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Fantasy Football Index publisher Ian Allan answers your questions about fantasy football. Click here to submit a question.

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Mailbag for August 12, 2021

Ian Allan answers your fantasy football questions. In this edition: Discounting unvaccinated players. Using ADP. Ezekiel Elliott on the rebound. And more.

Question 1

Whether it’s an actual infection or just “close contact”, it feels like the unvaccinated guys may miss an extra game or two. Will your projected games try to take into account whether someone is more likely to miss games due to COVID? If not I might adjust that for a few of these guys. Just wasn’t sure what was already built in.

Chris TUTEN (Zionsville, IN)

If a player is unvaccinated, it’s reasonable to lower his projection some, and that’s worked into our rankings. I don’t have a comprehensive list of vaccinations, but some of the key players have been identified in stories. Cole Beasley and Kirk Cousins are the headliners; they’re not vaccinated, and they’ve made it pretty clear they’re not getting vaccinated. Lamar Jackson isn’t vaccinated but says he’s thinking about it. Josh Allen in June wasn’t vaccinated but was considering it (I’ve haven’t seen anything more recent on him). Cam Newton and Mac Jones last week refused to say whether they’re vaccinated (observing mask wearing, beat writers speculate that Jones is vaccinated but that Newton isn’t). DeAndre Hopkins at the start of camp posted (then deleted) a tweet indicating he was against vaccines and would consider walking away from the game. James Conner today was played on the COVID reserve list as a close contact (meaning he’s unvaccinated). Christian McCaffrey and Najee Harris have declined to say whether they’re vaccinated. Joe Mixon in June spoke against the NFLPA agreeing to rules requiring more testing for unvaccinated players. Adam Thielen in June said he was unvaccinated. I think those are the key guys. I would guess there are some other notable players who aren’t vaccinated but have been able to stay under the radar.

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Question 2

How is ADP derived? How much can you trust what they tell you?

Craig Leedy (Sacramento, CA)

Different sites do it different ways. At fantasyfootballcalculator.com, they rely on mock drafts from their own site. That is, you practice for your real draft at their site by drafting against strangers, and that data is then fed into their database. You’ve got to pick one of their scoring systems, ensuring you’ve got totals for like formats. But I worry some about the difference between drafting for real (with some money on the line) and just sitting down and dialing up some picks. On some of those lists, expectations for rookies are way out of whack, so I worry that some in dynasty leagues are sitting down for 2021-only drafts. With league management websites like RealTime Fantasy Sports, ESPN and MyFantasyLeague.com the ADP lists come from data of similar leagues who have recently held drafts. Presumably some effort is made to filter the numbers to separate different formats. They’re a big difference between PPR, standard, TD-only and dynasty formats. I was talking to Tony Holm of MyFantasyLeague about this a couple of years ago, and he assured me that they’re able to generate good info, and also that they’ll go in to make necessary corrections. That is, if Jameis Winston next week suffered a season-ending knee injury, they would go in and remove Winston from the ADP list and elevate Taysom Hill to where they think he would now go in drafts. I look at the ADP numbers some, making note of which players I’m much higher or lower on – then you have to guess whether you can get a player a round or two later than you would select him if you were picking against 11 other versions of yourself.

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Question 3

I need to pick between Ezekiel Elliott and Jonathan Taylor in my 10-team, 1 keeper, non-ppr, TD-heavy league. I drafted Zeke as a rookie and have retained him since, despite the suspension, drama, and declining performance. To me, he has not looked explosive the past few years. Taylor obviously struggled early last year, but really turned it on late. I realize the defenses were bad, but some of his late performances were extraordinary. Custom rankings have Elliott three spots ahead, probably due to reportedly being in better shape and the Wentz injury. What's surprising to me is that Taylor is also well behind him and other backs that have logged a lot of NFL games in the recent dynasty rankings. Is this due to Taylor still being somewhat of an unknown quantity? If you could keep one of the two indefinitely, would you really prefer Zeke?

Bob Heaps (Portage, MI)

Elliott should do more as a pass catcher (I noticed in the first episode of Hard Knocks that he ran some receiver-type routes, getting downfield rather than just catching simple dumpoffs) and he plays for an offense that should score more points. He appears to be in better shape this year, and he’ll be running behind a healthier offensive line. He’s been really durable over his entire career. And I think they’ll use him around the goal line more than they have in recent years (with Dak Prescott coming off an ankle injury, I think you’ll see fewer quarterback runs now). With Taylor, you’re getting a back who’s three and half years younger (which could reasonably cause your to conclude he’ll be better than Elliott in 2022-24). And Taylor appears to have an easier schedule. Using standard scoring, Houston and Jacksonville had the two worst run defenses in the league last year; Taylor will play both of them twice. The Giants and Washington, meanwhile, both ranked in the top dozen, and Elliott’s got four games against them. Taylor should be spelled a little more. (I think the Colts will get more out of Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack than the Cowboys get out of Tony Pollard). Taylor is way more unproven. I think you can make a case for either guy.

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Question 4

J.K. Dobbins passes the eye test when I watched him run late last year. Looking like a Kareem Hunt clone with even more speed. there is a case to be made that they just brought him along slowly and that letting Ingram go means he is in line for much more work considering Edwards doesn’t have the speed to catch passes and turn to the outside. However there is also the chance that Jackson just will never dump a pass off on a broken play - he will just keep it himself. This is killing me as I figure out my personal rankings.

Tavis Medrano (Arcadia, CA)

We’ve seen what this offense looks like without Ingram. He carried the ball more than twice in only 3 of their 10 games last year. It will be Dobbins as their main back, with Edwards and Jackson supplementing him. The team has run for more than 3,000 yards in each of the last two years, so they’re not looking for one guy to do it all. The threat of Jackson keeping the ball and getting outside helps make the offense go. Edwards helps soften up defenses by pounding inside between the tackles. Dobbins has big-play speed and should lead them in carries and yards most weeks. But I don’t think you’ll see much receiving production, just because of the structure of the offense. I think Dobbins catches it fine (he caught 71 passes in three years at Ohio State), but that’s not what they’re looking to do. In his final 11 games last year, he averaged 67 rushing and 7 receiving yards, with 8 TDs and a pair of 2-point conversions.

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Question 5

I'm in a 12-team PPR league where the player kept takes the position of where the player was selected the previous year. I can only keep four. Any help would be much appreciated. Kyler Murray (6), Ryan Tannehill (20), Dalvin Cook (1), Mike Davis (18), Myles Gaskin (11), Terry McLaurin (4) and Tyler Lockett (12). Thanks as always!

Jason Schuetz (Fort Collins, CO)

With this kind of exercise, you’re not looking for the best players, you’re looking for the player who will do the best job of outperforming his draft position. Dalvin Cook, for example, is your best asset, but if you have a top-5 overall pick, there would be zero reason to protect him – you could instead just select him (or somebody comparable) in the first round. Looking at the players in this way, I think your four keepers are pretty clear: Tannehill, Davis, Gaskin, Lockett.

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Question 6

Are there any Green Bay receivers likely to emerge as solid fantasy options besides Adams and Tonyan? I sort of like Lazard with his size and blocking ability, but he was hurt most of last year and ended up being a wasted roster spot.

Drew Paterson (Ferndale, WA)

I don’t think so. Aaron Rodgers apparently likes working with Randall Cobb, but we’ve seen that combo many times before, with underwhelming results. Cobb didn’t put up notable numbers in his last three seasons with the Packers. I think Allen Lazard helps power that running back. I think he’ll remain a starter, but he hasn’t been a big producer. In his 20 starter-type games over the last two years, Lazard has averaged 3.2 catches for 43 yards, with 5 TDs in those 20 games. MVS is a hit-or-miss deep threat, with way more misses than hits. He had 6 receptions of 40-plus yards last year (tying for most in the league) but he averaged just over 2 catches per game. They’ve got Devin Funchess in camp, but I don’t think he’ll make the team. They drafted Amari Rodgers, but I don’t expect to see him much before 2022.

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Question 7

Long-time subscriber. I will be drafting 4th or 5th in a 10-team standard scoring league. I like to go RB-RB and based on your rankings Jacobs would likely be my second back. Most other places have Jacobs rated 8-12 spots lower than you. Can you tell me why you like Jacobs so much more than most do? I had him last year and he was very inconsistent.

Randy Newland (Sunrise, FL)

They haven’t used Jacobs much as a pass catcher. He’s averaged slightly fewer than 2 catches per game over the last two years. I think that’s fueling Jacobs not being coveted in drafts. Especially with Kenyan Drake coming aboard. Drake wasn’t used much as a receiver in Arizona, but he’s got really good hands. And I suppose some are worried that Drake will turn that into more of a committee backfield. I don’t see that happening, and I’m of the belief that’s a pretty good offense. Jon Gruden likes to pound the rock. Two years in a row the Raiders have ranked in the top 14 in rushing, and Jacobs is their guy. He’s averaged 79 rushing yards in the games he’s started the last two years (only four backs have averaged more). Could be a nice second back for you (though probably would make more sense to grab a badass receiver in the second round and select Jacobs in the third or maybe even fourth round).

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Question 8

Dynasty League with bonus for 50-plus yard field goals. I have Indy Blankenship but with Wentz out indefinitely may hurt kicking points. So, do you keep Blankenship (1 made 50 yarder) or draft another K from the following: Santos, Elliott, Parkey, Badgley, Lambo, Joseph or unknown Titan K (Fickens?)

Howie Fishman (Hermosa Beach, CA)

Wentz supposedly returning sooner rather than later, so I think you stick with Blankenship for now. I wouldn’t replace him with any of the guys you’ve listed. He is not, however, a power kicker. Just 1 of 3 from 50-plus. I remember his miss against the Packers. It was indoors and from only 50 yards, but it just didn’t quite get there – it was outside his comfort range. He was 4 of 6 from 50-plus at Georgia, but 3 of the successful field goals were from an even 50 yards. If you’re ranking the kickers from 1 to 32 based solely on range or leg strength, he’s probably in the bottom 5. But stick with him for now, with an eye open for somebody who might be better.

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Question 9

Is there anything that strictly discusses which coaches have moved and the implications for the teams that have coaching changes? I don’t see it in the magazine.

Richard Grodin (Parkland, FL)

Coaches are a part of it. A big part of it. And we try to hit them throughout the magazine – especially in the intro for the teams. Where I see the coaching change being a factor, that comes up in the player capsules and positional overview. There are seven new head coaches this year. Of that group, I like Brandon Staley the most. I’ve heard him interviewed a couple of times, and I like his vision and command of the game – looks like an up-and-coming force. There are three other coaches that I like, but I don’t see much separation between them: Arthur Smith, Urban Meyer and Robert Saleh. Nick Sirianni might prove to be better than some of those guys, but he’s had a couple of really weird press conferences, where he simply didn’t seem like a head coach (“less thinking = talent takeover”). It’s hard to take Dan Campbell seriously, with his tough-guy shtick, but maybe they get the running game going some. David Culley was the most surprising hire, with him being a 65-year-old who’s been a position coach for most of the last 30 years. With the Texans having made so many poor decisions in recent years, it seems unlikely that they would be the team to find an underrated gem in the positional coach ranks.

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Question 10

I have a long time 8-team league where we start 2DT and draft 24 overall, so you got to get it right. What are the two or three most improved teams for fantasy (not best ranked but improved) and what are the two or three teams that on paper got weaker? (Interceptions and fumbles = 2 pts, sacks 1 pt)

Jim Backstrom (Henderson, NV)

Andy’s been working on the defenses. Looks like he’s got the 49ers, Patriots, Broncos, and Browns as the most improved. Comparing where they’re at in the current rankings against where they finished last year, each of those teams moves up by at least 10 spots. And he’s got four defenses falling by at least 9 spots – Saints, Dolphins, Cowboys, Panthers. In the chart below, you’re looking at the 2020 production (showing interceptions, fumbles and sacks, but not touchdowns). The “2021” number shows where the defense ranks using our current projections (for sacks, fumbles, interceptions). The final number shows the difference in rank. (The Dolphins, for example, were 2nd last year via this scoring system, but Andy has them down at 13th, so they show at -11 – down 11 spots). If a team is improved by more than 5 spots, it’s in bold. If it’s fallen by more than 5 spots, it’s got a black dot.

DEFENSES: 2020 SACKS, TAKEAWAYS
TeamIntFumSackPoints2021Diff
Pittsburgh189561103-2
• Miami1811419913-11
Tampa Bay1510489812
LA Rams14853975-0.5
• New Orleans188459717-13
Washington167479324
Indianapolis1510409062
Buffalo1511389080
Arizona1110489012-4
Seattle148469015-5
Philadelphia811498716-5
• NY Giants1111408419-7
Baltimore10123983103
Cleveland11103880410
Green Bay1174177141.5
• Dallas1013317726-11
Kansas City166327618-1
Denver1064274711
• Carolina715297328-9
Chicago108357123-2.5
Atlanta129297124-3.5
San Francisco1283070913
NY Jets109316925-2
New England18424681113
Minnesota1572367205
LA Chargers1272765215.5
Tennessee1581965224.5
Jacksonville125185230-1.5
Houston36345232-3.5
Cincinnati1161751291.5
Las Vegas105215131-0.5
Detroit752448275

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Question 11

Just wanted to commend you on finally assessing David Bakhtiari correctly as an All Pro candidate in your OL rankings. It’s at least three years overdue, but finally common sense prevailed. And Elgton Jenkins as an All-Pro candidate as well! You must have learned from the bogus Bakhtiari assessments of years past. Well done.

Joshua Johnson (Mankato, MN)

If he’s healthy. Bakhtiari tore his ACL on December 31, and it’s not certain when he’ll be back. If you were an NFL general manager and drafting left tackles for the 2021 season, you might reasonably take a dozen lesser guys before him, figuring they were far less likely to maybe miss a third of the season.

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Question 12

What is your recommendation of how to use FFI custom cheat sheet in a snake draft? The process I have done in the past was used ADP from the website our league use and compare it to FFI rankings. If a certain player is projected later compare to the year stats FFI has I will make a notation hoping this player is available around or a round before the projected ADP. Curious what your strategy is.

Russ Neis (Eagan, MN)

Sounds like a good play. For me, I’ll go through the list and make note of a few guys that I’m pretty confident will go a round or two later than where I have them slotted. Otherwise I tend to stick pretty close to best available (sometimes it makes sense to select a different position than recommended if it gives you more flexibility in the upcoming rounds).

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Question 13

I have had good luck in the past picking breakout players who didn't have a massive fantasy year the season before, but ended the season on a tear, putting up big points in their last 3-4 games. Any candidates like this stand out from last year?

Robert Stolz (Raleigh, NC)

If we look at teams rather than individuals, I see five that averaged at least 8 more points in their final four games last year. Buffalo, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Chicago. With the Bears, it was influenced by scheduling. The Cowboys are a natural growth candidate, with a bunch of key guys healthy. Tampa Bay, I think, needed time to figure out how they wanted to play. Ravens late last year started looking more like they did the previous season. Six teams, at the other end of the scale, averaged at least a touchdown less in their final four games. In the chart below, you’re seeing the teams ordered by their scoring in their final four games. The five teams that got a lot better are in bold. The six that got a lot worse are tagged with black dots.

OFFENSES FINISHING STRONG
Team1-1213-16Diff
Buffalo27.842.014.3
Baltimore26.338.011.7
Tampa Bay28.737.08.3
New Orleans28.933.84.8
Tennessee29.933.03.1
Green Bay31.632.5.9
Dallas22.331.89.4
Chicago20.531.511.0
Indianapolis27.330.83.4
Minnesota26.627.81.2
Las Vegas26.927.8.8
LA Chargers23.126.83.7
Seattle29.426.5-2.9
Kansas City30.825.8-5.1
Cleveland25.525.5.0
Miami25.325.3.0
Denver18.824.55.8
Houston24.024.0.0
San Francisco23.822.8-1.0
Detroit23.822.8-1.1
Atlanta25.921.3-4.7
• Pittsburgh27.820.5-7.3
Philadelphia21.120.3-.8
• Arizona27.719.5-8.2
Cincinnati19.818.5-1.3
Washington22.017.8-4.3
• LA Rams25.117.8-7.3
Carolina23.317.5-5.8
NY Jets15.015.8.8
• Jacksonville20.913.8-7.2
• New England22.813.0-9.8
• NY Giants19.312.3-7.0

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