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10 Thoughts: Draft Season Edition Part III

In the final draft season edition of 10 Thoughts, we cover Mac Jones’ impact on the New England offense, Sony Michel’s potential value with the Rams, the elite tight end advantage, and much more.

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1) Mac Jones taking over as the starter bodes well for New England Patriots fantasy production.
When news broke that the Patriots were releasing Cam Newton the wheels in my head started spinning fast. The Patriots offense under Mac Jones will be very different from what we saw with Newton at the helm last year, in a good way. Jones himself is a bargain in superflex formats, and he’ll remain a bargain until the market corrects in a few days. All Patriots skill position players will benefit from the change. Damien Harris moves into high-end RB3 range — his touchdown equity is significantly increased with no Newton around to steal goal-line rush attempts, and he could even catch more passes. James White (who I already wrote about as one of my favorite picks this year) now looks like an absolute steal in drafts, as Mac Jones will target the RB position much more heavily than Cam Newton. I’m comfortable taking White as early as the 10th round. Passing volume and efficiency will increase in general, and all NE pass-catchers deserve to be bumped up a full round in drafts. I’m particularly high on Jakobi Meyers in the 10th round and Jonnu Smith in the 11th round, but I also think Nelson Agholor and Hunter Henry are great values in the later rounds. The tight ends could catch a ton of touchdowns in this offense. 

2) Sony Michel has a real chance to impact the Rams backfield.
Michel is being drafted in the ninth round in most high-stakes leagues currently, and while some think that the price is too high, I disagree for multiple reasons. First, I don’t think that Sean McVay trusts Darrell Henderson as a featured back at all. McVay drafted Cam Akers early with Henderson already on the roster, didn’t feature Henderson in most games Akers missed last year, and he traded a legitimate asset in a fourth-rounder to get Sony. Second, the RB role in the Rams backfield is elite. We’ve seen Todd Gurley and Cam Akers dominate in featured roles in the McVay offense over the years with Jared Goff at quarterback. Michel has a chance to get plenty of the backfield touches in this year’s McVay offense that will score a ton of points with Matthew Stafford under center. Michel is also a more prototypical goal-line back than Darrell Henderson. And, finally, I think Sony Michel is actually a decent running back now that he’s healthy. Per RotoViz, in 2020 Michel was 16th among all RB’s in fantasy points over expectation per game (2.4), which was far better than Darrell Henderson (0.2). Sony is being drafted 40 picks later than Darrell Henderson, do what you will with that information. 

3) Having an elite tight end is still the most clear-cut advantage in fantasy football.
Every year we see very high win rates for teams that roster the few elite fantasy tight ends, and it’s impossible to replicate that advantage. There’s a massive gap between the upper echelon of tight ends and everyone else that doesn’t exist at any other position, hence the unreplicable advantage. This year’s top three of Kelce, Waller, and Kittle all fit perfectly into anchor RB builds, and I think their ADPs are still lucrative even with more people catching onto the importance of drafting them. The only way those three fail is injury, and having that peace of mind at the position is extremely rare and extremely valuable. As usual, we have a group of players attempting to vault into the elite tier in Kyle Pitts, T.J. Hockenson, and Mark Andrews. I’m also a fan of drafting these players (in that order), but only if they fall a bit in drafts. Recent history tells us that the bust risk is very real, but they each have a chance to approach 200+ fantasy points in 2021. The advantage you would gain in that scenario is enormous, and that’s why I like taking the gamble on some occasions. I also want to add that too many analysts are comparing Kyle Pitts to past rookie tight ends when he projects to play much more like a traditional wideout in a high passing volume NFL era that has seen rookie wideouts excel in recent years. Pitts is a major risk in the late fourth/early fifth round, but his combination of talent and opportunity in the Atlanta offense could make him a superstar from day one. I’m not drafting Pitts every time, but I refuse to forgo the upside entirely, so I have some exposure.

4) Austin Ekeler’s goal-line role is one of fantasy football’s most impactful mysteries.
It’s hard to overstate how elite Austin Ekeler is in the passing game. Ekeler wasn’t quite as effective coming off a serious injury in 2020, but he still finished with a crazy 17.52% target share and posted a very impressive 1.76 yards per route run. Ekeler could approach 110 targets in 2021, which makes him an elite PPR back almost by itself, but is he worth an early second-round pick? I haven’t been taking Ekeler there most of the time, and it’s because he’s never gotten the goal-line carries needed for elite upside. When Ekeler finished as the RB4 in 2019 he did it with just three rushing TDs… and eight receiving TDs. Receiving TDs are even more variable season to season than rushing TDs are, so you can’t draft Ekeler counting on him to score the majority of TDs through the air. The hard truth is that we can’t say with any sort of confidence that Ekeler will be the Chargers goal-line back because he’s never been used in that role. The team has zero RB talent behind Ekeler on the depth chart, so he has that in his favor, but the odds are still stacked against him. If Ekeler does get the goal-line carries, he’s an elite value in the second round and he could finish as the overall RB1, but if he doesn’t and you draft him there you’d be passing on a few running backs with better upside. Ekeler’s goal-line role or lack thereof will play a big role in deciding fantasy leagues in 2021. 

5) There are multiple high upside handcuffs that are essentially free in drafts.
Between injuries, preseason depth chart developments, and the general roster chaos that takes place at this time of the year there are players that move into sneaky good roles without the market realizing it until later on. Specifically, I’m talking about handcuff running backs like Ty’Son Williams on the Ravens, Ty Johnson on the Jets, and Qadree Ollison on the Falcons. These guys are basically free in most formats right now, and yet, they’d all likely lead their respective backfields if the RB ahead of them were to go down with an injury. These under-the-radar handcuff backs are my favorite picks at the end of drafts because they provide real upside at little to no cost.

6) One of Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards will smash their ADP.
With news that John Brown was released, Ruggs and Edwards are the only options on the outside for Las Vegas, and one of them is highly likely to score the second-most points in the offense behind Darren Waller. One of these guys should be able to replicate Nelson Agholor’s 2020 production (WR34 overall in PPR) or surpass it. The hard part is deciphering which player it’ll be. On one hand, Ruggs is the better athlete, he has the better draft pedigree, and he battled injuries last year that may have contributed to his struggles. On the other hand, Edwards is the better red-zone threat, he’s received more praise in camp, and Derek Carr has had success with receivers in his mold. There’s speculation that Jon Gruden is hellbent on making Ruggs a featured piece to prove that he wasn’t a wasted pick, but it’s pure speculation at this point. I don’t think there’s any way to make a qualified decision here based on the information we have, so I’ve been occasionally taking shots on both players late in drafts to ensure that I have the right guy in some leagues. Both players are available in the 12th round or later, so there should be massive value if you pick the right receiver. 

7) Kenny Gainwell is the perfect late-round running back selection.
Reports out of Eagles training camp say that Gainwell already has a role in the passing game, and there’s obviously massive upside if Miles Sanders were to go down. Bo Wulf of The Athletic recently had this to say about the Eagles RB room — “Miles Sanders has struggled with drops throughout the summer after a 2020 season in which he seemed bewitched as a receiver. If those struggles continue, there’s an opening for fifth-round rookie Kenneth Gainwell to emerge as the primary pass-catching threat out of the backfield, which is a role that will get a lot of work in Nick Sirianni’s offense. Boston Scott is in the mix as well, but Gainwell’s hands are as advertised.” Gainwell beat out Antonio Gibson for starting RB duties when the two were at Memphis, and he was extremely productive in all facets of the game. While he’s being penciled in as a receiving back, Gainwell is 201 pounds, so he can handle a solid amount of carries as well. Gainwell is an intriguing talent in a backfield with plenty of present opportunities, and he has massive handcuff upside. Targeting backs like this that can help you now and possibly win you your league if things break the right way down the road is sharp. Gainwell’s 15th round ADP is going to rise steadily until Week 1 kicks off, but he projects as a great value regardless.

8) Gus Edwards is being drafted too late.
Gus Edwards is being drafted around pick 55 as the RB22 in high-stakes formats following his ascension to the top of the Ravens depth chart post-Dobbins injury. Edwards is also being drafted later than Mike Davis, Josh Jacobs, and Miles Sanders. Edwards has proven that he’s more than capable as a rusher over the last few seasons, averaging a robust 5.0+ YPC in every season he’s played in the NFL. The Ravens paid him real money this summer as well, and they have zero established backs behind him, so there’s no doubt that he’s going to carry the load in the ground game. Even if the team does sign another back, there’s nobody out there who will challenge Gus for the lion’s share of carries. Edwards is slightly less talented than J.K. Dobbins, but he should be able to replicate around 90 percent of Dobbins’ expected production in the Ravens powerhouse rushing attack. Dobbins was being drafted 30th overall before his injury and you can draft Gus Edwards 55th overall… make it make sense. I’m not sure why drafters aren’t buying Edwards, but I’m happy to get exposure at this discounted price in certain roster builds.

9) Chris Herndon is an interesting flier at fantasy’s thinnest position.
Herndon showed potentially elite receiving prowess from the tight end position with the Jets as a rookie in 2018, but injuries and Adam Gase decimated him from 2019-2020. Fast forward to 2021, and Herndon fell out of favor with the new Jets coaching staff in training camp this season before being shipped to Minnesota, where they just lost Irv Smith for the season. Herndon has a chance to carve out a big receiving role with the Vikings, and his only competition for TE targets is Tyler Conklin. Herndon could be done, and maybe the burgeoning star from 2018 is nowhere to be found these days, but what if Herndon can still play? It’s unlikely, but Herndon could end up finishing as a back-end TE1 if he still has most of the juice he showed as a rookie. Herndon was top 10 in yards per reception, yards per target, and yards per route run as a rookie, and he had the best true catch rate of any tight end in the NFL — the talent is real if it’s still there. Herndon is practically free in drafts, so I’m throwing the dart where I can.

10) I’m completely out on Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers at ADP.
I love Mike Evans (40.1 ADP) and Chris Godwin (43.1 ADP) as talents, but Gio Bernard will command far more targets than last year’s poor pass-catching RB group. Antonio Brown (78.4 ADP) is settled in for a full season with the team after commanding 62 targets in only eight games as a midseason addition. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are back healthy, and there will likely be more targets for the Buccaneers tight end group as a whole. The team’s three receivers will collectively weigh down the individual ceilings for each receiver due to a balanced target share, and with the other positional groups likely to see more targets and the Bucs defense looking strong, I’m out on all Tampa wideouts at ADP. I think all three receivers could have strong years, but other wideouts drafted around them have more upside, and I’m not willing to sacrifice that. You’re probably wondering why I’m out on Brown in the seventh round. Brown’s ADP is somewhat appealing, but he was horribly inefficient last year and he’s 33 years old, so I’d rather draft Courtland Sutton, Laviska Shenault, DeVonta Smith, or Deebo Samuel in that range. The only way I see one of these receivers being a big win at ADP is if one of the others suffers a major injury, and I’m not willing to bank on that happening. 

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