Get with this, or get with that: 6 lower-cost fantasy alternatives
When it comes to the topic of maximizing value in fantasy football drafts, we tend to focus on which players have a strong chance to outperform their draft slot. But often the bigger question is: which players getting drafted in the earlier rounds should you pass up? The two go hand in hand, and knowing when not to pull the trigger on a certain player is just as critical as knowing which alternative option will return equal or better value with a later draft pick.
Of course, the other piece of the equation involves opportunity cost, which in the economics world refers to “the cost of an alternative that must be foregone in order to pursue a certain action.” In fantasy football, this means if you want to draft, say, Cam Newton in Round 3 instead of Drew Brees in Round 6, the opportunity cost is Player X whom you could have drafted in lieu of Newton.
To explore this concept of maximizing relative value in fantasy drafts, we’ll take a look at a few alternative options for filling out your roster at the respective average draft positions. In some cases, there will be a player available a round or two later who is a good bet to match, or exceed, the fantasy production of the player valued higher by the general public. In other cases, we can find starter value much later than a presumed “elite” option at a certain position, and while that alternative option may fall short of elite production, the combined value lies in the opportunity cost of using that earlier pick to fill another starting roster spot. Ultimately, the goal is the same: to maximize both relative and perceived value in your fantasy draft.
As the early-90s hip-hop duo Black Sheep would say: you can get with this, or you can get with that. The choice is yours.
You can get with this: Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers currently carries a third-round ADP (32.5, per Fantasy Football Calculator) in 12-team leagues, while he sits 54th in our consensus rankings as the No.2 quarterback option. From the PFF Draft Master tool, he is projected for 296 fantasy points this season.
Despite playing a full 16-game slate in 2015, Rodgers finished just eighth in fantasy points among quarterbacks, and he ranked 15th in points per dropback (0.47). Granted, he didn’t have top wideout Jordy Nelson for any of those 16 games, and that certainly played a role in his subpar adjusted completion rate (.731), which was only 18th-best. Plus, Rodgers has been a top-two fantasy QB every season going back to 2008, with the exception of his injury-shortened 2013 campaign. There is a pretty strong chance he’ll rebound with a healthy Nelson in 2016, but is it worth a third-round pick to find out?
Or you can get with that: Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger comes in at No. 79 in our rankings as the QB6 and is projected for 281 fantasy points, or about one point per game less than Rodgers. In 2015, he was on a 16-game pace for 304 fantasy points as he effectively matched Rodgers with 0.46 points per dropback. Roethlisberger’s 91.5 passing grade led all quarterbacks, and his adjusted completion rate (.762) was tied for 10th after ranking ninth and fifth over the previous two seasons in that department. He also posted the sixth-best NFL QB Rating on play-action (97.4) despite playing a bulk of the season without Le’Veon Bell.
Even without the suspended Martavis Bryant, one could certainly make the argument that Roethlisberger has a better supporting cast than what Rodgers has in Green Bay. He has averaged better than 300 passing yards per game in each of the past two seasons for a Steelers offense that led the league in yards per play in 2015 (6.3) and finished fourth in scoring (26.4).
While it’s not very hard to see Rodgers re-establishing himself as a top-three fantasy QB in 2016 with a healthy Nelson, the odds are also pretty decent that Roethlisberger finishes in the top-five, and he’s currently being drafted at least two rounds later.
Instead of Rodgers, you could choose from the likes of Brandin Cooks (29.1), T.Y. Hilton (31.6), Sammy Watkins (34.5) or Carlos Hyde (36.7) with your third-round pick and then get Roethlisberger in Round 5.
You can get with this: Devonta Freeman
Freeman was the top fantasy running back in both standard and PPR formats in 2015. However, all four of his 100-yard rushing games came before Week 8, and over the final five weeks of the season, he averaged just 3.0 YPC. Freeman’s 40.1 elusive rating through the season’s first eight weeks ranked 29th out of 54 qualifiers; from Week 9 on, his 21.9 elusive rating ranked 42nd.
At the moment, the going rate for Freeman is a mid-second-round pick (16.8) in standard leagues, and it’s about the same in PPR even though he is coming off a 73-catch season. Tevin Coleman now has a year under his belt after averaging a solid 4.5 YPC as a rookie, and renowned Falcons running backs coach Bobby Turner is on record as saying he wants to decrease Freeman’s carries this season.
Or you can get with that: Mark Ingram
Ingram missed four games in 2015 yet finished 15th among RBs in standard scoring and, 12th in PPR. Out of 52 qualifiers, he ranked seventh in our elusive rating metric and was eighth in breakaway percentage, with 36.2 percent of his runs going for 15 yards or more.
Where Ingram really made strides was as a receiver, as only seven other running backs topped his 50 catches, which came on only 57 targets (88-percent catch rate) and netted 405 yards. At 27 years old and coming off a season that produced an average of 98 yards from scrimmage per game, we have Ingram ranked as a top-10 RB. His current ADP (25.4) is suppressed a bit by his former “draft bust” label and the fact that he also missed three games in 2014.
As an owner of Freeman in a longstanding dynasty league who didn’t buy the Coleman hype last season, even I can’t deny the ominous forecast and am looking to capitalize on the third-year pro’s trade value, which may never be higher. He’s not an indefensible second-round value in PPR formats, but Ingram is coming off draft boards about 10 picks later as an awfully attractive third-round option.
Instead of Freeman, proponents of the Zero-RB draft strategy in particular will prioritize the likes of Jordy Nelson (14.9), Allen Robinson (15.7) or Alshon Jeffery (19.7) in the middle of the second round.
You can get with this: Kelvin Benjamin
As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin was fifth among all receivers with 142 targets, which he parlayed into 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine scores to finish as the No. 16 fantasy receiver. Of course, the other wideouts on the Panthers’ roster that year included guys like Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Philly Brown, two of whom are looking for a camp invite somewhere. The result was Cam Newton looking Benjamin’s way about once every three pass attempts (31.6 percent of the time).
This year, Carolina’s WR group is significantly more crowded, if even unproven, with Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr., Stephen Hill and Keyarris Garrett all vying for snaps. ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton is expecting more of a committee approach, so it would be wise to dial back fantasy expectations. We have Benjamin ranked as the No. 23 WR and No. 42 overall, whereas his current ADP (28.4) requires a draft commitment about a round earlier than is ideal.
Or you can get with that: Donte Moncrief or DeVante Parker
Moncrief and Parker are two of my favorite breakout candidates entering this season, and there’s still time to buy in while the cost is right.
A foot injury limited Parker early in his rookie season, but he came on strong late, cracking 80 receiving yards in four of his final six games and scoring three times in that span. He’ll fill the X receiver role that was so fruitful for Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery, two former pupils of new Dolphins coach Adam Gase. Parker is currently being drafted 33rd among WRs and 70th overall, which is right about where we have him ranked (72).
Moncrief nearly doubled his reception and target totals from his rookie campaign, finishing with 64 catches for 733 yards and six touchdowns on 100 targets while claiming the No. 2 WR job in Indianapolis. All but one of his touchdowns came during the handful of games that Andrew Luck was on the field. Entering his third season, Moncrief is poised to take another step forward, provided he is indeed past the turf toe injury that kept him away from the offseason program.
After having his 2015 season wiped out to an ACL injury and with a deeper WR corps in Carolina, Benjamin won’t be force-fed targets like he was in 2014. We have nine receivers ranked ahead of where Benjamin is being drafted, and a better plan would be to wait three or four rounds later and grab another fringe WR2/3 like Moncrief or Parker. In fact, Moncrief is the No. 26 WR in our rankings.
Instead of Benjamin in the third round, Brandin Cooks (29.1) is a safer WR option, while Ingram, LeSean McCoy (28.4) and Thomas Rawls (22.8) are some of the RB names coming off the board around Benjamin’s ADP. For a bonus this-or-that play in the WR3 tier, I’ve previously touched on why Doug Baldwin is a poor option in the fourth round due to sustainability questions and why John Brown will continue to be a fantasy factor with a sixth-round price tag.
You can get with this: Greg Olsen
Olsen has ranked in the top-three among tight ends in targets in each of the last two seasons, averaging 81 catches for 1,056 and 6.5 TDs in that span. He’s also played 96 percent or more of the Panthers’ offensive snaps in each of the last four seasons and is entering his age-31 season. While he hasn’t given any evidence to suggest he is about to start breaking down, as mentioned the Panthers now have a bit of depth at the wide receiver position, and Olsen may very well be due for a regression in targets. I’ve taken him in the fourth round of a couple mock drafts, but the more mocks I do, the more I am enticed by some of the TE options in the middle rounds.
Or you can get with that: Zach Ertz
One of those appealing options is Ertz, who is going anywhere between the seventh and 10th round. As a receiver, Ertz graded out fifth among tight ends in 2014, and he was graded fourth overall this past season. The only real fantasy knock to this has been his lack of red-zone involvement, having totaled five scores over the past two seasons after finding pay dirt five times as a rookie. Personally, as an Eagles fan, it felt like there were agonizing missed opportunities for touchdowns on an almost weekly basis in 2015.
If that’s a little too subjective for you, consider that Ertz is one of only six tight ends to come into the league since 2002 to notch at least 2,000 receiving yards after his first three seasons, and he has increased his yardage total each year.
I certainly won’t argue that Ertz is on equal footing with Olsen at this point of their respective careers, but it’s entirely plausible that he returns TE1 value this season, and for a considerably lower draft slot than Olsen’s going rate. Ertz enters his second year with Sam Bradford after drawing a career-high 106 targets in 2015, and new Eagles coach Doug Pederson featured Travis Kelce in Kansas City. As much as it pains me to admit, the Eagles may just have an even less desirable receiving corps than the Chiefs.
Instead of Olsen in Round 4, Golden Tate (45) and Jeremy Maclin (49.9) can be had for a similar price. For those who pass on drafting a running back through the first three rounds, Jay Ajayi (50.7), Jonathan Stewart (53) and Jeremy Hill (53.5) are some worthwhile names at this spot.
You can get with this: Eli Manning
On a 100-point scale, Manning’s 67.3 passing grade in 2015 ranked outside the top-30, yet he finished seventh in fantasy scoring on the strength of 618 attempts, which was fourth-most in the league. In each of the last four seasons, Manning’s PFF QB Rating has sat outside the top-10.
Or you can get with that: Marcus Mariota or Tyrod Taylor
Whereas Manning is being drafted as a fringe top-10 QB in the eighth round, Mariota and Taylor can both be had in the 11th-round or even later. Both offer a rushing element, and while Manning averaged 0.47 fantasy points per dropback, Mariota (0.51) and Taylor (0.59) both eclipsed that mark during their first go-rounds as starters. Taylor was a top-five fantasy QB in the 14 games he was active and posted the ninth-best PFF QB Rating (93.18), while Mariota’s 88.13 rating ranked 16th, just a fraction of a point behind Manning’s (88.26).
Rookie RB fliers
You can get with this: C.J. Prosise, Kenneth Dixon
We’re already at the point of summer when the buzz on some rookies is starting to sap their value. A month ago, Baltimore’s Kenneth Dixon and Seattle’s C.J. Prosise could both be had for a 13th-round pick. Prosise is now going in the 11th round, while Dixon has crept into the 10th.
Or you can get with that: Devontae Booker, Paul Perkins, Wendell Smallwood
I’m not much of a believer in handcuffs, so unless it’s a dynasty or keeper format, a 10th-round price for an unproven backup feels a bit prohibitive for my liking. Instead, Booker (Denver), Perkins (Giants) and Smallwood (Philadelphia) are still going circa Round 12 (or later), and each of the three is in a situation where it’s quite conceivable an opportunity will present itself.