Fantasy Scouting Notebook: 41 observations to help make sure you're ready to draft

Some of the pieces on the Bears are undervalued (Jordan Howard) in fantasy drafts, while others are overvalued. The same could be said for many situations around the NFL. Let’s dive in. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Some of the pieces on the Bears are undervalued (Jordan Howard) in fantasy drafts, while others are overvalued. The same could be said for many situations around the NFL. Let’s dive in. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Let’s take a quick-hitting approach on several players and situations around the NFL heading into the last big Fantasy Football draft weekend. For those of you looking for cliff notes version, we have you covered there, too.

• Carlos Hyde is in his Ibanez All-Star years, the boring veteran. He’s a player you can draft as a bench option (or flex option) who might be good enough to slide into the RB2 slot on your team. Nick Chubb got nowhere this summer.

• Alex Collins showed what he could do in the second half of 2017, and the Ravens have a healthy, impactful offensive line again.

• Pierre Garcon is old and doesn’t score touchdowns. Jimmy Garoppolo meshed well with Marquise Goodwin last year. My early-draft season indirect path to Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy G was tight end George Kittle (who I still like). But when Kittle got dinged up, I pivoted to Goodwin. I don’t want Garcon. I also think Jerick McKinnon is a trap, and Alfred Morris will have a role.

• Royce Freeman is obviously the most-talented back in Denver. I expect Vance Joseph to be stubborn, though, and for Devontae Booker to stay involved. I’d be comfortable drafting Freeman in a “he will likely be good” pocket, but I can’t use a second or third round pick, where he has to be good. He’s been an eyelash overpriced for me this summer. But I completely understand why people like him.

• The opinion split in the Green Bay backfield interests me. Jamaal Williams never looked special to me last year. All he has right now is the baton — he’ll play, while Aaron Jones (two-game suspension) sits. I have not drafted Williams proactively — and usually someone wants to — so I’m fine with little to no Williams. The Packers backfield is rarely the rich pool of production we think it should be.

• Patrick Mahomes is going to have many highlights and a few bombastic mistakes. And with the skill talent around him, plus Andy Reid, I can’t see how he fails. Kansas City’s horrible defense — when’s the last time we said that? — will also force the offense to push the envelope. I went from slightly out on Tyreek Hill to fully in. Sammy Watkins might be a square peg again, though.

Patrick Mahomes, this year’s “fun pick,” (AP/Annie Rice)
Patrick Mahomes, this year’s “fun pick,” (AP/Annie Rice)

• The only thing I don’t like about drafting Golden Tate or Marvin Jones is that it might block me from Kenny Golladay later. If Golladay explodes — which I think is very possible — it would more likely come at Jones’s expense.

• Jarvis Landry has been underrated his entire career. He’s good at something that isn’t sexy. I’d be shocked if he’s not Cleveland’s best receiver. Josh Gordon is a fun idea and I’ll root for it, but he goes in an expectant pocket and I haven’t considered drafting him for weeks. (The next hot coaching candidate should be begging for this Cleveland job, by the way.)

• My buddy Mike Salfino has been banging away at “Rams Regression” and he makes a lot of good points. But look around at that lousy division. Who’s better than the Rams? I also fully believe in Sean McVay. If you think the offensive efficiency tanks, Greg Zuerlein is your target.

• If you want to listen to Mike and I argue (and sometimes agree), we have a podcast. Also read his stuff at The Athletic.

• Okay, so Todd Gurley is unlikely to score 19 touchdowns again. We can’t scream “regression!” and drop the mic. If he’s healthy, he can have a bad season and still score eight times. Something in the 10-12 range is likely. And while it’s hard for any player to be the best fantasy player — all I expect at No. 1 is a foundation, not a sure thing to crush everyone else — Gurley would be the way I would bet.

• Cooper Kupp is obviously the best Rams value at receiver, and is a little cheaper than Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. I have a lot of Kupp, some Woods, and almost no Cooks.

• I’m shocked there’s anyone who doesn’t love JuJu Smith-Schuster. What he did as a rookie was astounding, and then consider he was 20 for most of the year. JuJu is both a floor and upside pick. His efficiency has to drop from last year’s unreal levels, but his workload should increase significantly.

• I didn’t want Alshon Jeffery even before the shoulder issue lingered. Now he’s an automatic fade. I don’t like players who get in my way in September — too good to cut, can’t start them, can’t trade them. For different reasons, Mark Ingram and Julian Edelman are on this list. (Yeah, sure, if you get them super-cheap, fine. I haven’t had that option. Maybe you will. Play to your room. It’s all contextual. I know it’s not a fit in my world.)

• Tyler Lockett has missed for several seasons, but he’s still cheap, Baldwin is hurt, the defense stinks, and Graham and Richardson left town. I’m scratching the Lockett lottery ticket again.

• If you must have a vanity kicker, make sure they have a late bye week. And while I generally ignore bye weeks for most players, if you get to bye week as a tie-breaker (after looking at all the important stuff), later is generally better. Remember, your roster is going to turn over a ton between now and midseason. Your bye-week glut in Week 9 might be irrelevant when Week 9 finally shows up. The NFL is a snow-globe league. Every week and every season will be called “weird” by somebody — but weirdness and randomness are what the league is largely about.

• Every reasonable outcome I see for Randall Cobb is bad. He’s basically not on my board. (You can still use Davante Adams’s sneaky touchdown count as a way to win bar bets. A great example of how players can dramatically improve.)

• I’d rather be a year early than a year late on Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald. I grew up in the 01824, so my peeps are crushing me for this. But I’m not drafting a team to market or a team to make friends (or a team to brand myself), I just want the numbers. I nonetheless have a bunch of Chris Hogan.

• The Melvin Gordon setup is so good, I can rationalize his ordinary efficiency. There’s no major threat to his playing time. The Chargers love him and they put him in easy positions to succeed. Good enough for me.

• I’m unlikely to make the Jordan Reed leap of faith, especially if bench space is limited. I also don’t see Vernon Davis as good enough to be a handcuff. (Yes, there is a handcuff season, but no, it’s not in August, with rare exceptions. I might handcuff John Kelly to Gurley or James Conner to Bell, in the right situation, this weekend. That’s it. Handcuffing in August is bunting in baseball — you’re playing for the small inning. I want to play for the big inning. When it’s time to handcuff later this year, I’ll let you know.)

• Reed or no Reed, Alex Smith is almost always worth more than what you pay, and will be again. He’s also the reason you should have a two-QB format or Superflex format. Everyone in start-one leagues is going to like their quarterback setup, and that’s a bug, not a feature.

• I’m torn on Joe Mixon. Love that he lost weight and seems more dedicated. Don’t trust the offensive line. I usually pick the other guy when it’s a 50-50 call on Mixon. (Same is true for Mike Evans; I usually take the other guy.)

• Maybe Chris Godwin will happen and maybe he won’t, but I’m done with DeSean Jackson. Zero interest.

• It’s hard to trust teams when they say sunshiny things, but when they tell you bad news, it’s often important. Every piece of Ronald Jones news this summer was bad. This goes beyond motivational ploy — he doesn’t look ready to contribute.

• I expect the Patriots to have a bankable running back who is projectable and startable, at some point. But it’s unlikely that will show early. Remember, though, LeGarrette Blount was a needle-mover two years ago (18 TDs) and Dion Lewis was on a bunch of winners last year.

• “League winner” is an overrated phrase to me. Sure, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt could justly wear that tag for 2017. But success in fantasy comes down to a bunch of small things in addition to the occasional, glorious big thing. Attention to detail is an important part of anyone’s success in life (the best football coaches are constantly telling us this).

I don’t accept that every fantasy pick has to be a “hair on fire, I’m trying to win” pick — though in the middle and later rounds, obviously upside dominates. If some of your early picks are floor driven, that’s perfectly fine.

Does Adrian Peterson have anything left for us? (AP/Alex Brandon)
Does Adrian Peterson have anything left for us? (AP/Alex Brandon)

• For the first time in his career, Adrian Peterson is a boring floor pick and a little-upside pick. They need him. I think he has just enough left that he’ll keep playing. I don’t expect him to move needles. A reasonable depth pick, but I’m not going to outwrestle anyone for him.

• The Saints have plenty of skill players I like, but this is rarely a team that goes out of its way to steer touchdowns. Michael Thomas could score 11-12 times — or be back around 5-6 again. Sean Payton isn’t happy unless the trainer gets 2-4 scores. I’m probably an eyelash underweight on Saints, though I would have no problem taking Kamara proactively.

• “Who’s playing Buffalo?” will be a gift all season. Ravens Week 1, Chargers Week 2. (This late in draft season, forget about skipping a kicker and defense. It’s a smart hack mid-summer. Just about every good player is in bubble wrap now, so accept the timing and fill the fringe spots, too.)

• Jordan Howard is the boring value in Chicago. I am not sure Mitchell Trubisky is ready for the leap some expect. I think Matt Nagy was a good hire. Allen Robinson’s last good season was so long ago; I’m stunned he’s still going as essentially a sure thing. The setup for Trey Burton could not be more perfect. Rookie wideouts almost always flop, but Anthony Miller came into the league very polished, and will get those golden slot snaps.

• I don’t know when Sam Darnold is going to be great, but he will be great someday. Makeup is often a fluffy bit of noise, but it matters with quarterbacks. Darnold has the perfect wiring for his city and his position.

• I don’t understand the Jon Gruden hire or much of Gruden’s proclaimed 2018 strategy, unless it’s the ultimate long con. I took a few Marshawn Lynch shares when they were very cheap. I was not proactive with Amari Cooper.

• Kenny Stills has been an obvious value all summer and the market never quite caught up, though it did rally somewhat. And of course DeVante Parker injured his middle finger.

• I refuse to draft Andrew Luck like his comeback already happened and is a full success. And as much as I love T.Y. Hilton, remember he doesn’t run the full route tree and he can easily disappoint you in touchdowns. Jack Doyle is the boring but useful mid-round target here.

• It feels like a cop-out to say someone is a better best-ball pick than seasonal pick, but it’s true for the Jacksonville receivers. Keelan Cole should have a few big games. Dede Westbrook should pop now and then. The catch is predicting when this happens, and not being shaken by them when they have a few bad weeks. Mostly, you want them as bench fliers — guys you can use but you don’t have to initially use.

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• I can’t explain why Julio Jones’s touchdown rate doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t, and we’re deep into his career. He’s more of a reactive pick than a proactive pick for me, though I have a few shares. I’m still extremely nervous and frustrated with OC Steve Sarkisian. Matt Ryan is one of a million acceptable values at quarterback.

• Dalvin Cook is a wonderful talent, but he’s off a major injury, his offensive line might stink, and Latavius Murray is likely the goal-line back. Cook quickly became a second-round fade for me. I see why it could work, but I’m not paying for it.

• Adam Thielen is the Camry, Stefon Diggs is the sports car. Kirk Cousins was worth the dough. Kyle Rudolph might get bogged down taking out the trash — this line is going to need a lot of help. Rudolph and Cousins also got off to a poor start this summer. (Cousins’s rapport with Jordan Reed doesn’t influence my Rudolph rank. Reed’s peak level is much higher than Rudolph’s — and I say that as a fan of both players.)

• I want to see more of Corey Clement. The way the Eagles are constructed, I don’t think they have a choice.

• I want Saquon Barkley to be great and I was mid-round drafting him in mid-summer. Then he got dinged and the line looks messy, so I pushed him back a slot or two. He’s still a first-rounder, but a later-round guy for me.

• Lamar Miller is another boring value guy to target. Nothing chasing him. The mobile QB helps. The line isn’t great, but hey, can’t have everything. Miller didn’t hit lofty expectations a few years ago, and now it’s being unfairly held against him.

Did I miss your favorite player or biggest conundrum? Hit me up on Twitter: @scott_pianowski

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