Observer Fantasy Football Corner: Week 1
The NFL Season begins this Thursday with the Chiefs against the Texans. In a world that we have seen decimated by COVID-19, football and other sports leagues are seen as a glimpse of happiness in these unprecedented times. The return of sports also leads to the return of Fantasy Sports! Drafts are occurring across the globe right now as the season is set to begin.
Many already know who they want to draft and how they want to set their team. However, if you are new to fantasy or you need advice on who to select in the later rounds, we at The Observer are here to give you a player to watch and a player to avoid this week in your draft, as we begin the newly implemented Observer Fantasy Corner.
Player to Watch: Diontae Johnson, WR, Steelers
Diontae Johnson came alive during the 2019-2020 NFL season after JuJu Smith-Schuster went down early on. The former Toledo Rocket put up a solid 680 yards and five touchdowns on 59 receptions for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ during his rookie season. JuJu has yet to play a full 16-game season for the Steelers, and with Johnson being named WR2 this season during training camp, he is a great late-round pickup. Ben Roethlisberger also returns from injury, which is a huge advantage for the Johnson hype train. We saw it when Antonio Brown was with the Steelers. The WR2, who in that case was JuJu Smith-Schuster, put up similar numbers to that of a WR1. Granted Smith-Schuster is not in the same caliber as Brown, a comparison of Dionate Johnson to Smith-Schuster is not far-fetched. Johnson has the potential to be a fantasy WR2 at his peak, but even if he does not reach that, Johnson is a solid flex player every week.
Player to Avoid: A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Yes, I was one of the believers in A.J. Green last season before and after his injury. My decision to trade a hefty package, which included fantasy sleeper Michael Gallup, last season for Green blew up in my face. A.J. Green never returned to the field after an ankle injury during training camp last season, and I am not confident that Green will stay healthy once again this season. There have been reports of Green already dealing with injuries, but at the same time, there have been conflicting reports that Green looks great in training camp. I believe there is too much of a gamble with Green, and I am not confident enough to make him my WR2 on my fantasy team or even my flex option. People will argue that Green is the clear WR1 in Cincinnati. Even if that is the case, I like Tyler Boyd more on my fantasy team. The Bengals also selected Heisman winner Joe Burrow with the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, and while I am a believer in Burrow, I am not ready to put all my faith in a rookie QB to put up solid numbers right off the bat. There is a possibility that A.J. Green has an amazing season with Burrow, but I cannot see that happening until Burrow picks up the pace of the game and establishes consistency. A.J. Green is someone I strongly advise to avoid unless he falls to you past round 10. Someone in your league is bound to overdraft Green, so take advantage of that.
Player to Watch: WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo
Sometimes we over-evaluate what changing circumstances might do to a player’s fortunes, and I think that’s what’s happening with Stefon Diggs right now. You don’t trade four draft picks, including a first-rounder, for someone who isn’t one of the best players at their position, especially one as important as receiver. However, Diggs’ average draft position is just 60.7 (per FantasyData), putting him as the 26th-highest picked receiver in the NFL. Yes, going from Kirk Cousins to Josh Allen is a bit of a downgrade. But Buffalo’s outstanding defense means more time on the field for the offense, and Allen should take at least a small step forward. Diggs won’t have to worry about battling with Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph as a top target, either –– he’s the clear No.1 receiving option for an emerging Bills team. There are plenty of riskier and more unproven options going before Diggs; don’t let that trend continue in your league.
Player to Avoid: TE Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay
Look, I get the desire to make this pick. Gronk is a household name even for non-football fans and is just a few years removed from being one of the best tight ends in the game. Add in that he’s reuniting with Tom Brady on a Bucs squad that is being picked as a “dark horse” playoff contender by so many they’re not really a dark horse. Here’s the problem: Rob Gronkowski is 31, meaning he is already past his prime. His last season was 2019, and his numbers fell off hard to the tune of 22 fewer receptions and more than 50% fewer touchdowns that he had in 2018. And it’s not like Brady (43) is coming off a stellar year either. These two are almost certainly being massively overrated right now. Gronk isn’t the worst option as a very late round backup tight end or flex option, but considering where he’s going in most drafts, you’re better off finding someone who, you know, played last year.
Player to watch: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seahawks
After an impressive rookie campaign, Metcalf returns to the Seahawks as a clear first or second option. The six-foot, four-inch second year receiver out of Ole Miss played all 16 games last season, racking up 58 receptions, 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Metcalf’s only real competition for targets is Tyler Lockett. Opposing defenses may focus more on shutting down Lockett, giving Metcalf favorable one-on-one matchups. This, paired with his freak athleticism, puts Metcalf in position for a breakout year.
The Seahawks’ recent signing of Josh Gordon may concern some fantasy owners, but with Gordon still not reinstated by the league, this is not really a concern. Even if Gordon does make his way back onto the field at some point this season, Metcalf should not lose too many targets from QB Russell Wilson, who is known for spreading the ball around. I think the signing of Gordon is more a reflection of the lack of depth at WR for the Seahawks, he is not someone who will come in and lead the team in targets. Wilson is an elite quarterback who can get Metcalf the ball often, making him firmly a WR2 this season.
Player to avoid: Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
Unlike Metcalf, Allen’s outlook is trending in the downward direction. Allen will probably be catching passes from both Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert this year, as the Chargers begin a rebuild following Philip Rivers’ departure for Indianapolis. Taylor completed a whopping four passes for 33 yards last season, while Herbert was a member of the Oregon Ducks. Neither figure to be legitimate QB1 options this season, and this will reflect poorly on Allen’s output as a pass catcher.
Allen has been an elite WR in previous years, catching 149 passes for 1,199 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. However, Philip Rivers is no longer in Los Angeles, so one should expect a significant decrease in production. Allen recently signed a four-year deal with the Chargers, so fantasy owners should hope that Herbert emerges as a competent NFL QB, otherwise Allen will be a fantasy disappointment for years to come.
Player to Watch: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of reigning national champion LSU has big potential to be an elite fantasy player. Edwards-Helaire finished his career for the Tigers with 2,123 rushing yards in only one season as a starter, was named to the 2019 All-SEC First Team and was named a 2019 LSU Football MVP out of a stacked national championship team. Drafted as the last pick in the first round by the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire is poised to have an explosive season under the direction of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Edwards-Helaire has already made his presence felt in training camp, and after Damien Williams opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, has already been named the team’s RB1 ahead of week 1. As a rookie to fantasy football, I’m placing my bets on this rookie to rack up yards and score major points for Kansas City this season.
Player to Avoid: QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay
Veteran Patr –– excuse me, Buccaneers, QB Tom Brady will definitely be a player to watch, and one to avoid in fantasy this season. Since migrating south to Tampa Bay, Brady has racked up quite the following of big-name targets like Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette. But the 43-year-old doesn’t have much of a running game and is coming off of a less than stellar 24-TD season with New England last year, his lowest since a torn ACL took him out of 2008. Okay, I’ll admit to still being a little bit mad (fine, very mad) that Brady had essentially given up on New England before the season was through, but I’m betting that the greatest quarterback of all time won’t be quite as great without Bill Belichick behind him.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.