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Slippery Seven: Pianow's 2021 Fantasy Football fades

·5 min read
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A few rules before we dig into the yearly fade list:

— The idea is to list valuable, popular players in this article. No one should need help avoiding N’Keal Harry or Cameron Brate. The goal today is to share some players who make me nervous at their likely ADP.

— I could draft any of these players if a highly unusual situation presented itself. I’m fading Jonathan Taylor today (and I’ll admit that’s not an island of isolation), but it’s theoretically possible (if unlikely) there could be a draft room where he plummets so far, even I reconsider. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but if you find yourself in that type of spot, you have my blessing to audible.

— Plenty of these players will have good seasons. Maybe some of them will have great seasons, or even be league winners. I’m just giving you an idea of how I see the current marketplace, and what current or expected ADPs I can’t endorse at the moment.

Preamble over. Let’s get some names out there. (I'm not going to list any quarterbacks; it's more useful if we find a fade at the other positions.) 

Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

Will he be good to go on opening day, or are the Giants just playing possum? It doesn’t matter to me, really. Barkley’s a good player but has always been overrated as a receiver, and if I take him in the first round, I’m asking him to excel despite a quarterback (Daniel Jones) and a coordinator (Jason Garrett) I don’t trust. Barkley still carries a 7.6 ADP on Yahoo, which is too pricy for someone residing on the PUP list and potentially held back by this infrastructure.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts

This might feel like low-hanging fruit, given the news of the past few days. First, the Colts found out QB Carson Wentz needed foot surgery; Tuesday it was announced that star guard Quenton Nelson also needs foot surgery. A month ago, I saw Taylor as a first-round pick for sure, probably a Top 6 pick.

Now we have to run away from that.

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor
It sucks to have to fade Jonathan Taylor in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

I like a lot of things about Taylor, a talented, smart, hard-working kid who crushed in the final third of 2020. But there’s competition in this backfield — no one to steal his job, but two viable touch-stealers — and the Colts are missing perhaps the offense's two most important pieces: Wentz and Nelson. When you invest in a fantasy running back, you’re investing in a team’s offensive infrastructure. I would need a gigantic discount to select Taylor now, one I’m unlikely to get.

Julio Jones, WR, Titans

He’s still the 14th wideout off the board in Yahoo drafts, a tag I can’t understand. I don’t see A.J. Brown and Jones as 1 and 1A wideouts in Tennessee; I view Brown as the clear alpha. And Jones comes with other baggage.

Start with age — Jones enters his age-32 season. Mix in some attrition — he’s only played four full seasons out of 10. And let’s not give Jones a pass for a career of mild touchdown frustration; he’s scored a good-not-great 60 times in 10 NFL seasons. It’s the wrong time in Julio’s career to view him as a proactive pick.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

Injury optimism is generally a losing play. Someone in your league is likely to talk themselves into a scenario where Thomas returns from his ankle injury ahead of schedule. Don’t be that guy. Don’t go looking for injuries; they’ll find you soon enough. (And even when Thomas does return, we have to worry about workload concerns and show-me weeks. Often there’s an invisible week or two-week wait even after the injured player gets back in uniform.)

Thomas had more team suspensions (one) than touchdowns (zero) last year. And it’s not like he was a spiking machine in the Drew Brees era. Are you confident Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston can take this sad song and make it better? I’m not.

DJ Chark, WR, Jaguars

When a team has multiple receivers with bunched ADPs, often it’s prudent to take the cheapest options. That’s part of what I’m driving at when I fade Chark, but it goes deeper than that. The Jaguars are brand new in so many spots — new quarterback, new coaching staff, even a new receiver in Marvin Jones. We have no idea who Trevor Lawrence will bond with quickly.

NFL camps give us endless sunshine and lollipop quotes, along with beat writer puff pieces; we have to be careful what shiny-happy stories we subscribe to. But when a team says something negative, often that’s a more reliable tale. When Urban Meyer called out Chark’s 2020 play shortly after the coach was hired, I took note. My portfolio will be underweight on Chark.

Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys

He’s a very good player on a fun offense, assuming Dak Prescott is healthy. Nothing wrong with Cooper. But CeeDee Lamb has roughly the same ADP and has the profile of someone who could lead the league in touchdown catches someday. Cooper could easily be a hit, maybe a double. The home run in this passing game, however, is Lamb.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons

Let’s talk first-round tight ends, post-merger:

- Four guys have made it past 640 yards receiving.

- Three guys have scored seven or more times.

Maybe Kyle Pitts is different. At his ADP, he freaking better be.

The Falcons will probably treat Pitts like a jumbo receiver, which opens the narrative that he truly is a unicorn. But at his current ADP, I have to bet on him like he’s a sure thing. I’m not comfortable doing that. And Matt Ryan’s Kingmaker days might be over.

This list could be much longer, but that’s enough for now. Consider this an open conversation that we can continue on Twitter. I’ll assume you don’t need help fading A.J. Green, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Rashaad Penny.