This is why nobody should do their fantasy drafts before December…
In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Rival Fantasy:
PUP updates for Kyler Murray (knee) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (wrist)
Happy Jonathan Taylor Ultimatum Day
Players to Avoid in 2023: Fantasy Life staff, assemble!
Drafting from the 1.07: Strategy and picks
It’s 8/29. Take it away, Ian Hartitz…
NFL roster cuts impacted depth charts all across the league on Monday, but most of those players weren’t overly important in fantasy football land anyway.
The especially actionable news instead comes from a pair of NFC West injury updates.
🐦 Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (knee) placed on the PUP list
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but it does cement Murray as inactive for at least the first four games of the season.
It doesn’t take a scholar to conclude that there’s a pretty decent chance the Cardinals could be winless by the time Murray is healthy enough to return to action.
Week 1: at Commanders
Week 2: vs. Giants
Week 3: vs. Cowboys
Week 4: at 49ers
The general murkiness surrounding Murray’s return has resulted in the perennial stud fantasy QB being priced as a lowly late-round pick in formats of most shapes and sizes.
Even the most optimistic drafters have to give some credence to the idea that it’s not a guarantee Murray will return to action in 2023, and he could be at less than 100% if he does.
With that said, Murray is THE late-round keeper option of the year for two simple reasons:
Cost: The 2019 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick is regularly being drafted after 75 WRs, 55 RBs and 20 TEs are already off the board. Thus, selecting Murray with a LATE-round pick won’t mean passing up overly promising expected day-one contributors at other positions.
Injured Reserve Stash: While managers must use a draft pick on Murray to acquire his services, they can then stash him on the IR in eligible leagues and accordingly not have to devote a roster spot to him.
It remains to be seen if Murray will be the Cardinals’ QB in 2023 and beyond; just realize the 26-year-old talent is far too good at the game to not start somewhere in 2024 – giving current drafters one helluva late-round keeper option with minimal downside in leagues with IR eligibility.
🙂 Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (wrist) avoids the PUP
It’s always tricky to get much injury information out of Seattle, as head coach Pete Carroll calling someone out indefinitely could mean anything from “Literally fine and will practice the next day” to “Retirement.”
Of course, actions speak louder than words, and it sure seems like the Seahawks believe JSN has a chance to make his NFL debut in September.
#Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who recently underwent surgery to repair a small broken bone in his wrist, is expected to begin the season on the active roster, source said. No word yet on his availability for W1, but avoiding IR/designated to return is a sign he'll play soon.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet)
Aug 28, 2023
It’s easy to imagine Smith-Njigba dominating from the slot once healthy enough to return:
His short-area quickness warrants comparisons to long-time slot maven Julian Edelman.
The Ohio State product graded out as the No. 1 WR (rather easily) in Dwain McFarland’s Rookie WR Supermodel.
Being banged up to start the season obviously isn’t ideal; just realize it seems like a matter of when, not if, JSN warrants weekly upside WR3 consideration as an integral piece inside the league’s reigning ninth-ranked scoring offense.
Say it with me everyone: Buy the dip.
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We don’t always get to decide the order of everything in our lives — especially fantasy football draft order. But fear not, the Fantasy Life staff has you covered with an ongoing series covering strategy from every spot in the first round. Today’s draft position: The 1.07 with Chris.
Oh no. You got stuck at the 1.07.
You’ll miss out on the elite WRs and Christian McCaffrey. Plus, Travis Kelce might not be there. Unfortunately, your luck put you in a weak spot.
Of course, it’s not as bleak as I made it out to be, but drafters may look at the names off the board before their pick and envy their leaguemates.
However, after looking at the first-round options and potential early builds: The 1.07 might be one of the optimal positions for the 2023 season.
✍️ Process Notes
So, I talked about drafting from the 1.03, and there’s a fair argument about the chasm between the third and seventh overall pick. But our process shouldn’t change. Let’s review one of my general tips before you get on the clock.
📈 First Round Informs The Second Round (And so on…)
I still feel a nervous tension before my first pick in each draft. It’s the excitement of building what could be (will be!) a championship roster. But let’s not get carried away.
Understanding which positions to select up top will give us a method of narrowing down what player we should take.
I’ll talk about the onesie positions (QB and TE) in a bit, so let’s focus on the RB and WR. The first round is our best chance to hit on a top scorer in either role. First-round receivers (19.9 PPR PPG) and rushers (16.8) tower over their peers typically taken just a few rounds later (14.2 and 12.2 PPG). And we have to start more than one each.
So unless an elite option like Travis Kelce falls to you, anchoring your core with a high-end WR or RB is the optimal open independent of their draft slot.
1️⃣ The First Round
Let’s first look at our options.
Simply put, I want what I can’t find later.
Whether it’s an RB with pass-catching upside or a WR in line for a 30% target share, your first pick should mirror your excitement. And honestly, Austin Ekeler has a role and situation you won’t see outside of the first round.
Ekeler was ‘22’s RB1 after a legendary 42.1-point performance in Week 17, but his seasonal performance isn’t as much of an outlier as detractors may make it seem.
Despite only having a 52.7% share of the Chargers’ backfield, Ekeler was top 20 in rushing yards over expected (RYOE) and yards after contact per attempt. And, critically, he was the guy Justin Herbert looked to when the team got into scoring position.
Ekeler was the only RB with top-five marks in red-zone carry rate and overall target share. And not much has changed about his situation. Even with Joshua Kelly shining in the preseason, Ekeler should still be their primary back from inside the 20.
Adding Quentin Johnston may lower his target share, but not where it matters the most.
The Chargers had a healthy roster down the stretch, with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Gerald Everett on the field together. Despite the added (returning?) weapons for Herbert, Ekeler still stuck out:
Allen - 7 red-zone targets
Ekeler – 5
Everett – 4
Williams – 2
Vegas projects the Chargers to have the fifth-best weekly team total, and Ekeler will lead the backfield in carries and targets yet again.
With his role, he’s been my primary target from the 1.07.
😡 Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon won’t name a Week 1 starting QB. Why would it be between McLovin’ and Muhammad?!
😊 This talented second-year WR returned to practice Monday. My best ball shares couldn’t be happier.
😥 Remember the Zonovan “Bam” Knight era? What a time to be alive.
👀 8 Sleepers that you need to keep your eyes on! Dwain is here to let you know.
😮 Round 2 Derrick Henry?! Matthew Berry explains.
🤼 The WWE and NFL are collaborating hardcore in 2023. Okay, these belts are legit awesome.
🎤 Two teams are reportedly attempting to trade for Jonathan Taylor. “Taylor - Swift” in Philly would be a fun time, ngl.
📈 This utilization will take a lonely fantasy analyst from six to midnight. Calvin Ridley is so freaking back.
✍️ Bold fantasy football prediction szn! Best ones will be read on Sirius XM today!
📊 ADP movement? In real time? In this economy? How is this tool free?!
Fading fantasy football players regardless of the cost is bad process. Everyone can become a value at the right price. Don’t hate the player; hate the ADP. That said: The Fantasy Life staff HATES these ADPs.
🐶 Nick Chubb, RB - Cleveland Browns
My biggest fade in Round 1 of drafts is Nick Chubb (1.5%). Chubb started the season as a 2-3 turn pick — a much more palatable price for an RB who has never shown a pass-catching floor on an offense that imploded down the stretch in 2022 with Deshaun Watson at the helm.
In pricing Chubb ahead of backs like Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard, the market is making two massive assumptions:
There is zero systemic risk with the Browns offense being bad with Watson again.
Chubb is going to catch a lot more passes with Kareem Hunt gone.
Could both those things break right for Chubb backers? Sure, but the parlay element there makes it a very thin bet when the WRs in the same range offer better floor/ceiling combos.
🏈 Najee Harris, RB - Pittsburgh Steelers
I have been avoiding Najee Harris in drafts all summer long. His cost has been falling in recent weeks, but I still find him a difficult selection in the middle of the fourth round.
I’m pretty confident that Harris isn’t the most explosive player in his own backfield so I think there’s a good chance we see more of an even split with Jaylen Warren than some people expect.
The other dynamic is that I’m not usually targeting RB in the fourth round because I prefer the guys going in the second and third round at the position.
On the rare occasion I do want an RB in the fourth, I’m targeting the likes of Travis Etienne and Breece Hall over Harris.
🐎 Javonte Williams, RB - Denver Broncos
Javonte Williams made sense as an early offseason gamble when his recovery timetable was unknown, but his recent ADP drop into the sixth round makes him avoidable.
There are upside concerns with the Broncos offense – who is losing a WR per week due to injury – and rumblings now about Denver limiting William’s workload early on. Williams drafters like to point out the talent gap between himself and Samaje Perine, but Perine has slick receiving ability that a coach like Sean Payton values.
If Williams were coming in fully healthy to an established top-10 offense it would be a different story, but there are fewer concerns and similar upside with other RBs available at his current valuation.
💨 Brandon Aiyuk, WR - San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk is an uber-talented player. Unfortunately, the 49ers are a run-oriented offense with a lot of mouths to feed in the passing attack led by a young QB with only six career starts.
Additionally, the 49ers have shown a clear preference for Deebo Samuel against zone coverage over the last three seasons and NFL teams utilize zone on ~70% of plays.
Aiyuk has the talent profile to make me regret my 3% rostership, but he will need a lot of dominos to fall to fully unlock his potential.