Every year I try and remind myself that the NFL season is a chaotic swirl of colors, injuries and the unbelievable. And then I try to predict it anyway. But then Sammy Watkins and John Ross combine for over 171 points in the first two weeks of the season. And chaos swirls on.
Let’s try and make sense of the madness for your dynasty teams anyway. Starting with the WR points leader and the guy who we could have maybe seen coming.
|UFA Year if Cut||2020|
|UFA Full Contract||2021|
|Final RV Redraft Rank||33|
|PPR per Game||28.9|
|EP per Game||20|
The Upside Case
On the face of it, Week 2 was a huge disappointment for Watkins. He managed just 10.9 PPR points after posting 46.8 the week prior. However, Week 2 was actually full of reasons to remain bullish on Watkins.
In Week 1 Watkins had 19.5 EP, 11 targets and 99 air yards. In Week 2 he had 20.5 EP, 13 targets and 139 Air Yards. So Watkins had a measurably larger role in Week 2. The difference we saw in scoring was actually just a massive swing in efficiency — as evidenced by Watkins -9.6 FPOE in Week 2 and his crazy high 27.3 FPOE in Week 1.
This efficiency swing was likely due in part to increased defensive attention without Tyreek Hill in the game. But the good news is Watkins’ teammates made Oakland pay for focusing on him, as Demarcus Robinson, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman all delivered in a big way.
Presumably defenses will be less inclined to key on him after the beating the Raiders took in a single quarter. Meanwhile, Hill’s absence could extend another 6 weeks, allowing Watkins to continue soaking up elite volume in the league’s best and most explosive offense.
With the production Watkins has already banked, he likely needs just 15 points per game from here on out to finish as a top-10 WR on the year. And remember, Watkins was an early second-round dynasty pick as recently as 2016. With a top-10 finish and likely on a new deal with the Chiefs, he could sneak into the top-24 picks once again heading into his age 27-28 season.
The Downside Case
In his first game without Hill, Watkins failed to deliver as an NFL WR1. Instead the Chiefs had two different WRs emerge instead. Robinson had the bigger numbers, but Hardman is the bigger threat. Hardman is raw but has immense natural talent and speed. He could start eating into Watkins’ opportunity quickly. And if Hill is back on the field in a few weeks this situation could become uncomfortably crowded.
A crowded WR depth chart isn’t just a short-term issue. Hardman and Hill are each locks to be on the team in 2020, while Watkins can be cut for a savings of $14MM next season. This outcome seems unlikely now, but it’s not off the table if Watkins continues to underperform without Hill.
Moreover, the fantasy community considers Watkins about as “injury prone” as they come. It’s worth noting that Watkins didn’t make Dr. Jeff’s Do Not Draft List, and I’m skeptical that Watkins is all that much more susceptible to injury than anyone else right now. But if Watkins gets hurt people will lose interest quickly.
How to Play it
Per the NFL Stat Explorer, Watkins has seen more opportunity in each of the last two weeks than any single week in 2018.
As we know opportunity is king.
There are risks with Watkins, but it’s now hard to see him being cut in 2020 without a major injury or an absolutely earth-shattering emergence by Hardman. It’s far more likely that his deal is restructured with 2020’s looming cap hit spread out over additional years. He’s therefore a strong bet to remain tied to the best quarterback in football for several seasons.
Hardman’s potential emergence warrants a bit of caution however. Hill’s contract makes him uncuttable in 2020, so a Hardman breakout would definitely lower expectations for Watkins next season and make him harder to move off of in trades.
I recently profiled Watkins as a buy … at his WR38 ADP. Those prices are long gone now, so let’s look at his June ADP.
In June, when Hill was expected to miss the season, Watkins’ ADP was WR24. That’s price point I would start with when approaching Watkins’ owner. And at that price he makes sense for any type of team.
Hopefully the spike Week 1 followed by the disappointment in Week 2 will give you a buying window and have the Watkins owner feeling as though he’s still selling high.
But WR24 probably won’t be enough. For contending teams I would be comfortable paying around WR17 prices, ie. an early-to-mid fourth-round startup pick price. In other words, for contenders he’s worth your first-round rookie pick-plus. Trade calculators won’t have caught up to his price change yet so you may be able to catch his owner off guard after the Week 2 let down.
Your mileage will likely vary, as Watkins is a bit of a polarizing player, but his opportunity in this offense is clearly worth targeting despite the risk.
|UFA Year if Not Optioned||2021|
|UFA Full Contract||2022|
|Final RV Redraft Rank||68|
|PPR per Game||28|
|EP per Game||17|
The Upside Case
Ross is a similar assessment in many ways to Watkins. He’s a big play threat with outstanding efficiency over the first two weeks, but who faces the return of his team’s top WR at some point this season.
And Ross is also like Watkins in that he’s seen elite volume over his first two weeks. Even though his volume tailed off a bit in Week 2, he’s still posted the best two weeks of his career from a volume perspective.
Sure, Ross was left for dead before the season and “is only producing because A.J. Green is hurt.”1 But we’ve seen this movie before.
Last season Tyler Boyd literally went undrafted in FFPC dynasty leagues. Exactly a year later he was a top-24 WR with yours truly pounding the table for him as a dynasty buy.
Even if Ross’ output is cut in half going forward, he’ll still outproduce the season that Boyd had a year ago. And with Boyd signed long term and Ross under his rookie deal/fifth-year option through 2021, why would the Bengals spend big money to keep Green?
Curtis Patrick explained last week why he’d send Corey Davis and a second for Ross. So Ross had already moved way up sharp boards. But Ross has ADP upside in the WR25 range if he puts together a top-20 season and the Green situation breaks right.
The Downside Case
All that said, Ross’ situation is actually nothing like Watkins’. Watkins makes sense as an investment because he has a floor of interest even if he returns to last year’s production levels. Ross has no floor at all. Ross was completely off the board heading into 2019. How off the board? He was essentially undrafted in the FFPC’s high-stakes dynasty leagues, barely made our top-70 redraft WRs and wasn’t even included in the list of potential third-year breakouts.
As a deep threat, we can expect a few big weeks every once in a while from a player like Ross. He just happened to string two together in back-to-back weeks. Anyone who buys in now is simply setting their dynasty capital ablaze.
How to Play it
With Watkins, if you’re going to make the leap you should do it this week. At the cost you’ll likely need to pay for Watkins, you need to ensure that you’re getting as much of his 2019 production as possible. And if Watkins rebounds on similar volume in Week 3, this will likely turn out to be the last buying opportunity until Hill returns.
Ross needs to be approached differently.
Ross is basically free points for his owner. And why would he part with Ross when he was incredibly cheap to acquire and is now spewing out money like a broken ATM? You’re not gonna sell your free money machine unless someone offers to overpay big. Until of course … the money stops flowing.
And let’s be honest, Ross drops a lot of balls and the ones he does catch are thrown by Andy Dalton. There are going to be some crap weeks coming up.
But that’s okay, because the reason to buy Ross is to bet on him as an actual NFL talent. Ross was a top-10 NFL draft pick with elite speed who finally looks to be adjusting to the NFL game. Ross may have very well been unlocked by the new Bengals offense, and he stands to benefit more than anyone else if Green is allowed to become a free agent in 2020.
Let the current production spike pass and for Green’s return to feel closer, and then — assuming his EP, targets and Air Yards remain strong — steal him before he starts spewing money again.
Image Credit: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Sammy Watkins.
- Are people actually saying this? Let’s pretend they are. (back)