1) The Marquez Callaway hype is warranted.
Marquez Callaway is now being taken in the ninth round in sharp high-stakes leagues around players like Marvin Jones Jr. At first glance that seems like a reach, but with Jameis Winston assuming starting duties, Callaway has the final feather in his cap. Callaway has been dominating training camp and he exploded for 5/104/2 in just the first half with Jameis Winston last time out in the preseason. The two showed off incredible chemistry, which makes sense because they worked together on the second team throughout last season. From a projection standpoint, Callaway has absolutely nobody of concern to challenge him for targets until Michael Thomas returns midway through the season. Even then, Callaway looks like the No. 2 wideout in a potent offense at worst. It feels like it’s too early, but I’m in on Callaway in the ninth round, and in most home leagues he will likely last until at least the 12th round, where he would be an elite value pick.
2) Darrell Henderson’s fall from grace is a dead zone cautionary tale, and Mike Davis could be next.
Even the best of us get fooled by the dead zone at times. Last week I was talking up Henderson as one of the “exceptions” that makes sense as a dead zone RB, but dead zone RB’s are usually taken in the dead zone for a reason. Alas, days later the Rams traded a fourth-round pick for Sony Michel, and this now looks like a timeshare. A fourth-rounder is actually a premium to pay for a veteran back, and Adam Schefter noted that he expects Michel to get plenty of opportunities. The lesson here is that we should’ve seen this coming. Sean McVay never treated Henderson like a featured back in the past and there was little depth behind him. Mike Davis is in a similar situation with projected volume and zero established depth behind him. Maybe Davis is the rare dead zone back that actually gets the projected volume, but I’m not taking that risk in the fifth or sixth round with so many stud wideouts still left on the board.
3) Calvin Ridley could easily finish as the overall WR1 this season.
I cannot overstate how much I love Calvin Ridley this season. Ridley is being taken in the early second round of high-stakes formats, so I’m not the only one. I still have Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and Tyreek Hill ranked above him in that order, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Ridley outscores them all. Ridley has everything you need to reach overall WR1 status in 2021. Bad defense that will increase the offense’s passing volume? Check. Quarterback who can support a WR1? Check. Elite talent who can win at every level on the field? Check. Potential for historic target share? Check. You get the point, but I also want to add that Ridley averaged around 11 targets and 150 air yards per game without Julio last year, which is ridiculous. If Ridley stays healthy he’s going to absolutely smash.
4) Anchor running back is a hard strategy to beat if it’s executed properly.
For those not familiar, anchor RB is a strategy in which you take one stud first or second round RB early and stack the other positions before drafting your RB2 later on. I believe that there are two deviations of anchor RB that are superior to all other draft strategies this season (though I also believe zero RB is viable in some formats), and they vary based on where you select your RB2. Option one is to select one of Javonte Williams, Kareem Hunt, Trey Sermon, Raheem Mostert, or Damien Harris in the 5th-8th rounds as your RB2. Option two is to wait until the 10th round or later and target one or more of the Nyheim Hines, Jamaal Williams, James Conner, or Kenyan Drake group to be your Week 1 RB2. With both options, you should be filling your bench up with upside handcuffs like Damien Williams, Tony Pollard, Chuba Hubbard, and Alexander Mattison. I understand that option two seems like a tough pill to swallow, but the Hines/ Williams/Conner/Drake guys can reliably get you 10 PPG in your RB2 slot until one of your handcuffs is thrust into a lead role and/or a waiver wire RB pickup presents itself. Eventually, you will find a solid to plus RB2 while being dominant at QB/WR/TE due to the early draft capital you spent at those positions. Anchor RB is anti-fragile, easy to execute, and it sets you up to have your team performing the best later in the year when playoffs arrive — it’s my favorite way to go this year.
5) Terrace Marshall is quietly set up to smash his ADP.
I wrote about how much I like this year’s wide receiver class as a whole last week, but I want to zero in on Terrace Marshall because he hasn’t received the hype he deserves. Marshall was hand-picked by Joe Brady to start in the slot right away after the tandem dominated together at LSU in the past. The slot WR position in Joe Brady’s offense is extremely valuable as we saw with Justin Jefferson at LSU and Curtis Samuel in 2020 when he finished as the WR23 in that role. Marshall, who is 6-foot-2 205 pounds, will face slot corners who won’t be able to compete with his size. I believe that the rookie wideout has a great shot at finishing as a WR3 in 2021 despite the fact that he’s being drafted in the 12th/13th rounds in high-stakes leagues and the 15th round or later in casual home leagues.
6) Najee Harris deserves to be drafted ahead of most second-tier running backs.
Harris has really started to rise after his preseason usage confirmed that he will indeed be a bonafide bell-cow back. Harris is now being taken early in the second round ahead of Jonathan Taylor, Antonio Gibson, Austin Ekeler, and Joe Mixon. In full PPR leagues, I have a hard time taking Harris over Ekeler, but otherwise, I’m on board. Harris is a potentially elite talent who can dominate in the trenches and in space at 6-foot-1 232 pounds and he should approach 300 touches. Dreaming on Harris’ upside in 2021 is fun, but he is still a rookie and the Steelers offensive line and offense as a whole is questionable. Those factors should be considered, but I think they’re baked into his ADP even in the early second round, and volume is king. I love starting my teams with Adams, Diggs, Hill, or Kelce in the first round followed by Harris in the second round.
7) Utilizing your draft slot to plan for the draft is a big advantage.
What do I mean by this? Whether you know your draft slot hours or months before the draft, you can use that information to have an idea of the structural builds/players that will likely be available for you. First, note the picks you’ll have in every round of your snake draft (googling “12 team snake draft order” works if you don’t want to do the math). For example, with the fifth overall pick, you would also have the 20th, 29th, 44th, 53rd picks, etc. Now that you’ve done that, go into the draft room and look at each pick and the players available by ADP at that point in the draft. Now you can plan out your roster build and specific player targets. As an example, in a high-stakes FFPC league with the fifth overall pick, my plan would be to start something like this with my first five picks — Ezekiel Elliott (5th), A.J. Brown (20th), Terry McLaurin (29th), D.J. Moore (44th), and Javonte Williams (53rd). Of course, you should also have multiple backup plans for each pick just in case, because drafts are very unpredictable. I like to plan out my first eight or so rounds in every draft I take part in; it’s been a very successful exercise that makes draft day more fun than stressful.
8) Don’t forget to consider the team environment around players.
Talent, efficiency, and volume are what we look at as the three key factors when evaluating players, but, while talent is independent of external factors, efficiency and volume are not. For this reason, we must consider how a player is impacted by the team he is on. I weigh the following team factors most heavily when evaluating players:
– Pace: Faster pace = higher play volume = more fantasy points.
– Quality of the team’s defense: Teams with bad defenses will throw more and run less to come back in games, which is good for QB’s, pass-catching RB’s, and WR’s, but bad for ground-game RB’s. Teams with good defenses will run more and throw less to maintain leads, which is bad for QB’s, pass-catching RB’s, and WR’s, but good for ground-game RB’s.
– Offensive line play: A good offensive line makes the whole team more efficient on offense, while a poor offensive line can tank efficiency. Most talented players can overcome poor o-line play, but it’s still a consideration.
– Scheme/coaching: Would you rather have a player in the Adam Gase system, or the Kyle Shanahan system? Coaching matters, a lot. Coaches that tailor their systems to fit their personnel (the Ravens, Bills, 49ers, and Chiefs coaches come to mind) increase upside for the key offensive players on those teams.
9) If you’re willing to take the risk, drafting based on your narrative can pay off.
If you’re in an ultra-competitive league you need a lot to go right in order to win it all. One way to maximize your chances is to draft based on a narrative, even if it’s a very risky thing to do. For instance, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Titans offense could change this year. The Titans project to have a poor defense, Derrick Henry has been worked to the limit over the last couple of seasons, they added Julio Jones, and new OC Todd Downing was pass-happy the last time he had the job. What I’m saying is that there’s a chance that the team decides to embrace a high-volume passing attack that could be dominant. Maybe Derrick Henry gets hurt, maybe the defense is too poor to run the ball a lot, or maybe Todd Downing shifts the team’s philosophy. If you draft as though a Tennessee passing explosion is going to happen and it actually does happen, you gain a massive amount of ground on the competition who isn’t drafting that way. The Titans narrative is just one example, and there are many narratives that you can keep in mind when drafting.
10) Jameis Winston is now extremely undervalued.
The last time we saw Jameis Winston play a full season as a starting NFL QB he finished as the overall QB5 while averaging 19.1 PPG. Winston is confirmed as the Saints Week 1 starter, he underwent Lasik surgery in the offseason, and he’s now being coached by one of the game’s most brilliant offensive minds in Sean Payton. Even after news broke that Winston is the starter he’s still being drafted outside the top 20 QB’s, which doesn’t make sense. Winston undoubtedly has QB1 potential in the Saints offense this season and drafting him anywhere after the 12th round is a massive win.