Written By: George Haraktsis
Fantasy Fool’s Gold. What could that be? I’m glad you asked. Coming into every season, pundits are high on a few guys who set the world on fire a year before. They were fantasy gods, the guys that propelled teams into the playoffs and won owners their championships. Owners and pundits alike have lasting impressions of these players, and blindly select them the next year based on this past performance. Sometimes this works, and a player builds upon a great season with another the next. But sometimes they don’t… sometimes these players come crashing back down to earth. Sometimes it has to do with a team, coaching, or scheme change. It may be that they’re missing talent around them that was there the year before. Or it could just be the fact that they simply lack talent in the first place and were able to hide it the prior season. This is Fantasy Fool’s gold. A player who appears shiny at first, but upon further inspection is as fake as they come. Beware!!!!
Alex Smith, Washington Redskins
People seem to forget that Alex Smith was the number three ranked fantasy QB in 2017. Smith had career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and tied his career low in INTs. He also managed his second-best year in completion percentage and third-best in rushing yards. However, he can owe most of this final point total to his stellar first half performance. Through the first eight weeks of the season Alex Smith was the number one ranked fantasy quarterback. In this span, Smith threw for 2,181 yards, 16 TDs, and 0 INTs to go along with 154 yards rushing and one touchdown for an average of 21.3 fantasy points per game and a total of 170.6 for those weeks. This stretch saw him beat out the likes of Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson, just to name a few.
But as we know in the fantasy world, nothing gold can stay. From week 9 on, Smith fell to the number 13 ranked fantasy quarterback. His touchdowns dropped from 16 to 10 and his interceptions increasing from 0 to 5 in the same span, resulting in a drop of 3.5 fantasy points per game, from 21.3 to 17.8. He only accumulating 124.5 fantasy points compared to the 170.6 from weeks 1–8. Smith was not flat out busting, but there was clearly something going on there.
The season finally came to a close in the NFL Wild Card Round, where the Chiefs were narrowly defeated by the Titans 22–21 after giving up an 18-point lead. This was Smith’s last time in a Chief’s uniform. He was traded to the Washington Redskins in the offseason for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick, making Smith the new starting quarterback in Jay Gruden’s offense, replacing the Minnesota Vikings’ newest addition Kirk Cousins in Washington.
While Smith is going to a great system with Gruden at the helm, one that saw Cousins finish as a top 10 QB in consecutive years, he is getting a severe downgrade in the weapons around him. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will be replaced by the unproven Josh Doctson and oft-injured Jordan Reed. He moves from a team with a stable running back corps in last year’s rushing yards leader Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, and Charcandrick West to the unproven Samaje Perine, Derrius Guice, and injured Chris Thompson. Tough move for anyone to make.
While I do think Smith will be a serviceable starter in all fantasy football formats, it would be a huge ask of him to finish as a top 3 quarterback again. He did not finish last year strong, is in a new system, has a shaky wide receiving corps, and a worse supporting cast overall. A top 15 finish is more likely than a top 5, and all owners should proceed with caution when drafting the Redskins’ new signal caller.
Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
Another quarterback who changed teams this offseason– is there a pattern? Keenum finds himself on this list for many similar reasons as Alex Smith. While it does not solely have to do with the move from the Vikings to the Broncos, it’s a huge part of the reasoning.
Last year’s QB14 flew under the radar coming into 2017 due to the fact that he was not the team’s full-time starter until week 4 of the NFL season. Keenum finally secured the reigns from an injured Sam Bradford in week 3 and never looked back. The University of Houston alum went on to play in 15 games, starting 14 of them while having a career year and leading the Vikings to a 13–3 record on the year and the #2 seed in the NFC conference. In this time, he threw for over 3,000 yards, 22 touchdowns and only 7 INTs, good for 238.1 fantasy points on the year and 15.9 per game. Not too shabby for a guy who started the year off as a backup.
So why is he fool’s gold? Was he bad in the second half of the season? Nope. Keenum was the 9th ranked fantasy quarterback from weeks nine on, averaging a cool 18.2 fantasy points per game. Did he get injured? Nope. Keenum finished out the season as the Vikings starter, all the way up to their loss in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Is he old? Nahhh. Keenum will be only 30 years old once the season starts. So what’s the issue?
This question has quite a few answers. For starters, Keenum may not be all that good. He was a career backup until last year and only had a few sporadic starts due to other quarterbacks getting injured. Also, it didn’t seem like the Vikings thought he was all that good in the first place. The team elected to not re-sign him and instead paid a large sum of money to Kirk Cousins. On top of that, Keenum averaged just 32.1 pass attempts per game, ranking 19th among quarterbacks in the NFL. Even with their starting running back being injured, the team still elected to pass less than the average. It doesn’t seem like the Vikings ever really trusted Keenum.
Keenum now walks into a far worse situation than he was in before. His offensive line now consists of a unit that let up 52 sacks last year, good for third-most in the NFL. On the other hand, Keenum is leaving an offensive line that was great last year. The Vikings line allowed just 27 sacks on the year, almost half as many as the Broncos! Keenum needs time in the pocket.
If he is somehow given time, he now has a downgraded receiving corps to throw to. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still good receiving options, but I cannot honestly say they’re upgrades over Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Denver doesn’t even have a tight end option worth mentioning in the same sentence as the Minnesota’s fantastic and reliable Kyle Rudolph, one of Keenum’s favorite options!
The Broncos backfield is not one to write home about either. The team released C.J. Anderson, and now have a myriad of unproven options, including rookie Royce Freeman and third year Devontae Booker, to go along with their underperforming offensive line. While the Vikings didn’t have All-Pros at the position when Keenum was under center, Jerick McKinnon is a more than respectable pass-catching back and Latavius Murray is a bruiser who played well at times.
Considering that his offensive line play is going to be inferior, he is getting a downgrade at his receiving options, and his backfield is significantly worse than before, it’s hard to peg Keenum as a viable fantasy option in 2017. He should be considered a streaming option at best, the type that you start in a good matchup only. Being aware of all of the reasons stated above, don’t bother drafting the Broncos’ new signal caller. He is a prime example of fantasy football fool’s gold.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
The successor to Alex Smith in Kansas City has strangely made our list for fantasy fool’s gold. A player who only started one game in 2017, Patrick Mahomes, has not met the criteria of our other quarterbacks who managed great seasons last year, so why is he on the list? The answer? Hype.
There is no doubt that Mahomes has many of the physical and intangible tools than can make him a great quarterback in the NFL: a rocket arm, great athleticism/mobility, good awareness, solid accuracy, the list goes on and on. But the one thing he lacks at this moment is experience, and that is the most important one of them all.
Currently, Mahomes has an ADP right at the 11th round according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, making him around the QB15 in fantasy drafts. QB15 is not a terrible spot for him, but come August I assure you his value will climb up and he’ll end up being the 8th or 9th QB taken off the board. This to me seems a little rich to me for a quarterback who has so many question marks surrounding him coming into the season.
Yes Mahomes is surrounded by great pass catching options like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins, but does Mahomes have any sort of rapport with these players? Smith had developed his chemistry with Kelce and Hill, both of whom are premiere fantasy players, over a matter of years. Now Mahomes has to step in and try to recreate that connection? That’s a big ask for a player who only has one career start on their plate.
Definitively, this still remains a run-heavy offense. Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s 2017 rushing leader, is still on the team and will be relied upon to take the brunt of the offensive load, an approach that will severely limit the young quarterback’s fantasy ceiling. There’s no doubt that Mahomes has upside and will most likely flash some of that untapped skill in a few games this year, but he is currently being drafted based exclusively on potential. Mahomes will likely perform in years to come, but I would avoid him and his draft price in 2018.