Fantasy players rising, falling and flying too far under the radar

Chances are slim Eddie Lacy will get a leg up on the fantasy competition this season. (AP)
Chances are slim Eddie Lacy will get a leg up on the fantasy competition this season. (AP)

This time each year, fantasy cheat sheets and rankings are in constant motion as owners and “experts” diligently attempt to pinpoint player values. Below, Yahoo fanalysts Brad Evans, Scott Pianowski and Liz Loza discuss guys whose temperatures are rising and falling in their minds.

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The one player you’ve cooled on most since training camps opened is ________.

Brad – EDDIE LACY. Much like his waistline, Fit Eddie’s value is plummeting. He is indeed the ‘Biggest Loser.’ If the Preseason’s opening act was any indication, an exhibition in which Thomas Rawls ran with the first team, the former Packer is firmly immersed in a complicated RBBC. Due to Rawls’ early-down presence and C.J. Prosise’s pass-catching abilities, Lacy may only muster 11-13 touches per game, behind a permeable offensive line no less (SEA ranked No. 29 in run-blocking last year). That’s not exactly an RB2 formula.

Lacy set the pace in juke rate and finished top-five in yards after contact per attempt last season in Green Bay, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent NFL coaches prefer to deploy him in small doses. At this juncture, Rawls, who recall set Fantasyland ablaze over a pair of three-game stretches in 2015 and is going nearly 60 picks after Lacy, is the proper Seattle RB to target.

Pianow – I won’t draft ANDREW LUCK and I’m trying to avoid most of the Colts with Luck in limbo, but I suppose that’s low-hanging fruit (yes, Dad, I’m keeping fruit in my diet). I’m also puzzled that JOHN BROWN remains such a fantasy darling despite his uncertain status. Sure, I’ll root for his comeback with my heart. But fantasy football is a cold, cruel, numbers-only game. His ranking still doesn’t make sense, nor does his ADP. I’d also like to see MIKE GILLISLEE on a football field, because I have a lot of early best-ball investments tied to him (though I also have some White and some Burkhead; out on Lewis).

Liz – JOHN BROWN. From beginning the season battling headaches caused by a concussion he suffered in late July, to discovering he had a sickle-cell trait by mid-October, 2016 certainly wasn’t Smokey’s year. Entering 2017, however, it seemed that everything was behind him. Entering a contract year, reportedly back to health, living with Carson Palmer, and up 12 pounds of muscle, Brown had bounce-back written all over him. Plus, with Michael Floyd in Minnesota the opportunity for an increased role seemed well within the speedster’s grasp.

But the dude just can’t stay healthy. He tweaked his hammy at OTAs… and now he’s dealing with a quad injury. In fact, earlier this week he admitted to not being 100 percent, promising to bide his time until fully healed. I try to be injury agnostic, but at this point, Brown’s fragility has rendered him woefully unreliable.

You’ve already participated in an obscene amount of drafts THIS EARLY. The guy currently going at the highest peak value is ______.

Pianow – I suppose this could have qualified above, but JAY AJAYI scares me. The Dolphins obviously downgraded at quarterback; I don’t think this is close to a playoff team again (and the over-under projections agree). Can Ajayi catch the ball? That remains to be seen. And then there’s the concussion that cost Ajayi multiple weeks. This is a player worth considering in Round 1?

Liz – TYREEK HILL. One of fantasy’s most debated talents, Hill is the definition of boom or bust. Yes, he’s a freak athlete with loads of speed and versatility, but he’s also an undersized receiver working on a run-focused offense that averaged just 34 passing attempts per contest last year. I’m not taking away from his playmaking potential, but as Matt Kelly points out, he’s not a defacto WR1 just because Jeremy Maclin is gone from Arrowhead. I mean, remember Randall Cobb’s 2015 effort? That could be this. And in the third or fourth round of twelve-team exercises, I’m not interested in taking that kind of chance.

Brad – DAVANTE ADAMS. Statistical sustainability is what fantasy owners constantly seek. Week in and week out they want reliability and consistency. Adams, who stopped secreting Crisco from his hands, delivered on all fronts in 2016 and made the third-year leap. He hauled in 14 red-zone receptions (WR4), scored a dozen times (WR2) and netted 2.03 fantasy points per target (WR10). Now carrying a WR top-20 price tag (41.1 ADP), he’s a long shot to exceed or duplicate last year’s production.

Adams is fantasy fool’s gold. What he accomplished last season was a remarkable achievement considering the facts. Nothing about his secondary profile says he’ll return on investment. Last year, he ranked No. 37 in targets share (19.7%), No. 36 in red-zone targets share (20.2%), No. 43 in catch rate (62.0) and No. 41 in yards per target (8.2). In other words, he was entirely TD dependent. This year, ‘The Emoji Movie’ has a better shot of earning an Oscar nomination than Adams does finishing as a firm WR2. A steep regression is very possible.

Mining for gold, the one largely overlooked asset who’ll be highly sought after post Week 1 is ______.

Liz – ROD SMITH. Zeke’s suspension has plenty of fantasy managers eyeing the ‘Boys back-up RBs. While Smith (brother of Dallas LB Jaylon Smith) underwhelms from a metrics standpoint, he has fresher legs than either Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris. In fact, it’s rumored that he’s already surpassed Alf on the team’s internal depth chart.

Undrafted out of Ohio State, the 6-foot-3 and 226 pound back flashed as a Buckeye, but had his career derailed due to off-field issues. A good pass-catcher, solid in pass protection, and a contributor on special teams Smith has real appeal in an offense that logged nearly 500 rushing attempts a season ago.

Brad – ZAY JONES. All of the stars are aligning for the youngster. Sammy Watkins, traded to the fantasy latrine in Los Angeles. Jordan Matthews is dealing with a gnarly chip fracture of the sternum. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin, though still useful, is far from the earth-leveling force once seen in Arizona.

With 23.1 percent of the 2016 targets share up for grabs (Watkins’ workload), Jones, slated to work outside and occasionally in the slot within Rick Dennison’s offense, could enter the regular season as Buffalo’s No. 1. And take a guess who the Bills play Week 1? I’ll give you a hint, they’re about to redefine “putrid.” Yep, the Jets. Pending Matthews’ availability, Jones could storm out of the gate with a 5-70-1 line, the first step in a possible 70-850-6 campaign. Continue to target him late (145.7 ADP, WR57).

Pianow – I know he dinged his shoulder in the preseason opener, but I could see a breakout season for PAUL RICHARDSON. He flashed in the playoffs. Seattle’s offense line looks like a mess, and that’s the type of thing that is more-easily masked in the passing game than the running game. Russell Wilson was hobbled for most of 2016 (thanks, Suh) but should be back at full-throttle now.

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