What If We’re Wrong? Fantasy Football Narratives Worth Questioning in 2021
August is right around the corner and you know what that means. The Fantasy Footballers ramp it up to five shows a week and your fantasy drafts are within sight!
It also means the echo chamber that can often be the fantasy football community is about to get louder than ever. Most of these consensus opinions exist for a reason and are often backed by facts and research. Sometimes, however, that research is flawed, cherry-picked, or based on small sample sizes. When you hear the same narrative repeated over and over again in every corner of the fantasy football community, it’s important to ask the question “What if everyone’s wrong?”
For a few examples, let’s rewind a year and look at some of the loudest narratives from this time just a year ago, the summer of 2020, and how wrong they were when reality played out.
2020 Narrative: Stefon Diggs may be talented, but he’s getting a major downgrade in Buffalo. With the Bills, he’s playing on a low passing volume team with an inaccurate quarterback in Josh Allen. Not to mention, we should avoid wide receivers that change teams.
2020 Reality: Josh Allen attempted the sixth-most passes in the NFL and a league-high 166 of them were targeted at Diggs. He was drafted with an ADP of WR24 in the fifth round but ended up finishing as the WR3 on the season.
2020 Narrative: Aaron Rodgers’ best fantasy performances are behind him now that he plays in Matt LaFleur’s conservative run-first offense.
2020 Reality: Rodgers was the overall QB2 on the season after putting up the second-most fantasy points of his career and winning league MVP. Not bad for a player going around the seventh round of fantasy drafts last August.
2020 Narrative: Wide receivers typically struggle as rookies. This will be magnified due to the COVID-shortened offseason.
2020 Reality: Three rookie wideouts finished as top-24 fantasy options and six finished in the top 50. Justin Jefferson, who had a WR44 ADP last August, shattered records and finished as the overall WR6 on the year.
This isn’t to say that it was wrong to buy into any of those narratives. They were all based on some logic. But anybody that asked “what if?” and took a shot on Diggs, Allen, Rodgers, or Jefferson just slightly ahead of their 2020 ADP ended up with a massive advantage in their league. We could go back every year and find examples of groupthink gone wrong, but instead, let’s look ahead and see how some of this summer’s most prevalent narratives could go wrong.
A quick disclaimer before diving in. Don’t mistake this for a “bold take” article. I’m not necessarily predicting any of these things to happen. Instead, I’m saying it’s worth allowing your mind to lay out what happens if these narratives go differently than the consensus expectation. What if everybody’s wrong?
Narrative 1: Zeus is Invincible
Travis Kelce gives you such a positional advantage that he’s worth bypassing high-ceiling running backs or receivers in the first round of fantasy drafts. He’s finished as the TE1 in five consecutive seasons and just set the season record for most receiving yards by a tight end in 2020. As if that weren’t enough, he outscored last season’s TE2 (Darren Waller) by 35 fantasy points and TE3 (Robert Tonyan) by 110 fantasy points. He had more than twice as many fantasy points as the TE8 (Rob Gronkowski). He would’ve finished the season as the overall WR4. That kind of dominance at a “onesie” position is worth a first-round pick.
But what If?
What if Travis Kelce doesn’t double-up the fantasy points of some top-12 fantasy tight ends? What if he doesn’t even finish as the TE1? The streak has to end eventually. While it’s true he’s coming off the best season of his career, that also means that regression is likely around the corner. There’s a world where Kelce finishes and the TE2. Heck, there’s a world where he finishes as the TE12. That possibility is rarely considered, as evidenced by the recent Twitter poll below.
Travis Kelce is being unanimously drafted as the TE1. What chance do you give him to finish as the TE1 in 2021?
— Aaron Larson (@aalarson) July 21, 2021
As unlikely as a season outside of the top-three tight ends might be for Kelce, it would put every fantasy manager that drafted him in the first round at an extreme disadvantage. There is an opportunity cost connected with every draft pick. By selecting Kelce in the first round, you pass up what could likely be a high-end running back or wide receiver that’s going in the same area of the draft. Selecting a tight end, even Kelce, in the first round comes with an inherent risk of burying your team if he’s anything less than elite.
Narrative 2: It’s Only a Matter of Time
Cam Newton is bound to be replaced by rookie teammate Mac Jones. After all, the Patriots just had the 27th ranked scoring offense with Newton last season. He only threw eight touchdowns the entire 2020 season. It’s only a matter of time before Jones is given the starting nod in New England.
But what If?
What if Newton isn’t washed up? What if the retooled New England offense is the perfect fit for Newton’s “Konami code” skillset. Before Mac Jones fell to them in the draft, the Patriots spent the offseason adding offensive weapons Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne. If the offense clicks and the Patriots are winning games with Newton, he’ll stay on the field. He may not throw 30+ touchdowns through the air, but he’s still capable of throwing over 20. Couple that with the double-digit rushing touchdown upside and Newton could be a top-12 fantasy quarterback for the seventh time in his career. With a current ADP in the 17th round, he could legitimately be this year’s late-round quarterback success story.
Narrative 3: The City That Never (Has) Sleep(er)s
The starting quarterbacks in The Big Apple are being largely ignored for fantasy football purposes this summer. Daniel Jones turns the ball over at an outrageous clip, 22 interceptions and 29 fumbles in 27 career games played, and Zach Wilson is a rookie quarterback that the Jets reached for in the draft. Only the most hardcore college scouts had any idea who Wilson was one year ago. These quarterbacks won’t be good, and as a result, most of their teammates will also struggle to produce fantasy points.
But what If?
What if Daniel Jones returns to the level of play he displayed during his rookie season? During that 2019 season, he finished as a top-two fantasy quarterback in four separate weeks. A capable Jones would not only become a serviceable fantasy quarterback, but he could also unlock recent Giants free-agent acquisition Kenny Golladay. As bad as Jones was last season, he rated out as the best deep-ball passer in the NFL according to NFL Next Gen Stats, something that would bode well for Golladay’s skill set. Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Darius Slayton could also far outperform their ADPs if Jones becomes a competent fantasy quarterback.
As for Wilson, we already know he’ll get every opportunity to start for the Jets, a team no longer coached by Adam Gase. What if he thrives under the new coaching staff of Robert Saleh Mike LaFleur? Much like Jones, Wilson is a strong-armed quarterback with rushing upside. None of the Jets pass-catchers currently have an ADP earlier than the double-digit rounds but if Wilson is a capable fantasy quarterback, the likes of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder, or Denzel Mims will also have fantasy relevance.
The two New York teams could be a hotbed of sleepers this season.
Are there any narratives I missed that need questioning? Let me know on Twitter @aalarson!