PPR WR despite missing Week 15.
A target decrease hasn't been an issue. Metcalf earned nearly eight targets per game during the first five weeks. From Weeks 6-9 he averaged 6 targets per game with Smith. Since Wilson's return, Metcalf has averaged almost eight targets per game.
So what's the issue? The play that will leave an indelible mark on fans will be the deep target to a wide-open Metcalf that Wilson underthrew in the Rams' game.
The problem with that answer is that Wilson is, and remains, one of the best vertical throwers in the game. And this one play that may have cost the Seahawks a flickering hope of playoff shot is outnumbered by something that Metcalf has done repeatedly during the Seahawks' slump: Drop the football.
Metcalf has had significant drops of easy and difficult targets due to a flaw in his technique that he's had since high school and he still hasn't addressed it. I examined this a few weeks ago in the Top 10: Metcalf doesn't get his hands into the optimal position when targets arrive at chest height and when he's either in a hurry o secure the target and/or facing tight coverage, he's dropped the ball.
Two of these plays in the Cardinals' game were pivotal vertical targets that were difficult but Wilson put the ball right into Metcalf's hands and in stride. Because Metcalf didn't use the optimal technique, he gave his opponents enhanced opportunities to defend the targets.
While difficult, these are the plays Metcalf is expected to win if he's going to earn the reputation and role of the team's primary option. Lockett wins these plays. Metcalf hasn't.
Metcalf's pouting concerns me because many of these plays were his fault. The best receivers win these plays enough to elevate their teams. Metcalf isn't and he's acted out.
There's still reason for optimism. Metcalf is only 23 and 1-2 offseasons of work on this specific flaw could elevate him from good to great at the catch point. If there's any rancor between Wilson and the Seahawks, it's likely to be over and Seattle could be in play for solid replacement.
However, I'm not going out of my way to get Metcalf. The scheme has been a problem and there are few quarterbacks better than Wilson, especially without the caliber of line play they will need. I will want to see proof that Metcalf has matured as a technician and as a professional in difficult circumstances and I'll want to see a quality replacement for Wilson before I make Metcalf a priority value.
Pitts makes this list based on my prediction of his value for the next 1-2 years, not his talent. He's a special pass catcher with enough skill to block if the Falcons want to develop him as an in-line option. The problem here is PItts' supporting cast.
The best receivers and backs usually need 1-2 players who can force the opposing defenses to maintain a balanced game plan that doesn't cheat towards one player. When Calvin Ridley and Cordarrelle Patterson were healthy, Pitts was emerging. When Ridley took a leave of absence, and Patterson got hurt, Pitts struggled. With Patterson back and Justin Gage emerging just enough to help Atlanta move the ball, Pitts has been solid, but not an elite producer.
Atlanta will probably draft another receiver of note or sign a veteran free agent with starter skills in 2022 but will they do both (if Ridley doesn't return) and keep Matt Ryan? And if they don't keep Ryan, is there a quarterback good enough to elevate PItts' game during the next two years?
This doesn't make Pitts a bad fantasy option. After all, he still has a good shot at 1,000 yards as a rookie. There just isn't enough support to elevate Pitts to the value that fantasy analysts and fans will give him because of his pretty highlight plays while ignoring what happened this year when defenses could cheat toward Pitts because they were confident no one else could make them pay.
The Jets will make incremental improvements to its offensive line over the next 2-3 years. They'll have the promising Michael Carter II healthy and ready to assume the lead role. And they'll have Elijah Moore and Corey Davis. That's the good news.
The bad news: Wilson looked overwhelmed and a lot like the player I saw at BYU. That player I saw was the mashup of Baker Mayfield, Drew Lock, and Jordan Love that got teams and fans excited about him. There's some bias underpinning this irrational lovest of these players that I'll address elsewhere at some point. Suffice to say, Wilson throws a pretty ball and moves reasonably well, but he doesn't combine his skills to deliver efficient, intelligent, poised, and productive play.
He got away with bad habits as a technician and a decision-maker at BYU because he faced competition that wasn't as skilled on a consistent basis. As long as BYU won and Wilson produced, these plays may get mentioned but coaches aren't going to ride Wilson hard for the behaviors. There's limited practice time for student-athletes and if they are winning, the coaches don't want to lose players to the transfer portal who are helping them.
They'll figure it out in the pros. In other words, they'll figure it out on their own. Or, they won't.
It's wise to give Wilson a rookie-year mulligan. The offensive line did Wilson zero favors and he got overwhelmed. Then again, the offensive line in Houston hasn't been known to be generous with its quarterbacks and Davis Mills looks markedly better as a prospect.
A bad supporting case can reinforce bad habits for a quarterback. With limited time to show something promise as a quarterback in a league where ownership is bent on short-term gains and public opinion, the odds are against Wilson after such a rough beginning.
I had to squint pretty hard to see a good scenario for Wilson to develop. It may still happen, but I'm not making that effort with my fantasy squads.
I profiled Albert Okwuegbunam last week as an option I want. I'll share it again here:
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.
Fant can still have a top-10 season next year. Heck, with Rodgers, Ryan, or Wilson, he might crack the top-5. However, I think there's a greater likelihood that Okwuegbunam, who will be more than a year removed from his ACL tear and a year wiser as a player, will overshadow Fant. He already has when a veteran middle-of-the-field thrower like Teddy Bridgewater is in the game.
An elite athlete with exciting moments on his film resume, Njoku figured out this summer that working at his craft rather than complaining about his team was a better way to be a professional. Even so, he's still not the caliber of receiver his skills should foster.
I doubt Cleveland re-signs Njoku. They like Harrison Bryant a lot and Austin Hooper is a good blocker with reliable red-zone skills who is signed through 2023.
Njoku could be the next Jared Cook, a tight end who only flashes his promise between years of mediocre-to-bad play and figures out late his career how to perform. I don't want to invest in him at the early end of that proposition. People usually over-invest in athletic ability, get disappointed, and cut bait. I'll wait until the second cutting of bait happens.
We've been through this before. Mitchell has played well for his skill set. He's fast, he finishes with aggression, and he's comfortable with the 49ers' Toss play. He's even beginning to find cutbacks.
However, he's a stiff mover whose cutbacks aren't top-notch and that limits him to Toss and other wide-open creases that the 49ers fortunately generate. He's not an advanced decision-maker as an inside runner. He's often late to hit creases that are opening.
Maybe he'll also buck the trend of backs who flash and get hurt in San Francisco. Either way, one thing doesn't change. Kyle Shanahan.
He's a system coach to the extreme. It means his offense is what's most important. The players, even if he cares about them, are just cogs. Mitchell is a good "for now" option, but "for now" has had a short lifespan in San Francisco.
The 39th-ranked PPR option this year, Claypool hasn't averaged WR2 value on a consistent basis for a fantasy roster since Week 10 of 2020. He's a good young prospect who produced like a great young player. However, there's a difference between producing and performing in this instance. Zach Wilson produced in college but he didn't perform to an NFL standard.
Claypool produced elite numbers during the first 6-8 weeks but he didn't have to perform like an elite option. When opponents began to cover Claypool like he was an elite option, he didn't perform or produce like one. Claypool may figure it out, but his early 2020 points explosion didn't include the supporting techniques of a top receiver. Until he delivers in this realm, it's best to temper expectations, especially with a new quarterback.
Unless that quarterback is Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson and I don't think the Steelers have the offensive line to get their serious attention, my expectations remain low.
Bateman is the player that I least wanted to add to this list and the one I am most willing to believe will still emerge because I believe in his skills and athletic ability. However, I have always been realistic about Lamar Jackson. He's a good quarterback, but he's a different quarterback than the NFL norm.
The perimeter passing game is not his strength, which is a huge part of Bateman's wheelhouse. Yes, Bateman is a standout option inside but there are only so many players you can place in the middle of the field and this is often Mark Andrews' territory.
The perimeter game in this offense is short passing and running the football. The outside receivers are deep threats but beyond post routes, corner routes, and deep overs crossers that Jackson throws well, it's a nominal threat to defenses. Bateman can win back-shoulder fades, comebacks, outs, and go routes. Jackson doesn't throw them well enough to let Bateman feast at the rate he could with a different quarterback.
Matt Ryan has had multiple elite seasons and is on the cusp of good/great during his career. His red-zone game has always been a little weak with certain throws. Julio Jones' red-zone game has always been weak. No one thought Ryan and Jones were not NFL-caliber starters.
It's the same with Jackson and Deshaun Watson. But it also means that Bateman may not be the best fit for fantasy production. I'll probably hold him, but I may be quicker to cut back early next year if there are no signs of change with the nature of this passing game.
Jefferson has been a productive deep threat for the Rams but not in the traditional sense. If you look close enough, you'll realize that Jefferson's vertical plays have come against zone defenses with a long-developing play-action component — often with some misdirection where Matthew Stafford is rolling out in one direction and throwing to the opposite side of the field.
These are "schemed plays" where most of the resources on the field are committed to opening the field for one player, who isn't asked to do much of anything in a one-on-one sense. Jefferson isn't a matchup vertical threat, which makes his efficiencies deceiving for anyone who doesn't understand his game or the Rams' offense.
A good underneath route runner, Jefferson still has to show a little more in the middle of the field against tight coverage. Like Metcalf, attacking the ball with the correct technique for numbers-level targets has been an issue at times.
But his dad is considered a good wide receiver coach, Matt. This is true. It's also true that Jefferson's best lessons have been route running and if memory serves me, Shawn Jefferson was a decent but not a top receiver in the hands' department.
I share this because I believe Van is going to be overvalued as an heir apparent to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and possibly Odell Beckham Jr (if Beckham sticks around L.A.) when, in fact, his game will never reach this level. Maybe he'll develop into a Keenan McCardell-Woods type, but I think they were better in the vertical game one-on-one than what I foresee with Jefferson.
A physical runner with limited speed, Moss' decision-making has not advanced in the way I thought it would at Utah. He has fallen out of favor as a significant contributor since Week 9. If he continues to look like Peyton Barber without the advanced decision-making, his career as a contributor will be short.