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Fantasy Football Players with Red Flags to Avoid in 2022

darren waller fantasy football rankings news NFL DFS lineup picks

When it comes down to facing a fantasy draft, two numbers are often the most sought after by fantasy GMs: current ADP and overall rank from the prior season. No matter how experienced fantasy players are, those two numbers are thought of as the ultimate all-encompassing representations of every football player's value. Knowing what he did in the league the last year and where he is getting drafted this season should be more than enough to make a reasonably good projection going forward, isn't it?

Turns out, those two numbers can be way misleading. Today, I'm here to focus on last season's overall rank of players, that is, where they ranked among peers in 2021. The fact that someone finished the year as a second-tier (RB13 to RB24) running back in total points, for example, doesn't mean he wasn't better than players at the first tier in the position. What if that player missed some games, getting fewer chances to rack up points? What if he had played a full 16-game schedule? Questions, questions, questions...

Up next, I will point out some players that experienced inconsistency in 2021 and advise how to assess their fantasy upside for 2022, this time for the bad (worth avoiding even if they looked great).

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QB Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers and QB Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons

Let's start by tackling the elephant(s) in the room first. I have decided to bundle these two together because they come with pretty similar cases to avoid them in fantasy drafts depending on the context you find yourself in. In other words: if you find any of the two available past the 200th-overall pick in your draft, well, maybe taking the flyer isn't a crazy thing to do in 2QB/Superflex deep leagues. If you feel they'll be gone much sooner, though, you might want to hold your horses a bit and let others take that gamble.

There is an obvious positive going in favor of these two entering 2022: starting roles in their new franchises. Mitchell signed with the Steelers and the Falcons acquired Mariota after 1) Ben Roethlisberger retired and 2) Matt Ryan was moved to Indianapolis. This draft class doesn't have a clear-cut day-one starter at the QB position and looks more like a draft-and-stash crop of quarterbacks--if anything. Thus, it's more than probable that the veterans hold onto those starting gigs all year long. The problem is that opportunity, while very valuable in fantasy football, is not everything when it comes to production and becoming a viable fantasy asset.

Peep at the offseasons of both Pitt and Atlanta and you won't find many great/encouraging moves that could boost Mariota/Trubisky's upsides. Atlanta has lost Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst and won't have Calvin Ridley around next season. Pittsburgh let JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington go, losing tons of depth. Things don't look any good in any of those two offenses barring a re-do from RBs Cordarrelle Patterson and Najee Harris. I mean, Olamide Zaccheaus is Atlanta's WR1 these days... more than red flags pertaining to them, Mariota and Trubisky are impacted by their teams' red flags. Avoidable red flags they are at the end of the day, anyway.

 

RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Brutal offseason for veteran rushers compared to their pass-catching counterparts. As many as six WRs have inked deals for $22M+ total, all of them above a $7M+ AAV. Just one rusher topped $12M (Fournette) and only two other inked deals of more than 10 million in total dollars. And for some of the best fantasy rushers of late (McCaffrey, Saquon, Elliott,...), the rumors have hit hard on their names, talking about potential trades and moves from their franchises to maybe get rid of them as soon as possible.

CMC ranks third in total PPR points scored in the past four years combined only behind Alvin Kamara and Zeke. CMC is miles ahead of those two in FPPG, considering he's played 42 games in that span compared to Kamara's 57 and Zeke's 63. That said, there is something very very worrying about CMC playing just 42 games in four seasons--let alone 10 total matches in the past couple of years. That's what you call a serious red flag, even more for someone who is getting drafted with an ADP of 2.6 (!!!) as the second-highest rusher this offseason (only behind Jonathan Taylor).

Of course, McCaffrey can do it all and is one of the (if not the) best RBs for fantasy purposes. He can run, he can receive, and he brings the full package, full stop. His highs last year were as high as four games with 27.4+ FP, though his lows were ground-level. CMC went on to score a measly single TD over his seven games played (99 carries), which simply sucked to watch. Carolina found a gem in Mike Davis a couple of years ago when he had to step up in CMC's absence. They drafted Chuba Hubbard (RB36 in 2021) last year as a long-term replacement, just in case. And this offseason, the Panthers have added CMC's fellow RB, 26-year-old D'Onta Foreman, to the fold. None of those two are a threat to McCaffrey's workload, nor is this going to be a committee, but there are too many risks baked into CMC for me to be drafting him as a top-five player this fantasy draft season.

 

WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

The Titans were stuck on neutral last year when it came to their offense. Yes, they were good to finish fifth in rushing yards, but the passing game was much worse, finishing 24th in passing yards over the full season. Ryan Tannehill regressed, Julio Jones was far from what Tennessee hoped for, Derrick Henry missed games and couldn't keep opposing defenses honest for half of the season, and the tight-end group was an afterthought after losing Jonnu Smith to the Pats. At least the Titans had A.J. Brown, I guess?

Brown was, of course, the lone bright light in the offense. He only played 13 games but still finished with 180.9 PPR points, averaging 13.9 FPPG over the season. The volatility, though, was absolutely insane with a weekly standard deviation of 10 FP up/down that FPPG average. In other words, and not counting his eight-snap Week 3, Brown had as many games below seven PPR points (three) as he had above 27. Sheesh.

Injury concerns or not, the Titans have acquired SB Champ Robert Woods to replace Julio Jones next season. He will undoubtedly eat from Brown's pie because Woods is that good. On top of that, are we sure Ryan Tannehill (34yo already) can bounce back to his 2020 levels? The one thing that encourages a good ROI coming from Brown is his low five TDs scored last season, which should positively regress a bit. The red flag, though, could very well be a less competent/more crowded offense and the fact that Brown overperformed mostly in terms of usage (second-fewest Routes Run between Targets) and efficiency (fifth-most Yards per Route Run).

 

TE Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

Nothing other than an ill-timed injury prevented Waller from finishing the season ranking inside the TE1 realm in 2021. Three or four more receiving touchdowns (nothing unreasonable considering he topped 600 snaps played even appearing in just 11 games) under his name, and he'd have been knocking on that door. In his age-29 season, Waller did something only two other tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates x2) had accomplished after the turn of the century: score more than 130 PPR points while playing fewer than 12 games.

The distance between the former two and Waller, though, was quite large as Waller topped at 133 PPR compared to Gates 149 and 188, and Gronk's 198 PPR in 2012. Even then, though, Waller's was a historic season in terms of efficiency during the first half of the season (his first nine games played through Week 11) that will be very hard for him to replicate. Some of Waller's upside came from a ridiculous usage, as even missing seven games entirely couldn't prevent him from ranking eighth in targets, 15th in receptions, and 11th in receiving yards among TEs with 500+ snaps played.

Even accounting for some positive regression on the TD department (100th Percentile in RZ Targets/G yet a measly 11th Pctl. in RZ Catch Rate), it's going to be tough for Waller to improve on his short-cut 2021 season numbers. The main reason: Derek Carr's BFF in WR Davante Adams is arriving in Las Vegas along with Demarcus Robinson and the follow-up season of now bonafide superstar wideout Hunter Renfrow. Waller maximized his production to extents barely heard of historically, so I would warn caution when it comes to expecting the numbers to double just because of the missing time and the whatcouldabeen thoughts.



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