The whole dynamic of sports is pretty ironic when you think about it. The biggest goal in both “real” sports and fantasy sports is to try to predict the future as accurately as possible; however, at the same time, no one actually wants to know every detail with certainty (I would hope). What would be the point of watching or going to a game if you already knew exactly what would happen? The uncertainty is the sole reason for our loud cheers and boos spread out over a 5-month span and a 32-team area, but I digress. So, I put together a list of the most surprising fantasy football players of 2017.
Every NFL season is full of surprises, and this one isn’t an exception. Even though the number of injuries to star players (Beckham, Watt, Rodgers, etc.) has reached abnormal heights this year, there has been a fair share of both good and bad surprises, at least compared to my preseason expectations. Some of these players are the proponents behind their teams’ electric first halves. At the same time, others could be at fault for lost seasons. Without further adieu, here is my list of the most surprising fantasy football players in 2017:
*NOTE: All stats listed are through Week 9*
Pleasant Surprise: The Kansas City Big Three
Here’s a something that you wouldn’t have believed before the year (unless you’re Kevin Steele, TFA’s resident Chiefs diehard): A West Alabama receiver, a rookie running back and Alex Smith walk into an NFL season. Halfway through, they come out with a commanding division lead, an MVP, and a ROY candidate. Needless to say, the transformation that the Chiefs have undergone this year is nothing short of spectacular, and it has set them up for a bright future in both this coming winter and in many future winters.
Smith is notoriously known as “Captain Checkdown” in light of his propensity to avoid turnovers. Through two months and change, he’s corralled the confidence of Brett Favre. The crazy part? He’s done this despite not running into any risk at all. Although he’s gone from 26th to 8th in the league in deep ball attempts per game since 2016, he just threw his first interception in Week 9. This puts him ahead of the pace he established in his 2016 campaign when he threw 8 in total.
Altogether, on a per-game basis, Smith has essentially doubled his touchdown rate while significantly slicing his interception rate. Talk about a crazy math problem. The product of this equation? It quite possibly could be an MVP trophy on his mantle. Saying that about a 33-year old who is yet to clear 3,600 yards in a season is one of the reasons this sport will keep me humble.
Fantasy Advice: As long as he has his weapons and isn’t afraid to use them, Smith should remain a safe QB1, albeit one that you shouldn’t expect to continue playing MVP-caliber football.
Undoubtedly, Smith has exceeded every expectation set by his coaches and fans; yet, the KC QB would still admit that he’s gotten loads of help. His stats definitely wouldn’t be as great without the playmaking trio of Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Tyreek Hill. Of the three, Kelce was the only proven source of production before the season. Hill was a talented yet inconsistent rookie and Hunt was in college until May. Yet, here we are, and both question marks have become exclamation points midway through 2017. Hill, whom I once saw as the next Cordarrelle Patterson, has slammed my loud mouth shut by following up with another sparkling campaign. Hunt, whom I saw as an ok-but-not-great prospect, leads the league in rushing yards. Go figure.
You might’ve been right on one or even both of the pair. If you take a look at my dynasty squads, though, you won’t see either of these guys, unfortunately. So no matter how many times I tell you, never believe that I can see the future.
Fantasy Advice: Tyreek Hill is the fantasy reincarnation of DeSean Jackson–the boom-bust receiver that does the former more than the latter. Hold onto him unless you’re offered a much more proven player valued at a similar level (Doug Baldwin, for example).
Like Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt probably isn’t going to sustain his current ridiculous levels of success. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to. Hunt will have his bell-cow role for the foreseeable future. Even better, he may even be due for some touchdown regression, given that his last touchdown was in September.
Unpleasant Disappointment: Terrelle Pryor
Unless the QB-turned-WR lucks out with a fresh start on an offense-oriented team, it looks like the Terrelle Pryor train is slowly pulling back into the station of despair. Many, including myself, were waiting in anxious anticipation to see how Pryor could follow up his breakout 2016 campaign. NFL teams, on the other hand, weren’t holding their breath as much as we were. Pryor’s meager 1-year, $6 million deal from March reveals this. Halfway through the year, it looks like the league was right in this case. Not many stats need to be said to back this, but if you’re looking for one, chew on this: Pryor has not eclipsed 3 receptions since Week 1. Hopefully, this is a one-year blip, an injury, or a bad quarterback-receiver relationship between him and Kirk Cousins. In any case, Pryor is likely not going to have a true shot at redemption until 2018.
Fantasy Advice: If you, like me, were a believer in Pryor’s talents before the year, kick the tires to see if his owner has lost faith. A mid-to-late second round pick is as far as I’d offer at this point, however.
Pleasant Surprise: Carson Wentz
One of my favorite perks of fantasy football is it allows me to say that Carson Wentz is a pleasant surprise without being crucified by my Giant-fan brethren (don’t worry guys, one of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Jackson will save this franchise, no sweat). Anyway, Wentz is another passer who has skyrocketed into the MVP conversation. Like Smith, the NDSU product has benefitted from a strong supporting cast, throwing deep, and adding extra yards with his legs. Unlike Smith, Wentz is still only 24 and leads the league in touchdown passes. I’m never all-in on young, unproven QBs in fantasy; however, I’m happy to admit defeat when exhilarating young studs like Wentz take the league by storm. Enjoy the Wentz Wagon, fantasy enthusiasts.
Fantasy Advice: Although I’m not ready to crown Wentz as the dynasty QB1, he’s certainly in the conversation. Unless you could get someone like Russell Wilson and extra players in return for him, I wouldn’t move him. He’s not a buy at this point, either, as he hasn’t proven that he can sustain this level of play juuuuust yet.
Unpleasant Disappointment: Kenny Britt
As you can see, I have a type at wide receiver. That size-speed type has failed me in 2017, although I am not going to ditch the process just because of these two bad apples. I had faith in Pryor because of his experience at QB, ridiculous speed, and promising 2016 season. Britt didn’t have any signal calling experience but has decent speed and a very promising situation-adjusted track record going back to his days at Rutgers. For me, Britt’s lack of success is the more surprising outcome.
After being ridiculously efficient as a member of the Most Embarrassing Show on Turf, it looks like Britt has taken the money from the Browns and run. Well, actually, he probably strolled.* The former Ram and Titan snagged more than 2 passes in a game twice all year. Both games required at least 8 targets for him to do so. Britt is worth a speculative buy-low, but anything outside of that isn’t worth your time. He’s made it clear that he isn’t to be trusted.
Fantasy Advice: Britt is worth a speculative buy-low, but anything outside of that isn’t worth your time. He’s made it clear that he isn’t to be trusted.
*Note: I take this back if it’s revealed that he’s been dealing with a lingering injury.
Bittersweet Surprise: DeShaun Watson
I wasn’t sure if I should end on a high note or a low one. I decided to settle in the middle with this bittersweet news. At this time 6 months ago, I wasn’t giddy at the prospects of DeShaun Watson. Heck, at this time one month ago I still had my doubts.
Little-by-little, however, the former Clemson star has won over my appreciation on the football field (I’ve always been a fan of Watson the person, though). My respect for him peaked during Week 8. The epic duel between Watson and Russell Wilson gave us a glimpse of what Watson could blossom into very soon. My one concern with Watson was his terrible (3rd percentile) throw velocity readings at the combine. This was no trivial concern either–throwing a ball is 90% of his job. Watson, nonetheless, has passed the initial tests with flying colors–in fact, he thrived because of his deep ball that he unleashed more than all but 3 other passers. These 48 attempts pushed aside the arm strength concerns, at least for now.
With those out of the way, nothing major is in the way of Watson’s path to stardom…at least in the long term. In the short term, unfortunately, the young rookie will have to fight back from an ACL tear suffered in practice just days after the clash in Seattle. Propitiously, Watson’s tenure at Clemson has proven that he’s a fighter. Here’s to him making a quick return to captivating millions of NFL fans each fall Sunday.
Fantasy Advice: Unless some rash owner is willing to overpay to acquire Watson from you or give him away at a discount because of the injury, he’s probably best left on whichever roster he was on during Week 8.
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