HomeWorld NewsFacts vs. Feelings: Liz Loza’s biggest fantasy draft takeaways
Facts vs. Feelings: Liz Loza’s biggest fantasy draft takeaways
August 25, 2023
Liz Loza, ESPNAug 25, 2023, 09:00 AM ET
Michael vs. LeBron.
Ketchup on a glizzy.
Anyone over the age of 11 using the word “glizzy.”
These are all things that people have big feelings about. And that’s a fact.
The fantasy community is no stranger to the overflow of emotions. From executing outlandish “funishments” (have you checked out my guy Kevin Pulsifer‘s whole #SkyPulse situation?) to voluntarily participating in a series of superstitious pre-draft rituals, we are a passionate bunch.
But while our hearts are often in control, that doesn’t mean we lose our heads. The game within the game is a constant balance of facts and feelings. This column aims to examine the push and pull of what we want and what’s likely (or not).
After being in Bristol for the Fantasy Football Marathon last week, it became clear that everyone is enamored by Wilson’s seemingly endless upside. Mike Clay took the former Buckeye eighth overall in our televised draft, causing all sorts of chaos (on and off camera). It’s hard not to get swept up in the Wilson hype.
The 23-year-old is an ace separator with otherworldly body control. He recorded a 25% target share (WR21) and drew 19 red zone looks from a collection of signal-callers that included Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco and Mike White. Despite the lack of consistency under center (63.9% catchable target rate, WR92), Wilson registered an 83-1,103-4 stat line and was awarded NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Wilson closed out his rookie campaign as a top-15 fantasy WR and figures to improve on those numbers with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball.
While my colleagues attempt to outmuscle each other in the hopes of rostering New York’s No. 1 WR, I’ve been targeting his former college teammate. Olave was my breakout rookie of 2022. Arguably the most complete receiver in last year’s class, he regularly demonstrated polish and savvy, posting the second-best rookie season for a wideout in Saints history with 72 grabs and 1,042 receiving yards.
Incredibly, he averaged more yards of separation per route run as a rookie than Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and DK Metcalf did in their first NFL campaigns. The opportunity for growth (and a subsequent spike in production) is tantalizing even with Derek Carr (who, let’s be honest, is still an upgrade over Andy Dalton) finding new footing under center. Olave is an absolute steal in the third round (though he’s not making it past the second round in any draft of mine), who can deliver WR2 value with massive WR1 upside. He’s my must-have player of 2023.
My big feelings about Olave are being driven by the belief that he’ll do big things this season. But sentiments aren’t always superlative. Sometimes they’re salty. Kittle is one of the grittiest guys in the game, but he’s also a massive bust candidate heading into 2023.
Despite recording a target share below 20% (his lowest since 2017), Kittle finished his sixth pro campaign as fantasy’s No. 3 producer at the tight end position. How? It’s all in the TDs. He registered a career-high 11 scores in 2022. That is a textbook regression red flag! Miraculously, Kittle converted 5 TDs on just 14 red zone looks, serving up scores at a clip unlike the rest of his career, where he scored 11 touchdowns on 60 total red zone targets (over the five seasons before 2022). If that’s too much math for you to handle, here’s a more succinct stat: No tight end has managed back-to-back 10-TD seasons since Rob Gronkowski in 2014-15.
Touchdowns are like waterfalls. Every millennial knows better than to go chasing those. Kittle’s depressed volume and catch rate (69.8% in 2022, his lowest since 2018) make him a high-priced (54.2 ADP) boom-or-bust option at an already volatile position.
All of this talk about touchdown regression is the perfect segue to discuss Watson’s runaway hype train. Full disclosure, Packers fans have been upset with me since April 2022. It’s not that I don’t believe in Watson’s big-play ability, it’s that I don’t think he can be a consistent big-time producer. His 7 TDs last year are evidence of exactly that. All of those glorious receiving scores came in a four-week span that began in Week 10 (i.e. mid-November). That’s so fluky! Watson is like Diontae Johnson in the upside down.
I guarantee Watson won’t convert in the red zone at the same pace with defenses keying in on him now that Allen Lazard is paying property taxes in New Jersey. And it goes without saying that the change in QB is additionally concerning for Watson’s efficiency. He definitely will make some highlight-worthy plays, but I’d rather bet on a regression to the mean from, you guessed it, Diontae Johnson (who is going a round later).
Enough negativity. Let’s lean back into what some are calling blind optimism. Robinson is a top-three fantasy RB and you can’t change my mind. Maybe the Falcons weren’t the team that needed to prioritize a generational talent at the position, but he’s there now, and he’s going to eat.
History is on my side with this one. Here’s a list of the eight running backs who were drafted — like Robinson — top eight overall since 2006: Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden, Trent Richardson, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. Pretty good company, huh? Each of those eight players averaged 270 touches, 1,433 scrimmage yards, 53 catches and 10.6 touchdowns in their rookie seasons. Those numbers would have resulted in 17.4 fantasy points per game (RB6) at the close of 2022. Additionally, Richardson, Elliott and Barkley all saw more than 40% of their team’s overall touches.
Given Robinson’s every-down profile (he ranks fourth all time in Texas Longhorn history with 3,410 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns) and landing spot (the Falcons led the league in rush attempts with 559 last season), he figures to be one of just a handful of RBs to touch the ball 20-plus times per game. Don’t overthink this one.
Maybe I should think more about Cook’s downside, but the truth is I’m too enamored by his upside. With Devin Singletary (and his 200-plus touches) gone, a regular producer is bound to materialize. However, volume (which I agree should be prioritized) might still be an issue for Cook. Nyheim Hines is out for the year, Damien Harris (who missed six games in 2022) is already dealing with knee issues and Buffalo isn’t a run-first team. The Bills have ranked fifth in pass rate over the past three seasons. That works out well for Cook, who shines as a pass-catcher.
Cook averaged a stunning 0.98 fantasy points per touch (RB7) in his rookie campaign. The players ahead of him? All-around stars like Austin Ekeler (RB1), McCaffrey (RB2) and Tony Pollard (RB9). And then a few pass-catching pros like D’Andre Swift (RB16), Jerick McKinnon (RB27) and Samaje Perine (RB43). Attached to a top-three offense and assuming even a slight bump in workload, Cook should easily ROI on his seventh-round ADP. He’s one of my favorite anchor/zero-RB targets.
Geno Smith‘s zero-to-hero journey was peak “Look what you made me do” last year. Lawrence deserves snaps, though, for serving massive “Shake it off” vibes. The ex-Clemson QB leapt into a new era of awesomeness in 2022, averaging nearly six more fantasy points per game (from 11.7 in 2021 to 17.4 in 2022), while improving his completion percentage by 6% (from 60% to 66%), doubling his number of TDs (from 12 to 25) and cutting his his total INTs in half (from 17 to 8).
The season-long stats are certainly illuminating, but they become all the more impressive when noting how Lawrence was able to evolve during the year. From the first eight weeks to the final eight weeks of 2022: Lawrence’s fantasy points per game increased by 5.6, his completion percentage went up 3% and his TD-to-INT ratio improved from 10:6 to 15:1. That is moment-to-moment growth. It’s also an indication of where Lawrence figures to start in 2023.
I’m not saying this is probable, but a top-five finish is possible for Lawrence, as 21.0 fantasy points per game would have made him the QB5 (behind Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow) last season. Factor in a full offseason with Doug Pederson and the addition of Calvin Ridley, and I am wholly “Enchanted” at the thought of drafting Lawrence in the sixth (maybe even seventh?) round.