Polarizing Players Heading Into 2018
So we’ve all heard it before: “This player may be the most polarizing player in the league!” But what does that mean?
From a Fantasy Football aspect, polarizing could be defined as the biggest differential from people who love him and hate him. It’s easy to see why people were using this word when describing Lamar "I'm Not A WR" Jackson and Josh "Throw Over 'Dem Mountains" Allen in the NFL Draft.
Now what are some examples of polarizing players in the past? Well, let's start by talking about CJ Spiller in 2013.
2013 CJ Spiller
Mark Jerry-Zimbio Pictures
Remember when Buffalo’s Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had the audacity to say “We’re going to give him the ball until he throws up. So he’s either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let’s just put it that way.” The hype train was full throttle and everyone was losing their mind. He had the highest standard deviation in the first round with 4 that season and his ADP was 5.3. He was being selected as high as the 2nd pick behind Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, or being taken as low as the second round. To put this into context for that year, Spiller’s ADP was higher than Lynch, Shady, and Forte.
It was easy to see why CJ Spiller was so hyped up. Spiller was coming off of his best season where he rushed for a career high 1,244 yards and 6 touchdowns. He finished as the 14th overall fantasy player in 2012 and was in the driver’s seat to be the engine of Buffalo’s offense.
Now why was he so polarizing? Well, he was in a crowded backfield with Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice. Now why would that bother fantasy owners after OC Hackett said Spiller would get a majority of the carries? A lot of owners did not believe that Spiller’s body would not hold up to being a workhorse. It’s hard to blame them when Spiller stands at 5’11” and maybe 200 pounds after Thanksgiving Dinner and you have Fred Jackson at 6’1” 216 pounds.
So how did he follow this up? I’m sure everyone who drank the Kool-Aid remembers. I can say this confidently because I was one of the sorry saps that drafted this guy...I remember.
CJ Spiller finished as the 35th RB averaging 8.2 points per game. Is that as bad as it sounds? Oh I promise it is. He finished behind the Giants’ Andre Brown and Oakland’s Rashad Jennings who both finished tied for 30th with 9.2 points. Ouch. Spiller is the sole reason why I’m so careful and skeptical with polarizing players. They are polarizing for a reason. This is probably why I was low-key cynically happy when he became a meme when he got cut and signed like 10 times by Kansas City. This is what you get for screwing over all those fantasy owners.
2014 Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy in 2014 was another example of a polarizing player. He was one year removed from an impressive rookie year where he rushed for 1,178 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 257 receiving yards. He was named AP-Second Team All-Pro, was selected for the Pro Bowl, and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. He finished as the 15th overall fantasy player; ahead of Antonio Brown, Adrian Peterson, CJ2K, and DeMarco Murray.
Randy Oliver-Daily Snark
All sounds good, right? Well the reason he was so polarizing is because people saw that he was sharing the backfield with Mike McCarthy’s man-crush Jame Starks. No matter how dominant Lacy would be, people that Starks would continually vulture touches from him. Oh and it doesn’t help that this is also when people began to mistake him for Casey Hampton and earned the nickname “Feast Mode” because he decided his best way to be the lead back would be to eat the competition. I always wondered where Johnathan Franklin went…Lacy had the highest standard deviation in the first round with 4 and his ADP was 9.4.
Feast Mode actually delivered and finished as the 6th best RB and averaged 14.4 points per game. He ended ahead of Shady (17th) and Adrian Peterson (IR after first game) who were both taken before him. Eddie Lacy proved that being a lead back in an offense led by Rodgers is not a bad gig to have and rewarded owners who took the risk and drafted him as the most polarizing player in the first round.
2018 Polarizing Players
Now that we know the risk and reward surrounding these type of players, who are some of the polarizing players heading into the 2018 season?
The first name that pops into my head is none other than the Lizard King himself, Sammy Watkins.
He currently finds himself with an ADP of 66 and a standard deviation of 13.5 in standard redraft, and with an ADP of 40 and a standard deviation of 14.7 in dynasty startup. Having a standard deviation that high in both formats is almost unheard of in fantasy so why are people all over the place with him?
As many of you know, Sammy Watkins was a highly touted receiver coming out of Clemson because he could do it all. He was selected 4th overall by the Buffalo Bills; before Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr, Aaron Donald, Devante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry...should I continue or did I drive the point home? He actually delivered with a great rookie year with 65 receptions for 982 yards, and 6 touchdown which was good for the 27th best WR. Not that bad for a rookie.
Even injuries couldn’t keep Watkins from a sophomore slump; in only 12 games, Sammy hauled in 60 catches for 1,047 yards, and 9 touchdowns which put him as a high end WR 2. Although he didn’t put up numbers like Odell, he showed everyone that he was a legitimate threat and a big play receiver when on the field.
Unfortunately, this was the only season Watkins ever eclipsed 1,000 yards. He was hurt his 3rd year and missed half the season and then traded to the LA Rams. The way McVay utilized the X receiver was to stretch the field for other playmakers. This is why many people coined the term “decoy” when explaining Watkins’ role in the LA offense.
Sammy was targeted 70 times and he only hauled in 39 of those for 593 yards. Although he lacked receptions and yards, he delivered 8 touchdowns which left fantasy owners frustrated with his boom or bust production. Just as a comparison, Robert Woods had 85 targets which he converted to 56 catches, 781 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
Andy Reid must have seen something in Watkins because he spent his monthly allowance on meals and gave him a contract worth $48 million for 3 years with $30 million guaranteed. Many will argue that Watkins did nothing to deserve being paid so much but Reid may be playing 4D chess when everyone else is playing Uno. Instead of looking at past production, Big Red is looking at Watkins’ skill set and how it can take Kansas City’s offense to the next level.
Everyone’s biggest concern with KC’s offense is the fact that they lost Alex Smith. Say what you will about him checking down and playing it “too safe” but he was able to produce great fantasy number not only for himself, but for his top weapons as well. Although there are quite a few people on the Mahomes' bandwagon, there are just as many who are skeptical. Have no fear because Reid is the QB whisperer.
Andy Reid has a history of developing QBs. I’m not just talking about McNabb who is arguably the best signal caller in Philadelphia’s history when he led them to four straight NFC Championship games, but how about AJ Feeley?
Britt Milazzo-Bleacher Report
Who? I would be surprised if many fans outside of Philadelphia remembers this guy. Reid was actually able to to utilize him to win 4 straight games in 2002 and clinch the top seed in the NFC. He then robbed Miami and traded him for a second round pick.
Speaking of fleecing teams, how about Kevin Kolb? Legend has it, if you whisper his name three times in the state of Arizona, an actual cardinal spontaneously combusts. Kolb showed a lot of potential but was in a competitive QB depth chart in Philadelphia with McNabb and Vick on the roster. Arizona saw the promise and traded their second and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He was only in Arizona for 2 years and was never able to start more than 10 games or throw for 2,000 yards in each of those two seasons. After he was released, he signed with Buffalo but was cut before the regular season. His ultimate demise was a rubber mat that ended his career. I'm serious. He slipped on a rubber mat when he was walking out to practice and suffered a career ending concussion. Let’s have a moment of silence for the Cardinals and Kolb’s career. In this silence, lets also reflect on how Reid managed to get a 2nd round pick and a future 4th for a 34 year old McNabb. Andy Reid and stealing 2nd round picks for and end of the road QB, name a more iconic duo.
Once Andy Reid got to Kansas City, he immediately got Alex Smith who was underappreciated in San Francisco and made him into a QB that revolutionized Kansas City's offense. The reason I bring this up is because with new roster additions in Sammy Watkins and Patrick Mahomes (technically new since he did not play much last year), Andy can produce a fantastic offense. Look at the past offenses that he changed to great success.
With the three headed monster in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt, Reid had one of the top offenses in the league. The Chiefs finished 5th in total offense, 7th in passing, and 6th in total points. He did this with two of those players being relatively new to the offense.
Look what he did when he acquired Tyreek Hill who was just seen as a “gadget player.” He was getting comparison to Tavon Austin and many people said he would not amount to much. So what did Reid do? Just in his second year, he made him into a dominant receiving threat and cashed in a top 10 WR fantasy season (8th). Hill finished with 75 catches for 1,183 yards (7th) and 7 touchdowns.
Let’s also not forget what he did with rookie Kareem Hunt. People argued that he should have been utilized more but he still finished 6th in total attempts only behind Bell, Shady, Melvin Gordon, Gurley, and Howard. Hunt still finished first in yards with 1,327 and 8 touchdowns. Reid also got him involved in the passing game to show how dynamic he could be with 53 catches for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Now what about Travis Kelce who ended as the best fantasy tight end last year? Zeus delivered with 83 catches for 1,038 yards (2nd for TE, 13th overall), and 8 touchdowns. He had more yards than Mike Evans, Devante Adams, Golden Tate, and Doug Baldwin. Whether it was huge RAC plays or special designed shovel passes to Kelce, Reid found a way to get the ball into his hands.
The way that Reid revolutionized a Chiefs’ offense that did not have recent history of being in the top tier nothing new. Even when Big Red introduced Vick as the starter for the Eagles is one of the most magical seasons that Philadelphia and the NFL have ever seen.
In 2010, Vick was given the nod to be the guy behind center and the entire Eagles’ offense took off. Philadelphia was 2nd in total offense, 3rd in total points, 9th in passing, and 5th in rushing. Vick had over 650 rushing yards which was 100 yards more than the next QB and he had more yards than Joseph Addai, Ricky Williams, and Marshawn Lynch. Vick also had over 3,000 yards passing and 21 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions. DeSean Jackson had 1,056 yard receiving (12th) and 6 touchdowns, while Maclin added 964 yard (19th) and 10 touchdowns (tied for 4th). Shady also had over 1,000 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns to go along with 78 catches (1st for RBs, 14th overall) with 7.6 yards/catch and 2 touchdowns.
The reason that I bring up all this history is because Andy Reid has done it before. Everyone is losing their mind because Kansas City lost a good QB in Alex Smith when they traded him to Washington, but Mahomes is no slouch either. Reid must have liked what he saw in Mahomes and had enough confidence to let Alex Smith go. Patrick Mahomes is by far the most physically gifted QB Andy has ever had as a head coach and it surely doesn’t hurt that Reid also worked directly with the QB that he is being compared to in Brett Favre. With the entire off-season to work with his sophomore QB, I am fully on the "Mahome’s canoe."
Now let’s circle back to the whole reason I just had a history lesson on Andy Reid. There is definitely still some skepticism surrounding Sammy Watkins and I don’t blame people for avoiding him. He will only be 25 at the beginning of the season and you have every right to believe he will not live up to his WR 1 money, but there are some facts from the past that may prove he could be worth it. Everyone is still chasing the production he had his sophomore year because that was the only time he eclipsed 1,000 yards. Watkins is a huge gamble because Reid could finally tap into his potential and have him produce like a the WR1 money he is getting, or he could get injured and flop. This is what makes him so polarizing. Lets just hope there are no strong gusts of winds in KC that will knock Sammy over and tear his ACL.
Now another polarizing player heading into the 2018 fantasy season is Jordy Nelson. Everyone has heard the narrative before about Jordy about how he is almost 33 years old and had a disappointing 2017 outing. He also had a run in with the injury bug the past two seasons.
Nelson was a top WR in fantasy for the past decade; in the past 7 seasons, he topped 1,000 yards 4 times and scored double digit touchdowns 3 times. He struggled through an injury riddled 2017 that resulted in 53 catches for 483 yards and 6 touchdowns. On paper, this looks bad but his situation was even worse.
Jordy did not have the best QB in the NFL under center for most of the 2017 season when Rodgers went down. Having Brett Hundley under center makes it difficult for any receivers to be productive. The argument, however, is that Davante Adams still produced high end WR2 numbers in the same circumstances.
Edgar Bennet, the WR coach in Oakland, gushed about Nelson’s ability and Gruden says he still has the “It” factor.
“He brings a lot of 'it' factor we need. He’s unselfish. He’ll block. He’s excellent and uncovering in scramble drills. His work ethic and consistency is something that will benefit our football team. He’s one of the free agents who will play a huge role for us.”
Well it’s no surprise that Nelson excelled in the scramble drill because that’s pretty much 70% of Green Bay’s playbook. Snap it to Rodgers and let him improvise from there.
Gruden also went full meta when he addressed fantasy football:
“We’re not playing fantasy football. We know his production fell off. So did Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. So did the Packers’ Offense when Aaron Rodgers went down.”
He has a point. 60% of his receiving yards and all of his touchdowns were in the 6 games before Rodgers was lost with a broken collarbone. It just never looked like Hundley and Jordy were able to produce good chemistry before Jordy got hampered again with another injury.
On a positive note, Jordy looks to be a great complement to Amari Cooper and will be filling Crabtree’s role as a great route running, possession receiver. Crabtree has 101 targets for 58 catches, 618 yards, and 8 touchdowns. All of which led the team except receiving yards which Jared Cook took.
Matt Kawahara-SF Chronicle
Right now, Jordy finds his ADP at 68 but it has been fluctuating a lot which is what you would expect from a polarizing player. With all of the drop issues in Oakland, it looks like Jordy will be able to carve himself into the offense. It also doesn’t hurt that Gruden has not been impressed with Bryant so far:
“He’s got to get out here and play better. He’s in a competitive situation. Right now, a lot of the other receivers have had a nice camp. He’s just got to learn the offense. He’s got to stay out here. He’s had some illnesses. He’s got to get on the field. He’s got to master the offense and become more versatile, and that’s the key to making this team better”
Everyday you hear more positive news on Nelson at the Raiders’ camp. Not only is he a great addition to the locker room and a great veteran presence, but he is the type of receiver that should not be too hindered with age. Although Jordy has great game speed, he has always relied more on his route running and great hands. I know Larry Fitzgerald is an anomaly because he’s one of the GOATs, but he is a great example of someone who transitioned their game as they aged.
I’m not saying that Jordy is going to be nearly as productive as Larry Legend, but I don’t think it’s time to get out the walkers and raisin bran for him. With his football IQ and a young QB with something to prove, that make a good combination for hope in 2018.
I fully expect Amari Cooper to bounce back and be the top receiver in this offense but I would not be surprised if Nelson was a big red zone target. Regardless of how it goes, Jordy’s ADP has been fluctuating for a reason and he definitely fits the criteria of being a polarizing player.
Emily Caron-Sports Illustrated
Now the last player I am going to cover is a running back by the name of Isaiah Crowell. Last time I checked, his ADP was 87 but it has been fluctuating and his deviation is all over the place so it makes him a perfect candidate.
In his 4 seasons in Cleveland, his best year was in 2016 where he had 198 attempts for 952 yards (4.8 average) and 7 touchdowns, with 40 catches with 8 yards/reception. He did not live up to the expectations last season when he was drafted on average as the 11th back and finished as the 31st RB. I can tell you this because I was once again, one of the suckers that fell for the hype.
I’m not trying to make excuses for him because he cost me a 3rd round pick last season but he was also on a terrible team. Like historically bad. As all of you know, the Browns went 0-16 last season, but besides having a terrible cast of talent, they were also playing from behind a good amount of those games.
Because they were playing catch up, they had one of the league’s premiere pass-catching backs in Duke Johnson who ended as the 11th best back in PPR leagues. Duke had 82 rushes for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. Where he really shined was as a receiver where he racked up 74 catches for 636 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Many times, it looked like Crowell was just an afterthought in Cleveland. He was never really given a full load or a fair opportunity due to his circumstances and he finds himself in a similar situation in New York.
On the roster right now, the Jets have Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, and Thomas Rawls also on the RB depth chart so he is in a pretty crowded backfield. It looks like he could be splitting carries but I would bet that he would be the top dog leading the pack.
One thing a lot of people forget about Crowell is that he is insanely talented. He was a 5 star recruit coming out of high school and showed flashes of his talents throughout college and the NFL. As Georgia’s top high school recruit, he decided to stay close and help UGA to the SEC title game in 2011 and earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Crowell had 1,121 rushing yards with a staggering 6.6 yards per carry. Oh and he had 15 touchdowns to top it all off. He displayed natural blocking instincts and great physical tools at the combine (40 time: 4.5, Bench: 23 reps). He got kicked off the team with weapons charges (later dropped) which landed him at Alabama States.
Crowell has always been underutilized due to being on a poor team and being paired up with one of the most talented pass-catching RB in the NFL. When given the opportunity, Crowell was efficient with his touches and looked like he could be a premiere back. Crowell also showed that he could be a factor in the passing game when he had 40 receptions in 2016. Although this past season was a disappointment, I will give him a pass because there was absolutely no threat of a passing game with Kizer putting up historically bad numbers with little to no receiving help. When Crowell was in, everyone just stacked the box and forced Cleveland to beat them with Kizer...which is ultimately why they ended the season winless.
Crowell is only 25 so he is a little more enticing in dynasty format because he’s young and does not have a lot of tread on his tires. You know what you’re getting into with Crowell, but you could be getting yourself a bargain if he emerges as the guy in NY. It looks like the only question about Crowell was his character concerns, but he has not gotten into trouble since he has entered the league, now all he has to do is finally live up to his potential.
Although I don’t have a good track record of drafting polarizing players (drafted Watkins in 2013 and Crowell last season), definitely do some research before taking the risk. With the risk, you have to be prepared to get these players at the low floor rather than their high ceiling. If you do end up striking gold, you will get them at a huge discount because their ADP and deviation is so erratic. With players changing teams, it’s hard to predict their impact but that’s what fantasy football is all about! It has been a weird off-season for fantasy because you see some top fantasy producers of the past, falling way further than expected like AJ Green, Julio, and even Odell. That may be an article for another time though.
If you do end up drafting one of these guys I discussed, have your butt clenched and hope for the best because I definitely see myself targeting one of these guys again. If they break my heart, I will have no one to blame but myself.
Dynasty ER & Dynasty Specialist