6 Risky Players at the Top of Fantasy Football Drafts
Risk is something we all take on when playing fake football. Most people consider the upside when making selections, but few consider a player’s potential risk, particularly at the top of draft boards.
The following is a look at the players with the most inherent risk at their price heading into 2022. These guys shouldn’t be totally avoided on draft day, but my intent is to point out their lower range of outcomes rather than the chance to outperform ADP.
Christian McCaffrey, RB - Panthers (Underdog ADP: 1.9, RB2)
Let’s just get the big dog out of the way, shall we? The expression that features “you can lose your fantasy league in the first round” can be clearly tied to Christian McCaffrey for two-straight seasons. As the definitive No. 1 overall pick in both 2020 and 2021 across all scoring formats, McCaffrey sustained injuries in both years and played a total of 10 contests combined.
When on the field, CMC is a beast, as evidenced by his insane dual-threat output in 2018 - 2019. The Panther RB put up 1,965 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2018, followed by a ridiculous 2,392 total yards with 19 trips to the end zone the following season. The good news for fantasy managers is that none of his injuries have resulted in major surgeries or shredded ligaments, so returning to form is an easier path, plus the Carolina coaching staff is taking precautions during the preseason to keep him fresh and healthy. While his injury risk is a scary one at the tippy top of draft boards, McCaffrey boasts arguably the highest upside in the league.
Tyreek Hill, WR - Dolphins (Underdog ADP: 22, WR9)
Players on new teams can be dicey for fantasy purposes, even a perennial top-tier WR like Tyreek Hill. The 28-year-old will see more competition for targets in Miami with Jaylen Waddle coming off an impressive rookie campaign, and also gets a downgrade at QB from Patrick Mahomes to still unproven Tua Tagovailoa. Hill is usually at the top of leader boards in weekly fantasy output, as he’s averaged a WR5 finish over the last five years in half-PPR points per game, but we can’t forget that Hill nosedived last season from Weeks 12-18 where he was the WR51 in the same category (8.4 half-PPR/game).
The move can go several ways, which is where that risk comes in. There’s certainly the chance that Hill’s presence elevates Tagovailoa, as the QB’s 55.2% deep ball accuracy was tops in the NFL according to PFF, or Tua falters as a middling passer and proves the naysayers right that he can’t support a fantasy WR1.
Both Hill and Waddle are leaving draft boards in the early single-digit rounds so here’s to hoping this offense takes a big step forward under new HC Mike McDaniel.
Dalvin Cook, RB - Vikings (Underdog ADP: 9, RB5)
Cook has been a first-round pick since 2020 and was right at the second-round turn in the two years prior. This year he’s still a top pick, but there is some uncertainty due to the Vikings' new-look offense. Mike Zimmer’s run-first and heavy approach is gone, and in its place, new Head Coach Kevin O’Connell is expected to invoke a more passing and 11 personnel scheme a la the LA Rams where he came from.
We also can’t dismiss the Minnesota defense projected as a bottom-third unit, which could lead to negative game script for Cook, hindering his weekly upside. Cook's targets and receptions have steadily decreased each season since 2019, so without an uptick in pass-game work, Cook could fall short of his RB5 ADP, making D’Andre Swift, Joe Mixon, or even Aaron Jones the safer picks at RB in that similar ADP range.
Saquon Barkley, RB - Giants (Underdog ADP: 15.2, RB8)
This one should surprise no one who’s been paying any attention to the NFL or fantasy football since 2018. Saquon Barkley’s range of outcomes in 2022 is vast, as he has the potential to finish as an RB1, fall way short and end the season significantly below his current draft stock, or produce anywhere in between.
Injury is a part of the game and all players are at risk on every single play, but Barkley hasn’t been on the field for a full season since his rookie outing in 2018, missing 21 of 49 possible contests over the last three years. The 25-year-old has been hampered by a litany of injuries, including knee, ankle, and hamstring issues. Last season Barkely did play in 13 games, but was highly inefficient, checking in as 47th in yards per attempt (3.7), 36th in total yards after contact (279), and 41st in yards after contact per rush (1.7). To be fair, the Giants were a total disaster last season but Barkley struggled mightly to effectively run the football.
New York has a new coaching staff with an improved offensive line, and of course, we’ve all seen the shirtless photos of Barkley looking absolutely jacked. However, his RB8 price tag is a tad too rich for me given the unknowns of this offense and the glaring injury history.
Javonte Williams, RB - Broncos (Underdog ADP: 21.8, RB12)
We all really wanted the breakout from sophomore RB Javonte Williams to happen in 2022, but it will take a major injury to Melvin Gordon for Williams to return value on his current second-round ADP. So far it’s been a near 50/50 split in volume between the two in training camp, which is how this backfield operated in 2021, with finishes of RB17 for Williams, and Gordon at RB18 (with one fewer game) in total half-PPR points.
Right now Williams is being drafted before guys with clear lead-back roles like Leonard Fournette and James Conner, which is just too risky considering the committee he is facing in the Broncos RB room. Let someone else gamble on the 22-year-old in 2022, at least if he’s going to be selected in the second round.
Kyle Pitts, TE - Falcons (Underdog ADP: 31.8, TE3)
I know, how dare I besmirch the lord and savior/ generational talent Kyle Pitts? Well, I’m here to at least make fantasy managers think a bit before drafting the second-year TE at his current third-round spot as TE3. I do like his potential as an NFL and fantasy tight end, I really do, but this is not the year to invest heavily in the sophomore.
Most pro-Pitts drafters are counting on positive touchdown regression which is highly probable considering he only found the end zone once in 2021. However, even if he ended last season with the highest amount of touchdowns by a TE which was posted by Travis Kelce (10), Pitts’ fantasy output would have still been the TE3, where he is being drafted in 2022. Ceiling, much?
Pair drafting a player at his ceiling along with a not-ideal QB situation and an Atlanta offense that was 31st in offensive plays last season, and we have ourselves a super risky high pick. Oh, and there are no other weapons besides rookie Drake London and Cordarrelle Patterson coming off a crazy career year to take any of the pressure off Pitts in this offense.
The 21-year old should be being drafted a few rounds later, perhaps after Darren Waller and George Kittle, but give me Michael Pittman Jr, Courtland Sutton, or even D.J. Moore in the third over Pitts in 2022.