It’s crunch time for fantasy football players as we are less than 36 hours away from the opening kickoff for the long-anticipated 2020 National Football League season. While I’ve always preferred to play in leagues that draft during the week leading up to the opening game, there’s no doubt that this year more people than ever have waited until the last minute to draft given the uncertainty of the season brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.
My bet is that once you have drafted late, you’ll never go back.
No season ever is anticipated like the start of NFL play each year. Football’s popularity makes it front-page sports-section news even in the offseason, so many people jump on the first opportunity to participate in an online fantasy draft or schedule their drafts as early as July to feed that thirst.
While it’s exciting to be in one of the first “real” drafts, my thought process always has been that enough can go wrong in terms of injuries once the season begins playing in a league that drafts late, so why add another month of potential training camp mishaps to the possibility of a season-changing injury?.
All you need is a RB 1 or WR 1 to miss a few weeks of the season to sabotage your team’s championship hopes. Believe, me I know after having Saquon Barkley’s injury crush two of my teams last year. So, by waiting until the last week of preseason practice to draft you will have the most up-to-date injury information at your fingertips.
Even a minor hamstring tweak that limits a top players’ touches or snaps the first three weeks of the season can be devastating if you use a high pick on that player.
Right now, Kenyan Drake’s draft status is a great example. Held out of practice with a mysterious foot injury recently, Drake was being selected as high as seventh or eighth in early drafts based on the explosive four weeks he compiled after being traded from Miami to Arizona late last season.
And injury situations can change rapidly.
I participated in my first draft last weekend and was happy to get Drake late in the first round. As word of his injury has spread, Drake has dropped to a mid-to-late second-round or third-round pick as the season nears. In my draft last night, he didn’t get selected until the third round. That’s all happened in the matter of four or five days.
This year I even started my season preparation later than usual and didn’t participate in any mock drafts until mid-August, but I’ve found over the years that participating in as many mock drafts as possible fills my NFL void while allowing me to really get a grasp on the market value of players and develop my draft strategy. And most important, it doesn’t cost me any money. Testing strategies and evaluating the market can allow you to avoid the draft-day “choke” and help you find value with every pick you make in your drafts.
With many drafts still likely to take place tonight, here’s hoping I can provide you with some last-minute insight to help you maximize the value of your picks and avoid costly draft-day mistakes.
Concerning Situations – Running Backs
Kenyan Drake – Mentioned already, Kenyan Drake’s mysterious foot injury has caused his draft value to drop from top 10 or 12 to the late second or early third round in most drafts. It could be minor, and he could dominate the Cardinals’ backfield touches from the opening gun, or he could be limited for a few weeks if Arizona takes the big-picture approach and doesn’t want to risk him making the injury worse. If you can get him late second or early third round, go for it. But if your pick is earlier, take a serious look at players like Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb or Josh Jacobs first. Drake should be considered just ahead of players like James Conner, Joe Mixon, Miles Sanders and Chris Carson. In the meantime, getting Chase Edmonds as a handcuff or possible late value pick isn’t the worst idea.
Detroit Lions – Adrian Peterson, God love him, was rescued off the Washington Football Team’s trash heap earlier this week, and there are whispers that he could start Sunday. What else do you need to know? Kerryon Johnson is slated to be the starter after initially being pegged as rookie D’Andre Swift’s backup. While we have gotten accustomed to Johnson’s constant injury issues, now Swift is limited with an undisclosed ailment. At this point, I would avoid Swift altogether and look at Johnson as a possible RB 4 value pickup who might surprise if he stays healthy. Consider taking a shot on A.P. if he’s available on your last pick. He’s still good enough with the right team.
Joe Mixon – A boom-or-bust player on a weekly basis throughout his career who always ends up with solid full-season numbers, Mixon recently signed a four-year contract extension, but he also has been dealing with migraines and missed a recent scrimmage. Don’t overvalue him, as he is a very difficult player to project game-to-game, and we have no idea how the Bengals’ offense is going to perform under rookie QB Joe Burrow.
Miles Sanders – I’ve seen him taken as high as No. 7. I don’t want him at all given his questionable injury status and the yearly Philadelphia running-back merry-go-round. People are still talking about the Eagles as playoff contenders with a fragile QB, no experienced healthy wide receiver outside of DeSean Jackson and Sanders only taking part in individual drills while dealing with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Stay. Away.
Indianapolis Colts – After hearing all summer that rookie Jonathan Taylor was going to be the man in the Colts’ backfield despite having a healthy and dependable Marlon Mack on the roster, Taylor is listed second on the depth chart entering the season. He was touted as a player who could be used in all situations and catch passes out of the backfield, but apparently has struggled with that aspect of his game in camp. Nyheim Hines has proven to be effective in that role, and you know what you are getting from Mack. Sounds like RB by committee to me. I like Mack and Hines as late depth picks (VERY Late for Hines). Taylor probably won’t last that long because of his upside, but he also isn’t worth using a pick on in the first three or four rounds.
Los Angeles Rams – It’s a similar situation to the Colts in L.A. Rookie Cam Akers was supposed to be the starter, but when the depth chart for the opener was released it had Malcolm Brown listed first, banged-up veteran Darrell Henderson second and Akers third. Head coach Sean McVay said he was happy with having three running backs who all can see touches in a variety of situations. Not the words any of us want to hear. I’m not sure any of the Rams’ RBs are worth taking until the second half of the draft.
Wide Receiver Concerns & Sleepers
The WR group is so deep this year that there aren’t too many worries here, but a few late injuries have popped up that are worth considering when drafting, and some quality player sare dropping well below their value.
Amari Cooper – He has missed four straight practices with an undisclosed injury and has not been the picture of durability throughout his career. If he drops five or more places below his combined projection and average draft position (ADP), jump on him. There are too many other good options available to risk taking him at or above his current projected value. He’s another guy I took in my first draft, of course.
DeAndre Hopkins – He’s been dealing with a tweaked hamstring, but I think his new $54 million contract will ease that pain. One of a few WRs worth taking above his projected value as he should have a big yar in the desert.
Stefon Diggs – Always a deep threat when healthy in Minnesota, he joins another deep threat in John Brown as a speedy tandem in Buffalo. One of them figures to end up in the slot and should get a ton of targets while possibly not as many home-run tosses. His value has dropped, and you can get him below that value. Josh Allen is an emerging young QB. He is more than worth a pick as your third WR, especially if he falls in your draft.
Keenan Allen – He caught 100 passes last year again, so why is he ranked in the 50s? Either there’s something we don’t know, or you can steal him. I say steal him. High-touch and high-target guys are the ones who help you build a consistent winning lineup.
A.J. Brown – A phenomenal talent who meshed well with surprising QB Ryan Tannehill until the playoffs but also disappeared late in the season, Brown is a concern because of the late-season swoon and an undisclosed injury that has limited him to stretching in practice. His value has dropped, and I don’t disagree. If you can get him 10 picks or more below his documented value, he’s worth selecting.
Devante Parker – He had 1,200 yards and nine TDs last year, so why am I not convinced? Dolphins receivers always seem to struggle to put up back-to-back consistent years, and who knows what is going to happen in an offense being run with aging veteran Ryan Fitzpartick at the helm and rookie Tua Tagovailoa looking over his shoulder. Adding to the concerns are a hamstring injury Parker has been dealing with. Again, if he drops 10 slots below his projected value, take a shot. Otherwise walk away.
Los Angeles Raiders – With big, strong wideout Tyrell Williams on IR, Coach Chucky is hoping that rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards can get the job done along with possession-receiver Hunter Renfrow. Not a fan of using high picks on rookie receivers, I’m more inclined to take Renfrow with one of my last two picks to add depth than either of the other two. This should also bode well for TE Darren Waller, who is coming off a breakout year.
WR Injuries to Consider
Alshon Jeffrey is on the Eagles’ PUP list, but has been practicing and is expected back at some point. He is coming off foot surgery and has been battling injuries for a long time. He’s a definite no for me.
Deebo Samuel of San Francisco also has a foot problem and is questionable for Week 1. He has been going pretty late in drafts at the WR 4 level and list and is still worth taking there.
Brandin Cooks, tabbed to be the No. 1 guy in Houston, has been dealing with a quadricep issue. He’s still worth a look as a WR 3/4 or a Flex option. Someone has to get DeAndre Hopkins’ vacated targets, so he and Will Fuller should be the beneficiaries. With Fuller’s always-questionable health, Cooks should have a solid year.
Jamison Crowder is a dependable possession receiver worth consideration as a flex or depth receiver, but there are so many options with higher ceilings out there. He suited up for practice Wednesday after dealing with a lower-leg injury earlier in the week. Breshad Perriman has been listed as the Jets’ No. 1 guy, but his underachieving career to date combined with a lingering knee injury tells me to avoid him at all costs.
Mike Williams is a game-time decision for the Chargers coming off a solid 1,001-yard season. Definitely worth a late depth pick.
Quarterback Concerns & Sleepers
Ben Roethlisberger – I love Big Ben as a backup pick. The concern is his age, what kind of shape he will be in and his arm strength, but the upside with him being surrounded by so many explosive weapons is very high for a guy who always seems to throw for over 4,000 yards. You can get him VERY late. Do it.
Carson Wentz – A fragile player surrounded by fragile players and inexperience at all the skill positions. He’s rated way too highly. Only take him as a backup well below his projected value.
Aaron Rodgers – Has become a possession passer and game manager who is only worthy of picking very late as a backup option.
Daniel Jones – Rated too highly, but the potential upside is worth taking him as a backup if he falls well below his projected value.
Phillip Rivers – His performance declined measurably last year despite having plenty of weapons around him. Avoid him with a questionable WR and RB situation in Indy.
Derek Carr – No, unless he somehow can get points for handing off to Josh Jacobs.
Matthew Stafford – I’ve gotten Stafford at Nos. 113 and 120. He’s only been injured once in his last 135 games and has great WR talent, but questions at RB, and should be primed for a big year through the air. You can win with him as a starter by stacking your WRs and RBs before taking him, or he can be the best backup in your league. If you can’t get Mahomes, Jackson, Watson or Wilson, wait as long as you can and take Stafford. Then comeback with a backup pick two or three rounds later.
Cam Newton – Seems to be dropping very deep in most drafts. Take him as a backup, but he may end up being your starter.
Ryan Tannehill – His resume screams, “No!” a lot more than it does, “Yes!” He’s till not rated that highly, but if you want to wait until the last two rounds to get a backup then he is ideal.
Gardner Minshew – Not a good team. Will be too much of a roller-coaster ride. Say no.
Teddy Bridgewater & Tyrod Taylor – Both worth a shot as your last pick as a No.3 or a very late backup option.
Jimmy Garoppolo – Rated too low. Take him later than Newton as a solid backup and before Tannehill, Bridgewater and Taylor.
Kirk Cousins – Going too high in most drafts. A decent backup if you can get him well below his projected value.
Baker Mayfield – Dropping below his projected value. Worth taking as a backup if that happens in your draft.
Drew Lock – Wait a year or get him off waivers if he has a good start.
Sam Darnold – Adam Gase. That’s all I got. No.
Joe Burrow – If your team is solid, grab him as your No. 3 with the last pick.
Mitch Trubisky – Stop it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick– Late-round backup or No. 3? Yes. Probably undervalued, but not worth taking any risk on with Tua looking over his shoulder.
Tight ends are what they are. If you can’t get one of the top five – Kittle, Kelce, Andrews, Ertz or Waller – you just want to get someone solid you can count on to put up consistent numbers along with another TE who has a high upside but might not be as consistent.
Jared Cook is dropping far below his projected value and should be a solid pick by proxy in a prolific Saints’ offense.
Evan Engram seems to be a smart pick with a projected value that seems to be too low. He often falls below that value in drafts, too, so tends to be a pretty good pick.
Austin Hooper is coming off a good year in Atlanta, but is valued very low given the lack of success Cleveland tight ends seem to have. Tough call. Take him below his value if you can and get another guy you expect to put up consistent numbers at TE.
Gerald Everett is being completely overlooked, but McVay says he will be a big part of the Rams’ passing game. To me means that Tyler Higbee is way overrated. Get Everett with one of your last two picks as a higher-upside backup.
Eric Ebron has dropped very low ,but is back in an offense that values tight ends in Pittsburgh. Another guy with high upside that you can get to start as a backup
Mike Gesicki is going to play more snaps than possibly any Miami receiving option and is going undrafted in some drafts. He is worth taking at his projected value and will be a very productive player this year.
Rob Gronkowski is worth taking above his rating, but he’s dropping so you won’t have to. Consider him at or below his projected value. He’s a high-upside guy, so if you take him make sure to draft a consistent TE to go with him.
Guys like Blake Jarwin, Jonnu Smith, Dallas Goedert and Hayden Hurst are solid players worth a pick at or below their ratings and pairing with a high-ceiling TE.
T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant may not be as consistent as some of the players mentioned above but have high upsides and should be considered as backups who could turn into starters or who will start during the weeks in which they have great matchups. Don’t overvalue them, but also don’t overlook them if you are happy with your team, are looking to find someone who might help you get over the hump and they are available.