With just a week remaining before the first game of the 2016 NFL season and most of their fantasy football drafts and auctions complete, SI.com's fantasy experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice decide to switch up their last roundtable of the summer and audit their player portfolios. Which players did they draft in nearly every league? Which players did they pass up? Read on.
Beller: We're in enough leagues that we're going to end up with diversified holdings, but ultimately there are certain players who we're trying to get no matter what, capitalization ratios be damned. I actually think spreading your risk across multiple fantasy leagues is kind of lame. Sure, I get the logic behind it, but I'm not investing for my future with fantasy football. I want to win all my leagues and make fun of my friends and fellow experts along the way. I realize that I don't have the market cornered on preseason fantasy analysis, but if I think A.J. Green is going to be a superstar, I'm not going to split my overall portfolio between him and DeAndre Hopkins. I'm going to try to get as much Green as I can, while being content to fall back on Hopkins. Diversification is for Wall Street, my friend. In the world of fantasy football, I'm going to win or lose with my guys.
Who are my guys, you ask? I'll save that for a little later. Instead, I'm going to check to you, Fitz. First, how many teams do you have this season (not including best-ball leagues)? Who shows up most often on your teams? And, be honest, what do you think of my dismissal of fantasy portfolio diversification?
Fitzmaurice: Not counting those best-ball leagues (I did about a dozen MFL10s at MyFantasyLeague.com), I've had four drafts so far, with four more yet to come.
The three guys I keep drafting are Jeremy Maclin, Marcus Mariota and a guy I've been buck-wild about in the late rounds—Javorius (Buck) Allen. The price is always right on Maclin. He fits comfortably into my top 20 at wide receiver, and it doesn't appear that others hold him in such high regard. I love that Chiefs QB Alex Smith only throws to two or three guys and that Maclin is Kansas City's only relevant WR.
I'm completely over the moon about Mariota. The kid is a star in the making, and this will probably be the last time fantasy owners can get him affordably. He's being drafted as a mid- to low-end QB2, and I think he'll be considered a QB1 at this time next year.
As for Allen ... well, I'm less confident after seeing an ESPN reporter suggest that Buck might have been on the roster bubble before rookie Kenneth Dixon hurt himself. But as a low-risk dart throw in the late rounds, Allen offers proven pass-catching ability and the potential to carve out a larger-than-expected role in an unsettled Baltimore backfield.
Like you, I don't worry too much about diversification. Maybe it's a wise strategy for the true degenerates (and I use that term in the most admiring way possible) who sink money into 20-plus leagues. But I'll live or die with the courage of my convictions on the players I like. Yeah, I'll overextend myself on certain guys and taste the pain if they get hurt or go bust. On the flip side, I was fortunate enough to own Allen Robinson and Eric Decker in the majority of my leagues last year, and it obviously paid off. But if you're torn between, say, A.J. Green and Allen Robinson late in the first round, and you're forced to make that same choice in more than one league, there's nothing wrong with spreading your bets.
What about you, Beller? Which sweets have you been buying at the candy store? Which players do you find most irresistible?
Beller: Candy isn’t really my thing. I'm more of a salty snacks kind of guy, and I'll always take an appetizer over a dessert. I am, however, a big fan of Maclin, Mariota and Allen, the latter thanks to Kenneth Dixon's injury, which is expected to cost him four games in the regular season. All are desirable picks at their respective ADPs. Maclin is in that same club with Eric Decker. Both of those guys just can't seem to get the love from the fantasy community at large, despite the fact that they produce every season. As for Mariota, I'm with you 100%. I just nabbed him as my second QB in my home league, which is a superflex format, and I couldn't be much happier. I think he ends up pulling a Drew Brees or Russell Wilson this year, not in style of play or overall production necessarily, but in the way he'll get more from the whole of his offense than the sum of its parts.
I've completed three drafts and an auction, and I have two more of both formats this week, and you're not going to be surprised at my first portfolio stalwart. I've got Melvin Gordon in three of my four leagues, and the only reason I don't have him in the fourth is because the draft unfolded in a way that led me to an early pairing of Lamar Miller and Jamaal Charles. Anyone who has been paying any attention to our coverage here at SI.com this summer knows my strong feelings for Gordon. Everything went wrong for him in his rookie year, and a lot of that was at a structural level in the San Diego offense.
There was nothing he could do about his team using 11 offensive line combinations due to injury last year. There was nothing he could do about the defense putting the team in deep holes, forcing the offense to eschew the run game. It's hard enough being a rookie running back in the NFL, and even harder when the circumstantial deck is stacked against you. Such was the case with Gordon last year. He has looked excellent in the preseason, and I was fortunate to have some early drafts and auctions that let me get the Wisconsin product at a discount. You won't get that any longer, but I still love him at his ADP.
I've got one expensive receiver and one cheap one on multiple teams, as well. Mike Evans is going to take his place among the elite this season. He was better across the board in year two, but somehow fell to three touchdowns from 12 in his rookie year. That's nothing more than a fluke. With Jameis Winston also set to take a leap, the Buccaneers offense could be sneakily good this year, and Evans will be a huge reason why. At the other end, I keep on grabbing Kamar Aiken anywhere I can. He's the best receiver in Baltimore, and with the backfield looking like a mess, not to mention Marc Trestman at the controls, I think Joe Flacco could be among the league leaders in pass attempts this season. Aiken can turn in a top-30 season at the position, and he doesn't cost you much of anything.
Let's take a look at the opposite side of this, Fitz. What noteworthy players aren't on any of your rosters? Have you been fading them, or has it just been a matter of circumstance?
Fitzmaurice: As we've discussed before, I consider the price for Le'Veon Bell to be too steep given his suspension and injury history. Tyler Eifert is also still grossly overpriced for a guy who could miss close to half of the fantasy regular season. And speaking of tight ends, I won't own any shares of Rob Gronkowski or Jordan Reed. That's simply my approach to tight ends—I won't pick one in the first three rounds.
At quarterback, Blake Bortles and Kirk Cousins are fades. Bortles put up numbers last year but still doesn't pass the eye test, and the Jaguars will strive for more offensive balance. Cousins doesn't have a running game, which is going to put him in the crosshairs of opposing defenses. Yes, he'll throw a lot of passes, but his efficiency is going to nose-dive.
Everyone loves Keenan Allen more than I do. Sure, he'll catch a lot of passes, but he's averaged under 11.0 yards per catch in each of the last two years and doesn't score a lot of touchdowns. Allen is a glorified Jarvis Landry.
I don't think there's anywhere to go but down for pass-catching RBs Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick. Woodhead, in particular, is seen as a safe investment, but I'm not so sure there aren't trap-door possibilities. (After all, I share your enthusiasm for Gordon, Woodhead's teammate.) Even if I weren't so worried about Frank Gore's age, I'd still be terrified by the Colts' dilapidated offensive line. Justin Forsett is another back whose cost I won't meet. Terrible pass catcher, and there are multiple players who could usurp his role.
Kelvin Benjamin and Coby Fleener both seem overpriced. The reports about Benjamin's poor conditioning are a turn-off, as the rapid development of Devin Funchess could be problematic for K-Benj owners. Fleener would seem to be in an ideal situation in New Orleans, but I think it's fair to question his talent.
How about you, Beller? Who are you fading? I'd be particularly interested to know if there are any players you're fading even though other fantasy analysts have been touting them.
Beller: I am, but first I want to hit on my No. 1 stay-away player for the season. I was fading Thomas Rawls before it was cool. A lot of people seem to be on that bandwagon after Christine Michael likely earned himself a role in the offense thanks to an impressive preseason, but that has only made me a stauncher Rawls critic. As great as he was last year, he was being drafted as a top-40 pick based on six games. He’s right in the prime bust range for running backs, and he doesn’t do anything in the passing game. Now that he’s going to give up at least some carries to Michael, and potentially a significant amount, I don’t want any part of him.
The one guy everyone loves who I’m off is David Johnson. I love the player, but I think the situation is being a bit oversold, particularly because of the Cardinals real-life aspirations. They lost to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game last year, and are equipped to go even further this season. If they’re going to do that, they need Johnson to be just as strong in January as he is in October. They also have the luxury of being able to take it easy with him, thanks to the presence of Chris Johnson. I do think that the younger Johnson will be efficient with the ceiling of being the best per-touch back in the league, but I’m not convinced the volume is going to be there for him to justify being a top-five pick. I’m certainly unwilling to pass on players like A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins, who are both sure things, as attractive as Johnson’s upside is.
You stole a couple of my fades, Keenan Allen chief among them. I’m just not interested in receivers who don’t make big plays down the field. You also know that it isn’t possible for me to be any lower on Kirk Cousins than I already am. The guy had eight sub-20 quarterback weeks last year, threw 18 of his 29 touchdowns in five games, and somehow had five rushing touchdowns with just 48 rushing yards.
Finally, I don’t have any Carlos Hyde shares, and I don’t see that changing in any of my remaining drafts or auctions. I’m concerned that the 49ers are going to set him up with a lot of bad game scripts this season, and while he’s admittedly a good fit for Chip Kelly’s system that is quite lucrative for running backs when it’s clicking, I worry about the overall offensive environment surrounding him in San Francisco. I like Hyde on his own merits enough that I’m willing to grab him at a discount, but that discount hasn’t come yet, and I don’t anticipate that it will over the next week.
This was a fun way to end our summer roundtable, Fitz. Keep on rocking, my friend.
Fitzmaurice: It's been fun, amigo. Until next time.
Photos: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images