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For many years, David Dodds' article, "From the Gut," was an annual pre-draft tradition at Footballguys.
If you've been around the fantasy industry long enough, you're keenly aware of David's contributions to the site, our community, and our industry.
I called first dibs on taking over this piece last year. Who better to take over an article with this title than the guy who has written a column called "The Gut Check" for 20 years?
If you're reading this, David, you know we all miss you here and are grateful. Once again, let's begin this in your words:
As I comb through mounds and mounds of data to help me produce [projections to develop] rankings and articles for the website, I still think back to some of my best fantasy rosters when I went in with a short list of guys I wanted to nab and others I wanted to avoid.
Sometimes you just have to follow your gut.
Unless your home league has a run on the most viable quarterbacks before the eighth round, there are two reasons you're considering an early-round quarterback. 1) You have a specific scoring system that reveals a clear advantage for a handful of passers. 2) You legitimately believe 1-2 players have a real shot at a record-breaking season. Otherwise, it's wise to wait until at least the eighth round, if not 3-4 rounds longer, based on the historically narrow gap in points between starters in most formats.
Here are my thoughts — good, bad, and ugly — on quarterbacks this year. The quarterbacks mentioned below are ordered by their consensus ADP at Footballguys.
Patrick Mahomes II: I don't believe we've seen the best of Mahomes. When considering he just posted career highs in every category last year except for passing touchdowns, it seems crazy on the surface. Yet, watch his preparation on Netflix's show Quarterback.
Mahomes's trainer tailors Mahomes' workouts to match his playing style. Tim Hallmark did similar work way back in the day for former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.
Mahomes also has a voracious curiosity about the game. The fact that Tom Brady told Mahomes early in his career that Mahomes approaches the position the right way is a seal of approval from the platinum standard.
The Chiefs' passing offense has been two fantasy-friendly megadoses of Travis Kelce and the primary wide receiver and a bunch of hit-or-miss fantasy values everywhere else. I believe this has to do with the surrounding talent beyond Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
While possible Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney, Justyn Ross, Richie James, Justin Watson, and Rashee Rice could disappoint as a depth chart, this is a strong mix of talent that I have a feeling is on the rise. Toney is the only receiver who has a history of unreliability, and he's as versatile, dynamic, and capable of high-ceiling value as a legitimate fantasy starter as everyone else on this list.
If two of these three receivers perform to their potential and Travis Kelce delivers yet again, Mahomes could threaten Peyton Manning's season of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Although there wasn't much of a gap between Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts last year, there's a strong argument that Allen and Hurts must run to generate comparable fantasy totals.
Mahomes can run and adds value with his legs, but he's not nearly as dependent on them to deliver fantasy value. That's a valuable height built into his fantasy floor.
If you're drafting in the middle of the pack, taking Mahomes in the middle of the second round feels right. He has the highest upside and the highest floor of any player on the board for the next 20 picks. There are a lot of undervalued receivers and backs available in Rounds 3-6, so you're not missing out.
Lamar Jackson: The Ravens have tried to get Jackson quality receiving talent, but they've failed for three reasons: 1) Their picks' lack of development. 2) Injuries. 3) Poor fits for the offensive system.
Greg Roman is out, and Todd Monken is in. We're going to see the Ravens spread the field more than ever with wide receivers known for their skill after the catch. Expect the scheme to create more coverage breaks that lead to receivers sneaking behind the defense for wide-open vertical shots that we haven't seen as often as we did since Lamar Jackson's career year in 2019.
The big plays may not come frequently enough to drive up Jackson's yards per attempt into the 7.8-8.1 range of top vertical passing games but expect 5-7 more passing touchdowns that result from chunk plays.
I'm expecting a combined yardage season from Jackson that threatens 5,000 yards. There's enough receiver talent that 1-2 injuries won't kill this offense like it has in the past.
If you're at the back turn of your fantasy drafts and you can get a WR/RB combo like A.J. Brown-Nick Chubb and follow that up with Jackson and one of T.J. Hockenson, Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, and/or Amari Cooper, you're off to a strong start.
Jackson has been underestimated in every aspect of his quarterbacking career, from his pocket game to his mental acumen to his ability to negotiate a good contract without an agent — something most quarterbacks wouldn't have done as well as he. I like the potential for Jackson behind this offensive line to have a record year.
Dak Prescott: Cowboys fans are like that aging parent who can't say something nice about their kid without including criticism that has more gravity than their praise. You can probably say that about fans of most teams, but there's something about Dallas fans that magnify the behavior.
Prescott is at the epicenter of the criticism. The returns for Prescott have been way up and way down for the past four years, thanks to injuries to the quarterback and his surrounding talent.
The addition of Brandin Cooks may not have generated a huge ripple in the fantasy continuum, but it's a quality addition that will bolster the offense. I'm also a believer in Jake Ferguson generating value similar to Dalton Schultz.
Dallas' offense should be good this year, and if you are cool with taking your team's quarterbacks with consecutive picks, Prescott and a safe option like Kirk Cousins is a good tandem. Or, Cousins and . . .
. . . Geno Smith: Aaron Rodgers has great upside, but will his receiving corps be on the same page with him when it comes to reading defenses? Garrett Wilson has never played with a quarterback that possesses this advanced knowledge of defenses and adjustments. Corey Davis? Mecole Hardman? They aren't as advertised.
That leaves Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Tyler Conklin, and C.J. Uzomah. Lazard can produce in this setting but I'm not counting on 100 targets. When it all adds up, it looks like a good-but-not-great fantasy season for the Jets offense.
Meanwhile, Smith is available at the same spot and working with the same base talents as last year while adding a Cooper Kupp-like component in Jaxon Smith-Enjigba. The public can't get past that Smith's breakout season came in his tenth year. Hopefully, you do because he's a solid bet to repeat top-five production at his position at the price of QB15.
I'll take that every time.
Derek Carr: If you're playing the late-round quarterback game, Carr is the best option because of his surrounding talent and the likelihood of this offensive line realizing its potential this year. If you're a low-risk drafter, Carr is a good second quarterback after you've taken any of the options listed above. If you're a high-risk drafter, pair Carr with one of the young quarterbacks like Jordan Love, Bryce Young, or Brock Purdy and play the matchups.
I like targeting close to a 50-50 mix of running backs and receivers in my drafts, taking only the minimum required options at defense, kicker, and tight end. Everyone wants to say they picked the next elite running back outside of the first 2-3 rounds, which often leads to going hard to the hole on less-proven runners with athletic upside.
Fantasy GMs may win their leagues in the late rounds with upside picks, but they often lose their leagues in the early rounds with upside picks. The players with the fewest trap doors to their games, scheme, and surrounding talent make the best picks during the first 8-10 rounds. After that, increase the weight you give to a player's ceiling ahead of his floor.
Christian McCaffrey: The only reason McCaffrey isn't the slam-dunk No.1 pick overall is his injury history. He and Nick Chubb might be the two best decision-makers between the tackles in the NFL, and both teams have excellent offensive lines and surrounding talent to deliver record-breaking production in the right scenario.
McCaffrey has the third-best season in history for yards from scrimmage with 2,392 in 2019. Half of the totals comprising the top 10 come from backs who were 26 and older. Of the top 12 producers, half of them had another season among the top 50 of all time.
McCaffrey isn't one of them, but his one season came as a 23-year-old. Four years later, I think McCaffrey gets his shot to threaten Marshall Faulk (2,429) and Chris Johnson (2,509) for the top spot.
Nick Chubb: I thought Jerome Ford might earn Kareem Hunt's role and keep Chubb's ceiling as a mid-range fantasy RB1. That may still happen, but the fact that Cleveland signed Jordan Wilkins rather than adding Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott, or Leonard Fournette tells me that they plan to ride Chubb for all he's worth now that Deshaun Watson had a season to knock off the rust.
I've always liked Wilkins as a decision-maker, and he has good contact balance. He's not a top talent and he's clearly on the team to deliver 1-2 games of work as the No.2 option until Ford is healthy. Based on that back being Wilkins rather than a former high-profile starter, it indicates Ford may get a shot to earn more carries as the season unfolds but Cleveland is heading into 2023 with the idea that they'll lean hard on Chubb and make Ford prove his worth.
Tony Pollard: We've heard the argument that J.K. Dobbins has only had more than 15 carries in a game once in his career. Dobbins also averaged 14 carries and 99 yards during Weeks 14-17 last year after returning from a midseason cleanup of his knee. When he's earned at least 13 carries in a game, Dobbins averaged 14 attempts, 93 yards, and 0.67 touchdowns.
Tony Pollard has four games during a four-year career with at least 15 carries in a game. He's had 10 games with at least 13 carries. Unlike Dobbins, Pollard's coaching staff told the media that Pollard runs out of gas with too many carries.
Whether that remains the team's assessment is unknown. To Pollard's credit, he led all qualifying running backs with 2.6 yards after contact last year, according to Pro Football Reference. At the same time, Pollard's touch count is likely at the minimum volume of touches for qualification so it may be difficult to use that stat as a strong argument in his favor for handling a lead back's workload.
None of this matters greatly if Pollard continues to make the most of his touches in the way he delivered the ninth-best running back campaign in fantasy football last year — the only fantasy RB1 last year to do it with less than 250 touches and the only back among the top 18 producers with volume that low.
I have unanswered questions about Pollard. Will he earn Ezekiel Elliott's workload as a runner? Can he handle it if he does? Will he see a substantial increase in targets and receptions?
If Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, and/or Malik Davis prove themselves, will Dallas increase their touch count to keep Pollard in the role he's always had? If they don't, will a veteran back with recent starter production find his way into the rotation? Regardless of whether any of the Cowboys' runners earn an increase in their volume, will they command enough respect from opposing defenses for Pollard to be as effective when he's on the field or will the offense become more predictable and easier to contain?
Based on Pollard's touch counts, past concerns about his ability to manage a larger workload, and that Pollard's 2022 season has a level of efficiency that may be difficult to repeat when comparing it to most of the fantasy starters in two-RB leagues, I'm not feeling Pollard at his value.
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