In every fantasy football draft season, there are a few especially polarizing players. These players have the ceiling of a league-winner but a floor that includes the possibility of dragging down a team for several weeks before the manager finally gives up on them. They are the men who we draft with equally high levels of excitement and fear, and to some degree, they are the reason that this game is so exciting. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these polarizing players.
Reasons to draft Lance: Blessed with game-breaking rushing ability, Lance has the potential to be a dual-threat fantasy star along the lines of Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. The 22-year-old is also lucky to be surrounded by an excellent offensive coach in Kyle Shanahan and some game-breaking skill players, such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. The fact that the 49ers traded up to draft him No. 3 overall in 2021 despite having seen him play just one game in his final NCAA season is a testament to his massive upside.
Reasons to avoid Lance: The 22-year-old presents a tough combination of youth and inexperience, having started just two games in his rookie year. He completed 58 percent of his passes last season and will need to make improvements on that rate to be considered a top-end NFL QB. And although Shanahan is an offensive guru, he is also a big fan of the run game and could choose to ease Lance into the NFL by moving the offensive focus to his stable of ball carriers.
Final verdict: In standard leagues, I am very excited to draft Lance ahead of his Yahoo ADP of QB13. The youngster may be a league-winner who rushes for 1,000 yards, and if he falls flat on his face, I can stream waiver wire QBs who have appealing upcoming matchups. In Superflex leagues, the lack of replacement options makes me a little more hesitant to draft Lance.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Reasons to draft Elliott: Elliott has been very productive during his six-year career, averaging a little over 1,600 total yards and 11 TDs per season. He proved his toughness by playing in every game while dealing with a partially torn PCL last year and should be back to full strength in 2022. Elliott also has a contract that virtually ensures a prominent role, and having recently turned 27, he should have at least a couple more productive seasons to enjoy. Finally, the Ohio State alum is part of a team that led the NFL in points scored a year ago.
Reasons to avoid Elliott: Zeke may not be the best running back on the Cowboys. Tony Pollard was dynamic when given opportunities last season, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 8.6 yards per reception. Dallas looked much better on offense in 2021 when Pollard was on the field, and with a lack of WR depth to open this season, the coaching staff may need to rely more heavily of Pollard’s game-breaking abilities than ever before.
Final verdict: I usually give the benefit of the doubt to players with strong financial ties to their team, but I’m out on Elliott. We sometimes see superstar backs fade quickly, and I genuinely believe that the team would be better off with Pollard getting the majority of carries. Currently tagged with a Yahoo ADP of 30th overall, Zeke is likely to be a bust.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Reasons to draft Barkley: The Penn State alum entered the NFL in 2018 as a generational talent before producing over 2,000 total yards in his rookie year. He was also excellent in his second season, leaving fantasy managers fixated on a level of upside that can be matched by few players at any position. The latest Giants head coach, Brian Daboll, is known for getting the most out of his offensive players.
Reasons to avoid Barkley: Barkley suffered a torn ACL in week 2 of the 2020 season and didn’t look like the same player last year (593 yards, 3.7 yards per carry), leaving some managers concerned that he may never reclaim is pre-surgery form. And although Daboll is certainly a good offensive coach, expecting him to immediately craft a productive offense with QB Daniel Jones and an unsettled group of pass-catchers might be too much to ask.
Final verdict: Yahoo drafters have thus far been tentative on Barkley, taking 13 other RBs before finally calling his name. I recognize the downside of the 25-year-old but am happy to rank him among the top-10 RBs for 2022 drafts and add him to my team in Round 2.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Reasons to draft Thomas: While working with Drew Brees, Thomas went to rare heights for a WR, averaging 126 catches and 1,458 yards per year over a three-season stretch from 2017-19. At age 29, he is still young enough to recover from an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of the past two seasons.
Reasons to avoid Thomas: Thomas has no history with current Saints QB Jameis Winston, who is returning from a torn ACL suffered midway through last season. And although the Ohio State alum was the alpha in the Saints passing game for several years, he will now have to compete for targets with first-round pick Chris Olave, veteran Jarvis Landry and pass-catching RB Alvin Kamara. By midseason, there may be whispers that Olave is better than the current version of Thomas.
Final verdict: I’m mostly out on Thomas, but I have to admit that Yahoo managers have likely found the sweet spot with his draft value. The veteran is being drafted in the range of 85th overall, which puts him as roughly WR30. I see him as a solid option as a WR3, especially in leagues where the waiver wire is flush with potential replacements.
Gabriel Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills
Reasons to draft Davis: Well, most of the reasons came on January 23, 2022. In one primetime playoff game, Davis showed potential that few WRs can match when he produced 201 yards and four TDs against the Chiefs. Prior to that game, the 2020 fourth-round pick had flashed big-play potential by totaling 13 TDs across two seasons despite getting minimal opportunities.
Reasons to avoid Davis: Other than rookies, the 23-year-old has one of the shortest resumes of anyone who is currently being drafted among the top 100 picks. And although his potential is undeniable, Davis and everyone else in Buffalo’s offense must fall in line behind target monster Stefon Diggs.
Final verdict: I will probably end up with few Davis shares this season, although I don’t have an issue with those who select him near his current Yahoo ADP of 74th overall. I prefer to draft JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is being selected in the same range, but Davis is among my top options if Smith-Schuster is no longer available.