Every summer we spend months and months debating players, draft strategies, rankings and much more. Then, part way through the season, or even sometimes immediately, chaos ensues and it all completely blows up. The unexpected occurs. Players emerge, players fall off a cliff, teams get better or worse, devastating injuries happen, etc.
A little bit of that gets factored into our process during draft season, but I’d strongly argue nowhere near enough. I recently wrote about just how important contingencies are for Best Ball tournaments, and that is a very large part of it. Not only do players we draft in fantasy football get hurt (like Cam Akers last year), but even NFL teams like the Ravens can suffer injuries that force them to drastically shift their entire team identity.
Earlier this summer, I similarly talked about Scenario Based Upside. It’s in the same ballpark as contingencies, but a bit broader, and the more the summer has gone on the more I think it’s the concept we do not utilize enough as Best Ball players. In part, that’s because we spend all summer coming up with rankings and projections that are the most likely outcomes. Either what we think is going to happen, or at least a reasonable range of outcomes.
The problem with that is the outcomes that give us outsized gains – or win us these huge tournaments – are typically not the ones that we can even reasonably predict. The Ravens throwing 600+ times last year was never something you could have predicted, and that’s because you couldn’t predict all their running backs and defensive backs getting injured. No model or projection can determine that. But when that happens, Mark Andrews is the best tight end pick in drafts by leaps and bounds.
So I’ve conceptually discussed some of these ideas – contingencies & scenario based upside – but despite the fact that they are the most important elements to winning leagues, I haven’t put together examples for 2022.
Let’s do that.
What If Scenarios
The Falcons Are Better Than Expected
We all think the Falcons will be absolutely terrible this year. And they probably will. But… what if they aren’t?
They have a 4.5 win total at most books, and they’re definitely in a bit of a transition year. But if we take a step back and ignore that for a second, there are players with exactly the type of profiles that we want to target in fantasy drafts.
Kyle Pitts is finally getting (rightfully) steamed up from the mid to late 3rd round after one big preseason catch, but I’d argue he still likely won’t go quite high enough in drafts given he’s a superstar WR profile that we get to play at TE.
Drake London is, of course, not Ja’Marr Chase, but he was the 8th overall pick in the draft (1st WR taken) who just turned 21, dominated targets at USC and was a college basketball player for a short time there.
Finally, Marcus Mariota was going undrafted or picked in the last round of drafts for nearly the entire offseason despite proven high level rushing upside that we know is so valuable at the QB position. He has looked really strong in two preseason games, and there are worse groups to throw to than Pitts, London and Bryan Edwards. On top of that, we do not get the type of rushing profile and upside in a QB that Mariota has that late in drafts anymore. You can see that with where Trey Lance and Jalen Hurts are going this year (and where Lance went last year). But Falcons concerns and the presence of Desmond Ridder have Mariota chilling at the back of drafts.
The concerns of the Falcons are warranted, but if they can exceed expectations, I’d argue they have the highest upside (particularly with these 3 guys) at their draft cost in all of Best Ball drafts right now. Starting with Mariota, the entire draft market is assuming he will get benched at some point in the middle of the year. And yes, of course, that is the most likely outcome. But if he doesn’t, one could argue he’s the best pick in all of drafts. He goes after Jared Goff, Davis Mills, and some QBs with zero upside. They simply have more job security for the entire season. But if the Falcons can sneak out some wins that we might not expect, Mariota will remain the starter.
And if they are being successful enough for him to remain the starter, you know that is going to be because of Kyle Pitts and Drake London. These are the two superstar talents on this offense that can absolutely blow the roof off their draft cost.
On a recent episode of the Stealing Bananas podcast, Ben Gretch and Shawn Siegele discussed how both Kyle Pitts AND London could be in the top 2 rounds of drafts next year. And if that is the case, shouldn’t we probably be drafting both of them and Mariota given their talent and his rushing upside?
Mike McDaniel & Tyreek Hill Make the Dolphins an Elite Offense
After his hiring, fantasy football twitter seemingly fell in love with Mike McDaniel’s combination of quirkiness and seemingly brilliant level of football strategy. And it makes sense when you consider he was partnered with Kyle Shanahan to create some of the sharpest offensive schemes in the league for some time now.
Shortly after arriving in Miami, he basically demands that the Dolphins trade for Tyreek Hill. Everyone knows that Tyreek is awesome, but I’m actually not sure if he even gets enough credit for just how impactful he is as an offensive weapon. Because he’s not the prototypical NFL WR, I think it gets lost on some the impact he has for his team when he’s on the field. He was able to mold his game into more than just a deep threat as time went on in Kansas City, but his speed is arguably the most stressful weapon for opposing defenses in the entire league. Not only can he create big plays for himself, but that stress on the opposition makes life SO much easier for his teammate. The Chiefs were able to score gobs of points despite having essentially total bums around he and Travis Kelce for years. Part of that is Patrick Mahomes, but Tyreek also deserves a lot of credit.
So we add a brilliant coach and the most dynamic weapon in the NFL to an offense that already has a young potential superstar in Jaylen Waddle. Then the offense revamps the RB room with Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel, while also bolstering the offensive line with superstar tackle Terron Armstead and guard Connor Williams. They also added WR Cedrick Wilson and drafted rookie Erik Ezukanma in the 4th round. Mike Gesicki is still around as a pass catching TE, although it’s reported he may be on the trade block.
That is a LOT of added juice to the offense. So why is the market still not totally buying in?
Quarteback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Tua hate is strong amongst both the fantasy community and overall NFL fans, and I partly get it. He is not the best athlete and he doesn’t have the strongest arm. But it’s funny how quickly the market has written off a 24 year old 3rd year player who has been fine at the NFL level and was the 5th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. It was not that long ago he, as a freshman at Alabama, was the reason current Eagles QB Jalen Hurts was benched in the freaking national championship game and proceeded to lead the team to a victory over Georgia.
From that point on he was anointed the next future star QB and dominated college football for the next 2 years before suffering a serious hip injury his junior year against Mississippi St. That injury and the ascension of LSU (with arguably the greatest offense in college football history) led to Joe Burrow as the number one overall pick in that draft and Tua falling to 5th.
Despite the success, Tua has been a target of hate from the football community his entire NFL career. In my opinion, he was too quickly thrown aside due to reasons out of his control. The team shockingly benched Ryan Fitzpatrick for him when he was still probably not ready as a rookie, and he has played with some of the worst weaponry in the league in his 2 seasons. The Dolphins offensive line was also arguably the worst in the NFL last year.
All of that is to say that if the market is wrong about just one thing for the Dolphins (Tua) they could absolutely set the fantasy football landscape on fire in 2022. They have done everything to set him up for success from coaching to elite weapons to offensive line upgrades. But concerns about offensive pass volume + Tua have kept both the Tyreek and Waddle prices in check in drafts, while Tua goes at nearly pick 140 on Underdog, behind the likes of Justin Fields and multiple rounds after Kirk Cousins.
I talked about the Falcons above having the chance to really exceed their draft cost if they buck expectations, but there aren’t paths for them to become an actual top offense in the NFL. In my opinion, the Dolphins do, and all the pieces are in place. If Tua is as accurate as advertised and plays as well as many of the training camp reports, the Dolphins could be the best stack(s) in all of Best Ball.
The Bucs Finally Fall Off
I know it may not seem like it when it comes to Tom Brady, but father time still really is undefeated. He will come for even the best of all time, and interestingly the Bucs have a huge collection of players trying to fend off father time simultaneously.
Do I expect the Bucs to fall off? Of course not, but that’s the point of this piece. And it’s kind of crazy when you start to run down the list of potential concerns for the Bucs, but the fantasy football market is NOT concerned in the least.
Tom Brady is probably still Tom Brady, but we are talking about a 45 (!!!) year old man. I am not personally trying to bet against this unicorn of a human, but a time will come when he is not quite Tom Brady anymore. And we saw in his final stages in New England, when things aren’t as great around him anymore, he has already shown some chinks in the armor.
His best weapon, Chris Godwin, is coming off a very late season ACL tear. He’s back to practicing in 11 on 11s as of this writing, but as Matthew Betz from the Fantasy Footballers discussed with me on a recent show, there’s a big difference between being back and able to practice/play and being back to your full ability as a player. We may not see the normal Godwin this year.
Mike Evans is 29, on the slight decline in the latter stage of his career, and has already had a hamstring issue pop up in training camp.
The Bucs signed two veteran WR free agents to fill the void left by Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski (more on him in a sec). The “young” addition, Russell Gage, has been an average-ish NFL player to date, but he’s also suffered an injury in camp, has yet to return to practice, and does not have a timetable for his return.
Then you have Julio Jones, a free agent signing in late July with the Bucs, who turned 33 in February. Julio is one of the most gifted WRs of all time, but he has not been able to stay healthy in these late stages of his career, culminating in just a 31 catch, 434 yard season over 10 games played last year.
Rob Gronkowski has retired, and that actually left a fairly significant hole in the Bucs offense. He posted a 55/802/6 line in just 12 games last year. OJ Howard is also gone, and they replaced those two with the corpse of Kyle Rudolph (turns 33 in November), 4th round rookie Cade Otton (who funny enough is an old rookie at 23) and holdover Cam Brate (31).
In the backfield is Leonard Fournette who put up an excellent year in 2021, but turned 27 in January and showed up to camp overweight. The team and Fournette both are unconcerned (and I’m also not really worried about it), but it’s just another little blemish against a group of aging and injured players. Somewhat hilariously, rookie RB Rachaad White is also an old prospect having already turned 23 in January.
Finally, you have what might *actually* be the truly biggest concern, but one no one in our community seems to be talking about.
The Bucs offensive line.
Ali Marpet, one of the best guards in the league, surprisingly retired this offseason at the age of 28, leaving a big hole at guard. In training camp, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a serious knee injury in camp, and while he hasn’t been given a definitive timetable, most reports are that he is unlikely to play this season. Then stud right tackle Tristan Wirfs suffered a strained oblique in practice. There is no firm return date for him either, although he shouldn’t miss *too* much time. Finally, guard Aaron Stinnie tore both his ACL and MCL, and will miss the season.
These are devastating blows to a very strong unit, and it likely turns the past strength into a weakness. There is a long standing narrative that Tom Brady struggles with pressure up the middle, and the middle of the offensive line could be a HUGE weakness.
When you add all these things up, you have a bit of a “house of cards” situation with the Bucs. The skill position talent is clearly there, but these are all aging players nearing or at the end of their careers. And some of the players still in their prime, like Godwin and Gage, are dealing with injuries. It can be a huge risk betting on these types of players to continue past production, and on this offense you’re betting on a big parlay of them all still being their past selves. Compound that with what could be a sneaky bad offensive line group, and there’s a lot to be concerned about here.
Of course, Tom Brady and the offensive talent could mask these issues, but the most interesting part is that fantasy drafters are NOT caring about these risks at all. Tom Brady still goes at pick 87 overall, Evans and Fournette are 2nd/3rd round selections, and Godwin is going in the 5th round. All of Julio, Gage and White are drafted in the middle rounds as well.
The market is very confident the Bucs will maintain status quo, but what if these risks come to fruition?