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.
Breakout – Curtis Samuel, Wide Receiver (Expert Consensus Rank: WR39, 94 overall)
The simplest, base-level reason to believe in a Curtis Samuel breakout is the well-worn third-year wide receiver breakout canard we all like to trot out when we run out of reasons why we like a wide receiver. Well, I trotted it out first, so you can’t accuse me of doing it because I was out of ideas.
The real reason I like Curtis Samuel: a partial-season sample size, oh yeah! In the last five games of Carolina’s season, Samuel wrested the WR2 position away from human trash fire Devin Funchess and averaged 8 targets a game en route to a 64-catch, 954-yard, three touchdown pace. While the touchdowns are questionable, it’s mostly a question of endpoints: he had 8 touchdowns on the season.
Give Samuel the pace yardage and catches and the season-long touchdown total, and you’re looking at a projection of 11.0 fantasy points per game (good enough for WR16 in 2018). He also dominated air yards in that span, turning in a 32% market share, which was more than Amari Cooper and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the same timeframe, and well ahead of his teammate, D.J. Moore (22% market share). Everything is in place for Curtis Samuel to make a huge leap forward, and he is one of my favorite fantasy football sleeper candidates for 2019.
Sleeper – Ian Thomas, Tight End (Expert Consensus Rank: TE28, 256 overall)
Bust – Greg Olsen, Tight End (Expert Consensus Rank: TE18, 152 overall)
Ian Thomas and Greg Olsen go together in this preview because, well, their fantasy football fortunes go together this season. Greg Olsen will be coming off two seasons where he missed a combined sixteen games with foot maladies, and he’s 34 years old. Generally, aging 255-pound men don’t have their foot problems get better as time progresses. Here’s the kicker… even outside the foot problems stealing games from Olsen, he hasn’t been good for two years. He has five top-twelve tight end games in the last two seasons, out of sixteen games. If you combine his last sixteen games and make it a season, Greg Olsen turns in a 44-catch, 482-yard, five touchdown campaign. If that was one season, it would have been 100.2 points in half-PPR. Guys who have scored between 99 and 101 fantasy points in a season, on average, finish as TE17. No thank you.
And ready for the hot take? Greg Olsen has, at most, five games left before he reinjures himself and that’s that on a long, storied career. In steps Ian Thomas, who filled-in for Greg Olsen last season when—surprise—Greg Olsen was injured. Thomas struggled early when filling in for Olsen, and disappeared entirely when Olsen was available, but once he had his chance to shine, he turned in a masterful performance. Once Thomas slotted back in as the starting tight end for the Panthers in week thirteen, he sucked up Greg Olsen’s targets. He turned in a crazy eights pro-rated sixteen-game performance in that stretch: 108 targets, 80 catches, 800 yards, 8 touchdowns.
Now, I’m not a superstitious man, but I do know two things: (1) the Chinese traditionally believe 8, not 7, to be the lucky number and that is a lot of 8s, and (2) he was TE5 in that span. Thomas is free, so if you have a roster spot to spare, maybe look his way this draft season, as Greg Olsen isn’t long for a football field.