What Fantasy Twitter Got Right and What It Got Wrong
They were right about Puka Nacua. Brock Purdy proved them wrong.
I wrote last week what I don’t like about fantasy football, how fantasy football causes many gamers to reduce football players to their stat lines. If you haven’t read it, read it now. I have removed the pay wall.
I criticized fantasy twitter in that column—and deservedly so—but fantasy twitter isn’t wrong about everything. They have some insights to add, and my listening to them helped me identify Puka Nacua as a breakout rookie.
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One of my offseason fantasy football articles I wrote that am most proud of was my article on Brock Purdy as a 2023 breakout candidate. As I wrote then, he had already broken out his rookie season, but that was only for half a season. I tried to recreate the excitement of watching Purdy in his first couple of weeks. You can reread it here: Brock Purdy - 2023 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidate.
Now it is safe to say Purdy has fully broken out. The undrafted free agent is leading the best team in the NFC, he’s leading the MVP odds, and he’s the No. 4 QB in total scoring.
I highlighted Purdy as “the ultimate steal” in fantasy football in June…
…But I chickened out by the time I got to drafting my teams in August. I didn’t end up picking Purdy for any of my teams even though I snapped him up off waivers last season, and I was so high on him earlier in the summer.
The reason I didn’t pull the trigger on Purdy, I think, is that I was overly swayed by the discourse on fantasy twitter. Fantasy analysts and football fans were criticizing him for a couple of reasons, not all of which I bought.
1.) Purdy isn’t inherently talented. It’s the system.
I don’t think Purdy is the best quarterback in the league, but you can watch him in many games and see that he gets the ball out to the right place quickly, and he stays confident and creates when met with pressure. His performance against the Seahawks in last year’s playoffs has some good illustrative examples. He’s certainly a better-than-average quarterback on his own merit alone. His supporting cast and the coaching of Kyle Shanahan obviously help, but he performed much better than Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo in the same system.
Secondly, the above argument doesn’t make a difference for his value in fantasy football—certainly not for redraft. Fantasy football is just about putting up big numbers. However, I may have been swayed too much by their constant skepticism of Purdy.
I did call him a “redraft” steal in one of my articles, drawing a distinction between his redraft value and his dynasty value. In dynasty, you keep your players from one year to the next. So if Purdy was going to be labeled a “system quarterback” and tossed aside in a couple of years, then his dynasty value would be lower than his redraft value. It is clear now that he is not a system quarterback (to the extent that being called such is a criticism) and that he’ll be with the Niners for years to come.
2.) Purdy will still be hurt by his injury.
Purdy tore his UCL in the NFC Championship Game last season. The reports were pretty clear that he was going to be back very early in the season, if not by Week 1, which he was. But twitter users with nothing better to talk about kept speculating on rumors or just made up hypotheticals that maybe Purdy would miss more time. They also wondered if he wouldn’t be hurt by the lingering effects of his injury when he did come back.
Fantasy managers have been hurt by reoccurring injuries in the past. This season, those who gambled on an aging Cooper Kupp were burnt when Kupp missed the first four games of the season and then had hit-or-miss production when healthy.
But Purdy is a young gun, so there was probably too much attention paid to the possibility that he would face long-term impacts from his injury.
The discourse on Purdy is just one narrative from twitter. I like to think I didn’t buy into too many of the twitter narratives. You can kind of feel when it seems like bs hype-mongering with no substance. For example, I never bought that Steelers QB Kenny Pickett would be a breakout in his third year or that the team’s diva receiver George Pickens would be good just because he was beating up on his rookie teammates in training camp videos. Training camp videos spread on twitter like wildfire every summer, and they almost never mean anything. Except in some cases, like…
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Makea “Puka” Nacua is a Samoan-Portuguese American born in Utah who attended Washington and BYU. Nothing about his college profile screams “elite receiver prospect.” He played for four years, which is already a red flag: most top receivers are so much better than their college opponents that they enter the draft after two or three years. He never gained more than 805 yards in a season while playing against lower level competition than the prospects from Big 10 and SEC schools. (Ohio State star and Seahawks’ first-round draft pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba gained 1,606 yards his sophomore season and entered the draft after three years.)
He was drafted by the Rams in the fifth round. Usually, NFL scouts are good enough to spot the top talent and grade it accordingly. The correlation between draft position and production is quite strong.
But Nacua was making amazing catches at training camp and being praised by coaches, teammates, and everyone. Fantasy analysts caught on and hyped him as a sleeper who could bring great value late in drafts.
I have to admit that at first I was skeptical. A fifth-rounder on a bad team with an aging quarterback? However, it was true that being on a bad team, he could easily ascend the depth chart. The Rams had no proven No. 2 WR behind Cooper Kupp. Then Kupp got injured during the preseason…
I was involved in the inaugural draft of a new dynasty league on September 4. I had already drafted Josh Allen and Christian McCaffrey in the first round (after trading to acquire two first-round picks). I had filled in all of my important positions. It was the 24th round. Puka Nacua was on the board. At that point of the draft, there’s not much value left. Everyone is either a long shot or a low-value player. I wouldn’t be losing much if Nacua didn’t live up to the hype. So I drafted Puka Nacua in the 24th round.
In my home league, I picked up Nacua off the waiver wire for $21 of FAAB after Week 1.
Last night, Puka Nacua caught nine passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. He scored 34.5 fantasy points for my dynasty team in round one of the playoffs. He already has 1,327 yards this season with two games left. The record for rookie receiving yards is 1,473 by Bill Groman (for the 1960 Houston team of the AFL) and 1,455 yards by Ja’Marr Chase in 2021. Nacua has a real shot to break the record.
Fantasy twitter isn’t useless. They planted the seed that Nacua could be a star in my mind. He is. You have to take the information and evaluate it with your own thinking.