Fantasy Football

Don’t be so quick to consider Keon Coleman the Bills’ top fantasy football WR (and more heat checks)

Don't be so quick to consider Keon Coleman the Bills' top fantasy football WR (and more heat checks)

With Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis leaving the Bills, many targets have been vacated in Buffalo. Rookie Keon Coleman might already be the best interview in the league and is easy to root for, but his 7.3 YPT was the second-lowest among this year’s WR prospects, and he was never a target hog throughout college. Khalil Shakir has had his moments, but he managed a lowly 14.2% target rate last season even when given a bigger opportunity.

There’s been some Chase Claypool hype, but Curtis Samuel should be considered the favorite to be Buffalo’s top wide receiver in 2024. He’s a good fit in Buffalo, bringing a dimension the Bills’ offense desperately needs. Samuel badly outplayed Jahan Dotson in a hopelessly dysfunctional Washington offense last season, somehow producing five top-25 WR weekly finishes while catching passes mostly from Sam Howell. Samuel is likely to deal with an injury at some point, especially with an expanded role, but he looks like one of the best WR values in fantasy drafts right now.

The Bills went run-heavy after Joe Brady took over play-calling last season, but Samuel is still in a good situation to put up the best fantasy season of his career.

• Typically, I’m biased toward drafting younger players in fantasy football, but I’m making two notable exceptions in 2024, with Cooper Kupp being one. His performance unquestionably dropped last season, when he was clearly playing through injury. But a compromised Kupp still managed to match Puka Nacua’s targets when they were on the field together, including first-read target share. Nacua emerged as a true alpha as a rookie and will continue to demand targets, but Kupp enters 2024 finally healthy.

Kupp just turned 31 years old, but fantasy wide receivers traditionally don’t show much decline during their eighth year in the league. The Rams led the NFL in yards per play when their offense was fully healthy last season, and Sean McVay is a master at producing WR fantasy points. Kupp is just two seasons removed from posting a 191-145-1,947-16 campaign, yet he’s available in Round 4 of Yahoo drafts, with 20 wide receivers being drafted earlier. The Rams have Demarcus Robinson as their WR3, Colby Parkinson as their TE1 and an RB1 who’s suffered multiple injuries throughout his brief career, so the targets will be extremely condensed.

I rank Kupp as a top-12 fantasy WR.

• Derrick Henry is the other veteran whom I’m incredibly high on this year. His declining numbers over the last two seasons (when he still scored 25 TDs) were more of a product of a bad Titans offense than Henry’s performance; he remained explosive and ranked top-three in YPC after contact against stacked boxes in 2023. He’s 30 years old now, but Henry’s touches were limited early in his career, and he’s also simply built different. Henry’s snap share was reduced to 53% last season, yet he still led the league in carries for the fourth time in five years on an offense that got a lowly 4.9 yards per play.

It’s hard to understate just how big of an upgrade Henry saw when leaving Tennessee for Baltimore during the offseason. Henry has run into 120-plus more eight-man boxes than any other RB over the last three seasons, while Lamar Jackson helped a depleted Ravens RB group score the fourth-most fantasy points last year. Gus Edwards benefited from a ton of short-yardage touchdowns, and Henry’s style appears to be a great fit for Baltimore’s offense; his career YPC has jumped more than a full yard out of shotgun and pistol (5.1 YPC).

The Big Dog will also go from arguably the league’s worst run-blocking unit to the best. Henry has averaged almost twice as many 0.5 PPR fantasy points during wins throughout his career, and no team led more than the Ravens last season. Henry has averaged 98.4 rushing yards (5.1 YPC) with 65 TDs over 59 wins compared to 49.1 rushing yards (4.0) and just 15 touchdowns in 44 losses during his career. Baltimore is projected to win 11-plus games in 2024. The Ravens would love to give Henry 300 carries on an offense that averaged 28.4 points per game last year, and The King remains motivated.

Henry is my RB6, and I’d draft him in the middle of Round 2, even in PPR formats.

• There’s no reason to draft Sam LaPorta with a top-25 pick when you can grab Trey McBride three rounds later. Or Dalton Kincaid in Round 5 if you prefer. LaPorta had an awesome rookie season, but he was hardly elite and many fantasy points came from an unsustainably high TD rate. LaPorta finished fifth among tight ends in expected fantasy points and ranked 47th overall in fantasy points over replacement per game while running hot in touchdowns. LaPorta is being drafted as the clear fantasy TE1 despite not being the top target on his own team (that should continue to have one of the league’s lowest pass rates over expectation).

Meanwhile, McBride was a standout player in college, where he scored more than twice as many touchdowns as LaPorta. McBride also recorded a 20-plus% target share in 12 straight games after becoming a full-time player in Week 8 last year, a mark LaPorta reached in just six games all season. McBride averaged 11.6 fantasy points (0.5 PPR) from Weeks 10-17 while recording just one touchdown; LaPorta averaged 12.0 fantasy ppg over that span while scoring five TDs. LaPorta will continue to benefit from playing in the Coors Field of football (he scored 9 of his 10 TDs at home last year despite playing fewer games), but his profile suggests regression is coming.

There’s a strong Tier 1 of tight ends (although your cutline may vary) worth targeting in drafts this year, but ideally, it’s a later one from that group. McBride will admittedly lose some targets to rookie Marvin Harrison Jr., but the competition in Arizona after that is demonstrably worse than Detroit’s.

I’ve moved McBride to TE1.

• Speaking of Harrison Jr., why is he going 55-plus picks before Malik Nabers in Yahoo drafts? I’ll concede Arizona’s quarterback situation makes Harrison the favorite to finish with more fantasy points as a rookie, but the odds should be far closer to 50/50 than five rounds of ADP. The younger Nabers might even be the better prospect.

• Stefon Diggs showed real signs of decline last season, and he’ll be entering a new offense in Year 10. Diggs’ yards per target on deep balls fell off a cliff in 2023, while his off-target rate remained stable. Shakir had more receiving yards than Diggs over Buffalo’s final 10 games despite seeing fewer than half the number of targets, yet Diggs is often being drafted ahead of Kupp.

Meanwhile, Tank Dell had a slightly higher target share (22.6%) compared to Nico Collins (22.1), but a big advantage in air yards share (36.0% vs. 25.4%) during the seven games in which they both played at least 50% of the snaps. Dell is a legit route-runner who averaged 10.8 targets, 6.3 catches and 92.3 receiving yards with five touchdowns over his final four games as a rookie.

C.J. Stroud is the real deal (and his rookie numbers would’ve looked even more impressive if not for suffering multiple concussions), and there’s no chance the Texans finish 19th in PROE again as they did in 2023. Assuming Dell's fully recovered from his injuries (that included a gunshot but thankfully not “TightRope” surgery on his leg), he is a contender to lead Houston in targets this season.

Dell has been drafted as the WR29 in Yahoo leagues, but I rank him as a top-20 fantasy WR and well ahead of Diggs (WR22 in Yahoo).

BONUS — TV/Movie Talk: “Dark Matter” has been an absolute trip, and I can’t wait to see how it ends this week … Watching Al Bundy portray the horrible Donald Sterling is a bit surreal, but that’s not even the wildest casting in “Clipped” … “Presumed Innocent” is right up my alley when it comes to popcorn entertainment. Peter Sarsgaard might be the best villain on TV right now (to his real-life brother-in-law) … Just when I think “The Boys” can’t get any more extreme, it sets a new bar with a scene in the newest season. It’s no surprise to anyone who watched the highly underrated “Banshee,” but Antony Starr’s acting has been legit … “Tokyo Vice’s” Season 2 is easily one of the best shows of the year. It wrapped up nicely, but it was still a bummer to see it canceled. I highly recommend it … Glen Powell is hard not to like, but Hit Man was more good than great. Hardly Richard Linklater’s best work, but I appreciated the Patrick Bateman scene … I was a “Game of Thrones” fan, but I can’t get into “House of the Dragon” as much as others.

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