High-risk, high-reward fantasy football picks

High-risk, high-reward fantasy football picks

Draft Strategy

High-risk, high-reward fantasy football picks

(Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)

Whiffing on early picks can be devastating for fantasy football success. Understand the risk-reward ratio before picking these players. There is always an acceptable price to pay for a risky commodity, and gamers must find themselves asking whether the assumed risk is worth the investment on draft day.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees | Saints | ADP: 4:05

Looking at the crop of quarterbacks in 2017, we need to examine with a greater degree of scrutiny. Brees, all 6-foot, 209 pounds of him, is 38 years old and sits third on the all-time passing attempts list. He’s first in the attempts-per-game stat. As Peyton Manning most recently demonstrated, when quarterbacks “lose it,” they usually fall off a cliff. Brees probably isn’t there yet, but it needs to be pondered. Add in the loss of Brandin Cooks, a catastrophic injury to left tackle Terron Armstead, along with the addition of two running backs, and Brees isn’t a lock for being the Drew Brees we’ve come to rely on through the years. He is still a QB1, but the positional depth means owners can wait several rounds without being punished if they pass on Brees.

Kirk Cousins | Redskins | ADP 8:08

Volume passing will be there, so this may even out in the long run. Cousins lost his top two targets from 2016 and has replaced them with a guy who was a quarterback a few seasons ago and a second-year receiver with exactly two NFL catches to his name. Jordan Reed is an awesome weapon when he is actually on the field. Toss running back Samaje Perine into the backfield … perhaps the volume decreases, and efficiency certainly should. Terrelle Pryor, the presumed WR1, struggled with reception efficiency in 2016 (36th among qualifiers). Cousins is probably closer to the low-end caliber of fantasy starters rather than the solidly midrange starter his ADP suggests.

Running backs

Ezekiel Elliott | Cowboys | ADP: 1:03

It did not take long for even casual fans to see just how special Zeke really is — arguably a generational talent. It also didn’t take long for more astute observers to realize something did not appear to be right with his off-the-field choices. While Elliott was cleared legally of any wrongdoing in an investigation into whether he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend, the NFL could still crack down on him with a short suspension. Then there was a lewd incident on a parade float, followed by reports of a physical altercation at a nightclub in mid-July. At some point the pattern of, if nothing else, putting himself in problematic situations has to be readily apparent to anyone and everyone monitoring Elliott’s behavior. When on the field, gamers should have an elite fantasy producer … but for how many games.

Jay Ajayi | Dolphins | ADP: 1:12

The Jay-Train was full-steam ahead over a three-game span of Week 6, Week 7 and Week 9 (Week 8 bye). He ripped off back-to-back 200-yard games, took a one-week breather and returned for 111 yards and a score against the New York Jets. Following a quiet spell, the Boise State product did it again by topping 200 yards in Week 16 for the second time versus the Buffalo Bills. Ajayi runs hot and cold. The season-long stats will look pretty sweet, but his inconsistency will be a deal-breaker for some. Over those four masterful performances, he posted a stat line of 109-735-4, scoring once every 27.5 rushes. He averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry. Ajayi was barely a playable fantasy option in his other 11 games. He rushed 151 times for 537 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and scored three times, or once every 50.33 attempts. Sustaining even average success with a voluminous workload will be the key to his fantasy prosperity. Spending a first-round, or even early second-rounder on him, could be detrimental to the overall health of your fantasy team. Ajayi truly is a boom-or-bust asset.

Todd Gurley | Rams | ADP: 2:06

Few people question Gurley’s talent or skill set, but playing for an otherwise shaky offense could once again hold him back. Last year, in part because of Jeff Fisher’s dogmatic conviction to a vanilla flavor of offense, Gurley was a fantasy disaster. First-time head coach Sean McVay should be more creative, although there is only so much masking a brilliant offensive mind can do to hide offensive shortcomings in the talent department. (Just ask Andy Reid.) Gurley didn’t top 85 rushing yards in a single game last year, nor did he rush for better than 4.1 yards per carry in any contest. In his dynamic rookie season — coming off a serious knee injury, no less — the Georgia standout buoyed fantasy worth by creating big plays to offset plenty of lackluster gains. The offense needs to open up more and threaten defenses down the field. This will create running lanes. Major upgrades at left tackle and center in Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, respectively, can’t hurt, either. Gurley should be improved but may fail to live up to the hype generated following his 2015 breakout season. Much of his worth depends on whether quarterback Jared Goff makes strides in competency.

Wide receivers

Sammy Watkins | Bills | ADP: 3:10

The plus side, Watkins is just 24 years old entering his fourth pro season. The glaring drawback is he has played a full slate only once, his rookie campaign. The Bills will remain a run-first team under new coordinator Rick Dennison, but that isn’t entirely because of a lack of desire to pass. Buffalo simply doesn’t have the tools to be a top-flight aerial team, from the quarterback down to the receiving targets. Aside from Watkins, rookie Zay Jones is a possession guy entering his first NFL foray, while Andre Holmes offers little outside of being a sneaky red zone weapon. Watkins himself is the guy in the passing game, which is where we find the upside to rival his fragility concerns. Just assume he can stay healthy, the Clemson star has averaged a touchdown every nine catches. He’s a big-play threat but needs to balance his style to become a better all-around asset for fantasy gamers. Don’t hold your breath. In summation, only non-PPR owners should tab Watkins as a sound WR2 or better, and “better” is asking a lot of him.

Alshon Jeffery | Eagles | ADP: 3:11

On the heels of consecutive injury-ruined seasons, Jeffery headed to Philly with a one-year deal in hopes of cashing in after a strong rebound year. The Eagles will pass the ball, no question, but they have considerable talent spread across the skill positions who will challenge Jeffery for touches. Much like with Watkins, injuries are the bigger concern for Jeffery’s fantasy success. He is also a downfield weapon, yet the former Chicago Bears wideout’s game is more malleable and can be worked all over the field. It would be dangerous to assume he can exceed his glory days of 2013 and ’14, but approach that two-year average of 87.5 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 scores is reasonable. Expect fewer catches with a similar level of yardage and TDs — if, and only if, he manages to play 16 contests.

Tight ends

Rob Gronkowski | Patriots | ADP: 2:10

Investing in the best tight end in football comes at a hefty price. Gronkowski has missed a game in every season since 2011 and nearly one-third of all regular-season appearances in the last five years. Granted, when he is on the field, no tight end comes close to matching his sheer dominance. There is a toll to be paid for being so physical. The spoils are apparent, but one has to be concerned with just how much more Gronkowski can take, especially coming off of back surgery. Bill Belichick may be keen to the idea of lessening Gronk’s target count, which could have motivated the acquisition of wideout Brandin Cooks. The position offers so much depth it is becoming a wonder why some people are willing to invest in Gronk’s risk-reward ratio.

Jordan Reed | Redskins | ADP: 4:11

Here’s the deal: A healthy Reed in a Washington offense post DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon could fetch nearly 100 balls. No question. This would be a double-edged sword, so to speak, as Reed’s durability concerns amplify with every touch. He hasn’t finished a 16-game run in four years, but fantasy players tend to overlook that for a player who has scored 17 touchdowns in his last 26 games. Head coach Jay Gruden called Reed the “focal point” of the Redskins offense. This should hold true with the lack of continuity at receiver. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has extensive history with only Reed and Jamison Crowder. The odds of probability suggest Reed has to stay healthy for one season, right?!?

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