The 15 Best Fantasy Values According To The NFL Salary Cap
Dan Schneier evaluates every skill position player and their accompanying salary cap hit in 2013. From there he ranks the 15 best fantasy football values.
The 15 Best Fantasy Values According To The NFL Salary Cap
Creating and managing a championship team in fantasy football usually comes down to getting great value on your investments. Whether it is a snake draft or an auction, grabbing Josh Gordon in Round 11 or for $9 in an auction is an example of getting an incredible return on your investment.
The NFL is constructed with a strict salary cap that teams may not go over in any given season. Much like fantasy football, NFL management teams must assemble a team that consists of contracts constructed in a way that returns overall value for each given player they invest in. With only around $126 million in salary cap to spend on 53 players, this job can become quite difficult.
In this piece, I am going to break down the 15 best values in fantasy football of the 2013 season based on their salary cap number in 2013 — how much of their salary for that year counted against their team’s total salary cap. After, I will take a look into what their 2014 salary cap number is and breakdown how and for what teams these players might compete with going forward.
In the next installment, I will pinpoint the worst values from 2013.
*All scoring is based on a standard scoring format with an additional 0.5 points awarded per reception.
*All salary cap information comes from www.overthecap.com.
1. Josh Gordon
2013 Cap Number: $1,139,565
2014 Cap Number: $1,456,813
Josh Gordon can be categorized by the following fantasy football lingo in 2013: the biggest sleeper, the best value pick, the breakout player of the year. Gordon likely made it into the double-digit rounds in snake drafts and cost around the single digits in auctions. Gordon made my list of wide receivers to target in auction drafts, but his production in the 14 games he was active for in 2013 was hard for anyone to see.
Gordon finished second-best in our YPRR statistics, 2.68 behind only Calvin Johnson. YPRR stands for yards per route run and it takes into account the number of snaps a player went into a pattern, providing a better indicator of production than yards per reception or even yards per target. From a fantasy perspective, Gordon finished as the second-best wide receiver in fantasy football and the fifth-best skill position player.
How He Got Here: Gordon was a 2012 second-round supplemental draft pick. He signed a four-year contract and becomes a free agent in 2016.
2014 Outlook: His cap number rises just slightly from 2013, so he should return great value again. More importantly, there is a chance that he puts together an even better 2014. There are aspects of Gordon’s game that stand to improve. Gordon finished 16th-worst of 43 qualifying receivers, who played in at least 50% of their team’s snaps, in drop rate. His drop rate for the season was 9.38. The drop rate statistic goes beyond just tallied drops and signifies the percentage of drops a receiver makes relative to the the number of catchable balls thrown their way. With another year in the league, he should be able to improve that aspect of his game. The Browns have multiple first-round draft picks and will look to upgrade the talent around Gordon including, but not limited to, the quarterback position.
2. Jimmy Graham
2013 Cap Number: $1,489,285
2014 Cap Number: Free Agent
After a disappointing 2012 season temporarily staggered Graham’s value, he was back to his old ways in 2013. Graham finished as the highest-scoring tight end in fantasy football, and he averaged more than four fantasy points per game than the next best at his position. Graham also finished as the eighth-best skill position player overall. A midseason injury that was reported to be turf toe slowed Graham down from finishing even stronger, as originally he was on pace to finish in the top three overall.
Get ready to put on your shock face: Graham finished as our highest-graded tight end (+13.4). He finished even stronger in “pass grade” (+19.8), which doesn’t account for blocking. The next highest tight end had a pass grade of (+12.9) and only two players other than Graham reached double digits. Graham also finished with the best YPRR at tight end (+2.26). Position scarcity plays a big role in fantasy football strategy, and it catapulted Graham to No. 2 in these rankings — he might be No. 1 if it weren’t for a pair of young tight ends who broke out in 2013.
How He Got Here: Graham was a 2010 third-round draft pick. He played out the last year of his rookie contract this season.
2014 Outlook: Although Graham is an unrestricted free agent, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis made it clear that if they cannot figure out a long-term contract then Graham would be hit with the franchise tag. This could create a temporarily ugly mess if Graham wants to be paid like a wide receiver. However, Graham’s value in 2014 should not be hindered, even if he demonstrates a holdout. He is far too talented, has far too productive of a quarterback and plays under one of the best offensive minds in the NFL in Sean Payton.
3. Demaryius Thomas
2013 Cap Number: $2,592,750
2014 Cap Number: $2,750,000
Figuring out what to make of the Denver wide receiver corps turned out to be a lot simpler than originally expected. Instead of there being too many mouths to feed, every receiver on Denver got their own piece of the pie — the Peyton Manning 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdown-kind of pie. There was enough to go around to a fourth target, which will be mentioned later. While my overall value on Decker and Welker was on target, I will admit that I vastly undervalued Thomas’ outlook this past season. Thomas is a big, strong and fast target and most importantly he ran the right routes in this offense. Thomas was featured on screens, fades, and red zone plays like deep and intermediate posts.
This was all reflected in Thomas’ overall rating, where he finished as our fifth-best wide receiver overall (+21.3). Peyton Manning had the second-highest QB rating of all quarterbacks in the league when he was targeting Thomas. The talent around him likely only helped him, diverting the defense’s attention away. From a fantasy perspective, Thomas finished as the best overall wide receiver in 2013 and fourth-best skill position player.
How He Got Here: Thomas was a 2010 first-round pick. Because Thomas was selected in the first round, under the old collective bargaining agreement (CBA), he was signed to a five-year contract and does not become a free agent until 2015.
2014 Outlook: In a potential contract season, Thomas stands a chance to remain as one of the best receivers in real life and fantasy football at a small percentage of his team’s salary cap. Of course, often some of the best-managed teams choose to extend their young talent before the final year of their contract. Fellow receiver Eric Decker is set to become a free agent. This could put a hinder on Thomas’ value if Decker leaves because he will draw more double-coverage; however, he may also receive more total targets.
4. DeMarco Murray
2013 Cap Number: $810,938
2014 Cap Number: $1,554,625
DeMarco Murray proved, for the first time in his brief career, what he is capable of when healthy. Of course, Murray still managed to miss two games, but that didn’t stop him from compiling career highs in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns all while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. In a sense, Murray was your classic post-hype sleeper in 2013, just a year after being touted as a high-upside pick in the top 12 of some drafts. He fell to the middle rounds of last summer’s drafts and proved to not only be a great value for his football team but also for your fantasy football team.
Murray finished as our eighth-best running back overall (+15.5) and our sixth-best in run grade alone (+10.0). More impressive to me was his elusive rating (+53.2). Elusive rating attempts to distill the impact of a running back with the ball independently of the blocking in front of him. He had the fourth-best elusive rating of any running back and before this year most people pigeon-holed him as a straight-line and up-right runner. From a fantasy perspective, he finished as the sixth-best running back in fantasy and 16th-best skill position player.
How He Got Here: Murray was a 2011 third-round pick. Murray signed a four-year contract and is set to become a free agent in 2015.
2014 Outlook: Considering that Murray might be playing for a new contract and that the Cowboys are 11-0 when he has gotten at least 20 carries in a game, Murray could become the backbone of the Cowboys offense in 2014. Other factors such as the injury concern of Tony Romo will play their part as well. Of course, as always with Murray, his running style and build makes him prone to injury at any time.
5. Eddie Lacy
2013 Cap Number: $616,802
2014 Cap Number: $771,003
After both fumbling and going down to a concussion in his first NFL appearance, Lacy surged through the 2013 season for his fantasy owners. A broken collarbone that kept Aaron Rodgers sidelined led to some of Lacy’s best fantasy performances when the Packers leaned on him.
Quite possibly the most impressive feat in Lacy’s rookie season, however, was his pass blocking. Lacy graded out as our third-best running back in all of football in our pass-blocking efficiency rating (+98.0). PBE measures overall pressure allowed on a per-snap basis, including sacks, hits and hurries. From a fantasy perspective, he finished as the seventh-best running back and 19th-best skill position player.
How He Got Here: Concerns about his injury history and passion for football caused Lacy to plummet in the draft. Once assumed to be the consensus best at his position, Lacy fell to the end of Round 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft. Lacy signed a four-year contract and is set to become a free agent in 2017.
2014 Outlook: Lacy will again represent one of the best bargains at his position. He will play out year two in his contract at just $771,003 against the cap. In 2014, however, he will no longer be a mid-round value pick and is likely to be drafted in the first round in fantasy football.
6. Alshon Jeffery
2013 Cap Number: $1,033,598
2014 Cap Number: $1,240,317
Alshon Jeffery turned out to be one of the best value picks in fantasy football last season. Hyped as a late-round flier, Jeffery made every owner who drafted him a few rounds higher than his ADP feel like a fantasy god. All of his potential upside came to fruition: Jeffrey’s size, jumping ability and ball location, his hands and of course his fit in Marc Trestman’s efficient and attacking offense.
Jeffery graded out as our eighth-best receiver overall (+18.7). He finished with the third-highest catch rate (45.2%) on deep passes. This stat measures the percentage of receptions compared to targets on balls thrown 20 yards downfield or more. As an added bonus, he finished with the sixth-best drop rate, which factors in the percentage of drops on catchable balls thrown. He dropped just five total passes on 94 catchable targets. From a fantasy perspective, he finished as the eighth-best wide receiver and 14th-best skill position player.
How He Got Here: Concerns about Jeffery’s weight and production in his final season at South Carolina proved to be unfounded and a direct correlation to an injury he attempted to play through. He was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft and is set to become a free agent in 2016.
2014 Outlook: There is every reason to believe that Jeffery will build on his 2013 campaign. He will have the opportunity to improve his chemistry with Jay Cutler and his knowledge of the offense, plus he should be playing behind a more cohesive offensive line.
7. Eric Decker
2013 Cap Number: $1,506,039
2014 Cap Number: Free Agent
Eric Decker’s 2013 fantasy season was a roller-coaster ride that had its ups and downs. In his case, the great games were much greater than the duds. More importantly, he may have single-handedly gotten you to the playoffs with his Week 13 performance that featured eight catches for 174 yards and four touchdowns, which prompted a friend to change his team name to “quadruple decker.” If you made it to your fantasy championship game, Decker came through again with 30.1 fantasy points. Like Gordon, Decker made my list of wide receivers to target in auction drafts, and likely provided value in any draft format.
The stat that jumps off the page with Decker was his efficiency catching deep passes. He lapped the field in catch rate (60%), coming up with 15 receptions on 25 catchable passes of 20 yards or more.
How He Got Here: Decker entered the 2010 NFL Draft coming off a senior season cut short due to a left foot injury, which rendered him unable to participate in his pro day or the NFL combine. The Broncos drafted him in the third round.
2014 Outlook: Decker is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. With Wes Welker set to count a whopping $8 million against the cap and Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas already on the roster, the Broncos may let Decker walk. Some destinations, such as New England, stand out as great opportunities for him to build on his success. However, one thing we do know for sure, after Mike Wallace’s contract from last offseason it would be foolish to expect Decker to make this top values list in 2014.