The 6 Riskiest Players at the Top of the Draft (2019 Fantasy Football)
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Generally, when building a fantasy team, you want to aim for a balance of risk and stability. A team full of “boom or bust” players is too volatile and unpredictable from week to week, but a team with only consistent, high floor players may never put you over the top in the playoffs when you need that extra boost. Taking risks in fantasy football is important, but most successful teams have a firm foundation of safe players as well. In this article, I want to identify who I believe are the riskiest players near the top of the draft. Once you get into rounds six and seven, an argument can be made that there’s an inherent risk to every pick, so I wanted to talk about risky players with top-50 ADPs.
Le’Veon Bell (RB – NYJ)
Current ADP: 7
The name Le’Veon Bell carries a lot of weight in the fantasy football world, but the man who will take the field in a couple of weeks for the first time in over a year may not be the one we remember. Bell hasn’t played in an NFL game since December of 2017 and his current surroundings are vastly different from what they were back then. Instead of an offense that finished in the top-10 in both yards and points every year since 2014, Bell is in an offense that finished in the bottom-10 in both categories in each of the last three seasons. Instead of the offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked seventh in run blocking in 2017, Bell is running behind a line thank ranked 30th in 2018. I question whether he’ll be as successful in New York at dancing patiently behind the line before finding his hole as he did so majestically in Pittsburgh. Bell also benefited from defenses who needed to account for Antonio Brown at all times, and from having a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger who ranks fourth in passing yards since 2013. The Jets don’t have an elite wide receiver or an above-average quarterback (yet), so Bell will be the primary focus of all opposing defenses.
James Conner (RB – PIT)
Current ADP: 9
James Conner inherited the situation that Le’Veon Bell left in 2018, and Pittsburgh was able to proceed with business as usual in Bell’s absence. In 2019 though, I do not expect an exact repeat of that success for two main reasons: 1) Antonio Brown is gone, and 2) Conner may be unable to handle the load. Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the NFL over the last decade and it’s hard to argue otherwise. In 2017 he shattered Marvin Harrison’s “five-year span record” in that he accumulated more receiving yards over the course of five seasons (2013-17) than any player in any consecutive five years in NFL history (he also put up two more 1,000+ yard seasons outside that span in 2011 and 2018). Juju Smith-Schuster is good, he could even be great, but that offense won’t run quite as smoothly as it did with Brown on the outside.
There’s also no denying that James Conner wore down at the end of 2018. Through his first eight games, he averaged 18.9 carries and 88.3 rushing yards per game. But in the second half of the season, he missed three games and averaged only 12.8 carries and 53.4 rushing yards in the remaining five. Jaylen Samuels is fully capable of handling some of Conner’s workload so that he can stay fresh for the whole season. In the three games that Samuels started while Conner was injured, he averaged 5.31 yards on 42 carries, and he also caught 12 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Conner has a first-round ADP, but I see entirely too much risk here to justify his first-round ADP.
Todd Gurley (RB – LAR)
Current ADP: 14
There likely hasn’t been a player more scrutinized in fantasy circles this offseason than Todd Gurley. A year after leading many owners to the fantasy playoffs, Gurley is considered a low-end RB1 based on ADP. Still, some experts consider even that to be too high for Gurley, who is dealing with arthritis in his knee. Others are happy to take the discount on Gurley, as they feel that even if they get him at 65 or 75% he is still good enough to return value at this point in the draft.
If Gurley continues to go in the second round of fantasy drafts, he’ll likely be one of the players that make or break seasons for owners.
Tyreek Hill (WR – KC)
Current ADP: 18
Don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not telling anyone not to draft Tyreek Hill. In terms of the elite-level fantasy receivers though, I believe he carries the most risk, and you’re going to need to spend an early second-round pick on him. In Mike Tagliere’s “Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between” series that you can read here, he established that among the top-10 wide receivers being drafted, Tyreek Hill was tied for the highest “bust rate” in 2018, and he was also tied for the fewest targets per game. Hill, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, and Adam Thielen have all finished as top-12 fantasy wide receivers through the last two seasons. In that span, Hill has had 12 games where he recorded less than five receptions while no one else on that list had more than seven such games.
I see Hill as a luxury for rock-solid fantasy teams. He’ll render you unbeatable in the weeks he goes off. In 2018 he had five weeks where he put up over 25 points and three weeks where he topped 30. However, if you don’t have a supporting cast of consistent performers, Hill may end up costing you a good few weeks as well.
Zach Ertz (TE – PHI)
Current ADP: 31
Over the last month, Zach Ertz’s ADP has dropped quite a bit, but he’s still going inside the third round. If you’re spending a third-round pick on a tight end, you need to be sure that he’s a stud. Ertz may be fresh off of breaking the single-season record for tight end catches, but there are some new faces on the Eagles that will make it a lot harder for him to repeat that performance. Since leaving Philadelphia, DeSean Jackson has averaged 99 targets per 16 games in his years with the Redskins and the Bucs, so he’s good for at least 80 this season. The Eagles drafted Miles Sanders, a versatile running back with workhorse potential and pass-catching ability, so there should be a bit more pass-catching out of the backfield. Finally, they also drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who specializes in boxing defenders out in the end zone (where Ertz was targeted 27 percent of the time last year) like a power forward. The Eagles also still have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Dallas Goedert who were on the team last year. Carson Wentz is going to be able to throw the ball wherever he wants, and Ertz will suffer from that.
A.J. Green (WR – CIN)
Current ADP: 48
A.J. Green might be the riskiest player to draft right now. You can get him at the end of the fourth round which is a great discount, but you’re still spending a fourth-round pick on an injury-prone guy whose time table is still uncertain. Conflicting reports are out there saying that he still has a chance to play in Week 1, while others say he’s going to miss at least a couple of games, and his coach Zac Taylor has said: “hopefully he’ll be ready to go at the beginning half of the season.” So we don’t know when he’ll be back, but ankle injuries are never straightforward for wide receivers. Green is always a threat while on the field, but he’s missed 13 games over the last three seasons, and he just turned 31 years old. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of the end for Green, but he’s a riskier pick now than he has ever been before.