We all like to believe that winning a fantasy football league is a measure of skill. There is skill involved – navigating the waiver wire, streaming positions, working advantageous matchups – but ultimately, fantasy success is down to the most fickle of all forces: luck.
Outside of players like Todd Gurley or Antonio Brown, every player in fantasy football has a level of risk attached to them. Even with first-round picks, there comes the risk of injury – talk to David Johnson owners from last year. This article is here to lay out some of the riskiest players in fantasy football at each position – the decision to take that risk or not lies with you, and you alone.
LeSean McCoy – Running Back, Buffalo Bills
Everything about the Bills right now is risky. Wielding probably the weakest quarterback room in the league, an equally shallow group of wide receivers and an offensive line missing three of last year’s starters, this offense is set to run through LeSean McCoy.
In years past, leaning on Shady may have been a decent recipe for success, but those days are gone. The narrative is easy to write – a 30-year-old running back on a bad team with a bad offensive line does not equal fantasy success.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that McCoy managed to finish as the RB7 last year. But he did that almost entirely because of the volume of work he received – he logged 15 or more carries in 10 of his 16 games. Are Buffalo going to be in enough close games to hand the ball off 15 times a game? Based on current evidence, the answer is a resounding no.
They look likely to be trailing more often than not, and whilst McCoy can generate something in the receiving game, it’s not enough to make him anything more than a (very) hopeful flex play.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
This feels like a bit of a hot take, but bear with me.
The Steelers have a remarkable ability to develop wide receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the premier breakout wide receivers last year, amassing 917 yards and 7 touchdowns on his way to a WR16 finish.
He achieved these numbers in a stunningly efficient fashion. Among wide receivers who gained 900 yards or more, only Marquise Goodwin and T.Y. Hilton had fewer catches – and no other receiver had fewer targets. There were 19 receivers who scored 7 or more touchdowns last year – only four of them did so with fewer catches than JuJu.
Efficiency on that level is not sustainable year to year, so in terms of efficiency, expect JuJu to regress. However, with Martavis Bryant now in Oakland, you can expect a greater opportunity share for JuJu, which could well offset the efficiency regression.
Deshaun Watson – Quarterback, Houston Texans
As a rookie, Deshaun Watson took the NFL by storm in his 5-week starting spell for the Texans last year. 19 passing touchdowns, plus another two rushing, saw him post top-2 QB numbers for four consecutive weeks. Looking at the box score, Watson looks like an elite QB1 option.
But there are some scary numbers behind the box score that should give you concern. 19 touchdowns on 204 pass attempts gave Watson a 9.3% touchdown rate. Tom Brady’s career average is 5.5%. Aaron Rodgers’ career average is 6.3%. There is no way Watson can sustain the touchdown production he put up last year.
The bigger concern, however, is with interceptions. Watson threw 8 interceptions last year, giving him an interception rate of 3.9%. Of quarterbacks with 200 or more pass attempts, only Deshone Kizer (4.6%) and Trevor Siemian (4%) had a higher interception rate.
He still retains fantasy value based on his rushing production and throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, so there is upside you can chase, but don’t expect to see the numbers you saw last year.
Evan Engram – Tight End, New York Giants
Last year saw Evan Engram burst onto the fantasy scene as a rookie tight end – a notoriously difficult task at the position. He finished as the No.5 tight end, ahead of the likes of Delanie Walker and Kyle Rudolph.
However, he finished as the No.5 tight end in a year where everything that could possibly work in his favor did so. Injuries to Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall saw Engram become the No.2 passing option for the Giants behind Sterling Shepard, and with no running game or offensive line to speak of, Eli Manning was forced to funnel quick targets to his tight end.
This year, OBJ is back in the picture along with Saquon Barkley, who was phenomenal catching the ball out of the backfield in college. You can expect Engram’s target share to drop considerably, and with it, his fantasy value.
BONUS: Derrick Henry – Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Believe me, I was fully on-board the Derrick Henry hype train when DeMarco Murray left Tennessee. I hopped straight off that train, however, once the Titans signed Dion Lewis.
Derrick Henry is a bruising runner, with exception weight-adjusted speed, but he lacks any kind of receiving production and does not possess the agility that Dion Lewis does. But here’s the most significant piece of information you need to know…
Last year, whilst sharing the backfield with DeMarco Murray, Henry was on the field for 41% of the Titans’ snaps, and earned 45% of the running back carries and targets. So far this year, Henry has been on the field for just 35% of snaps and earned 42.6% of the carries and targets for the team.
At this point, it’s going to take an injury to Dion Lewis to make me feel even close to good about starting Derrick Henry. The potential for a breakaway touchdown run is always there, but counting on that is a recipe for disappointment.
By Ben Barton – @Baron_Barton