Sometimes when I'm looking for questions for a mailbag column from our readers and listeners, I get one that dovetails nicely with something I wanted to write about, and that's what happened when I started looking to today's newsletter:
Austin: How does the group feel about Mixon and where is he at in rankings? I feel like I've heard nothing about him all offseason while he has received a ton of work and is a borderline RB1 in points per game when healthy.
This question must have come in before the news that the Bengals had released Giovani Bernard Wednesday, because there's been quite a bit of talk about him since then. You can hear Adam Aizer, Dave Richard and Emory Hunt talk about the move and the impact it will have on Mixon's value on Thursday's episode of Fantasy Football Today.
Or, if you're more into reading than listening, you can check out my writeup of the impact on Mixon here. This sums up my thoughts nicely:
"But the point is, a better environment would make Mixon a better Fantasy player, and things seem to be aligning in his favor right now. With Bernard out of the way and an assumed improvement in the Bengals offense, Mixon would seem to be in position to make a leap. Whether he would belong among the elites of the running back position is a different question, though if I did give Mixon 75 targets, it would be enough to make him RB7 in my projections, a borderline first-round pick.
Of course, the addition of another running back would cloud things, and you have to assume the Bengals will make some kind of addition to a depth chart that features just Samaje Perine, Trayveon Williams and Jacques Patrick behind him. Whether that will just be a more talented true backup or someone in the Bernard mold who will push Mixon off the field on third downs and limit his passing game work remains to be seen. But right now, the arrow is pointing up for Mixon."
Hope that answers your question, Austin! Mixon has been a good, and sometimes very good Fantasy running back over the past few years, but I think most would agree he's been a bit of a disappointment. Pegged as an elite talent by many, Mixon has been just a fringy RB at best, stuck in subpar offenses and often coming off the field in passing situations, limiting his upside in PPR formats especially.
That highlights something I want to spend more time writing about this offseason: Analyzing players less and their circumstances more. Talent matters, obviously, but context matters arguably as much. Talented players can elevate themselves above their surroundings, but excellent surroundings can also elevate less talented players. And, in my opinion, talent is a lot harder to identify than how a player might be used in a given offense.
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We've already had some discussions around this topic recently, as when Heath Cummings, Jamey Eisenberg and I talked about our expectations for various offenses with new playcallers earlier this week on FFT. But as we move forward, I'm going to try to focus even more on that -- especially with the NFL Draft coming up, where so much of the focus is on talent until we actually know where players will end up.
Which is to say, let's not just make all of the questions we ask so player-focused. As you send your questions in to FantasyFootball@CBSi.com or Chris.Towers@CBSInteractive.com, ask about how various teams are shaping up or about strategies. You won't just win your league by focusing on drafting the right players -- you also have to have a plan for how to identify them, how to play your league mate's or the rankings' tendencies to your favor, and how to proceed when the wrong players end up on your team.
Here's this week's mailbag, beginning with a couple of non-player-centric questions to kick it off:
Kevan: I recognize that there isn't a perfect league format that everyone should ascribe to, but I did want to state a philosophy that I think people should consider for their leagues: reducing randomness
This isn't chess (add "The Queen's Gambit" to your offseason watch list), but we also aren't really looking to just flip coins to determine the outcome of fantasy matchups. Reducing randomness can be achieved in a variety of ways:
Make more decisions
- Adding more Flex spots (take whatever number you think is enough and add 1)
- FAB waivers
Make decisions based on events that are more project-able (i.e. mitigating TD impact)
- Adding more value to catches and/or 1st downs (bonus for receptions can vary by position)
- Reducing Kicker and D/ST scoring impact (either point reduction or elimination)
Reduce negative impact of your fantasy schedule
- Add weekly victory points
- Give final playoff spot to team with most points not in the playoffs
Ultimately, fantasy football should be fun but I think as people invest more time into it, they'll end up having more fun when success is more a function of the choices we make than randomness."
Kevan, you are not alone in this belief, that's for sure. It's what undergirds the entire "#BanKickers" movement, and I think for high-stakes leagues with a high level of competitiveness, it makes a lot of sense -- if you really want your league to be determined by who is the best player, a play-all format where your score goes up against each team's each week is one of the better ways to go.
But, I'm not sure it's necessary as an industry standard, or even for most leagues. This might get me kicked out of the next meeting of the Super Serious Fantasy Sports Players Club, but I think the inherent randomness is a feature of the game, not a bug. I play in a lot of leagues, and many of them are extremely competitive leagues with a lot of other people who do this for a living. But I also play in several leagues with various groups of friends, most of whom have jobs and social lives that don't revolve around sports, and I'm not sure those leagues would be a lot of fun for everyone if the guy who writes 15,000 words a week for a Fantasy Football newsletter could just dominate every year.
I do alright for myself -- back-to-back champ in the league we started in my old college house -- but everyone has a chance every year, and that's because sometimes, the best team doesn't win -- heck, sometimes, the best team doesn't even make the playoffs. That's frustrating for that team, but the parity of the league helps keep everyone's interest level high. That keeps more people coming back and helps expand our Fantasy Football community. I'm all for it, even if I might lose the occasional playoff game because my opponent's kicker goes off.
Aaron: In recent years NHL fantasy hockey leagues have included hits and blocks as a statistical category for fantasy scoring (AKA "Banger Leagues"). This not only increases fantasy value in players that would normally would not be fantasy relevant (ex. Defense-focused defenseman), but it also boosts fantasy value of NHL superstars that are more physical at their position (ala Alex Ovechkin, one of the league leaders in hits every year). Before you mention IDP leagues, have you ever played in a league that included alternative stat categories that reward physicality for offensive players? If fantasy football included categories such as blocks (if that even exists) it could increase the value of the TE position as well as reward WR's that tend to do a lot of blocking for their team as well (I'm thinking DK Metcalf, Julio Jones type). What do you think?
I love the idea of trying to include more things into your league, and I'll always at least consider alternative scoring options, roster configurations, or league setups. I'm not sure this one would specifically work, unless you penalized running backs for sacks or pressures allowed -- but the problem there would be you would be hurting the players who are asked to do those things more. Similarly, doing something like penalizing for drops would hurt players who are targeted more often.
I'm interested in this kind of idea, though, so if any readers have any suggestions, hit me up at Chris.Towers@CBSinteractive.com and we'll see if we can crowd source this thing.
Max: It feels like the hot name of the Dynasty offseason so far has been Tee Higgins. With more rumors now about the Bengals drafting Ja'Marr Chase, how do you feel about buying Higgins right now? Is this actually the time to sell high on him?
I don't think you'd have to sell high on Higgins right now. For one thing, it's unlikely even a very good rookie will immediately jump to being the No. 1 receiver on the team -- Justin Jefferson had arguably the best rookie season for a WR of all time and he had just one more target in one more game than Adam Thielen entering Week 14. The Bengals figure to remain quite a pass-heavy team if Joe Burrow is healthy, so there should be plenty of opportunity here. I'd probably be more worried about Tyler Boyd, who would be the third-best receiver on the team.
For another thing, even if Chase does step onto the field a dominant player, this offense could and should be able to keep both of them productive. If Burrow is healthy and takes a leap, this could be an offense that produces 4,500-plus passing yards and 30 touchdowns, and if Higgins gets 100-plus targets, I'd still bet on him being a starting caliber Fantasy WR.
Plus … the Bengals may not even take Chase. Or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, another popular target. Oregon OL Penei Sewell might be the even more natural fit for Cincinnati, and that would potentially make Higgins even more valuable than he is right now.
Sure, if someone values Higgins as a top 12 Dynasty WR, I'd probably consider moving him, but trading him because they might draft a rookie who might supplant him as the No. 1 -- probably not even as a rookie! -- would be an overreaction.
Matthew: I play in a 10-team ¾-PPR league and last season I traded away my second round pick. I was planning on keeping Jonathan Taylor in the fifth round.
If I draft a low target, touchdown-dependent receiver like A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf in the early third, what receivers would you recommend I look at in later rounds that might be target hogs that work well in our scoring system?
First off, I'm not sure Brown won't be a target hog -- the Titans lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, so he very well could be a 130-plus target guy. However, if you're just looking for some players who might be good values in this format, Diontae Johnson springs immediately to mind. Whenever he and Ben Roethlisberger have shared the field, Roethlisberger has really locked on him, and I think he could get close to 150 targets and 100 catches even in a crowded receiving corps. I don't love Pittsburgh's offense for Fantasy, but Johnson could be a great option in the fifth-round range.
I would also add Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, who I was able to get in the fourth and fifth rounds in our recent PPR mock drafts and who should see a huge target share in what I'm hoping is a better offense with Matthew Stafford under center. Later on, I could see Courtland Sutton, Robby Anderson and Corey Davis all getting 130-ish targets, and I love grabbing Curtis Samuel if I can get him in the Round 7 range.