Off-The-Radar Dynasty Targets
In the days leading up to free agency, most NFL talk typically revolves around big names and where they might wind up playing in 2013, and rightfully so. However, fantasy owners – and especially those in dynasty leagues that still allow for roster moves – are well served by keeping their eyes on any player who will potentially start the new season with a better opportunity to produce. Below we will take a look at a few relatively off-the-radar players whose values are on the verge of rising.
TE Brandon Myers
Brandon Myers was the ninth-highest scoring fantasy tight end in 2012 and is being chosen 23rd at his position in early 2013 redraft leagues according to My Fantasy League. In keeper leagues his ADP is 33rd among fellow tight ends, which represents the largest negative gap between final 2012 point production and early 2013 draft trends seen this side of Scott Chandler – who did finish as the 14th-best fantasy tight end, it must be said.
Due to a shoulder injury, Myers was limited in practice leading up to a Week 14 game during which his usage patterns noticeably changed. Prior to that game against Denver he had received 7.2 targets per game over Oakland’s first 12 contests. He saw just over half as many, 3.8 per game, during the last month of the season. His 3.95 yards after catch per reception (YAC/Rec.) over the season’s first three months fell to just 2.50 in his last four games. He forced eight missed tackles before that point and none during the last month, despite his snap totals not appreciably changing in those games.
If those final four games are removed, Myers ranked as the fifth-highest scoring fantasy tight end. He achieved this with a relatively modest total of four touchdown receptions, so his final placing was not skewed by an unsustainably large percentage of his fantasy points being derived by hitting pay dirt. His 0.25 mark came in only 0.01 out of a seventh-place tie in Fantasy Points Per Opportunity (PPO), which is his points divided by his total carries and pass routes run. In point per reception leagues, he finished in a sixth place tie in PPO (0.43). He received the fourth most targets of any tight end during those first 12 games, and ranked second in catch percentage (80%).
The 27-year-old Myers is a free agent and might not be back with the Raiders. On the surface that may seem like a good thing, but he did combine with quarterback Carson Palmer to pile up a sizeable portion of his fantasy totals during garbage time with Oakland hopelessly behind on the scoreboard. He also suffered two concussions last season (he did not miss a game), as well as at least one in both 2009 and 2010. We graded him out as the worst run-blocking tight end in the game (-21.4), with only two non-negative games all season. How this all affects where he ultimately lands will be interesting to watch develop, but no matter how it shakes out it is a good bet that he will outperform his current ADP by a comfortable margin.
RB Shane Vereen
Danny Woodhead played the 28th-most snaps of any running back in football last season (424) and that was the second-highest mark on his own team. This was mostly because the Patriots execute a high-volume offense (league-leading 1,191 plays in 2012), and throw the ball a ton (fourth in pass attempts with 641). Woodhead predominantly served as their third-down back, and he excels in the passing game as both a blocker and receiver. He finished the season 31st in PPO (0.34) and was second only to New Orleans Saints pass-catching back Darren Sproles in receiving production by a running back. Woodhead is also a free agent.
Most reports speculate that he will be returning to New England on a modest deal, although it is not a certainty. Not only do the Patriots have a viable replacement for Woodhead, but they already had begun the process of integrating Shane Vereen into their offense late last season. Vereen was the 56th pick just two drafts ago and possesses an element of explosiveness to his game that Woodhead simply cannot match. Since entering the league, Vereen has been dogged by injuries that have kept him mostly off the radar. However, that is not what has shrouded him from current offseason discussions. Ironically, it was a negative play for which backfield mate Stevan Ridley has become known – an ill-timed fumble.
During a Week 15 game against the 49ers where the Patriots would fall behind by a 31-3 score before mounting an ultimately failed comeback, Vereen fumbled after receiving a first quarter pass and was subsequently benched (and only saw three snaps the next week in Jacksonville as well). Woodhead would come on to take a season-high 76 snaps in his stead and reverse a trend that saw him steadily losing playing time to the younger back. Below is a chart of playing time percentages, with the season broken up into quarters.
|Player||Games 1-4||Games 5-8||Games 9-12||Games 13-16|
|Danny Woodhead||36.6% snaps||29.5% snaps||23.5% snaps||44.6% snaps|
|Shane Vereen||2.5% snaps (1 gm)||14.0% snaps||22.5% snaps||13.2% snaps|
Clearly Woodhead was relinquishing touches to Vereen, who had begun to display his talents with a handful of explosive plays – including an eye-popping catch-and-run 83-yard touchdown against the Jets on Thanksgiving night. It is tough to say for sure what would have transpired had Vereen not fumbled early in the San Francisco game, and nobody gets rich betting on what Bill Belichick is going to do next. But it sure is interesting to think of what Vereen can accomplish with just a quarter of the snaps in the New England offense.
If we take the group of games during the third quarter of the Patriots’ season, when he received 22.5 percent of the snaps, we find Vereen first among running backs in fantasy points per snap (PPSnap) with 0.55, and second in PPO with 0.58. During the playoffs, after Woodhead suffered a thumb injury against the Houston Texans, Vereen came on to run for 41 yards on seven carries (5.9 ypc) and a touchdown. He also added five catches for 83 yards and two additional scores. Not too shabby for a running back with an ADP of 42 at his position in MFL redraft leagues, and 69 in dynasty leagues. He will wind up being well worth those prices no matter where Woodhead ultimately lands.
WR Joe Morgan
New Orleans Saints wideout Joe Morgan has not had too many opportunities to shine during his brief career. The undrafted rookie missed his first season with a meniscus tear, and was only on the field for 38.6 percent of offensive snaps in year two, in part due to missing time with a chest injury. He also saw just 19 targets from quarterback Drew Brees during the 2012 season. He did, however, make them count – and not just during a Week 7 play that got everyone’s attention.
If we put the “small sample size” disclaimer to the side for a bit, Morgan starts to look like a big-play PFF Signature Stats monster. His 137.6 wide receiver rating, which is the rating that quarterbacks have when throwing to a given receiver, registered as the third-highest mark in the NFL. His 57.1 percent catch rate on deep passes (20 yards or more downfield) was the sixth-best mark in the league, nestled among the most dangerous long ball threats in the game and ahead of Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Steve Smith. He came in tied for 23rd in total deep ball receptions (8), which seems just okay until you realize that they came on only 14 targets 20-plus yards downfield – and only eight of them were considered catchable. His league-leading 73.7 target percentage, or the percentage of deep targets per total targets, led the second-place receiver (Torrey Smith) by over 30 percent.
There is little doubt that the more he plays, the more some of these statistics, like his NFL-best 37.9 yards per reception mark, will regress. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has predicted a larger role in the offense for Morgan in 2013, and with the expected departure of free agent wideout Devery Henderson, there certainly is a job available. He still will be down the list of options in an offense that features Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, the consistently underrated Lance Moore, and a gaggle of backfield choices. Teammate Nick Toon should re-enter the picture at some point after missing the 2012 season following foot surgery on a chronic injury he has dealt with since his Wisconsin days. Toon’s skill set does not lend itself to a being a deep ball wideout, and he will likely not threaten Morgan’s anticipated role.
If last season is any indication of what he can do with scant opportunity, it is not a big leap to imagine him being a legitimate contributor while maximizing the table scraps left by the offense’s bigger mouths. Henderson was targeted 44 times last season as the Saints were phasing him out of the offense. In 2011 he saw 58 targets and former Saint Robert Meachem received an additional 72. That is on top of Graham’s huge season, and Colston, Moore and Sproles also performing well. There clearly is enough room in the offense for Morgan to thrive in 2013 and command a conservative estimate of 45 targets.
When you consider that he came in fifth in PPO and 17th in PPSnap among fellow wideouts, fantasy owners certainly need to take notice. Dynasty owners should pay special attention, as the Saints are up against the salary cap and will continue to try to replace some bloated contracts with more economical ones. Few players are in position to give their team as much bang for their buck as Morgan, and the faint hints of what he is capable of may cause his current dynasty league ADP to rise from where it sits as the 98th receiver selected in MFL drafts.