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Fantasy Football Risks and Rewards

By: Alexander Amir

No matter how much research, preparation, and statistical analysis is done, fantasy football will always have a large element of luck. While you may feel safer just drafting a middle-of-the-pack, safe team, the winners at the end of the day are those who made the tough decisions by taking a chance. Last year, Aaron Rodgers was the top QB off the board — he missed over half the season with an injury and was unavailable in the playoffs. Jay Ajayi’s average draft position was 10th overall in 2017, but was ranked 33rd in standard scoring by the end of the season due to the lethargic Dolphins offense and the Eagles running back committee. On the flipside, those who selected unknown rookie Kareem Hunt got even more than they expected, and those who took a chance on Todd Gurley after two underwhelming seasons were heavily rewarded with the top scoring running back and the second best fantasy player overall. Let’s take a look at similar high risk, high reward players for 2018.

1) Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Luck is easily fantasy’s biggest enigma entering the 2018 season. Since 2012, Luck has finished as a top 10 fantasy QB in every healthy season. In 2013 he was fantasy’s 4th best QB, in 2014 he was 2nd, and in 2016, he was ranked 4th again. However, in 2015 Luck only played 7 games due to a shoulder and a lacerated kidney. In his great 2016 season he dealt with a shoulder injury throughout, and in 2017 that injury kept him sidelined for the entire season. We also know that the Colts’ offense is devoid of much talent. He has mostly unproven talent at all skill positions aside from T.Y. Hilton, with either rookies or previously unproductive veterans at important positions. And while star rookie Quenton Nelson was added to the offensive line this year, Luck’s protection is still suspect.

However, Luck has shown in his healthier seasons that he is a force to be reckoned with. His rosters weren’t particularly impressive then either (though not as bad as it is now), and he single-handedly won games for Indy. If he can remain healthy, he will undoubtedly be a top fantasy QB. However, nobody really knows the status of his health. It seems as though he’s always played through injury even in his healthy years, and this shoulder injury has been nagging for the past 2 seasons. If you decide to draft Luck this year, be sure to have a viable backup in place.

2) Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Watson burst onto the scene in 2018, making NFL history by becoming the only rookie QB in NFL history with 7+ passing TDs and 2+ rushing TDs in his first 4 games of the season. In the 6 full games he played in 2018, Watson threw for an unbelievable 18 TDs and almost 1,700 yards, averaging 27.1 fantasy points per game, and was on pace to be the top scoring fantasy QB of 2017. Unfortunately, he suffered a non-contact torn ACL in practice before Week 8, ending Houston’s and many fantasy teams’ playoff hopes for the year. He also tore his ACL during his freshman year at Clemson.

ACL injuries are extremely difficult to return from. Watson proved he can do so by having two excellent seasons in college. Even so, it’s always an uncertainty as to how players will rebound from such a devastating injury. But ACL aside, there is bound to be a regression from Watson as he enters his second year in the league. He was on pace to throw for 52 touchdowns, which would have been the second most in a season in NFL history, and 433.6 fantasy points, which would be the 5th greatest fantasy football season ever and easily the most ever by a QB. While there is an argument to be made for Watson to finish as a top 5 QB this season just off his potential, be aware of the numbers and don’t reach for him in your drafts.

3) Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

The intrigue around Josh Gordon’s fantasy prospects just gets higher as the Browns get better. Gordon played only 5 games from 2014–2016 due to suspensions for multiple drug violations. He finally finished serving his time at the end of 2017, when he returned in Week 13 and was the 21st ranked fantasy wide receiver in that time, averaging a very impressive 18.6 yards per reception. In 2013, his last full season in the league, Gordon had an excellent fantasy season, scoring 227.4 fantasy points and playing like a viable #1 receiver.

The Browns undoubtedly improved this offseason, adding two viable QBs and a plethora of offensive weapons. Given that Gordon has performed well with Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and DeShone Kizer under center, I have no doubt that he’ll quickly build a rapport with Tyrod Taylor and/or Baker Mayfield. However, there are two big concerns. The first is obviously his history of drug use. He did check himself into a rehab facility in 2016, so here’s hoping he is able to stay clean. But if he’s found to have violated the drug policy again, there will be serious repercussions. The other concern is that Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, and Nick Chubb will steal a lot of touches. Landry is a target maven, and Hyde and Chubb are more than talented enough for the team to lean on the running game. Overall though, Gordon is too talented to not be considered a WR2 with upside. Just be aware of the risks.

4) Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

I’m going to get a lot of flack for this from my fellow Giants fans, but I’m not as high on Barkley for fantasy purposes as others are. Don’t get me wrong, he will completely transform the Giants’ offense in real life. In three years at Penn State, Barkley had almost 4,000 rushing yards with 43 touchdowns, and also caught 102 passes for almost 1,200 yards and 8 TDs. He tested incredibly well at the Combine, has almost flawless game tape, and is overall the whole package.

However, it is unclear at this point how extensive his role will be with the team. Pat Shurmur does like employing running backs frequently in his offense, as the Vikings ran the ball more often than most teams did last year. But the Giants still have a talented receiving corps with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram, and a capable QB in Eli Manning. Those guys will definitely command the ball often, so I wonder how much the team will actually lean on Barkley to carry the offense. The team also signed Jonathan Stewart, who is an absolute TD vulture. Finally, and most importantly, the whole right side of the Giants offensive line is an enigma. Patrick Omameh is just average, and nobody knows who is starting at RT. They are also relying on Center Brett Jones to repeat his performance at the end of the season. I’ve been hearing people talking about Barkley being the top fantasy running back in 2018, and that is a large stretch. He has tons of upside, but a pretty substantial amount of risk as well.

5) Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

When healthy, Jordan Reed is one of the premier tight ends in the league and in fantasy football. Reed had three relatively healthy seasons from 2014–2016, playing over 10 games a season and averaging 8.8, 17.7, and and 14.2 PPR points per game, respectively. Even last year, when he only played 6 games, he averaged 10 per game. However, his medical issues are well documented. He has a severe history of concussions, suffering one on six different occasions since 2010. He also has had numerous hamstring and foot injuries, keeping him out of games often. Before 2017 he actually had never played less than 9 games in a season, but it’s always unclear if he will play each week until right before gametime.

This season though, Reed seems to have even more upside than usual. The Redskins recently acquired QB Alex Smith to replace Kirk Cousins. Smith has generally preferred to throw conservative routes to his receivers, relying on slants and underneath routes. He’s had an excellent rapport with Chiefs TE Travis Kelce, making him one of the top fantasy TE in the league. The injury issues will always be a question with Reed, especially given his extensive concussion history, but if you’re feeling extra risky then he has tons of potential.


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