And so here we are.
In the springtime, we talked about rookies. We saw their highlight clips of breathtaking plays. Clutch catches and long touchdowns. A few had problematic pasts, but bad behavior ends once their bank balance suddenly goes comma-comma. Right?
Then came the NFL draft. During the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, it lasted 17 rounds and happened over the phone. Now seven rounds require three days, red carpets, several 18-wheelers of broadcast equipment, and the city of Las Vegas. Speculating when and where players are drafted is a literal industry and a new national past time. No matter that half of them will be outright flops.
As if that didn’t get your fantasy football blood flowing, they had OTA’s where we saw just how fast a guy could run in shorts with no one trying to hurt them. Nobody got tackled, but we started hearing bits and pieces about how players could pass, run or even catch the football! At the least, these new players would rock at flag football.
Training camp was next. Bits of information leaked from the hundreds of microphones that were shoved into coaches’ faces. One meaningless off-hand remark could burn with the light of a dozen suns once it hit Twitter and news feeds. Tweets were like soldiers throwing candy bars to a hungry mob of children.
Preseason games stoked the fantasy inferno up another notch. Rookie running backs carved up defenses mostly comprised of future burger-flippers, landscapers, firemen, and a couple of guys who are content to play special teams.
And so here we are.
We’ve digested all that information, listened to podcasts, and tuned into fantasy football shows. We’ve spent far more time studying our cheat sheets than we did for the SAT.
We set the first lineups of the season. We feel sadness knowing that we’ll never participate in free agency because there’s no one to drop. We finally drafted the perfect fantasy team.
But the storm is almost here.
Get ready to feel the wind and rain and hear the thunder. And to pray that the lightning bolts of fate won’t strike anyone on your perfect team. We will watch real NFL football while exclaiming, “what in the !@#$% is going on? Where’s <insert RB2>? Did someone kidnap <insert WR3>? Who in the world is <insert red-hot free agent>? Get up! Get up! Oh God no, he is not getting up!”
Week 1 is a favorite time for me. Even after 26 years of analyzing players and producing fantasy football content, there is nothing as exciting as Week 1. Much of what we’ve learned not only means nothing, it may have been detrimental. Here are a few things to remember about the summer.
- Most people draft like the previous season repeats, and that is the only real action to judge a player. But the NFL is constantly changing and evolving.
- More than ever, the preseason is worthless in fantasy terms. There isn’t much to glean. The cut-down to three games means that teams use them just to determine their final roster. Almost nothing that happened there means anything. The Top-10 quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in the preseason of 2021 only had one player go on to play in the regular season – Rhamondre Stevenson, who did nearly nothing for the first eight weeks. The others were cut from their teams or at best ended up on practice squads.
- We all love rookie running backs. They are the crack cocaine of a fantasy draft. In my big-money draft last night, seven rookie backs went over the first ten rounds. And this was a year considered weak for running backs. Just two rookie rushers made the Top-24 last year (Najee Harris, Javonte Williams). And there were already three drafted in 2021 by the same 2.04 pick that selected Breece Hall this year.
- We have nine new head coaches and 13 new offensive coordinators. Only seven OC’s have been in their job longer than two years. That’s a lot of transition in a critical area of any team. It happens every year.
- We’ve made it through the preseason, and there is one terrifying reality. Honestly – I do not recall it in my 26 years of covering the NFL. No… One… Got… Hurt. The No. 3 wideout in Denver of Tim Patrick was lost. The rookie Brian “what if I say no?” Robinson tragically got shot but fortunately (and luckily) escaped any long-term damage. Anyone else? How many ACL’s and MCL’s are hanging on by a thread, just ready for that high-speed cut in Week 1? Every summer has at least one fantasy football star that gets hurt. Until we didn’t.
- While the primary starters are known, the depth charts for the rest of the running backs and wide receivers are about to change. Maybe constantly for some teams. We hear and see plenty about whatever player has climbed up the ladder, but nothing that happened in the last three months matters compared to what they do this weekend. There will be surprises. Delightful surprises. Maybe a few kind of painful ones, too.
There are players that show up big in the summer and later exceed all expectations to become fantasy-point water cannons. But mostly not. Here’s a comparison of an expert draft at the end of May and my draft last night for the most notable among those who rose or fell over the summer.
Almost no change. The few that matter never did anything this summer. Cole Kmet rose from the 12.09 to the 8.10, and Isaiah Likely went from undrafted to the 15.01 pick.
Drafters are buying into Saquon Barkley again because “he looks good as new, maybe better.” And Dameon Pierce impressed while practicing versus the Houston defense. He built expectations that now go against the No. 30 rushing schedule strength while running behind the No. 30 ranked offensive line.
Isiah Pacheco may become the Chiefs’ starting tailback or just an obscure answer for a Kansas City bar’s Trivia Night. Rashaad Penny fared better mostly because Kenneth Walker III injured his groin, and now there’s a sense that Penny will hold onto the starting spot until he, too, is injured.
Brian Robinson got hot, and was winning the early-down role in Washington before dropping back a bit while recovering from his wounds. Four of the biggest movers were rookies.
The crazy thing is that most of this movement had little bearing on anything. Almost none of these receivers did anything new in practices or even participated in the preseason. Skyy Moore shot up the draft board but isn’t a starter as the No. 4 wideout. George Pickens did himself great favor in practices and the preseason, maybe to Diontae Johnson’s detriment.
The first ten rookie wideouts selected in the NFL draft had no notable movement. Few played in the preseason much, let alone with their starting quarterback.
Drafters must like Baker Mayfield since D.J. Moore jumped up almost two full rounds. But again – almost none of the wideouts of any note played in the preseason. It’s all been on the practice field and the actual usage of the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers could be a surprise on many teams.
Bring it on!
We’re about to see 5% to 10% of the NFL turn in their biggest game of the year. Watch the player that was stolen one pick ahead of yours break off a 75-yard touchdown. Listen to announcers master the art of stating the obvious. All the while checking stats and changing channels.
I can only speak for myself, but standing here at the brink of the season always feels like Christmas Eve. Or like when you enter an amusement park with a pocket full of money. Or even when some hottie smiles at you from across the bar. Maybe I won’t get the BB Gun. Maybe I’ll puke riding the Zipper again. And maybe her boyfriend is just standing behind me.
But what if…
Yeah, can’t you just smell the rain?