Top 5 Players with Surprising Fantasy Efficiency
It can be a mistake to target players based on gaudy efficiency numbers. Frequently these are the players with sample size concerns, players who will see the sharpest correction from the immutable laws of regression.
On the other hand, if you bought into the rookie year efficiency numbers of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, you drafted an elite TE1 and elite Flex at bargain basement prices in 2011. If you load up on such players without paying a premium for the privilege, it can go a long way toward winning a fantasy title.
These are five players I uncovered using the amazing suite of tools provided by PFF and PFF Fantasy. You can uncover more of these bargains by purchasing the 2014 PFF Draft Guide with monthly updates.
1. Jake Locker
Locker only managed 213 drop backs in 2013 before suffering yet another injury. Many of his traditional quarterback stats weren’t particularly strong, but he was averaging 0.50 fantasy points per drop back. To put that in context, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees averaged 0.53. Tom Brady and Matt Ryan averaged 0.39. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen flashes from Locker. Although he took only 76 drop backs as a rookie in 2011 – many of them in the types of comeback situations theoretically favorable to fantasy scoring – he managed 0.65 pp/db. That was the same season Rodgers posted a career year with 0.69 pp/db.
It’s difficult to cast Ken Whisenhunt as an offensive mastermind, but he’s been an offensive coordinator for a Super Bowl champion, had input during the Cardinals run to the Super Bowl, and helped rebuild Philip Rivers last season. He should be an upgrade on the cast of characters assembled by Mike Munchak. Locker could also receive quite a bit of help from ascending players like Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. As a result, the Titans signal-caller presents something of an intriguing play late in best ball formats.
2. Ryan Mathews
Continually undervalued as a reality back, Mathews led the league in fantasy points per snap at the running back position in standard formats with 0.40. His 0.46 trailed only Jamaal Charles in ppr. Mathews is known as one of A.J. Smith’s last draft gaffes, a frail player who’s often replaced on third down and near the goal line. Mathews may indeed lack “football character.” That’s almost the only way to explain his bizarre usage the last two seasons considering he averaged more yards after contact per carry in 2011 than Adrian Peterson (3.20 to 3.13) and caught 50 passes that year.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Mathews in San Diego. The Chargers added Donald Brown, the back who led the league in fantasy points per opportunity last season. They also retain Danny Woodhead, an in-space back who caught 76 passes. Despite the competition, Mathews remains the biggest talent and one of the 10 most undervalued dynasty players.
3. Stevan Ridley
It probably doesn’t surprise you that Ridley was relatively efficient when not in the doghouse, but it’s still shocking that only two players finished with more points per snap in standard formats than his 0.39. One was a teammate. LeGarrette Blount left for Pittsburgh where he represents one of the five backups you must own for 2014.
With Blount’s departure, his 153 carries are up for grabs. Bill Belichik’s penchant for benching Ridley after fumbles is certainly disconcerting, but the Patriots’ decision to delay addressing the position until Round 4 of the 2014 Draft counts as a vote of confidence. New England also chose to select James White and bypass bigger runners like Lorenzo Taliaferro, Tyler Gaffney, and Storm Johnson. White profiles more as a direct backup to Shane Vereen. While Brandon Bolden may also lurk, the depth chart in New England appears to favor Ridley as the best value among Patriots backs.
4. Anquan Boldin
Many expect the 49ers to pass more frequently in 2014 to cover for a potentially declining defense. The main beneficiary is expected to be Michael Crabtree, but the ageless Boldin could be the receiver who takes advantage. After escaping from Baltimore’s scattershot offense, Boldin posted staggering efficiency numbers during his debut season in San Francisco. Only Calvin Johnson finished with more fantasy points per opportunity in ppr leagues (0.56 to 0.53). Switch your focus to standard leagues and the points per snap metric, and Boldin comes in No. 10 overall, edging players like A.J. Green and Antonio Brown.
Boldin saw a rebirth as a reality player as well. He graded out as PFF’s No. 9 player at +17.9. This may be something of a nonsense stat as the former Arizona star enters his age-34 season, but, outside of Baltimore, Boldin has never played in 13 games and failed to put up a 1,000-yard season. He represents a very cheap WR2 for those who believe Colin Kaepernick is about to make the leap.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson’s rookie season presented the same sort of dilemma as his final college season at Tennessee. He offered up a raft of highlight reel plays, practically oozing superstar potential. He also struggled badly at times. Revered for his after-catch skills, Patterson gained 87 percent of his yards after the catch on balls thrown behind the line of scrimmage. Can we put him next to star players like Demaryius Thomas in the yac category when he’s essentially catching glorified laterals?
Patterson’s route running and overall grasp of the offense kept him buried behind Jerome Simpson for months. He never even played in 40% of the team snaps until after Week 10. To put his receiving performance in full context, he finished with fewer such yards than a running back (Gio Bernard), an undrafted receiver (Marlon Brown), an undrafted tight end (Tim Wright), and a diminutive slot guy who finds himself in a battle just to make the Jaguars (Ace Sanders).
Of course, the enthusiasm surrounding Patterson centers on more than just his receiving ability. Fantasy owners want points in any way possible, and Patterson provided when given opportunities. He finished tied for No. 7 in fantasy points per snap last season. His 0.21 pp/sn in standard leagues tied with Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, and Alshon Jeffery. I’ve been a Patterson skeptic, but I also think he could be a Top 10 receiver as early as this season. I’d rather be a year early than a year late.