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 – Peyton Barber, Running Back (Expert Consensus Rank: RB47, 134 overall)
See Ronald Jones, below for why Ronald Jones isn’t taking this spot from Barber. I’m going to start this off as clearly as I can: I don’t think Peyton Barber is particularly talented, or a next-level back, but he is good enough to produce, given sufficient touches. Barber had the most carries of his career last season, and his worst yards per carry (unsurprisingly). However, he’s the kind of roster-filler that you need at running back, and he’s coming at a massive discount thanks to inflation surrounding both Ronald Jones’s size and draft stock.
Barber didn’t really boom, and he didn’t really bust too hard. He was just sort of… there. He got over 15 carries in half the games last season, which is a great baseline to bank on in deeper leagues. In these games, he finished, on average, as RB28. Not astounding, but still usable as a flex running back in a pinch. This season, he’s coming at a deep discount, and with Bruce Arians in tow, that points per game should only go up.
Breakout – Jameis Winston, Quarterback (Expert Consensus Rank: QB11, 91 overall)
Well, here we are. We stand at a fork in the road of Jameis Winston’s career. He’s in the last year of his rookie contract, and he’s had his share of “off-field issues” (code for being a reprehensible person). He hasn’t done enough in his career to warrant the Buccaneers locking him up long-term, but he hasn’t been so abhorrent on the field that they don’t keep trotting him out there. Now, he gets Bruce Arians to run the offense to give him one last burst of productivity as he makes his way to NFL free agency.
Jameis Winston is big, mobile (not fast), with a cannon, and lecherous off-field concerns. Bruce Arians coached his big brother, Ben Roethlisberger, for five seasons in Pittsburgh. From 2007 – 2011, Big Ben had trouble staying on the field, but when he did play, he played on a 500 pass attempt, 3,958 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interception pace. We’ll take that as a baseline for Jameis, as once he fully cast aside Ryan Fitzpatrick, he played on a 4,139 yards, 30 touchdowns, 9 interception pace (from weeks 11 through 17).
Can Bruce Arians reign in Jameis? Probably not, he couldn’t reign in Big Ben. Can he take what he learned from five years of coaching Ben, a year of coaching Andrew Luck (big, mobile, cannon arm), and pour it into Jameis? Absolutely. Does Jameis have top-five potential? Probably not. Top-seven? Absolutely. At the most fungible position in a one-QB league, take a shot on Jameis to see if you can hit gold.
Bust – Ronald Jones II, Running Back (Expert Consensus Rank: RB39, 107 overall)
After hitting the inactive list in game one, RoJo spent last season not getting his act together and somehow having a worse rookie campaign from a Buccaneers second-round pick than Roberto freaking Aguayo. He only got into nine games last year, and boy howdy did he stink out loud. The Bucs tried to go to Jones in his NFL debut, giving him eleven touches en route to his still-standing career-high of 28 yards. For reference, 28 yards is 84 feet. A regulation NBA court is 94 feet, so he’s still over 3 yards short of running the length of an NBA court in a game. His final 2019 yards per carry? 1.91. Only five guys have had more than 20 carries and a YPC south of 2 since 1985. Baron Batch, Michael Cox, Ciatrick Fason, Mike Davis, and Ronald Jones. Not exactly a murderers row.
RoJo is getting fantasy football buzz this offseason because he’s ticking the boxes on all the dumb offseason tropes. He’s looking great in unpadded practices. Jitterbug speedsters always look great when you aren’t allowed to tackle them. Understanding this fact is NFL Offseason Pablum 101. Second, he’s put on a ton of weight. According to Pro Football Talk, it’s 13 pounds of muscle. This is not good. Ronald Jones is a speedster back, and not a bruiser. Adding weight to his frame is going to lead to him trying to move the additional weight with the same speed and agility as a lesser weight, and will lead to injury.
Some are banking on the upside of RoJo 2 this season. Without a Peyton Barber injury, and a complete turnaround from his NFL career so far, his “upside” is taking enough touches away from Peyton Barber to annoy Peyton Barber fantasy football owners. Pass.