Fantasy football's most intriguing high-risk, high-reward candidates

Fantasy football's most intriguing high-risk, high-reward candidates

Draft Strategy

Fantasy football's most intriguing high-risk, high-reward candidates

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Fantasy football gamers are tasked with making decisions at every juncture of their seasons. Whether it be the draft, setting lineups, making trades or waiver claims … you name it, there is a choice to be made. Some of them are mundane, and others will drastically alter the course of your team’s fortunes.

One way to help mitigate the chance of a disastrous showing is to understand the amount of risk being assumed. Since the foundation of any good fantasy roster is laid during the draft, we’ll focus our attention on which players offer the most potential in the face of unmistakable risk. You’ll also read about guys with greater risk than reward, despite being highly ranked or having an early average draft placement.

Worth the price of admission

(Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports)

QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield’s rookie season was nothing short of impressive, and Cleveland only improved around him in the offseason. The biggest risk factor here is expectations. The bar will be high in Cleveland, and Mayfield is now the face of the city, despite what OBJ seems to believe about himself.

The other risk factors at play come from teams having tape on Mayfield for defensive studying of his tendencies, and simply developing chemistry with Odell Beckham. The Browns’ offensive line still isn’t exactly dominant, either. Nevertheless, Mayfield’s moxie and ability to improvise will propel him into strong QB1 territory.

QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Losing his favorite receiver, Doug Baldwin, will be a big hit, no doubt. However, Wilson’s ability to create plays and his legs help him “throw open” receivers on a regular basis. He still has a strong running game to rely on to help keep defenses guessing, particularly during play-action passing situations.

Seattle welcomes physical freak D.K. Metcalf into the fold as a rookie second-rounder, and while he is quite raw, be sure Wilson will work closely with him to get the the Ole Miss star receiver up to speed. There’s still Tyler Lockett, and we saw flashes from David Moore in 2018. Rookies Gary Jennings and John Ursua will get opportunities to showcase their skills, as well. Wilson has thrown at least 34 TDs in three of his last four seasons, in addition to five rushing scores in total, so clearly turnover isn’t a major issue for him.

RB Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Health, health, health. That’s really the only issue here. Gurley’s knee is reportedly arthritic, which will cause fantasy gamers to run and hide on draft day. He was legitimately in the MVP conversation until the knee flared up late in the year. Head coach Sean McVay could be the primary enemy in this situation, because he proved coy about Gurley’s status all the way to the Super Bowl.

Fresh memories tend to stick with people, and owners will be rightfully worried. I landed Gurley at Pick 1:11 in a PPR draft recently, which is robbery if he plays all 16 games — it’s also a fair placement given the elevated risk. Rookie Darrell Henderson will have a role, specifically in the passing game, and it could be notable. This also would depress Gurley a touch. Gurley’s best worth is in standard-scoring leagues, given his nose for paydirt.

(Thomas J. Russo, USA TODAY Sports)

RB Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

Mack is going to appear in a bunch of my “draft this guy!” type lists. Indy’s offensive line is among the best in the league, and Andrew Luck removed all doubts about his shoulder last year. He will keep defenders on their heels, which opens lanes for Mack. While the passing game isn’t exactly his thing, Mack is capable of taking dump-offs and screens for chunk gains.

Injuries are his only prominent concern, and there is no argument against this fear. He has been prone to injuries, so there is no way around it. Sometimes we have to plug our noses and rely on the overwhelming upside of what would happen if a player can stay upright for 15 fantasy games. Mack has midrange RB1 written all over him.

RB Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid’s primary running back is a fantasy asset, regardless of what it says on the name plate of his jersey. Williams is a dynamic back with dual-threat capabilities, as we witnessed down the stretch in 2018. Injuries and the attrition factor of playing every week are the top concern factors.

Williams is a strong RB2 contender in PPR setups, but casual gamers could be scared off due to the lack of name recognition and possibly addition of Carlos Hyde in the offseason. Hyde’s role is likely that of a spell and change-up for the more explosive, complete back in Williams.

WR Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Volume is about the only true worry here — injuries would be a second factor. Los Angeles lost Tyrell Williams in free agency, which opens up looks for the third-year pro to have a larger share of the targets. Keenan Allen will hog, of course, but he’s only a few seasons removed from being one of fantasy’s riskiest players in his own right.

Philip Rivers has shown confidence in Williams in the red zone, and the receiver also brings a capable long game to the table. Tight end Hunter Henry returns, so there’s another way to exploit defenses and force them to focus doubles elsewhere. Williams is going as a WR2 in most situations, and there’s nothing wrong with it if he can remain on the field.

(Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports)

WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

I’ll tread carefully here: This is not an endorsement of Tyreek Hill as a person. Look, I get it … some gamers refuse to draft certain players due to their off-the-field problems. Regardless of whether you believe Hill is a scumbag, he’s still an absolute monster for fantasy purposes. Disqualifying a player from a fantasy roster because of his off-field dealings is not my style. I don’t have to like a guy to cheer for him scoring fantasy points.

If he escapes a suspension, this entire inclusion is moot. Say he is docked anywhere from four to eight games, we still have a worthwhile pick in the top 10 rounds. I recently drafted him in Round 7 of a non-PPR mock after having locked up a strong roster around him. My logic is whether a ban spans six or even eight games, he’s still available for a second-half playoff push (if it were indeed a real league). Guys with Hill’s game-breaking athleticism rarely need a long runway to get up to speed after missing time.

WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Going in the middle of the fifth round in both PPR and standard drafts, Godwin’s risk-reward ratio makes him one of my favorite WR2 targets. He’s in a proven offense that favors the vertical game, and there’s not a quarterback carousel to fear. The downside is whether he can take a step forward after a promising second year with a final line of 59-842-7. Those are nice WR3 stats, so it will take a sizeable jump to reach that fifth-round ADP.

Godwin is capable of being a 1,000-yard, 10-TD playmaker even with Mike Evans being Mike Evans. One thing to note, if you’re the superstitious type or rely heavily on trends: Evans has produced strong fantasy stats every other year of his career. We’re facing the downward side of this trend in 2019. I don’t put much weight into it, so take it for what you will. At any rate, Godwin doesn’t need Evans to flounder to stand on his own two legs in fantasy.

TE Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts

For as much as it pains me to admit this, last year wasn’t a fluke. Ebron was just too consistently strong, despite being so reliant on touchdowns. Indianapolis has one of the best passing systems in the game, and even with additions to the receiving corps, Ebron has the upper hand in producing scores.

His placement has varied a great deal in early drafts, which really makes all of the difference in his risk-reward rating. In Round 7, he’s a borderline steal. A round prior, there is still plenty of meat on the bone for risk mitigation. One draft I witnessed placed him in Round 4 after Travis Kelce as the second tight end chosen. No thanks. Appropriate placement is the key for this one.

(Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

TE Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

Henry has suffered through injuries in his young career, but when he is on the field and at 100 percent, he is one of the most promising tight ends in the league. The positional depth is sketchy again this year: It’s a top-heavy class with a few proven but risky mid-tier players and a deep pool of “coin flip” types.

Henry says his knee is “pretty much a full go,” and he’s still just 24 years old, after all. He has looked strong in OTAs and should be fully ready for a major role in 2019. There are a few players with less risk and similar upside — the loss of Tyrell Williams in free agency, and Henry finally having the position all to himself, vaults him into being a fine roster risk to assume.

Let someone else pay the tab

QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Recovering from shoulder surgery, Newton’s offseason focus will be on rehab and not football activities. Then there’s the concern about a setback to delay his return or possible reinjury. The Panthers have improved offensive weaponry in recent offseasons, although there really isn’t a No. 1 receiver on the roster, and tight end Greg Olsen cannot be trusted at this point.

RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars: We’ve witnessed too many red flags over the offseason to be fond of taking a chance on him at his current price. Even if none of those items matter in relation to his on-field play, Fournette is a volume-dependent, injury-prone plodder. Do you really believe Nick Foles and that ugly receiving corps is going to cause defenders to play honestly around the line of scrimmage? Take the RB2 plunge in touchdown-heavy formats and look elsewhere in PPR.

(Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)

RB Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: He’s only 27, but Freeman’s body is failing him. Even if he can remain at full strength well into the season, we’re looking at a high probability of a true committee — possibly a three-way split. He’s talented around the goal line, but that trait and this offense’s weaponry will make Freeman an inconsistent producer, which is a killer in head-to-head leagues.

RB Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers: Freeman’s old backfield mate, Coleman followed his former offensive coordinator to San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan’s offense is tough to digest, so Coleman at least will hit the ground running. However, this backfield is loaded with existing talent, and Coleman has yet to materialize as being more than a capable change-up.

WR Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota is not the answer, and Davis is still learning the ropes entering Year 3. Now there’s a new offensive system in place. He showed improvement in 2018 but remains in a poor situation and now has upgraded talent at wide receiver around him. Davis will pop off for a few big games but also will disappear more than owners want out of a WR3 or better.

(Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)

WR Will Fuller, Houston Texans: The dude is dangerous when on the field, but being able to count on him staying healthy is fantasy’s version of spitting into the wind. He should be at full speed during the year, so don’t be surprised if Fuller has a few strong showings. Getting there will be costly, and a guy with a history of soft-tissue injuries makes recovering from knee reconstruction even more dicey with consideration to pulling hamstrings, etc. as he compensates.

TE Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans: He’ll be 35 years old before the season begins and is recovering from a catastrophic injury that cost him all but one game in 2018. Last year, backup Jonnu Smith ultimately acquitted himself after looking like a total bust up to that point. Tight end drafting is a shaky deal after the first three or four players, so find more upside for your risk.

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