Scott Pianowski delivers his last-minute fantasy football notes for drafters to use before Week 1.
CeeDee Lamb’s highlight tape is filled with two recurring kinds of touchdowns — absurd walk-ins (credit the scheme, laugh at the defense) and “How does he score on this play” clips where he seems to defeat half of the defense on the same play. He’s already an advanced route runner, and dynamite after the catch. It’s hard to say when rookie wideouts will be fantasy-playable, but I’ll be shocked if he’s not a star before his second contract.
Joe Burrow looks like someone who could be special right away. Joe Mixon has won despite a lousy setup in the past; now, he might have a decent one. Tyler Boyd is one of my favorite targets, a steal as a WR4 and playable as a WR3. My days of considering A.J. Green are over; once the cheese starts to go bad, don’t bet on it going good.
Ben Roethlisberger has a wide range of outcomes and this offense will sink or swim as he goes. I lean towards believing in the comeback, and I’ve proactively drafted James Conner. JuJu Smith-Schuster might have been exposed as a true No. 1, and I’m not sure how he’ll fare if he has to play outside regularly. Diontae Johnson and James Washington both look reasonable at their ADPs.
The current skill set of Tom Brady would seem to match better with Chris Godwin than Mike Evans, but I’ll take either receiver. Although Evans specifically meshed well with the DGAF approach preferred by Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, I take comfort in the fact that Evans has never been shy of 1,000 yards in his six-year career. Rob Gronkowski was a compromised player in 2018, then sat a year. I’ll go younger at that position. His last full season was 2011.
Deshaun Watson is too good not to elevate some receiver, but where do you go? Will Fuller has exciting upside but he’s never a good bet to play close to a full season. Brandin Cooks has an extensive concussion history, and three of the smarter teams (Patriots, Saints, Rams) ran away from him. The Rams, in fact, set a record for dead contract money eaten when they moved on from Cooks. Randall Cobb probably has a low ceiling, but he’ll get slot work, and perhaps he’s addressed a recently discovered vision problem.
Terry McLaurin is a good example of why you like some early Best Ball drafts; his draft price has steadily moved up all summer. Like Mixon, McLaurin proved he could produce despite a lousy setup; now, the setup is likely better. Dwayne Haskins was better at the end of the year.
New England Patriots
James White makes sense at ADP and I could consider N’Keal Harry late, but otherwise, the Patriots are a big fade for me. Bill Belichick already is on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore of coaching, but you need to give him more than his current hand. The defense was riddled by free-agency losses and opt-outs. Cam Newton has a ton of mileage on his body and needs to be a runner to be effective. Julian Edelman built up amazing chemistry with Brady over the years; how quickly can he and Newton get on the same page? Newton’s usually been more of a see-it, throw-it quarterback, not a timing-and-anticipation guy.
It’s not that I don’t like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it’s just that I am reluctant to buy at the high end of his range. If he was settling into the 10-15 area, fine, I can consider him. Sometimes I see him going fifth overall (or higher), and I don’t play that way. Shiny New Toys are always expensive. I’m obviously not saying it can’t work, it’s just not what I’ll generally do.
As absurd as Mecole Hardman’s rookie year was (the tape will knock you over), he’s probably blocked for another year. I know it’s one of those common cop-outs, but he was an interesting Best Ball pick; you can’t really expect much in standard, where you have to call the shot ahead of time.
I expect Buffalo to win the AFC East, though I still don’t trust Josh Allen as a passer. Devin Singletary had a fumbling problem last year and the team is still concerned about it; Zack Moss could easily overtake Singletary this year. Of course, Allen might be the de-facto goal-line back. Stefon Diggs looks like a trap, headed to a new team, and tied to such an inaccurate quarterback. Diggs is also one of those guys who needs to be at his best health to perform; when there’s a noise in the engine, we get nervous.
New York Jets
You have to be judicious about what favorable summer news you believe, but when the quotes are negative, they’re more likely to be accurate. I don’t make the rules, this is just how it is. I wouldn’t draft Le’Veon Bell on a bet. But stay open-minded with Sam Darnold, who’s younger than Burrow. Jameson Crowder makes sense at ADP, and Chris Herndon has been an absurd steal (Yahoo ADP: TE28) all summer.
Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay is the trendy restaurant that no one visits anymore — it’s too crowded. The Tyler Higbee explosion late in 2019 is a good example of McVay’s willingness to evolve. Call Jared Goff a puppet if you want, but McVay is a brilliant puppet master. Another reasonable QB value, though that cup is always overflowing.
Frank Reich is the best coach not constantly praised; last year’s Andrew Luck situation put the team in an impossible spot. The Colts still have a deep roster and likely the best offensive line in the league; I just wish they had more at quarterback than the final lap or two of Phillip Rivers. Coach and player have history — two years with the Chargers, 2014 and 2015 — though Rivers was good at that time, not great. T.Y. Hilton is on the back nine of his career, and no longer someone I can pick proactively.
I can’t see Matt Patricia working out long-term in Detroit, but OC Darell Bevell had this passing game crushing before a mid-season injury to Matthew Stafford. Kenny Golladay deserves his ADP and Marvin Jones is a perfect fantasy fit as a WR4 or (if lucky) a WR5. I’d want someone better in the WR3 spot, though.
I hate to fade Courtland Sutton, but the Broncos added a ton of intriguing skill talent, and no one really knows if QB Drew Lock is any good.
Either Seahawks wideout looks good to me, and I don’t have an obvious preference. They’re good at different things. My most common roster build is one bell cow in the first round, then a slew of receivers. You want as many set-and-forget wideouts as you can get. The mid-round shopping for RB2s and RB3s isn’t as bad as you might think. And of course, lottery tickets are always around.
Allen Robinson is always good, no matter who the quarterback is. Maybe the Bears shouldn’t keep using Tarik Cohen so much as a pass-catcher, but so long as that doesn’t change, he’s playable. Sometimes it’s more important to focus on what teams are likely to do, not what we want them to do.
Chris Thompson isn’t a year-long guy, but he’ll be flex playable so long as he’s on the field. Jay Gruden loves him. D.J. Chark is the genuine article.
New York Giants
It took me a while to get there, but Sterling Shepard became my proactive Giants wideout pick. I’m still open to Slayton, but I moved him down a bit. Golden Tate will get in the way somewhat, but into an age-32 season, there’s not much upside to chase here. Until Daniel Jones shows he has some pocket awareness, keep DST streaming against this offense. New York opens with a hellish schedule, so September could be a bumpy ride.
It’s not that I don’t like Kyler Murray, but after sophomore breakouts won the last two MPVs, I suspect Murray’s early ADP was bolstered by some wishcasting. DeAndre Hopkins will need time to settle in, and this might not be an offense that peppers him constantly with targets like Houston’s did. Hopkins is too talented to be a bust, but I can’t pay his current ADP. If you draft Kenyan Drake, you probably need Chase Edmonds too — and drafting tandems is not my favorite thing to do. Still, try to get Edmonds, or a few of those other high-upside backups — especially if you don’t roster the starter they’re behind. Play for the big inning now, play to the game situation in the middle of the year. I’ll start thinking in insurance terms around Halloween, when my needs and winning paths are defined in much better focus.
Las Vegas Raiders
I’m still not sold on Jon Gruden or Derek Carr, and that colors anything I think about a Raiders player. Obviously, there’s talent here, though it’s a little crowded, too.
Los Angeles Chargers
Mike Williams doesn’t make any sense — he had a 1,000-yard season and led the league in yards per catch, but somehow only scored two times (after 10 touchdowns in 2018, and zero in an abbreviated rookie year). Keenan Allen always has the same season, but the variable Williams — at a cheap ADP — is the better bet for a birdie.
Green Bay Packers
Are we sure Matt LaFleur is a good coach? Look at the usage he forced on the 2018 Titans, essentially giving the same amount of touches to Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Aaron Rodgers has enough left to be fantasy-playable, and Davante Adams and Aaron Jones make sense at their ADP (the A.J. Dillon threat is overblown). But the lingering worry about LaFleur won’t go away.
The Titans probably hit a home run with their current OC, Arthur Smith. A.J. Brown is an easy buy, where an opportunity bump makes up for whatever he loses in efficiency. Henry is a constant first-round target for me. Jonnu Smith is an intriguing upside tight end, albeit that position seems to offer bottomless sleepers. Smith just turned 25, enters his fourth season. It’s go-time.
Adam Thielen is going to get targeted the second he gets off the bus — by Kirk Cousins and by the opponents. It’s an ongoing chicken-egg argument; do we want receivers who are the only show in town, or is it better to be surrounded by other offensive distraction pieces? Thielen is in a dangerous age pocket, too, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for one more year. You need to trust the OC in cases like this, and I do trust Gary Kubiak. I don’t have anything on Dalvin Cook that you don’t, but the injury history and the Minnesota vibes make me nervous. Henry over Cook is my clear preference.
There are unlimited right answers at quarterback, so I’ll reluctantly let the thrill ride of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson pass on by. Russell Wilson is a good get if you want someone plausibly in the MVP race (it’s amazing he’s never received a vote; that’s on the media, not on him). Dak Prescott will cost you, but he’s got all the toys (CeeDee Lamb will win you over quickly). Matt Ryan is boring but effective, and Atlanta will probably pass to set up the pass. Burrow and Gardner Minshew are fun late picks if you play in a format that allows multiple quarterbacks; both have sneaky rushing ability that isn’t baked into their price.
Running Back/Wideout Strategy
In most of my drafts, I want one bell cow I feel great about, and then it’s pound away at wide receiver. You want to win the race to the flex.
If you want more specific ideas on the positional shaping of your roster, I wrote about that recently.
Tight End Strategy
Knowing that I’ll likely be wideout-focused after that first back, I rarely consider Travis Kelce and George Kittle, as great as they are. But if Mark Andrews or Zach Ertz slip even a little past their market, I’m open to selecting them. And of course, I see tons of young, emerging tight ends to gamble on in the second part of the draft.