Fantasy football: Playing Devil’s Advocate with top-ranked players

In the world of fantasy football, nothing is certain. Injuries can strike at any time, completely altering the trajectory of …

In the world of fantasy football, nothing is certain.

Injuries can strike at any time, completely altering the trajectory of even the preseason’s top-ranked players. By and large, there’s no way to predict whose performance will suffer from a high ankle sprain or whose season will end due to a torn ACL.

But even players with the highest average draft positions (ADP) aren’t perfect. As great as they are anticipated to be in 2018, sometimes there are unforeseeable reasons why a first-round talent underperforms.

Time to play Devil’s Advocate with some of the projected fantasy football studs. Read on for a pessimist’s guide to some of the game’s most coveted. (ESPN ADP as of Monday in parentheses)

Le’Veon Bell (2.0)

The Steelers stud’s superb 2017 campaign was also an anomaly among modern RBs. His 406 touches marked only the third time in the last 10 years in which a back crossed the 400-mark in that category. The other two — Chris Johnson in 2009 and DeMarco Murray in 2014 — were inconsistent as RB1-level players for the remainder of their respective careers.

Bell also ranks second to Ezekiel Elliott in touches per game (24.85) over the past decade. Although the Pittsburgh back will be 26-years-old all season, his mileage indicates there won’t be many more seasons of 300-plus touches — he’s got three in five years.

Todd Gurley (2.2)

No player in the NFL scored more combined rushing/receiving touchdowns than the Rams RB, who also led in fantasy scoring. Not so bold prediction: Gurley will not post nearly 20 TDs again. Touchdowns aren’t very consistent in fantasy football, not even for the cream of the crop.

Plus, quarterback Jared Goff has new weapons in the passing game such as Brandin Cooks, making Gurley less necessary in the vertical attack this year. That’s no doomsday scenario, but it’s worth considering.

Ezekiel Elliott (4.3)

No, his No. 1-ranked touch average (24.88) isn’t what should be cause for alarm — the kid’s only 23 with two pro seasons under his belt. Although he led the league both years in rushing yards per game, the Cowboys RB’s per-carry average dipped a full yard from his outstanding rookie campaign — from 5.1 to 4.1. A sophomore slump has inflicted many a player before, but there are no guarantees of a third-year rebound, either.

Most of all, one must be concerned with past allegations of domestic violence levied against Elliott, which already have cost him six games as part of a league-mandated suspension. From a moral standpoint, refusing to support such a player is understandable. Knowing that any suspensions for potential future incidents would last longer than six games is another wild card that can’t be dismissed, even for those capable of overlooking his checkered past.

David Johnson (4.4)

This one is a no-brainer for anyone already familiar with the Cardinals RB. Johnson dislocated his wrist in the third quarter of last year’s season opener, going from top-flight talent to season-long injured reserve in the blink of an eye.

The fact that he also fumbled twice that game — losing one — gets overlooked. Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe he’s a player with ball security issues. Across 2015 and 2016, which are Johnson’s only two full seasons, he is tied for the most fumbles by a running back with nine. Greats like Adrian Peterson survived fumble issues, but few are generational talents at AP’s level.

Antonio Brown (5.6)

For four years in a row, the Steelers’ top receiver has ranked as one of the top three in WR fantasy points. Unquestionably, he’s been consistent. Undeniably, he’s been elite. Unfortunately, he just turned 30.

Wideouts don’t have the same stigma about the big three-oh as RBs, who tend to fall off dramatically after their 20s. However, both conventional wisdom and recent results point to a decline for aging receivers. Only 10 times in the past decade have WRs posted at least 200 PPR points, and four of them came from all-time great Larry Fitzgerald.

That group averaged 250.6 PPR points, a figure that would have ranked eighth last year. Brown has averaged 345.2 points the last four years, but anything close to that has to be considered a long shot.

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