Fantasy football drafts signal the annual rite of fall. The NFL season is nearly upon us, and it's time to shake the pandemic blues, bust out your tablets, do your research and plunge head-on into fantasy football on ESPN.com. Matthew Berry's 10 lists of 10 is as much a staple of fantasy draft prep as calling a caterer. You'll find potential breakout players, bold predictions, fun team names and much more. Still need a league? Sign up for free today!
My very first NFL combine was a scary proposition for me.
But over the years, fantasy football has become insanely popular and eclipsed all other fantasy sports by a significant margin. As a result, interest in fantasy football content during the offseason increased in a big way. And my interest in doing fantasy baseball content went in the complete opposite direction. So with the bosses' blessing, I quit baseball to focus on fantasy football in 2014.
And that meant, for the first time, I would get to go to the annual NFL combine. I've written about the combine before, but more than just a chance for pro teams to meet, watch and interview incoming rookies, it is, for lack of a better term, the annual NFL convention. Almost every coach, executive, PR person, medical staff and team personnel from the NFL is there, along with all the agents, a crazy amount of media and many others. Fans generally aren't allowed, so it's the one time a year when everyone is gathered, outside the pressure of the regular season, and can relax and visit. It is a great opportunity for networking, for information-gathering, for becoming immersed in the NFL for the upcoming year.
So everyone goes.
Except fantasy folks.
For years, the combine was for, you know, REAL FOOTBALL PEOPLE.
That has changed, as now there are a decent amount of folks from the fantasy industry, but the very first year I went, I saw no other fantasy folks.
Everywhere I went, people asked, "What's the fantasy guy doing here?"
I went there by myself, not as a part of ESPN's large NFL contingent, veterans of many combines. I felt out of place, awkward and intimidated, like the nerd who somehow had crashed the jocks' party and any minute they would realize I wasn't supposed to be there. So there I am, new kid in school, with no idea what to do, where to go, who to talk to, how to just, you know, "combine."
So I reached out to Peter King. Peter, of course, is a legend in our industry and most well-known for his iconic "Monday Morning Quarterback" column that he wrote for Sports Illustrated for so many years. He's now at NBC with "Football Morning in America." I didn't know Peter very well back then, but we followed each other on Twitter. I knew Peter played fantasy football, so I took a chance and slid into his DMs. I asked Peter if I could get 10 minutes on the phone to ask his advice on how to get the most out of the NFL combine.
Peter said nonsense. He insisted we grab a beer the first day of the combine. We spent two hours together, and he gave me a crash course in what was useful, what wasn't and how to navigate the awesome but sprawling and confusing world of the NFL combine. When he found out I was there alone, he insisted I come to the SI/Monday Morning QB team dinner he was hosting.
And the next day, he invited me to walk with him as he went through the combine. No one knows who the hell I am, but they all know Peter King. Every GM, every coach, every scout, every agent approached him (not the other way around), and Peter, without fail, introduced me and made sure I was able to get a question answered and a phone number.
Who does that?
Peter King does that.
I mean, come on. While Peter is in a class by himself, in theory I'm a competitor, right? Certainly, ESPN.com is a competitor of Peter's (then) MMQB site and SI.com. And we don't know each other very well. I'm ESPN's problem. Let someone there invite me out and walk me around, right? Or not. What should he care? I'm not his problem. He owes me nothing. A 10-minute phone call would have been more than generous. He spent decades building up contacts, experience and a massive stature in the industry. And he's gonna share that with stupid me?
Seriously, who does that?
Peter King does that.
Peter is a legend and certainly doesn't need any pub from me, but as I write the 14th annual 10 Lists of 10, I think about Peter. Long before I knew him, I was a reader of Peter's, and among the many things I loved about his column was his "10 Things I Think I Think" section.
So in a world that far too often these days is hallmarked by anger and hate, I wanted to take an opportunity to shine a light on a truly awesome and kind human being, who was nice and generous for no other reason than that's just who he is.
Here's to you, Peter. May the Montclair Pedroias bring home the title this year.
And, for the rest of you, if you (or one of your kids) happens to be starting school soon, I hope you'll take inspiration from Peter. It's gonna be a weird and very different experience for any kid going to school this year and even more so for kids starting a new school, class or district. So if you (or your child) see a new kid who isn't quite sure where to go, where to sit or who to talk to, I hope you'll go out of your way to make them feel a little more welcome and included. It might not seem like a big deal to you -- I'm sure Peter King barely remembers my first combine -- but trust me. That kid will remember that kindness for the rest of his or her life.
Time now for some football, and with one final tip of the cap to Peter, here are 10 lists. Of 10.
Thanks to "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010, The Stat-a-pillar of "The Fantasy Show" on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski and Kevin Pulsifer, who need a nickname for their help at various points in this column. Here we go:
List 1: 10 items of preseason buzz I'm buying
1. That Jets RB Le'Veon Bell looks like he's lost a step and is headed for more of a timeshare/reduced workload than folks believe, and that Jets TE Chris Herndon is going to be a target monster for QB Sam Darnold and should be moving up draft boards. Herndon is one of my favorite late-round tight ends this year.
2. That Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins wants a new contract and that his continued absence from Arizona camp isn't about "keeping him fresh" for the regular season but more about contract concerns and Hopkins wanting a new deal, which is no secret. He's insanely talented, we all know that, but considering his WR2(!) ADP, that's a concern, since he hasn't had a ton of time to get on the same page with Kyler Murray.
3. That Buccaneers WR Scotty Miller has carved out a nice role for himself and will be another fantasy-relevant piece behind the big names in a loaded Bucs offense.
5. That second-year Colts WR Parris Campbell is healthy and looking like the star he was at Ohio State. That he will be a post-hype sleeper for a very good Colts offense.
6. That the Jaguars will have a pass-happy and fantasy-friendly offense this year. And that, behind WR DJ Chark, two camp standouts will have much more fantasy-relevant roles than their current ADP suggests: WR Laviska Shenault and TE Tyler Eifert.
7. That if you are taking a flier on Washington's backfield, that flier should be on RB Antonio Gibson.
8. That based on health and camp reports, Giants WR Sterling Shepard is being vastly undervalued.
9. That those in deep leagues need to know the name of Cardinals TE Dan Arnold, who has continued his great chemistry from the end of last year with QB Kyler Murray in practice. And that RB Chase Edmonds needs to be one of the first "backup" running backs off the board in drafts.
10. That Darrel Williams is the Chiefs RB you want if you are looking for insurance behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire. A reminder that in the three games with 10-plus touches last year, Williams averaged 15.6 fantasy points per game.
List 2: My 10 favorite upside running backs to draft going in the 12th round or later on ESPN.com (in order they are being drafted)
6. Antonio Gibson, Washington (ADP RB 45, 150.8 overall)
List 3: My 10 "Chicken" players
A few years ago, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told his team not to eat chicken because "it's a nervous bird." To be clear, if I could be fried and eaten at any given moment I'd be nervous too. Anyway, fantasy football is often an emotional game. So here are 10 big-name players who I am nervous about this year, either due to injury, the offense, the players around them, the high ADP it will cost to draft them, and/or other reasons. All talented players, all ranked appropriately, but something about them gives me pause when I'm drafting, and when it comes to the point where they should be picked in PPR, I tend to go with a different but similarly ranked player.
1. Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb. The argument for Chubb is he's a very talented back and Cleveland should be a much better offense this year with an improved offensive line. I mean, under Kevin Stefanski last year, Dalvin Cook led the NFL in goal-to-go carries. The concern is ... he was just RB23 on a PPG basis once Kareem Hunt showed up last year, and that was with Hunt averaging just 5.4 carries a game. I'm pretty sure Stefanski isn't going to show up and say "You know what this offense needs? LESS Kareem Hunt." Add in some positive regression for Odell Beckham Jr. in the touchdown department and I'm a little nervous in full PPR leagues.
2. Arizona Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake. Three previous coaching staffs -- Alabama when he was in college and two different regimes in Miami -- refused to make him a feature back for some reason. Here's his point totals once he came over to Arizona: 28.2, 10.1, 14, 7.1, 9.7, 39.6, 33.4, 17.3. He started as a monster and finished with three insane games, but there was a four-game stretch in there (Weeks 10 through 14) where Drake was RB29 on a per-game basis, tied with Duke Johnson.
3. Detroit Lions RB D'Andre Swift. Talented player who is likely to be in a committee for a team that was bottom 12 in the NFL last year in rush percentage, red zone rush percentage, RB target share and yards per rush before first contact.
4. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. He now has snuck into the top 10 QBs being drafted on ESPN despite coming off a year in which he was QB13 on a points-per-game basis. There has been no indication this offseason that Green Bay wants to change its offense from last year (16th in pass attempts), especially given the lack of proven pass-catchers beyond Davante Adams. Rodgers doesn't run, so you need a lot of yards and touchdowns from a guy who averaged just 1.3 passing touchdowns a game in the second half of last year and nine (!) different weekly finishes last year as QB20 or worse.
5. Buffalo Bills RB Devin Singletary. Singletary played in every game from Week 7 through 16 last season and was given just 31.6% of the Buffalo goal-to-go carries. Worried that QB Josh Allen and RB Zack Moss take much of the scoring away on a team that isn't likely to have an explosive offense. Also worried that Moss is #goodatfootball.
6. New Orleans Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders. A very good real-life player and a nice signing for New Orleans. But last season Saints WRs not named Michael Thomas combined for just 56 receptions. In fact, 2016 was the last time a Saints WR not named Michael Thomas saw 70-plus targets. I'm not the biggest Jared Cook fan (see below!), but he will require some targets. Over the past two years, Thomas and Alvin Kamara have accounted for 54.6% of Saints receptions. Volume is unlikely for Sanders given the other options, so he needs to score, which also seems unlikely given Thomas, Kamara, Cook and Taysom Hill gadget plays. Remember, since 2017, 67 players have seen 200 targets. Sanders has scored on 3.9% of his targets, 15th lowest among 67. (For comparison, Jamison Crowder and Duke Johnson have higher rates.) Add in that he's 33 years old and has missed eight games since 2017 and, yeah, I'm nervous fantasy-wise here.
7. Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton. Are we sure QB Drew Lock is going to be good? Are we sure Sutton will get enough targets with TE Noah Fant, RB Melvin Gordon and WR Jerry Jeudy there? Are we sure he's better than WR A.J. Brown, WR Calvin Ridley, WR Tyler Lockett and the Rams guys (WRs Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp)? Because that's where you'll have to draft him this year.
8. Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker. Every year the fantasy industry has been wrong on him. His first four years we all loved him as a sleeper and he was merely asleep. Last year no one liked him and he exploded. Until WR Preston Williams got hurt last year (through Week 9) he averaged 11.5 points compared with Williams' 11.4. Much prefer Williams at his ADP this year, and seriously, we've all been wrong on him for five straight years. What makes you think we've finally figured it out?
9. New York Giants TE Evan Engram. Love the player, hate the health concerns. And for a guy going as TE6, you need more than 11 games a year, which is what he's averaging so far in his career. We don't know exactly what the Giants' offense will look like with RB Saquon Barkley, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Golden Tate and WR Darius Slayton out there and QB Daniel Jones.
10. New Orleans Saints TE Jared Cook. He makes me nervous every year. Most years I'm right. Fourth-highest drop rate among tight ends last year, seventh in drop rate league-wide since 2017 (minimum 100 targets). Needs TDs for fantasy value (49.4% of his fantasy points came via TD), and, as I mentioned above, New Orleans just added WR Emmanuel Sanders.
List 4: 10 best fantasy team names (that I can print) as suggested by users of the Fantasy Life app)
1. Quaranteam (@joep)
2. Nuks of Lazard (@bb)
3. Fantasy Football Team (many, in a nod to Washington Football Team)
4. Murder Fournettes (@berry90210, and no, not my burner account. No idea who it is)
5. Livin' on Helaire (@heyzeusten)
6. Thou Shenault Pass (@punchingbag47)
7. Where's your Godwin now? (@yojimbojones)
8. Better Business Burrow (@scottsshot)
9. King T'CHARKA (@mitchelljw)
10. Wakanda Forever (many and I hope many more)
List 5: 10 "what if" scenarios to consider
Conventional fantasy football "wisdom" assumes certain things will happen. But what if it doesn't go the way everyone thinks? What if: ...
1. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll actually "#LetsRussCook?"
2. Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor keeps the starting job all season?
3. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook does actually hold out all year?
4. Titans RB Derrick Henry gets involved in the passing game in a real way?
6. 49ers WR Deebo Samuel isn't that hurt?
7. Texans WR Will Fuller stays healthy all year?
8. Bengals WR A.J. Green is, you know, A.J. GREEN?
10. Ravens TE Mark Andrews, who got 98 targets in 15 games last year, also gets departed TE Hayden Hurst's 39 targets from last year to have 137 targets, comparable to the 134 targets Chiefs TE Travis Kelce got last year?
List 6: 10 blind résumés
(ADPs are as of Aug. 28)
1. Over the past 12 games of the 2019 season:
Quarterback A: 19.0 fantasy points per game, 19 pass TDs, 217 rush yards, 18% off-target
Quarterback B: 18.0 fantasy points per game, 24 pass TDs, 274 rush yards, 16% off-target
2. In games they started last season:
Quarterback C: 16.8 fantasy points per game, 237 pass YPG, 1.5 pass TDs per game, 27.5 rush YPG
Quarterback D: 17.4 fantasy points per game, 250 pass YPG, 1.6 pass TDs per game, 11.4 rush YPG
3. Last eight games of last season:
Running Back E: 12.7 fantasy points per game, 179 rush yards, 285 receiving yards, 3 total TDs
Running Back F: 13.0 fantasy points per game, 691 rush yards, 117 receiving yards, 2 total TDs
4. Last two seasons:
Running Back G: 20.1 touches per game, 4.54 YPC, 0.55 rush TDs per game, 2.0 receptions per game
Running Back H: 19.0 touches per game, 4.57 YPC, 0.60 rush TDs per game, 3.7 receptions per game
RB G is the Seahawks' Chris Carson, RB H is the Vikings' Dalvin Cook (both have missed some time with injury in that span: Carson three games, Cook seven games. Cook is going three rounds and 34 picks ahead of Carson at the moment).
5. Weeks 1 through 9 last season:
Wide Receiver I: 11.5 FPPG, 6.3 targets per game, 50 receiving YPG, 2020 ADP of WR28
Wide Receiver J: 11.4 FPPG, 7.4 targets per game, 54 receiving YPG, 2020 ADP of WR48
6. Last season:
Wide Receiver K: 15.4 FPPG, 4.9 receptions per game, 74.3 YPG, 2020 ADP of WR10
Wide Receiver L: 15.2 FPPG, 4.7 receptions per game, 79.1 YPG, 2020 ADP of WR31
WR K is the Cowboys' Amari Cooper, WR L is the Cowboys' Michael Gallup. I've made this point a lot, including earlier in this column, but I don't care. Gonna hammer it until people understand what they're dealing with here in Gallup.
7. Last four seasons:
Wide Receiver M: 19.1 FPPG, 7.5 receptions per game, 87.5 YPG
Wide Receiver N: 19.5 FPPG, 6.4 receptions per game, 87.4 YPG
8. Last season:
Tight End O: 1.81 FPTS per target, 7 end zone targets, 14.1 yds/reception
Tight End P: 1.86 FPTS per target, 9 end zone targets, 12.7 yds/reception
9. Last season:
Tight End Q: 12.4 yds/reception, 9.8 rec yds/target, 7.2 YAC/reception
Tight End R: 12.5 yds/reception, 10.2 rec yds/target, 7.9 YAC/reception
TE Q is the 49ers' George Kittle, TE R is the Titans' Jonnu Smith. Both are efficient in the passing game on run-first offenses; now Smith doesn't have Delanie Walker in front of him and is going as TE 20 if he's even being drafted.
10. Last two seasons:
Player S: 16 games, 6.8 FPPG, 3 total TDs
Player T: 16 games, 5.9 FPPG, 2 total TDs
Player U: 16 games, 7.3 FPPG, 0 total TDs
Player S is the 2018 Jaguars D/ST [ADP of DEF1, finished DEF10], Player T is the 2019 Bears D/ST [ADP of DEF1, finished DEF16], Player U is the D/ST facing the Bears in 2019. Kids, don't take a defense before the second-to-last round in ESPN standard leagues. Just don't do it. Play matchups.
List 7: 10 more fantasy team names (that I can print) from my Twitter followers
1. Fresh Prince of Helaire ... (many submitters)
2. Helaire or High Water (@KSpreckelsJr)
3. Judge Jeudy (@SethLDow)
4. Person Woman Man Kamara TD (@j_s_stoef)
5. Tua-FINity and Beyond! (@WBizz1)
6. Half-Draked and a Kittle Drunk (@jesseghiorzi)
7. Jeudy's In the Eye of the Beholder (@DLPSports)
8. Catalina Wine Mixon (@ACinDallas)
9. Hurd Immunity (@ACinDallas)
10. Reagor Bombs (@DLPSports)
List 8: 10 unsexy guys who have no buzz and no one will go "ooh, good pick" when you draft them, but all will be very productive this year, will outperform ADP significantly and will help you win
10. Matthew Berry
List 9: 10 bold predictions for the 2020 fantasy season
Bold obviously means unlikely to happen but within the realm of possibility. The idea here is not to nail them but rather to give you some thoughts on players I feel strongly about this year.
1. Dak Prescott finishes as the No. 1 QB in fantasy.
My thinking: The second-best QB last year in total points and the QB with the most rushing touchdowns since he came into the NFL, he's playing for a new deal in a fantasy-friendly offense, and he has three big-play wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.
2. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady has the best statistical year of his career, which means doing better than in 2007, when he threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns.
My thinking: With arguably a better supporting cast than even 2007, a fantasy-friendly, offensive-minded coach, and defensive rules that make it much harder to defend the pass, Brady is set up for success. Determined to prove everyone wrong, he wants a massive season and will stay in to throw even in blowouts, and when they are in close he will check out of run plays for cheap touchdowns as well.
3. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, currently going as QB 16, finishes the year as a top-five fantasy QB.
My thinking: Last time we saw him, in 2018, he was. The third-best QB in fantasy two years ago, this will be a pass-heavy offense with a lot of talented pass-catchers and a fully healthy Big Ben.
4. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew, currently being drafted as QB 24 (and he's being drafted in only 10% of ESPN leagues), finishes the year as a top-12 fantasy QB.
My thinking: On a bad team that will need to throw a ton, Minshew is more mobile than he gets credit for. So he'll add value with his legs and in a pass-first, fantasy-friendly system. Jay Gruden (the Jaguars' new offensive coordinator) has been an OC or head coach for eight full seasons. He has had a top-13 fantasy QB in five of them, with the other three being Andy Dalton's rookie year and the two years in Washington he had to use at least three different QBs.
5. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler, currently being drafted as RB13, in the third round, finishes the year as a top-three fantasy RB.
My thinking: The second-best RB in fantasy for the four weeks Melvin Gordon was holding out last year, Ekeler returns to his heavy-usage ways all season long. The obvious receiving touchdown regression is made up for with Ekeler getting a large share of Gordon's rushing scores (nine total TDs in 12 games last year) and an increase in volume.
My thinking: The last six games with Stafford (Weeks 3-9):
Golladay: 16.5 PPG, 7.2 targets per game (53.5% catch rate), 9 red zone targets
Jones: 18.8 PPG, 8 targets per game (68.8% catch rate), 10 red zone targets
7. Vikings WR Adam Thielen, currently being drafted in the fourth round, finishes as the No. 1 WR in fantasy.
My thinking: If he can just stay healthy. Over the past three years, when Stefon Diggs was off the field, Thielen was targeted on 25% of his routes. For his career, when seeing at least nine targets, he averages 22.8 fantasy points per game. Last year, Michael Thomas was WR1 averaging 23.4.
My thinking: He almost did it last year on a per-game basis.
Cooper per game in 2019: 4.9 catches, 7.4 targets, 74.3 yards, 0.5 TDs, 15.4 FP
Gallup per game in 2019: 4.7 catches, 8.1 targets, 79.1 yards, 0.43 TDs, 15.2 FP
Now in his third year in the NFL, Gallup takes another huge step forward.
9. Marquise Brown, currently going as WR30 in the ninth round on ESPN, finishes the year as a top-10 WR.
My thinking: The No. 1 WR in one of the best offenses in the NFL, in his six games with five-plus targets last year he averaged 15.5 points per game. I expect him to get more targets this year. I expect him to improve in his second year in the NFL. And last year, WR 10 averaged 15.93 PPG.
10. Mike Gesicki, currently going as TE15, finishes the year as a top-five TE.
My thinking: The eighth-best TE in fantasy on a PPG basis from Week 9 on last year, Gesicki enters his second year in the league as a talented player on what probably will be a pass-heavy team that has already seen two pass-catchers opt out for the season and has another (Preston Williams) coming back from a major surgery. I expect him to take a big leap forward this year.
List 10: 10 more great team names (that I can print) from Twitter
1. A Ruggs Life (@DLPSports)
2. LAMARvel Cinematic Universe (@mdmarder)
3. Just the Tua Us (@spm_ff)
4. Eleanor Higbees (@DrewHannis)
5. K1 Drake Sauce (@josh_algari)
6. One If By Lamb, Two If By CeeDee (@ambutter)
7. Sutton On The Dak of the Bay (@drummer_412)
8. Call of Jeudy (@npaige07)
9. Sutton To Believe In (@FFRabbitDad)
10. Charks With Freakin' Lazard Beams (@Dan_Haas)