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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
The onset of the NFL preseason walks hand in hand with the endless wave of fantasy football drafts.
As information and deep dives become more widely available, the competition only stiffens when live drafts begin. Positional breakdowns, breakouts, sleepers, busts, average draft position (ADP), points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, flex positions, daily vs. standard leagues: The predraft complexities have only amplified in recent years.
We’re here to help by knocking one big item off the to-do list before drafts: the red flags.
Think: Le’Veon Bell’s holdout a year ago. The red flags these players are carrying don’t have to be contractual, though. Competition for usage, regression chances, ADP cost, roster adjustments and more all play a role.
These guys are showing the biggest red flags of fantasy drafts so far.
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It doesn’t take much of a deep dive to see the problems with Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook’s game.
Right up front, Cook only played in four contests as a rookie (torn ACL) and 11 last season (hamstring issues). Granted, he has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the 15 games and caught 51 passes.
But the injury concerns are hard to shake. Over his 11 games last year, he still only mustered 10.2 points per contest at ESPN, so it’s tough to understand why he’s coming off the board as the fourth pick of the second round and the 11th overall back.
Keep in mind the team hasn’t fired off signs of confidence in him, re-signing Ameer Abdullah in free agency and spending a third-round pick on Alexander Mattison, a 221-pound bruiser of a back who looks ready to pick up some red-zone touchdowns.
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Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Todd Gurley has been the 10th overall player off the board, which is understandable—if fantasy owners ignore the knee.
That’s the same arthritic joint in his left leg that limited Gurley’s playoff and Super Bowl participation with the Los Angeles Rams last season. The team is calling it “knee inflammation” and is remaining upbeat, but it doesn’t get much more worrisome than this.
Gurley did lead all backs in fantasy scoring last year as the only one above the 300-point mark and the only one averaging more than 20 points per game. But he also missed the regular season’s last two contests and received just 30 total carries over three playoff games, forcing the Rams to turn to C.J. Anderson.
Though Anderson moved to the Lions this offseason, the Rams matched an offer sheet on Malcolm Brown and traded up to draft Darrell Henderson at No. 70 overall.
Even if Gurley is healthy for all 16 games, the regression hints are there, and taking him before a Joe Mixon or Michael Thomas is a big risk.
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Josie Lepe/Associated Press
On one hand, fantasy owners could be forgiven if they thought of San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle as the next Rob Gronkowski.
Kittle, after all, finished second in scoring at the position behind only Travis Kelce last year, going for 1,377 yards and five receiving touchdowns over 16 games while C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens filled in at quarterback.
To be fair, things look good with signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo on his way back from a torn ACL. But there are a few problems. It is unlikely Kittle gets another 136 targets. The 49ers added pass-catching back Tevin Coleman in free agency, will get back Jerick McKinnon after he missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and drafted wideout Deebo Samuel with a top-40 pick.
With that in mind, it’s tough to swallow that Kittle has been the 11th pick in the third round on average, as someone like O.J. Howard in Tampa Bay (ADP of 5.08) could put up better numbers at an incredible value. Even Evan Engram (6.02) and Hunter Henry (6.07) are threats to break out and take the positional crown with Gronk gone.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry seems like an incredible value at first glance.
Henry finished 2018 with 1,059 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on a 4.9 per-carry average. That put him in the top 15 in ESPN scoring among backs.
The problem? Henry put up 238 yards and four scores and then 170 yards and two touchdowns in consecutive December games against the downtrodden Jaguars and Giants. Take out those 408 yards and six scores, and things make more sense.
Those were anomalies, not the sign of something bigger.
Tennessee gave Henry more than 20 carries in a game just twice all season and targeted him through the air more than once just five times. The team added wideout Adam Humphries in free agency and selected wideout A.J. Brown at No. 51. Tennessee also paid up big (four years, $20 million) to add Dion Lewis last offseason. So his touches may dry up some.
As the average ninth pick of the third round, Henry and his risks make guys such as Josh Jacobs (3.10) and Chris Carson (4.01), to name a few, look like much better options.
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Steve Helber/Associated Press
Derrius Guice was a superb fantasy investment as a rookie last season. He was, after all, going to walk right into a run-based offense around a game manager like Alex Smith and carry the load behind a strong offensive line.
But what a difference a year can make.
Guice tore his ACL in the preseason opener and, as of August 13, still hasn’t been cleared for game action. Smith is sidelined with an injury, meaning the competition between Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins downgrades the passing game.
Speaking of downgrades, star left tackle Trent Williams is still holding out, and one of the team’s best units could in turn be a minus. Also, keep in mind the Redskins signed Adrian Peterson after Guice’s injury last year and he ran for 1,000-plus yards, which earned him a new contract.
Washington will likely roll with primarily Peterson and Chris Thompson on the ground with a weakened line and passing game. It all combines to make Guice’s ADP of 6.04 incredibly shaky, even as a potential upside play.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Patrick Mahomes’ emergence as a great for the Kansas City Chiefs doesn’t mean Sammy Watkins will do the same if the 2014 fourth overall pick can’t stay on the field.
Health has been the biggest obstacle for the six-year veteran since he entered the league. He managed 16 games in his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills but hasn’t been able to repeat it, appearing in just eight in 2016, bouncing to Los Angeles and playing 15 and then landing in Kansas City last year and playing 10.
With the Chiefs, Watkins (ADP of 8.06) totaled 519 yards and three touchdowns on 55 targets, the latter ranking third on the team. He was more decoy than playmaker, and that doesn’t look like it will change in 2019 with Tyreek Hill the No. 1 wide receiver, Travis Kelce still around and electric No. 56 pick Mecole Hardman joining the fray in this year’s draft.
While gobbling up all of the Chiefs playmakers isn’t the worst idea on the planet, Watkins’ injury history and moderate production last year with the unit—as well as Mahomes’ potential regression and the expansion of offensive weapons—mean a red flag must accompany his name during drafts.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
It doesn’t take long to see the problem with Eric Ebron coming out of last year—the 13 touchdowns.
Ebron was a bit of a situational weapon (only 55.8 percent snaps played) for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, getting 110 targets and turning them into 750 yards and those 13 scores. Fantasy-wise, that placed him fourth among tight ends, though nobody scored more touchdowns.
That touchdown number is a prime regression candidate, which on its own makes Ebron’s ADP of 7.08 somewhat shaky. But the target number should drop pretty dramatically, too, with Devin Funchess arriving via free agency, Parris Campbell added via the second round of the 2019 draft and Jack Doyle likely to play in more than six games.
Misused in Detroit or not, Ebron had never scored more than five times in a season prior to his arrival in Indy. Beyond that, Andrew Luck is suddenly involved in another mysterious injury saga. Anything less than Luck at 100 percent doesn’t bode well for his outlook.
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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Big Ben’s numbers from a year ago are a little misleading as a result. The 5,000-plus yards, 34 touchdowns and third-ranked scoring mark at his position have taken a big hit. Not only are Brown’s 168 targets, 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns gone, but Big Ben’s opponents also no longer have to worry about the star wideout, either.
Consider the volume, too, as it’s hard to imagine Big Ben will come close to his career-high 675 attempts. Those additional passes averaged out to twoish extra games of volume for fantasy owners, but that’s gone on top of everything else. When he does take to the air, owners will have to hope JuJu Smith-Schuster is the real deal without Brown soaking up attention and that James Washington can answer the call.
But it all equates to a little more risk than owners should be comfortable with, even at an ADP of 11.03, especially when potential stat-stuffers like Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford are available later in drafts.