I love betting on NFL games as much as I love fantasy football, maybe more. One thing any decent gambler will tell you: don’t be afraid to pass on a game. Some weeks you might see seven or eight games you want to bet on. Other weeks you might only see one or two; others none at all. In the case where there isn’t a good bet on the board, a bad gambler might place five or six bets anyway, just to have some action on that weekend’s games. The good gamblers have the discipline to hold onto their money because, after all, you can’t lose games you don’t bet on.
Fantasy drafts can be the same way. Each pick you make is a bet on whether a player can surpass his draft position. We tend to focus on the breakout players and the sleepers but it’s just as crucial to recognize which guys are being overvalued.
With that in mind, here is my list of this year’s worst bets, based on current ADP’s.
One quick note: This list does not include anyone who has suffered training camp injuries or is in a contract dispute. These are fluid situations and could change drastically with any new developments. So if you’re expecting to see Melvin Gordon or Andrew Luck on this list, you’re going to be disappointed. With that, here’s the list:
James Conner (ADP 10, RB #7)
The important thing to remember with James Conner is that he was a relatively unknown backup at this time last year. His meteoric rise to a consensus first round pick in 2019 only occurred because Le’veon Bell decided to sit out a season.
Conner finished as the sixth running back in PPR in 2018. He had a chance to finish in the top 5, but an ankle injury near the end of the year cost him three games. If you’re taking him at his current ADP, you’re hoping for a repeat of last year, minus the injury. It seems simple enough, but I think there are two major differences with the 2019 Steelers that could get in Conner’s way.
First, James Conner isn’t going to benefit from the high snap counts he saw in 2018. When Bell refused to report to camp, Conner was essentially the last man standing. The only other backs on their roster were Stevan Ridley, a replacement-level veteran who is no longer on a team, and rookie Jaylen Samuels, who was making the conversion to full time running back after playing mostly tight end and fullback in college. That being the case, the Steelers relied heavily on Conner in the early stages. Here’s a look at the RB snap share with Conner active:
|Weeks 1-6||Weeks 8-13||Week 17|
It took Samuels some time to learn the Steelers playbook and get comfortable playing as a pure RB at the NFL level, so he barely saw the field before the Week 7 bye. Ridley was used as little as possible, purely for when Conner needed rest.
After the Steelers bye in Week 7, we suddenly see Samuels more involved. Conner’s workload takes a slight dip and Ridley is used even more sparingly.
We don’t see Weeks 14-16 because this is when Conner was inactive with an ankle injury. For those who don’t remember, Samuels had a mini-breakout in this three week stretch. He was immediately given the starting role over Ridely and averaged 16.9 PPR points per game.
Conner returned from his ankle injury in week 17 and suddenly we see an even split between him and Samuels. Granted, Conner was probably not 100% at that time, but this was the first glimpse of the Steelers backfield after Jaylen Samuels established himself as a weapon. Samuels was on the field in passing situations, receiving eight targets to Conner’s three, which Samuels converted into seven catches for 40 yards.
Samuels is not going away in 2019. The work-share might not be a full split like it was in Week 17, but we’re also not going to see the Steelers lean on Conner as they did in Weeks 1-6. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d say we see a 60/40 split with Samuels getting the bulk of the passing downs.
The second big difference with the 2019 Steelers is the offense itself. Their #1 target and surefire Hall-of-Famer left in the offseason and was replaced by journeyman WR Donte Moncrief. Ben Roethlisberger has already shown signs of slowing down, and at 37 there is no guarantee he can still perform at an elite level.
After finishing 4th in yards and 6th in points in 2018, we could see the Steelers offense dip a bit. That’s a problem for a running back like Conner because a large portion of his fantasy points were generated by his teammates. Of his 12 rushing touchdowns, nine were scored inside the 5-yard line, tied with Todd Gurley for the league lead. That is not a repeatable skill, it’s luck. A regression in the offense will chip away at those goal-line opportunities, and chip away at Conner’s value.
Cooper Kupp (ADP 46, WR #20)
Only about nine months since tearing an ACL, Cooper Kupp is already back at practice. He and the Rams are saying all the right things and it appears he may be ready for Week 1 but I’m not willing to believe that until I see it. The ACL is still an injury that takes over a year for a full recovery. Betting on Kupp to break that trend is a bet on an outlier.
The more likely scenario is that Kupp gets brought back slowly, possibly sitting preseason games and then playing in a reduced role to start the season. The Rams have enough depth at WR that they can afford to take this approach – they typically only have 3 WR’s on the field at a given time and Josh Reynolds was an effective replacement for Kupp in limited time last year.
Once healthy, Kupp will still have to compete with Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and whoever is playing running back for the Rams for targets. He can easily be a WR2 in the second half of the year, but the abundance of skill players on the Rams will make it difficult for Kupp to ever be a clear-cut WR1.
At the four-five turn, guys like Kenny Golladay, Tyler Lockett, and D.J. Moore are likely to still be available. All three of those guys play in less explosive offenses, but they’re all fully healthy and have a clearer path to be their team’s #1 receiving option.
James White (ADP 50, RB #23)
I think we saw James White’s ceiling in 2018, logging the most snaps of any Patriots RB and finishing 2nd in total touches for the entire offense. It was never the plan to feature him so heavily, but it became a necessity when Jeremy Hill tore his ACL in week 1 and Rex Burkhead suffered a neck injury in Week 3, leaving only White and Sony Michel to carry the load for the majority of the season.
Burkhead and Michel are back in 2019, and the Patriots also added Damien Harris in the third round. With the backfield crowede again, this becomes a pretty simple regression case. All you need to do is look at White’s season stats and PPR rankings for the last four years:
|Year||Rush Attempts||Rush Yards||Receptions||Rec. Yards||TD’s||PPR pts./game||PPR rank|
2018 is a pretty clear outlier here. It’s certainly possible that White retains a larger role than he had in 2015-2017, but the heavy usage he received in 2018 is unlikely. That puts him squarely in the RB3 discussion without significant upside, which isn’t worth your time this early in a draft.
Chris Carson (ADP 56, RB #26)
Chris Carson’s value can be summarized in one word: volume. As a 2nd year player in 2018, he found himself in the league’s most run-heavy offense, being pushed as the starter by Pete Carroll over first round pick Rashaad Penny.
Before we even get to Penny, its important to note that high volume seasons are inherently difficult to repeat. Look at the guys who exceeded 240 carries in 2017 and the totals the reached the following season:
|RB||2017 Rush Attempts||2018 Rush Attempts|
Excluding the obvious exceptions of Bell and Kareem Hunt, we see only three of the nine players able to produce 240 carry seasons in back-to-back years. Welcome to the running back position in the modern NFL. Guys get hurt, roles change, offensive philosophies get adjusted. Chris Carson is a risk for all three of those things.
Now add in the aforementioned Penny. As if wasting a 1st round pick on a running back isn’t foolish enough, imagine wasting a 1st round pick on an RB and then never playing them. That’s what you’re betting on with Carson. It’s only a matter of time before Penny gets some sort of push, if for no other reason than to save the franchise from embarrassment.
And if for some reason Penny can’t take the job from Carson, what if a change in philosophy zaps Carson’s value? Fantasy analysts have been calling for Russell Wilson to be “unleashed” for years. With Wilson now being paid like the top 5 QB, he is, what if this is the year it finally happens? Despite being getting the 7th most carries in the league last year, Carson only finished 15th in PPR scoring because he was used so seldom in the passing game. Any departure from the run-heavy attack would hurt Carson’s value.
When you put all that together, you have a guy whose floor is the waiver wire. His ceiling? Well, I think we saw it last year.
Jordan Howard (ADP 84, RB #35)
Howard was a solid RB2 with an RB1 ceiling in Chicago, where he was afforded roughly 60% of the snaps from 2016 to 2018. Now with the Eagles, Howard finds himself in an impossibly large RB group, which includes all four guys from last year’s committee (Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood) and 2nd round draft pick Miles Sanders.
At least one or two of these guys are going to get cut or traded, but the possibility of another 60% snap share for Howard is incredibly slim, and that more or less rules out another RB2 season.
To me, he looks like a warm body, there to do the dirty work between the tackles while Miles Sanders gets worked into the offense. He may have a few nice games early in the and he may have some value during bye weeks as a goal-line vulture, but there’s bound to be a week where the Eagles get behind early and Howard gets benched in favor of a better pass catcher.
If and when that occurs, you’ll probably see Howard dropped in the majority of leagues, so why draft him in the first place? Let someone else take this ticking time bomb and draft a high upside running back like Darrell Henderson or Royce Freeman instead.
(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)