I was going to write this whole long intro about how, as a kid, Calvin & Hobbes taught me the value of looking at all sides of an issue, but this newsletter is going to be jam-packed with information, and you don’t really need me blathering on before getting to the juicy bits. You’re spared — for today!
In today’s newsletter, we’re taking a look at the fallout from Travis Etienne’s now season-ending foot injury, and what it means for James Robinson’s chances of returning to the lofty must-start rung of the positional ladder. We’ll also dive into the Fantasy fallout of the Patriots-Rams trade. Plus, I’m taking a side on some of the most polarizing players in Fantasy Football in 2020, and then taking a look at how each of the top-24 players in ADP right now could bust. I’m not saying they will — please don’t email Chris.Towers@CBSi.com to yell at me, just send me your best questions leading up to your drafts — but I’m trying to help you look at all sides of their potential outcomes.
See how that was going to tie into the Calvin & Hobbes reference? It was going to be a good intro. Alas, there’s no time for all that. However, there is still time for you to help out a great cause, as the Fantasy Football Today team is raising money all month long for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, leading up to our live Draft-A-Thon special on CBS Sports HQ and YouTube at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1.
Now, let’s get to it.
We got the worst-case scenario for Etienne as we learned Tuesday the foot sprain he suffered Monday night was a Lisfranc injury that will require season-ending surgery. He has already been placed on IR, so we won’t see him until 2022. That’s disappointing because Etienne was one of the most interesting rookies this season thanks to his playmaking chops and first-round draft capital.
However, it’s not all bad news. Because, if you remember back before the NFL Draft, we were all hoping the Jaguars wouldn’t take a running back early because of how good James Robinson was last season. Well, he’s got that lead back role all to himself again, and I’ve moved him back into my top 15 at RB.
I wrote about the fallout from the injury Tuesday, and here’s some of what I had to say about ranking Robinson 15th:
That’s aggressive, I’ll admit. It’s likely higher than the consensus will be. But I don’t think I’m being overly aggressive in my projection for him: 262 carries (13th in the NFL), 1,127 yards (14th), eight TD (21st among RB), with 55 catches for 441 yards and two touchdowns. Considering Robinson scored 10 touchdowns in just 14 games last season in what was likely a worse offense than the one he’ll be in this year, I may actually be underselling him.
Robinson likely won’t dominate work to quite the same extent he did a year ago, when he played 60% of the snaps in 10 of 14 games and topped 70% in seven. Carlos Hyde is probably a better backup than anyone they had in house last season, and I have him getting 105 carries, 73 more than any player on the Jaguars had a year ago. However, the Jaguars figure to be more run-heavy under Urban Meyer, especially if they can be more competitive than they were, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Robinson even with Hyde taking on an expanded role.
Heath also wrote about Robinson in his Believe It or Not column, and he isn’t quite as optimistic. In the interesting presenting both sides of the argument, here’s some of what Heath had to say:
Don’t believe [Robinson is a high-end RB2]. Much of Robinson’s value last year came from the fact that he was a true bell cow and I’m not sure that role exists in Urban Meyer’s offense. Hyde looks like an actual part of the game plan, and while Robinson should still easily lead the team in touches, it won’t be as big of a share as he had last year. Robinson is a low-end No. 2 running back who should be better than that early in the year. He’s a good Round 4 pick in non-PPR and an excellent option in Round 5 in full PPR.
You can come to your own conclusion, but I think there’s good reason to be optimistic right now.
- Make sure you check out the 2021 Fantasy Football Today Draft Guide, with unique draft strategies, sleepers, breakouts, and busts, and more from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, and myself. It’s the next best thing to having us all next to you in your draft room.
Most Polarizing Players
On Wednesday’s episode of Fantasy Football Today, Adam, Jamey, and Heath talked about some of the most polarizing players in Fantasy heading into the 2021 season. You should listen to the full episode here for their thoughts, but here’s what I have to say about the players they talked about:
Why is he polarizing? Injury concerns, questions about his upside.
Where I fall: I certainly share the concerns about Barkley, who has shown us about as much upside as any player in the league and also hasn’t flashed much of that upside over the last two seasons. Of course, last season was a tiny sample size due to his injury, but that also threatens to limit him early in the season, too. Personally, I’m more interested in chasing upside than worrying about downside so I’m willing to push Barkley into the back half of the first round.
Why is he polarizing?Offense concerns, we’ve been burned too many times.
Where I fall: It’s weird to consider the fact that Mixon is going a round later in ADP than he did this time a year ago, when his situation is unquestionably better than it was then. He has less competition for touches, especially in the passing game, the Bengals line is likely to be better, and we’ve actually seen Joe Burrow play at a high level in the NFL, even though he is coming off a serious injury. Mixon has been saddled with too many expectations in his career, but this season he actually has the opportunity to live up to those expectations. I’m on the side of the optimistic here.
Why is he polarizing? Upside vs. downside.
Where I fall: I’m starting to get more concerned about Gibson’s chances of living up to his considerable upside after seeing him play just one third-down snap through the first two preseason games. Washington has still schemed up chances for him in the passing game, but if he’s still mostly a two-down back, it’s going to be very difficult for him to justify a top-12 RB price.
Why is he polarizing? Questions about role.
Where I fall: This time last year, we were drafting Edwards-Helaire as a first-round pick on the promise that he was going to be an every-down back for the Chiefs, the heir to Kareem Hunt. And he was that for a few weeks, and he just wasn’t very good. The Chiefs still don’t have much real competition in house for him, but if Jerick McKinnon is here to take passing down’s snaps and Edwards-Helaire comes up short at the goal-line again, he could very quickly work his way into a pretty non-enticing role. I’m optimistic about Edwards-Helaire, but not so much that he’s a priority for me in drafts.
Why is he polarizing? Is he really ready to make a huge leap?
Where I fall: Nobody disagrees that Lamb is going to be better than he was as a rookie — a full season playing with Dak Prescott all but guarantees that. The question is whether he’s worthy of a pick as a top-12 wide receiver. With Amari Cooper healthy, I don’t really see it. I’m not far off — he’s WR14 for me — but I still have Cooper ahead of Lamb. As exciting as Lamb is, we’ve already seen Cooper play at the level we’re hoping Lamb can reach. Is there really that much more upside, or are we just seeing the mystery box vs. boat” Fallacy play out in silver and blue?
Why is he polarizing? Rookie tight ends are never good.
Where I fall: That’s the long and short of it. To bet on Kyle Pitts being a legitimate starting-caliber tight end for Fantasy, let alone a true difference maker, you’ve gotta ignore nearly all rookie tight end seasons, because very few of them are any good. Over the last decade, Evan Engram is the only one of eight first-round tight ends to reach even 600 yards as a rookie. The per-16 game pace for those eight first-round tight ends is 66 targets, 38 catches, 470 yards and 3.5 touchdowns. Pitts has to be an outlier. Of course, by virtue of putting up 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games in his final season in college and then getting drafted fourth overall, he is already an outlier. I’m not drafting him at his cost in all of my drafts, but he’ll be on more than just a few of my teams because the upside is clear in this offense.
Why is he polarizing? Concerns about his weapons, passing abilities.
Where I fall: It’s a little concerning that, during a season when pretty much every quarterback put up career-best numbers, Jackson took a step back from 32.5 points per game in 2019 to 25.5 in 2020. But it’s worth noting some context: 25.5 points per game would have finished third three times and fourth twice in the previous five seasons. He has demonstrated as much upside as anyone at the position with similar or worse weapons as he has now, and I’m always going to chase that if I’m going after an early-round QB. I’m #TeamLamar.
Bust-case scenarios for the top 24
- How things could go wrong: craters the offense. We’ve seen McCaffrey put up historic numbers with the likes of Will Grier and Kyle Allen, so there really isn’t much to be concerned about. However, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he will remain that good with Darnold, who has really struggled through the first three seasons of his career. The Panthers have more competition for targets than they’ve ever had with McCaffrey with Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall alongside D.J. Moore, which could cap his receiving ceiling.
- How likely do I think things are to go wrong for McCaffrey? Pretty unlikely — he averaged 30 points per game in his three games in this offense last season. Sure, Darnold could be so bad that is sinks everyone else, but McCaffrey has already thrived in that kind of scenario. As long as he gets his usual stream of targets, there’s a narrower path to disappointment for him than any player in Fantasy. He’s got both the highest floor and highest ceiling of any pick.
- How things could go wrong: The workload finally catches up to him. Everything I said about Dalvin Cook applies to Henry to an even greater degree. He’s been a model of health and consistency, missing just two games in his career despite a huge workload and punishing, physical rushing style. But he’s also up to over 1,400 career touches, including a truly incredible 827 over the last two seasons. How long can he keep that up?
- How likely do I think things are to go wrong for Henry? On the one hand, having been able to handle this workload so far is a good sign that he’s up for the challenge. On the other hand, Henry’s margin for error as a truly elite Fantasy running back is relatively slim — he had the fifth-most rushing yards ever, the fourth-most rushing touchdowns of the last decade, and finished just fifth among all RB/WR/TE in PPR scoring per game in 2020. It’s unlikely he’ll ever have a better season than that, and he’s being drafted at his ceiling. I think Henry’s got a high floor thanks to his workload, but he’s very dependent on being among the league leaders in touches, which means any injury could be especially harmful.
9. Jonathan Taylor
- How things could go wrong: Carson Wentz is a disaster again. Wentz and Quenton Nelson are both expected to be healthy for Week 1, which is great news for Taylor. But there’s still very much an open question about how helpful Wentz can actually be at this point in his career — if he plays like he did last season, that’s a huge downgrade for the Colts offense as a whole, even from the relatively pedestrian Phillip Rivers. Taylor is going to have the volume to put up big numbers, but if he’s struggling to find the end zone and not getting much work in the passing game … well, you know why everyone is always so frustrated with Joe Mixon, right?
- How likely do I think things are to go wrong for Taylor? I think there’s a decent chance. I’m lower on Taylor than the consensus in part because of that and in part because I don’t trust his role in the passing game. I could see this being a very vanilla offense, and while Taylor will almost certainly be a top-12(-ish) RB no matter what, the upside could be really capped.
If you’re looking for individual breakdowns all ‘bust-case scenarios’ for the first of the top-12 draft picks, you’ll find that here.
13. Nick Chubb
- How things could go wrong: The offense around him regresses. You can’t say everything went right for Chubb in a season where he missed four games, but … pretty much everything else went right for him. When you rush for 5.6 yards per carry and score a touchdown once every 15 carries, things probably went right for you. The Browns offense started clicking after a slow start, and it certainly helped that their offensive line missed just seven games between them for the whole season. Can you count on that again?
- How likely do I think things are to go wrong for Chubb? Chubb’s profile is very similar to Henry’s in a lot of ways, which means his margin for error is relatively small. Even with his outrageous efficiency in 2020, Chubb couldn’t break the top six in points per game if you take out the game he left early with injury. That was probably a lot closer to a best-case scenario than anything else, so I can easily see a scenario where Chubb is a solid, steady contributor, but not necessarily a superstar. It’s also hard to see how things go too wrong, though. There’s a nice high floor.
16. Najee Harris
- How things could go wrong: The offense collapses around him. There’s always uncertainty around how rookies will play and how they will be used, but we’re pretty confident Harris is going to be at least pretty good while having a sizeable role. The problem is, this is a revamped offensive scheme built around a 39-year-old quarterback who, frankly, looked pretty finished the last time we saw him. Running back circumstances matter so much, and there’s a decent chance Harris is stepping into a pretty rough circumstance.
- How likely do I think things are to go wrong for Harris? I’m very concerned about Roethlisberger at this point. He looked hesitant to sit in the pocket and risk getting hit to let plays develop last season, and if he continues to play that way, it’s going to make things easier for the defense to play the run game and short-area passes more aggressively. We’ve seen glimpses of Harris’ impressive playmaking so far in preseason, and as long as this offense is just average, he should be a top-12 RB. But there’s a chance things go really, really wrong here.
If you’re looking for individual breakdowns all ‘bust-case scenarios’ for the first of picks 13-24, you’ll find that here.
Injuries, News, and Notes
- The Rams acquired Sony Michel — The Patriots will likely receive a fourth-round pick for Michel, which is a pretty good haul for a guy they clearly viewed as expendable following the emergence of Damien Harris in 2020 and Rhamondre Stevenson this preseason. I wrote about the trade here,but here’s a spoiler alert: It’s not great news for Darrell Henderson.
- CeeDee Lamb is in the COVID protocol — The Cowboys are reportedly nearly at a 100% vaccination rate, so hopefully, Lamb’s absence won’t be long — vaccinated players simply have to have two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to return. We’ll keep an eye on this one.
- Darrell Henderson has a mild thumb sprain — It’s thought to be a pretty mild injury, with no structural damage, and he is being considered day to day. Henderson wasn’t going to play in the preseason, so as long as he’s ready for Week 1, there’s nothing to be concerned about here. The bigger concern is the arrival of Michel.
- Stefon Diggs practiced in full — That’s a good sign after he missed more than a week with a knee injury. Hopefully, this issue is behind him and Diggs can enter the season without any concerns lingering over him.
- Robby Anderson signed a 2 year, $29.5 million deal — The deal features $20.5 million guaranteed and keeps Anderson in Carolina through 2023. D.J. Moore is under contract through the end of next season, too, so this isn’t great news for Terrace Marshall’s Dynasty value, though he remains an intriguing sleeper in both yearly and long-term formats since this offense sustained three top-30 WR last year.
- Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley will miss 5 days because they were close contacts to someone who tested positive for COVID — Hopefully, both will continue to test negative and can return within the five day time period.
- Some members of the NE organization are reportedly frustrated with Cam Newton for his misunderstanding of the COVID protocols — What happened here was Newton went to get a COVID test away from the team, violating the league’s approved protocols and causing him to have to isolate for five days before he can return to the team. Mike Giardi of NFL Network reports this has “opened” a window of opportunity for Mac Jones to emerge as the starter over Newton. Jones is going to get pretty much all of the first-team reps until Newton is cleared to return, which could come Thursday, and if he performs well in joint practices with the Giants this week maybe he could close the gap between him and Newton.
- Julio Jones did some light running at practice — That’s a good sign as Jones has been sidelined by a foot injury. We’ll want to see him get back to practice soon, but as long as he’s moving in the right direction, he should be there for Week 1 without any limitations.
- Elijah Moore is expected to play on Friday in the preseason — Moore has been held out of practices for more than a week with a quad injury, but it looks like we’ll get to see him in game action before most drafts take place. He was the talk of practice and training camp before the injury, and it will be interesting to see where he slots in the hierarchy after Corey Davis has emerged as the clear No. 1 option for Zach Wilson in the first two preseason games.
- Will Fuller resumed running routes — Like Jones, it’s all about making sure Fuller is ready by the time the games start to count. In his case, he has an extra week to get right, because he is suspended for Week 1 due to last year’s PED suspension. At this point, it seems safe to bet on Fuller being there for Week 2.
- The Falcons waived RB Javian Hawkins — Hawkins had some deep sleeper appeal after drawing positive reviews back in OTAs, but he’s been running very low on the depth chart in training camp and was ultimately deemed expendable. Maybe he’ll land on the practice squad, but it seems like he would need a lot to change to matter for Fantasy at this point.
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