Zachariason: 8 Players You Should Be Avoiding in Fantasy Football Drafts This Year
The idea of avoiding players in fantasy football is a little too strong. Nearly every player is a worthwhile selection at some cost, but the term "avoid" says, "Hey, don't get that guy no matter what!"
Using the word in a title makes it a little catchier, though, doesn't it?
Last week, yours truly looked at players I'm looking to target in fantasy drafts this year. Today, we're peeping the opposite of that, or players you may want to consider passing on at their current average draft positions (ADP).
Don't fade them at all costs. Don't avoid them completely. Just be aware that, at least according to my brain, they may be a little overvalued entering the season.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Bigger platforms like Yahoo! or ESPN are likely to see that draft cost be a little higher. In fact, over on ESPN, Rodgers has a quarterback ADP of QB5. He's being selected ahead of Dak Prescott, and Russell Wilson.
More casual and home-league drafters are taking Rodgers early based on his MVP campaign from a season ago. Rodgers was a top-five quarterback in points per game after throwing 48 touchdowns last year. He was a machine.
But Rodgers also had a 9.1% touchdown rate (touchdowns divided by attempts), the second-highest mark in NFL history. He had the most goal-line touchdown passes ever in a single season. The Packers scored 64 offensive touchdowns, something that's been accomplished by just two teams since 2011.
All of those numbers tend to regress. Rodgers' career touchdown rate is 6.3%, significantly lower than his clip from 2020. Before last season and over the last decade, his highest goal-line touchdown total was 14. Teams who've hit 50 or more touchdowns in a season since 2011 have seen that total, on average, drop by 11 scores the following year.
Of course, Rodgers isn't being drafted as high as he finished last season. But consider this: had Rodgers finished last season with his career touchdown rate -- which is being pushed up a tad by his 2020 season -- he would've finished with 33 to 34 passing touchdowns. That's 14 fewer scores, or 56 fewer fantasy points. That would've taken him from QB4 in points per game to QB11.
Without a genuine rushing floor like other top quarterbacks, I'm not convinced Rodgers has a strong enough ceiling to justify his cost on some season-long platforms. Again, I've got him at QB9, but I'm still not selecting him much due to other values at the quarterback position elsewhere.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
The headline readers are irate right now. But you, intelligently reading this for context, are simply wondering why Derrick Henry, a beast of a running back, is on an avoids list.
This has everything to do with cost -- not how I view Henry as a player. My half-PPR rankings have Henry as the RB5, but he's usually drafted as the RB3. That seems like a small gap, but when you're talking about the beginning of a fantasy draft, the difference is more noteworthy.
If Henry was a late-first-round pick, he'd be much easier to select. We're just more than likely drafting him at his ceiling right now.
Last campaign, Henry rushed for more than 2,000 yards on the ground and scored 17 touchdowns. He became just the eighth running back in NFL history to hit the 2,000-yard mark, and he was just the second player since the merger to have 2,000 yards and 15 or more scores.
There's nothing wrong with 21 PPR points per game -- don't get me wrong -- but how can we be so confident that a player who just made literal football history is going to repeat such a performance?
Maybe the answer to that question is, "We're not expecting him to repeat the performance."
If that's the case, then you shouldn't be drafting him third overall.
If we assume 20.8 PPR points is Henry's ceiling, then we're admitting that he doesn't have "top running back in fantasy football" in his range of outcomes. Over the last three seasons, a points per game average of 20.8 would've placed Henry 3rd, 3rd, and 9th in running back scoring.
In a year where Henry broke the game of football, he still didn't come close to breaking the game of fantasy football.
And if we were to believe that his average points per game can increase, where exactly is that happening? What statistical category is going to get better for Henry?
He's probably not going to rush for 2,000 yards again, even with an added game to the schedule this year. We now have a five-year sample of Henry not being a primary pass-catcher out of the backfield, too -- his highest single-season target share was 6.7%, which came last year.
Are we expecting more touchdowns? If anything, we should expect fewer. Tennessee scored 59 touchdowns last year, and as I mentioned last week, touchdown totals tend to regress year over year. Not only that, but with a new offensive coordinator, a somewhat suspect defense, and another stud wide receiver on the roster, the Titans could rely more on the pass in 2021, leading to a pass-to-rush touchdown ratio that favors Ryan Tannehill more than Derrick Henry -- at least compared to the last two seasons.
It's not that Henry can't be an RB1 in fantasy football. It's that if you've got the third-overall pick in a fantasy draft, and you're drafting a player who you know has a very small chance to be the best player at his position, what's the point?
JK Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Like Derrick Henry, J.K. Dobbins is a great, efficient runner who's likely walking into a situation where he won't see a lot of work through the air.
Let's start with the obvious reason why, and that's the Baltimore Ravens' offense. Say what you want about their offseason moves in adding Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman -- they're still a team led by Lamar Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They may end up throwing the ball a little more, but even throwing it more wouldn't result in some significant change.
|Year||Pass Rate||Rank||5% Increase||Rank||10% Increase||Rank|
Over the last two seasons -- the two full seasons Lamar Jackson has played in -- Baltimore's ranked dead last in pass rate (pass attempts divided by total rush and pass attempts) both years. Even if you add five percentage points to that number, they'd still be the most run-heavy team in football. Even if you add 10 percentage points, you're looking at a bottom-five team in pass rate.
They can be more pass-heavy while still being incredibly run-heavy.
This is all made even worse for Dobbins when looking at how the Ravens have utilized their running backs as pass-catchers with Jackson under center.
|Year||RB Target Share||Rank||Total RB Targets||Rank|
Baltimore's not only been run-heavy, but they haven't thrown the ball toward their running backs all that much over the last two years.
Why should we care if our running backs are seeing volume through the air?
Well, we'd ideally want our third-round draft selections to have a shot at a true top-10, RB1 season, right? We shouldn't be drafting a third-round back to just watch him meet expectation as a fantasy football RB2.
Since 2011 -- over the last 10 years -- we've had 100 top-10 PPR running back seasons. (We'll look at top-10 here since that's generally where the line forms for league-winning running backs.)
Here's what that sample looked like in the targets department:
|Group||Number of Top-10 RBs|
|20 or Fewer Targets||2|
|30 or Fewer Targets||6|
|40 or Fewer Targets||11|
|50 or Fewer Targets||23|
Fewer than a quarter of top-10 running backs over the last decade ended up seeing 50 or fewer targets. And we can't even assume Dobbins gets there this season considering the Ravens' tendencies and the fact that they've averaged just 63 running back targets per year over the last two.
Only 11% of these top-10 running backs saw 40 or fewer targets.
The players who are finishing as top-10 running backs without passing game involvement are typically getting it done in the touchdown column. Of the 23 running backs with 50 or fewer targets who finished in the top 10, the average total touchdowns scored was 11.9 per season. The remaining 77 running backs in our sample of 100 running backs averaged 11.7 per season, despite scoring more fantasy points in sum.
This all makes a lot of sense intuitively. If a player finishes in the top 10 and we know he's not contributing a whole lot as a receiver, chances are, he's doing it with touchdowns.
And Dobbins should be able to find the end zone a good bit this year. The issue, aside from banking on that scoring production, is that we just don't know what his genuine ceiling is within the touchdown column.
The Ravens started making Mark Ingram inactive Week 8 of last year. He then played sporadically through the end of the season. From Week 8 through Week 17, running back Gus Edwards, in games played with Dobbins, had the same number of goal-line rushes (7) as Dobbins. Lamar Jackson was just four rushes behind the two.
There's a compounding concern with Dobbins. You've got what'll likely be not a whole lot of targets going his way this year. That means he'll have to be more touchdown-dependent than other upper-tiered backs. With that being the case, he'd need to capture a large percentage of rushing scores for Baltimore. But with Edwards and Jackson there, that may not be the easiest thing in the world to do.
Dobbins is a player who has a decent shot to meet expectation. He's a very good running back. It's just hard seeing him far exceeding it in this current Baltimore offense.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
If you've been doing best-ball drafts this offseason -- especially of late -- then you've probably been in drafts where Josh Jacobs has dropped a little too far. Yes, he hasn't been as involved as a pass-catcher through the first two years of his career as we'd like. Yes, the Raiders signed Kenyan Drake to a pretty lucrative deal this offseason. But Jacobs has averaged the third-most rush attempts per game since entering the league in 2019, trailing only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook.
There's a decent-sized difference in ADP between where Jacobs goes in a best-ball draft versus where he goes on a platform like ESPN. According to ESPN's average draft position data, Jacobs is the RB19, being selected right next to Chris Carson and JK Dobbins. More importantly, he's being drafted ahead of rock-solid wide receivers like Robert Woods, Julio Jones, Tyler Lockett, and Amari Cooper.
Yeah, I'm not into that at all.
As I just said, Jacobs hasn't been much of a pass-catcher so far in the NFL. During his first and only two seasons in the league, he's seen target shares of 8.6% and 5.7%, with neither mark prorating close to a double-digit percentage share across a full season. (He's missed four games in those two seasons.)
To put this more clearly, he's consistently ranking outside the top-20 at the position in target share.
Now the Raiders added the aforementioned Drake. Not only could Drake dig into Jacobs' early-down role a bit, but he's been getting plenty of hype as a receiver for the Raiders. And why should we believe Drake won't be heavily involved as a receiver? It's not like Jacobs has played that role under Jon Gruden.
What's even scarier about Jacobs is the overall situation he could face in 2021. The previously talked about Dobbins at least has efficiency on his side, and he's playing for a team that's projected to be very good offensively and quite good overall.
The Raiders are a different story. FanDuel Sportsbook has Vegas' win total for this year at a measly 6.5. There's some juice involved with that number, but it's still low. That's not surprising, because if you look at strength of schedule from the perspective of projected team win totals, Vegas has the toughest schedule in the NFL this year.
That type of environment is bad for Jacobs. Over the last two seasons, Jacobs has scored just 22.4% of his fantasy points when the Raiders were trailing by 6 or more points. During this timeframe, we've watched 76 running backs total 100 or more rush attempts. Of those 76, Jacobs' "while trailing" rate ranks 22nd-lowest. And of the 24 backs with 300 or more carries, it's fifth from the bottom.
This wouldn't be a big deal if Vegas was projected to be good. Aaron Jones, for example, has seen the majority of his fantasy points come with a lead, but that's because the Packers have led in a whole lot of games over the last two years. Vegas hasn't. And they're not likely to in 2021.
Without those positive game scripts and without a target share backbone, Jacobs is very hard to trust.
Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons
That's going to force plenty of fantasy managers to be enamored with Davis. And it's understandable -- the Falcons should have a pretty decent offense, so the lead back in that offense should likely be fantasy viable.
And Davis might be. Crazier things have happened. I just would rather not willingly invest in a 28-year-old journeyman running back who has zero seasons under his belt as a true bell-cow back in the NFL, never seeing more than 165 carries in a season.
History is not on Davis' side. Over the last 20 years, we've had 29 instances where a running back hit 200 or more PPR points in a single season at age 28 or older. Of those 29, 22 came from running backs who were once selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. In other words, they were highly sought after running backs who were talented.
Of the seven backs who weren't earlier-round picks, all but two (Michael Turner in 2010 and Arian Foster in 2014) caught at least 45 passes during their season of 200-plus points. Four of those seven had 60 or more receptions. Those guys were pass-catching specialists.
While Davis has shown good pass-catching ability in his career, he has never had 60 grabs in a season -- though he had 59 last year -- and it's not something we can confidently project him for in 2021. For example, numberFire's projections have Davis at just 36 catches.
It's a situation where Davis' overall projection looks totally fine heading into the season, but drafting because of lack of competition is almost always a losing strategy. You need to feel good about the player himself, too.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans is consistently productive. He's a monster.
He's also coming off a season where he finished with his lowest targets per game, target share, and receiving yards total of his entire career.
Yeah, yeah, I know -- he was banged up last year. I'm sure that played some role in his career-low 18% target share.
The thing is, it wasn't just a career low. It was by far a career low. His previous season low in target share came in 2019 when he played 13 games and saw 19.6% of Tampa Bay's targets. If you prorate that share across 16 games, he was still north of 24%.
Last season was actually the first time Evans saw a prorated target share below 22%. And it was more than four percentage points lower.
Evans actually had a higher target share per game with Brown last season than without him. It's hard to put a ton of stock into that split, though, because Evans wasn't as banged up during the second half of the season compared to the first. At least, that's what the injury report says. Chris Godwin was also dealing with an injury of his own in that split.
Not only that, but Brown now has actual reps in the Buccaneers' offense. Typically, elite wide receivers will see a high target share no matter what. No matter their circumstance. And that's still the case for Evans' projection: he's not going to be in, like, the 15% target share range.
The ceiling is what we should be concerned about. Targets are earned, but when there's genuine competition -- and I think we'd all agree the Buccaneers have serious competition -- it's harder for top-notch wide receivers to have difference-making target shares.
There's also the elephant in the room here, and that's touchdowns. Evans scored 13 times last season, marking a career high. This happened while having fairly similar red-zone, goal-line, and end-zone target numbers compared to previous seasons.
Sure, Brady's efficiency helped. So did a whole lot of fortune -- Evans converted five of eight goal-line targets into touchdowns. Since 2011, we've had only eight wide receiver seasons with that many goal-line scores.
Brady finished last season with the third-highest touchdown rate of his career. There could -- and should -- be some regression there. Even if there's not, Evans is now working against more elite competition (key word being elite) in the offense for the entire season.
Evans scored 13 touchdowns last season and still didn't finish as a WR1 (top-12 wide receiver) in points per game. And it's because he was insanely touchdown-reliant, not doing a whole lot outside of those scores. In fact, among the 240 top-24 wide receiver seasons that we've seen over the last 10 years, Evans' percentage of points that came from touchdowns ranked fifth-highest. Over 31% of his fantasy points came from touchdowns in 2020.
With the competition in Tampa Bay, that's not something I want to rely on this year when there are so many good wide receivers being selected after him.
DJ Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence should be a Pro Bowler at the NFL level, but he's still a rookie. And, historically, first-year quarterbacks haven't been all that great for their pass-catchers in fantasy football.
Since 2011, we've had 29 quarterbacks attempt 300 or more passes during their rookie seasons. Take a look at how the players catching balls from those quarterbacks fared in fantasy football:
We saw just three WR1 seasons attached to these quarterbacks. That jumps to 9 when looking at WR2s or better, and 17 when looking at WR3s or better.
Each one of those categories is below the league average.
What's even more interesting about the data is the fact that rookie quarterbacks tend to not support more than one relevant pass-catcher in fantasy football.
Of the three WR1s that caught passes from rookie quarterbacks since 2011, none played alongside a wide receiver who finished higher than WR40. None played with tight ends who ranked higher than TE12, too.
When you expand that selection to include the nine wide receivers who finished in the top-24, not a whole lot changes. One of those players did play with the TE9 (Baker Mayfield's rookie year), but none played with a wide receiver who, once again, ranked higher than WR40 in yearly scoring.
This doesn't mean you should avoid pass-catchers with rookie quarterbacks in total, because cost matters here, too. Darnell Mooney, for example, is going late enough in drafts to where it's hard to really argue against drafting him. It's not like the alternatives in his range are slam-dunk picks.
With D.J. Chark and where he's being drafted, though, there are pretty good alternatives. He's dropped down best-ball draft boards during the summer, but over on Yahoo!, he's still got a WR34 ADP. He's being selected ahead of Jerry Jeudy and Antonio Brown, two players I'd take ahead of him.
It's true that team WR1s -- wide receivers who have the highest ADP from their actual NFL teams -- tend to outperform expectation in the middle rounds more than the alternative. That was covered in depth on The Late-Round Podcast in July, when yours truly talked about ways to spot breakout wide receivers in fantasy football.
The wide receiver situation for Jacksonville isn't so clear-cut. On some platforms, you'll see Laviska Shenault with a higher ADP. And, in that study on breakout wideouts, middle-round receivers usually performed better when they didn't have teammates being drafted around them. To put that another way, when they were very clearly their team's top receiver by ADP, it was a good thing.
That's not the case with Chark.
Now, everything I've said thus far has to do with historical trends and not Chark himself. But Chark himself also hasn't been the most reliable fantasy wideout through the years. He's had one good season in the NFL (2019), and that one good season came with six different performances where Chark failed to reach double-digit PPR points.
Are we sure he's the best wide receiver on the Jags? And if we're not, why would we assume he's the wide receiver from that team -- if there is one -- to finish as start-worthy?
Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
No one should really debate Dallas Goedert's on-field abilities. Things just don't align all that well for him this year. At least compared to how the fantasy football market is viewing things.
Previous-season fantasy totals aren't everything, but Goedert wasn't that good last year. Only eight tight ends finished ahead of him in points per game, but that's not saying a whole lot at such a dumpster fire of a position in fantasy. And Goedert accumulated a lot of his points during some monster weeks. Even though he was a top-10 tight end in points per game, he finished with only three top-12 performances. His rate of finishing with a top-12 game was 23rd-best at the position last year.
Zach Ertz still being an Eagle is a pain in the you know what for Goedert, too. Ertz missed five games last year, and Goedert was active for four of them. Goedert had two of his four top-12 outings without Ertz in the lineup.
From a competition standpoint, things have only gotten worse. The Eagles now have DeVonta Smith, who's being drafted ahead of Goedert in fantasy drafts. That may not seem like a big deal, but if you're a fan of historical ADP data like I am, it kind of is.
Goedert's currently a middle-round pick who gets drafted just inside the top 100. That may change as we get closer to the season and we know for sure what's going to happen with Ertz, but as of this moment, Goedert's a middle-round pick.
We see lots of middle-round tight ends every season -- we've averaged 6.3 tight ends drafted in Rounds 6 through 9, or between Picks 61 and 108, per season over the last decade, according to MyFantasyLeague.com's average draft position data.
There's a big difference in hit rate among tight ends in those rounds who are the first pass-catcher from their teams by ADP versus ones who aren't. This was outlined in detail on The Late-Round Podcast, but of the 63 "middle-round" tight ends who have been drafted over the last 10 seasons, 8 of them were the top pass-catcher selected from their NFL team. Goedert is not that thanks to Smith getting selected ahead of him.
|Middle-Round TEs||Total||ADP Expectation Average||Points Scored||Difference|
|Not Top Pass-Catcher||55||134.1||129.3||-4.8|
The eight tight ends who have been drafted as their team's top pass-catcher had an expected points scored average, based on ADP, of about 142 PPR points. They exceeded that, on average, by 30 points. The opposite has happened to tight ends who weren't their team's top pass-catcher drafted by ADP.
On top of all this, Goedert's working with a mobile quarterback who didn't exactly crush it as a passer last year. Not only do pass-catchers on teams with rushing quarterbacks tend to not score as well in fantasy football, but according to Pro Football Focus data, Jalen Hurts ranked 34th of 39 qualified quarterbacks in passer rating from a clean pocket last year.
Goedert's got more working against him this year than drafters may realize.