1) I’m finally coming around on D’Andre Swift.
It took a long time, but after being out on Swift for much of the Summer (scared of bad coaching, health, and bad scoring environment) I’m back in for a couple of reasons. First, Swift is healthy enough that head coach Dan Campbell declared him ready to go for Sunday’s game on Tuesday, so I’m no longer worried about the groin issue. Second, the more I think about it the more I realize that the Lions don’t have a choice — they have to feature Swift. Swift and Jamaal Williams will likely split carries fairly evenly, but I think Swift will get the high-value touches that we thirst for in fantasy football. Swift should have the goal-line role to himself, and at the very least he projects to do very well with the goal-line carries he does get. In 2020, Swift scored six touchdowns on 11 carries inside the five while Jamaal Williams scored just once on six carries inside the five. In the receiving game, Swift is the team’s best receiving threat outside of T.J. Hockenson. Beyond those two, Detroit has one of the worst WR cores in modern NFL history, with oft-injured journeyman Tyrell Williams projected to “lead the charge” if you will. Swift should legitimately push for 80+ targets if he stays healthy. Remember, this is a very bad team that will need to throw to come back in games, and Jared Goff is a big fan of short-area passes. Taking a running back at the top of the dead zone will always be a bit uncomfortable for me, but Swift is talented and his team has no choice but to lean on him, so count me in for a few shares.
2) Draft Rondale Moore.
I first heard Establish The Run’s Evan Silva (who is one of the best in the business) mention this, and it’s stuck with me ever since — Rondale Moore is like if Austin Ekeler was a slot receiver. It sounds hyperbolic, but as someone who watched plenty of Moore film prior to the draft, it’s pretty spot on. Moore has 4.37 jets and plenty of opportunities to usurp every Arizona Cardinals pass-catcher not named DeAndre Hopkins in the pecking order. The team spent premium draft capital on the speedster and it’s clear that they’re not satisfied with Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella. Moore also fits like a glove into Kliff Kingsbury’s “horizontal raid” scheme that emphasizes short-area passes and after-the-catch yardage. Preseason action served as confirmation that the team has big plans for Moore as well, as he racked up nine targets and three carries in only 47 snaps while playing almost exclusively in the slot. Moore is still being drafted in the 10th round in most places, making him one of the most intriguing picks in that range, if not THE most intriguing pick.
3) Noah Fant had a better 2020 season than he was given credit for, and he still has a chance to break out.
Fant’s 2020 surface-level fantasy numbers are very uninspiring, as he finished as the TE8 overall and averaged only 10 PPR points per game. There’s context that needs to be considered here though — Fant left two games extremely early due to injuries/illness and he also endured the famous Kendall Hinton practice squad wideout turned NFL quarterback game. If you remove those outliers Fant averaged 11.4 PPG, which would have made him the TE5 in PPG. Fant is being drafted as the TE8 in most formats despite the fact that he’s a supremely talented tight end that could breakout with a more accurate quarterback throwing to him this season. Yes, he has to contend with Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton for targets, but the target competition is being greatly exaggerated, and there’s a 100 target season there for the taking. Fant is one of my favorite TE values if I miss out on the first or second tier of guys at the position.
4) Sterling Shepard has been egregiously undervalued throughout draft season.
Sterling Shepard averaged 13.5 PPR points per game in 2020, good for WR33 overall in that regard. He did that despite catching just three touchdowns on 66 receptions, so positive touchdown regression could be in order. Shepard is being drafted as the WR63 despite the fact that he’s locked into a high target volume role while other receivers around him are dealing with injuries. I figured Shepard’s ADP would rise eventually, but he remains one of the very best values on the board. I guess people don’t like fantasy points unless they come from trendier, sexier picks, which is just fine with me.
5) I’ll be watching D.J. Chark very closely in Week 1.
Few players have as wide a range of outcomes as Chark does this season. Now that he’s back to 100 percent, it’s time to see if Urban Meyer believes in him as a receiver at the NFL level. Chark still has 4.39 40-yard dash speed, a 6′ 4″ frame, and great leaping ability. Additionally, he will be playing with by far the best quarterback of his NFL career in Trevor Lawrence. On the other hand, Chark was a disappointment in 2020 and Urban Meyer publicly called him out in the offseason. Training camp wasn’t much better with mediocre reviews and the injury. Chark’s role is completely in flux, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s the team’s alpha or if he’s third in line for targets while displaying little chemistry with Trevor Lawrence. Do you see what I mean about the wide range of outcomes? Chark has the physical tools to be a superstar and he finally has a talented quarterback, but there are so many role/health questions surrounding him that he could still fail. Chark is now being drafted in the ninth round, and I like taking the shot there, but he’s one of the players I’m most unsure about going into Week 1.
6) Tony Jones is now in a position to be one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy football.
If you’re not familiar with Jones, he’s the running back taking over as the Saints No. 2 RB following the release of Latavius Murray. The running back role in the Saints offense is extremely lucrative, and even middling talents can thrive when given the chance. Case in point — Latavius Murray cleared 20 points twice and also scored 36.7 points in one game in the three outings where Alvin Kamara was either out or banged up over the last two years. In leagues with two flex spots and/or three WR slots in the starting lineup, I’m often taking an anchor RB approach and hammering WRs until the later rounds. At that point, I love to take as many upside-handcuff-type backs as I can in hopes that things will break the right way for at least one of those guys, which would potentially give me another RB1/2 to go along with my anchor RB and elite WRs. Running backs like Jones can win leagues if things go their way, and I prioritize rostering them in all formats except leagues with very shallow benches.
7) Prioritize starting players in projected fast-paced/high total games in season-long and DFS.
Looking at pace in the form of plays per game in addition to vegas point totals is important when weighing a start/sit decision or deciding who to play in DFS lineups. Fast-paced, high-scoring games translate into more fantasy points scored, it’s that simple. So, if you need a reason to start Rondale Moore against Tennessee this week over a player like Mike Williams against Washington let the game totals (ARI/TEN 52 point total vs LAC/WAS 44.5 point total) and projected pace sway you towards Moore. That’s just one example, but in general, you can gain an edge on your opponents by factoring these things into your process because most fantasy players do not make the connection.
8) Paying very close attention to how offenses utilize personnel in Week 1 is crucial.
Before Week 1 everything is speculation. We hear plenty of tidbits throughout camp about how offenses will operate, but we don’t actually know until Week 1. In Week 1 we can manufacture a sizeable edge against our opponents going forward by simply paying very close attention to how offenses are utilizing their players. I’m going to be paying attention to things like — Will Arthur Smith carry over his extreme usage of two-tight end sets to Atlanta, or will he prioritize getting Russell Gage on the field over Hayden Hurst? Is Terrace Marshall going to be a featured part of the Panthers offense? Will D.J. Moore return to a more lucrative, lower aDOT role this year? Which running backs across the league are getting the first crack at goal-line work? There are many more things to take note of, but you get the point. Watching is important, but I’ll also be looking over snap counts and other team-specific data. It’s tempting to run through a six-pack (or two) of Coors Light with your buddies and lean into the Week 1 party, but there’s too much to gain. Watch like a hawk, reap the benefits, and then party next week while watching your observations pay off in the form of sweet, sweet fantasy points.
9) The Jaguars are telling us that they don’t want James Robinson to be heavily involved on third-downs, and we should listen.
Initially, I thought the market was underrating James Robinson in the wake of Travis Etienne’s season-ending foot injury, but now I feel that he’s actually overvalued. The draft capital the team spent on Etienne, Urban Meyer’s comments about wanting to add a running back, and then finally, the signing of Duke Johnson sealed it for me — the team doesn’t want James Robinson to play much on third downs. The Jags are already a bad team, and now it looks like Robinson won’t be getting a ton of passing-game work. In PPR leagues, I love the idea of selling high on Robinson after he inevitably goes off against the Houston Texans, who look to be worse than the Alabama Crimson Tide at this juncture.
10) I’m all the way out on Mecole Hardman.
I can’t find a single factor supporting Mecole Hardman’s fantasy outlook in 2021 besides the fact that he’s fast and he plays in the elite Chiefs offense. Unfortunately, that’s not enough, and I couldn’t be more out on him at his 10th round ADP. Hardman has never been a full-time player, and he once again appears to be out of the picture in two-receiver sets based on preseason usage. Hardman may be fast, but he’s unrefined and he’s never flashed any semblance of chemistry with Patrick Mahomes despite the pair having multiple years of practice/game reps together. A year ago, Hardman was 52nd among wideouts in yards per route run, so his inefficiency is as concerning as his inability to earn targets. I haven’t even mentioned that every Chiefs reporter seems to believe that the team is going to utilize a ton of two, three, and maybe even four tight-end formations. There’s no reason to draft Hardman over Marvin Jones, the rookie wideouts with upside, or even Sterling Shepard. If you do draft Hardman be prepared to tilt all year long when Demarcus Robinson plays ahead of him.