Using PFF's fantasy rankings to find value in your draft
My draft strategy hasn’t changed much since I discovered Pro Football Focus three years ago or since I started writing for them a year ago. I’ll print out both a copy of PFF’s rankings and a copy of the ADP on the site I’m drafting on. As the draft progresses, I’ll cross off names from both lists and make my selections based on general research and PFF’s rankings. By about the fifth or sixth round, the values become glaring. According to PFF’s sheet, for instance, a guy is still there who should have been taken off the board rounds ago. Conversely, there will always be players way down my PFF sheet getting grabbed by opponents multiple rounds too early.
It’s no secret PFF has the best rankings in the business. Last season, PFF had three rankers in the top 10 in overall accuracy: Jeff Ratcliffe, Pat Thorman and Mike Clay (now with ESPN). The year before that, all three made it into the top 15. The year before that, before Thorman became a participant, Clay and Ratcliffe were both top-10 and our own Mike Tagliere made the top five. And keep in mind, this is a practice in which typically more than 120 experts participate.
Utilizing our rankings in a similar method to the one I described above or by playing around with our awesome new Draft Master tool can give you a significant edge on your opponents. Compared to our expert rankers, site ADP is typically really bad. No offense to them and all of the hard work they put into it, but it is bad and they should feel bad. (This might be overstating it. Ultimately, what it is is very different from our rankings. Site ADPs are heavily influenced by that specific site’s rankings by that specific site’s experts, and if it is true that PFF’s experts are the best rankers — and it is — then the site ADPs are inherently inferior.)
Just as you should use your league’s unconventional rosters or scoring settings (if applicable) to your advantage, you should take advantage of your draft site’s flawed ADP.
Below I will be listing four undervalued players and four overvalued players on each of the four most popular websites hosting fantasy drafts. This is just a general overview, but I suggest you play with our Draft Master tool or use my above approach as a more thorough method of identifying value on whichever site you’re drafting from. You can find our rankings here if you’re a subscriber.
(Note: The number to the left is current positional rank according to site ADP. The number to the right is current positional rank according to PFF’s expert rankers.)
Buy Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Y! ADP RB57 vs. PFF Rank RB33)
Sims likely doesn’t have elite upside as long as Doug Martin remains on the field, but he does maintain value as the receiving back on a team that trailed 61.5 percent of the time last year. Sims was our fifth-most-elusive running back last season, he ranked fourth in yards per route run as a receiver, and ranked 10th in yards after contact per attempt. Sims was also (insert drumroll) our No. 1 graded overall running back last year. Sims has talent, and enough of it to overcome this committee backfield for fantasy purposes, but perhaps more importantly, RB1-upside if Martin were to suffer a serious injury. After finishing 16th among running backs in PPR leagues and 21st in standard leagues, Sims’ Yahoo! ADP just looks silly.
Sell Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins (Y! ADP RB28 vs. PFF Rank RB37)
Being a PFF ranker is a serious grind. It seems each day there are dozens of relevant news that could boost or diminish a number of players’ fantasy draft stock. Big props to our experts who are always constantly updating their rankings. You know who is not? Apparently, Yahoo! – because early reports have Ajayi projected to be on the lesser end of a committee backfield with Arian Foster. Ajayi has struggled mightily this preseason (through three weeks of play), grading out as our No. 76 overall runner (out of 97 qualifying). Foster has also already scored more fantasy points on half as many touches and 24 fewer snaps. Ajayi is no longer worth drafting as a high-end RB3.
Buy Eric Ebron (TE25 vs. TE12) over Richard Rodgers (TE16 vs. TE35)
Buy Matt Ryan (QB28 vs. QB17) instead of Jared Goff (QB20 vs. QB33)
Buy Torrey Smith (WR43 vs. WR33) instead of DeVante Parker (WR31 vs. WR38)
Buy Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Undrafted vs. TE20)
After outperforming Cameron Brate this preseason, Seferian-Jenkins has reclaimed his role as starting tight end. Through three preseason games, Seferian-Jenkins caught all six of his targets for 51 yards, while Brate caught just one of his five targets for five yards. Sefarian-Jenkins was a small-sample-size (seven games) superstar last season, ranking first among tight ends in fantasy points per snap, second in fantasy points per route run, second in yards per route run, fourth in fantasy points per catchable target, and was tied with Rob Gronkowski for the third-highest aDOT (10.9) at the position. He has a quarterback who, it seems, has heavily targeted his tight ends; over Winston’s two seasons at Florida State, his tight end, Nick O’Leary, led the ACC in receptions and receiving yards at the position. Head coach Dirk Koetter may also have a proclivity for heavily targeting his tight ends. In his only two seasons with Tony Gonzalez, at 36 and 37 years old, the aging superstar tight end compiled 236 targets — third-most over that span. Typically going undrafted in ESPN leagues, Seferian-Jenkins upside is well worth his price.
Sell Jordan Cameron, TE, Miami Dolphins (TE19 vs. TE26)
I’m going to make this one short and sweet: In standard leagues, since Week 5 of 2013 (37 games in the interim) Cameron has scored more than nine points just four times. Through three games this preseason, Cameron ranks as our lowest-graded tight end via the pass.
Buy Giovani Bernard (RB31 vs. RB24) instead of Arian Foster (RB23 vs. RB35)
Buy Kamar Aiken (WR58 vs. WR50) instead of Ted Ginn (WR51 vs. WR65)
Buy LeGarrette Blount (RB37 vs. RB32) instead of DeAngelo Williams (RB28 vs. RB36)
Buy Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (QB8 vs. QB4)
Andrew Luck suffered from a variety of ailments last season; he first dealt with a shoulder injury, then it was torn cartilage on two of his ribs, before he ultimately succumbed to a lacerated kidney. When he was on the field, he was not playing like his typical self. He was our third-worst-graded quarterback (out of 37 qualifying) and led the league in interceptions per game. Still, despite the injuries and the poor (real life) performance, he was fine for fantasy, ranking sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. 2014’s No. 1 overall fantasy scorer would be a steal as the eighth quarterback off the board.
Sell Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings (QB21 vs. QB28)
(Edit: Well, this seems obvious now. You especially don’t want Bridgewater after Tuesday’s injury. Sometimes writing early is a detriment, and there aren’t a lot of other crazy variances in the NFL.com rankings.)
Last season, the Vikings ranked second to last passing yards, passing touchdowns, and fantasy points at the quarterback position. They also ranked dead last in pass attempts – and barring an injury to Adrian Peterson, there isn’t much cause for optimism that they improve here. If you’re looking for a solid floor from your QB2, there are better options going behind him (what’s up Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Alex Smith). If you’re looking for a high ceiling, look elsewhere. Last season, there were 158 instances of a quarterback scoring at least 21 fantasy points – Bridgewater accounted for just one of them.
Buy Josh Gordon (WR49 vs. WR41) instead of Dorial Green-Beckham (WR45 vs. WR80)
Buy Zach Ertz (TE14 vs. TE8) instead of Tyler Eifert (TE4 vs. TE7)
Buy Frank Gore (RB30 vs. RB21) instead of Chris Ivory (RB27 vs. RB34)
Buy Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants (RB34 vs. RB28)
Contrary to popular belief, Jennings was sneakily one of the more efficient running backs in the league last season. He had only one more carry and nine fewer rushing yards than current second-round fantasy pick Lamar Miller. Jennings’ disappointing fantasy numbers came from a lack of usage. Earlier this month, Giants beat writer Ralph Vacchiano tweeted the following: “Listening to Giants RB coach Craig Johnson, it’s clear: Last year’s four-RB committee is not in this year’s plan. Rashad Jennings is the No. 1 RB.” If this is true, Jennings would be a tremendous steal as a likely RB3 on your CBS team. Through the first 12 games of last season, Jennings averaged only 12 touches per game. Through the final four games of the season, Jennings averaged 21.75 touches per game playing in that “No. 1 RB” role Vacchiano alluded to. During those final four games of the season, Jennings was fantasy’s No. 5 RB, totaling 90 carries, 460 rushing yards and two touchdowns (5.1 yards per carry) on the ground and 11 targets, 10 receptions and 122 receiving yards through the air. I like his chances of picking up right where he left off last season.
Sell Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots (RB29 vs. RB44)
Every league has that one guy who hasn’t done his research or is drafting from an outdated draft guide and accidentally drafts an injured player. Dion Lewis is undergoing his second knee surgery since tearing his ACL in November and is out indefinitely. Don’t be that guy. He might look tempting as he sits atop your available players list, but James White as the No. 41 running back off the board in CBS leagues would be the much better value. White was even, statistically, the better receiver a year ago. On only one more target, White had three fewer drops, four more receptions, 22 more receiving yards, and two more receiving touchdowns than Lewis. After Lewis’ ACL injury in Week 9, from Weeks 10 to 17, White ranked sixth among running backs in PPR fantasy points.
Buy Vance McDonald (Undrafted v. TE23) instead of Martellus Bennett (TE9 vs. TE15)
Buy Tyrod Taylor (QB18 vs. QB12) instead of Derek Carr (QB13 vs. QB20)
Buy Duke Johnson Jr. (RB32 vs. RB26) instead of Jeremy Langford (RB20 vs. RB27)