Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: Fantasy Fools

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew and RB Devine Ozigbo
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Bryan: Hello and welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, where with, what, a month to go until the regular season starts, maybe it's time we finally turn our heads to the world of fantasy football, with an early preview of the best players avail--

... wait, what? This Thursday? Kickoff? But what about the preseason? Cancelled? Global pandemic? Uh, excuse me, I'll be right back, I have to ... not ... go check all my fantasy teams. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Andrew: It's kinda hard to believe we've reached this point, isn't it? Despite all of the cancellations and postponements and awkward draft arrangements, assuming nothing utterly catastrophic happens in the next 48 hours (at time of publication; 96 at time of writing) we might have actual, honest-to-goodness live football on Thursday night.

"Assuming nothing utterly catastrophic happens," is, of course, a very necessary qualifier in this accursed year.

Bryan: Then again, "assuming nothing utterly catastrophic happens" is also usually a good description of my fantasy teams. Last year, a fantasy team might have conceivably been starting Nick Foles, Tyreek Hill, Devin Funchess, and Tevin Coleman, all of whom were injured in Week 1 and missed varying amounts of time. This might be a stranger year than most, but it's always a good idea to have a backup plan in mind.

Andrew: You're writing this article with a guy who was so prepared and focused for my fantasy draft that I unwittingly ended up with not just one, not even two, but all three of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry -- in the year that Tyrod Taylor is set to be L.A.'s opening-day quarterback rather than Philip Rivers. If we're going all in on utterly catastrophic things, the Chargers are definitely the place to start. I also grabbed Adrian Peterson in the late rounds, which, whoops. So yes, a backup plan may be required. We're writing this article as much for our benefit as anybody else's.

Please bear all of these tales of woe in mind when deciding how much stock to place in the rest of what we are about to write.

Bryan: To help us you out, we went through and grabbed a list of all the players who are likely still available on your waiver wire -- everyone rostered in 5% to 50% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues as of cutdown day. This is the general field of who might be available for you as a depth pick-up or emergency spot starter or just as someone better than the slug you ended up taking in the 12th round when you accidentally left your computer on "autodraft" because you haven't drafted online in years. Then we'll try to piece together our own top rosters -- and we encourage you to do the same in the comments, just so we can all look back on this in Week 16 or so and laugh at how dumb we all are.

Andrew: In case there's any lingering doubt, that is a considerable level of dumb.

Quarterbacks

Best Quarterbacks Still Available
Player Team Rostered
Ryan Tannehill TEN 49%
Kirk Cousins MIN 41%
Philip Rivers IND 31%
Gardner Minshew JAX 26%
Teddy Bridgewater CAR 24%
Drew Lock DEN 24%
Derek Carr LV 19%
Sam Darnold NYJ 16%
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 11%
Tyrod Taylor LAC 8%
Dwayne Haskins WAS 6%
Nick Foles CHI 5%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 5%

Andrew: Most leagues only start one quarterback and only have 12 teams, so generally speaking there are going to be some starting players available at this spot at any given time. Those guys range from matchup starters (oh look, he's starting against the Panthers this week!) to desperate emergency options (oh look, he's starting for the Bears this week!), but in a sane league you can usually find a decent option or two on the discard pile.

Bryan: It's also interesting to see the crowd-sourced results for the various quarterback competitions in the league. Tua Tagovailoa is rostered in more leagues than Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite Fitzpatrick getting the Week 1 start. The opposite is true in Los Angeles, where Tyrod Taylor has hung on to his starting credentials over Justin Herbert, at least for now. And in Chicago, Nick Foles is only rostered in 5% of leagues, compared to Mitchell Trubisky's, uh, 3%.

Don't pick up a Chicago quarterback, advice which has held strong since Erik Kramer in 1995. That was the last time a Bears quarterback finished in the top 12 in his position, fantasy-wise.

Andrew: The needy fantasy manager can do better than Trubisky and Foles, however, or even Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick. In just over half of leagues, the top options at the position include last season's surprise standout Ryan Tannehill and the consistent, if unspectacular, Kirk Cousins. I'm a little surprised to see Philip Rivers so low on the list too. Rivers is a free agent in more than twice as many leagues as he's rostered in.

Bryan: To put that somewhat into perspective, Jimmy Garoppolo is rostered in 52% of leagues. You know, the quarterback who famously threw just eight passes against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game?

Andrew: To be fair, the way the Packers run defense played in that game, even Patrick Mahomes might have only thrown eight passes.

Bryan: Oh, I'm not saying it wasn't the right strategy, just that it's odd to look at that and go "yup, there's my fantasy starter!" over teams that are going to be throwing a lot. You don't get points for efficiency in fantasy! Jameis Winston and Josh Allen were top-six fantasy quarterbacks last year!

Andrew: That, for me, is where the value of somebody like Teddy Bridgewater comes in. Bridgewater is nobody's idea of a top-10 quarterback, but that Panthers team is probably going to be well behind in a lot of games this year, and they don't lack receiving talent. My most successful fantasy quarterback ever was 2005 Kerry Collins, the year Oakland went 4-12 with Randy Moss. We're probably not going to see that kind of year from Bridgewater, but he can definitely put up some volume in that situation.

Bryan: We're looking for a quarterback with a firm grip on the starting job, so I think that crosses out the bottom six names on the list, and you could arguably throw Derek Carr into that pile in a worst-case scenario, seeing as how the Raiders went and picked up Marcus Mariota in the offseason. I wouldn't want to run the Drew Lock risk at this point either, after just five games of starting experience a year ago. So I'm looking at the top five names on the list and trying to split between 'em. Bridgewater's a very solid pick -- I had him as my longshot candidate to lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns, because he will be throwing a lot. He's kind of a dink-and-dunker, though; no qualified quarterback had a lower aDOT last season, so that worries me there.

I kind of like Gardner Minshew here, actually -- same premise of volume passer on bad team. Minshew averaged 16.4 fantasy points per game last season, more than Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo...

Andrew: Minshew also has that yummy rushing value. Empty calories for most players in the real world, but they fatten up your fantasy scores like deep-fried, battered pizza.

Bryan: And, of course, in mustache-based scoring systems, he's a first-round lock.

Are we being too clever by not just picking Ryan Tannehill? He barely makes the cutoff for the list here; he averaged nearly 19 fantasy points a game last year which is top-five territory, and he has been a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback before (specifically in 2014, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns with 300 bonus rushing yards).

Andrew: The Tannehill Regression Bandwagon is laden down from the strain of all the analysts clamoring to get into the driver's seat. He also adds rushing value, and very, very fortunately, most leagues don't penalize for sacks. I'd say Tannehill is the moderately affluent man's Gardner Minshew (the rich man's is Kyler Murray, the billionaire's is Lamar Jackson), and I'd certainly have him ahead of the Tache. If he's still available, he's worth a punt. If not, I think I'd lean Bridgewater out of the other options.

Also, I just checked, and not one of these players is available in my league. 16-team leagues are ridiculous, y'all.

Bryan: My second worry with Tannehill, apart from the Regression Bandwagon, is the possibility that they're going to feed Derrick Henry roughly 1,000 carries per game. Tannehill averaged 27 attempts per game as a starter last season, while Minshew averaged 35 (and Bridgewater averaged 33). Seven or eight extra pass plays a game might add up over the course of a season. Yes, I'd rather have Tannehill on my actual team than the Tache or the Bridge, but fantasy's always a trickier story.

Also, we've yet to mention Kirk Cousins or Philip Rivers, except in the "less than Minshew" category. I think the point here is that, in normal-sized leagues, you have options, and you could even run a bit of a stream here, if'n you so chose. Crazy 16-team leagues need not apply. I'm sticking with Minshew, and hoping for plenty of 40-30 losses in Jacksonville this year.

Andrew: I drafted Cousins. I have him, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees. I expect him to remain third of the three options, given how absolutely determined his head coach appears to be to run the ball at every available opportunity. Our own KUBIAK has him behind Bridgewater and Rivers and basically tied with Minshew. Minnesota's Kubiak, on Mike Zimmer's instructions, will conspire to keep him out of the fantasy top 20. I'll take my chances with Teddy Bridgewater.

Running Backs

Best Running Backs Still Available
Player Team Rostered   Player Team Rostered
Duke Johnson HOU 47% Bryce Love WAS 12%
Tony Pollard DAL 45% Devine Ozigbo JAX 12%
Adrian Peterson DET 45% Benny Snell PIT 12%
Chase Edmonds ARI 44% Jerick McKinnon SF 11%
Boston Scott PHI 43% LeSean McCoy TB 10%
Damien Harris NE 41% Joshua Kelley LAC 10%
Chris Thompson JAX 37% Jamaal Williams GB 8%
Ryquell Armstead JAX 30% Derrius Guice CUT 7%
Carlos Hyde SEA 26% Malcom Brown LAR 7%
AJ Dillon GB 24% Giovani Bernard CIN 6%
Devonta Freeman ATL 23% Damien Williams OPT-OUT 6%
Darrel Williams KC 21% Darrynton Evans TEN 5%
Ke'Shawn Vaughn TB 20% Rashaad Penny SEA 5%
Nyheim Hines IND 19% Frank Gore NYJ 5%
Justin Jackson LAC 18%

Andrew: So where do you fall on the spectrum of "all your top picks on starting RBs" versus "zero RB strategy" fantasy players?

Bryan: Oh, you're asking me for a consistent fantasy strategy, are you? I try to avoid those whenever possible.

Generally speaking, however, I do try to grab at least one top running back who I think is going to be The Guy for a team for an entire season. That's an increasingly limited commodity these days; if you can get a Christian McCaffrey or a Saquon Barkley early, it's probably a good idea to do so. I'm less fussed about a second running back, though; I'm OK with doing a matchup shuffle there and shoring up other positions. I just like to have at least one of my first two picks run the ball.

Andrew: That seems reasonably sensible. I'm always amused by discussion of waiver-wire running backs, again because of the ridiculousness of the league I play. The demands of individual leagues affect this position more than any other, I'd say. In a league like mine -- 16 teams, two RBs and a FLEX -- there simply aren't enough starting running backs to go round. There aren't even enough timeshare backs to go round. You simply need to grab guys in the draft, earlier the better usually.

Bryan: You can also contrast the focus needed to compete in a 16-team league with the level of attention the average public league player is apparently giving the league this year. Damien Williams is still rostered in 6% of leagues; he was a COVID opt-out back in late July. Derrius Guice is still rostered in 7% of leagues; Washington dumped him after his legal issues back in early August. This is why zero-RB strategies can work -- in some leagues, people just aren't paying attention.

Andrew: Sure, and the guys who aren't paying attention are unlikely to grab the likes of Devine Ozigbo or Jonathan Taylor, looking instead only at the guy who is the official starter. Which, at the time of most drafts (I believe), was still Leonard Fournette.

Bryan: I'm glad you brought up Ozigbo, because the most interesting group here is the three Jaguars backs -- Ozigbo, Chris Thompson, and Ryquell Armstead. With Fournette being dumped to the wayside, that opens up opportunities for one of these guys to make a splash, so you could do worse than betting on Jacksonville Roulette here. You have a favorite among them?

Andrew: I drafted Armstead, so naturally he went on the Reserve/COVID list the week before opening day. He's the guy who would have been my bet to start as the lead back, health permitting, with Ozigbo eating into carries and Thompson taking the bulk of the passing work. Ozigbo's a guy the Saints liked a couple of summers back, but he couldn't stick on their deep roster. I suspect he'll get a chance at some point.

Bryan: I'm not particularly impressed by Ozigbo, all things considered -- I'd be trying to decide between Armstead and Thompson, either of whom would be entirely justifiable picks in a best of the scrapheap team. If you're in a PPR league, as I think most leagues have gradually shifted to, then I really think you want Thompson here. In a more traditional league, I think Armstead's still your guy, COVID list or no COVID list.

Andrew: I don't like the idea of the dumpoff option for a guy who isn't very good at going through his progressions. I'd still lean on the early-down back, even in PPR, but I understand the argument.

Bryan: Either are solid picks, honestly. I don't think I'll take either, but the opportunity is there at least.

Andrew: Further complicating matters since we first wrote this segment is the news that Armstead will be out "for a while", and it's rookie James Robinson (Illinois State), not Ozigbo, who has top billing on the Week 1 depth chart. So maybe just avoid Jaguars backs until we get a little bit more clarity on their situation. Though I did pick up Robinson this morning, and he's the one I'd target if you're really, really stuck.

Bryan: The other teams with two players on the list are really handcuff battles. Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelly behind Austin Ekeler; AJ Dillon or Jamaal Williams behind Aaron Jones; Carlos Hyde or Rashaad Penny behind Chris Carson. And then you have the Tampa Bay nightmare of a backfield now, with both Fournette and Ronald Jones rostered in over 90% of leagues, and Ke'Shawn Vaughn and LeSean McCoy fighting for scraps behind them.

Andrew: I grabbed Joshua Kelly from waivers when I put Armstead on my IR list, so my league at least isn't quite that deep. I like him as a late-season option, but I doubt he'll be much use in September unless somebody gets hurt. Damien Harris is interesting, because something chronic appears to be wrong with Sony Michel and Lamar Miller is not quite back from his knee injury. Belichick running back roulette is sometimes worse than Shanahan roulette, but Harris is gaining some traction.

Bryan: Harris is one of my finalists too, for all the reasons you just mentioned, plus the idea of the Patriots using a run-heavy system. I frankly wouldn't be shocked if they came out in the old Notre Dame Box and just ran option plays all day long, if Cam Newton's knee is even in the right hemisphere of healthy.

Boston Scott is another tempting option, as Miles Sanders is struggling through a hamstring injury. Sanders is supposed to start Week 1, but hamstring injuries can be nagging things throughout the year, and Scott was very, very hot in December; he earned a larger role in 2020 based on his performance in Philadelphia's playoff push last season

Andrew: Tony Pollard is the obvious handcuff for Ezekiel Elliott. Duke Johnson is very, very appealing, because he may well be the better player in that Texans backfield right now despite David Johnson's status as the alleged starter. I just don't trust Bill O'Brien to realize that.

Bryan: Duke Johnson is a better player than David Johnson, and I am going to be confused all year by "D.Johnson" statistics coming out of Houston. Bill O'Brien did this specifically to spite me, I am sure.

Andrew: Bill O'Brien the general manager does things to spite Bill O'Brien the head coach, I am sure. Not deliberately, but he does them.

Bryan: I'd call it a Jekyll and Hyde situation there, but I'm not sure which one is supposed to be the competent, non-threatening one.

Andrew: I drafted Nyheim Hines out of need in the later rounds. He's the Indianapolis equivalent of Chris Thompson, who we already discussed, but Hines will have more value in PPR. Even Branden Oliver had half a season of PPR value catching the ball from Philip Rivers. I like Hines ahead of everybody behind him, and most of the people above him. He's worth a flier.

Bryan: Philip Rivers loves throwing the ball to running backs -- see Austin Ekeler's workload in recent years. Danny Woodhead once had 80 receptions in a Frank Reich offense. Maybe Jonathan Taylor takes over more of that passing role sooner rather than later, but Hines is the established pass-catching back in Indianapolis until proven otherwise. I think I'll grab Hines as one of my two running backs and pair him with Damien Harris, and then get upset when Marlon Mack and James White dominate the stat sheets week after week.

Andrew: I'll grab Hines and Duke Johnson, because I'm amused at the idea of a league where Duke Johnson is available on waivers. And because I'm still mad that I drafted Adrian Peterson (late!).

Bryan: At least Peterson landed somewhere! It could be worse.

Wide Receivers

Best Wide Receivers Still Available
Player Team Rostered   Player Team Rostered   Player Team Rostered
DeSean Jackson PHI 47% Breshad Perriman NYJ 22% Denzel Mims NYJ 7%
Allen Lazard GB 44% Hunter Renfrow LV 21% Chase Claypool PIT 7%
Golden Tate NYG 44% Parris Campbell IND 20% Miles Boykin BAL 6%
Sammy Watkins KC 43% Alshon Jeffery PHI 17% Dede Westbrook JAX 6%
Brandon Aiyuk SF 42% Bryan Edwards LV 16% Cordarrelle Patterson CHI 6%
Preston Williams MIA 39% James Washington PIT 15% Van Jefferson LAR 5%
Jalen Reagor WAS 37% Laviska Shenault JAX 11% Steven Sims WAS 5%
N'Keal Harry NE 34% Randall Cobb HOU 10% Kenny Stills HOU 5%
Curtis Samuel CAR 34% Cole Beasley BUF 9% Tyrell Williams IR 5%
Robby Anderson CAR 32% Antonio Brown RET 8% John Ross CIN 5%
Michael Pittman IND 28% Josh Gordon SEA 7% Kendrick Bourne SF 5%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 26% Tee Higgins CIN 7%

Bryan: Antonio Brown, still retired. Tyrell Williams, on season-ending IR with a torn labrum. Josh Gordon, not yet reinstated (though at least he has a chance to be, making him not a terrible stash-and-hope pick). Once again, you gotta read the fine print on some of these available players.

Andrew: There are two players on this list who I am genuinely amazed to see available, maybe three. Allen Lazard is the presumptive No. 2 receiver in Green Bay. Golden Tate should be a consistent option in New York. Preston Williams was very productive last season prior to his ACL injury.

Bryan: And you have a legend in Larry Fitzgerald idling there, too -- obviously his best days are behind him, but I'm surprised name value alone doesn't have him in more leagues. None of these guys are my picks, mind you, but this is a pretty deep pool to pick from. Or, at least, a wide pool of shallow options. With that in mind, we have to figure out who we're carrying water for.

Have you noticed our KUBIAK projections are very high on Carolina's offense? Bridgewater's projected to throw a ton of yards. Christian McCaffrey is projected to nearly lap the field, more than 60 points ahead of anyone else in fantasy leagues. Is Carolina a secret sleeper offense? Or is Scott Spratt's Carolina fandom subconsciously trickling down into our algorithms?

(It's the former, to clarify.)

Andrew: KUBIAK has Bridgewater as QB12 by my league's scoring, which makes him a low-end starter even in standard leagues. I assume this is the lead-in to a discussion of Curtis Samuel, not the somewhat odd match of Robby Anderson.

Bryan: See now, I'm intrigued, because I thought Anderson was an interesting upgrade over Samuel when he was signed! It's not an ideal landing point for him, fantasy-wise, but Anderson's a deeper threat, and I think some of Bridgewater's conservatism last year came from a Saints offense expertly designed to throw 2-yard touch passes.

Andrew: I suspect that the ideal formation in Carolina is 11 personnel, Anderson and Samuel on the outside, and DJ Moore in the slot. In that configuration, I expect Moore to vacuum up targets like Lego blocks in a 10-year-old's bedroom. The outside guys are trickier to parse, but Samuel has been good there with worse quarterbacking than Bridgewater.

Bryan: Remember, too, that new Panthers coach Matt Rhule previously coached Anderson in college, and I always like the fantasy odds of players specifically brought in by previous head coaches to Run Their Scheme. They tend to get a little bit of a longer rope than holdovers from the previous regime. And while, yes, Moore is going to catch a zillion passes, I'm not sure I'd put Samuel's potential above Anderson's established performance at this point. Plus, per the Charlotte Observer, Samuel "has not been impressive" during camp, with both Moore and Anderson reportedly outperforming him in padded practices. I'd kill to have just one preseason game to evaluate these guys, but the few tea leaves we have been given so far makes me like Anderson more.

Andrew: Neither of them would be my pick here anyway, because I suspect the majority of targets will be directed toward Moore and McCaffrey, but I'm intrigued by the proximitous pair.

Bryan: Let's look elsewhere, then. I think we're charter members of the Michael Pittman bandwagon, as we both named him our longshot for Offensive Rookie of the Year. I'm not as high on him going forward, but for 2020, his rapport with Philip Rivers means a lot!

Andrew: Michael Pittman is, indeed, on my roster for this season, and he will certainly be one of my selections here. As will Hunter Renfrow: I am very, very loath to pick any player from a Jon Gruden squad in fantasy, but Renfrow had over 600 yards and four scores in only four starts (13 appearances) last year. I'm pretty sure he's being undervalued because he's on the Raiders, and we all know the Raiders suck. He's going to be a bigger part of that offense this year, Henry Ruggs or no Henry Ruggs.

Bryan: There was a rumor three weeks or so ago that Renfrow could be dropped from three-wide sets in favor of Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Tyrell Williams. Obviously, Williams' injury takes that out of the equation, but that has me a little more down on Renfrow than I otherwise would be. Once again, preseason would have given us a chance to see this with our own eyes rather than trusting ESPN reports, but we will make do with what we have.

You could do worse than just grabbing Sammy Watkins, under the theory that anyone in a Kansas City offense is going to score points on a semi-constant basis. DeSean Jackson, too, was supposed to play a big role in 2019 before getting hurt, and now he's back. There's something to be said for established potential. I don't know where James Washington fits into Pittsburgh's offense, but he was the Steelers' biggest downfield threat last season and now, theoretically, gets a quarterback who can aim. There's some depth to be had here.

I'm going for Pittman for one and Anderson for two, but for my flex, I'm going to go with someone we haven't talked about yet -- Breshad Perriman. The Jets' receiving tree is a disaster at this point in time -- Anderson's gone to Carolina, Demaryius Thomas is a free agent, Denzel Mims is hurt. Someone has to catch passes, one would presume. Perriman has a knee injury, which terrifies me, but that upside is worth gambling on -- he averaged over 21 PPR points per game over the last five weeks of 2019!

Andrew: Perriman is an interesting shout, as somebody who has always flashed potential but only rarely matched that with production. I'm stepping elsewhere though. There's a smattering of intrigue for Laviska Shenault, as the gadget player-turned-receiver that everybody loves but nobody can actually use in the professional game. I'm intrigued by N'Keal Harry, on a similar premise to Perriman: somebody has to catch those passes, and it won't be Julian Edelman forever. Of the two, I think I lean Harry; Cam Newton has made productive players out of worse receivers than Harry, and Harry has the size and frame to be this year's Devin Funchess even if he never gets beyond that level. Edelman's still the top target in that offense, for sure, but I don't think they would have cut Mohamed Sanu if they didn't think they had anything at all in the rest of the receiving corps.

I sure do love a big-bodied receiver, which leads nicely into our next category...

Tight Ends

Best Tight Ends Still Available
Player Team Rostered
Jack Doyle IND 32%
Eric Ebron PIT 31%
Greg Olsen SEA 30%
O.J. Howard TB 22%
Irv Smith MIN 16%
Ian Thomas CAR 14%
Tyler Eifert JAX 14%
Kyle Rudolph MIN 11%
Jace Sternberger GB 7%
Jimmy Graham CHI 6%

Bryan: Jack Doyle should be the name of a hard-boiled film noir detective, not a solid, yet boring, tight end prospect.

Andrew: Or one of the Boondock Saints, at the very least.

Bryan: Trey Burton is missing at least the first two weeks with a calf injury, so Doyle is TE1 at least to start the year, so I suppose he's our low-floor candidate, and our job will be to try to find someone with a more impressive ceiling.

Andrew: Tight end as a separate position group sucks. I say this as the guy who has both Hunter Henry and George Kittle, in a 16-team league, at a position group that on a good day goes something like 10 deep. I've long been in favor of them just being grouped in with receivers. If somebody's starting receiver gets hurt, they're targeting a backup receiver. If somebody's starting receiving tight end gets hurt, they're targeting a backup receiver, not a backup tight end. Usually.

Bryan: It's a position that goes 10 deep, and we're looking at tight ends starting with the 20th-most-rostered in Doyle. The pickin's, they be slim.

I suppose you could do worse than heading to the NFC North. Irv Smith was my pick on the All-Rookie team last year, something I had to argue for and something I got a bit of guff for in the comments. He's still behind Kyle Rudolph, which is admittedly a problem, but Minnesota needs pass-catchers, and Smith's being experimented with as an outside target. Not bad for a late-round flyer.

Andrew: O.J. Howard seems like a strong bet on the premise that the last few times we saw him, Rob Gronkowski's body did not appear up to the rigors of a full NFL season anymore. Of course, the last time we saw Tom Brady, neither did his, so that's a bit of a double-edged sword.

Bryan: I know Packers fans want Jace Sternberger to be a thing, but it looks like he's lost the starting job to Robert Tonyan. That is a heck of a problem for the highest-drafted tight end in Packers history since Bubba Franks, especially with the departure of Jimmy Graham opening up a role. Listening to Packers podcasts and whatnot this offseason to prep for the Almanac, they all loved Sternberger, but it looks like that's a big ol' no, at least for now.

Andrew: For me, the obvious pick here if you're absolutely stuck and need upside is Eric Ebron. Ebron has always been infuriatingly inconsistent, but he's a talented receiving tight end in an offense which has always been happy to target talented receiving tight ends. I find it slightly mystifying that he's rostered in less than a third of leagues.

Bryan: That infuriating inconsistency probably has something to do with it; he has burned a lot of fantasy managers in the past. Still not a bad pickup, and a justifiable option. I'm going with Ian Thomas though, even though his toe injury means he won't be playing Week 1. Again, as we've established, the Carolina offense is a target graveyard, but Thomas has athleticism coming out his wazoo, and has impressed me during the roughly 10 thousand weeks Greg Olsen missed over the last two years. I mean, if you don't have a tight end at this point, streaming them is probably fine, but Thomas might be my preferred streamer of choice, as it were.

Kicker

Best Kickers Still Available
Player Team Rostered
Younghoe Koo ATL 47%
Ka'imi Fairbairn HOU 40%
Matt Gay CUT 38%
Jason Myers SEA 35%
Michael Badgley LAC 27%
Mason Crosby GB 24%
Chris Boswell PIT 21%
Joey Slye CAR 16%
Brandon McManus DEN 14%
Ryan Succop TB 13%
Stephen Gostkowski TEN 8%
Josh Lambo JAX 6%

Andrew: Don't draft kickers, kids. Whether in real football or fantasy. Play matchups, be happy to ride the hot leg, and don't waste too much energy on permutations.

Bryan: Certainly when you get down to this point, at the very least. You could do worse with your last pick than taking a Justin Tucker, Wil Lutz, or Harrison Butker, but outside the very, very best on the most high-powered offenses, just ride the waiver wire.

Andrew: For that reason, I'm not sure about even making a pick here. Though I will say not Stephen Gostkowski, who is employed on reputation more than recent performance.

Bryan: Not Matt Gay, either -- he didn't make the Buccaneers' roster. Good use of a draft pick there, guys.

Andrew: I guess if I had to pick one though, it's Jason Myers because Pete Carroll never saw a field goal he wouldn't happily kick. The Seahawks are a strong offense, albeit hampered by their own staff, and they play enough warm-weather and dome teams not to have to worry about conditions. But really, just play the matchups.

Bryan: I'll go with Josh Lambo, who may well be the best football player on the Jaguars now (though I suppose Brandon Linder might have something to say about that). But eh, yeah, stream 'em.

Defense

Best Defenses Still Availble
Team Rostered
Seattle 38%
Dallas 35%
Tennessee 34%
Tampa Bay 31%
Cleveland 15%
Green Bay 14%
NY Jets 9%
Washington 5%

Andrew: Ditto for team defense, especially because it's very unclear who will even be the top defenses at the beginning of most years. If you can get a top defense, sure, but if you're reading this there's a good chance you didn't do that.

Bryan: At least on the kickers list, there were some obvious "nos" in Gay, Gostkowski, and Joey Slye. Here, I think you could really justify any of the remaining defenses -- though it's worth noting that some teams missed the 5% cutoff, namely the Texans, Bengals, Cardinals, Raiders, Giants, Dolphins, Panthers, Jaguars, and Falcons. Those nine are not ideal streaming targets.

Andrew: Well yes, there are defenses that you play the matchups for, then there are defenses that you play the matchups against. You want one from the former group.

Bryan: And that former group is, conveniently, the one in the table above! Funny how that works.

So I guess the question is which of these teams would you want to stream most frequently. And that has me torn between the Seahawks and the Packers. Both of them have fairly average schedules from a fantasy perspective. Seattle's missing the pass rush but has an excellent secondary; Green Bay has the pass rush but I'm not wild about their coverage.

Andrew: I'm not sure, looking at the schedules, whether the answer isn't Dallas. Sure, you'll want to dump them for the trip to Baltimore, but the rest of that slate is far from unkind if they happen to find a safety down the back of the couch somewhere. (Wink, wink, nudge.)

Bryan: Honestly, you could make a similar argument for Washington there, swapping in the fourth-place schedule of the Panthers and Lions instead of the Falcons and Vikings. Of course, Dallas' defense is probably a little more confidence-inducing than that of the Football Team, Chase Young or no Chase Young.

I'm going to go with the Seahawks because of my well-established fear of them, but again, if you don't have a top D, you're just playing the week-by-week matchup game.

Andrew: I'm grabbing the Cowboys from that list for the sake of a complete roster, though I would certainly drop them out for the Ravens game and maybe one or two others depending on circumstances.


Andrew: All in all then, I think we can conclude that all hope is not lost if you tanked your draft, or disconnected and watched in horror as the autodraft picked Leonard Fournette, Adrian Peterson, and Tyrell Williams.

Bryan: I mean, obviously, you're in trouble, but as long as you're not in a crazy, Andrew-esque league, there's a path to recovery. I'd fancy my pick of leftovers to finish midtable, though probably not much higher than that. Someone with a regularly drafted roster is going to avoid the injury bug and just have too much talent for a waiver-wire wizard to compete. Still, though, if you're just patching holes and not creating the house itself out of putty, there's plenty of fish left in the proverbial sea. To horribly mix metaphors.

Andrew: If any reader thinks they can do better, history suggests that they are probably correct. Post your own teams in the comments, and we promise we won't pass up the opportunity to look back on them for easy content later in the season.


Weekly Predictions

Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to the FO+ picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate at time of writing.

Bryan: The important thing to remember about early-season football is that nobody knows a dang thing, especially after a strange, preseasonless offseason. What will the Patriots offense look like with Cam Newton under center? How will Joe Judge and Matt Rhule adapt to their first NFL head coaching jobs? We don't know, and neither do you -- there's always an air of mystery before Week 1, and that goes triple for 2020. So, with that in mind, I'm looking for early-season lines that are exceptionally confident in one direction or another, and so, with some trepidation, I'm starting the year off with Jacksonville (+8) at home against Indianapolis. Everyone and their brother is on the Jaguars as this year's tanking team, and I can't really disagree -- I don't think they'll be quite as bad as everyone thinks, and there are some interesting pieces on the defensive line and what have you, but this is clearly a team with a talent deficiency. But I'm not sure we can count on the Philip Rivers-led Colts to hit the ground running right off the bat, either -- there's uncertainty here; more uncertainty than I think bettors are keying into. The clincher, however, was the Leonard Fournette cut -- that moved this line from +7 to +8, turning a touchdown loss from a push into a win against the spread for the Jags. Fournette's not worth a full point, and moving from +7 to +8 is arguably the most valuable point you can possibly move. The line value is too much to pass up.

Andrew: I really don't like picking divisional games here, and certainly not road teams in the division, but I have way more confidence in the Green Bay Packers to come ready to play in Week 1 than I do the Vikings. They were not as good as their record last season, but they are still the closest thing this division has to a good team. The concerns about Green Bay's receiving group is offset by the concerns about Minnesota's completely retooled cornerback group, and though Yannick Ngakoue helps the pass rush immensely, Green Bay has the superior offensive line and can win the trench fight on both sides. I don't have immense confidence in this, but I don't have immense confidence in any of the picks leading into this weirdest of weird opening weekends. I'll stake my imaginary chips on Green Bay (+2.5) at Minnesota and hope some clarity emerges before Week 2.

Double Survival League

Each week, Bryan and Andrew pick two winners, straight-up. The catch? They can only pick each team once per season. They must pick every team once. The goal? To go 32-0. The winner? The one who screws up the least.

Bryan: Right. Last year didn't go so hot for me here; a 20-12 record when you just need to find one win for each team is poor, poor, poor. It's important to get off on the right foot here, and so I'm tempted to just lock in some relatively safe wins -- ride the Chiefs and Ravens early to just ease myself back into things. But no, that's probably silly, and I'll instead take sides in both of the two AFC East battles this week. No one really knows what New England's offense will look like in 2020, and that includes the Dolphins defense. That's a real tough assignment for any defensive playcaller to undertake, much less one still in a rebuilding mode, so it's nice to get New England's offense out of the way before defenses have a chance to study it. Even with all the COVID opt-outs and free-agent movements, I like the Patriots' front seven to overwhelm the Miami offensive line, with a long day for Ryan Fitzpatrick on the cards as well, so I think this is the best possible week to take the Pats. Across the division, I'll take Buffalo over the Jets. I like the rest of the Bills' roster almost as much as I dislike Josh Allen, and I don't see Sam Darnold able to crack Buffalo's defensive code with the game on the line. Plus, and this is important, the Buffalo home game against Miami is in Week 17, and thus not eligible for a selection here, making the home game against the Jets the most enticing matchup on their schedule.

Andrew: This is boring, but I'm going to pick the exact same two games. I want to grab New England while the prospect of a healthy Cam Newton still exists, and at home against a Dolphins team that is still being assembled seems as good a time as any. Buffalo, as you note, also has a home game against the Dolphins this season, but Week 17 is no use to us. Getting the two supposed AFC East "haves" out of the way against the supposed "have-nots" should give us both a solid start, even in this utterly bewildering season.

Comments

6 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2020, 5:41pm

1 If you accept that fantasy…

If you accept that fantasy football started in 1962, the Bears have not had a good QB in the fantasy era.

 

2 A lot of the success of the…

A lot of the success of the Notre Dame Box seemed to involve the quick reset and then a sudden snap. Most of the videos the reset seems to last less than one second, which would make it illegal in the NFL.

Which is why Belichick will totally run it.

3 Not Everyone!

“ and we all know the Raiders suck”

No we don’t, and you are going to be eating those words.

5 Best of the Rest Roster

QB - Derek Carr

RB1 - Devonta Freeman

RB2 - Duke Johnson

WR1 - N'Keal Harry

WR2 - Michael Pittman

FLEX - Golden Tate

TE - O.J. Howard

K - Younghoe Koo

DEF - Green Bay

Happy Scrambling!

6 Lock of the Week

Had this come out on the proper day rather than a day early, I probably would have gone with Rams (+3) over Dallas instead of Jacksonville as my Lock.  Well, maybe both will hit and I won't feel stupid about my pick!