Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Doubting the Eagles offense and other early busts
Heath Cummings looks for signs of regression, overdrafting and players who could lose their job.
What sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And what big-name running back could ruin your season? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.
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"There's more than one way to skin a cat."
What an awful thing to say, right? I mean, I'm no fan of cats (or apparently Eagles as you'll see below) but why would you want to skin one? And really, how many ways could there be? Well, there's more than one way to draft a bust in Fantasy Football as well. And like cat-skinning, it's something we'd all rather avoid. Here's are three mistakes to avoid:
- Drafting last year's breakouts based on unsustainable efficiency.
- Overdrafting running backs who won't get enough touches to justify their ADP.
- Drafting players who could easily lose their job to guys below them on the depth chart.
With that in mind, here are my early busts you should avoid in drafts this summer, sorted by the three categories above.
All jokes aside, I have no issue with the Eagles. I'm happy for their fans. They had a phenomenal season and were deserved champions. But there is a whole lotta offensive regression coming in Philadelphia. That doesn't mean they won't threaten to repeat as champions, but it does mean they'll take a step back in Fantasy.
Carson Wentz is one of the most obvious regression candidates in the league regardless of position. Most of the expected regression will be in the form of passing touchdowns. His 7.5 percent touchdown rate is wholly unsustainable. I'm not sure he will fall off as badly as Matt Ryan did last year, but it's a fair comparison. Add on the recovery from his knee injury, the fact he's expected to run less, and improvements the Eagles made on defense, and it seems unfair to expect anything more than a borderline top-12 season.
Jay Ajayi may be the one Eagle you should expect to score more touchdowns next year, but that doesn't mean he'll be reliable. The Eagles are one of the most committee-focused running games in the league. Darren Sproles will handle a lot of the passing downs and show up on random running plays. Corey Clement has earned a lot of favor in Philadelphia, especially when it comes to his work in the red zone. Ajayi will be a better flex than No 2 running back in Fantasy, especially in PPR.
The Eagles don't just spread the ball around in the running game, either. Alshon Jeffery led the team with 120 targets last year, and he caught less than half of them. Nine touchdowns saved his Fantasy season, but we just talked about the coming touchdown regression, and it will hit him too. It's possible Jeffery's shoulder injury hampered his efficiency and he'll bounce back this year. The problem is you're going to have to pay a price that assumes as much. There's little ceiling at Jeffery's likely ADP, and plenty of room for him to disappoint.
Chris Thompson is a very good football player when he's on the field. He has a terribly difficult time staying on the field. Because of that the team drafted Derrius Guice, and they've been gushing over how good he is catching the ball. I don't think he's actually going to become a three-down back this year (see below), but I do think Thompson is being overvalued right now. He's going to get eight-to-ten touches per game for as long as he stays healthy. He's a PPR flex at best, and he could be droppable by Week 4.
Adam Thielen had a phenomenal year last year and not just in the numbers. The types of plays he was making on a week-to-week basis were amazing. He and Stefon Diggs are an enormous part of why people think Case Keenum is a starting quarterback in the NFL. So it's probably hard to figure how he got such a big upgrade at quarterback in Kirk Cousins, and I think he'll be worse. It's all about volume.
Thielen saw 142 targets last year. Cousins has never thrown the ball 142 times to any one receiver in a season. He likes to spread the ball around, and he has plenty of options. Between Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook, I'd expect Cousins will continue to spread the ball at a high rate. Thielen will still be awesome, but he won't be a top-12 receiver with a reduction in targets.
Speaking of volume concerns, hello, Jarvis Landry. Landry has twice topped 160 targets the past three years in Miami, but he's with a new team with a new quarterback and a lot more competition for targets from Josh Gordon, Duke Johnson and David Njoku. His quarterback to start the year will be Tyrod Taylor, and Taylor has historically leaned heavily on his tight end and running back in the passing game.
Because Landry has been so dependent on targets in his career (low YPR and touchdown rate), he has bust potential with even a 10 percent reduction in targets. But if he falls to the 110 range? He'll be nothing more than a low-end flex.
Let's be clear, I think Alvin Kamara is going to be awesome this year. I'm not saying he's definitely going to bust. But as a first-round pick with a ton of regression coming, we at least need to talk about the possibility.
Kamara averaged 6.1 yards per rush last year on 120 carries. Four running backs have done that in the past 40 years. Adrian Peterson never averaged better than 4.5 YPC again. C.J. Spiller never topped 4.6. Even the most efficient running back in NFL history, Jamaal Charles, topped out at 5.3. Asking for 5 yards per carry from Kamara is probably a little optimistic, but even at that number he'd need an extra 25 carries to match last year's rushing totals.
He also averaged 10.2 yards per reception, an astounding number for a running back. Six running backs have to done that in the last 20 years (minimum 70 catches). Marshall Faulk is the only one to do it more than once. The rest all lived in the more-typical seven-to-eight yards per reception for most their career. While it's easy to see him getting more carries to make up for the loss in rushing efficiency I have a hard time expecting more than 80 catches, even with Mark Ingram out for four games.
Finally, we get to the touchdowns. Kamara scored 13 touchdowns in 2017 on 201 touches. I'd bet on most players who score 13 times scoring fewer the next year, but when it's a high-efficiency guy like Kamara, I'd be doubling down. This is all to say, he could average 5 yards per carry, catch 80 passes for 600 yards and not be worth the mid-first round pick he's going to cost you. Kamara absolutely has No. 1 overall pick upside, but he's more likely to disappoint at his current cost.
Being drafted to get more work than they will
I don't have anything against rookie running backs, especially against this class, which is the deepest I can remember. And if these running backs weren't being treated/drafted like potential workhorses, I'd probably end up drafting them. But there's almost no chance these backs are anything close to three-down backs as rookies. Chris Thompson, Rex Burkhead, and Charles Sims just won't allow it.
Sony Michel is especially worrying for me. He has by far the most competition in New England with Burkhead, James White and Jeremy Hill all capable of stealing work from him. He also has a coach who has often changed backs on a whim, but especially after a guy puts the ball on the turf. Michel doesn't have glaring red flags when it comes to ball security, but he was far from perfect in that regard in college.
Guice has the best opportunity because unlike the other two, I don't expect he'll share early-down work very often and he'll lock down red-zone touches. That's no sure thing for Ronald Jones, who is definitely coming off the field regularly for Charles Sims and could lose some work to Peyton Barber in the red zone. If these guys are available after the first 25 running backs are taken in non-PPR, the risk is probably worth it. But I don't expect that will be the norm after the production we got out of rookie running backs last year. In PPR, they're low-end flexes.
May not keep their job
It seems like just yesterday another mediocre wide receiver was being boosted up because he was Cam Newton's only proven receiver. That was Kelvin Benjamin, and he was dealt to Buffalo last year. That led to a lot of opportunity for Devin Funchess, who turned it into a top-24 season at wide receiver. The problem for Funchess is now is the same one Kelvin Benjamin faced, the Panthers added a better receiver.
I fully expect D.J. Moore will be the best receiver in Carolina at some point in the next 18 months. How fast that happens will be the main determining factor in whether Funchess busts this year. Moore is a better receiver who can win in more ways than Funchess. This offense, with Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey accounting for 40 percent of the targets, cannot support two receivers who are good in Fantasy.
Moore is my favorite receiver in this class, and if he realizes that potential as a rookie, he'll rip the No. 1 receiver job away from Funchess.
I don't actually have Miller ranked as a bust, but that's because D'Onta Foreman still hasn't fully recovered from his Achilles injury in 2017. And to be fair, many who have suffered that injury never fully recover. But I think that's the only real chance Miller has of holding off Foreman.
When these two were both healthy last year, it was alarming the change when the team took Miller out and inserted his backup. Miller could be drafted anywhere from the fourth through seventh round, and that draft position will be key. But not as key as Foreman's recovery.
The Colts are going to run a lot of two-tight end sets this year, so I'm not actually worried Jack Doyle is going to lose snaps to Eric Ebron. But Doyle is in grave danger of losing the things that matter most: routes and targets.
Considering Doyle turned 108 targets into just 690 yards and four touchdowns last year, any reduction in opportunity could knock him down to streamer territory. Eric Ebron is going to be almost free on Draft Day and early in June, I expect he'll be the best Colts tight end in terms of production in the passing game.
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