It’s over. The final whistle blows, as you helplessly watch the players from both teams begin to converge at midfield. They shake hands, exchange jerseys, answer questions and eventually head back into the locker room. You leisurely reach for the remote and slowly press the off button, before tossing it back on the couch next to you. Everything goes completely silent. Alone, you sit there with only scattered thoughts about your fantasy season coming to an end. Your head drops back with your eyes closed, as you pick your phone up to check the score of the matchup one final time. You take a deep breath and eventually let out a big, disheartening sigh. Mumbled words slowly crawl out of your mouth, “So close, yet so far…again.”
Nothing is worse than the realization of your fantasy season coming to an end, especially in either the playoffs or championship game. Processing that all of your hard work and dedication over the past year, ends up leaving you empty handed, is definitely a tough pill to swallow. However, it is important to be able to take a step back and realize how far you have actually come. If you made it to the playoffs, than more than likely your team is now in prime position to contend for the title and you have officially entered, “Win now mode.” Since the season has just ended, the next step in process is to plan and prepare for the draft. Here is where we find one of the most common dynasty debates, as we begin to ask ourselves, “Should I draft talent or should I draft situation?”
The majority of the time, talent will win out. But does that necessarily mean drafting solely based on talent is the right route to go in the draft? If you happen to be a contender, the answer should be no. In order to find the perfect example of talent vs situation, we must take a look back at the beginning of the season and examine the rookie draft class of 2016. Laquon Treadwell is the talent; Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas are the situation. Their ADP in August was listed as 2nd, 5th and 8th, respectively.
Entering the season, Ezekiel Elliott and Laquon Treadwell were viewed as the two gems of the draft. Elliott was drafted by the Cowboys – a perfect situation for any RB – and Treadwell was selected by the Vikings. The Vikings star player is Adrian Peterson, so their rushing attack has been their primary focus over the past few seasons.
Aside from AP, their only other fantasy contributors at that time were a young developing QB in Teddy Bridgewater, a middle of the pack TE in Kyle Rudolph and second year WR Stefon Diggs. During his 2015 rookie season, Diggs showed his big play capability, his speed and the potential to be a solid WR for years to come. Which made things pretty clear, Diggs would be receiving a larger portion of the targets moving forward. Heading into 2016, Diggs had an ADP of 61 and finished the season ranked as the 29th overall player.
The season finally begins and we all are anxiously waiting to see what exactly the 23rd overall pick could do. Treadwell ends up not being listed as their opening day starter, which is soon followed up by him listed as active, but barely logging any sort of playing time. Questions start to arise from the media, forcing head coach Mike Zimmer to clarify their rookie’s situation, “He has to continue to do better in practice.” More comments from Zimmer and the entire article about Treadwell can be found here.
According to Pro Football Reference, Laquon Treadwell saw only 80 snaps in 2016. He ended the season having played in 9 games, while only accumulating three targets and one reception for 15 yards. Even though Treadwell’s rookie season didn’t go according to plan, he still has elite upside and is currently slotted in as the 38th ranked overall dynasty player.
Aside from having the young elite stud in Odell Beckham Jr. as their primary target, the Giants focused on filling their gaping hole at WR, via the draft. With Victor Cruz absent, the Giants believed that their 40th pick in 2016, Sterling Shepard, would be the perfect man for the job. Per Pro Football Focus, Shepard received a player comparison to Julian Edelman and many believed that he could develop into an asset out of the slot, turning into the perfect complement for Beckham Jr.
Shepard wasted no time making his mark, with an amazing leaping TD grab against the Cowboys in the first week of the season. He ended up firmly cementing himself as the team’s WR2 and as a solid option for all fantasy owners. He finished off his rookie season with 105 targets, 65 receptions for 683 yards, and 8 TDs. Shepard’s 181.3 PPR fantasy points makes him a solid WR3 option, with WR2 upside potential moving forward.
Heading into the 2016 dynasty rookie draft, Michael Thomas was being viewed as the consensus 8th ranked rookie in the class. Thomas wound up being taken by the Saints, which placed him in the perfect situation for a talented rookie WR, because his QB happened to be none other than Drew Brees. Since 2011, Brees has led the NFL in passing yards every season, except for in 2013. Which by the way, he finished second to Peyton Manning, who happened to set the NFL single season record for passing yards with 5,477. Brees is also the only NFL quarterback to reach 5,000 yards in a season more than once, having done so five separate times. Needless to say, there are plenty of opportunities to go around for WRs in the Saints offense.
In his Pro Football Focus Scouting Report, Gordon McGuinness states that, “Thomas has the potential to develop into a number one receiver, particularly given his ability to shake loose with double moves. At worst there’s a good chance that he’s a very good number two receiver, and would fit well in most offenses.” Looks like Gordon nailed that one. We should certainly expect Brees to be looking his way quite often, due to his large frame, great hands and ability to create separation.
In the second week of the season, Willie Snead went down with an injury and the doors were kicked wide open for Thomas. He was given his chance to show everyone what he could do and made the most of his opportunity. The rookie ended up catching 7 out of 11 targets for 71 yards, along with finding pay dirt for his first NFL TD. After all the dust settled, his rookie season numbers were quite impressive. He finished with 122 targets, 92 receptions for 1,137 yards, and 9 TDs.
The sky certainly seems to be the limit for Thomas, as he has already firmly established himself into the WR1 conversation. Perhaps most impressively, all of his rookie stats came while only receiving a target share percentage of 19.4%, which ranks 40th in the NFL. Michael Thomas is currently ranked as the 19th overall dynasty player and it seems as if he could climb even higher into the rankings, as he continues to work with Brees to elevate their chemistry to the next level.
If your team is in position to win a championship, you need to put everything on the line and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Predicting the future is impossible and with no idea how long fantasy teams could be in a great position for, the opportunity to strike is now. If you were a potential contending team entering the 2016 draft with the 1.02 pick, you would certainly have had a very difficult decision to make. If you happened to go with talent and selected Laquon Treadwell, over the situation guys in Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas, you would be absolutely kicking yourself right now. But more than likely and even worse, that decision probably ended up costing you a shot at a championship this season.
The great debate between talent vs situation will unfortunately never reach an actual conclusion, due to the endless team situation factors. However, it is crucial to understand and recognize which direction you should go. For rebuilding teams, it would make perfect sense to select Treadwell. You are not currently in position to compete, which means you could afford to wait for the talent to eventually win out, regardless of his questionable situation at Minnesota. If you happen to be in position for a shot at the title, bite the bullet, go all-in and draft the slightly less talented player in the greater overall situation.
I completely understand the argument that we cannot really ever know or predict rookie production, but taking a closer look at these three specific teams, we probably could have seen these results coming. The below chart breaks down each team’s rushing and passing play percentages, since 2013:
The Vikings offense is a much more balanced attack, which would limit upside and fantasy production for WRs. The Saints and Giants are very clearly pass heavy teams, which increases the odds of initial and continued fantasy success for WRs like Shepard and Thomas.
In the end, selecting rookies placed in the best overall situation, will deliver you with greater odds of receiving immediate production and dividends on your pick. They could very well end up being the key missing component your team needs in order to take you to the next level. You also gain dynasty assets whose value will continue to rise throughout the dynasty community, since their production is instantaneous. Treadwell could quite possibly end up being the better player when all is said and done, but selecting a Sterling Shepard or Michael Thomas now, could end up being the difference maker to put you over the top and win a championship next season.