It’s good to be informed and certainly doing your homework is a big part of the fantasy football experience, whether it’s by sinking your teeth into Evan Silva’s weekly matchups columns or binging DFS podcasts. But how much is too much? With reports coming from all angles, many of them contradictory, there’s potential for oversaturation and in fantasy football, I think we straddle that line from time to time. Stats from fantasy columns and quotes from well-connected beat reporters are part of the equation, but not all of it. More importantly, none of those influences, be it the knowledge you gained from reading Reebs’ Worksheet cover-to-cover or some tidbit you took away from a random practice report, can save you when you’re on the clock with 10 seconds left to pick in your fantasy draft. Sometimes you just have to let your instincts kick in.
Trust me—I’m a millennial (definitely not a brag) and there’s NOTHING we hate more than making an actual decision. Fantasy football can be a difficult medium for the non-committal crowd because a lot of it revolves around making hard choices within a short window. These decisions are informed by what we learn on the outside, but when push comes to shove, Matthew Berry can’t make your fantasy pick for you.
It’s open season for misleading reports and other fantasy-related riddles, so let’s get to the bottom of some of these mysteries. Here are a few recent reports that caught my eye. In case you thought I was pulling these out of thin air, the following quotes are taken verbatim from Rotoworld blurbs over the past few days including a couple written by yours truly (the first two).
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July 22: “Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times expects Chris Carson to open training camp as the Seahawks’ lead running back.”
This would have been good information to have … I don’t know … last week when I was drafting my Scott Fish Bowl team. I thought I was all kinds of clever choosing Rashaad Penny in the fourth round, but if there’s any truth to this, I just wasted precious draft capital on a mere clipboard-holder. Condotta is a veteran reporter who is privy to the Seahawks’ inner workings as well as Pete Carroll’s personal preferences, so we can’t completely disregard his report. To me, however, this item still falls squarely under the “grain of salt” umbrella.
For starters, it’s July 24. Seahawks training camp hasn’t even started yet (their first practice is scheduled for Thursday). Even if Penny begins camp as the No. 2, he still has a month and change to vault past Carson on the Seahawks’ running back totem pole. It makes sense for Carson, the incumbent, to hold down the fort while Penny takes time to gets situated in a new offense.
But let’s be real—these players are of very different pedigrees. Carson performed admirably before his injury last year (well, if averaging 4.2 yards per carry with no rushing touchdowns qualifies as “admirable”), but let’s not forget that he was more or less an afterthought in the 2017 draft, falling to Seattle with the fifth-to-last pick behind running backs such as Elijah Hood and Khalfani Muhammad (not exactly household names). The Seahawks have unearthed late-round gems before—Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman both come to mind—but it’s too early to tell if Carson belongs in that discussion.
Penny, on the other hand, led the nation in rushing yards at San Diego State last season and was the second running back drafted this year behind only Saquon Barkley. This isn’t true of all positions—quarterbacks in particular can take years to develop—but if history has taught us anything, it’s that first-round running backs play right away. In the previous two years, a total of three running backs—Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Leonard Fournette (2017) and Christian McCaffrey (2017)—were selected in the first round. Between them, those three averaged 285 touches as rookies, which equates to workhorse usage.
I wouldn’t rule out a committee backfield in the beginning—Fournette and McCaffrey both went through growing pains at times last year and I’m sure Penny will as well—but ultimately, I’d be surprised if Carson emerged as the No. 1 back. Personally, I don’t mind Condotta and others talking up the Carson narrative—all it will do is lower Penny’s ADP so I can get him at a reduced cost (I almost said “for pennies on the dollar,” but spared you my awful pun). Moving on.
July 22: “Mike Klis of 9 News Denver expects Devontae Booker to start Week 1 against the Seahawks.”
Now this one is a tad more interesting. Unlike Seattle, where a seventh-rounder coming off a major injury is waging battle with a consensus All-American, Booker and Royce Freeman are much closer to equal footing. Booker worked as a change-of-pace/passing-down complement to C.J. Anderson last year, totaling 571 yards from scrimmage across 13 appearances (he sat out the first three games with a wrist injury). The 26-year-old has been a mediocre ball-carrier through two seasons (3.6 yards per carry), though his familiarity with the offense and his polish as a pass-protector could give him a leg up on Freeman, a third-round rookie out of Oregon.
In terms of skill set, Booker and Freeman complement each other nicely. Booker has shown an affinity for the passing game with 61 catches over his first two seasons while the 230-pound Freeman profiles as a short-yardage/goal-line hammer. Freeman held his own as a pass-catcher in college (79 catches over four seasons), but it wasn’t what he was known for.
Simply put, this has all the makings of a backfield committee. Booker may get the nominal start in Week 1, but anyone expecting bell-cow treatment is probably barking up the wrong tree. That being said, I’m following Evan’s lead here and stashing Booker where I can as a late-round handcuff. What’s the downside? Even if Freeman earns the lion’s share of Denver’s carries, Booker will still get enough passing-down reps to warrant a bench spot (or flex consideration, depending on the format) and—here’s the kicker—he’ll only be an injury away from workhorse volume. Right now, Booker is a bargain at his 11th-round ADP on Yahoo.
July 23: “NBC Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco suggested Jerick McKinnon is a candidate for 1,500 yards from scrimmage.”
That seems like a big number, but is it really? If you break that down, it’s really just 1,000 yards rushing and another 500 receiving yards, which, though difficult, is certainly doable for a player commanding huge volume. The seven running backs who reached that threshold last season were Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. McKinnon wouldn’t normally belong in that conversation, but then again, we’ve never seen him as a featured back before. That seems to be the plan for the ex-Viking, who is certainly being paid like a workhorse—his average annual salary is fifth-among running backs.
Let’s do a little math. The seven running backs I named above averaged 256 carries a year ago. Multiply that by 4.0—McKinnon’s career yards per carry—and you get 1,024 rushing yards. That seems like a fairly reasonable expectation for McKinnon. For a point of reference, Carlos Hyde, the player McKinnon is replacing in San Francisco this year, totaled 240 carries last season. I’m guessing that number would have been significantly higher had Jimmy Garoppolo arrived sooner. With game flow finally working in his favor, Hyde averaged 16.6 carries per game with Garoppolo under center compared to just 14.3 in his other 11 games. Luckily for fantasy owners, McKinnon will have the benefit of playing with Garoppolo all season.
Even if McKinnon is merely an average ball-carrier, which is what he’s been throughout his career, a 1,000-yard rushing season would be well within his reach. The 26-year-old has never eclipsed 500 receiving yards in a season, though he came within striking distance of that mark last year, finishing with a career-high 421 yards. McKinnon earned PFF’s eighth-highest receiving grade among running backs in 2017 and has always flashed good hands. It’s worth noting that Carlos Hyde, who had never been a big pass-catcher before, drew 87 targets last year, which is more than he’d seen in his previous three seasons—COMBINED. Throwing to running backs has long been a staple of Kyle Shanahan’s offenses—Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were huge contributors to the passing game during his two-year run as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator.
Fifteen-hundred yards from scrimmage is an ambitious number for a player who has never operated as a lead back before. But given his expected volume, it can absolutely be done. McKinnon’s early-third-round ADP is a bit steep, but I definitely see his appeal as an RB2, particularly in PPR leagues.
July 23: “Leonard Fournette is reporting to Jaguars camp at 223 pounds.”
Normally I don’t put much stock in these corny “best shape of my life” subplots, but this one actually has my attention. Fournette’s conditioning has been a concern since last year’s Combine when he tipped the scales at an alarming 240 pounds. He slimmed down to 228—at least that’s what the Jaguars listed him at last season—but he still looked sluggish at times as a rookie, especially over his final five games when the fourth overall pick averaged a disastrous 3.2 yards per carry. A nagging ankle injury was certainly a factor in Fournette’s late-season swoon, but he also looked out of gas. You can understand his fatigue—Fournette received a monumental workload and probably would have led the league in carries had he stayed healthy. But even from afar the LSU alum looked heavy, which prompted him to shed weight this offseason. It looks like he went the extra mile too—ESPN’s Michael DiRocco noticed the 23-year-old’s transformation as early as OTAs.
Players are supposed to train hard during the offseason, but Fournette’s decision to slim down seems like it was made with a specific purpose in mind. My guess is he wants to play faster and improve his stamina. I’ll admit, I was down on Fournette after he limped to the finish line a year ago and faded him in most of my early mock drafts. But word of his new and improved physique has me reconsidering.
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