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
QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles: The risk is whether he can live up to the hype and take a large enough step forward to consistently be a QB1 from week to week, rather than just posting season-long No. 1 stats. No position is more important from a consistency perspective in head-to-head fantasy formats. Upgraded weaponry, a capable offensive line, and an offense that should emphasize more passing helps offset any concerns.
RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: Injury-hampered seasons have headlined Barkley’s fantasy outlook over the past three seasons following his breakthrough rookie campaign. New York has upgraded the offensive line and overall system with the hiring of Brian Daboll. The creativity should help alleviate running Barkley into a brick wall ad nauseam, putting him into space more and frequently. There’s no foolproof way of insuring against injuries, especially at the most violent position, but Barkley enters this offseason healthy and hungry in a career-defining year.
RB Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills: It took two-plus seasons for Singletary to finally showcase his skills. The small sample size may turn off some drafters, as could the loss of his offensive coordinator. Singletary dominated the touch count late last season and should continue to be involved more than any back on the roster, including incoming rookie James Cook, whose role is likely to be that of a fringe pass-catching outlet. The fourth-year FIU product is coming off a career-high in touches (13.4) and receptions (2.3) per game, all while improving his rushing touchdown efficiency rating by two-thirds. His 2021 success was not an accident.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Shake off last year’s “down” season by Zeke. He still finished RB7 in PPR. Elliott played through a partially torn knee ligament in 2021 and saw his season’s second-half productivity decimated as a result. The emergence of backup Tony Pollard allowed Dallas to take it easier on Elliott down the stretch, even though he really should have been sat down. This offensive line isn’t as strong as it was in Elliott’s first couple of years, but it’s not terrible, either. Dallas took a step backward in the passing game after shipping away Amari Cooper, which could lead to more ground work. Healthy, dedicated, and ready to disprove his doubters, No. 21 comes at a value for the first time in Elliott’s career, helping mitigate any legitimate risk of another dwindling stat line.
WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints: He’s expected to be able to return from his ankle repair sometime in July — hopefully ahead of training camp in order to earnestly shake off the rust. Thomas effectively has lost the past two years and has much to prove to skeptical gamers. The offensive system won’t change following the retirement of Sean Payton, and Jameis Winston returns to anchor the quarterback position. New Orleans added first-round rookie Chris Olave and veteran Jarvis Landry to enhance the receiving corps and depressurize Thomas. Could Thomas suffer yet another serious injury? Sure, and so could Jonathan Taylor or any other player. Taking a leap of faith often is a requirement when seeking greatness.
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals: Hopkins’ six-game suspension on the heels of an injury-shortened season will ward off plenty of would-be drafters. The Cardinals added Marquise Brown and re-signed A.J. Green, but neither player significantly impacts what Hopkins does best. If anything, Hollywood’s deep skills will open up looks. Hopkins’ best days are behind him, so make no mistake there, but he’s well worth the gamble going as a WR3, on average, in PPR scoring. He returns for a mostly favorable schedule to rack up No. 2 volume the rest of the way.
TE Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers: Coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Tonyan has mostly been a forgotten man in early fantasy drafts. He has an above-average chance to return on investment with the loss of Davante Adams opening the door to send more targets to otherwise low-volume weapons, such as the veteran tight end. We’ve seen Tonyan display a nose for the end zone as recently as 2020, and while some of that was due to the shield provided by Adams, don’t discount the degree of trust Aaron Rodgers has for Tonyan in the red zone.
Let someone else pay the tab
QB Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns: Currently, 24 civil suits face Watson this offseason. There’s no telling how the NFL will respond in terms of punishment. However, after suspending Atlanta receiver Calvin Ridley for an entire year over gambling, other significant suspensions without criminal convictions, and MLB’s two-year ban of pitcher Trevor Bauer (alleged sexual improprieties), bank on the book being thrown at the former Houston Texan. Quarterback is too deep, and Watson’s offensive system is far from QB-friendly, so let someone else take the hit.
RB Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks: A neck injury that required surgery has Carson’s status up in the air. The second-round selection of running back Kenneth Walker and re-signing of 2021 late-season phenom Rashaad Penny could push Carson into irrelevancy, even if he returns to health in a timely manner. Factor in quite likely the worst quarterback room in the league and Carson belongs far from rosters.
RB Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers: A breakout rookie last year, Mitchell underwent clean-up surgery on his knee shortly after the season ended. San Francisco still has several options in the backfield to muddy the waters, and Mitchell’s workhorse ways last season were uncharacteristic for a Kyle Shanahan offense. The quarterback switch to Trey Lance will hurt from a defensive-attention perspective and the second-year quarterback’s wheels interfering with Mitchell’s opportunities. Mitchell was an unsung hero last season but is far from a lock to replicate or exceed that success.
WR Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys: In 2021, Gallup blew out his knee and will be on the mend throughout the summer. He won’t be 100 percent physically himself until late in the year. Despite being re-signed and given the inside track at the No. 2 role opposite CeeDee Lamb, Gallup could lose footing to rookie Jalen Tolbert and veteran James Washington. Both of Dallas’ primary running backs are capable receivers, and tight end Dalton Schultz is primed for the best season of his short career.
WR Jameson Williams, Detroit Lions: Reports of Williams possibly being ready for training camp or preseason are awfully optimistic. The first-round pick will have a brilliant NFL career, barring an injury derailment, though his immediate outlook is far from as rosy. The Lions have no pressing need to rush him back, and there’s zero incentive from a long-term perspective to chance a serious setback. He’s not worthy of drafting until the final rounds of single-year leagues.
WR Robert Woods, Tennessee Titans: Age-30 season and coming off a torn ACL is hardly a recipe for success. Accounting for a run-heavy offense, a new system to learn, chemistry to build, and WR1 defensive scrutiny … yuck. Woods is barely a WR3 at this point, and one of the safest receivers of the last several years no longer has said appeal.
WR Odell Beckham Jr., free agent: He’s a throwaway pick and can be left to the wire. Even if Beckham has a miraculous recovery from a second torn ACL, he’ll be a bit player. OBJ is likely to begin on the Physically Unable to Perform list, costing him the first six weeks. Use that spot on a younger, healthier flier.