I love fantasy football and everyone associated with football should be glad it exists, given the eyeballs and money it brings to the sport. However, at times it can definitely cloud our view of the actual game.
We should all know that “fantasy good” doesn’t mean “actually good” in football and, just as key, even if a player isn’t pumping fantasy lineups with points, it doesn’t mean they are bad.
So with that in mind, I’ll drop 10 players who are much better real-life players than they are fantasy players. Let’s give these guys some needed publicity. Have some better suggestions? Hit me up on Twitter to let me know.
One of the best offensive minds in the NFL believes it is to his offense’s benefit to get Taysom Hill involved. He might be right. Over 63 percent of Hill’s targets resulted in a first down last year; that was the second-highest among all the players to record 10 first downs through the air. He was effective at keeping drives alive on the ground too, with 37 percent of his rushes going for a first down. He did all this while marinating at the quarterback position, continuing to develop. It appears the Saints do seriously consider him as part of their post-Drew Brees world. Despite all that, he should not be eligible at any position other than quarterback. So, definitely a better real-life player than a fantasy one ... until he takes over as the starter.
“Free Duke Johnson” has long been a rallying cry for Football Twitter. And yet, no coaching staff to this point has seen fit to use Duke Johnson as anything more than a bit player. He’s only averaged north of 8.5 fantasy points per game in one season. Pretty wild for a guy who remains the leading rusher at the University of Miami, a school littered with storied running backs.
Johnson has been a really good receiving back with a career 9.0 yards per catch average. Still, a team has granted him fewer than 80 targets in all but one of his NFL seasons. He was even awesome as a runner last year, finishing seventh among backs with 50-plus carries in yards after contact per rush. Alas, it’s probably best we just accept this is Duke’s place in the NFL. Hope is poison.
Dallas Goedert might have the best odds of any player on this list for starting on fantasy squads but let’s be clear: If he played for almost any other team in the NFL he’d have a much higher ADP than TE17 right now.
The third-year tight end is stuck playing second-fiddle behind star Zach Ertz. In fairness, that’s a role that landed him No. 2 on the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns last year. But you can thank the broken Eagles receiving corps for that more than anything else. In addition to his receiving work, Goedert was a top-10 run-blocking tight end last year, according to Pro Football Focus. We’d probably consider this player a clear fantasy TE1 if he ever switched teams.
Sadly, it seems Gus Edwards is destined to fall even further down the pecking order in Baltimore after the drafting of J.K. Dobbins. The former UDFA did fend off a rookie challenger in Justice Hill last year for the backup gig behind Mark Ingram but this time will likely be different. While Edwards may not fit the prototype of a modern NFL back, he’s a blistering runner. His 3.8 stuffed rate (percentage of carries that went for zero or negative yardage) was the lowest among all backs to receive 50-plus carries in 2019. Edwards won fantasy leagues as a rookie in 2018 when he racked up 654 yards and two scores on 122 carries from Weeks 11 to 17. If the stars ever align again, we could see an encore.
Maybe the arrival of running back check-down specialist Philip Rivers will finally bring Nyheim Hines the stats he should command. Hines has totaled just 1,258 yards from scrimmage at 5.2 yards per touch through two years. Not exactly special. However, he’s been a factor in moving the chains. Almost 31 percent of Hines’ carries in 2019 went for a first down and he’s clearly a factor in the passing game with 107 catches in his two seasons. The offense getting stuck in the mud last season after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement stalled his career but the arrival of Rivers could turn the tide for Hines.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
It feels weird to have a future Hall of Fame receiver on this list but for most of his career, Larry Fitzgerald’s impact has been greater than what the stat sheet shows. That’s especially true at this point in his career. Fitzgerald is a strong chain-mover, recording more first down catches than younger teammate Christian Kirk despite similar target totals. Fitzgerald is also still a strong blocker, part of the reason Arizona was ranked second as a rushing offense in Football Outsiders DVOA. The future Hall of Famer will take a backseat to DeAndre Hopkins, Kyler Murray, and the aforementioned Kirk among other players in terms of fantasy headlines in what may be Fitzgerald’s final season, but all those players will still be happy he’s around.
Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys
We’ll certainly see Tony Pollard in some packages with Dallas this year but it won’t be much given the stars they have in town. It’s tempting to imagine what the Cowboys offense would look like with Pollard in a more featured role. The electric back showed he could ball as a rookie in 2019. He ranked first in yards after contact per rush (per SportsRadar) among running backs with 50-plus carries last year. Maybe we see Pollard as a fantasy factor at some point. It might just be fun.
Willie Snead, WR, Baltimore Ravens
At one point, Willie Snead looked like he was on a clear upward trajectory based on what he showed as a route runner in New Orleans. After racking up 1,879 yards on 205 targets in 2015 and 2016, it looked like the 2017 season was going to be Snead’s time to shine with Brandin Cooks vacating the starting spot beside Michael Thomas.
It was not meant to be. Snead was suspended to start the year, fell in Sean Payton’s doghouse, dealt with injuries, and faded to the background. Snead has re-emerged with the ultra-run-heavy Ravens and did score five touchdowns last year. Maybe there is an alternate timeline where Snead is a great separating high-volume slot receiver on an aerial attack offense. Alas, that dream may be gone.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears
It’s not that Matt Nagy isn’t a creative offensive coach but Chicago isn’t exactly the best ecosystem. Tarik Cohen might be a version of Darren Sproles in the right setting but for now, he’s just a tease of an RB4. We got a glimpse of what Cohen could do when he handled 91 targets and averaged over 10 yards per reception in 2018 but things fell apart last year. Let’s hope we see Cohen somewhere truly special at some point in his NFL life.
Kyle Juszczyk and basically all fullbacks
Analytics legend Warren Sharp graced our timelines with a thread highlighting the underrated impact of the fullback position. The most notable stat: Of the eight personnel groupings used over 100 times in 2019, 21 personnel stood out above the rest, ranking first in yards per play, first in EPA per play, and first in success rate.
Without the fullback, some of our best-known studs in fantasy might not get theirs on the field. For example, we all know about Kyle Juszczyk (one of just three backfield players to average over 10 yards per catch since 2017) but consider a name like Khari Blasingame. The Tennessee fullback started getting significant playing time from Week 12 through the playoffs. He was another undersold factor in Tennessee and consequently Derrick Henry’s eruption.