July and August are the best time of the year for fantasy football. We all start to formulate strategies, plant our flags, and decide who we will yell at on TV for the rest of the year. That’s right, it’s fantasy football draft season! One key to winning your leagues is zeroing in on the right talent who will outperform their draft stock. Avoiding busts is equally, if not more important. With that in mind, and as a quick hitter, we here at Football Absurdity would like to prime you with the players to target, and the players to avoid, in your fantasy football drafts, team-by-team. What’s the difference between a sleeper and a breakout, you ask? I don’t know, why don’t you tell me, tough guy? You seem to have all the answers.
Sleeper – Qadree Ollison, Running Back (Expert Consensus Rank: RB110, 398 overall)
This is one of the deepest sleepers in this whole series, and it will take a very specific set of events for Ollison to return on this value, but he does represent a big upside play in the Falcons offense. First, who is Qadree Ollison? Ollison is a fifth-round rookie running back out of PItt. He isn’t exactly agile, and at 6’2”, 230 pounds he profiles more as a guy who runs through defenders than runs around defenders. Also, he doesn’t catch the ball. At all.
How will he be a sleeper? One of two ways. First, and the more likely way, is an injury to Devonta Freeman. Despite Freeman’s injury-prone label, outside of last season, he’s been remarkably durable since coming to prominence in the NFL. We’ve already seen what Ito Smith does with the football, and it isn’t exactly the prettiest thing in the world. If Freeman goes down, they likely turn to a committee with Ollison and Smith making up the one-two punch, with Ollison handling the first and second-down duties and Smith coming in on passing situations. The other path to production for Ollison is an injury or ineffectiveness from Ito. Ollison isn’t the kind of guy you draft in most fantasy football leagues, but if you’re in a deep draft, fire away.
Breakout – Austin Hooper, Tight End (Expert Consensus Rank: TE11, 116 overall)
With Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley streaking out wide, someone needs to be the underneath target for Matt Ryan in 2019. That guy will be Austin Hooper, and the Falcons showed down the stretch last season that they wanted to lean on him more than your average tight end. In week ten last season, the Falcons figured out that they really liked what happened when they threw the ball to Hooper, so they did it a lot. From weeks ten through seventeen last season, Hooper ranked sixth among tight end targets. He ranked as TE7 in half-PPR during this stretch.
We like targets, a lot. Some philosophers say that a man without targets, is a man without catches, and a man without catches, is a man without fantasy football points. I think that was in Art of WR.
Do you know what’s also a lot of fun? Red zone targets, and more specifically, ten zone targets. Austin Hooper tied for third last season among tight ends with ten such targets, with only Jared Cook and Travis Kelce ahead of him. In fact, Hooper tied for the eighth-most ten zone targets last season, with T.Y. Hilton and Zach Ertz. The target volume Hooper received after week ten, and the ten zone targets he had all season make him a shoo-in to return better-than-value production as TE11. Hey, he could even be this season’s Eric Ebron; a guy who gets a ton of touchdowns through luck and volume. Except, unlike Ebron, instead of Luck, it’ll be Ryan. Matt Ryan, like, how Eric Ebron had Andrew Luck. You get it. You get what I mean.
Bust – Ito Smith, Running Back (Expert Consensus Rank: RB41, 117 overall)
Like several guys in the bust category in this series, this represents a pushback against a breakout narrative for Ito Smith. I can do it in three words: he’s not good.
I can do it in more words if you want, but you already got everything you need right there. Peak Ito Smith last season happened from weeks four through nine last season (they had a bye week in here, so it’s only five games). In this timeframe, Ito had Peak Ito Time, wherein he was a barely useful flex, coming in as RB33 in this span. He had four touchdowns, which buoyed his value greatly. While the bye week definitely dragged down his value, it’s worth noting that he finished inside the top-24 twice (RB23 in week four, and RB16 in week nine). This was Ito’s big break to become the Tevin Coleman to Tevin Coleman’s… Devonta Freeman. Yeah, that sentence tracks. He bombed it, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry (his futility hitting Ronald Jonesian levels at a robust 2.05 yards per carry in weeks four, five and six) and getting most of his value off fluky touchdowns.
The kicker? Qadree Ollison is now nipping at his heels. It’s more likely that it’s a committee back approach behind Freeman than it is the normal Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman split we’ve come to know and love in Atlanta. He’s not a guy I’m interested in having on any of my rosters, since he will be a destitute man’s Tevin Coleman unless Freeman gets hurt, and even then, he doesn’t have the upside appeal of a Tevin Coleman if Freeman goes down.