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Fantasy Football: Believe the hype?

August 24, 2018

Fantasy football hype is a dangerous and addictive drug. We’ve seen the effects of people who have imbibed too much of it too fast.

Please, as a warning — we just ask that you read the labels very carefully first. Not all players are deserving of such August promotion, and it’s important heading into your fantasy draft that you’re keeping a close eye on where their real value lies.

For some, the hype is real. For others, it’s fool’s gold. We hope to give you a guide here for which ones should match up and which ones could cost you your season.

Here’s a look, by position, at the most-hyped players — and which ones we’d avoid at too high a cost.

QUARTERBACKS

Too much hype

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Let the record show that I drafted Mahomes in PFW’s mock fantasy draft and felt pretty good doing so back in late May as we were putting our magazine to bed. I knew all about his athletic ability, arm talent and excitement, and the Chiefs’ array of offensive playmakers made it a no-brainer when I needed a QB in the middle-to-later rounds.

Mahomes’ ADP (average draft position) appears to be coming in around the 100 to 120 range overall, per fantasypros.com, but it also might be on the rise — and that’s even since he’s reportedly been a bit too pick-happy in Chiefs training-camp practices. Expect the hype to grow. The closer your draft is to the start of the NFL season, the more I believe Mahomes will creep up into that QB10 to QB12 range.

Can he put up starting-caliber fantasy numbers? For sure. But with what appears to be a pretty deep group of passers this season, reaching for Mahomes might not be worth it. If he’s still there in Round 11 of your 12-team league and most teams have picked a QB already, go for it.

But jumping on him two or three rounds earlier might cost you. The Chiefs play a stiff schedule this season, and it’s no guarantee he’ll match Alex Smith’s 2017 production in Year 1.

Not enough hype

Alex Smith, Washington

I promise I am not some unhinged Smith truther who is angry over the trade to Washington. But the fact that Smith appears to be landing in the QB17 to QB20 range feels like he’s being wildly undervalued.

It’s true, I would have liked Smith’s chances to succeed better with Derrius Guice healthy. But now that the rookie runner is on injured reserve with a torn ACL, more of the heavy lifting likely falls on Smith’s head. Learning a new offense might be tough for some, but the man who supposedly has the ability to pick up plays almost instantly should be an extremely quick study under Jay Gruden.

This offense will go three- and four-wide many plays, and they could have two veteran tight ends in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis who can still play when healthy. If one of those young receivers (Josh Doctson, the time is nigh) steps up and the offensive line enjoys good health, there’s no doubt Smith can log fantasy starter’s numbers.

Take advantage and draft him as your backup if you have the chance, pairing him with another QB in the same draft range, and thank us later.

RUNNING BACKS

Too much hype

Any Patriots running back not named Rex Burkhead (and even he scares us)

If you’ve played fantasy football for, oh, more than a year then you probably know all about Bill Belichick and his hatred for fantasy football projections. Well, he might not hate the game, per se, but there are many of us out there who feel like he intentionally messes with our heads with his backfield usage.

James White had one target in Week 3 last season, 12 targets in Week 4. Rex Burkhead’s workload varied because of his uneven health last season, but his role vacillated wildly at times. Dion Lewis, before signing with the Titans this offseason, barely touched the ball the first month of the season before becoming a post-Thanksgiving warhorse.

First-round pick Sony Michel has taken Lewis’ spot now, and his hype has been strong. But with an injury in camp (and a history of fumbling), it’s wise to fade him beyond where’s he’s being picked currently — taking him as one of the first 24 backs in the draft feels risky as heck. Belichick has typically spoon-feed rookie backs, anyway, and the other factors have us looking elsewhere.

We like Burkhead and feel he’s not currently overpriced. In fact, he might at this moment be slightly undervalued in some drafts. But wait until it becomes clear that he could open the season as the main backfield option. That’s when he’s likely to be pushed up too far, especially when you consider how frequently he seems to be banged up.

It’s just a backfield we’re largely going to avoid if the value is as we expect.

Not enough hype

Corey Grant, Jaguars

Building off a strong postseason, Grant has finally caught the eyes of some savvy fantasy owners. But too many people in our eyes are focusing on the wrong Jaguars running back in Leonard Fournette, who is heading into Year 2 with some nice rookie rushing totals raising his stock far too much.

But 15.9 percent of his rushing yardage in 2017 came on runs of 90 and 75 yards. Fournette had only three more rushes longer than 18 yards, has a history of foot and ankle injuries and his limited receiving prowess just doesn’t have us on board with him being taken — RB7 and an ADP hovering around 9.

Instead, consider Grant. He’s currently RB82, which is outright thievery. Yes, T.J. Yeldon is still there and should get a chance to compete if Fournette goes down. But Grant absolutely has earned a role in this offense.

He’s being valued based on his small body of work last season (33 touches in 16 games), but for what Grant did on a pound-for-pound basis — 289 scrimmage yards on only 62 offensive snaps — the Jaguars know they have to get him out there more, especially with questions at receiver and tight end.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said back in May Grant is “a major change-of-pace back” and that “every time we’ve given him the ball, he’s done really good things.” And don’t forget that Grant was tendered at a $2.914 million RFA level, a clear indication that they have plans for the lesser-known third-year back. We expect a noticeable bump in his production this season, and you can’t get better value than this.

Tough to value

Seahawks RBs

I’ll get into more on this position the more info we have, but valuing Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson right now feels like a fool’s errand. Every bone in my body tells me that Pete Carroll’s praise of Carson (and every other back not named Penny on the roster) feels a bit hollow — or it’s an attempt to fire up the San Diego State product.

I like Penny. I like Carson. But as I said the other day on Twitter, this feels a bit like the handwringing we did back in 2013 with the Bengals’ fantasy conundrum: Giovani Bernard or BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It turned out that Green-Ellis started all 16 games but Bernard had higher fantasy value that season. But weirdly, Green-Ellis was the better value based on ADP.

Soooo … yeah.

Same deal in Seattle. Give us a few weeks to sort this puppy out. Both Carson and Penny have value, but neither feels all that attractive at where they are being picked at this moment — Penny at RB25 and Carson at RB42.

WIDE RECEIVER

Too much hype

Jordy Nelson, Raiders

Fantasy folks are expecting a comeback season for Nelson, who started strong last season with Aaron Rodgers but fell of a virtual cliff once Rodgers got hurt. Amazingly, Nelson’s speed appeared to deteriorate the longer Rodgers was out, like they were two halves of a Wonder Twin type of setup.

But what exactly makes us believe that Nelson not only will regain ample running skills this season and do so with a new QB in Derek Carr? It’s nothing against Carr, who looked like one of the league’s better young passers two years ago before a down season spurred by a back injury.

But it has more to do with Nelson reaching the age of 33 and head coach Jon Gruden potentially running a system that will take some time to develop — and one that, for all we know, could be locked into cryogenic freeze from another era. We also get especially concerned when you hear things such as Gruden suggesting that Nelson is there as much for his leadership as he is for his talent.

Sure if Nelson is still there amid the flotsam and jetsam of your late draft, by all means pounce on him as your fourth or fifth receiver. But right now he’s coming off with an ADP of WR39 — and in most leagues with three wideouts or a flex position, that puts him in a spot where he’s potentially a weekly lineup decision.

Whatever hype is out there about Nelson fitting in beautifully, that’s great. But consider us a bit bearish for now.

Not enough hype

Kenny Stills, Dolphins

For all the talk about DeVante Parker possibly breaking out or the possibility of either Albert Wilson or Danny Amendola emerging in a featured role in the Dolphins’ offense, there has been sparse talk about what Stills might be this season.

Why is that exactly? All he is: the best playmaking wideout on that roster. With the return of Ryan Tannehill at QB, there’s at least the promise of more consistency in the passing game, and Stills has upped his receiving totals each of the past two seasons despite a bad fantasy environment around him most of the time.

True, Stills started a bit slowly and wasn’t fantastic down the stretch last season. But that was with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore at quarterback, and Stills still managed an 847-yard, six-TD season and could be in line for his first 1,000-yard campaign with the clear need for his skill set as a deep receiver in 2018.

Parker appears to be a bust until shown otherwise, and Wilson profiles as an overdrafted complementary receiver, a nice player but far from a great one. Stills, however, is your ideal third or fourth fantasy receiver who can deliver a big game or two against an undermanned secondary per season. Would you believe that he’s 32nd in yards and ninth in touchdowns among all receivers the past two seasons combined?

Stills is being drafted as WR50, with an ADP in the 131 range. When others are taking fliers on rookies who won’t pan out this year, you should jump on this bargain. Jarvis Landry and his 161 targets are gone, so that’s 10 passes a game — at least — that need to be accounted for. Others will eat slivers of that, but we suspect Stills could see more work and outplay his pre-draft fantasy value.

TIGHT ENDS

Too much hype

David Njoku, Browns

I was tempted to go up the chain just a bit, to someone such as Jimmy Graham or Kyle Rudolph, and though I think both are overhyped to a degree, the ADP numbers are not suggesting a massive overreach on either one currently. Graham is TE4, going off with an ADP of 55; Rudolph checks in as TE8, with an ADP of 76. Both are about a round too high for my taste, but they’re not

Njoku is below both by a fair margin, but he’s been on a steady rise since the start of training camp. “Hard Knocks” bump? Really shouldn’t be the case since the last time we saw him on there, he was being punished for his inconsistent hands.

Maybe it’s because the Browns’ QB situation is as rosy as it’s been in some time. Perhaps Corey Coleman getting traded factors in. Folks also love them some second- and third-year tight ends as breakout candidates.

Can’t ignore any of that. But Njoku feels like he could be an odd man out more weeks than not, even if he’s capable of putting up a big game here or there. The thing is that he’s likely to be — at best — the fifth- or sixth-most targeted player on this team, assuming good health elsewhere and a return to well-being for Josh Gordon. Jarvis Landry and Gordon are going to get ample targets, and Duke Johnson (93 targets) will be involved in the passing game one way or another. If rookie receiver Antonio Callaway keeps his nose out of trouble, he appears in line for the No. 3 WR role.

Maybe Njoku earns a red-zone role. After all, he caught four TDs on one of the worst red-zone offenses in NFL history at age 21 last season. That’s worth something. I just happen to think he might get lost in the shuffle a bit for a team that has good WR talent and plans to run the ball a lot.

If you’re not going to take one of the clear bluebloods at tight end, I say wait. The difference between TE10 and TE20 might not be massive this season, so you likely can steal one late. But the WR talent starts dropping off in the ADP 110-120 range, which is where Njoku is going now, so it feels smarter to grab depth there instead.

Not enough hype

Jacob Hollister, Patriots

Wait, who?

If you’re not getting Gronk, Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz (or maybe Evan Engram), there is a good argument to keep fading this position, as I argued above. Some popular later-round TE targets this year include O.J. Howard, George Kittle, Jared Cook, Eric Ebron, Charles Clay, Austin Hooper, Ricky Seals-Jones, Vance McDonald and Hayden Hurst. Even veterans such as Tyler Eifert (health willing), Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Cameron Brate and Benjamin Watson could come at wholesale pricing.

But I really have my eye on Hollister as a major surprise candidate. He had absolutely zero fantasy impact last season as an undrafted rookie with the Patriots, catching four passes for 42 yards and rushing once for 5 yards. But Hollister was good enough in Bill Belichick’s eyes to not only stash on the roster but play in 15 contests (and start one).

Earning Tom Brady’s trust has taken some time, but Hollister reportedly has been one of Brady’s most-targeted pass catchers in training-camp practices. While everyone assumes there’s no room for a Patriots TE2 since Aaron Hernandez went to jail, a deeper look shows that Tim Wright, Scott Chandler and Martellus Bennett turned in an average season of 34.7-406.3-5.7 from 2014 to 2016. That’s pretty much what Howard did in a splashy rookie season, or what Watson did in a steady veteran campaign. (And much better than Njoku, too, for what it’s worth.)

Last year was a wash with Dwayne Allen (who remains on the roster), but it’s clear that Allen is valued for his blocking and little else. Hollister easily could be on the field often with all the Patriots’ WR questions at and RB injuries. There’s Gronk, Chris Hogan and … who else exactly? Maybe someone such as Cordarrelle Patterson or Phillip Dorsett step up. But it would not shock us to see Hollister turn in a very nice, steady season. Did you sit up and take notice when Bill Belichick said he thinks Hollister “has a great future?” Because I sure did.

So why not just let Hollister go undrafted, as he probably will in 90-plus percent of leagues? Because you run the risk of him having a big Week 1 against the Houston Texans, a team that really struggled to defend tight ends last season, and having to place a claim on a tight end out of the chute. It makes sense that the Patriots could have a decent-sized role for Hollister right away against a team and a coach in Bill O’Brien that otherwise knows the Patriots’ personnel very well.

It’s a leap of faith, and we understand if you’re not willing to go this deep. But the good news is that there appear to be plenty of solid options this season at the position if Hollister is not ready to contribute every week right away.

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