Drafting your fantasy football team is all about evaluating risk and ranges of outcome. The better you can do that, the more successful you will be, and the more weeks you will win.
Your appetite for risk should grow the later you get into drafts, with Round 1 being akin to wanting mystery meat on Thanksgiving. Maybe the mystery meat will taste good, but nobody wants that. Just give us the turkey.
It’s good. It’s trusted. It’s reliable.
Later on in the meal, maybe you'll try a forkful of the mystery meat, or that weird side dish your aunt brought.
On draft day, build a solid core early, and avoid the traps that give you limited upside or far too much downside in their range of outcomes.
Looking at average draft position across all fantasy platforms, these are the players in each round of a 12-team league that make my 2019 Do-Not-Draft List.
Le’Veon Bell - RB - New York Jets
Do not try to swing for the fences in Round 1. We want safe and reliable, and a player that hasn’t played for more than a year and signed with a team with a worse offensive line and head coach that has ranked near the bottom of the NFL in offensive pace is not safe and reliable.
For more statistics on these reasons not to draft Bell, click here.
There are 13 players I’d take ahead of Bell this season. I’d take my top-seven running backs ahead of Bell - Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, James Conner and Dalvin Cook. I’d also take my top-seven wide receivers ahead of Bell - DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Thomas and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Suffice it to say, I will not have much of Bell, if any at all, on my fantasy teams this season.
Damien Williams - RB - Kansas City Chiefs
Beware of late-season surges, as they are small sample sizes. Was it Damien Williams’ talent or the opportunity in the offense that created that production?
Some of you may be asking who cares which it is? Points are points. Well, Williams must now stay healthy for an entire season now as the lead back, something that’s never been asked of him. He’s never had more than 50 carries in a season, as he now enters his sixth NFL season.
Williams already suffered a hamstring injury earlier in training camp, and head coach Andy Reid voiced his frustration with Williams not being available. Carlos Hyde took first-team reps in his place.
If you draft Williams, you better draft Carlos Hyde too in the ninth round to protect that second round investment; but Reid also said this could be a running back by committee after earlier saying in OTAs Williams would be the clear, lead back. This is a murky, fluid situation with an expensive fantasy price tag.
Pat Mahomes - QB - Chiefs
Wait to draft a quarterback. Negative touchdown regression is coming for Mahomes. 50 touchdowns last year for Mahomes made him just the third player in NFL history to reach that mark. Peyton Manning dropped from 55 touchdowns to 39 the following season. Tom Brady only threw 28 and 36 in his next two healthy seasons after accomplishing a 50-touchdown season.
Mahomes’ 8.6 TD% last year was also the highest in the NFL since 2011. Among QBs who have thrown 45 or more touchdowns in a single season, their TD% dropped by an average of 2.53%. That would drop Mahomes’ passing touchdowns from 50 to 35, still enough to be a top-5 QB but not enough chase his 3rd Round ADP.
David Montgomery - RB - Bears
The narrative here is, ‘Matt Nagy has his new Kareem Hunt.’ I believe that’s an exaggeration. Kareem Hunt’s rookie season volume was product of injuries on depth chart behind him in Kansas City, adding to his overall volume of touches.
David Montgomery has significant volume concerns in my mind. Tarik Cohen is one of the most dynamic pass-catching satellite backs in the league and will cap Montgomery’s reception upside. Chicago also signed Mike Davis, and the Bears are paying the former Seahawks back more than it would have cost to keep Jordan Howard.
Montgomery feels like the 2019 version of Royce Freeman to me - the rookie running back getting too much fantasy hype.
Mike Williams - WR - Chargers
Mike Williams was incredibly efficient last year on limited targets. His 2.7 fantasy points per target in point per reception leagues ranked third among all wide receivers with at least 30 targets.
So why is he not a breakout candidate for me? His 11 total touchdowns on 66 targets a season ago is not sustainable without increased target volume. Yes, Tyrell Williams is gone, but Hunter Henry is also back healthy to decrease the available extra targets for Williams, and Henry is a significant red zone weapon.
Dante Pettis - WR - 49ers
Earlier this offseason, Pettis made my list of breakout candidates, but my opinion has changed. You have to stay fluid in fantasy in the preseason and not get locked into an opinion. If the experts you follow are like this, find ones that adapt to new information.
You need to be flexible this time of year, as new reporting emerges. 49ers beat writers are telling us Pettis is struggling in camp, and his starting spot is now up for grabs. And like Damien Williams, his 2018 production was a late-season small sample size.
For more breakout wide receiver candidates, check out the RADIO.COM Sports Fantasy Football Show in the video at the top of this page.
Eric Ebron - TE - Colts
Ebron was a top-five TE last year, but he won’t come close to that this year. Fellow tight end Jack Doyle was injured, and now, Mo Alie-Cox is having amazing offseason.
Ebron caught 13 TDs on only 55% of snaps. That is completely unsustainable. The Colts also added receivers Devin Funchess and Parris Campbel. If I’m in need of a TE at this point in drafts, Vance McDonald is the guy.
Kareem Hunt - RB - Browns
Hunt is suspended for eight games. Suspended 8 games. The earliest you can play him is Week 10, and you probably won’t even risk that until you see how the Browns use him.
Plus, you can’t stash suspended players in your IR spot in fantasy leagues. Others in 8th round who can help you win weeks include quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Kyler Murray, running back Royce Freeman and receivers Sammy Watkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Marques Valdez-Scantling.
Draft players that will help you win right away.
N’Keal Harry - WR - Patriots
Fade rookie receiver hype. They are rarely consistent early in the season. Look at past classes. Last year, DJ Moore, Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton were inconsistent week to week. In 2017, Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross were all top-10 overall picks in the NFL draft and helped no fantasy teams.
For Harry, Julian Edelman and James White will likely get 100+ targets each. Josh Gordon may be back some point this season, and Harry has been working behind Maurice Harris in training camp. Hard pass.
DK Metcalf - WR - Seahawks
Everything I just said about rookie receiver hype above, and then add in that Metcalf plays on one of the run-heaviest teams in the league. Seattle was dead last in pass attempts last year with 427, the fewest attempts since Seattle and San Francisco in 2013.
Draft a defense in the last two round of drafts, and find one with a good match-up against a bad offense in Week 1 and maybe another good one in Week 2. Do this every week of the season. We call it streaming defenses in the fantasy industry.
The Jaguars Week 1 play the Chiefs. That does nothing to get you to 1-0.
Ito Smith - RB - Falcons
Again, adapt with new information. Smith now appears to be behind Brian Hill on the depth chart for back-up duties to Devonta Freeman after Tevin Coleman signed with the 49ers.
Plus, this entire role may be worthless for fantasy in 2019, as head coach Dan Quinn said it could be a rotation at back-up RB behind Freeman. Smith was also bad as a rookie, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.