Fantasy Football: Your Vance McDonald Sleeper Sucks

Once again, the calendar has turned itself to May, and try as we might, the inexorable march of time continues. We find ourselves in the long, dark offseason of fantasy football content. OTAs don’t yield anything of value (except ACL tears), and there’s nothing to look forward to for the next couple of months. No drafts, no games, nothing but endless fantasy football speculation from now until August. Every offseason appears to be different at the surface, but every offseason has its consistent fantasy football storylines. One of these consistent storylines is imminent the Vance McDonald breakout campaign. While this makes for great offseason fodder, it generally follows a very predictable pattern that is patently not true and is a dangerous path to follow. In the inaugural edition of Your Sleeper Sucks, let’s crack the code on the Vance McDonald… Mc… Delusion.

First, the siren song of health lures in an unsuspecting victim. You’ll get something like prorated targets, or market share in starts, or something else that obscures the fact that Vance McDonald has never played in a full season.  It isn’t that McDonald has had fluky season-ending injuries, he just gets hurt… a lot. Per, he’s had the following injuries since 2010:

Shoulder (unspecified—two surgeries) (college)
Turf toe (college)
Right ankle sprain
Right knee injury (unspecified)
Disc hernia (surgery—IR)
Hip sprain
Shoulder (unspecified—IR)
Back spasms
Knee bruise
Right ankle sprain
Shoulder (unspecified)
Foot (unspecified)

That list includes eleven different injuries throughout his six professional seasons and two IR trips, and two injuries in college. He has missed an average of 3.8 games per season throughout his six-year career. But don’t let anyone tell you that “injury prone” is a valid label.

Second, and this is especially valid this season, is [player x] has left and that vacates [y amount] of targets for ol’ Vance McDonald. This season, the departures of Antonio Brown and Jesse James have vacated so many targets for Vance McDonald and this should boost his fantasy football value! Brown and James leave 207 targets from the Steelers 2018 campaign to get snapped up by Vance. Sounds like a lot to go around! Well, of course, that’s a lot to go around. That’s why James Washington will get far more than the 38 targets he got last season. And that’s also why the Steelers went out and got Donte Moncrief, a quality wide receiver in free agency. Also, they snagged Diontae Johnson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But other than making room for those three guys, there are plenty of targets for Vance McDonald!

That certainly gums up the works on those 207 targets, doesn’t it? Do you know what else gums up the works on those targets? The targets. Big Ben threw the ball an absolutely astounding 675 times last season, which led all NFL passers. Those targets are 11% more than his second-most passes in a season, and amount to nine more passes per game than his career average.

Let’s be generous and knock his pass attempts down to just 600 (instead of his average of 531 per sixteen games). All of a sudden those 207 vacated targets drop down to 132 targets. Throw Donte Moncrief, say, 5 targets per game. That’s 80 targets. 52 targets remaining. James Washington is going to take on a bigger role. Call it an extra 2 targets a contest, or 32 extra targets. 20 targets remaining. You don’t think they’ll get their third-round pick 20 targets? They gave Ryan Switzer 44, which is going to drop drastically, but those targets are going towards Dionte, Moncrief, and Washington, not towards Vance McDonald. Doesn’t leave a lot left for Vance McDonald, does it?

But Ben Roethlisberger loves his tight ends, they’ll say. He loves them. That’s why he throws 4.44 passes per game to his TE1 in his career. That comes out to 71 targets. How many targets did Vance McDonald get last year (with vastly more passes attempted by Big Ben)? 73. There’s simply not a portion of the pie that ends up cut in a way that gets Vance McDonald the massive increase in targets that his believers envision.

Well, maybe Vance McDonald will soak up all those Patented Pittsburgh Steelers Tight End Touchdowns. About those touchdowns… From 2008 to 2018, the Steelers never topped ten touchdowns to the position, and they averaged just under five touchdowns per season. Again, the pie in Pittsburgh is not chopped up in a way that is conducive to a huge breakout season for McDonald. But, I mean, other than that, and the targets, and the injuries, things are going to be great!

There you have it. A Vance McDonald top-five campaign is unlikely, and his TE10 season last year is likely his 2019 outcome if he can stay healthy. Many fantasy football prognosticators are banking on his per-game stats to bear out over a whole season. His track record tells us that this won’t be the case. His advocates will also preach an opening up of the Steelers passing game. Big Ben’s track record tells us that won’t happen. Ultimately, the Vance McDonald breakout campaign is one of fantasy football’s most overhyped proposed eventualities.

And to that, I say: Your Sleeper Sucks.

About Jeff Krisko

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