The Fantasy Cover 4
The last weekend right before the start of NFL season is generally when most fantasy football leagues hold their draft. All the preseason games have been played, and just about every draftable job has been established. You’ve had a lot of time to digest weeks worth of information, injury reports, suspensions, and you are fully prepared for your league’s draft.
Who are you kidding?
Trying to identify breakout candidates, sleepers, busts…its keeping you up at night. Fear not! This weekly column will help you stay ahead of the competition for your draft and all season long.
This column isn’t going to tell you to draft Peyton Manning or LeSean McCoy. Pretty sure you have that under control. (If not, don’t join a league where there’s an entry fee). Everyone should be able to land a couple of stud players early. Leagues are won and lost on the values you get in the middle and later rounds.
The biggest goal of the draft is to maximize value. You want to get the best return, simple enough concept, right? You want to avoid overpaying for players who will underperform? Well, let’s get started on identifying those values and pitfalls….
These players will give you better production that what you invest in them
Matt Ryan, Falcons (ADP 6th rd, 7th pick or 6.7): Despite no running game with Steven Jackson injured, a makeshift offensive line, and most importantly, no Julio Jones, Ryan still threw for 4167 yards and 24 TDs.
Bring back Jones, a healthy Jackson, new LT Jake Matthews, and Ryan should have no problem improving upon those numbers from last season.
Philip Rivers, Chargers (ADP 9.5): Rivers was a sleeper last year, and rewarded owners nicely with 4478 yards and 32 TDs. Those are strong numbers for a guy with his average draft position. Keenan Allen is the real deal. Antonio Gates is healthier. Don’t forget “Dangerous” Danny Woodhead as the pass catcher extraordinaire out of the backfield.
He should be more efficient this season, but those numbers alone make him a top 8 QB, and he should be better this season.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (ADP 10.3) Everyone remembers Dalton’s playoff failures. However, fantasy leagues aren’t won or lost in the NFL playoffs. Dalton’s 4296 yards and 33 TDs (plus 2 rushing scores) made him a top 8 fantasy QB last season.
AJ Green is a prolific receiver, Gio Bernard is a weapon out of the backfield, Jeremy Hill will keep defenses honest, and Mohamed Sanu looks to be healthy again. Marvin Jones should be back week 5, and Dalton should be able to deliver at least what he did last season. Getting a top 8 QB on average in the 10th round is a score.
Andre Ellington, Cardinals (ADP 4.1): never got more than 15 carries in a game last season, and really didn’t get used as a consistent carrier til week 8. Still put up 652 yards and 4 total TDs. He will be used as a workhorse this year. He’s a 3 down back in Arizona, and you play in a PPR league – he’s even more valuable, as he had 39 receptions for 371 yards in part time duty last year.
He will reward owners this year with low-end RB1 type numbers.
Chris Johnson, Jets (ADP 6.7): He’s no longer CJ2K, but he can still be a solid RB2. On a mediocre, at best, Titans team last year, he ran for 1047 yards, 6TDs. Don’t forget 37 receptions for 302 yds and 4 more TDs. 10 TDs from your RB2 is solid production.
Move him to the Jets who want to run the football, and have the O-Line to do it, and those numbers should be better. New York will also utilize him in the passing game to give Geno Smith a security blanket.
Danny Woodhead, Chargers (ADP 10.4): PPR leaguers delight. He won’t get a ton of opportunities running the football unless Ryan Mathews gets hurt (highly possible), but he’s a dynamic weapon out of the backfield.
Most FFL’ers don’t consider guys who are not the team’s primary ball carrier to be a draft target, but Woodhead’s 76 receptions for 605 yds and 6 TDs show he’s a factor. He also ran for 429 yds & 2 TDs in spot duty carrying the ball. That’s a total of over 1000 yards and 8 TDs from a guy who can be your Flex/RB3. That’s tremendous value for where he’s been getting drafted.
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (ADP 7.3): With the departure of Eric Decker to the Jets and the injury concerns about Wes Welker, Sanders is primed to be a much bigger part of the Broncos offense than originally anticipated. Oh, and his quarterback is some guy named Peyton Manning. Record breaker and stuff like that, maybe you heard of him?
Manning and Sanders have already shown strong chemistry this preseason. He can beat defenses deep. He can make defenders miss. He catches passes from Peyton Manning ( I know I mentioned this already but its that important).
He will reward owners with WR2 production and could wind up a top 20 WR in fantasy this year.
Keenan Allen, Chargers (ADP 3.9): Allen was clearly the top rookie wideout last year, with a 71/1046/8 line, already showing he’s at least a WR2. However, keep in mind he was sparingly used the first 3 weeks of the season and you realize what he could have been.
Now in his second year with the team, and entrenched as the go to receiver with a strong rapport with QB Philip Rivers, and Allen could easily deliver WR1 numbers from late in the 3rd round. That’s value, folks, and production.
Andre Johnson, Texans (ADP 4.8): While the first thing you may say is “Come on, Patrick, his quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick! How can you think Johnson will be good this year?”
His quarterbacks last year were Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. One of those guys is a shell of his former self and one isn’t an NFL quarterback. Yet he still caught 109 balls for 1407 yards and 5 TDs.
The TD numbers were low, and theres no way to expect they will suddenly be double digits, but 100+ receptions and 1400 yards are WR 1 numbers even with the low TD production and we’re talking mid to late 4th round expectations.
Getting WR1 numbers from a guy who is likely your WR2/3 is how you win leagues. Don’t shy away from Andre just yet.
Dennis Pitta, Ravens (ADP 8.10): Pitta missed all but 4 games late year due to injury so he may be lower on some boards than others, but here’s what you need to keep in mind with Pitta:
- He’s a red zone target
- He’s healthy
- His new OC, Gary Kubiak, LOVES to throw to TEs, especially in the Red Zone.
He will give you consistent mid-level TE1 production from a high value place in the draft.
Antonio Gates, Chargers (ADP 13.2): Yes, he’s 34 now, and he doesn’t get the same amount of looks he did in his prime, but he’s still a favorite target of Philip Rivers and a red zone threat.
Gates posted 77/872/4 last year. Those numbers for him aren’t what fantasy owners have been accustomed to. He’s an older player now, but in the 13th round, those are great numbers. With the San Diego offense expected to be better this year, Gates should be better too.
He’s also only missed one game the past 2 seasons.
Robert Griffin III, Redskins (ADP 7.7): RG3 is a tremendously skilled player. He’s also coming off a year where he never looked like the guy he was his rookie season when he was a dynamic dual threat quarterback.
He is struggling to pick up the new offense under Jay Gruden, and the Redskins don’t project to be all that good of a team to begin with.
Someone will draft him looking for him to return to his rookie form, but he’s being asked to be a pocket passer now. Let someone else ride that roller coaster.
Cam Newton, Panthers (ADP 6.3): Another very physically gifted player, but dealing with injuries and weak supporting cast.
After offseason ankle surgery, Newton now has fractured ribs. While the injury won’t prevent him from playing, its bound to lessen his effectiveness. Another thing working against Newton is a subpar receiving corps.
Kelvin Benjamin is a talented rookie, but the key word is ‘rookie’. Steve Smith is gone. Jerricho Cotchery is a steady veteran but Jason Avant is terrible. DeAngelo Williams has looked a step slow and Jonathan Stewart has missed more games than he’s played over the past 2 seasons.
For a guy like Newton, who likes to run, and doesn’t shy from contact, protecting his ribs will be important. He’s going to have to avoid some contact he would usually take. Newton has taken 467 hits the past 3 seasons, that’s the highest number in the NFL and more than double the next QB in the league. It won’t be easy for him. Especially with that receiver group.
Expect closer to QB2 production.
CJ Spiller, Bills (ADP 4.6): There’s no denying Spiller’s talent, but he’s not the clear cut top back, and isn’t going to be as long as Fred Jackson is around to take away goal-line carries.
He’s gotten just over 200 carries the past 2 seasons, so his workload has now developed a pattern. Last year ran for 927 yards and 2 TDs. He carried a 4.6 YPC average. That’s a very respectable number, but between the time share carries and vultured TD touches, hes at best a low-end RB2 on a bad team. Certainly not worthy of a mid 4th round selection.
Trent Richardson, Colts (ADP 6.7): Invariably, someone is going to look at the fact he was the 3rd overall pick in 2012, consider the Colts are a good offense, and think that this is the year he will get it together. Don’t be that guy.
Richardson has been given every change in the world to be the guy in the Colts backfield. He’s just unproductive. His ADP is falling by the day.
Anyone owning T-Rich must have Ahmad Bradshaw as a handcuff and should definitely be keeping an eye on Dan Herron. If Bradshaw is healthy, he may steal the top job by week 3. Richardson has super bust written all over him. Not even with a 39 and a half foot pole…
Victor Cruz, Giants (ADP 4.6): Cruz is a terrific receiver, and its hard to not love a guy who was a UDFA from UMass becoming a big time player. However, Cruz is not likely to put up the kind of WR2 numbers you expect from a 4th round pick.
Eli Manning is still a very good quarterback, but much like Philip Rivers 2-3 years ago, the team cannot protect him, and he lacks the weapons he once had.
Cruz is the only reliable receiving option the team has, and will draw very frequent double-teams. The offensive line is in shambles, and Eli is learning a new offense for the first time in 8 years, and is working without the scapegoated Kevin Gilbride for the first time in his professional career. The preseason returns on the Giants offense have been putrid.
Last year, with a brutal offensive line, no running game, and Cruz as the only reliable target, Victor pulled in 73 catches for 998 yards and 4 TDs. Respectable but nowhere near the expectation. As a mid 4th round pick, the value just isn’t there. He’s likely a WR3 at best.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings (ADP 4.9): There’s a lot of hype around Patterson with Norv Turner as his new offensive coordinator, and his preseason has been good. I’m just not buying the leap to quality WR2 yet.
Patterson was a disappointment, even for a rookie, last season, with a line of 45/469/4. He’s talented and explosive, but QB play hampered him last season as Christian Ponder couldn’t get him the ball early in the year. Matt Cassel will be the starting QB this year, but who knows for how long.
Patterson played with 3 QBs last year and is likely to play for at least 2 this year. He only went over 100 yards once last season. To his credit, he did score 3 rushing touchdowns last year, but he has not had a preseason carry under Turner. He did score 6 of his 7 total touchdowns in the final 5 games of the year, but the Viking season was long over by then.
I think Patterson will be a very good receiver in the league eventually, but temper expectations to be more along the WR3 level, which makes a mid 4th rd pick too high an investment on him.
Vernon Davis, 49ers (ADP 5.9): Big Vern was a scoring machine last season, with 13 TDs. However, Michael Crabtree was not a factor most of the season due to injury. With Crabtree back in the fold and healthy again, those red zone looks are likely to deteriorate.
Davis has also never broker 1000 yards receiving and that isn’t likely to change.
Davis will still be a quality tight end, just not likely to be a top 3 TE again. Don’t expect last years TD numbers, or an increase in yardage. Expect numbers more in line with Greg Olsen than Jimmy Graham, and you’ve got it right.
You’re now armed and dangerous. Go out and take your friends and co-workers money.
Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate & Creight” on Sportsradio 610 Houston. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1