Love/Hate is dead. Long live Love/Hate.
It's five months ago, and I'm sitting in the office of my friend Pierre Becquey, who, among other things, oversees fantasy sports digital content for ESPN. He is sitting next to "Not Cool" Keith Lipscomb, who, when not appearing as part of the Fantasy Focus podcast, is actually a senior editor in ESPN's Fantasy department, overseeing all of our fantasy football content.
They are both looking at me intently when Pierre starts our meeting with the following statement:
"We think you've written your last Love/Hate."
I look at Keith.
And Keith Lipscomb, who, for the past three years, has edited every single Love/Hate -- 5,000-plus words a week -- slowly nods back at me.
I look over to Pierre, questions in my face.
Pierre, who, prior to Keith, spent seven years editing every single Love/Hate I wrote for ESPN. Pierre, who, prior to coming to ESPN, was the editor-in-chief of my Talented Mr. Roto site and edited every single Love/Hate I wrote there for many years. Pierre, who has almost as much blood, sweat and tears in this column as I do ... it clearly gives him no joy to say it, but he stands firm.
"Your Week 17 column should be the last Love/Hate ever."
My name is on it, but make no mistake, both of these gentlemen have spent countless hours suggesting, brainstorming, editing, adding graphics and photos, rewriting, researching and supporting almost every single preseason and weekly Love/Hate that you've ever read, in one place or another, for close to two decades.
It is not a statement they would make without a tremendous amount of thought.
I sit there, staring, unsure of what to say or how to react.
Keith breaks the silence.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
But I just keep looking at them. Silently mulling it over.
I don't know what to say.
When I was out promoting my book, a common line I used was "fantasy football saved my life."
I'm sure many people thought it was hyperbole, designed to sell more copies of "Fantasy Life." No doubt, it's over the top and hey, I was definitely trying to sell books, but here's the thing: It's also something I truly believe.
If you asked my family and close friends, who knew how massively depressed I was in 2005, in a marriage that was breaking up and a career I hated, they'd agree with the statement. So maybe you'll forgive the grand proclamation. I really was that depressed and, if not for therapy, and yes, fantasy football, I don't know what I would have done. Suffice to say none of the options I considered back then were good ones.
But what actually turned around my life, what brought me out of the darkness and into the light is, in fact, a weekly fantasy sports column I started writing in 1999. I called it "Love/Hate."
Let's start at the beginning.
I have played fantasy sports since I was 14 years old. Since then, it has been my great passion and the only real hobby I have ever had. Like you, I love it. When I was 28 and living in Hollywood as a professional TV and movie writer, I had the idea of writing fantasy sports columns on the side as a hobby. And after failing to get a gig at a couple of fantasy sports sites, Rotoworld gave me a shot at being an unpaid weekly columnist for them. I had no designs on a career in fantasy sports at that time, I was just doing this for kicks. And what's the fun of writing a free column for a (at the time) fairly low-trafficked website if it's not going to be read?
So in order to try to stand out a bit, I chose an over-the-top nickname -- The Talented Mr. Roto, yes, a play on the movie "The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- and I named one of the columns I was writing after two of the strongest words in the English language: love ... and hate.
Now, I don't think I'm particularly good at most things in life.
I joke a lot and play up a certain part of my personality on the podcast for comedic effect, but real talk, as I'm told the kids once said, I genuinely do not have a ton of confidence in most things I do in my real life. I'm awkward and pasty and ramble and I'm overly analytical about everything. I'm oblivious and I ask too many questions and I get distracted easily and I don't take care of myself as well as I should, and I spend too much time looking at a screen rather than at the world around me, and did I mention that I overthink everything? I'm a disaster.
But I think I'm a pretty good writer.
It's the one thing I have always had confidence in. It's that confidence that kept me going when my first columns started appearing, filled with pop culture references, snarky jokes and lots and lots of stories, all about me. If you think it's a weird, self-centered column now, you should have seen how folks reacted to it in 1999. Back then, fantasy sports analysis was fairly dry, very stat heavy, very meat and potatoes, if you will, or even if you won't.
Readers didn't know how to react. At that time, Rotoworld had a distribution deal with a major media network's website, so Rotoworld's content also ran on that platform. All except one. They refused to run my column. It didn't meet their standards, they said.
That was the polite version. Readers were less kind, emailing profanity-laced insults about what they thought of the column. The owners of Rotoworld wanted me gone and threatened to fire me (from a job writing for free!!!) if I didn't change the style of my column.
Luckily, two guys there went to bat for me; Rick Wolf, now with FantasyAlarm and hosting a show on SiriusXM, and Matthew Pouliot, still at Rotoworld. "We think there's something here," they told the owners and everyone else who wondered why the hell they were publishing this weird mix of life stories, fantasy sports and pop culture jokes. I will always be indebted to those two.
They fended off everyone, let me do what I do, and eventually, they were rewarded. The column became the most read column on Rotoworld. After a few years, in 2004, I decided to go out on my own and start TalentedMrRoto.com, my own site. The confidence to leave a popular website to stake my own small claim on the web was rooted entirely in the fact that I had Love/Hate. And it was coming with me.
Also in 2004, a guy named Steve Mason was doing a national sports radio show and was a fan of my column. He invited me to come on his air. One segment eventually turned to two, which turned into an hour, which ultimately led to becoming the National Fantasy Sports Expert for FoxSportsRadio for two years and earning my first major media paycheck for fantasy sports analysis.
None of that happens without Love/Hate.
And yet, while there were small victories, the truth is I was still mostly depressed.
In 2005, I was 35 years old and miserable. I was in pretty heavy therapy in those days, trying to reconcile the fact that I really didn't enjoy working in show business, my marriage was breaking up and the only thing that made me happy was this small website I had started where I was making no money at all.
Therapy helped me realize my first wife and I were ultimately not right for each other, and that the same went for my Hollywood career. Therapy helped me realize I shouldn't worry about money and that I should just chase happiness, even at age 35. And Love/Hate gave me the guts to do it.
A year later, a fantasy basketball TV show pitch meeting with some NBA executives (including the then-head of NBA Entertainment, a guy named Adam Silver) led to me getting to spend two years with the NBA, doing a bunch of fantasy basketball content for NBA.com and consulting behind the scenes on the NBA's fantasy business. And that meeting came about largely due to the popularity of Love/Hate. By the way, working for Adam Silver and his team was just as awesome as you think it would be. Truly a wonderful man.
At some point during this, Steve Mason landed with 710 ESPN Radio in L.A. to reunite with his longtime radio partner John Ireland (they are there to this day), and once he got settled there, Steve brought me over to ESPN Radio to do some fantasy football segments. That ended up going well and after a while I started doing a bunch of random things for ESPN, including some TV and freelance writing. And then after I did that for a couple of years, all of these small random things started adding up. ESPN decided it wanted to increase its fantasy business and coverage. So they bought my site, moved me to Connecticut and eventually they named me ESPN's senior fantasy analyst, a title that I hold to this day. It still sounds made up.
I was a lot closer to 40 than not, my divorce was final, my showbiz career over and all I really had in the world was a large pile of therapy bills and a 15-pound dog named Macy.
And yet, the largest sports media company in the world wanted to hire me to do a job that didn't even exist when I went to college. Growing up, there wasn't a day in my life that ESPN wasn't on the TV in our family room and now my parents were going to be able to see me on it, talking about fake sports. For a living.
And NONE of it happens without Love/Hate.
Not surprisingly, it took the ESPN audience a while to get used to me and Love/Hate. But ultimately they did, and the column became my calling card around the company. And from there I was able to start doing a podcast. And then ESPN put me on TV. And then they put me on a Sunday morning fantasy football TV show. They've put me on the radio, in the magazine, in commercials, and on many of our most popular shows. Twitter created a special @fantasyfocus handle for us and now we broadcast the podcast live on Twitter every day. Earlier this week, ESPN actually put me on TV in a prominent role for 29 straight hours as part of our Fantasy Football Marathon. I mean, hell, ESPN gave me my own daily TV show and let me have puppets. Angry, hilarious puppets.
None of it makes sense. It's all insanely lucky, truly blessed, beyond-my-wildest-dreams, pinch-me-I-gotta-be-dreaming stuff. And none of it happens without Love/Hate.
If I am not at ESPN, I don't meet my wife, who was doing international finance for the company when we were introduced by a mutual friend at a party. If I don't meet my wife, I don't have my kids, who, you know, only mean everything in the world to me. They're magic.
I started in life with my parents, my brother and my relatives. Along the way, I picked up some good friends in high school, in college and in my showbiz years.
But everything else -- everything in this world that I hold dear, everything I live for, everything I cling tightly to and hold onto for dear life ... all of it has, one way or the other, come into my life because of Love/Hate.
And now, back in Pierre's office, I'm listening to two men I've trusted with my writing and my career for the past decade, telling me not to do it anymore.
The issue isn't quality, they tell me. They believe the column is still well-written and as popular as it has ever been. The issue is I didn't listen to them last season.
The previous summer, when I was first given my own daily fantasy TV show, the concern was my workload. I already was doing a daily hour-plus podcast -- it takes a surprising amount of work to make it sound as half-assed as it does -- rankings, Fantasy Football Now on Sunday, weekly hits on shows like NFL Live ... and now we were launching a complicated daily TV show with puppets and costumes and characters and skits. It was cause for concern. So they asked if I wanted to continue writing the column.
Control freak that I am, I was not ready to even consider the idea of not writing. So I said no. I can handle it. I can do it all.
Are you sure, they asked? Knowing how long it all takes; the research, the writing, the open ... they didn't think I'd have enough time to write a long weekly column. You'll be here all night every day, they said. You'll kill yourself. They were almost right.
So this year, they explained, they wanted to be more proactive and they wanted to get out ahead of a schedule that, between our now live-streamed podcast and the production schedule for The Fantasy Show, allowed me no daytime hours to write. At some point I have to do the research, I'd like to see the wife and kids occasionally and, you know, sleep and eat.
Knowing what Love/Hate means to me, they didn't want me to do some lame, half-assed version of it and they were worried, especially after last year's health scare and the other demands of my job, that I would either not have time to do a job up to everyone's standards or I would work all night every night and actually finally succeed in killing myself. They weren't fans of either idea, hence ... goodbye, Love/Hate.
All of which makes sense and is thoughtful and kind and appreciated.
Killing off Love/Hate?
I think I'm a pretty good writer. And now I'm going to stop doing literally the one thing I'm good at? The one thing that gives me confidence? The one thing I am most well-known for? The one thing that brought me everything I hold dear?
That seems dumb, even for me.
Especially this year. A year of huge change for me personally and professionally.
At home, our second oldest starts college while our twin girls start first grade and our middle child turns 14. Big change for us to have two kids out of the house. Meanwhile at work, the TV show has a new home (ESPN+), the podcast is now live, I am the sole provider for my family working in a constantly changing and morphing media landscape. And yet, when my current contract with ESPN ends, I will be an over 50-year-old fantasy football analyst, which sounds like a bad SNL sketch.
So against that backdrop, the suggestion is that I give up the best, most well-known thing I've done for close to two decades?
Am I *%@ crazy?
We talked it through, more than once. I spoke with the new boss about it as well. He strongly encouraged me not to do it anymore. But ultimately, the decision was mine. I discussed it with my wife. With friends and colleagues whose opinion I trust.
And as we talked, I realized that my life has been defined by doing a bunch of stuff that other people told me, at the time, that I was really *%@ crazy.
I was told it was crazy to start fantasy football analysis with long, egocentric stories. I was told it was crazy to leave Rotoworld, a very popular site, to start my own with no funding and no marketing plan. I was told it was crazy to leave a lucrative show business career at age 35 to try to make a full-time living at fake football. I was told it was crazy to try a "morning radio show" approach to a fantasy football podcast. I was told it was crazy to write a fantasy football book that was about funny stories and my life and that had no actual advice in it. I was told it was crazy to do a show whose only other regular cast members were puppets and my bearded, heavily tattooed podcast producer who had no prior TV experience.
The more I thought about it, I realized that I can't remember any big leap of faith I've ever taken where someone said, "Yeah, that's a great idea. Do that."
Words can't express what this column means to me. Which is why I don't want to do a crappy version of it. Love/Hate is by far the most time-consuming and hardest thing I do every week. I need to start taking better care of myself and my health. But to do that and still do everything else going on this year, I don't believe I will have the time and energy to write the column to the level I would want. And you'd always rather leave a year too early than a year too late.
This is the last Love/Hate you'll read this year.
Now, a few caveats, because while I am crazy, I am not totally nuts. First, I am not completely killing off Love/Hate. Every Thursday during the NFL regular season, we will do a (hopefully) awesome and original Love/Hate episode of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+. I will continue to do a Love/Hate segment on the podcast and I'm sure there will be other TV segments around it. So it's only going away as a written column.
I'm also not giving up writing. I did think about it. But (at least right now) the plan is to continue to write a column for Thursdays, just a shorter one that fits into my schedule. It will be a weekly version of one of my favorite things to write: The preseason 100 Facts You Need to Know Before You Draft column.
And my expectation is that there will still be, love it or skip it, an intro where I'll continue to write about me, my family, and about the Fantasy Life.
But I am as nervous about this decision as I have ever been about anything I've ever done.
This might be a truly awful idea, to try an entirely different weekly column for the first time in almost two decades. I have no idea if this is career suicide. It might very well be.
But I think I am a pretty good writer.
So I'm gonna give it a shot.
And that, my friends, brings us, meandering slower than normal, into the meat of the only Love/Hate you'll read this year. I thank you for indulging me. And if you hated it, well, good news. It's the last one.
Since it's the last one, I won't belabor this part:
This is NOT a sleeper and bust column.
I hate those terms, as I believe any player can be a sleeper or a bust -- it just depends what it costs to acquire said player. As I saw Matt Kelley write on Twitter recently, "I don't hate players. I hate their ADP."
Well said, Matt.
Last season, DeMarco Murray (171.5 points) and Alex Collins (171) were almost identical in terms of total scoring for PPR leagues.
However, if we look at it in retrospect, Murray was drafted as a consensus top-10 RB, finished 20th at the position and was pedestrian down the stretch. Collins wasn't drafted at all and was picked up as a free agent midseason, finishing as RB21.
Despite them scoring the same number of points, Murray was a "hate." Collins was a "love." That's because it cost a very early draft pick to get Murray and it cost next to nothing to grab Collins. Same season-long stats, with widely different acquisition costs. Murray cost people their leagues last season; Collins helped others win theirs.
That's what this column is going to attempt to do: Identify players who I believe will either outperform or fall short of their current ESPN average draft position (ADP).
Understand that rankings and ADPs are different at every site and that things will change greatly the closer we get to the season. I'm writing this on Aug. 12. Lastly, this is based on PPR scoring. As always, there are more "love" names than "hate" -- you don't need me to tell you that players with lower ADPs aren't likely to return value. Their low ADPs tell you that they are not highly thought of.
For one last time ... let's get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in 2018
Drew Brees, Saints: As a fellow old guy, I hear it all the time too. He has lost a step. He's slowing down. And where'd the hair go? While I have many more questions than answers to the above, I don't think that's the case with Brees. Dude led the NFL in completion percentage, red zone completion percentage and yards per attempt last season and was third in the NFL in completion percentage on play-action. He threw for at least 4,300 yards again -- you know, only the 10th straight time he has done that. The issue, of course, was that his attempts were down (still top 10 in the NFL, however), and more importantly, his touchdowns were down. After at least 32 in each of the previous nine seasons, somehow Brees threw only 23 in 2017. He has a career touchdown rate of 5.3 percent, but last season, he had a rate of 4.3. The NFL average last season was also 4.3 percent. You're telling me Brees is an average QB? Exactly. Winter is coming, my friends, and by winter I mean regression. It's coming for Brees, for Michael Thomas, for my sleeper Cameron Meredith. The emergence of Alvin Kamara and a suddenly good defense means Brees isn't likely to get back to 5,000 yards and top-three QB status. But the Saints' rushing TD success rate was a bit fluky last season, and barring injury, there's no way the guy who has the sixth-most top-two weekly QB finishes in the past three seasons finishes outside the top seven at QB. That's where he is currently being drafted, though.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: A rich and handsome man, I have no doubt that many millions will draft Jimmy GQ to their personal fantasy teams, but let's focus on those who deal in football. Quite simply, the guy is the real deal. We don't have much of a sample, but in the final five weeks last season, he was third in passing yards, fourth in attempts, sixth in completion percentage and eighth in fantasy points. If Drew Brees is the father of positive QB regression this season, then Jimmy Garoppolo is his young ward. (Side note: Has anyone had a young ward since Bruce Wayne? Feels like we need to bring that back). Just 5.1 percent of Garoppolo's completions in his five starts last season resulted in a TD. The league average was 6.8 percent. That might not sound like a big difference, but the average QB had a rate 34.2 percent higher than Garoppolo's. Jimmy led the NFL in QBR the final five weeks, and though it's not a fantasy stat, the leader in QBR the past three seasons has averaged more than 20.9 PPG. And he did all that with a limited playbook, a banged-up line and not a ton of weapons. Did you see this quote by Jimmy to Kyle Shanahan about their offense after last season? "I can't wait until I know the offense inside and out, though, bro ... because we are gonna kill people with it." Missed that quote, did you? That's because it's actually from Matt Ryan to Shanahan in 2015. Shanahan's offense is complicated, but once Ryan mastered it, he had the greatest fantasy season of his career. With an improved offensive line, a full season to master the playbook, Pierre Garcon back healthy and a nice pass-catcher such as Jerick McKinnon added in the backfield to go with nice young pieces such as George Kittle, Trent Taylor and, of course, Marquise Goodwin ... the sky is the limit. Although Garoppolo is currently going outside the top 10, I have him as a starter in ESPN leagues, and frankly, I might not be high enough on him.
Alex Smith, Redskins: I can already hear the "homer" chants now. And make no mistake, I am a Skins fan. HTTR, baby. But that's also what people said each of the past three seasons I had Kirk Cousins on this list, and every single year, he outperformed his ADP. Under Jay Gruden, the Redskins have the sixth-most fantasy points from their quarterbacks. "But, but, but," you say, because you're the kind of person who argues with an online article, "Smith isn't Kirk Cousins." I gotta tell you, talking with folks around the team, they think they improved at the QB position. Maybe they are being #companymen, but they are not upset they don't have Kirk. Smith is a mobile QB (fifth-most rushing yards by a QB the past three seasons), but I will grant you that learning a new offense isn't ideal. However, with Derrius Guice out for the season, the way Washington will move the ball is via the air. Three of the past four seasons, a Jay Gruden offense has been top-12 in pass percentage. Smith has a rep for being dink-and-dunk, and people think last season was a Tyreek Hill-fueled fluke, but was it? Smith's air yards per pass attempt have been trending up for a while: 5.58 (2014), 6.32 (2015), 6.53 (2016), 7.35 (2017). Even if you don't think he can (or will) get it to deep threats Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson, dink and dunk will also work. The Skins were fourth in yards after the catch per reception last season. Did you know that over the past two seasons, Smith has scored at least 15 fantasy points in 60 percent of his starts? Here are some higher-profile QBs with their rates in that span: Russell Wilson 59.4 percent, Philip Rivers 59.4 and Cam Newton 51.6. Yes, Smith's new weapons in Washington aren't as good as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce or Kareem Hunt were last season. But you know what? He was the FOURTH-BEST QB IN FANTASY LAST SEASON. And this year ... he's going as QB18. WHAT?!!? He doesn't have to be a top-four fantasy QB to be worth a pick in Round 12, he just has to beat the ADP. And he will. By a mile.
Others receiving votes: Is Alex Smith too rich for your blood at QB18? Well, how about Philip Rivers being left for dead at QB19? He never misses a game, he has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in nine of the past 10 seasons (he and Kirk Cousins are the only guys to reach those marks in each of the past three seasons), and he has never been lower than QB14 in any of the past five seasons, including being QB8 last season. No player had more 300-yard passing games last season than Rivers, and he'll be helped by the addition of a healthy Mike Williams (spoiler alert for my WR loves). No one will ooh and ahh when you draft him, but all he'll do is once again play every game and finish somewhere between eighth and 12th at the position for a 12th-round/QB19 draft price. ... Guys such as Smith and Rivers going so late is one of the reasons I am in on Andrew Luck this year. When he's healthy, he's awesome -- a top-four fantasy QB in each of his past two healthy seasons, his career 19.42 PPG would have been fifth best last season. The problem is, it has been a minute, as the kids say, since he has been healthy. But QB is so deep that if it doesn't work out, you'll be able to get a viable replacement on the waiver wire. Luck is very much worth the risk at his ninth-round ADP. ... Over the past three seasons, the 12th-best QB in fantasy has been ... Tyrod Taylor, who did it with minimal help from his supporting cast. You know he can run, but Taylor also has the third-best TD/INT rate since 2015 (behind Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers). Tyrod takes his underappreciated talents to Cleveland, where there is actual, real-life NFL pass-catching ability. The past three seasons, only Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford have more games with 15-plus points than Taylor, whose ADP is currently an insane QB23, going in the 13th round. I get the fear that Cleveland will eventually turn to Baker Mayfield, but I'm not convinced that's a given, especially if the Browns are as competitive as I think they can be. Even if they do, like with Luck, you'll easily be able to get a replacement for Taylor. ... As I mentioned in my 100 facts column, in the past decade, Andy Reid's QBs have scored 2,755.4 fantasy points, which, if Reid were an NFL team, would be fifth-best in that stretch. The Chiefs were a playoff team last season, and they thought enough of Patrick Mahomes to get rid of Alex Smith after a career year. Mahomes had double-digit rushing touchdowns in each of his final two college seasons, so there's a reason KC is ... wait for it ... rollin' with Mahomies. His big arm will play well with Tyreek Hill and new addition Sammy Watkins, and I love all the preseason chatter of concern about interceptions. All it does is keep lowering his already crazy-low ADP of QB20 (13th round). Mahomes is my answer to who is most likely to be this year's Carson Wentz. ... And if it's not Mahomes, this year's Wentz could very well be Mitchell Trubisky, who gets Mahomes' old offensive coordinator in Matt Nagy, the new head coach in Chicago. Trubisky is more mobile than he gets credit for (he ranked third among qualified QBs with 6.05 yards per carry last season). With the additions of guys such as Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton (plus much more creative use of Tarik Cohen), as well as a fantasy-friendly scheme under Nagy, I like his chances of outperforming his ADP of QB24.
Quarterbacks I hate in 2018
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: Baby got Dak. Dak to the Future. I'm afraid of the Dak. My Dak is worse than my bite. Dakstreet Boys. I find your Dak of faith disturbing. Dak and yellow. Dak and white. Baby Dak Ribs. Dak and Roll. Stop, Dak and Roll. Dak in a box. Dak Dynasty. Daky Tobaccy. Dora and her Dak Pack. The Dak Knight Rises. Count Dak-ula. I will Dak you up.
There. I just listed the best part of having Dak Prescott on your fantasy team this year. There are infinite options for your fantasy team name. Other than that, I'm skeptical. Currently going as QB14, I have him much lower than that. The past two seasons, he has the same number of touchdown passes as Eli Manning (while playing one more game). That's what we are talking about here. Eli. And at least Eli has talent to throw to. The current crop of Cowboys wide receivers don't really scare you, ya dig? The Cowboys rank 20th in total plays and 31st in pass attempts during Prescott's two seasons. And with more than 40 percent of Prescott's completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns leaving in the forms of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, I don't see the Cowboys suddenly turning into a high-flying offense. No, they're gonna grind it out. And that's what you have to bank on with Dak: his rushing ability. He has six rushing touchdowns each of the past two seasons, and if he does that again, he'll be only the second QB in the past 15 years (Cam Newton is the other) to rush for at least six scores in three straight seasons. If you look closer, you'll notice that four of Prescott's six rushing scores came from 10 yards out or more. You know how hard it is to score a rushing touchdown from 10 yards out? Four times? It's hard, as evidenced by the fact that no one -- not just QBs, I mean no one -- had more last season. More than 27 percent of Prescott's points came from his legs last season, and I don't want to sit there on Sunday saying things like, "Come on! Cole Beasley was open 4 yards down the field!"
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: I'm not saying it's the weirdest thing in sports, but I'm not saying it isn't, either. In 2017, Big Ben was the only qualified QB to average 20-plus points at home AND 15 or fewer points on the road. Weird, right? Well, sure, you say, but it's probably some weird anomaly. And yeah, I'd be with you, except for the fact that he has done that in four straight seasons. The past four seasons, Roethlisberger is averaging 23.26 points per game at home (awesome) and 13.97 points per game on the road (less than Marcus Mariota last season). Brutal. The argument is, hey, just draft him and start him at home, and because the position is so deep, you can play the waiver wire for his road games. Which should work, except you'll be doing it a lot, as the Steelers play back-to back home games just once this season (Weeks 4-5). While we are talking schedule quirks, check out his sked during the crucial Weeks 9-12, when you are starting a playoff push: at Baltimore, home versus Carolina (that's a Thursday game), at Jacksonville, at Denver. I'm usually not a big schedule guy because teams and matchups change a lot over the course of the season, but on paper, that is a brutal stretch. Last season, in which he had just three 20-point games (16 QBs had more, including DeShone Kizer and Josh McCown), Roethlisberger had a "start" rate of 43 percent. This is per Tristan H. Cockcroft's consistency rankings, in which Roethlisberger was a top-10 QB (worthy of being started in a given week) just seven times last season. He also had three games in which he was a "stiff," meaning he absolutely killed you that week and was one of the lowest-scoring QBs around. Look, he's a great NFL QB, and you can't argue with the weapons, but he's currently going as a top-10 QB, and this year, that's too high a price for me, given that he has played all 16 games just twice in the past nine seasons (and he's banged up in the preseason as I write this.). As a QB2, I'm in, but top 10? I am looking elsewhere.
Derek Carr, Raiders: With Carr currently going ahead of QBs such as Tyrod Taylor, Jared Goff, Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith, among others, drafters seem to think Jon Gruden's talk about turning back the clock includes going back to when Carr was a good fantasy QB. Because it's been a bit. After failing to score 14 points in nine of 15 games last season, Carr is coming off a season in which he scored 0.5 more points than Jacoby Brissett. Josh McCown, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco are among the QBs who had more games with multiple TD passes than Carr last season. Read that list again. One of the stars of "Very Cavallari" was better than Carr was last season. That's what we are talking about. Oh, and Michael Crabtree, who has caught 29 percent of Carr's touchdown passes in his career, is gone. Almost one-third of Carr's touchdowns are out the door and replaced by what? The ghost of Jordy Nelson? Hey, maybe Jordy has something left and the issues in Green Bay were much more due to Aaron Rodgers' injury and not his losing a step. I guess we will see, but when the very smart Dan Graziano is reporting that he thinks the Raiders' No. 2 fantasy WR might be Ryan Switzer, that gives me, ahem, pause. Carr doubled his interception rate, lowered his passing touchdown rate and had a QBR below 50 last season, so he's currently heading in the wrong direction. Now, maybe Gruden can change things, and certainly new offensive coordinator Greg Olson has worked fantasy magic with Blake Bortles and Jared Goff, but Carr has never been a top-10 fantasy QB, something Taylor, Rivers and Smith can all say within the past two seasons. There are much more likely fantasy stars than Carr going in this range. No, thanks.
Running backs I love in 2018
Saquon Barkley, Giants: He already is being drafted as a top-five running back and a first-rounder overall, so you don't need a ton from me here, except that I am fully on board with that. I've gotten some questions about having him this high, about the Giants' offensive line, about the state of the team. I get all the questions, I just think he is a special player who, skill set wise, is a perfect fit for new head coach Pat Shurmur's fantasy-friendly offense. (Last year, Minnesota was second in rush percentage and had more than 100 targets to RBs with Shurmur as the offensive coordinator. While in Minnesota and Philadelphia, his teams were top six in the NFL in red zone rush percentage). Barkley will be given every opportunity to succeed on a team that desperately needs him to be a success. The past three seasons, eight different rookie RBs have had top-10 fantasy finishes. And the past five rookie running backs drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft -- Barkley was drafted second overall -- all finished as top-10 RBs in fantasy in their rookie seasons, including Trent Richardson. This year, Barkley makes it six in a row.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: First, let me say that I don't believe Ron Rivera or Norv Turner that Run CMC will touch the ball "25-30 times a game." That would be more than 400 touches and I don't believe he'd more than double what he did last season (197 touches). What it DOES tell me, however, is that he will be the focal point of the offense and not to worry that much about C.J. Anderson and his 25 percent conversion rate of goal-to-go carries into touchdowns the past three years (below league average, he was just 2 of 12 last season). Just because I don't think he touches it 25-30 times, however, doesn't mean he won't get more than the 12 per game he got last season. It was Christmas in Hollis and everywhere else last year for those who drafted Run CMC. He finished as RB10 last season despite having only four games with more than eight carries. His 80 receptions were the third-most catches by a rookie RB since 2001. (Only Reggie Bush's 88 and Alvin Kamara's 81 were better). It took him a bit, but it seemed McCaffrey got more confident in NFL running as the year progressed. After getting only six carries a game for 2.39 yards per carry in Weeks 1 through 8, CMC got 8.5 carries a game with a 4.68 YPC in Weeks 11 to 17. The addition of Turner as offensive coordinator is a great fit for the pass-catching back. From 2007 to 2016 during coaching stints in San Diego, Cleveland and Minnesota, offenses with Turner in charge saw RBs catch 821 passes. If Norv were one NFL team, that would have ranked as seventh most during that stretch. Going just outside of pick 20 in the late second round or early third, I have him as a top-15 player in my overall rankings.
Royce Freeman, Broncos: Anything but "Rolls Royce." I am begging you. Before you name your team after the Broncos' rookie running back, please, I am begging you to try to think for at least five seconds longer to come up with something better than what is only the most obvious fantasy team name ever. I ask this because Royce is going to be on a lot of teams this year and he is going to make the people who draft him very happy and proud and desirous of naming their team after him. A 6-foot, 238-pound college rock star at Oregon -- school record for most touchdowns (60) and second-most rushing yards (5,653) during his four years playing for the Ducks -- Freeman is a true bell-cow-type back. Don't believe me? How about Denver general manager John Elway, who told DenverBroncos.com, "He's a bell-cow type."
Elway continued: "First and second down. With the size that he has and he's got good speed ... heads downhill. He's a guy that we needed. We needed a thumper." Hey, John, we ALL need a thumper. But it looks as if Denver got one and he ain't lying about them needing one, because Elway has realized Devontae Booker isn't very good. (3.24 yards per carry for his career in games when getting 10-plus carries, and just one of his 253 career carries has gained 20-plus yards). This is a team that wants to run (eighth in rushing attempts last season) and play good defense while Case Keenum keeps them honest. I'm asked all the time who is this year's Kareem Hunt? And while I am not predicting Freeman leads the NFL in rushing the way Hunt did last season, he is a rookie running back going in the fifth round who will significantly outperform his ADP. My favorite rookie RB after Barkley this year, enjoy the smooth ride of the Rolls Royce - damn it. I did it, too.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets: The least sexy of all the unsexy picks with a terrible nickname, The Crow's undervalued fantasy stock has risen even more because of the injury to Elijah McGuire. Not sure if you saw this Rich Cimini tweet earlier this year, but Rich, who does a great job covering the team for us, said, "The Jets see [Bilal] Powell as a complementary back. He's more effective when he stays under 170 carries. If they don't think McGuire can share the load, they'll have to find someone." Find someone they did. I've always liked Crowell, a talented if inconsistent player. Just 25 years old, he and modern miracle Frank Gore are the only two RBs with at least 100 carries in each of the past four years to have played in all 16 games every season. Stuck in a dysfunctional situation in Cleveland, things should be better (not a ton, but better) in New York. The Jets will be a decent offense and will stick with the run more than Cleveland. The Browns ran the ball a league-low 33 percent of the time last season, while the Jets, under Todd Bowles, are top 10 in total rushing attempts the past three years. A better pass catcher than he gets credit for (68 receptions the past two years), I could see Crowell carving out a true three-down back role on the Jets. He's 17th in total fantasy points the past three years, he's a year removed from a top-15 season and he has never finished worse than 33rd in that time frame. On the Browns. Currently going as RB29, he's being drafted at his absolute floor when he's in a better playing time situation and a better offense. No one will ooh and aah when you draft him, but he's the kind of ninth-round pick who wins fantasy leagues.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots: It's always a fool's errand trying to predict New England running backs, but, you know, I'm a fool. They used a first-round pick on Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill is looking good in the preseason and James White is clearly the passing-down back and all will be used, but screw it, I say (assuming health) Burkhead ends up with the most PPR fantasy points. After their bye last season, Burkhead had more carries from the 5-yard line and in than the rest of the team combined. And he missed two games! Remember, 15 of the Patriots' rushing scores came in goal-to-go situations and Rex's versatility (30 catches in 10 games last season) gives them flexibility in terms of playcalling. Patriots RBs ran 55 slot routes last season and it's certainly something we'll see Burkhead do, especially with Julian Edelman out for the first four games. There's risk there because it wouldn't shock me if Michel or Hill became the goal-line back, but right now Rex has Tom's and Josh's trust more than a banged-up rookie or the new guy on the team. He's a great flex-with-upside type currently going in the 10th round.
Others receiving votes: I have Jerick McKinnon and Joe Mixon currently ranked 14th and 15th, respectively, and that's where they are being drafted, so it's hard to call either of them a "love." Can we say appropriately priced? But I do like both players this year to meet or exceed draft-day cost. I'm in on the 49ers' offense this year (top three in the NFL in RB receptions and targets last year), with McKinnon as the PPR RB you want there. Pass-catching RBs are a staple of Kyle Shanahan's offense. Meanwhile, Mixon quietly averaged better than five yards a carry the final four games he played last season and, in theory, the Bengals' offense line should be much improved. ... Speaking of ending on a strong note, Marshawn Lynch got at least 19 touches in five of his final six games last season and is running as hard as ever (2.47 yards after contact last year, fifth most in the NFL). Lynch will be an underrated flex this year with RB2 upside. ... I get the lack of enthusiasm with Lamar Miller, but Alfred Blue doesn't scare me, D'Onta Foreman is still hurt and Miller averaged 15.4 points in the six games Deshaun Watson started, ranking as RB14 in that span. He's currently going as RB25. ...Tarik Cohen is being moved all over the field in early Bears practices, and when I spoke with Matt Nagy at the NFL combine, he was effusive in his praise of the versatile (and fast) running back. Think a poor man's Tyreek Hill and you've got a bargain in PPR leagues in the 10th round, which is where he's currently going. ... There is understandable excitement around rookie RBs drafted high, but Chris Carson (RB44, 14th round) and Peyton Barber (RB62, undrafted), in that order, will both out-earn their ADP. Carson will start the season as the guy for Seattle and it will take some time for Rashaad Penny to unseat him. Barber was 15th in rushing yards the final five games last year and this has nothing to do with fantasy football. I just think it's awesome: Barber left Auburn early to enter the NFL draft because his mother was homeless and he wanted to buy her a house. ... All of the Colts' young RBs are worth taking a flier on at their ADP -- I have Marlon Mack ranked higher than Jordan Wilkins, but I will say, regardless of either, I like Nyheim Hines in PPR, especially after hearing what coaches told him when I was at the NFLPA rookie premiere. ... My answer to the question "Who is this year's Alvin Kamara?" is Packers RB Aaron Jones. Like Kamara, he starts the year third on the depth chart of an explosive offense. Like Kamara, he's a big-play threat (he averaged a 15-plus-yard rush once every 10.1 carries. Among qualified RBs, only Kamara had a better rate). And like Kamara, when he got a shot, he produced. Jones was RB8 in total points in Weeks 4 through 7 last year, the only games in which he got 10-plus touches. The two-game suspension hurts, but I believe by the second half of the year, the Packers RB you'll want is Jones. ... I'm not a Kenyan Drake guy (foreshadowing the "hate" list) and I'm not sure how much Frank Gore has left. Kalen Ballage is 6-foot-2, 237 pounds and ran a 4.46 40. I don't think they used him correctly in college and yet, he still had 20 rushing touchdowns and 64 receptions in his final two years at college. Ballage has a lot of critics, my colleague Mike Clay among them, but he's big, he's fast, he can catch and he's FREE, going undrafted in ESPN leagues right now. It's not hard to see a path to him having a fantasy-relevant role this year. ... Finally, Jay Ajayi is very polarizing and while I am more pro-Ajayi than anti, even the most optimistic Ajayi fan would be hard-pressed to argue that Corey Clement has a very good shot at blowing way past his current ADP of RB57.
Running backs I hate in 2018
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins: He was awesome down the stretch last season. Big, chunk play and catching passes, he helped many a team into the fantasy playoffs. And it is totally repeatable! At least, that's what the folks drafting him as RB18 think. They don't care that there is a chance of a true running back by committee (RBBC) with Frank Gore or that the aforementioned Ballage could vulture TDs. They don't care that Drake converted just 8.3 percent of his RZ carries into score, well below the NFL average of 16.6 percent. They don't care that, of the 47 RBs with at least 100 carries last season, only five lost yardage on a higher percentage of their carries than Drake (15.8 percent). They don't care that last season he was very big-play dependent, as 37.9 percent of his rushing yards came on 30-plus yard rushes (the highest rate of the 47 RBs who had at least 100 carries. The other 46 gained 10.2 percent of their rushing yards on big plays). They willfully ignore the fact that Drake managed those 30-plus-yard carries on 4.5 percent of his carries, the highest rate in the past six NFL seasons. Yes, big plays were a part of his college career, so it's in his skill set, but since 2012, there have been eight RBs who had a 30-plus-yard carry rate of higher than 2.5 percent. The average "big play" rate the FOLLOWING season was just 1.1 percent. He's a committee back being drafted as if he's not. No thanks.
Jordan Howard, Bears: At some point, the hate on Howard will go too far. But that moment isn't right now, as he's still being drafted as RB16 in the fourth round, ahead of WRs like Tyreek Hill, Doug Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas and RBs like Royce Freeman, among others. A poor fit for the ideal version of Matt Nagy's offense, Howard has dropped 13.9 percent of his targets in his NFL career, the third-highest rate among RBs in that time frame. I realize the Bears were bad last season and there are lots of reasons for optimism that there will be more scoring opportunities, so that should bode well ... if he's in there when they score. Not all of his issues last season were his fault, but the fact remains Howard lost yardage on 15.9 percent of his carries, the fifth-highest rate among qualified RBs. I have Howard as (barely) a top-20 RB myself, so this is more "not crazy about" than pure "hate," but in the early fourth round there are a lot of WRs I like more than Howard. This has more to do with where he is going overall in PPR leagues than his standing among RBs. Either way, until we see it, we have no idea how Nagy will use him and how much the Bears will pass when they get in close. Last season, Howard had 11 goal-to-go rushes. By comparison, Mitchell Trubisky and Tarik Cohen combined for 11 in more limited playing time. And that much unknown is too much risk for me early in the fourth.
Mark Ingram, Saints: If I believe Drew Brees has positive regression, then it's coming from somewhere and I say Ingram is the first place to look. He scored on 41.2 percent of his goal-to-go carries last season (his career rate is 26.3 percent), so I don't see Ingram coming close to scoring as many touchdowns this season. He's also suspended for the first four games of 2018, and I expect Alvin Kamara to ... wait for it... run away with this job. Or maybe he already did. In Weeks 3 through 10 last season, Ingram was seventh in the NFL with 18.6 carries a game. In Weeks 11 through 17, he was 30th in the league with 12.3 carries a game. Ingram ran 19 times for 47 yards in the postseason last season. He scored five rushing touchdowns during that second half, so you didn't notice but that usage makes me nervous, especially considering Kamara's emergence and positive regression coming for Brees' passing touchdowns. And when I see him going ahead of Crowell, Dion Lewis, Burkhead, Cohen and WRs like Chris Hogan or Corey Davis for eight weeks of regular-season fantasy football, I'm out.
Wide receivers I love in 2018
Amari Cooper, Raiders: Brutal. He was BRU-TAL last season. But still only 24 years old, he is just one of seven wide receivers with five or more TD catches in each of the past three seasons. However, even when you figure in last season's disappointing campaign, like many people, Cooper produces when he gets work. For his career, when Cooper gets 10-plus targets he averages 21.8 fantasy PPG. When he gets eight-plus targets, he averages 18.0 PPG. And with Michael Crabtree gone ... you know, the Michael Crabtree who was eighth in the NFL in total targets and third in end zone targets while playing alongside Cooper in Oakland, yeah, that Crabtree ... well, he's in Baltimore now. In fact, adding in other offseason losses for the Raiders, 42.2 percent of their 2017 end zone targets are now up for grabs. It's been a minute, as the kids used to say, but in the 11 years Jon Gruden has been a head coach, his teams have always had at least one 1,000-yard receiver, and I say Cooper makes it 12 this season. I've been talking him up so much the past month (including 29 straight hours on TV) that I feel like at least someone is listening. His ADP has risen six spots since my 100 Facts column came out (which was also very pro-Cooper), but I still think he's being undervalued. He's a potential WR1 going as a low-end WR2 these days. All-in.
Chris Hogan, Patriots: This one might be even more baffling to me. People have clearly forgotten what Hogan did last season before getting hurt, as he's currently going as WR29, in the eighth round. Hogan was a top-10 WR at the point when he got injured, he was tied for fourth in the NFL in red zone targets and that included two more targets than teammate Rob Gronkowski. Among the 73 WRs with at least 70 catches since the beginning of 2016, Hogan ranks fourth in terms of fantasy points per catch (3.3). So, he just needs volume. Well, now that he is fully healthy and with Brandin Cooks in L.A. and Julian Edelman suspended for four games (and coming off injury), whom do you think Tom Brady is going to throw to? Exactly. Is saying Hogan catches four balls a game this season a stretch? Four catches per game would mean 64 catches for the season (since 2011, an average of two players per season have eclipsed 64 receptions for the Patriots). In Hogan's past 16 games with at least four catches, he has 237.7 PPR points. Last season, 237.7 points would have finished between Adam Thielen and A.J. Green for WR10. Dude. Dudette. What are we all doing here? A versatile WR who can play outside or in the slot, there is no way a healthy Chris Hogan doesn't easily beat his low WR29 draft price.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: Already undervalued, Baldwin had some sort of mysterious "knee issue" pop up and now he's really sinking, currently going as WR18, in the fifth round. Reports are that he will be ready for the start of the season, but no doubt there is risk there, so I get it. But I also think it's a ridiculous price for the guy who has the second-most receiving touchdowns over the past three seasons. Only Antonio Brown has more. And then when you consider that he produced the second-most scores while ranking 33rd in red zone targets during that stretch and that Jimmy Graham (no player has more red zone targets than him the past two years) is now in Green Bay, well, it's easy to see the potential. In fact, add in Paul Richardson, who is now in Washington, and 175 total targets are up for grabs and there's no obvious candidate to get them. Even if the Seahawks follow through with a more run-heavy approach, Baldwin will still be the focal point in the passing game for one of the best QBs in football. Baldwin is entering the best fantasy opportunity of his NFL career, so even with the risk, he is a bargain at WR18.
Davante Adams, Packers: An obvious name, I'm just throwing him in here because I have him at WR7 and he's currently going somewhere between WR8-10. I have him ahead of A.J. Green and believe he is in the WR1 tier (some say he's in WR2 territory). Adams is also going in the third round overall and I have him as a mid-second-rounder. Over the past eight years, the Packers' top pass-catcher has averaged 11.8 TD receptions. Already the only player with 10-plus TD catches in each of the past two seasons, his 40 red zone targets the past two seasons rank second in the NFL. Yes, the player with the most is new Packers tight end Jimmy Graham with 41, but still. Graham doesn't have the chemistry with A-Rod that Adams does and there's no Jordy Nelson anymore. Adams averaged 7.3 targets per game in the six games with Rodgers last season, and I expect that number to increase this season.
Devin Funchess, Panthers: This season, Norv Turner and Cam Newton are going to put the "Fun" in Funchess. I may be drunk. Even still, since Funchess entered the league, he has 13 TDs on red zone throws (no other Panther has more than six in that span). He had five scores in his final seven games last season, he is tall, he is fast and if history holds, he is a perfect fit for what Norv has traditionally liked to do with his No. 1 WR. Yes, Greg Olsen is back and I am intrigued by DJ Moore's talent, but for this season at least, the 24-year-old Funchess is a bargain at his current WR34 and ninth-round draft-day price. I have him as a sixth-rounder.
Corey Davis, Titans: Titan up! Corey Davis owes me. It's that simple. After hyping him all last season and stashing him on my bench for most of the season, a bad hammy and whatever that was that Marcus Mariota pretended was QB play killed his value all season. But in that playoff loss to the Patriots, Davis showed his immense potential (5 catches on 8 targets for 63 yards and 2 TDs). He saw at least seven targets in six games last season and with Eric Decker gone, 83 big targets are up for grabs. Davis received greater than a 20 percent target share last season, and I expect that number to go up and for him to become a true No. 1 WR for Tennessee in a season in which Mariota can't possibly be worse than he was in 2017. Davis is a popular breakout pick among the fantasy community. I've been a member of the bandwagon for two years now and this is the season he pays me back, especially at his WR40, eighth-round draft price.
Others receiving votes: One of only two receivers to have at least 8 TDs in each of the past three seasons, Michael Crabtree lands in a solid spot in Baltimore, where Joe Flacco's top target (when he is healthy) has averaged 115 targets per season. Last season, every WR who saw more than 105 targets finished in the top 30 at the position in total fantasy points and they accounted for 17 of the top 18 spots in the WR ranks (Tyreek Hill being the lone exception). ... I'm actually not even a Flacco fan, but as long as we are talking Baltimore, I also think John Brown and Willie Snead make good late-round fliers. ... Josh Gordon has a very wide range of outcomes and, of course, tons of risk, but you're either in or you're out on Gordon. He is a perfect fit for Tyrod Taylor's arm. I'm in. ... From 2014 to '16, Emmanuel Sanders was one of six WRs with at least 1,000 receiving yards AND five receiving TDs in all three seasons. Now healthy and with a real QB, Sanders isn't sexy, but he will bounce back from last season and beat his low ADP of WR28. ... He needs to stay healthy (don't we all?), but with Jordy Nelson gone, Randall Cobb will see an increase in looks and is worth a flier in Round 9. ... Don't tell Stephania because I'll never hear the end of it, but I buy her Marquise Goodwin love, especially in Round 10 as WR36. If you couldn't tell, I'm in on San Francisco this season. ... Just like with Corey Davis, I may have been a year too early on Kenny Golladay. But the 6-foot-4 "BabyTron," as my friend JJ calls him, is healthy and due for a big uptick in looks, especially in the red zone. ... Speaking of size, Josh Doctson is 6-foot-3 with a 43-inch vertical. From Week 7 on last season, the only wide receiver to see more end zone targets than Doctson was DeAndre Hopkins. A breakout year is coming for Doctson. ... Doctson is a former first-round pick, as is Mike Williams of the Chargers. With no Hunter Henry (ACL injury), a fully healthy Williams has a chance to really step up in the red zone this season. ... Last season, when the Rams got close and they didn't give it to Todd Gurley, they looked for my little Cooper Kupp. Kupp tied with Dez Bryant and Davante Adams for the fourth-most red zone targets in the NFL last season (20), more than any two of his teammates combined. He'll play the slot and continue to be a safety blanket for Jared Goff. ... Over the past five seasons, the No. 2 wide receiver in Drew Brees' offense is averaging a tick above 890 receiving yards and five receiving scores per season. Gimme some Cameron Meredith, especially in Round 14. ... Jarvis Landry accounted for 51.4 percent of slot targets and 57.1 percent of slot receptions for the Dolphins last season. Landry is now in Cleveland, as HBO viewers are well aware. Enter Danny Amendola, who, as long as he is healthy, will be much better than his current ADP of WR65 suggests. ... Wide receiver is crazy-deep, but for those in deeper leagues, here are some other names I like at the end of drafts (these are guys I believe will be the No. 2 or 3 WRs for solid offenses): Geronimo Allison (Packers), Ryan Grant (Colts), Brice Butler (Cardinals), Jaron Brown (Seahawks), Anthony Miller (Bears) and Michael Gallup (Cowboys).
Wide receivers I hate in 2018
Sammy Watkins, Chiefs: On his third team in three years, Watkins is averaging 9.97 fantasy points per game during the past two seasons, 52nd among WRs with at least 10 games played in that span. I get that he is fast and talented and has a big-armed QB throwing it to him in KC. I thought it was a good NFL move for the Chiefs to get him. I just don't want him on my fantasy team. Health is always an issue and Sammy has never caught more than 65 passes in a season. Last season, Watkins scored on eight of 39 catches (20.5 percent). The NFL average for a WR is 7.5 percent, so yeah, touchdown regression is coming in 2018, especially when you think about all the other mouths to feed in KC. Under Andy Reid, the No. 2 WR in KC has averaged less than eight fantasy points a game in PPR. I get that Watkins is more talented than who he has had in there before, but still, there is just the one ball, you know? Watkins will have a few huge games this season, but good luck figuring out when they will be. He's going in the same round as, and often ahead of, Chris Hogan and Corey Davis, guys I like as safer bets and better upside picks (just depends what you want) for your eighth-round pick.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: It's not the talent and it's not even the QB -- I'm in on Luck staying healthy. It's the consistency. Over the past three years, per Tristan's consistency ratings, Hilton was a "stiff" (51st or worse at the position in a given week) ... 20 times. What? I get that some of that is Jacoby Brissett-induced, but if you take out last season, it's 15 "starts" and 9 "stiffs" in the past two years with Luck as his primary QB. Nine different weeks where he was NOT a top-50 WR? Yeesh. Hilton is a deep threat who can disappear for long stretches, yet he is currently going in the top 10 among WRs. He's way too boom or bust for me to be a WR1. You need rock-solid, high-floor production from a WR1 and that's just not his game. And while I think Luck stays healthy, there's a decent chance I'm wrong. What the hell do I know? I just gave up the most successful thing I do at ESPN. Without Luck last season, Hilton's start percentage was 31.3. He is very Luck-dependent and for a WR1, that's too risky for me.
A.J. Green, Bengals: Look, I have him as my WR10, so I clearly think he'll have a productive fantasy season. But he's currently going as WR7 at the end of the second round, and if I am picking at the end of the second round, I would much rather have Davante Adams or a running back than Green. Green is a mid-to-late third-rounder for me, which means it's unlikely I roster him this season. He had only three games with 85-plus yards last season and is coming off the lowest reception rate of his career (54 percent). Green eclipsed 15 points just five times last season. For reference, Cooper Kupp and Nelson Agholor had more. Now on the wrong side of 30, he's played all 16 games just twice in the past four years. Even if he stays healthy, he scored on 85.7 percent of his red zone receptions last season (6 of 7). His career rate prior to last season was 57.4 percent. So yeah, I think there is regression coming for his touchdowns. Andy Dalton hasn't thrown for more than 25 touchdowns since 2013, so it's unlikely that there's a sudden explosion there, and getting John Ross and Tyler Eifert back healthy (I know, just go with it) could, in theory, take some potential scores away as well. I just knocked T.Y. Hilton for consistency, and well, Green was 27th in consistency ratings last season. That's ugly for a guy going as WR7.
Jordy Nelson, Raiders: Maybe he has something left in the tank, but nothing last season suggested he does. His fantasy value came from the touchdowns and it will be hard to get the chemistry with Derek Carr that he had with Aaron Rodgers. Nelson is 33 years old and coming off a season in which he didn't have one game of more than 80 yards, even with A-Rod. You know how I feel about Carr, and when reporters are talking about Ryan Switzer as the second Raiders WR you want, it's time to use that 10th-round pick on a wideout with a lot more upside, like Josh Doctson, Marqise Lee, Kenny Golladay, Jamison Crowder, DJ Moore and others who are going after him.
Marvin Jones Jr., Lions: Jones' ADP of WR23 a season after being WR11 in fantasy means we all agree he is going to regress from last season, the question is just how much. I think a little further than his ADP suggests and it starts with Golladay. In the five games last season that Golladay was out, Jones averaged 10.2 targets. But in the 11 games Golladay played, Jones averaged just 5.1 targets. He was still a productive fantasy WR in those games, but the likelihood of him continuing that rate with such low volume isn't ideal. Jones is a big-play threat who is capable of being a difference-maker in any one given week, but as I noted in "love," I believe Golladay takes a big step this year. If this is the case, Jones' ADP as a flex play in ESPN leagues is a bit too tough to justify. Jones has caught just 32.3 percent of his red zone targets since joining the Lions in 2016 (all other Lions sit at 62.5 percent during that stretch), so if the big plays decline and he isn't efficient in the red zone, you're looking at a player who carries much more downside than his current ADP would suggest.
Tight ends I love in 2018
Jordan Reed, Redskins: Listen, I know. I know. Don't bother yelling homer. I know, OK, I know. Reed misses plenty of time. Believe me, as a Redskins fan, I'm well aware. And he has been hurting fantasy managers for years with his injuries. Stephania actually had an intervention for me about Reed on The Fantasy Show on ESPN+. But here's why I am back in: His crazy-low ADP of TE9 (ninth round) now has all the risk baked in. And the reward outweighs the risk. Consider this: Reed trails only Rob Gronkowski in terms of points per game at the tight end position over the past three seasons. There is actually a wider gap between TE3 and Reed than there is between Reed and Gronk during that stretch. In those same three seasons, Reed's new QB, Alex Smith, outperformed his old QB (Kirk Cousins) in terms of percentage of completions to TEs and QBR when targeting the position. In the ninth round, getting a guy who will win you the week at the position is very much worth the risk, especially when you can pair him with Vernon Davis.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings: Rudolph is the only tight end to have at least five touchdown receptions in each of the past three seasons. And now he gets to catch passes from the QB who ranks first in completions, third in completion percentage, third in passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns to the TE position in that span? That'll work. I understand that there are a lot of mouths to feed in Minnesota, but with Rudolph ranking as the third-most-targeted player in the red zone during the past two seasons (trailing only Jimmy Graham and Davante Adams), his floor resembles that of the elite, but his ADP doesn't.
Trey Burton, Bears: Last season was an ugly one for the Bears, but better times are ahead and I think it starts with Burton. There is no questioning that there is role potential here, as Burton profiles as a slot threat and Chicago needs slot help. Like, really needs it. The Bears ranked 30th in slot receiving yards last season and got all of two receiving touchdowns from that spot. Two. Chicago TEs earned a 21.2 percent target share last season, a rate that ranked 12th, and with the slot role being his to lose, there is a clear path for Burton's volume of looks to result in a top-10 finish.
Others receiving votes: The impact of a healthy Andrew Luck is far greater than the addition of Eric Ebron. I mean, it's Eric Ebron. Luck has a track record of keeping his tight end fed, and I don't think Jack Doyle's 80 receptions last season were an accident. The Colts will play a lot of two-TE sets this season, especially with the pass-catching options outside of T.Y. Hilton not very established. ... George Kittle peaked down the stretch last season (TE3 in Weeks 15-17) and I'll gladly get some exposure to the Jimmy G experience by way of his ADP at TE18. As you may have heard, I am in on San Fran's offense this year. ... As is required by fantasy analyst law, I too like David Njoku, regardless of who is under center in Cleveland. ... All the nice things I said about Jordan Reed's QB situation apply to Vernon Davis as well. During his eight games with the Redskins in which he played at least 55 snaps, Davis has averaged 9.43 PPG, a rate that would have landed him as TE10 last season. I love Reed, but if he goes down, there is a TE1 waiting in the wings. Remember, 50 percent of Davis' career touchdowns were thrown by Alex Smith. I expect Davis to run more of the traditional TE routes Kelce ran in KC, whereas Reed is actually a slot WR posing as a TE. ... Vance McDonald and Ricky Seals-Jones are both free in drafts right now, but have enough upside to make them flier-worthy in deeper formats. McDonald was targeted on more than 21 percent of his routes last season and with the Steelers finishing 2017 as the 10th-most target friendly to TEs in the red zone, those targets could turn into a handful of touchdowns. As for RSJ, the plan last season was to get him the ball when he was on the field (targeted on a crazy 42.1 percent of his routes) and I expect him to be on the field more often this season to either play to Sam Bradford's strengths or make Josh Rosen more comfortable.
Tight ends I hate in 2018
Jimmy Graham, Packers: Look at the résumé and Graham is a tough fade, but fantasy football is a game of opportunity and I'm just not buying it in 2018 for Jimmy at his current ADP of TE7 (and I've seen him go as high as TE5). You would think that playing with Aaron Rodgers would increase the value for all involved, but just 17 percent of Rodgers' touchdown passes during the past decade have gone to the TE position and the Packers haven't produced a top-10 tight end since Jermichael Finley in 2011. That means that when Rodgers was at the peak of his powers (QB1 from 2014-16), the tight end wasn't much of a thing. In fact, during that stretch, the Packers ranked 25th in TE points. And that is with the most productive QB in the game. I've used that analysis each of the past few years and every year, people argue with me. They yelled when I had Martellus Bennett on the hate list last year, they yelled at me when I had Jared Cook on it before that. "He's never played with a QB like Rodgers!!"
Look, I get that, even at this stage of his career, Graham is not Bennett or Cook. But still, he didn't have one game of more than 75 yards last season, he is very touchdown dependent for his fantasy value and he's competing for looks in the red zone with Adams, Cobb and the running backs. Hey, when you are on the field with Rodgers great things can happen, but an aging player coming off of his worst yards-per-catch season of his career entering an offense that doesn't feature the TE ... that's why he's my TE10, which means he's unlikely to be on any of my teams this season.
Jared Cook, Raiders: Death, taxes and Jared Cook on the hate list. He has appeared on this list on a regular basis, and with three touchdowns in the past three regular seasons combined, he has earned it. I'm told that catching the ball goes a long way toward producing fantasy numbers, so the fact that Cook has dropped 4.9 percent of his targets in those three seasons (including 5.9 percent last season) seems like a bad thing. Forty-two games. Three touchdowns. Not a typo. I will miss writing Love/Hate, but perhaps I'll miss putting Cook on the hate list most of all.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers: Brate was a nice story in the early going last season (TE6 through Week 5), but he scored just twice from that point forward (both in the same game against the Packers) and was TE19 on a per-game basis from Week 6 forward. Why did his production drop? O.J. Howard's snaps per game jumped by more than 25 percent from Weeks 10 to 14, relative to the first nine weeks of the season. The Bucs took Howard with the 19th pick of the 2017 draft, and with him scoring three times in his final five games, things seem to be trending more in his favor. It's the dreaded TEBC (tight end by committee) and with inconsistent QB play, there are better bets in the mid-TE2 range.
And with that, the last-ever-written Love/Hate is in the books. Probably. I reserve the right to wake up at some point, realize this was all a horrible mistake and walk it back. But for now, yeah, this is it.
There are way too many people to thank, but in addition to Keith and Pierre, back when I was doing the old TMR site, I used to write a version of the column for The Sporting News, and my friend Brendan Roberts edited me there, so I wanted to thank him. Kyle Soppe, Mackenzie Kraemer, John Parolin, Jacob Nitzberg, Zach Jones and many others at ESPN Stats & Information have contributed to this column over the years. Thanks to Dan Kaufman, Nate Ravitz, Rob King, Chad Millman, Patrick Stiegman, John Kosner, John Walsh and everyone at ESPN Fantasy through the years who has fought for and supported this column. I want to thank the tireless folks on the copy desk at ESPN.com. I do not make their job easy, that is for sure. Thank you for your help and patience.
But mostly I want to thank you. For reading, for interacting, for giving feedback, even when it wasn't positive, for putting up with bad calls and worse jokes, for reaching out when you liked something you read, for reading this far and for reading all these years. It remains my great love, a true honor and a tremendous privilege to have gotten to do this for this long.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is nervous, sad and excited all at once. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.