OPINION: Fantasy football in February: Why not?

There's a lot that isn’t known, but it's still a level playing field
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It’s currently the end of the seventh round of this $35 FFPC (Fantasy Football
Players Championship) best-ball draft for the upcoming NFL season. This is my fourth draft of 2021, including three that, at least, started before the 2020 season had ended. This is a “slow draft”, where each owner gets six hours in which to make a selection. The draft lasts 28 rounds.

If that all sounds insane to you, thanks for, at least, giving this article a chance.

If it sounds exciting, lucky you because here’s an article on certain trends that are playing out in early drafts. If you’re like me, you’re eating up all these types of work.

It’s not as small a sample size as you might think. Through the subscription-based website Fantasy Mojo, you can see not only how many FFPC drafts have taken place, but also average draft position for every player involved. (This is my first year using Mojo, and I’m finding the site quite useful.) Since FFPC launched 2021 drafts in January, over 60 have already taken place in the 28-round best-ball format alone.

You’re still reading, so I’ll point out there are a lot of us out there looking for this early offseason action. FFPC is not the only site offering leagues, but it’s my favorite and one of the industry’s finest.

Here are a few interesting trends already established by the eager 2021 players:

No change at 1.01

Very interesting that with all the high-end running backs expected to shine next year, Christian McCaffrey of Carolina, again, this year is the near-unanimous choice at first overall. McCaffrey saw just three games of action in 2020, although he did smash in all three. His injuries haven’t slowed his hype train at all.

This will be McCaffrey’s fifth season in the league, turning 25 in June. He got his big contract from the Panthers last year. The coaching staff is stable, although we expect a new quarterback. There’s every reason to think McCaffrey can achieve something resembling the insane season he had two years ago. Clearly the fantasy football community thinks so.

Welcome, Jonathan Taylor

The Colts rookie runner from 2020 is getting drafted at around the fourth back off the board. A top-five pick – around or even above the likes of Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley.

Taylor took over the Colts’ backfield last year, with the exception of Nyheim Hines having a key role on third downs. The season started with suspicions that Taylor wasn’t really up to speed, but he finished the season strong, including a 253-yard outing that probably didn’t help you in fantasy because it was in Week 17.

I’d rather pick Barkley than Taylor myself, or even Davante Adams if I’m willing to skip running back in Round 1 (always somewhat risky). Taylor does look like a strong investment for 2021, but I think of a few other backs that, to me, seem comparable in value, and are available into Round 2. Including …

Cam Akers

Even more so than Taylor, Akers struggled for a role in his Rams team’s backfield until late in the season. But by the end of it, including two playoff games, there was no doubt that he is Sean McVay’s No. 1 running back.

Also like Taylor, Akers was a rookie last year at a high enough draft status to offer confidence that the team plans to invest in the player. (Taylor was the 41st pick last year, Akers the 52nd.)

Akers looks good, we like his coaching staff and offense … the hype makes sense. I took Akers in one draft at the 1.12 position, over veterans Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb and Austin Ekeler, who tend to go in the same range.

Josh Allen is definitively QB2

Allen’s monstrous 2020 season for the Bills vaulted him into fantasy stardom. He eclipsed reigning MVP, at the time, Lamar Jackson and first overall pick Kyler Murray, to the point where Allen is pretty much always being drafted before those players (and all other quarterbacks not named Patrick Mahomes).

Typically, Allen is going around the end of Round 3 or beginning of Round 4. This is slightly later than where Jackson, off his massive 2019 season, was going last year. It may be right that there’s slightly less confidence in Allen to replicate his great year, but also that there is some incredible depth at quarterback.

Murray, Jackson, a healthy Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert in Year 2, Aaron Rodgers, maybe even Jalen Hurts … there are so many quarterbacks right now seemingly capable of elite, league-winning seasons. Fantasy experts always tell you to wait on quarterbacks, and that seems as smart as ever with this kind of quality well into the top-10. If Hurts gets a chance in Philadelphia, he could remind fantasy players of what Jackson did in 2019. Even Matthew Stafford with his new team, the Rams, is a little bit hot in early drafts.

Wary about wide receivers

Obviously when you’re drafting before free agency has even kicked in, you’re dealing with less-known information about how teams will line up. It happens that several of the best free agents-to-be are receivers.

We don’t know yet what will happen to the likes of Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay, just three names from a strong group of receivers headed for big paydays. Maybe they’ll stay with their teams, maybe they’ll move on.

A key facet of drafting this early in the year is properly gauging what will happen to these players, to the best extent possible. Each of these three players appears to be franchise tag candidates. While staying with his current team would be fine for Godwin – ideal, perhaps – that’s not the case for Robinson or Golladay.

Last year, I was huge on scooping up receiver value in Rounds 3-6, with so many great options, but this year, so far, I’m finding myself less entranced. I think this uncertainty with a few candidates is a big reason why.

Bills running backs = ???

No one seems to know what to expect from Buffalo at the running back position – or maybe saying no one seems to expect much from Buffalo running backs is the better way to put it.

While I sit here firmly confident that teams like the Colts, Rams and even Detroit Lions will turn their second round running backs into workhorses, the Bills have two recent third rounders that offer no such assurances.

Zack Moss and Devin Singletary were barely playable in fantasy last year, and with Allen so effective as a red zone runner, there just isn’t much of a ceiling for the tandem. Singletary has now gone two seasons without hardly any goal line touches. Without those, splitting time on a pass-first offense, that’s pretty much a useless equation in fantasy.

The Bills could do almost anything at the position – stand pat, sign a free agent or two, draft somebody (even as high as Round 1). There’s a pretty good chance that what they do will leave their incumbents in reduced roles.

In drafts, Moss and Singletary come in at around Round 12. They tend to be their teams’ third or fourth running back selected.

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