It’s tough to win your fantasy drafts in the first six rounds, but you can certainly lose it. Your early picks are the pillars of your squad and you draft them with the assumption that they will be weekly contributors that you can count on regardless of defensive matchup or game script. When you’re making decisions in this range you want to focus on the red flags and risks that each player presents, and focus more on who can ruin your team as opposed to who will boost it. When you get to the later rounds it’s fine to swing for the fences and target high upside players, because at that point you’re drafting your bench.
One aspect of fantasy football that’s guaranteed annually is the fact that there will be early-round busts, no matter what. A handful of players going off the board in the top forty picks will crash and burn, so it’s important to read the writing on the wall as much as possible. Injuries are impossible to predict, but a lot of the time the disappointment is something we can see coming. Let’s take a look at the top three early-round landmines for 2019.
Le’Veon Bell – ADP: 1.10
Bell was a consensus top-two pick just last season, and this year he finds himself carrying a first-round ADP once again. Everything about his situation has changed drastically and it’s been almost a calendar year since he’s played meaningful NFL snaps. Few people can question the talent he possesses and when things are going well he’s one of the best players in the league. If talent was the only thing that mattered in fantasy, Le’Veon wouldn’t be anywhere near this list. Depth chart status, volume, game script, and team productivity all factor in just as much as talent, if not more. The issue with Bell is the same one that plagued Kenyan Drake last season.
His name is Adam Gase.
Trying to predict what the new head coach of the Jets will do on a weekly basis is no easy task, given his history as a sporadic play-caller and decision-maker. There are a few predictable patterns in his coaching history, but none of them bode well for his new starting running back. Gase has never given a primary ball carrier more than 260 carries in a sixteen game season, while Le’Veon has averaged 279 in seasons where he played at least 12 games. Following a similar pattern, Gase has never had a running back see more than 73 targets in a single season, while Bell paces at 102 targets per year. A historic pattern is going to be broken at some point, it’s just a matter of which one. Based on the financial investment the Jets made in the former Steelers all-pro, it’s reasonable to believe that Gase may change his ways.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume he does.
Even if Bell receives the necessary volume to warrant his ADP, the Jets offense is still the Jets offense. Pro Football Focus rated their offensive line as the 27th best in the NFL in 2018, and the surrounding personnel as a whole hasn’t been much better. Per Mike Tagliere at FantasyPros, offenses ranked in the bottom ten have produced only 11% of the top 12 running back finishes in the last seven years. The Jets ranked 29th in yards/game and 24th in points/game in 2018. Gase may help improve things but it’s unlikely they can improve drastically enough to navigate the gaps on their roster. All signs point to Bell having an absolute ceiling right where he’s being drafted. Don’t waste a first-round pick on someone with this many red flags.
Patrick Mahomes – ADP: 3.08
Mahomes is one of the most polarizing players in the NFL and things get even messier in fantasy leagues. On one hand, you have a quarterback who ascended to elite status as quickly as anyone in recent memory. On the other hand, you have someone who completed one of the most impressive seasons in football history, and you have to bank on him repeating it. Let’s take a look at just how likely that is to happen.
There have only been three quarterbacks in history to throw for 50 or more touchdowns in a single season: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Patrick Mahomes. Even though it’s a fairly small sample size, it’s worth noting that neither Brady or Manning was able to accomplish the feat more than once. As a matter of fact, amongst the nine quarterbacks who have 40+ touchdown passes in a season, only Drew Brees was able to do it again the following year.
Part of the reason Mahomes was so good had to do with his touchdown efficiency. The Chiefs ranked second in the league in red-zone trips that ended in a touchdown, and Mahomes was a big contributor. His ridiculous 8.6% touchdown rate was something that we rarely see, even from the best players of all time. Aaron Rodgers’ career touchdown rate is 6.1%. This means for Mahomes to repeat his touchdown totals in 2019 he’d have to go back to back seasons with a 30% higher touchdown rate than one of the G.O.A.T.s.
In terms of fantasy production, Mahomes defied history in a similar way. His 26.1 fantasy points per game were the most since Aaron Rodgers in 2011 – which was arguably the best single-season ever. The closest anyone has come since then was Cam Newton in 2015 when he racked up over 24 fantasy points per game. The odds of Mahomes accumulating anywhere near that many fantasy points in 2019 are very slim.
Since he carries a third-round ADP, it would require flawless decision making from your other early draft picks to make up a full round without a positional player on your roster. Mahomes would have to repeat history in ways that no other quarterback ever has. He’d have to be more productive than Aaron Rodgers, more efficient than Tom Brady, and accomplish things that put him in his own category entirely in the history books for both the real NFL and fantasy. On top of all this, we have to worry about a brand new starting running back. Friends don’t let friends draft quarterbacks early, and I can’t let the FootClan do it either.
Tevin Coleman – ADP: 6.08
When the Niners’ organization inked Coleman to a deal it invoked a collective ‘ughhhh’ amongst fantasy owners everywhere. We thought we had the backfield pegged last year with Jerick McKinnon gaining steam, but his injury changed fantasy draft boards and weekly lineup decisions for the next 17 Sundays. He looks to be fully healthy again and should see significant work given the investment made by the team, but Coleman will be involved heavily. The biggest reason for his landmine status is the ambiguity that surrounds the backfield as a whole. If a report were to come out tomorrow that said Coleman’s the lead back to start the season, it would still be a tough sell.
The most carries he saw in a game last year was in week two and his workload declined steadily the rest of the way. In weeks 11-17 he averaged just over eight carries per game and only caught nine passes total. For one reason or another Atlanta had no interest in treating him like a workhorse, even when Devonta Freeman went down. For a team that spent a lot of time keeping him involved in the offense, it’s not a good sign that he remained in a committee. If we’re using a sixth- round pick on Coleman, we need to do so with the assumption he will see a lot of volume. All three backs in Kyle Shanahan’s offense have similar skill sets and lack workhorse traits. One of them will have more value than the others, but it’s not clear which one of them it will be. We’re paying a four-round premium for a “hunch” based on very little. Following the money leads us to McKinnon, following the production leads us to Breida, and following the draft price leads us to…. Anyone but Coleman.
Matt Breida is going in the thirteenth round and Mckinnon is slipping into the tenth. You’re much better off pivoting here to one of the MANY wide receivers with WR1 potential in this range (including his teammate), and snagging one of the other two backs as a bench stash.