Can you really draft Lamar Jackson as your playoff fantasy quarterback?
Hard-core players who do postseason fantasy leagues know this is a central question to the strategy of picking a lineup. Postseason fantasy isn’t always about taking the best players.
It’s sometimes about taking the best players on teams that will win. Or it’s sometimes about taking the superstar player on a team that may only play one game.
I’ve played postseason fantasy football for years and won a number of times. I’ve also seen guys who overcame having late-round picks pick interesting strategies that paid off. Before I get into the rankings by position, let’s talk about a few of those strategies as you prepare to draft.
Drafting Lamar Jackson
Of the 12 quarterbacks in the postseason, there’s no question that Lamar Jackson ranking last in terms of serious fantasy value and even real football value (at least for the moment). I’m not saying he’s a bad player. I’m saying he’s a rookie with limited passing experience at this point. In seven starts, Jackson has thrown for more than 200 yards only once and had a total of five touchdown passes.
He has also rushed for 556 yards and four touchdowns in those games, giving him good running back value. Still, probably not enough value to realistic pick him over anybody else in the playoffs.
Except for one thing: Jackson has a decent chance to play two or three games. In the first round, Baltimore hosts the Los Angeles Chargers, who the Ravens beat earlier in Week 16. If they win that game, the Ravens would face either Kansas City or New England, two teams that are defensive poor to mediocre. Jackson nearly led Baltimore to a victory at Kansas City in Week 14, taking the Chiefs to overtime.
Beyond that, the Chargers and Chiefs gave were Jackson’s best passing performance. In short, you have to ask yourself if two or perhaps three games of Jackson is better than one game of Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson or Philip Rivers? If you’re one of the last guys to draft a quarterback, it may not be a bad strategy. Again, playoff fantasy is sometimes about how many games you play. It’s not always about having the best player.
Drafting A Superstar
The 2011 Detroit Lions were your prototype one-and-done playoff projection. The Lions had gone 10-6 that season and were facing 13-3 New Orleans in the wild-card round. Saints quarterback Drew Brees was coming off a monster year, so picking any Lions player seemed hopeless. That including quarterback Matt Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. As round by round went by, Johnson fell and fell. Finally, Johnson ended up being there in the fourth or fifth round when I picked.
So here was the debate in my head: Was Johnson for one game worth more than some receiver I might get who would play two or three games? Johnson had just led the league in receiving yards that season (1,681) after catching 96 passes, including 16 touchdowns. At that point, I had to take Johnson.
It paid off big-time. Even though the Lions lost, as expected, Johnson was spectacular. He caught 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. That was more than anything I could have expected for a player at that point in the draft.
This year, there are some stud running backs, such as Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott and Marlon Mack, who may only play one game. Will their one game be worth it.
I can’t take credit for this strategy, but I saw it work and I’ll pass it along. One year in my league, one of the guys ended up with a low pick that took him out of the running for the top quarterbacks and running backs. At that point, he decided to load up on players from one team.
The Arizona Cardinals in 2008.
To the rest of us, it looked like an odd strategy. It ended up being brilliant. The Cardinals had struggled most of the season on offense, but got hot just as the playoffs started and rode that momentum through four games all the way to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh. With four games and most of the Cardinals skill players, this one guy cleaned up on our league, winning despite being put in a bind by his draft status.
Let me preface this by saying that my list is based on a standard 10-team format in which each team has a quarterback, two running backs (although one league I play in substitutes a flex position for the second running back), two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. That said, I have friends who play in a league that drafts for substitutes or has every drafted player be active. Adjust accordingly.
Pat Mahomes – 50 TD passes and more than 5,000 yards. Yeah, I’ll take my chances with Kansas City’s awful defense.
Drew Brees – He only three TD passes in his final four starts and was a 204 yards passing or less in three of those games. Still, this is Brees and the Saints are the safest best to get to the Super Bowl of any team in either the AFC or NFC bracket.
Jared Goff – Like Brees, Goff struggled in December. Still, that’s a great offense even without Cooper Kupp and the Rams will be at home.
Andrew Luck – This is a little bit of a roll of the dice, but The Colts have played Houston tough twice, so there’s a good chance that they play at least two games.
Tom Brady – It’s Brady. It’s the playoffs. Yeah, the weapons are a big question. Do you really want to bet against him at this point?
Mitchell Trubisky – Great player? Not yet. Playing with a great defense? Yes, absolutely. It’s easy to see Chicago playing at least two games and a third is certainly possible with that defense.
Deshaun Watson – He can put up some big numbers in a hurry and he’s at home. The protection for him is bad and DeAndre Hopkins is hurt, so beware.
Russell Wilson – Wilson or Dak Prescott? Prescott or Wilson? Tough call. Go with the guy who has two Super Bowl appearances.
Philip Rivers – The Chargers have a terrific offense, but they also have some big injuries on defense. Still, it’s hard to find quality passers this good.
Nick Foles – Can he pull off another big postseason run? That’s kind of hard to project with the Eagles having to go on the road for every game.
Dak Prescott – See the previous comment.
Lamar Jackson – Depending upon how you feel about Watson, Foles, Wilson, Prescott and their teams, it’s possible to see him go as high as No. 8 or just him fall to you as the last passer selecrted.
Alvin Kamara – Mark Ingram steals some carries. Whatever, Kamara is a monster. Take him a be happy.
Todd Gurley – Very tempting to take as the No. 1 overall guy, but the Saints have home field advantage all the way through the playoffs.
Damien Williams – Folks in Kansas City aren’t exactly crying about the loss of Kareem Hunt. Williams is the reason why.
Ezekiel Elliott – This is a potential Calvin Johnson-type situation because there’s a big dropoff from Williams to Elliott because of the how untrustworthy the Cowboys are.
Chris Carson – I would take Elliott over Carson because Elliott is likely to do as much or more than Carson in one game rather than Carson’s two.
Sony Michel – He’s the bell cow runner for the Patriots. The only problem is that he doesn’t catch it very much (only seven receptions all season)
James White – If you’re in a heavy PPR league, White could go higher than Michel or Carson because of his 87 catches. Throw in the fact that he’s basically New England’s most consistent receiver right now and this could be a great value pick.
Melvin Gordon – Same situation as Elliott. Great runner who might only play one game. Ankle injury is also a question.
Marlon Mack – If you like Indy to win at least one game, ride with Mack.
Gus Edwards – With all of the injuries that the Chargers have in the middle of their defense, Edwards could be a great play.
Jordan Howard – He’s still the best running back the Bears have (925 yards rushing compared to 444 for Tarik Cohen), but Howard only had 20 reception this season and his role declined.
Tarik Cohen – If you get Howard, you might consider hand-cuffing the position and taking Cohen (71 receptions) as well. You could do worse.
Lamar Miller and Company – Miller is the lead dog in Houston, but he’s banged up. As with Chicago, consider taking Alfred Blue as Miller together.
Darren Sproles – Of what’s left in the Philly backfield, Sproles is the best. He’s a tough guy, a good pass catcher and this is his swan song.
Travis Kelce – If you’re at the tail end of the first round, take Kelce. The difference between him and the rest of the tight ends is so big in terms of risk and performance that you’ll easily justify the pick.
Zach Ertz – Put up similar numbers to Kelce, but the risk in terms of games played is big.
Eric Ebron – Is coming off a career-best season. Again, the risk with the Colts makes it hard to select him.
Rob Gronkowski – Gronk can’t run right now. Maybe two weeks off will help, but this doesn’t look good right now. We may be watching the end of the greatest tight end of all-time.
Nick Vannett/Ed Dickson – The Seattle combo is a rough call, but this is how far and fast the situation drops. Vannett gets the edge, but not by much.
Trey Burton – Not much there for the former Super Bowl hero.
Ben Watson – He plays the Saints. That’s all that’s worth noting.
Gerald Higbee/Tyler Everett – The Rams combo is nice. It’s your best guess on who to draft, but Higbee has been around longer.
Antonio Gates/Hunter Henry – Gates is the best chance the Chargers have to get points in the postseason. If you like the Chargers to advance and you’re in a deep league, take Henry to come back next round.
Mark Andrews – He has some big-play ability.
Jordan Thomas – He has four TDs. The other Houston tight ends have combined for none.
Blake Jarwin/Dalton Schultz – If you know them, you’re a serious fantasy degenerate.
Michael Thomas – No. 1 guy on the No. 1 team.
Tyreek Hill – More explosive than Thomas. Also more banged up and more risk with the team.
Robert Woods – Not exactly explosive, but steady.
Julian Edelman – Numbers measure up to other full seasons he has played.
Brandin Cooks – Some people may take him over Woods.
DeAndre Hopkins – This is the Calvin Johnson situation in 2011 with the added benefit of an ankle injury. Hopkins is a pure stud.
Amari Cooper – Helped the Cowboys get to the playoffs, may not be enough to help them advance.
Doug Baldwin – Tough guy on a team that has played well much of the season.
Keenan Allen – Similar player to Woods, but the chances of advancing are questionable.
T.Y. Hilton – Explosive player and No. 1 target, but he’s nursing some injuries.
Allen Robinson – No. 1 receiver on a team that should advance.
Mike Williams – Big bodied receiver who is becoming a key target for Rivers.
Chris Hogan – Doesn’t get a lot of respect, but plays hard for a good team.
Willie Sneed, Michael Crabtree and John Brown – Somebody has to catch the ball for Baltimore. Take your pick.
Alshon Jeffrey, Golden Tate and Nelson Agholor – Jeffrey is the best bet to a big payday with Foles at quarterback.
Chris Conley – Solid player in K.C. where Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin are more suspect.
Cole Beasley – Was overmatched early in the season. Addition of Cooper has helped Beasley.
Chester Rodgers, Tyrell Williams and Tyler Lockett – All of them have had their moments, but not for an extended time.
Greg Zuerlein – Over the past two seasons, he has missed seven games with injuries. He has also averaged more than 10 points per game.
Will Lutz – Kicking indoors and for the Saints is a great combo. Lutz made it pay off.
Justin Tucker – Great accuracy and power to his leg
Harrison Butker – Second-year man has been excellent.
Adam Vinatieri – As clutch as it gets.
Stephen Gostkowski – Had a bit of a rough year. Still figures to kick for at least two games.
Sebastian Janikowski – He’s old, but he’s dependable.
Cody Parkey – Has been inconsistent, but he’s on a good team.
Ka’imi Fairbairn – Has hit four FGs from 50 or longer.
Jake Elliott – Play the hot hand with the Eagles.
Chicago – Best defense and good bet for at least two games.
Baltimore – Pass defense has been excellent
New Orleans – Playing at home helps them. A lot.
L.A. Rams – They have the players to be great. Hasn’t happened so far.
Kansas City – This is ugly, but they’ll play a couple of games, probably.
New England – See previous comment
Dallas – Excellent defense. Hard team to trust.
Seattle – Pretty good defense. Good bet for a first-round upset.
Houston – Great pass rush that could generate some stats
L.A. Chargers – If they get past Baltimore, life gets interesting.