⭐ Can We Trust Zeke This Year?

It feels so gross...

Some things just aren't meant to be...like Tony Pollard...

In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter:

  • How to handle Zeke in fantasy drafts

  • Matt Harmon's Reception Perception: Terry McLaurin

  • Michael Thomas is pissed at the fantasy doctors

  • Fantasy fallout: Julio Jones

  • A big debate: yea or nay on Rhamondre Stevenson?

  • It’s 7/28. Take it away, Peter Overzet…

I'm not sure there is a bigger riddle heading into the 2022 fantasy season than Ezekiel Elliott.

After a red hot start to his career–he scored more than 300 points in three of his first four seasons–he has dealt with injuries and poor efficiency in 2020 and 2021.

The decline has resulted in Zeke tumbling out of the first round of drafts all the way to the fourth round, where you can regularly find him across multiple formats.

The market is clearly in "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" territory with Elliott at this stage of his career. Making things even more confounding is the presence of Tony Pollard, who is one of the most exciting RB2s in the entire league and has bested Zeke in basically every possible metric since they started playing together (h/t Rotoviz):

Pollard is currently being selected as the RB27 in the 7th round of drafts, which is definitely pricey for an RB2, but signals the distrust drafters have at this stage with Zeke.

Here's the problem, though...Jerry Jones and the Cowboys love Zeke more than Leonard Fournette loves the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito at Taco Bell.

There's basically no one who denies that the Cowboys offense would be better off with Pollard handling more touches, but it once again seems doubtful that anyone other than Zeke will lead this backfield:

This is tough pill to swallow as a Zeke fader and Pollard stan (I once fake vomited after begrudgingly selecting Zeke in a draft), but I care more about winning than I do about being right.

Zeke's fully healthy headed into the season and the Cowboys are gonna feed him the damn ball. It pains me to type this...it truly does, but it's worth taking some stabs on him at his current price tag before he inevitably rises into the third round of drafts.

Will Zeke be an RB1 this fantasy season?

Let us know what you think!

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Reception Perception

With Reception Perception, Matt Harmon studies the film on WRs, tracks and interprets the data, and then delivers the goods. Today he is swinging by the Fantasy Life offices to get us hyped on Washington WR, Terry McLaurin. Take it away, Matt...

If there’s one wide receiver we should all desperately want to see in a healthy passing ecosystem, it’s Terry McLaurin. While the stats don’t show it, allow Reception Perception to do what it does best: Cut through the noise of outside variables and show you why McLaurin is a top-flight talent at the position.

Terry McLaurin has been posting excellent success rate vs. coverage scores throughout his career but last season was truly his masterpiece.

The Washington wideout checked in at the 94th percentile in success rate vs. man and press coverage in 2021 while also posting a career-best 80.3% success rate vs. zone coverage. He is a master route-runner who’s an explosive player too.

McLaurin wins at every level of the field. He gets off the line of scrimmage cleanly and separates short. He will fly by the defense with a crafty route in the deep game.

McLaurin tested at or above the NFL average success rate on every single route type in 2021. He did all this while playing almost solely at X-receiver. He lined up outside on 75.8% of his sampled snaps and was on the line for 93.1%.

If you’ve ever had trouble with the idea that seeing a lot of contested targets does not necessarily mean a receiver can’t separate and get open, they’re just thrown into those situations… just pop on some Terry McLaurin film from 2021 and you’ll get it.

McLaurin saw a contested target on 34.2% of his sampled looks (one of the highest marks from 2021) despite the pristine success rate vs. coverage numbers above. No matter, he still wins there too, with an 80.8% contested catch rate. ODU’s finest, Taylor Heinicke, was doing his best out there, but he simply could not drive the ball to McLaurin on time. But with all the credit to the receiver, he still makes perfect adjustments to overcome this issue. We’ll see how he meshes with Carson Wentz, a more gifted and still quite aggressive passer.

That wasn’t the only thing working against McLaurin last year. We forget just how utterly depleted Washington was on offense. Their unit looked intriguing on paper last offseason but for most of the year, it was basically Terry McLaurin and the preseason boys out there. As such, McLaurin was doubled on 15.7% of his sampled routes, one of the highest marks from 2021.

Washington has RP favorite Curtis Samuel back healthy and steady rookie slot receiver Jahan Dotson in the mix now. That and Logan Thomas getting back to 100% should help matters.

Everything was working against McLaurin in 2021 beyond just his starting quarterback missing almost the entire season and he was still this good. I feel the same way about Terry McLaurin as I did with Stefon Diggs after his blistering RP run from 2017 to 2018: If he ever finds his way to the right situation he has all the talent to erupt and post elite production.

Who knows if Washington is that situation. The Wentz pairing certainly brings questions. We can just hope he finds his way to the right spot at some point like Diggs did. All this talent deserves to shine.

Fantasy Watercooler

👨‍⚕️ Fantasy doctors on blast. Michael Thomas ain't having it now that he's back on the field.

🏆 The Top 10 Dynasty TEs. Hard to argue with this logic.

🤔 Why did the Colts pass on Julio? It does make you wonder...

🃏 Oh no, I thought the Taysom Hill shenanigans were over. Maybe not?

🔮 The Bills backfield could be messy. We can live with 2-man backfields, but any more than that is usually a disaster for fantasy.

Fantasy Fallout Header

As we lead up to the start of the season, there will be plenty of news that flips the fantasy landscape on its head. Today Sam Wallace breaks down Julio Jones signing with the Bucs...

Fantasy Fallout Julio

One of the last big-name free agents finally found a new home.

WR Julio Jones signed a 1-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team shores up its receiver room as QB Tom Brady gets another weapon.

While it’s easy to get excited about a Brady/Julio tandem, let’s pump the brakes. Their combined age is 77 and the 33-year old Jones has missed 14 games over the past two seasons. He’s also been the perennial poster boy for “maintenance days” (missing practice) during the season.

This is a good football move by the Buccaneers. WR Chris Godwin is recovering from a torn ACL and his Week 1 status remains in question. However, Godwin was cleared to begin training camp despite having surgery on January 3rd.

If Godwin is unable to play Week 1, or if he’s limited, Jones provides an ideal option for Brady.

Newly acquired WR Russell Gage has been a trendy name in fantasy circles because of Godwin’s uncertainty. While he was appealing at his WR34 price on Underdog prior to the Jones signing, he’s more risky unless his price drops significantly.

As for veteran WR Mike Evans, you shouldn’t change your expectations. He remains the primary option and will be an every-down player. Jones may not be asked to play a full allotment of snaps which could bode well for his health and contribution to the team.

Brady led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards, and TDs in 2021. Despite the coaching change from Bruce Arians to Todd Bowles, I don’t expect their offensive philosophy to change much. Each of these WRs should have varying degrees of fantasy relevance.

Matthew Hill has adjusted his rankings to reflect the latest news.

(Note: these are fluid and will be updated as more news comes out of Tampa Bay)

  • Mike Evans - WR6

  • Russell Gage - WR44

  • Chris Godwin - WR45

  • Julio Jones - WR54

Pros vs. Cons Header

Rhamondre Stevenson is one the buzziest players in fantasy right now. We asked Jonathan & Pete to debate the pros & cons of drafting Stevenson at his current price tag...

Jonathan's Opening Statement:

Talent + Opportunity = Breakout. There should be little doubt about Rhamondre’s talent after what he did in his rookie season. Among qualifying RBs in 2021 he ranked:

  • 2nd in broken tackles per attempt

  • 4th in yards after contact per attempt

  • 10th in yards per route run

  • 12th in PFF’s rushing grade

The bigger question is how much opportunity he will get in a crowded Patriots backfield. I will readily admit this is the biggest risk to his status as a 2022 breakout, but that is reflected in his 9th round ADP.

Pros vs Cons Rhamondre

ADP. As a rookie he earned 147 touches on a team that is notoriously hesitant to play rookies. Damien Harris is still expected to be the lead back coming into this season but he is in the last year of his contract and is unlikely to return after the team drafted two RBs this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the carry split go to at least 50/50, if not better for Rhamondre. All of this is to say that last year’s production feels like an absolute floor. Despite this, he is only being drafted as the RB34 on Underdog which is just 5 spots above his RB39 finish in points per game last season.

Now that we’ve established his floor isn’t much lower than his current draft cost let’s look at his upside. The team’s best pass-catching back, James White, is still recovering from a serious injury and looks unlikely to be healthy anytime soon. Stevenson was an efficient receiver as a rookie and has a good chance to grow his role in the passing game which adds far more value on a per-touch basis than rushing attempts do.

The other high-value touch category, goal line carries, were strongly in favor of Harris last year. Stevenson’s size (6’0” 227lbs) and ability to create yards after contact suggests that he is just as good of a candidate for goal line carries, so I believe those opportunities will likely just go to the back who is already on the field and be much more even as a result.

Contingent Value. Lastly, I haven’t said anything about Stevenson’s upside if Harris were to get injured or be traded. This Patriots offense had the second most rushing TDs in the NFL last year, finished 7th in points per game, and should only continue to improve behind second-year QB Mac Jones. In a situation where Harris misses significant time and Stevenson becomes the clear lead back he has league winning upside.

This combination of high floor and massive upside makes Stevenson the prototypical small miss, big win type of player that we should be targeting in fantasy drafts.

Pete's Rebuttal:

I’m not even going to try to dispute Jonathan’s points about Stevenson’s talent. As the kids would say, he’s got that dawg in him.

That said, I think we can poke holes in his ADP and contingent value.

ADP. Stevenson has slowly been scooting up in ADP all summer and he’s now going off the board around pick 105 on Underdog.

This ADP isn’t necessarily prohibitive–it’s a range where Anchor RB and Zero RB drafters are usually grabbing their second and third RBs–but I think there are better options going after him.

I prefer rookie RBs like Kenneth Walker (ADP: 107) and James Cook (ADP: 108) straight up to Stevenson. We know rookie RB production increases as the season progresses and that rookie RBs drafted in this ADP window have historically smashed ADP. Both these backs earned higher draft capital (Round 2) than Stevenson (Round 4) as well.

This is also a range where there is a big tier break at WR. If you are selecting Stevenson, you are passing on exciting potential WR breakouts like Skyy Moore (ADP: 100), Chase Claypool (ADP: 105), and Garrett Wilson (ADP: 112).

Contingent Value. You could say I’m splitting hairs on the ADP stuff, but my main gripe with Stevenson is the assumption that he has massive contingent value in the event of an injury.

Because Stevenson has talent as both a rusher and a receiver, I think there is a temptation to wishcast a full bellcow role onto him even though we know Belichick has been reluctant to use anything other than a full blown committee over the years.

If Harris were to get hurt, I envision Belichick would tap the exciting rookie Pierre Strong for some touches–a back Shawn Siegele has called the discount Kenneth Walker.

And even with James White on the PUP list recovering from his right hip injury last September, I’m not convinced Stevenson has an inside track to the receiving role. My co-host on Ship Chasing, Ben Gretch has pounded the table all summer that the Patriots sneaky signing of Ty Montgomery is significant. Montgomery profiles as the clear Brandon Bolden replacement, which is a role that includes both special teams and pass catching RB duties.

I certainly get the upside scenario for Stevenson, but ultimately I think you are having to thread too thin of a needle to get there at this price. The most likely scenario is Stevenson continues to deliver the occasional splash play but remains mired in another frustrating committee.

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