PFF Fantasy Mailbag: Finding value wherever you can

In the last mailbag before fantasy drafts, Mike Tagliere helps readers find value late in the draft, late in rounds, and with injuries.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

PFF Fantasy Mailbag: Finding value wherever you can

This is the last week we’re taking questions about fantasy football drafts, simply because the next time we’ll be doing this is a week from today, when Week 1 football is the next day. That is when the fun begins. ADP data has no bearing on anything, and what happened in your draft doesn’t matter.

That said, we will be continuing the PFF Fantasy Mailbag into the season, as I take questions on the most pressing fantasy questions. Whether it be trade questions, who to start questions, or waiver questions, make sure you’re following both @PFF_Fantasy and @MikeTagliereNFL to ensure you get your questions in when we ask for them, using the #askPFF hashtag.

Here we go.

We focus so much on early-pick strategy that sometimes picking late gets the short shrift. When taking a pick that late and close to the turn, it’s important that you take note of things going on around you during your draft. It’s unfortunate to land that spot, simply because the further you are away from that No. 1 pick, the further your odds go down. But one of the things you can take advantage of is knowing the positions of need for the teams who are drafting in the 9/10 spots. It’s one of the things drafters commonly miss, but let’s pretend that it’s coming up to your turn in the seventh round. You need a wide receiver, as well as a quarterback, as you’re the only team left without one. You don’t want to miss out on a decent quarterback, so you draft one. It was the worst pick you could have made. Not because we preach late-round quarterbacks, but because the teams that are drafting after you already have quarterbacks on their roster. They need wide receivers, so now you just lost four wide receivers off the board when it comes back to you, when you could have had the same quarterback in the eighth round, had you paid attention to what was going on around you. It’s little things like this that will make you a pro, rather than an amateur drafter.

As for strategies, I’m firmly on Team “No Strategy.” It might sound vanilla, but you have to be flexible when drafting. Most people go into a draft saying that they want to make sure they go WR/WR, but that misses the point, and can force you to reaching on a player in a bad spot. Go into your draft with the mindset that you are going to get as much value as possible. If there are six or seven wide receivers taken in front of you, get one of the stud running backs. From there, I always want to get a top-12 wide receiver, but again, if the wide receivers keep coming off the board, and you’re able to get two of the top-three running backs, then I’m jumping all over that. It’s all about adapting and zigging while everyone else is zagging. That is when you’ll find the most value.

I’ve been on record saying that I am concerned about Martin reverting back to the player we thought he was prior to the 2015 season. When breaking down his career, Martin had been a major disappointment outside of a two-game sample in his rookie year, where he went off for 486 yards and six touchdowns. Heading into 2015 without those two games, Martin had played 31 games, totaling 2,018 yards on 527 carries (3.83 YPC), with nine rushing touchdowns, and had 502 receiving yards with no touchdowns. He was being drafted as an RB3 in 2015 drafts, because we had pegged him for what he was – a running back who relied on plenty of volume to be a high-floor play. He saw a massive workload in 2015, having the second-most carries in the league, behind only Adrian Peterson. Despite that volume, Martin finished as a PPR RB1 in just 31.3 percent of his games, which was less often than guys like DeMarco Murray, Chris Ivory and Danny Woodhead. It’s not to say that he’s awful, but he doesn’t belong in the conversation of elite running backs for 2016. He’s a solid RB2 with a high floor.

It’s a good thing you specified what the scoring was here, because Jarvis Landry is someone who obviously benefits from a point per reception. With that being said, this is an extremely close call between these three receivers, and I could make an argument for any of them to be the one. However, we’ll lean with the wide receiver who has finished better than where he’s being drafted (WR19) in three of the last four years, and that’s Randall Cobb. That’s right, Cobb finished as fantasy’s No. 18 wide receiver in 2012, was the No. 7 wide receiver in the games he played in 2013, and was the No. 6 wide receiver in 2014. There are a lot of people down on him after the way his 2015 season went, but the entire Packers offense was in shambles with the loss of Jordy Nelson, as well as the multitude of injuries on the offensive line. There are rare opportunities where you’ll get a discount on a player who is this proven, but Cobb is a steal at his current late-third-/early-fourth-round ADP.

There have been a lot of mixed opinions on how the Cowboys skill players will fare after losing Tony Romo to a fractured vertebrae. Some are dropping Dez Bryant down their boards, while others remain idle. I happen to be on the side that believes this doesn’t affect Bryant as much as some may think. What most of the pessimists are pointing to are Bryant’s splits with and without Romo, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. First, many of the games without Romo were played in 2015, where Bryant was dealing with his own injury that ultimately caused him to have another foot surgery.

Second, the Cowboys’ backup quarterbacks during the Romo-free times of Bryant’s career have been Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton and Stephen McGee. Using the splits is not fair because of this, so we need to look at it from an unbiased level. Romo is known to spread the ball around in the offense, hence the reason that Bryant has finished just one season with more than 137 targets. What we know about Dak Prescott is that he was willing to throw the ball up to Bryant in the preseason when he was one-on-one. Because of this, it’s fair to say that Bryant may actually see an increase in targets with Prescott, though his touchdown potential is limited, as he and Romo have a strong connection in goal-line situations. With that being said, it’s not even the whole season. If it is the whole season, that means Prescott is doing so well he stole Romo’s job. Combine everything with the fact that Marshall is entering his age-32 season, and I’ll take Bryant.

As I talked about in my 49ers “landmine or goldmine” article, there is value to be had somewhere in this offense, and if you were looking to get some action even cheaper than before, here you go. The preseason has not instilled any confidence in the passing game, but it’s also important to remember that these are still preseason games. Even the worst teams in the NFL have value on their roster — consider 2015’s Jordan Matthews (WR19), Tavon Austin (WR21), Travis Benjamin (WR29), Todd Gurley (RB5), Frank Gore (RB11). Chip Kelly has proven to us in the past that he’ll make a few players relevant. After losing Bruce Ellington for the year, it’s even clearer to me that Torrey Smith will see triple-digit targets, and that Vance McDonald makes for an interesting late-round tight end. Carlos Hyde is another guy who is likely to fall in drafts, but again, there is value to be had.

When talking about injuries, it’s important to understand the severity of the injury and how far modern medicine has come. An ACL tear isn’t a career-threatening injury like it was 10 years ago, as we see players bouncing back just months later, tearing up the NFL. Look no further than Todd Gurley last year, who suffered a torn ACL in 2014, was back on the field in under a year’s time as a rookie, and still accounted for almost 1,300 total yards from scrimmage. Just a few years before that, Adrian Peterson returned from his torn ACL and almost broke records. So when you talk about Jordy Nelson or Le’Veon Bell, I’m not very concerned about their outlook. On the other hand, there comes a point where the risk coming back from the injury and the relevance or reward of the player don’t match up.

Victor Cruz falls into the do-not-draft category for me, as a torn patellar tendon is what a torn ACL used to be. There hasn’t been an NFL player who has successfully come back from that, which is why I’m also avoiding Jimmy Graham in drafts. There is just too much risk to justify taking him at his current 11th-round ADP. Andrew Luck should bounce back just fine, as he didn’t require an invasive surgery, or any surgery at all for that matter. He is a fine pick if he lasts to you in the late-fifth/early-sixth round.

When looking for an immediate contributor out of those options, I’d be leaning towards Kamar Aiken and Tajae Sharpe. The reason for this is that these two have run with the first-team offense through the entire preseason, and will continue to play starter snaps right from the get-go. Aiken was a player who filled Steve Smith’s shoes well last year, and before anyone points out that Smith was more efficient with his targets, remember that a majority of Aiken’s production came from playing with Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett. Despite playing with those three, Aiken’s 56 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns were good enough to be the No. 22 wide receiver from Week 8 and on. If you’re worried about Smith, he’s 37 years old, coming off a double Achilles tear, and hasn’t played a snap of football in almost a year. Aiken continued to impress in the preseason, with three grabs for 38 yards and a touchdown.

As for Sharpe, he was being hyped throughout the OTAs, with the Titans brass saying that he will be a starter, but nobody took notice until they saw it with their own eyes. Not only did they trade away Dorial Green-Beckham, but Kendall Wright cannot stay healthy and now has coaches upset with him. Add in the fact that Sharpe has done everything well throughout the preseason as well, destroying secondaries for nine catches and 163 yards on 12 targets, which was more than double that of newly acquired Rishard Matthews. If Matthews had been in the system for a year or two already, there would be more certainty about who the actual No. 1 receiver is in that offense. But as of right now, we know Sharpe is a starter, and that he is taking full advantage of his opportunity. The others you mentioned are solid No. 3 wide receivers on their team, but will need an injury or time to pass someone on the depth chart to be an every-down player.

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