By MIKE HERNDON
Every year, there are a few players that fantasy football prognosticators find themselves fawning over. The signs are there for a breakout season coming, usually, and any analyst worth his salt wants to be the one who is in front of the big breakout so he or she can say: I told you so.
Often, however, the fantasy players who take this advice end up finding themselves disappointed. Often, in our race to be first on the next big breakout star or the fantasy steal of the season, we allow ourselves to fall so deeply in love with the potential that we ignore the red flags staring us in the face.
For the last couple of years, that’s been Laviska Shenault, who has been hyped as the second coming of Jerry Rice since he came into the league in 2020. He caught 63 balls for 619 scoreless yards as a rookie, Last year, with Trevor Lawrence taking over at quarterback, he was supposed to be Urban Meyer’s next Percy Harvin. Instead he caught 58 passes for 600 yards and five scores, wasn’t a factor in the run game, and Meyer was fired after 13 games.
Maybe Shenault will come into his own as Lawrence and the offense improve. But maybe he is what he’s shown he is – a complementary receiver at best and, in all but the deepest leagues, a fantasy non-factor.
While the hype for Shenault has finally cooled (but not disappeared completely), the hype train is still rolling for several other players who, when one looks at their body of work objectively, are likely to derail the teams of fantasy managers who reach for them.
Keep in mind, it’s not that these players don’t have value. Any of them would be fine draft picks at a certain point. But the hype is currently pushing them higher in drafts than their production warrants.
Gabriel Davis, Buffalo: Not since Matt Flynn has there been such overreaction to one performance. Davis looked like a monster with 201 yards receiving and four touchdowns in Buffalo’s 42-36 playoff loss to Kansas City, leaving Fantasy Twitter all aflutter with visions of grandeur for 2022. But Davis posted just two games over 50 yards receiving during the regular season and his 35/549/6 season stat line was practically identical to his rookie year stats. The Bills’ receiver room may be not as good as last year, but he was only competing against Cole Beasley and a 34-year-old Emmanuel Sanders for targets behind Stefon Diggs in 2021.
Russell Gage, Tampa Bay: With Chis Godwin’s ACL recovery expected to last well into the season and with Rob Gronkowski retired (again), Gage steps into what could be a lucrative role as Tom Brady’s No. 2 receiver. But people are acting like we should expect to just transfer Godwin’s stats to Gage, and that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking. With Calvin Ridley out, Gage and Kyle Pitts were essentially co-No. 1s for Atlanta last year and Gage posted just three games of 80 yards or more. In all of those games, he had 12 targets or more. He finished with just four total touchdowns. Yes, he’s getting a quarterback upgrade, but it’s not like Matt Ryan is Geno Smith.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kansas City – Everyone wants a piece of a good offense, and that goes double for Kansas City. But this kind of thinking is what has saddled people with Mecole Hardman taking up space on their rosters for the last couple years. Aside from Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, it was a dart-throw as to who else would contribute week to week. This year, MVS is the shiny new toy that fantasy managers are getting excited about, but even with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay he was a one-trick pony whose production was largely determined solely by whether he caught a couple of the low-percentage downfield shots that made up the majority of his volume. Why should we expect him to be any different in Kansas City? If I’m looking for a KC pass-catcher to target after Kelce, it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Breece Hall, NY Jets – Every year, the fantasy community falls head over heels in love with a rookie running back. Sometimes, as with Jonathan Taylor, it’s warranted. Other times, as with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it’s not. Hall is a fine prospect who should take over early-down duties for the Jets, giving him the clearest path to volume among this year’s rookie RBs. But while some are projecting a bell-cow role, Michael Carter didn’t retire. He’s still going to be involved. And this is still the New York Jets, who haven’t had a rusher break 850 yards since Chris Ivory in 2015.
Chase Edmonds, Miami – Remember the summer of 2021, when Chase Edmonds was the back to target in Arizona? How did that work out? Edmonds ran for (a career-high) 592 yards and two touchdowns, while James Conner outcarried and outgained him while piling up 15 scores. But Edmonds was the receiving back, you say. That amounted to 43 catches for 311 yards and no scores. A year later, he’s now being touted as the back to target in Miami’s offense. Don’t fall for it again. He’ll never get the volume to return on his overinflated ADP. I’m largely avoiding Miami’s backfield, but if I draft any of them it’ll be Raheem Mostert.
Kyle Pitts, Atlanta – If you’re playing dynasty, I get it: Pitts is the future. He’s got all the tools. But are we really taking him over George Kittle and Darren Waller in redraft? Couldn’t be me. His 1,026 yards as a rookie were nice; his one touchdown was not. He had three big games against the Jets, Dolphins and Lions and the rest of his per-game numbers were meh. Now he gets a QB downgrade in Marcus Mariota. He’s due for an uptick in TDs, but he’s still a step down from the top tier of tight ends (Kelce, Andrews, Kittle, Waller) in redraft for me.
Cole Kmet, Chicago — Behold the power of chasing available targets. With everyone salivating over an anticipated Justin Fields breakout and Allen Robinson packed off to LA, Kmet is a trendy pick as the expected second option in Chicago behind Darnell Mooney. Somebody’s got to catch the ball, right? We said that last year about T.J. Hockenson, and how did that work out? He was TE16 (TE11 by ppg). while Amon-Ra St. Brown broke out. Kmet scored 0 TDs last year and broke 50 yards all of three times. Just because there’s opportunity doesn’t mean it’ll be seized.
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