Maybe you spend your summer on vacation, having fun, doing outdoors stuff, traveling about. Maybe you haven’t done much fantasy prep. This is where I come in. Here are observations and ideas about the fantasy player pool to help you in this final, critical draft weekend. And here's also a more draft-centric piece to help you in the coming hours.
Running Back Thoughts
• Dameon Pierce was the summer’s big winner, a fourth-round pick who quickly earned a featured job in Houston. The Texans should be better than many think; Davis Mills is a competent second-year quarterback, and the offensive line should at least be average — perhaps better than average.
• I lean Jonathan Taylor over Christian McCaffrey at the 1.01 slot, but it’s close. Taylor has never missed a practice or game since he started playing football, all levels. His floor is higher. McCaffrey’s upside can’t be ignored, though; if you assumed every back played a full schedule (which obviously won’t happen, but stick with me), CMC would be the gigantic favorite to outscore everybody.
• I’d rather be a year early than a year late, for both breakouts and fallbacks. So I’m green light on Javonte Williams, but red light on Derrick Henry. If you want more thoughts on the aging curves of running backs, I talk more about that here.
• Damien Harris lived in the red zone last year, but Rhamondre Stevenson is the Patriots back with the biggest upside.
• Miles Sanders was comically unlucky with touchdowns this year, but he’s had a rough summer and the Eagles have a crowded running back room. They also have Jalen Hurts, an aggressive running quarterback. I was pro-Sanders in the spring, but I’ve flipped that take in August.
•The Raiders don’t have a long-term investment in Josh Jacobs, and there's a new coaching staff there. The run blocking could be a problem all year.
• The Chiefs kept four running backs, which tells you they have low expectations for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Forget his draft pedigree, it doesn’t mean much now.
• D’Andre Swift said he wants 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, but most players project their future with wide optimism. Just be cognizant that this team will always like Jamaal Williams, too.
• The Packers only have two running backs, which means Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon can both pay off at their ADP. I wouldn’t want to draft them on the same fantasy roster, but I’ll consider each of them in my drafts. In many instances, Jones is a perfect second-round pick.
• Alvin Kamara had poor efficiency last year and he’s without the quarterback and head coach who used him perfectly. It’s also the worst offensive line the Saints have had since Kamara turned pro, and although Kamara’s 2022 suspension risk has come down in recent months, it’s still greater than zero.
• Everyone should know this already, but no matter what RB build you prefer (Robust RB, Anchor RB, Zero RB), your bench should be overflowing with plausible upside candidates. What player is “one news item away” from blasting off to the moon? More than any other position, running back is the fantasy spot where ordinary talent can become fantasy royalty if the usage is consistent and projectable.
• Follow the money — the Dolphins want Chase Edmonds to be the guy.
• I’m fine with Antonio Gibson if he’s one of your bench players. He’s always maintained an interesting upside, even when it looked like Brian Robinson would be the Week 1 starter. (Get better soon, Brian Robinson. You got this, man.)
• It's been a messy summer for Cam Akers, and we always worry about backs with Achilles injuries in recent history. Darrell Henderson has been one of my most common draftees.
• Tony Pollard looks like the best current back in Dallas, but the Pokes are likely to play to Ezekiel Elliott’s legacy and contract. Also, remember Dallas lost star LT Tyron Smith in late August.
Wide Receiver Thoughts
• My most common roster build is one star running back I can hang my hat on (a first- or second-round pick), and then a bunch of receivers. I want the best receiver room in my league. I want receivers who start themselves; I don’t want to try to guess what week the WR45 is going to pop. (That said, housekeeping item — I’ll be doing our weekly sleeper picks piece this year.)
• Michael Pittman is a perfect third-round pick, entering a target hog entering Year 3. Matt Ryan might not be great, but he’s better than Carson Wentz.
• Speaking of Wentz, no matter what you think of him, he’s still the best QB Terry McLaurin has played with. And that angle is even more fun when you think of DJ Moore in Carolina; Moore is my favorite fourth-round pick when he’s available there.
• George Pickens should be a star someday, and I’m optimistic about where Chris Olave and Drake London are headed. I could see Treylon Burks being useful in the second half of the year. But if you’re looking for this year’s Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson, stop; they were outliers. I’d rather draft the Year 2 wideouts, not the rookies.
• You want receivers who have skill sets that neatly match the skills of their quarterback. You want cohesion in preferred routes. Amon-Ra St. Brown checks this box, running routes that are Jared Goff-friendly. But Michael Thomas and Jameis Winston might be a shaky connection.
• You can take Justin Jefferson as early as you want, and I’ll salute the pick.
• Mike Evans has lived in the end zone (27 spikes) since Tom Brady came to town. That’s not going away. Julio Jones is more of a tight-end these days, a big target for the middle of the field. Rob Gronkowski’s 2021 numbers could make sense for Julio’s 2022 projection.
• Follow the money — the Jaguars want Christian Kirk to be the guy.
• If boring value is your jam, Adam Thielen waits for you. You won’t earn hipster cred when you take him, but he can easily meet or exceed returns on his ADP. Those tight-spacing touchdowns are an easy button Minnesota will continue to press. (If you want upscale Boring Value Jam, Brandon Cooks is waiting.)
• The Davante Adams-Aaron Rodgers connection will be sorely missed, but Adams and Derek Carr were pinball wizards back in their Fresno State days. This is still a wheels-up situation.
• Mike Williams outscored Keenan Allen last year and still is an eyelash more ADP-affordable now. I don’t expect Allen to crater, but the value shopper angle is Williams.
• Rashod Bateman can be a tricky evaluation (lovely college stats, curious measurable metrics), but the Ravens shoved all-in on Bateman when they traded Hollywood Brown and did little to help an otherwise-thin receiver room. Baltimore will have a narrow passing tree, even if rookie tight end Isiah Likely becomes a thing.
• The industry is more optimistic about Chris Godwin’s seamless return, and that’s fine. Draft who you trust. I love the player, but I would not want to consider Godwin until my WR starting room was filled.
• DeAndre Hopkins opens with a six-game suspension and his efficiency had leaks last year. If I’m a year early to the decline, fine — but I can’t draft Hopkins proactively.
• Often it's a case of loving the player, hating the ADP. Deebo Samuel fits that suit; my favorite player I'm unlikely to draft. Last year's rushing production can only go down, and perhaps Trey Lance winds up clicking more with George Kittle or Brandon Aiyuk.
Tight End Thoughts
• No, I don’t think Rob Gronkowski is coming back, though it would be fun. I wouldn’t use a roster spot on him unless you are in a league with enormous bench space.
• Cole Kmet has a locked-in target share, and his touchdown rate should normalize now that goal-line disruptor Jimmy Graham is gone.
• Dalton Schultz doesn’t have a silly upside, but he’s a protected No. 2 target in Dallas, tied to a plus quarterback. And every opponent will be more focused on CeeDee Lamb.
• I am generally not a vanity tight-end drafter, but I might have to get a late FOMO share on Kyle Pitts. Last year’s touchdown count was a stone fluke. There’s no good way to defend Pitts, and he doesn’t turn 22 until October.
• Austin Hooper was a boring but useful 70-catch guy in his Atlanta days. Tennessee needs him to be that again.
• David Njoku has one top-10 season on the resume, and he’s at worst the second passing option in Cleveland. Jacoby Brissett is a lesser-standing QB, but his skills match up with how Njoku commonly wins.
• Dallas Goedert’s efficiency is a dream. Maybe this will click with Jalen Hurts this year, maybe not. I have some Goedert shares, just in case. And if Gardner Minshew ever plays (he fueled Goedert’s best game last year), we’re headed to the moon.
• It was an up-and-down summer for Albert Okwuegbunam, but I saw more good than bad. If you want a juicy, upside tight end pick for late rounds, Albert O servers a marker. Rookie Greg Dulcich won’t be ready for the first month.
• The Patriots' passing game is super-crowded, and Hunter Henry is unlikely to get last year’s touchdown deodorant.
• Josh Allen is a dream, but I generally don’t like my roster builds when I take an early vanity QB. I’ll let someone else break the seal.
• Russell Wilson is doing what Tom Brady did: He’s getting a team and talent upgrade at the perfect time. A monster year is likely.
• Aaron Rodgers might be the two-time defending MVP, but his ordinary receiver room makes him undraftable for me.
• I can’t imagine every talent evaluator was wrong on Trevor Lawrence. Give the kid a mulligan; Urban Meyer had no idea what he was doing. Jacksonville should be a frisky 6-11 or 7-10 this year, frisky and in many ways, fantasy fun.
• I see the upside for Trey Lance (you may have heard a running quarterback is a cheat code), but I won’t draft him like he’s a sure thing. He’s thrown fewer than 400 passes in his last four collective seasons. Sure, we’ve seen monster sophomore breakouts at this position, they’re common. Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, even Wentz waves hello. But all of them had more of a resume to point to than Lance does. And the Jimmy Garoppolo re-signing should give you a little pause too.
Bottom line, quarterback is the easiest fantasy position to solve, and I see plenty of other quarterbacks who fit my plans more than Lance. If you disagree, no worries — that’s why we have a game.
• Kirk Cousins didn’t get along with Mike Zimmer, it’s well known. Now Cousins gets to riff with Kevin O’Connell, fresh off the Sean McVay tree. This offense is receiving an exciting remodel at the perfect time. Minnesota’s also an interesting prop team, at plus odds to win the NFC North and probably a good ticket for over 9.5 wins. The schedule starts rough, but doesn’t look daunting overall.
• Justin Fields needs a lot more help in Chicago, but the coaching can’t be any worse. If you miss out on the exciting mobile QBs in the front of the draft, Fields at least offers some of the same plausible upside.
• If you’re one of the latest teams in your league to grab a starting quarterback, be first to get your second quarterback.