Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where all statements we make are definitive? Yes, Ben Kingsley only makes good movies, or no, you can never vomit out of sheer frustration. Sadly, both those statements can be proven false by a single viewing of the 2008 Mike Myers’ classic, The Love Guru.
Discussing the NFL offers a similar challenge: rarely can teams or players be viewed in black or white (except for a Chip Kelly roster). By now, we know that Antonio Brown is great, while the Cleveland Browns are not, but how much else are we sure of entering this season?
This is a particularly important question to ponder when thinking about your fantasy draft. In the early rounds, you’d typically gravitate towards players you know – or think you know – are good. But in looking at some of the players likely to go early this year, there are more than a few names I can’t definitively say are good fantasy players. So, I’ve decided to try to get to the bottom of this in the first piece of my simply-titled segment …
Are we sure they’re good?
Brandin Cooks, WR; New Orleans Saints
Average pick: 30.2*
As someone who has taken Cooks fairly high for two straight seasons, you’d think I’d have an answer for this; but I’m miffed. The young, speedy wideout is definitely capable of making home run plays, but the inconsistency with which he does is incredibly frustrating. Cooks had just one touchdown through seven games last season, earning himself a stapling to my bench, before scoring five touchdowns over a three week period.
If there’s one thing I have learned about Cooks, it’s that his production will go up as the Saints’ fortunes go down. It seems the third-year receiver has yet to earn Brees’ trust in big situations; he has zero career touchdowns in the 4th quarters of games separated by seven points or fewer, and just 36 career receptions on 3rd and 4th down, combined. Meanwhile, his best fantasy production came in a Week 10 thrashing by Washington, a game the Saints lost 47-14.
With Ben Watson and Marques Colston gone, Cooks could very well become the go-to-guy in Nawlins simply from lack of options. But watch for sophomore Willie Snead to get more looks in this offense as well. In fact, he may have more value than Cooks, considering his ADP is currently 119.3.
Conclusion: Good, in garbage time.
(*ADP’s courtesy of Yahoo. Other websites may vary.)
Doug Baldwin, WR; Seattle Seahawks
Average pick: 45.2
Before last season, the answer seemed like a hard “no.” But after a second half that singlehandedly won fantasy leagues, Baldwin has made this a real discussion. Is it possible that somehow Seattle, who spent years looking for a no. 1 receiver (signing Sidney Rice, trading for Percy Harvin, drafting Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson), had one sitting right under their nose the whole time?
Baldwin’s first 1,000-yard season came almost exclusively working out of the slot, where the smaller receiver created mismatches and used the whole field to get open. But how much room will there be in the slot this year? With Jimmy Graham returning from injury, the high-priced tight end will become a focal point of the offense. Not to mention the sophomore Lockett should get some opportunities from the slot as well. While he did some remarkable things on the outside last year, his size and speed would suggest he’s a natural fit on the inside.
If there is a positive around the emergence of other targets in the pass game, it’s that Baldwin should continue to draw exploitable matchups. Even if Baldwin can’t be classified as good, he’s certainly reliable, catching over 75-percent of his targets last season.
However, if you’re drafting Baldwin over Jarvis Landry (52.3 ADP), that may be a reach. Landry has already proven himself as one of the league’s elite slot receivers: over half his 1,915 career receiving yards are after the catch. I’d rather roll with the guy who can produce with Ryan Tannehill at QB, than the one who needs an MVP-type season from Russell Wilson.
Conclusion: Good value in the sixth round or later.
Mark Ingram, RB; New Orleans Saints
Average pick: 29.1
Surprisingly, the dumpy back out of Alabama has never topped 1,000 rushing yards in his five previous seasons. In fact, he’s only ever topped 200 rushing attempts once. Last year, Ingram averaged 13.8 carries per game, or in simpler terms, the same number as LeGarrette Blount. So really, it’s hard to know if Ingram is a quality back: he’s either injured or under-utilized.
One thing that makes Ingram an easier sell as a high draft pick is his emergence as a pass catcher. From Reggie Bush to Darren Sproles, the check-down back has always been a big part of the Saints offense. Ingram’s ability to stay on the field for passing situations means you’ll get more mileage out of him for as long as he’s healthy (which is never a full season).
If all you’re in the market for is seven strong fantasy games a year, Ingram can fill that role. If that also meets your definition of “good,” then I guess this matter is settled.
Conclusion: Good, for half a season max.
Devonta Freeman, RB; Atlanta Falcons
Average pick: 19.1
Freeman finished second in fantasy scoring among non-quarterbacks, and yet it wouldn’t be very hard to make the argument he’s an average running back. His four yards-per-carry ranked 31st in the league. He also lacked a true explosive element, with 12 of his 14 touchdowns coming in the red zone, and his longest carry topping out at 39 yards. If Freeman has a strength, it’s that he’s running behind a good Falcons offensive line. (See I’m not stingy with the word “good!”)
Atlanta’s blockers will only be better this year with Alex Mack at center, but Freeman is also going to cede more carries to Tevin Coleman. Taking Freeman this year is expecting him to accomplish more with fewer opportunities, and that seems like setting yourself up for disappointment.
Conclusion: Not good.