Miles Sanders among fantasy studs with NFL's most vulnerable opportunity shares

·7 min read

By Adam Levitan, Establish the Run

Special to Yahoo Sports

One of the most important and unique aspects of Yahoo Best Ball is the zero-transaction format. It creates a situation where some fantasy managers will get to Week 6 and find rosters littered with players taking zeroes or having drastically reduced roles. At that point, there’s no waiver wire to grind or trades to make — we’re simply drawing dead.

With that in mind, an important strategy adjustment to make is understanding fragility. At the time of our draft, we need to ask ourselves how vulnerable is a player’s opportunity? And is that factored into his average draft position (ADP)?

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Running backs are typically the most vulnerable to July/August moves, as we saw just last year. Damien Williams had an early third-round fantasy ADP through almost the entire drafting season. Then LeSean McCoy was cut by the Bills at the end of August and signed by the Chiefs, cratering Williams’ fantasy value. Can you imagine a wide receiver who couldn’t even make one NFL roster signing with a new team and seriously affecting the value of a highly-drafted fantasy wideout? It wouldn’t happen.

Here are some players with fragile opportunity outlooks relative to their Yahoo Best Ball ADP.

1. Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles

Sanders was undoubtedly one of draft weekend’s biggest winners as the Eagles passed on running backs. That leaves them with only 2018 sixth-rounder Boston Scott and a bunch of camp bodies (Corey Clement, Elijah Holyfield, Michael Warren) behind Sanders. However, the Eagles liked what they got out of Jordan Howard when he was healthy last season, giving him 12.9 touches per game. Before investing a top-10 pick in Sanders, I’d like to be sure they don’t add someone like Devonta Freeman or Lamar Miller for that role. Remember that our simulations showed that only four or five of our 20 picks in Yahoo leagues should be used on running backs. We can pass on RB in Round 1 and still emerge with a very competitive group.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Dolphins

Fitzmagic’s true YOLO style is a dream for fantasy. He’s annually among the league leaders in both average depth of target and interceptions, a recipe for spiked fantasy weeks. From Weeks 8-17 last season, Fitzpatrick was fantasy’s QB7. While with the Bucs in 2018, he was fantasy’s QB5 in points per game. So if you could guarantee me Fitzpatrick would hold the Dolphins starting job for 17 weeks, he’d be an easy late-round flier in Yahoo Best Balls. But if Tua Tagovailoa is healthy, he’s a near-lock to get on the field sooner rather than later. The risk of eating zeroes from Fitz at some point this season is too high.

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3. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals

Much like Dalvin Cook, Mixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract. April reports out of Cincy said that the Bengals are preparing for a holdout if the two sides can’t come to terms on an extension. Given the way recent holdouts went for RBs like Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon, I’d hope Mixon realizes that’s not the way to go — particularly since he’s aware of the way the Bengals have done business over the last couple decades. If he’s reasonable (aka not expecting Christian McCaffrey money), something will likely get done. But there’s enough risk here to give me some pause in the top-10.

4. Todd Gurley, RB, Falcons

A majority of Yahoo drafters seem to think Todd Gurley’s knee is a relative non-issue. But that’s mostly based on 19.3 touches per game over the final seven games of last season and Gurley emerging relatively healthy. The Falcons appear confident in his health as they surprisingly didn’t add any RBs in the draft, leaving just Brian Hill, Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison as backups. However, Gurley’s ADP (31.7) has risen sharply and is reaching a point where the health downside isn’t factored in. If Gurley is coddled at training camp and we see signs of a committee, we will have overpaid at his current June draft slot. Even Falcons OC Dirk Koetter recently admitted he doesn’t know how much work Gurley’s knee will be able to handle.

Whether Todd Gurley can remain the lead back for 16 games with the Falcons is in doubt. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Whether Todd Gurley can remain the lead back for 16 games with the Falcons is in doubt. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

5. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

While many called Fournette a “winner” after the draft as the Jaguars didn’t select a running back, I wouldn’t be so sure. He remains on the trade block and this organization has a history of cutting players after they’re dangled. They have to know that Fournette, who has clashed with the team over attitude/preparation before, could be disinterested if they bring him back. On top of that, the additions of Laviska Shenault and Chris Thompson show how they don’t want to feed Fournette 100 targets again. There’s downside to a new landing spot – and likely committee role – that’s not factored in yet.

6. Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

While Carr will open the season under center, his leash will not be long. Jon Gruden has been a long-time fan of Marcus Mariota, who the Raiders added him via a hefty 2-year, $17.6M “backup” contract. Back in 2015, Gruden couldn’t believe anyone would take Jameis Winston over Mariota and called him “Russell Wilson, only he’s 6-foot-4.” I’d consider Carr 50-50 to make 16 starts this year. Note that the Raiders have to play the Chiefs (twice), Saints, Bills, Bucs and Chargers in the first 10 weeks of the season.

7. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Chargers

The artist formerly known as TyGod is the heavy favorite to start over rookie Justin Herbert Week 1. Taylor’s rushing ability plus elite options (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler) gives him a quietly strong fantasy floor/ceiling. But the recent history of top-10 quarterbacks speaks volumes. In 2019, Kyler Murray started Week 1 and Daniel Jones was under center Week 3. In 2018, Baker Mayfield got his first rookie start Week 3, Sam Darnold Week 1 and Josh Rosen Week 3. In 2017, Mitchell Trubisky Week 5 and then the outlier Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith all year. But Tyrod is not a former No. 1 overall pick like Alex Smith – he’s on a meager 2-year, $11M contract aka backup money. Herbert is a strong bet to start many games as a rookie.

8. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, WR, Seahawks

The belief around the league is that the Seahawks want to add more talent to their wideout room, possibly in the form of Antonio Brown or Josh Gordon. While Brown is facing a lengthy suspension and Gordon would merely be a No. 3, they are still good enough to steal significant market share. And that’s a problem when the Seahawks insist on being one of the most run-centric offenses in the NFL. They were fifth in run rate last year and 24th in pass attempts per game. The threat of a big-time free agent add is not baked into the ADPs of Lockett and Metcalf, who are both currently going in the 50s in Yahoo Best Ball.

Adam Levitan has been writing about Fantasy Football professionally since 2008 and is a two-time FSWA award winner. A podcast host since 2015, his podcasts have been downloaded over 5 million times.

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