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Missing out on Cam Newton's resurgence (and other fantasy football draft regrets)

Scott Pianowski
·7-min read

When the Patriots added Cam Newton in July, I nodded in approval. The deal was all upside for the team, a good speculation move to make. Newton was oddly ignored in the free-agent market, and the Patriots certainly seemed to be upgrading over unknown QB Jarret Stidham. Why not take a shot on Newton, see what he had left in his age-31 season? It was practically a free spin.

Then again, I didn’t proactively rank Newton on my fantasy board. I didn’t trust the receiver group that he’d be working with, a group that Tom Brady struggled with at the end of 2019. At a position rich with possible right answers, Newton wasn’t a draft target for me.

You’re going to be wrong often in this fake football racket, and after two weeks it’s pretty clear I missed on Newton. He’s the QB3 as of this writing. He threw for 397 yards in a gloriously entertaining loss to Seattle in Week 2, and he’s been a punishing runner all season (122 yards, four touchdowns). Score another hit for Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and the villains of the NFL.

Cam Newton’s fantasy comeback

If you landed Newton, what’s the play going forward? Set and forget, repeat until rich? Or maybe this is a good opportunity to deal him — that is, if you can actually find a trading partner. Many Newton teams might have two playable quarterbacks, and now find Newton at the top of the depth chart. But in most standard leagues, it can be difficult to move an extra quarterback. There are so many playable options at the position.

While anyone who plays fantasy will probably be desperate for running back or receiver help many times during the year, quarterback woes are far less common. It’s a position with so many right answers. Heck, as much as I regret missing on Newton, it hasn’t hurt my teams much. Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan are my two biggest QB plays this year, and they’ve both started well. I have some Josh Allen, too.

Although Newton’s passing was sublime in the Seattle game, his fantasy value is obviously tied to his unique running ability. And unlike a lot of the modern mobile quarterbacks, who love to jitterbug around, slide when appropriate, and duck out of bounds when they can, Newton is a physical, interior, punishing runner. He’s basically a part-time running back in this offense. And he’s on pace for a historic workload.

Lamar Jackson had 176 rushing attempts last year, the most from a quarterback since the merger. There have been 11 quarterbacks in that period who have 120 carries or more. Newton’s shown up on the list four times from his Carolina days, logging 139, 132, 127 and 126 rushes.

Those numbers look tame to the 2020 Newton. The Patriots have him on pace for 208 carries.

I’ve shifted my viewpoint on quarterback rushing risk in recent years. The league has done all it can to legislate big hits against quarterbacks — at times it feels like all the QBs should be wearing a red jersey — and the most resourceful runners are smart about sliding or giving up on a run before risking a big shot. But Newton is cut from a different cloth; it’s almost like he wants to be the Marshawn Lynch of running quarterbacks. Newton runs power concepts and takes on contact. He’s willing to pay the price, but you have to openly wonder if this can be sustained for a full season at the current pace.

So, again, I think the time might be right to sell high on the fantasy trade market, if a Newton deal is available to you. I grant you, in start-one formats, it might not be easy. But perhaps you can pitch it as a FOMO trade for someone in your league who rostered Newton in some of the glory years. That 2015 MVP season wasn’t that long ago.

Julian Edelman is also coming off a monster game, a 179-yard clinic around and through the Seattle secondary. It’s the best regular-season game of his career. We’ve seen Edelman do this type of thing in the playoffs, not as often in the regular season.

But Edelman also looks like a possible fantasy trade candidate, perhaps more than Newton. Edelman is in his age-34 season. He’s rarely been a big touchdown source, only getting past six receiving touchdowns in one season. He’s made it through all 16 games just three times in 11 years. And with Newton bogarting so many of the rushing scores, it’s not like Edelman is likely to be a dynamic scorer in the red area.

Edelman currently stands as the WR10 in standard leagues, a spot he’ll be hard-pressed to keep if he’s not a big touchdown guy. And given where he’s at in his career, I’d love to lock in a fantasy profit now, given where he was drafted. Obviously every league is different, and your mileage will vary. And I’m not saying Newton or Edelman are a trade-at-all-cost proposition; if you don’t like what’s out there for you, you can always say no.

(And before any of the New England homers say I’m some sort of Patriots hater, keep in mind I grew up in the 01824. I went to college in Rhode Island. You can probably guess what team I care about most, though multiple decades as a sports writer have made me somewhat agnostic about the whole process. When it comes to this fake sports thing, we just want the numbers.)

[Week 3 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

What other regrets do I have through two weeks? Glad you asked.

  • I was concerned about how quickly it would take DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs to get comfortable in their new cities and offenses. They’ve gotten up to speed immediately. Both of them look like bargains at their summer ADPs.

  • I wasn’t against Aaron Jones in the second round, but I wasn’t proactively scooping him up, either. This looks like a mistake to this point. Perhaps I got cold feet when I considered how Matt LaFleur handled the Tennessee backfield in 2018 — Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis split touches equally. And the Packers, of course, drafted A.J. Dillon in the second round this spring. But the sound you hear this week is Jones laughing at the Regression Police.

  • It’s going to be easy to pivot away from Chris Herndon, who was one of my favorite sleeper tight ends. Fortunately, that’s another position with tons of young talent and many right answers. But why dance with Adam Gase if you don’t have to? I’ll keep Jamison Crowder on the teams I roster him, but other than that, get me out of the hangar.

  • I probably didn’t draft Johnathan Taylor in enough leagues, not that his 2020 liftoff was entirely projectable. Marlon Mack, after all, came out of the blocks as the featured back in Week 1. But Mack subsequently got hurt, and Week 1 flash Nyheim Hines was mothballed in Week 2 (just one touch, compared to 28 for Taylor). And the Colts aren’t afraid to throw the ball to Taylor, either. If we redrafted prior to Week 3, Taylor would be a sure first-round pick, probably in the Top 6-8 slots.

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