Fantasy Football: The most polarizing players in drafts

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Ah, Fantasy Football. We discuss the players and teams, we debate the players and teams, sometimes we even argue about this stuff. It can be pesky at times. But it’s also why we have a game.

Today’s exercise is to collect a bunch of polarizing names from the current draft board and try to examine both sides of the argument. At the end of each case, I’ll give you how I’m leaning and what I’m likely to do at the draft table.

You’re welcome to disagree, of course. And I’m sure many of you will.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons

Con Side: Rookie tight ends are almost always lousy bets. Pitts' draft price is in an area where he needs to be great right away. Pitts wasn’t spectacular two years ago.

Pro Side: Pitts will get plenty of work as a jumbo receiver — he’s not a standard tight end. He’s not just a tight-end prospect, he’s the tight-end prospect, the fourth overall pick in the draft, complete with absurd measurables. The Falcons only have one target clearly above Pitts in the pecking order: Calvin Ridley.

Pianow Side: Because the ADP market has choked upside out of Pitts' draft price, I’m unlikely to grab him at an “expect greatness right away” tag. But I’m also cognizant that he’s capable of beating me. I’m by no means confident that I’m on the right side of this.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

Con Side: The offensive line stinks. Quarterback Daniel Jones has been a mess. Jason Garrett isn't a respected coordinator. Barkley is coming off an injury-wrecked season, and might not be healthy right now.

Pro Side: Sometimes talented backs can overcome a poor line. Maybe the Giants are playing possum with Barkley’s health; perhaps it’s a big put-on. Barkley was a fantasy god as a rookie and plenty good in his second season. He has a cool name.

Pianow Side: When you’re betting on a running back, you’re betting on his entire infrastructure — his offense, his teammates, his coaching staff, the overall success of his team. Some of those things can be overcome, but I don’t like to run uphill when I don’t have to. Throw in the health uncertainty and I will not consider Barkley at the current ADP.

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26)
What's your opinion on Saquon Barkley in 2021? (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

Con Side: Kareem Hunt will take a big share of the workload. Chubb isn’t used much in the passing game. Last year’s touchdown rate is unsustainable.

Pro Side: Cleveland’s expected to contend for a playoff spot, so game script should be friendly for Chubb. The Browns line is excellent. Chubb’s efficiency was far better than Hunt’s last year — by air and by land — so perhaps the backfield split will slide towards Chubb in 2021.

Pianow Side: Chubb might be more floor pick than upside pick in the first round, but so long as he stays healthy, I think a Top 8-10 RB season is a lock, and all I’m asking for at his ADP is a foundational brick. And I also think there’s at least some chance the Browns, now with legitimate coaching, realize Chubb needs a bigger share of the offense. And even if the backfield split remains the same as past patterns, Cleveland still looks like one of the more run-heavy teams in the league. I think this is a safe place to park your draft capital.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

Con Side: He’s already hurt, out for an extended period of time. The Saints have uncertainty at the quarterback spot. Thomas and the Saints have been at odds for two seasons now; he even had a team suspension last year. Thomas wasn’t good in 2020 — though he was hurt — he didn’t score a single touchdown.

Pro Side: Thomas was fantasy royalty in 2019. Sean Payton is an offensive architect we trust. If Thomas can help you in the second half of the year, that’s good enough — that’s when the money weeks are.

Pianow Side: I don’t like to play Injury Optimist Hero unless the market is giving me an absurd discount, and although Thomas does have a cheap ADP these days, there are too many ancillary concerns for me to grab him proactively. I do not like to seek out injured players when I assemble fantasy rosters — I know injuries will find me, so I don’t go looking for them. Throw in the spotty quarterback situation and Thomas more or less isn’t on my draft board for 2021.

Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams

Con Side: Was a massive flop after a fast finish in 2019; maybe he’s just an ordinary player. Has no real chance to compete with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp as target hogs in the Rams passing game.

Pro Side: Higbee’s ridiculous run in December 2019 could represent signature significance — a sample so bombastic, it likely carries some meaning. Gerald Everett was around to complicate the tight end usage last year; he’s gone to Seattle. Rams might be a little more pass-happy with RB Cam Akers hurt.

Pianow Side: I was bitten by Higbee last year and I understand drafting a tight end in his tier is often a losing proposition historically, but I can’t get that 2019 barrage (43-522-2 over five games) out of my head. Plus, the Rams have upgraded from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. Higbee is a proactive target for me if I don’t use an early pick on a tight end.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

Con Side: Nowhere to go but down after the highest touchdown rate of his career. Only one downfield target (Davante Adams) is fully respected. Rodgers still has a prickly relationship with the Packers organization, and he’s sure to regress, off an MVP year and entering his age-38 season. He’s also shut down the running game, while several other quarterbacks offer two paths to fantasy production.

Pro Side: If you ignore two seasons wrecked by injuries, here is Rodgers’s final fantasy QB ranking for the last 11 years: 2nd, 9th, 7th, 1st, 7th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd. Even if we assume the 1s and 2s are not likely, he’s a good bet to finish in the Top 10. Teams don’t have to get along famously to be productive together. Last Dance II, anyone?

Pianow Side: While aging pocket passers like Rodgers and Tom Brady are not proactive picks for me because their lack of rushing juice caps their upside, I’m willing to consider them if the market pushes them even slightly behind their going ADP. That said, Brady is working with more collective talent around him, and would probably be my preference between these two senior QBs.

The Bengals

Con Side: Head coach Zac Taylor might be over his head. Quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off a major knee injury, and the Cincinnati line — which didn’t protect him well last year — still looks problematic. Early reports about the offense’s summer progress have been mixed at best.

Pro Side: Burrow did come into the NFL with an impressive resume, and he’s working with three plus receivers (remember, Ja’Marr Chase was considered the alpha at LSU, not Justin Jefferson). Joe Mixon is an interesting feature back and should be ready for a healthy workload after Gio Bernard left town. A poor offensive line can be easier to mask in pass blocking than run blocking, so perhaps the Bengals can cobble something together there. Team is likely to play at an upbeat pace, above league average.

Pianow Side: I’m open to drafting into this offense proactively, but I’m human — it wouldn’t hurt to see a sign of good faith between now and the final wave of my draft season. That said, I also realize that you can’t be a “wait for proof” manager in fantasy sports and also be a winning player; once something is obvious to most of the fantasy world, most or all of the value is sucked out. If you believe in this offense, the time to buy is now, before there’s an overwhelming consensus on which way the Bengals are headed.

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