FANTASY FOOTBALL – ADP Value Picks
We as a country love to talk about ourselves. That sounds conceded, but tell me it’s not true.
I’d be happy to wax poetic about my ranks and what players I love/hate (and I’m sure I will at some point), but today … today I’m here to discuss YOU. Well, kind of. You all have participated in nearly 1,500 drafts since the middle of the week and have generated some very interesting Average Draft Positions. Let’s take a look at what you’ve gotten right up to this point in standard scoring leagues and where you have room to improve as we approach prime drafting season in the coming weeks.
Jay Cutler (ADP: 100.5– My Rank: 50)
Remember when the Bears relied on their elite defense to carry them? Well, those days are gone. Long gone. While the defense has regressed, the offense has retooled and figures to rank among the most potent in all of football. Cutler has quietly been trending in the right direction since joining Da Bears, a trend I very much like to continue given the athletic upside of the tools at his disposal. We all know what Brandon Marshall is capable of, not to mention the obvious connection he has with Cutler, and I don’t even have him ranked as the Bears top Fantasy pass-catcher this season. No, that title belongs to 24-year-old Alshon Jeffery. The pride of South Carolina displayed remarkable ball skills as last season progressed (at least 75 receiving yards or a touchdown in nine of his final 10 games last season), something I like Cutler to take advantage of the way he did with Marshall from 2007-2008 (206 catches on 353 targets for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns in 31 games). Two super-sized wide outs is ideal for a quarterback whose decision making is often questioned in the real world but perfect in the Fantasy world, thus making a possession-minded tight end (a career-high 61.5 percent of Martellus Bennett’s receptions moved the chains last season) and the premier dual threat running back (Matt Forte is averaging 3.33 catches and 17.21 carries per game over the last three seasons) simply icing on the cake. Cutler has produced strong Fantasy campaigns in the past and he has never had half the talent level that currently surrounds him in Chicago.
With the exception of Cutler, I really like what the public has done at the quarterback position thus far. The difference is minor, but I’m on board with ranking Aaron Rodgers over Drew Brees. Both are obviously great options, but the mobility edge of the steroid-less A-Rod (in the last four seasons in which he has played at least 10 games, Rodgers has had at least 257 rushing yards) over Brees (256 career rushing yards in eight seasons under center in New Orleans) is a major advantage. The loss of Darren Sproles also figures to affect Brees more so than the loss of James Jones to Rodgers, making the Packers signal caller more of a threat to finish first at his position than third.
The public has also done well in separating the QB tiers. It is no secret that there is a “Big Three” atop this position, but the development of a clear cut tier two is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I have Andrew Luck a tick above Matthew Stafford, but regardless of the order in which you rank these two high-volume passers, we can agree that they are the only two other quarterbacks that deserve to be drafted in among the Top 60 overall Fantasy players.
One quarterback that has been crushed this offseason is Tom Brady, but it appears that drafters have been able to sift through the hate and acknowledge that consistency pays the bills. Everything went wrong for the Pats pass game in 2013, yet Brady was a fringe Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. He’s not going to throw 50 touchdowns again, but with the increased health of his teammates and the future hall of famer’s track record (averaging 4,587 yards and 34 touchdowns per season since his ACL tear in 2008), he’s QB1 until we see otherwise.
Lastly, I’m impressed with the Fantasy community’s ability to distance themselves from the elite 2013 of Andy Dalton and not overdraft The Red Rifle. Yes, he threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, but his all inclusive PFF QB Rating was awfully average (14th best in the league, behind the likes of Mike Glennon and Ryan Fitzpatrick) and indicates significant statistical regression in 2014. He’s being drafted as the 17th quarterback this season, and while I have him as my 15th QB, we can agree that he isn’t to be considered in anything but the deepest of leagues.
Running Back Notes:
As spot-on as you’ve been with signal callers in the early going, you’re struggling a bit at the most important position in Fantasy Football. Let’s start in the late-first early-second round, where Arian Foster is often being drafted. I too like a bounce back, especially with Ben Tate out of the picture, but I also expect this offense to focus more on their aerial attack than last season. Foster will turn 28 before this season starts, an age that is a bit worrisome given his recent struggles with a variety of nagging injuries. My ranking of Foster (21st overall player) is based as much on the upside of RB’s that also project as second rounders (DeMarco Murray, Le’Veon Bell, and Gio Bernard). Foster could easily provide owners with Top 10 production, but it seems reasonable to assume we’ve already seen the best he has to offer, while those ranked in his class have yet to achieve their ceiling.
Zac Stacy (ADP: 27.1 – My rank: 25)
As last season wore on, the Stacy bandwagon gained tremendous steam (527 yards and five touchdowns in his final four home games) and resulted in him being considered a fringe first-rounder when many websites rolled out their draft packages this summer. But you, the Fantasy gamer, has proven to be better than that and have Stacy going at the perfect spot at the beginning of the third round. The Rams workhorse didn’t display an elite skill set in his time at Vanderbilt and while his counting numbers were nice last season, they weren’t supported by the advanced metrics. The team around him is improving, but it is still an average situation at best, and that’s a major concern for an RB that struggled to gain more yards than what was blocked last season.
Rashard Jennings (ADP: 42.4 – My rank: 61)
Subtract Jennings’ 80-yard tote last season and he is averaging a mere 3.56 yards per carry since the beginning of 2012, a rate that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. He figures to get his first chance to start this season, but is there any doubt that the Giants would prefer David Wilson, who is six years Jennings’ junior, do something to earn more carries? Tom Coughlin has never been shy about changing the pecking order in his backfield, and while I like the talent of Jennings, I fear that he could be on a short leash. Current drafters are selecting the unproven back over Chris Johnson and Frank Gore, two backs that aren’t sexy but continue to produce value greater than their draft position. If you want to roll the dice on a player assuming a greater workload in 2014, I much prefer Joique Bell who is going nearly 18 picks later.
Pierre Thomas (ADP: 71.3 – My rank: 40)
Why not? Thomas led all running backs in receptions last year and led the Saints backfield by a considerable margin in carries (88.5 percent more carries than the second most frequent ball carrier) … and that was with the game-breaking Darren Sproles playing his traditional role. Sproles will be in the Eagles backfield this season, leaving plenty of touches to be had in the Saints explosive offense, slack that should be picked up primarily by Thomas. While he could assume Sproles’ touches, he is far from a one trick pony, as his touchdown rate over the last six seasons is greater than the career rate of Alfred Morris. Common logic would have Ray Rice missing at least some time due to his off the field transgressions this season, yet the Ravens troubled back is being drafted ahead of Thomas. Really? I’m looking for at least 250 touches from Thomas this season, and given his career production, that should be plenty to earn him RB2 status in 2014.
Darren Sproles (ADP: 80.6 – My rank: 132)
I’ll admit that Sproles’ skill set is tempting in a Chip Kelly lead offense, but what motivation do the Eagles have to get the 31-year-old the ball with any sort of consistency? They have a do-it-all stud in LeSean McCoy, and taking him off the field would mean significantly downgrading the talent on the field. That’s not to say that they can’t co-exist, but there are only so many touches to go around. No team knows Sproles better than the Saints, making it reasonable to read into the fact that his touch rate has decreased appreciably (at least 12-percent) in back-to-back seasons and that they were willing to part with him for a mere fifth round pick. Running backs the rely on receptions to drive their Fantasy value are risky to begin with from a consistency standpoint, but if you’re up for that risk, I prefer a younger option that has a year of experience with his current playbook and plays with a lesser running back in Danny Woodhead (currently going 18 picks later).
Wide Receiver Notes:
Antonio Brown (ADP: 25 – My rank: 42)
I understand the love being shown for Brown this offseason, I really do, but this feels like a classic “chasing” situation. I preach all the time about consistency, and with at least five catches in all 16 games last season, Brown embodied just that … last year. Let’s not lose track of the fact that Brown had averaged 104 targets per 16 games for his career before catching 110 balls last season, or that he had seven career scores before reaching pay dirt eight times in 2013. The loss of Emmanuel Sanders figures to hurt the potency of this offense, a unit that was one of four to complete at least 375 passes and have twice as many touchdowns as interceptions last season (the other three were quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Phillip Rivers). Lastly, on a per game basis, Brown saw his catches (+34.9 percent), targets (+38.3 percent), yards (66.9 percent), and touchdown rate (+300 percent) spike against the defenseless NFC North last season, a division he won’t play against in 2014. The Steelers top pass-catcher had everything break his way in 2013 and he finished ninth in standard Fantasy production at his position. He’s being drafted as the eighth best receiver thus far, meaning he would need to repeat, if not improve, his career-year. Not. Gunna. Happen.
Alshon Jeffery (ADP: 26 – My rank: 11)
Speaking of playing in the NFC North, the Bears play six such games every season. Jeffery exploded onto the scene last year with 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns, Fantasy production that was superior to that of Calvin Johnson in his age 23 season. The massive campaign is that much more impressive when you consider Jeffery’s slow start (131 total receiving yards in the Bears first four victories) under the direction of a first-year head coach in Marc Trestman. For the season, the youngster was called on more often than Brandon Marshall in “obvious” passing downs and proved to already be an elite down-the-field option by averaging at least 20 yards per reception seven times in 2013. Given his upside, can you really justify taking him five spots later than the plodding Alfred Morris and one spot behind the much less physically gifted Brown (Jeffery has a five inch 30-pound advantage)?
Andre Johnson (ADP: 47.8 – My rank: 33)
The Texans offense will be much better this year and while Johnson recently turned 33, there is no doubt that he should be a big part of it. Even in a season in which Houston ranked in the bottom third of the league in completion percentage and threw 15.8 percent more interceptions than touchdowns, the wily veteran still managed to haul in at least 6.3 passes for 87 yards per game for the fifth time in six seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be a great NFL quarterback, but he does give his receivers a chance to make plays, and that’s more than can be said about the Texans muddied QB situation in 2013. We’ve yet to see a decline in Johnson’s ability, making the thought that Fantasy owners have been willing to take fliers on unproven starting running backs (Toby Gerhart, Bishop Sankey, and Rashard Jennings) over him a bit baffling to me.
Michael Floyd (ADP: 56.4 – My rank: 89)
Floyd has shown some nice growth in his two professional seasons, but this is jumping the gun a bit, don’t you think? This draft position has him going before the number one receiver in a much more pass-happy offense in Eugene Marquis Hilton, also known as ”T.Y”. Yes, there is upside here, but by taking him in the fifth/sixth round, you are committing to starting a deep threat (fourth in average depth of target among players with at least 50 catches last season) that plays in an offense that acquired Ted Ginn Jr., already has Larry Fitzgerald, and is lead by the ever-inconsistent Carson Palmer. Andre Ellington is going to demand a heavier workload both on the ground and in the passing game, leaving Floyd as an up-and-down option that is likely to see his production vary greatly from week to week.
Marques Colston (ADP: 74.6 – My rank: 46)
By drafting Colston, you forfeit making a pick that owners in your league idolize, but you get rock solid production when all is said and done. While the Saints offense is dynamic, where is the proven talent outside of Jimmy Graham? Kenny Stills has potential and Brandin Cooks looks the part of a game-breaker in the wide open New Orleans attack, but Colston has thrived in this system for years and should continue to do so in 2014. For his career, the 31-year-old has averaged nearly 145 yards and a touchdown every two weeks, production that you can bank on given his connection with Brees. You can pay for all the upside you want, but if I can get a player who has averaged 82.5 catches per 16 games since 2009 and has recorded at least five scores in every season of his NFL career in the seventh/eighth round, I’m happy to do so.
Tight End Notes
Jimmy Graham (ADP: 8.6 – My rank: 14)
I’m not going to fight you on Graham being the top ranked player at his position, although I do think it is possible that the value of other tight ends could surpass the Saints top option, but is he really worth a first round selection? Since 2011, Graham has averaged 11.98 standard Fantasy points per week while the best non-Graham tight end in each of those seasons has amassed 13.01 points on a weekly basis. My argument is not that a tight end is going to out produce Graham, rather that there is a non-zero chance of that happening, and given the separation in ADP he has from the other elite options at the position, that would net his owners a serious blow. Graham outscored the second best tight end by 55 total Fantasy points last season (better than three times the average difference between TE1 and TE2 over the previous four seasons), a production gap he would essentially need to maintain to justify being your first pick. He’s going to be good … really good … but the value isn’t there for him to go in the first round.
Jordan Cameron (ADP: 57.8 – My rank: 101)
Personally, if I’m not taking Julius Thomas or Rob Gronkowski, I’m waiting a long time until I fill my tight end spot. Cameron looked the part of a future stud, but what can we expect from this Browns offense? They figure to throw the ball less than they did a year ago (their 681 attempts was tops in the NFL) and will could well have a rotating door under center for the first few months of the season. Cameron is being drafted in the same neighborhood as Vernon Davis and Jason Witten, two tight ends that have a very limited floor. He is also being taken with the last tier of viable starting Fantasy running backs, something I value much higher than a tight end who could be very good but also could be out-produced by someone like Martellus Bennett (Bennett’s final eight games of 2013 saw him catch two fewer passes for one more yard and the same number of touchdowns as Cameron).
Jordan Reed (ADP: 78 – My rank: 109)
It’s not that I don’t love the upside here, I do, but I don’t understand why you need to draft him here. Reed is going just ahead of a six-pack of receivers that I view as potential WR3’s in Golden Tate, Sammy Watkins, Kendall Wright, Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker, and Riley Cooper, a draft position that makes no sense given the amount of similarity at the tight end position. In order for me to take Reed at this point, I would need to be 100% sure that he has an edge over the tight ends I can get the rest of the way, and I simply don’t understand how you can be that confident in a player in a run first offense that has an elite chain moving receiver and brought in DeSean Jackson this offseason. Players like Greg Olsen (the only tight end with an active streak of five-plus touchdowns in six straight seasons) and Charles Clay (essentially a Reed clone both in stature and offensive structure) are going later and providing Fantasy owners with greater value. I’m OK if you want to chase upside at some point in the draft, I’m just not doing it for a mid-level tight end.
Let’s take a break from the negativity for a minute and give you the drafter some props. Your evaluation of Dennis Pitta (your ninth highest drafted TE and my eighth ranked TE) has been perfect up to this point. With Gary Kubiak now calling the shots in Baltimore and Pitta finally healthy, he’s the tight end I would gamble on to finish among the Top 5 at his position. It was only a season ago in which he recorded at least 40 yards and a touchdown in half the games in which he caught at least two passes, serving as a safety blanket for the occasionally erratic Joe Flacco. Kubiak has already hinted at lining Pitta up all over the field, and given that the Ravens receiving core features a passel of young burners, I’m expecting the big tight end to serve as a chain moving extraordinaire in 2014. Look for career high yardage and touchdown totals, upside that you have accounted for nicely with your ranking of Pitta this offseason.
Martellus Bennett (ADP: 137.2 – My rank: 114)
You didn’t think I could let you leave without mentioning one more Bear did you? @MartysaurusRex (6’6” 265 lbs) is every bit the physical specimen of a Graham (6’7” 265) or a Thomas (6’5” 250), and while he may lack some of the God-given athletic skills of the elite, he should benefit nicely from having top-notch playmakers on the field around him. With defenses constantly worried about Marshall and Jeffery beating them down field, not to mention Forte out of the backfield, there should continue to be little attention paid to Bennett across the middle. While he is an excellent chain mover, the 27-year-old has quietly improved his ability exploit mismatches for the big play, as is evident by three straight seasons with an increase in average yards per reception. I’ll leave you with this statistical nugget: Bennett caught the same number of passes on one more target for 29 fewer yards than Thomas. The difference in Fantasy production was touchdowns, but Bennett’s percentage of his team’s passing scores (15.6 percent) wasn’t all that different from Thomas’ (21.8 percent). If Manning regresses a bit and Cutler can take a step forward, it is possible that Bennett is the most valuable tight end on the board in 2014.
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