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When narratives ruined us in 2017 fantasy football

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Last week we looked at some of the instances where coach speak ruined us in the 2017 fantasy football season. A decent chunk of narratives were covered there, but we're not quite finished.

Sometimes we take the signs and signals given off by the team, or literally anything we want to use, and spin a narrative that we eventually buy into. We can convince ourselves something will truly happen based on nothing more than the story we've told ourselves. Here we'll look at several times where doing just that resulted in utterly disappointing results for fantasy managers in 2017.

Terrelle Pryor's one-handed catch opened the ADP floodgates


Hype around Terrelle Pryor's 2017 season, his first with the Washington Redskins, wasn't hard to come by this offseason. The former NFL quarterback put up a legitimately exciting 1,000-yard campaign with the Browns in 2016 after fully committing to the wide receiver position for the first time in his football life. When he got loose from Cleveland and signed up to play for a team with a highly productive offense, fantasy gamers began to lick their chops.

Those who loved Pryor this past season fell victim to the same logical fallacy that often follows the wide receiver position:

- (X Receiver) was productive with a bad quarterback(s).
- Just imagine what he'll do now that he's playing with (X good quarterback)!

If that little fairytale wasn't enough, a raven flew across the night sky of the internet that gave order for the Terrelle Pryor hype march to only pick up steam with ferocity. If there's one thing that an optimistic fantasy projector can't help but eat up like catnip, it's a little confirmation bias. Pryor dropped a just such an offering onto our Twitter timelines as this video of a one-handed catch from training camp sent fantasy drafters into a tizzy.

Pryor rose to the heights of a third-round pick across multiple ADP sources by the time August rolled around. Of course, we know how the story ended. Pryor played in just nine games, started only two, received a mere 37 targets and scored a single touchdown.

A narrative web spun with excitement and the tantalizing siren of theoretical upside drew away too many fantasy managers from the straight facts of this situation. For all the potential, this was still an inexperienced receiver set to undergo a transition to working with a new offense and quarterback. That same offense had never had a funnel receiver commanding the bulk of the targets. Why would that suddenly change for a receiver they signed to a mere one-year deal? Well, it was never going to, but it certainly wasn't going to happen because you confirmed it with a sick practice video you saw on Twitter.

Ameer Abdullah comes in just shy of his coach's projection


Lions running backs coach Dave Walker confirmed in training camp Ameer Abdullah was the Lions feature back. Abdullah earned affection after a strong college career and major flashes during the preseason of his rookie year. Walker began to set a narrative in place that all too many fantasy managers would have loved to come true. The community decided to bet on his talent, despite the fact that the players who took his passing game (Theo Riddick) and goal line (several) duties in years past were still in place.

Walker added fuel to the fire by saying "If you handed the ball to Ameer 250 times, he's going to get you 1,000 yards. So we'll just see if we get there." It hardly guaranteed his workload, but it established just how much the Lions seemingly trusted Abdullah to breakout this season. Well, then, why shouldn't we? Let's skip to the end of the story.

Ameer Abdullah did not hit that 250-carry threshold, totaling just 165 in 14 games. However, since Abdullah was painfully unproductive and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, even if he had 250 carries he would have finished with just 825 rushing yards. At his 2017 pace, he would have required 304 carries to clear 1,000 rushing yards. There's no universe where he sees that workload come his way ever. Detroit will be on the hunt for an actual feature back this offseason.

Joe Mixon: "the best back in the draft" but why should I care?


Another whiff in the "bet on talent" pursuit, Joe Mixon was widely proclaimed to be perhaps the most talented running back in the 2017 NFL Draft class but fell to the second round because of an incident in college where he hit a woman.

Feel free to scan the internet for countless proclamations of Joe Mixon's talent and how that would ultimately be what won out in the end. Despite the fact there were next to no hard evidence-based indications he would be the Bengals lead back to open the season, fantasy drafters largely took him in the first four rounds of summer drafts.

Mixon did eventually get his shot to be the clear-cut bell cow when Jeremy Hill went on injured reserve. He averaged 17 touches per game from Weeks 3 to 11 before getting injured against the Steelers. Yet, for all his supposed talent, Mixon averaged 3.5 yards per carry and finished outside the top-30 fantasy backs.

Of course, the Mixon mega-talent backers will point to the situation he was placed into that what doomed him not his ability. Maybe that's true, despite Mixon finishing poorly in multiple running measurements, but either way, that's kind of the point. You don't get fantasy points for talent, you get them by way of production which is brought on by opportunity which is dictated by the situation. None of that measured up to that of a top-four round pick in fantasy this summer, no matter what your opinion of his ability was.

The narrative of Mixon's talent certainly led expectations to be way overblown. He may indeed be a super talented back, but the question remains: does it really matter? Recent results indicate it doesn't.

Joe Williams, the next Shanahan backfield prodigy, would force Carlos Hyde out


Longtime NFL storyteller Peter King wrote a good one laying out the happenings in the 49ers draft room under first-time general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Considering the "who will be the next Shanahan sleeper back" is a near-annual narrative, fantasy managers got to the section on fourth-round pick Joe Williams and proceeded to freebase the head coach's words.

King relayed Shanahan's words of affection displayed in, perhaps, unhealthy fashion, "I'm telling you right now: If we don't get him, I'll be sick. I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night." John Lynch even said he was having trouble sleeping the night before the third day of the draft, with anxiety creeping in about the idea of Williams as a player the GM had removed from his board. Yet, the former NFL safety did indeed make the pick at the behest of his partner in crime and after a phone call with the rookie back.

The King piece sent waves of narrative through the football world, seeping into how we viewed Carlos Hyde heading into the 2017 season. To be fair, King had a strong set of cohorts in feeding this narrative.

Grant Cohn of The Santa Rosa Press Democrat relayed that Carlos Hyde has looked like "the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team" at spring practices. He espoused notes that Hyde "didn't have the vision" for this system and that the 49ers should trade him, while Joe Williams was "a natural." Longtime top-flight beat writer Matt Maiocco believed that Hyde would have to compete for the lead back role. NFL Media's own dapper scribe Gregg Rosenthal even heard back in July that Hyde could be a surprise cut coming out of training camp.

It all added up being a good, and in some ways even convincing narrative. Yet, when the film reel started rolling, the story that unfolded didn't look anything like what was predicted. Joe Williams struggled in camp, ran behind undrafted rookie Matt Brieda in the preseason and "alarmed" the coach (who once said he'd be sick if the 49ers missed out on drafting him) with his fumbling issues.

While Williams' season ended before it began going on injured reserve after a pitiful summer, Carlos Hyde went on to play all 16 games for the first time as a pro and scored eight times. It had the makings of a good plotline, but this season of "The Shanahan Sleeper Running Back" was ultimately one we wished we never set the DVR for.

A doomed couple tries to make it work in New Orleans


In case you understandably forgot, Adrian Peterson, who ended 2017 on the Arizona Cardinals injured reserve list, once played for the New Orleans Saints, who unlocked one of the best backfield tandems ever once he was ousted. Once upon a time, the future Hall of Famer was expected to reach new heights in the Saints offense. This story was a tough sell, but they sure did try to peddle this unbelievable tale. Most knew this marriage wasn't right for either side, but our two friends here both kept telling us, "no way, everyone, we're like really good together."

Let's go chapter-by-chapter and see how this saga unfolded and ultimately ended.

April 2017: Sean Payton indicates that Adrian Peterson will have a "clear role."

"We're a great fit, we know just what we want" the doomed couple always proclaims all too earnestly. Remember this one, it pays off beautifully later.

May 2017: Adrian Peterson is working on his pass-catching ability.

Just a hint, if you must change who you are at the core just to be with someone else, they're probably not right for you. Peterson had never been an asset in the passing game. It made no sense for the Saints to sell him as one.

Early June 2017: Teammates "gushed" over Peterson in OTAs.

All right. Fine. So you posted a few great-looking pictures of you two together on Instagram. Admittedly, they were pretty cute. You adjusted those filters to just the right degree that you started to convince a few of your friends that this might actually work.

Mid-June 2017: Adrian Peterson believes Drew Brees will help him improve as a pass-catcher.

Peterson said, "It's all about having a guy that's going to get the ball to you, and without a doubt I know Brees is going to. We'll be doing that." You see it; they're starting to try and change for each other. This is peak honeymoon period. "You know, I really don't mind that he leaves his clothes all over the floor." "It's okay that she's allergic to my dog. Her sneezes are even kind of cute!"

July 2017: Adrian Peterson wants to surpass 500 yards this season

Okay, okay. This is when your two friends start to get a little ridiculous. She's changed her Polo wardrobe to all black and fishnets because he digs that Hot Topic style. He's quoting lines from "Hamilton" because she's really into the theater despite the fact that a few months ago his idea of fine art was vintage episodes of "Cheers." This 32-year-old running back is suddenly proclaiming he'll do things he's never done in his career at any point just because he's in a new city. You can tell from a mile away that this is just a sign of them trying too hard.

Early September 2017: Adrian Peterson glares at Sean Payton on the sideline after running for 18 yards in his revenge game against the Vikings

Oh no. Their first nasty public fight. Let me tell you, when this happens, the clock is ticking. These moments are hard to come back from. Everyone saw it and no amount of googly-eyed apology texts will undo the damage.

Mid-September 2017: Sean Payton says he doesn't believe they "ever discussed featuring" Peterson

The couple is starting to relitigate their history, openly admitting their attempts to alter their personalities and preferences for each other. The end is just around the corner.

Early October 2017: Saints running back coach Joel Thomas thinks "it's just a matter of time" until it all comes together for Adrian Peterson

You know this isn't working. They know this isn't working. But that doesn't mean these two jilted lovers can't have one last good night together. Over dinner at a restaurant they shared an important memory in their early days, they'll look at each other fondly. He remembers her cute sneezes and piles of theater critic books with a faint chuckle of endearment. She thinks of his insistence that "black is her color" and how he'd get around to putting those clothes in the hamper with an eye-roll, but one tinged with a hint of fading affection. The couple heads home together one last time with a few empty words, both knowing their overdue separation isn't far down the line.

Mid-October 2017: The Saints ship off Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional sixth-round pick

A couple that once insisted they were destined to together finally succumb to the obvious weight of their differences. It was never a good match and we all knew it. It took them time to see it and in the end, they didn't even make it to the end of the semester. It's always a shame when love runs its course, but hey, at least we all learned something.

Not you again, Doug Martin


The Buccaneers tried to spin a narrative that's worked for them in the past. Doug Martin, coming off a down season, was set to return to his old form. Again, we saw this work out swimmingly in 2015. So Tampa tried to roll out that story one more time.

The obvious cash-grab remake wasn't anything close to as good as the original. The 2015 Doug Martin tour ended in a top-five fantasy finish and 1,400 rushing yards. As for the 2017 version? There was a benching, fumbles, a 2.9 yards per carry average and a crowd of people shaking their head wondering why they ever spent any money out of their paychecks to go see that flick.

Matt Harmon is a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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