Avoiding the Landmines: Early Picks With Extra Risk (Fantasy Football)

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For those of you hip (and old) enough to remember the game MineSweeper, the entire premise was to avoid clicking on mines on a grid that had hidden numbers beneath them. If you clicked a mine, you lost. Most of us had no idea how to actually play it, so it consisted of clicking at random and hoping for the best. Technology has come a long way in a short time. The feeling I had playing that game was memorable because you were always so terrified to click the wrong button that each time you clicked the right one, you felt relief, not excitement. You avoided another mine, and it was on to the next. The numbers didn’t help you win by themselves, the key was avoiding the mines for as long as possible.

Fantasy football is a lot like that because the wrong button click at the wrong time can completely ruin you. The earlier you click on a mine, the worse it will be. Early-round picks are supposed to be the anchor for your entire team. People love to pretend as if you can recover from losing a top-5 RB in Week one, but most of the time that reality will rely on some dumb luck along the way and some ill-advised trades by league-mates. I can land a ship that lost its anchor, but it’s a whole lot better to keep it. Early round mistakes are back-breaking for your entire fantasy season. The most common question my friends and family ask me is “who are you taking with your first pick?”. There is a reason this matters to people. For me, the question should be “who are you avoiding?”, because getting that right will carry fantasy managers furthermost of the time. All early picks have good potential, but some of them have a lot more risk than advertised.

Editor’s Note: Check out the Fantasy Footballers’ full BUST list in the Ultimate Draft Kit.

Derrick Henry – RB, Tennessee Titans 

ADP: RB4 (4th Overall) 

Betting against Derrick Henry has been a historically terrible idea. I’m aware of this, and yes I may be a bit crazy for suggesting that this is the year I will finally do it. He’s coming off the first season of his career where he missed a significant chunk of games and he has reached the dreaded age for a top-tier running back (28). Apex did a phenomenal overview of running back production by age, and every year after 27 becomes exponentially riskier from both an injury and production standpoint. 

Derrick Henry’s workload between the tackles is unmatched by anyone in the league, and it’s reasonable to think that last year was a preview of his body finally cracking under so much pressure. He’s a complete unicorn of an athlete in the weight room, and he’s stronger than Jason Moore’s commitment to Lions running backs so it’s possible of course that he beats the odds. Fantasy football is about the odds, and his ADP doesn’t bake those in right now. 

On top of the obvious age and health concerns, he’s also the focal point of an offense that just lost their best weapon in the passing game in A.J Brown. The Titans rely on a ground and pound philosophy, but it’s successful partially because of their explosive plays down the field and play-action usage. Derrick Henry is the ultimate weapon in the play-action game, but A.J Brown would be on a short list right beside him. Losing Brown is going to be detrimental to the offense as a whole, and that’s going to trickle down to Henry through declining goal line opportunities and even more stacked boxes defensively. 

I won’t be fading him at any price or avoiding him like the plague, but I will definitely be pivoting away from him in the first five picks. The risk/reward profile at that part of the draft is so crucial to a successful season that I would much rather bet on reliability, upside, and offensive potential. Henry is being overdrafted. 

Kyle Pitts – TE, Atlanta Falcons 

ADP: TE3 (36th Overall) 

It’s okay if people are sick of hearing about Kyle Pitts. It’s also okay if people have differing opinions of Kyle Pitts. The only thing that might not be okay regarding Kyle Pitts is drafting Kyle Pitts at his ADP. Now that I’ve said his name enough times to cover my obligatory “discuss the hype” contractual obligation, I want to break it down. The second-year tight end is coming off one of the best rookie seasons ever at his position. He’s essentially a big wide receiver playing tight end, and he has the skillset to do it. Guys like Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and Mark Andrews all came up in a similar way to Pitts in terms of being route runners first. Pitts is on a good path to being an excellent long-term NFL player. 

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He still shouldn’t be selected as the TE3. 

We can talk at length about the potentially abysmal Marcus Mariota-led offense that he plays on, or about his lack of touchdown production, or the lack of other weapons outside of Drake London to take the pressure off of him, or the near-dead-last pace of play metrics from the Atlanta coaching staff in 2021. All of those things COULD be talked about, but I’m a numbers guy so I’m just going to leave that discussion to most casual fantasy football fans who should be able to see all of those things right in front of their face. *Wink, Wink* 

In terms of numbers, the most common pro-Pitts argument relies on touchdown regression or bad touchdown luck. It’s not an easy thing to predict because a lot of being open relies on the player themselves, but I absolutely assume that Pitts will increase his touchdown production this year. The question is – by how much? The more important question is – how much does he need to? 

Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

Let’s say for argument’s sake that Kyle Pitts lead the league in touchdowns at his position in 2021. Travis Kelce wore that crown, but for fun let’s hand it to Pitts. If he finished with 11 touchdowns, one more than the all-world Chiefs superstar Travis Kelce, then he STILL would have only finished as the TE3 last season. Even if he had the most ridiculous touchdown production imaginable, he would still have finished at the spot he’s being drafted right now. We always say don’t draft a player at their ceiling, but Kyle Pitts’ ADP is the exact definition of doing just that. The only way he delivers value is if he scores a ridiculous amount of touchdowns (from Marcus Mariota or a rookie QB – just a reminder), AND he receives an uptick in targets, AND he produces more with those targets on a worse offense that will score fewer points. 

Atlanta plays slow, their quarterback situation is gross, and Pitts has almost no statistical path to delivering an overall TE1 season. His ADP makes absolutely no sense, and he should be avoided at all costs unless it comes down. The only hypothetical scenario that makes sense to me would be if Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Mark Andrews all suffer season-ending injuries at their TE1 camp. If that happens, then Kyle Pitts might have a path to a top 2 finish. 

Kyler Murray – QB, Arizona Cardinals 

ADP: QB5 (60th Overall) 

Has there ever been a more confusing fantasy asset than Kyler Murray? Probably, but right now he’s frustrating. In 2020 Murray was the overall QB1 through the first seven weeks of the season but was the QB7 through the final 10 weeks. In 2021 he repeated the same pattern where he was the QB3 through seven weeks, and then the QB14 through the final ten. I’m not sure if defenses figure out his tendencies midseason, or if his body slows down from all the ridiculous highlight reel scrambles. I’m still trying to figure out who Kyler Murray is as a quarterback, but his fantasy potential on paper seems more enticing than his actual play. 

His rushing upside will always keep him firmly in the QB1 conversation, but with an ADP in the top five right now, he’s a must avoid. His ridiculous early pace in 2020 helped him finish the year as the QB2, but his 2021 struggles landed him just barely in the top ten to finish the season. A lot of Cardinals fans don’t want to admit that Kyler might not be very good from a decision-making perspective, but it’s the obvious truth. The Cardinals’ offense isn’t as innovative as we expected it to be, the route trees are short and pedestrian, and Kyler Murray often looks like a faster, more agile Baker Mayfield in the pocket. He panics, he hits his check-downs too easily sometimes, and other times he seemingly chucks the ball in DeAndre Hopkins’ direction and hopes for the best. To be fair, that’s been a good strategy in previous years. 

That option will have to wait until at least Week 7 when DeAndre Hopkins returns from suspension. Murray will be throwing to a weaker cast of receivers with Christian Kirk now in Jacksonville and Hop on the sideline, and his bizarre contract and off-the-field discussions can’t possibly have helped the situation. He had a “film study” clause in his contract, and that isn’t something that comes lightly. That was likely due to Murray refusing to watch film or not doing it enough, and that potentially explains some of his sporadic decisions and head-scratching choices in the back half of both seasons. If the defense learns faster than the quarterback, that will show up when the two teams meet each other for the second time. Hopefully, the clause works, and I eat my words. Regardless of the real football aspect of Murray’s game, his top five ADP is simply too high. I’d prefer a much safer route (like waiting at the position). If that choice bites me in the fantasy playoffs for the first time in Murray’s career, so be it.

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Tim Burtis says:

I’m in a keeper league and Henry is currently sitting on my roster as an option. Do I keep him or go a different direction? What do I do???

Tanner Rawson says:

I’d say hometown Bias was Major in last years preseason hype from you guys for Murray. Luckily I added it up to hometeam bias for you and didn’t take him! But I am happy you guys are coming back to earth on KRYler!

Parker Davis says:

I was inches from drafting King Henry.

Thanks for the heads up.

Tommy miller says:

Confused on why drafting kyle pitts as te3 is a good thing when so many better opts after him after

RobDons says:

The Kyler take will age like facts… great write up.

William Farmer says:

This Kyler Murray part will not age well. 😂 I’m sure when it doesn’t we will not hear from you on it. At the end of the fantasy playoff. You should post an article on what you got right and what you got wrong.

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