9 undervalued fantasy picks you can land in the 10th round or later
Rams WR Tavon Austin ranks among the players you can land late in drafts who could pay big dividends for your team this year.
9 undervalued fantasy picks you can land in the 10th round or later
Everyone who does more than two or three fantasy football drafts starts to realize there are certain players they are higher on than the rest of their leaguemates. Loosely translating, these are the players who each individual fantasy player thinks is undervalued.
And of course, I’m the same. I’ve had countless drafts at this point, and I’m finding myself ending up with some players over and over. In some instances, I’m having to avoid these players after a while, because I understand that I’m fallible, and casting my lot with the same bold call too many times could backfire.
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That said, I stand by these as my Fantasy Favorites — the guys I end up with over and over, the guys I think are the most undervalued, the guys whose ADPs don’t reflect what their real value will be. You’ll notice that all of these names are a little further down in the rankings. I’m not advocating taking them early in your drafts, but these are the guys you should keep an eye on for the later rounds.
Starting with the triple-digit picks, then, these are my favorite choices of 2016 (all ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator):
1. James White, RB, New England Patriots
Okay, first one off the board is cheating. I’m not even going to offer White’s current ADP, because it’s going to be moving a lot right now. In a week, he might not even qualify for the “triple-digit” stipulation. But many of the things appealing about Dion Lewis a week ago are appealing about White now (the main exception being that Lewis was used as an early-down rushing option last year, while White was not), and White has the bonus of no injury question marks surrounding him. As soon as news broke that Lewis needed a second knee procedure, White shot up my personal draft board.
From Week 11 to the end of the season last year, White had 75 fantasy points, good for a tie for eighth-best among running backs. Even better, in PPR he was tied for fourth. He was a top-20 back for the season in fantasy points per snap and per opportunity (carries plus pass routes), and top-15 in those categories in PPR. With Lewis sidelined for an indefinite time, White is going to be the Patriots’ pass-catching back to start the season, and that’s a job that has yielded fantasy benefits for years, dating back to Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead.
Yes, with Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan in the fold, and Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski still around, White will struggle to perform at the same rate he did late last season. But no one is banking on that. Picking him in the 100th-pick range (depending on where his ADP ends up) is just asking him to have flashes, be a backup and/or flex option. I took White at 8.08 in my first draft after the Lewis news Saturday, and will be targeting him in any draft I can get him in that range.
2. Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Current ADP: 107th overall, No. 43 WR)
We’ve covered Smith from just about every angle here this offseason. But that doesn’t change things. Smith led the league last year in yards per reception, at 20.1 (no other qualified receiver had more than 19). He was behind only DeSean Jackson in yards per target, at 11.8. He was fifth in yards after catch per reception, behind Martavis Bryant and three guys who weren’t full-timers. The only thing that kept Smith from better fantasy performance in 2015 was his low target number, as he was only targeted 56 times.
That’s 56 targets in an awful year for the offense, after Smith had averaged more than 100 a year in his four years in Baltimore. And while the 49ers’ offense might not be vintage Baltimore, the arrival of Chip Kelly in San Francisco means that, at the least, the tempo will increase. As a result, Smith’s targets almost have to increase as well. Give him anything remotely resembling his 2015 per-target production on even 50 percent more targets, and Smith is a top-30 receiver.
3. Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (114th overall, No. 45 WR)
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Wheaton’s ADP hit a 2016 high July 12, when he was going in the middle of the eighth round. Since then, it’s been almost a free-fall, as the attention paid to Sammie Coates has drawn interest away from Wheaton.
Wheaton was the No. 40 fantasy receiver in 2015 despite spending most of the year third, fourth or even fifth in the target order for the Steelers. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the year and Ladarius Green a huge question mark, you could argue that Wheaton is up to the No. 2 for Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger now. That exact rationale, with one caveat, is why people are excited about Coates — “If he can get the No. 2 role, think of what he could do!” Well, Wheaton is that, without the “if.”
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I would not want Wheaton as my fantasy starter by any means. There’s too much risk there. But at this point, he’s still the No. 2 receiver in what should be an excellent offense. A pick spent on him is speculative. But it’s speculating that he retains the No. 2 gig. Keep him rostered through a few weeks of the season. In short order, we’ll know whether Wheaton is the No. 2 and should have been drafted higher, or whether he’s been unseated by Coates (or even Darrius Heyward-Bey) and should be dropped. But at this draft slot, dropping Wheaton if necessary isn’t painful. It’s easy.
4. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (120th overall, No. 12 TE)
I wrote in my Bold Predictions piece about why I thought Ertz would be the No. 4 tight end in 2016. He was the No. 5 tight end in the second half of 2015 despite his paucity of touchdowns (he scored two in the second half; the rest of the top 13 of the second half had more). For the season, Ertz was seventh among tight ends in receiving yards despite missing a game. He closed hot, with 450 combined receiving yards in his last four games.
Ultimately, the 2016 season for Ertz is going to come down to whether he can find the end zone more often. In three seasons now, he has nine scores on 247 career targets. That’s just unsustainably low, especially for a guy with 14 end-zone targets the last two years. Doug Pederson, the Eagles’ new head coach, found success with Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and you can expect that to continue with Ertz. He’s a top-tier tight end available in the double-digit rounds.
5. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills (121st overall, No. 15 QB)
We already know what a running quarterback can do as a baseline. Specifically, we know that Taylor outrushed every quarterback in the second half last year, including Cam Newton. And we know that Sammy Watkins can make gold out of just about anything, and is still around this year. Yet somehow, Taylor is going 15th among quarterbacks, and even that only after some recent upticks.
Taylor was the No. 9 fantasy quarterback in 2015 from Week 9 on, ahead of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. That’s probably a bit over his head for a full-season total, all things considered, but with that 121st-overall ADP, Taylor is going in the 11th round of 12-teamers, and getting a borderline QB1 that late lets you have a stacked group of running backs and receivers.
6. Tavon Austin, WR, Los Angeles Rams (129th overall, No. 51 WR)
Austin tied for 72nd among wide receivers in receiving yards in 2015, with 473. He tied for 21st in fantasy points, in a dead heat with John Brown, ahead of Amari Cooper, T.Y. Hilton, Mike Evans and many others. Devin Funchess had the same number of receiving yards as Austin and finished 57th in fantasy scoring.
Obviously, that’s because Austin contributes more in rushing yards than any other receiver — he had 434 rushing yards last year, almost 300 clear of Jarvis Landry in second place, and Landry and Austin were the only two receivers to offer more than 71. From scrimmage last year, Austin had 907 yards and nine touchdowns, roughly Michael Crabtree’s season. That’s not a fluke, either — 42 percent of Austin’s yards from scrimmage in his career have been rushing yards. It’s just a part of his game.
[PFF’s Jeff Ratcliffe isn’t drafting Bears RB Jeremy Langford to any of his teams this year. Check out his complete Do Not Draft list.]
So basically, you can take 2015 Michael Crabtree at the end of the 13th round. And of course, there’s the fact that Austin has never before had a competent quarterback in his career. We don’t know that rookie Jared Goff is that, or even how soon he’ll be taking over the starting job, but it’s hard to imagine he can be worse than the sad-QB smorgasbord Austin has dealt with in his career. Maybe 2015 Crabtree is Austin’s floor, and his ceiling is a cut above that.
7. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (140th overall, No. 18 QB)
A.J. Green played 13 games in 2014, but wasn’t healthy for a big chunk of that. He played all 16 games in 2012, 2013 and 2015. In those three years, Dalton has averaged 18.8 fantasy points a game, almost exactly on pace for 300 points over a full season. Basically, when Dalton has a healthy Green, he’s at worst a back-end QB1, with the upside of the No. 3 QB, which he was in 2013 (and was No. 4 before his 2015 injury). On top of that, last year’s injury was the first time Dalton has missed games to injury in his career.
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are gone. Tyler Eifert is hurt, and Brandon LaFell is a question mark. But ultimately, Dalton’s fantasy success or failure is going to come down to Green and, to a lesser extent, the strength of the running-back duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Those three appear to be all systems go, which means Dalton, as the No. 18 quarterback, is comically low. I’ve already said I prefer him to Ben Roethlisberger this season, and I stand by that.
8. Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions (142nd overall, No. 50 RB)
In general, I’m of the opinion that we as a fantasy community underrate pass-catching running backs in standard leagues and overrate them in PPR. Riddick tied for the lead among all running backs in receptions in 2015, yes. That means he gave you 80 extra points in PPR leagues. But he also gave you 697 yards and three touchdowns (his receiving total) that count just as much in standard as they do in PPR.
Here’s the advice: Bump the pass-catchers way up your general rankings, and then give just another small bump for PPR. Danny Woodhead, Devonta Freeman, Riddick … they’re just productive fantasy players, not productive-because-they-catch-passes players. Woodhead and Freeman are still getting drafted as starters, as is Duke Johnson. Riddick? He’s barely getting touched. He’s my No. 3 or 4 running back on more teams than I should probably mention.
9. Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears (169th overall, No. 18 TE)
If you subscribe to my sneaky-smart “take two tight ends early” strategy, obviously this doesn’t apply. Heck, if you draft one of the top couple tiers of tight ends, I’d just roll with that player as my only tight end until a backup was necessary.
But if you’re one of those people drafting the more questionable group of tight ends — Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Gary Barnidge — Miller should be a prime target. Miller tied for second among tight ends in fantasy points per opportunity last year in roughly half a season of playing time. With Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte gone from Chicago now, more underneath targets should open up, giving Miller a shot at a whole host of targets. As Mike Tagliere has noted, a big target load shares a huge correlation with fantasy success for tight ends. Meanwhile, the reason the Gates and Barnidge types are sitting on the fringe of TE1 status is that they are no sure thing, for a variety of reasons. If I’m drafting a tight end that late, I want a second to pair with the starter, but I don’t want to burn two picks on the position that early. So take one of those guys, and follow up with Miller, who is available for a pittance.