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SkyScrapers And Boom-Bust
This is a recent exchange I had with a friend of mine — a scientist with an intellect beyond reproach — who experienced an epiphany while we were driving I-85 South with the Atlanta skyline coming into view. It began with him breaking a brief silence between us with laughter.
"I'm an idiot..."
"Well, you are our idiot, and we love you for it. What are you an idiot about this time?"
"I'm rolling up on 40, and I just realized why they call tall buildings skyscrapers."
After we both laughed for about two minutes, I couldn't help making fun of him.
"I realize your work will quite possibly advance humanity, but I have to check . . . you know the pedal on the left with the horizontal rectangle is the brake, right?"
"Yes, and I can't even fault you for the question, given what you just witnessed."
Most of you reading this knew why tall buildings are called skyscrapers before this moment and also have an intuitive grasp of what defines a Boom-Bust prospect. In case you're that special intellectual talent who thought Oblivian was a South American country east of Chile known for tin, silver, lithium, copper, and cocaine, a boom-bust prospect has both a high ceiling and low floor built into his performance potential based on his past history.
Boom-bust prospects scare many fantasy GMs, but they can be pivotal contributors to championship squads. There are different types of boom-bust performances.
Many of you are thinking week-to-week volatility — strong producers overall who aren't consistent scorers to their year-end average from one week to the next. For this feature, boom-bust is the overall production for the year — by year's end, it has the potential to be great or ugly.
The Investment Strategy for Boom-Bust Fantasy Prospects
It begins with assessing your comfort with risk. These are questions you should ask yourself:
- Are you comfortable with drafting players well above or below their average draft position during the first half of fantasy drafts?
- Do you attempt more than 3-5 trades per season in a league?
- In rounds 1-10, do you draft more players with a high floor and lower ceiling than their peers in the same range or more players with a lower floor and higher ceiling?
- In rounds 11-20, do you draft more players with a high floor and lower ceiling than their peers in the same range or more players with a lower floor and higher ceiling?
- Do you avoid rookies with significant pre-draft value because they are rookies?
- Do you avoid first-year starters with bullish ADPs because they have little, if any, track record of fantasy production?
- Are you aggressive with free-agent bidding dollars?
- Are you active on the waiver wire?
- Do you avoid players coming off a season-ending injury?
- Do you avoid players with a previous history of injuries that have cost them stretches of playing time?
This isn't an exhaustive list of questions for assessing your comfort with risk, but the more of these you answer with "yes," the higher your comfort with risk. The more you answered with "no," the lower your comfort with risk.
Just because you are comfortable/uncomfortable with risk doesn't mean you should always embrace/avoid it. If you've been successful with building winners based on your comfort level with risk when acquiring players (this does not include setting lineups, that's a different form of risk management), then continue along your path.
If you've recently learned that you can trace your losses to your risk tolerance damaging your overall team building, it's time for some guidelines or training wheels to help you find your balance and make productive decisions. The guidelines below are for any draft in terms of round length.
Guidelines for Low-Risk GMs (Recommended for Beginners)
- No boom-bust prospects during the first third of your draft.
- No more than 1-2 boom-bust prospects during the second third of your draft.
- No rookies within the first seven rounds of a draft.
- No players returning from a season-ending injury within the first 12 rounds of your draft.
- No veterans signed with a new team after August within the first 15 rounds of your draft.
Guidelines for Medium-Risk GMs (Recommended for Most of You)
- No more than one boom-bust prospect during the first quarter of your draft.
- No more than one boom-bust prospect during the second quarter of your draft.
- No rookies within the first five rounds of a draft.
- Only one player returning from a season-ending injury within the first 8-10 rounds of your draft.
- No veterans signed with a new team after August within the first 12 rounds of your draft.
Guidelines for High-Risk GMs (Recommended for the Experienced Players)
- No more than an even distribution of boom-bust and high-floor/high-ceiling players during the first half of your draft.
If you're going high-risk, you don't really need guidelines. A 50/50 balance with safer players on paper during the first half of the draft is wise because you don't want to make your job that much harder to rebuild via trades and free agency if you miss on multiple boom-bust options. Still, if you decide to go big or go home, you're obviously prepared to go home if things don't work out.
The 2023 Boom-Bust Fantasy Squad
Here's my list of the biggest boom-bust options heading into the 2023 season. I'm basing on the analysis I put into my player projections. I'll share the current projection with each player and the potential range of highs/lows I see for each option based on factors such as surrounding talent, injury history, the player's development track, etc.
These players are listed in no particular order. I will not be updating my thoughts from this article as rankings and ADPs change. You can reference my rankings page for updates and commentary.
RB Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
Current ADP: RB3 (8th overall)
Matt's Ranking: RB13/24th Overall
- 279 Attempts, 1,357 rushing yards, 4.86 Y/Att, 9 TDs
- 29 Targets, 25 Receptions, 137 Yards, 5.5 Y/Att, 1 TD
- 234.4 Fpts (PPR)
Why Robinson is Boom-Bust: Cordarrelle Patterson is old for his position but has little tread, and he's two years removed from a huge season as a runner and receiver. Patterson and second-year runner Tyler Allgeier have the receiving chops to limit Robinson's ceiling of usage.
Yes, the Falcons have lined up Robinson at a variety of positions this summer, but once the season begins, how many of those possibilities for Robinson will actually be in play for him and not for Patterson? How much will second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder be able to exploit during his first full year as an NFL starter?
If Robinson earns 40-50 catches and 5-7 percent of these targets are vertical plays, he could deliver 300-500 yards in the passing game and 2-3 more scores. That's another 47-73 fantasy points in PPR formats that put Robinson into top-three territory at his position.
I'm not a fan of projecting a rookie at his ceiling of potential, and that's what I believe the industry is doing. I'm especially cautious about doing so because Patterson and Allgeier are proven producers who can limit the upside of Robinson's rookie workload.
Arthur Smith was the Titans' TE coach in 2016-17, so he had no voice about Derrick Henry's rookie year workload. Still, he was part of a team that limited Henry's workload to 123 touches, 627 yards from scrimmage, and 5 touchdowns. Henry's totals from his first two seasons:
- 31 games played out of a possible 32
- 286 touches, 1,234 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns
- 32 targets, 24 receptions, 273 yards, and 1 receiving score.
During his final two years as a pro, DeMarco Murray earned the majority of touches in 2016 and split touches with Henry in 2017. Murray earned 1,664 yards and 12 scores from scrimmage in 2016 despite Henry's draft capital.
It's unlikely that Smith follows suit with Henry and gives the majority of work to Patterson and Allgeier. Patterson may not have a lot of mileage as a runner, but he's old by running back standards and banged up last year. Allgeier is reliable as an outside runner but not explosive or as adept between the tackles.
The worst-case scenario for a healthy Robinson will be the receiving totals projected above and Patterson and Allegeier accounting for a greater total of the ground game — splitting enough with Robinson in a three-way committee that limits Robinson to 750-900 yards rushing, roughly 55-65 percent of what I have currently projected.
That's a big swing, and if this also cuts into Robinson's touchdown totals, we're talking about 100 fantasy points deducted from where I currently have him as RB13. That's flex-play territory for fantasy backs and a significant boom-bust dynamic for a talented player on a team with enough existing talent to limit his workload if needed.
There's a realistic argument it will be needed: Ridder's inexperience may call for Arthur Smith to use the most reliable blockers on passing downs. Robinson may prove he's that guy immediately, but most rookies don't. If Robinson also has the typical growing pains that early-round rookie runners display as decision-makers who take too many game-management risks, we could see limited red-zone volume as well.
On the other hand, Robinson could play to that RB3 ceiling that the consensus projects for him. Considering how early one has to take Robinson, it's a big swing for a rookie runner when the swing does not even account for injury.
TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
Current ADP: TE6/68th Overall
Matt's Ranking: TE10/87th Overall
- 100 targets
- 48 receptions, 635 yards, 6 TDs
- 147.5 Fpts (PPR)
Why Pitts is Boom-Bust: One of the most physically and technically gifted pass catchers at the move TE role in recent drafts, Pitts delivered as a rookie but was a massive disappointment without taking his knee injury into account. Most want to blame Arthur Smith, the same offensive mind who got 448 yards and 8 touchdowns from journeyman Jonnu Smith in 2020.
Ultimately, Smith may one day earn all the public criticism that's thrown his way. Until then, let's also consider that Pitts will be working with his third different quarterback in as many years as a pro. It's probably a good idea to give an aging Matt Ryan more credit for his prowess than Marcus Mariota or a young Ridder.
Pitts had 2 games of clear fantasy value last year after delivering 10 as a rookie. As we've seen in the past, receiving talent doesn't matter without quarterback talent. Ryan could read the length and width of the field. Smith knew Mariota could not read the field as quickly and accurately as Ryan and schemed the offense away from what Ryan did best to protect Mariota while accessing Mariota's legs.
Most fantasy GMs expected at least 800-1,000 yards and 5-7 touchdowns in 2022 after Pitts earned 1,035 yards and 1 score as a rookie, but they didn't consider the differences between Ryan and Mariota would be that great. Ridder has the potential to develop into a full reader of the field, but whether he does this year is a big question mark.
My projections for Pitts are more than double his 2022 campaign, and that's probably a more realistic starting point for framing expectations with a young quarterback than the 1,000-yard campaign with Ryan. Unfortunately, many will place too much weight on Pitts' elite athletic ability when forming expectations rather than placing enough weight on the skills and experience of the quarterback.
If Ridder is competent, Pitts should deliver to my expectations. If Ridder has a strong second year and performs like a fantasy starter, Pitts could meet the loftier expectations of the public. If Ridder isn't competent, we could see another disappointing season for Pitts.
Considering what we've seen with young quarterback prospects during their first three years in the league, every outcome mentioned is in play for Pitts, and none of them are remote possibilities.
RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Current ADP: RB19/52nd Overall
Matt's Ranking: RB20/53rd Overall
- 196 carries, 1,055 yards, 7 rushing TDs
- 17 targets, 16 receptions, 126 yards, 2 receiving TDs
- 188.1 Fpts (PPR)
Why Dobbins is Boom-Bust: There's a list of reasons, unfortunately. He's beginning training camp on PUP after seemingly working through a difficult knee injury in 2022 that cost him the entire 2021 campaign. He's seeking a long-term contract that's based more on his talent and glimpses of on-field excellence in the pros rather than proven and reliable production in the box score.
The Ravens also have a new offensive coordinator and scheme that could veer away from the power running game as a top priority. At the same time, the new offense is an opportunity for Dobbins to become a high-volume part of the passing game. Dobbins average more than 10 yards per catch during his final two seasons at Ohio State and looked like an NFL receiver out of the backfield against Clemson during the final game of his collegiate career.
When considering the totality of Dobbins' talents and potential opportunities in this Ravens offense, Dobbins could easily deliver 35-45 catches, 300-500 yards, and 3-5 scores in addition to 800-1,000 yards rushing. He could also find himself pushed out of the plans or forced into a timeshare that cuts in half the projected rushing totals shown above.
Then there's the volatility of Dobbins' scoring potential on the ground. For the past two years, Lamar Jackson has had a combined five rushing touchdowns compared to seven rushing scores in 2020. The biggest differences between 2020 and 2021-22 have been Jackson's health and the caliber of the Ravens' offensive line.
If Jackson and the line remain healthy, there's a valid argument that Jackson's healthy touchdown totals as a rusher will return and at the expense of the Ravens' running backs. However, let's not forget that when Jackson earned 7 scores in 2020, Dobbins earned 9 on 134 carries, and Dobbins and Edwards combined for 15 rushing scores.
Sure, Jackson kept Dobbins and/or Edwards from elite scoring totals but a combined 15 scores from your starting rotation at running back — 17 if you include the aging Mark Ingram who was a distance third to Dobbins and Edwards in workload — is still valuable fantasy production. It wasn't a one-or-the-other scenario.
A spread offense in the red zone could lead to more rushing scores for Jackson, which is what some anticipate will be a part of Todd Monken's offense. Monken, who has also been an architect of quality ground games at the University of Georgia and with the Cleveland Browns, could go heavier in the red zone.
Dobbins easily has 1,300-yard talent as a rusher and the upside to deliver 1,800 yards from scrimmage. If he doesn't negotiate his way out of a role and can stay healthy, my current projections for Dobbins as a 1,200-yard and 9-touchdown performer from scrimmage could be too low.
This is a prove-it year for Dobbins. If thinking cynically, Ravens will probably want to give him the workload to maximize what they haven't gotten from his rookie deal and move on. Optimistically, they may see this year as an opportunity for Dobbins to demonstrate his long-term value for a new contract.
If Dobbins earns a legitimate workload as a lead back, he could deliver top-five production at the running back position. He averaged 14 carries and 99 yards from weeks 14-17 after returning from a midseason cleanup surgery for his knee.
Our news wire at Footballguys reported the story that Dobbins has only carried the ball only 15 times in a game once during his NFL career. However, he's also carried the ball 13-14 times in 9 of the 23 games he's been on the field.
Whenever he's earned at least 13 carries in a game, Dobbins has averaged 14 carries, 93 yards, and .67 touchdowns per game. While the headline says, "Big Workloads Rare for J.K. Dobbins," the context is missing.
Still, Dobbins' health and his role in the Ravens' new offensive approach are two variables with a wide range of outcomes. He could be a 1,800-yard back rivaling Austin Ekeler but with more of his talent on the ground. He could deliver 1,000-1,200 yards from scrimmage as a competent fantasy starter but nothing more. Or, the Ravens could phase Dobbins out of the offense and limit him to a role that only generates 500-700 yards from scrimmage.
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