If you’re in a dynasty league, the fantasy football season never ends. While re-drafters snuggle in their cozy beds listening to Spyro Gyra on repeat on a frequently polished 30-year-old CD player with two-inch detachable speakers, the rest of you restlessly wander the streets at night, drawing inspiration from Raymond Babbitt and John Nash, applying statistical recall wizardry and unearthly negotiation skills to reach the fantasy offseason zenith — a deceptively advantageous sell-high, buy-low trade proposal. In this edition of PFN’s Fantasy Football Dynasty Trade Analyzer, we examine two buy-low and two sell-high players from the AFC South.
What makes them undervalued or overvalued, and how might you construct an effective pitch to your opponent?
Buy-Low Dynasty Players: Nyheim Hines and Trevor Lawrence
Based on 2021 stats versus likely 2022 production ranges, the following players are undervalued. Each is likely to comfortably outperform diminished expectations heading into next season.
Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Cause and effect often drives sports results. The same is true for fantasy. As one running back rises, backfield teammates frequently regress. Not always, but usually. This law of fantasy probabilities leads us to the Colts’ most surprisingly underutilized player, Nyheim Hines.
As we’ll see more below, Hines was a victim of Jonathan Taylor’s dominance. Most per-play metrics reinforce Hines’ high-end abilities, even in a complementary role. 2020’s overall fantasy RB15 plummeted to the RB48 — yes, the RB48 — despite rushing for a career-high 4.9 yards per carry. His 2.3 yards after contact on rushing attempts was 0.5 yards better than last year. And among RBs with 20+ rushing attempts, he had the league’s fifth-best broken tackle rate.
Hines’ production drop had nothing to do with talent or efficiency. His per-game usage dropped from 9.5 touches in 2020 to 5.6 in 2021.
Indianapolis failed to reach the playoffs for many reasons, including spotty quarterback play and, most pointedly, a bizarre Week 18 upset in which Hines netted only 2 touches. The Colts will try to correct some of these mistakes in 2022. The 25-year-old Hines is primed for a rebound.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Among quarterbacks with at least six starts this season, Trevor Lawrence was one of the worst fantasy performers. Among all QBs, he was 37th in fantasy points per game.
During a historic eight-game stretch from Weeks 9-16, Lawrence had only 1 touchdown to go with 5 interceptions. He “emerged” from this nearly impossible slump in Week 17 by throwing another touchdown pass . . . and 3 more interceptions.
Yet, the Jaguars were broken from the get-go, and the drama that followed them for much of the season has pushed 2021’s No. 1 overall pick into the furthest regions of fantasy thought. This team is well-positioned to upgrade at multiple positions in this year’s draft. They have the league’s second-most cap space with more than $59 million available. And Lawrence remains the same exceptional QB talent that he was a year ago.
The sixth QB to be taken first overall in the last seven years, Lawrence has elite fantasy potential. Yes, that sounds crazy. But it’s objectively true. It’s more a matter of “when,” not “if.” He’s a strong bet to make a sizable second-year leap in 2022, assuming the franchise secures a true No. 1 wideout (losing DJ Chark in Week 3 didn’t help) and redesigns the offense post-Urban Meyer to build around Lawrence’s dual-threat strengths.
Sell-High Dynasty Players: Jonathan Taylor and Brandin Cooks
Based on 2021 stats versus likely 2022 production ranges, the following players are overvalued. Each is likely to comfortably underperform elevated expectations heading into next season.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
No doubt, this prediction will ruffle feathers. I made similar predictions about Derrick Henry last offseason and Christian McCaffrey the offseason before that. My research shows that 72% of all RBs with 350+ touches regress significantly — due to injuries and/or sharply reduced production — the following season.
A handful of running backs throughout NFL history have, on balance, racked up good follow-up seasons more often than not — for example, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, and Eddie George. But in general, these statistics are bankable. They are roadmaps for capitalizing on opponents’ inflated perceptions.
Taylor is an incredible running back. At barely 23 years old, he could be an elite fantasy RB for years to come. However, the Colts should be careful with his usage, which is trending toward unsustainable territory — 372 touches this season are a yellow flag. Despite expert consensus pointing to a No. 1 preseason fantasy ranking this summer, Taylor is a high-probability injury/regression risk.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans
What do you get when a team has a rookie quarterback, the league’s worst running game, and one of the league’s worst defenses? A security blanket at receiver. It’s difficult to know whether Davis Mills needed Brandin Cooks more than Cooks needed Mills. What’s clear is that they leaned on each other more than most QB-WR tandems in modern NFL history.
For context, in Calvin Johnson’s historic 2012 campaign (122-1,964-5 receiving line on 204 looks), he was targeted on 28% of pass attempts. This season, Cooks was targeted 26% of the time. Rookie Nico Collins was No. 2 on the team in targets with 61 (vs. Cooks’ 134), 33 catches (vs. Cooks’ 90), and 446 receiving yards (vs. 1,037 for Cooks).
It’s highly inconceivable that the Texans will roll out a similar array of talent in 2022. A rushing “attack” that slogged to 3.4 yards per carry (led by 31-year-old Rex Burkhead’s 3.5 ypc mark) and 8 rushing touchdowns — both league-low totals — are bound to improve. Houston assuredly won’t continue leaning on Chris Conley and Danny Amendola as No. 3 and No. 4 receivers.
Two things are true. Cooks is a terrific wideout, and his WR20 fantasy performance was the culmination of various adjustable factors. His outburst was a perfect storm for a team that almost literally could not depend on anyone else. If you can secure back-end WR2 value for him, pounce while you can.