By Joe Pollock
It’s that time again. July is fading into memory and with it goes the NFL offseason. Friday, July 27th marked the official start for the final round of teams to begin training camp in 2018. We made it. Football is back.
Every year there are undervalued players in fantasy football that catapult their owners’ teams into the stratosphere. 2017 saw Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins, Evan Engram and Adam Thielen stealing the show. 2016 saw Matt Ryan, Jordan Howard, DeMarco Murray, Michael Thomas, and Kyle Rudolph bringing home the hardware. One of the most common themes during our Reading the Offense guest series on The Fantasy Takeaway has been Value Based Drafting. If you can get top-end value out of your second, third, fourth or even 14th round pick, you’re ahead of the curve. You need to be targeting players that can outperform their draft stock, especially as round numbers creep into the double-digits. As we make our way towards preseason 2018, I’m going to give you a list of six players I’ve identified as most likely to outperform their draft stock*. All ADPs listed are pulled from FantasyPros PPR Consensus ADP on Friday, July 27th.
Jordan Howard (Pick 25; RB15)
Behind only Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard has the 3rd most rushing yards since he came into the league despite playing on the NFL’s 15th and 30th ranked team in total offense in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He’s 6th in yards per attempt among backs with at least 250 carries and has the 11th most rushing touchdowns and 9th most fantasy points in PPR (yeah, PPR) at the running back position while playing on the 28th and 29th ranked scoring offenses the last two seasons. Remember, 2016 and 2017 saw two of the worst receiving corps in all of the league from the Chicago Bears. When Cameron Meredith is your make-or-break number one on the outside, there might be a problem. As a result, Howard saw the seventh most instances of eight or more defenders in the box in 2017 per NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
This offseason, the Bears brought in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and drafted Anthony Miller to add to Adam Shaheen and Kevin White (I know, he’s never been able to stay healthy, but he was a top ten pick for a reason). A lot will ride on the shoulder of young Mitchell Trubisky when it comes to the Bears 2018 offensive attack, but he won’t be doing it alone. Will Tarik Cohen eat into Howard’s touches in a Matt Nagy scheme? Sure! But Howard isn’t being drafted as a bell cow back. He’s being taken as the 25th player and 15th running back off the board. John Fox is gone, and so with him goes the conservative offense that limited Jordan Howard to just 4.1 yards per attempt last year. Even with a slight dip in touches from the 299 Howard saw in 2017, a bump in efficiency back towards his 2016 number of 5.2 Y/A could easily mean a top 10 finish.
Demaryius Thomas (Pick 44; WR20)
Demaryius Thomas hasn’t finished a season worse than WR16 since he became a full-time player back in 2012. Not Tim Tebow, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian, or Brock Osweiler could keep DT from finishing among the top 16 players at his position. Yes, his days as an elite, top two wideout likely rode off in the saddlebags of the quarterback reverently nicknamed the sheriff, but as a mid-to-late fourth-round value, Thomas should be near the top of every fantasy buff’s values list for 2018.
The 2017 Denver Broncos passing game was atrocious. The offensive line was among the league’s worst in terms of pass protection. Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch combined for just 3,333 passing yards, 6.5 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns, and were second only to the Cleveland Browns in interceptions thrown with 22. Siemian and Osweiler are gone, and Lynch won’t see the field barring a meteoric advance in development not seen since, well, to put it bluntly, ever. Despite all of this, Demaryius Thomas still finished as the 16th best wide receiver in PPR.
In his January 19th article entitled, What Tom Brady And Case Keenum Do Better Than Anyone Else, Scott Kacsmar of the data analytics website FiveThirtyEight lays out the case for why Case Keenum can succeed (or even thrive) behind Denver’s patchwork offensive line. Keenum’s QBR while facing pressure in 2017 was 58.5. That’s incredible. So incredible in fact, it was a full 4.5 points higher than Mr. GOAT himself Tom Brady, and sixth best among all QB seasons since 2009. The Vikings, with an offensive line ranked just one spot in front of Denver’s, came in at second in completion percentage, 11th in passing yards and yards per attempt, and tied for 12th in touchdown passes. Now I’m not saying Case Keenum can resurrect the elite pass-catcher that was Demaryius Thomas circa 2013-14, but to expect a decline in production for the Broncos unquestioned number one wide receiver with what will assuredly be miles better play from the quarterback position, to me, seems foolish. I suppose I should include an honorable mention for Case Keenum in this article. His current ADP is Pick 172, QB25; that’s a steal for those that adhere to the late-round quarterback strategy.
Kyle Rudolph (Pick 76; TE8)
Two distinct words can sum up why Kyle Rudolph’s current ADP is an abomination. Kirk. Cousins. Rudolph’s 2017 quarterback, the guy @HumanStatSheet just got done gushing about in regards to Demaryius Thomas, has had a terrible history when it comes to targeting the tight end position. His new quarterback does not.
Since he became a full-time starter in 2015, Kirk Cousins has produced the TE2, TE9, and TE16 in PPR scoring. That includes a Vernon Davis season in 2017 in which the aging big-man was targeted just 68 times. In his three years as a starting QB, Kirk Cousins has targeted the tight end position 150, 126, and 136 times. 2015 saw Jordan Reed achieve elite production, finishing number two at the position, in just 14 games. For reference, Kyle Rudolph saw only 81 targets from Case Keenum and Sam Bradford in 2017, and the position as a whole saw just 97. This is a no-brainer. Unless you’re planning on streaming the position entirely, Rudolph is one of the best values in 2018 hands down.
Robby Anderson (Pick 96; WR40)
I’ll be the first to admit that Robby Anderson is scary. He’s one wrong move away from ending up suspended, or worse, in jail. He might even miss some games this year for his transgressions during and following the 2017 season. Nevertheless, Anderson has value this late. Even if Roger Goodell lays a four-game suspension on him to start the season, he’s still not going to hurt you if you do your job with your early selections.
Legal troubles aside, Robby Anderson is underrated. He finished as a WR2 or better 40 percent of the time in 2017. That’s better than Amari Cooper (28.57 percent), T.Y. Hilton (31.25 percent) and the same as Josh Gordon–though Gordon failed to finish as a WR1 once in 2017. Hilton, Cooper, and Gordon are currently the number 13, 16 and 17 wide receivers off the board. I get it. Nobody should be drafting Robby Anderson in the third or fourth round. His legal troubles and history of poor decision making preclude considering him until at least the seventh. That said, if Anderson plays a minimum of 12 games, he will provide excellent value this late in the draft. If he plays 16? He could be the steal of 2018.
Andrew Luck (Pick 99; QB11)
This one is going to have conservative fantasy football players’ skin crawling. I was hyping Andrew Luck last year, and for that I am sorry. This year, however, is a whole different story. The Colts’ medical staff along with the countless independent medical professionals Luck has been working with over the course of the last calendar year are doing it right this time. Luck began throwing footballs last month and has been throwing full-size footballs since training camp started July 26th. He’s not out of the woods yet, but as the third pick in the ninth round, you cannot possibly argue with the upside. Luck finished his last 16 game season as the number two quarterback in fantasy. He scored just 3.4 fewer points than Aaron Rodgers. We’re talking about a guy with number one overall upside going in the ninth round. The risk is worth it. I’ll be owning Luck in every league if I can get that kind of value.
Kelvin Benjamin (Pick 115; WR45)
I’ll get this off my chest straight away. I hate Kelvin Benjamin. I’ve been disappointed every year since I fell in love with the athletic monster that finished as WR16 way back in 2014. I hate his quarterback situation. I hate the weapons around him, and I hate his injury history. That said, Kelvin Benjamin hasn’t been this cheap in years.
Now unless A.J. McCarron, Nathan Peterman or Josh Allen emerge as at minimum above average producers at the quarterback position, Benjamin won’t be anything more than a matchup-based option. But guess what? That’s okay now that he’s the seventh pick in the 10th round. He finished as a WR3 or better in half of the games he played in 2017. He’s going to get the targets. He has the eighth best strength of schedule based on 2017 points allowed to the wide receiver position, and he’s been practicing in full for the entirety of the Bills offseason program. If Benjamin is healthy (big if, I know), he will be a steal at his current ADP.
Philip Rivers (Pick 112; QB16)
Philip Rivers is one of the most disrespected quarterbacks in all of the league. Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but you can cash in while everyone is sleeping once again. Rivers is currently the 16th QB off the board in PPR ADP. Over the last decade, Philip Rivers has only failed to finish in the top 12 at the quarterback position once. Think about that. Dating back to 2008, Rivers has finished as the number 3, 8, 5, 9, 21, 4, 12, 12, 11, & 7 quarterback in four-point passing touchdown leagues and he’s being drafted at the beginning of the 10th round. You can find him behind names like Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, and Patrick Mahomes. Those guys only have one QB1 season between the three of them… barely.
Then there’s the matter of Rivers’ elevated play in the presence of Keenan Allen. Allen has been his favorite target not named Antonio Gates since he came into the league in 2013. In the three seasons in which Keenan Allen has played in a minimum of 14 games, Rivers has averaged 4,426 yards and 30.33 TDs for an average fantasy finish of 7.66. If Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen are on the field together for 16 games in 2018, I’ll flat out guarantee Rivers outperforms his draft position.
*Some players in this article were included in previous content. You can check them and a handful of others out here: