My biggest mistake in last year's Fantasy Football drafts? It was probably the way I faded the entire Seahawks offense over concerns about the QB play.
Actually, "concerns" isn't the right word. I was pretty much convinced that the Seahawks were going to be one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and I wanted no part of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, or Kenneth Walker. The Seahawks, of course, ended up ninth in scoring last season behind a huge breakout season from Geno Smith.
What was that lesson? Approach the projections and rankings process with more humility. Predicting an NFL season for one team is pretty tough; predicting an entire season for all 32 teams? That's impossible, and I should always be open to the idea that I might be wrong, especially about my most strongly held opinions.
That's not to say I should abandon them, but I do want to make sure I'm not foreclosing the possibility that I might be reading a team entirely the wrong way. Today's newsletter is about grappling with the players and teams I'm most worried might end up being next year's cautionary tales for me as an analyst.
Before we get to that, there are a few things I want to make sure you check out. First up, I wrote about reports that came out Monday indicating that the Colts are giving Jonathan Taylor permission to speak to other teams about a trade. I wrote about what I see as if he does get traded, with my thoughts on how I would value Taylor if he did end up there. We're probably a long way from that whole situation being settled, but after what looked like a stalemate over the past couple of weeks, the Colts appear to have blinked.
Here's what else you need to make sure you see from the FFT team Monday:
- Heath Cummings' QB Preview: Check out Heath's projections for every relevant player, plus his sleeper, breakout, and bust picks, his overall QB strategy, and a whole lot else as he hits the position from every possible angle.
- Jamey Eisenberg's ADP Review: Jamey takes a look at the latest prices in CBS Fantasy drafts, highlighting his favorite values at every position, plus the players he won't be touching.
- Dave Richard's Preseason Film Review: Dave watched every snap from Daniel Jones this weekend and came away believing in his upside. On the other end of things, Dave saw some reason to be concerned about Russell Wilson and Tua Tagovailoa's performance.
And now, here are the players I'm most worried about being wrong about this season:
Players I'm worried I'm wrong about
Am I too high on?
I've drafted Godwin an awful lot lately, and our former colleague Ben Gretch did a good job of explaining the upside case for Godwin in his Stealing Signals newsletter a few weeks back. Basically, it comes down to this: Godwin is a really, really good player. We don't have to overcomplicate it, sometimes. The projected level of QB play in Tampa is why Godwin and Mike Evans are going as WR3s this season, and that's also why I may end up being way too high on Godwin. Just because Geno Smith was unexpectedly excellent last season doesn't mean the Baker Mayfield/Kyle Trask combination will do the same in Tampa. We just saw Mayfield play poorly enough to sink D.J. Moore's breakout hopes in Carolina, and if he plays at that level again, it might not matter how good I think Godwin or Evans are.
If you've been reading this newsletter for a while, you know I'm pretty much all-in on Kupp continuing to be maybe the most productive player in Fantasy. I wrote last week about why Kupp is back to being my No. 2 WR and a top-five pick in all Fantasy formats, and I'm a big believer in the chemistry he's developed with Matthew Stafford over the past couple of seasons. But, while I tend to be a bit more injury-risk agnostic than most Fantasy analysts, I'd be lying if I said my enthusiasm for Kupp didn't make me more than a little anxious. Every player's downside outcome includes injury risk not just for them but for their teammates as well, but there aren't many duos that carry as much apparent risk as this one.
Kupp is 30, coming off a season-ending ankle injury in 2022, and is now dealing with a hamstring injury in training camp; Stafford is 35, dealt with elbow issues last year (though those are, by all accounts, behind him), and has had multiple back injuries over the past few seasons, including a spinal cord contusion that ended his 2022 season. That's a pretty scary combination. There's massive upside here, and in a league where only 80-90 non-K/DSTs are starting in any given week, I'm almost always going to prioritize upside. But it's really easy to see how Kupp's season – and, by extension, mine – could go sideways.
I'm drafting Jacobs an awful lot, because he's my RB5 and is RB9 in ADP, which is leading to a lot of situations where I already have a running back and end up doubling down on the position because he's by far the best player left on the board. The risk here isn't so much that his hold out lasts into the regular season, but that he just isn't the same guy after skipping training camp and the preseason. Jacobs doesn't need the reps to learn the offense, and at 25, I'm not worried about him suddenly losing it.
But I do think there's value in getting competitive reps in camp to get back up to speed after a long offseason, and it's possible Jacobs just isn't physically ready for Week 1 after skipping out on camp. Ideally, he would play his way into shape, but he would be doing so against players who have already gone through that process, leaving him at heightened risk of injury. If Jacobs can avoid those pitfalls, he's going to be an elite Fantasy RB this season, but I'll be holding my breath for that first week or two when he's back with the team.
Seahawks WRs not named Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Concerns about target competition are, generally speaking, overrated. Remember fading Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith a year ago because of the additions of Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown? That was a mistake. Generally speaking, the more great target earners are on the field at once for an offense, the more targets tend to get concentrated – Jason Smith-Njigba is probably taking targets from Noah Fant, Marquise Goodwin, Will Dissly, and Colby Parkinson, who combined for 177 a year ago, not from Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. I'm projecting Smith-Njigba to play a big role, but to be a clear third on the Seahawks in targets in 2023, and he could still be a very productive Fantasy option.
However, the Seahawks ran just 62.5% of their pass plays with three or more wide receivers on the field last season, the 27th-lowest mark in the league, and while that should change with the addition of Smith-Njigba, if it doesn't, someone is going to be left out often enough to be a nuisance. If Smith-Njigba is a superstar from Day 1, it could lead to some disappointment from Lockett and Metcalf, who I've drafted a lot so far. I probably need to make a point to snag Smith-Njigba in at least a few of my drafts over the next few weeks as a hedge – and his wrist surgery makes it more, not less, likely I'll draft him if it causes his price to fall. I wasn't planning on being able to trust Smith-Njigba to start the season anyway, but there's clearly upside here if he's back relatively quickly, as hoped:
Seahawks’ first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba is undergoing wrist surgery today in Philadelphia, but still could have a chance to be ready for the start of the regular season, per sources. Surgery will determine how long he will miss. He hurt his wrist Saturday night vs. Dallas.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 22, 2023
I've written a lot about the 49ers "math problem" this offseason, which is just my way of saying that there are an awful lot of mouths to feed in an offense that doesn't seem likely to throw the ball very often. In the three seasons under Kyle Shanahan where the 49ers have had a winning record, they haven't ranked higher than 26th in pass attempts. Samuel overcomes that by being a high-volume short-area target and with his work in the running game, but he had just 18 carries in six games with Christian McCaffrey playing a full role last season. Can he really be worth a top-20 WR ADP (and a third-round pick) if he's only getting three carries per game. It's possible, but probably pretty unlikely, given all the other pass-catchers here.
I'm ranking Mixon as a top-30 player, while his ADP over the past week is still just inside of the top 45 overall in NFFC drafts. This is one where I'll admit, I have a hard time seeing how I'm going to be wrong, because Mixon seems locked into a role that gave the starting RB 248 carries and 89 targets in 16 starts (Mixon for 14, Samaje Perine for two), in an offense we expect to be one of the best in the league. But I'm so much higher on Mixon than pretty much anyone else that I end up drafting him in pretty much every league I'm doing right now, and that level of exposure to a single player is pretty tough to stomach – if anything goes wrong, it's going to leave me without one of my first three or four picks in a lot of leagues. Mixon has had enough off-the-field stuff swirling around him that it's not impossible to see a scenario where the Bengals just decide he isn't worth the trouble. It's not likely, but he'll need to stay on his best behavior.
Am I too low on?
The Steelers offense
This is another one where I worry I'm making the same mistake I did with the Seahawks a year ago. I'm just not a believer in Kenny Pickett, who wasn't really on NFL radars until a breakout season as a fifth-year senior in college and who managed to start play 11 full games without more than one passing touchdown as a 24-year-old rookie. I'm worried he's just not an NFL-caliber player, and he'll hold the receiving options back as a result. If Pickett is even average, George Pickens and Diontae Johnson can probably do a lot of damage, and Pat Freiermuth is certainly talented enough to emerge as a must-start tight end, too. I've drafted all three pass-catchers at various points this offseason, so I'm not avoiding them entirely, but even one or two shares may end up being too little if Pickett exceeds my low expectations.
The Jets offense
I'm not out on Aaron Rodgers and crew – Rodgers is QB15 for me, and he's QB17 in ADP; Garrett Wilson is WR9 in ADP and WR10 in my rankings, and so on. But I haven't been targeting this offense aggressively, and I'm worried I may be making the same mistake I made when Tom Brady got to Tampa coming off his worst season in years. I largely faded the Buccaneers pass-catchers that season and Brady, and it ended up being a huge mistake. I'm burying Rodgers or any of the other Jets offense, but there's usually someone more excited about them in every draft, and if Rodgers bounces back to anywhere close to his MVP level, I'm going to be hurting.
DJ Moore, WR, Bears
As I noted in my Bears preview, 26% of Justin Fields' dropbacks didn't end in a pass attempt, by far the highest mark in the NFL. I'm assuming that is, to a large extent, just a function of how Fields plays the QB position – he's simply going to take sacks and scramble on dropbacks more often than any other QB in the NFL. Combine that with what will likely continue to be a low-volume pass offense, and it's just hard for me to justify Moore being a top-20 WR … but I'd be lying if I said the constant drumbeat out of Bears camp about how productive that duo has been wasn't making me question it. What if Fields takes a leap forward as a passer? What if Moore is just so good with Fields that he can overcome relatively limited volume? What if, like A.J. Brown last season, he combines both high-end efficiency and volume and emerges as a truly elite Fantasy option? I'm a big believer in Moore's talent level, so if Fields is more productive as a passer than I expect, I'm going to regret passing on Moore as much as I have.
I'm starting to buy into Cook a bit more, and I'm probably going to move him into my top 24 when I update my rankings this week … which probably still means I'm not going to end up drafting him, because his ADP is up to RB20 over the past week. Cook has no track record dating back to college of being used as a high-volume back, but the Bills have certainly operated this preseason like they think he can do it. I'm skeptical, but not so skeptical that I'll feel comfortable going into the season without him on any one of the dozen or so teams I play out. Which means I'm running out of time to make sure I end up with him on at least one.
It feels like Lawrence is being treated as if he already made the leap last season, but I've argued many times this offseason that it was really only for about a month and a half. Lawrence had 13 of his 25 passing touchdowns in a five-game stretch from mid-November to mid-December, and he followed that stretch up with one touchdown pass in his final three regular season games and six in his final five, with six interceptions.
I think Lawrence is a fine starting Fantasy QB, but he's often drafted well ahead of the Deshaun Watson/Tua Tagovailoa tier, which is where I have him ranked, so I haven't drafted him yet. But Lawrence is an elite talent who added Calvin Ridley to what was already a very good receiving corps, and I'd be lying if I said I was completely comfortable without him on any of my rosters. I'm probably not going to change that over the next few weeks, because I can't really justify a fourth or fifth-round pick on Lawrence – it just doesn't fit with my QB strategy – but I'm not entirely comfortable with that, either.
As I wrote in yesterday's newsletter, I'm probably going to move Waller up in my tight end rankings, probably ahead of Kyle Pitts as my TE4. That probably won't be enough to make sure I get him after he was targeted four times on eight targets in the Giants preseason game last week. To be fair, my concerns about Waller aren't necessarily that he can't or won't be good, but that it might be asking too much to expect him to stay healthy for an entire season as a soon-to-be 31-year-old who has missed 14 games over the previous two seasons. If he does, even TE3 might not be high enough.