At the risk of sounding like the old man people avoid at picnics, you kids have no idea how good you have it. In the days before the explosion of stellar online fantasy football publications like the Rotoworld Draft Guide, fantasy players had to rely on the often out-of-date advice found in a magical tome known as a fantasy football magazine. Sometimes printed as early as May, these magazines were hopelessly out of date by the time draft season rolled around, meaning cheat sheets were full of people who were long-ago injured, players cut in training camp still sat atop “projected” depth charts and sleepers lists were chock-full of players whose average draft position had risen well past the point of value.
The internet boom has made most of these problems obsolete, but the sleeper issue still haunts fantasy players today. A great sleeper quickly becomes an overvalued bust in the echo chamber known as Twitter, but once a player is labeled a value early in the draft season, owners searching for the trendy pick cannot help themselves no matter how high the “sleeper’s” ADP climbs. To avoid this common mistake, it is important to note the fluctuations of ADP and make value judgments based on where a player is being drafted right now instead where he was drafted at the beginning of June.
Note: Average Draft Position information is taken from FantasyFootballCalculator.com and is based on a 12-team, standard fantasy football league.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears – June 1 ADP 9.12 – Current ADP 9.01
A tenth-round pick at one point this summer, Cutler’s ADP has been steadily rising over the last two months. Fortunately, Cutler was so undervalued from jump street the rise in draft position has done nothing to dampen his sleeper appeal. He is still being drafted one round outside the top-12 at the position, and he still possess top-5 upside in Marc Trestman’s offense. After all, Cutler and the departed Josh McCown combined to score 296.7 fantasy points last season, which would have been good enough for fourth overall.
With another year in the system and perhaps even better weapons surrounding him, the only real question for Cutler is health. The injury issue, however, is almost completely mitigated by his draft position. He is so cheap it is relatively painless to pair Cutler with other high-upside options like Tony Romo or Colin Kaepernick, almost assuring a starting option will be available all season.
Cutler is still the best value around at the quarterback position, and he is a player to target in every draft.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars – June 1 ADP 5.02 – Current ADP 3.11
Gerhart’s current ADP is probably about right, but the concern is about where his ADP is headed. It has plateaued somewhat in recent weeks, but as the draft season gets into full swing and the average fantasy player begins to read piece after piece espousing the virtues of Gerhart, his ADP will climb. How high it goes will determine if he retains any value.
At this point, he does. Gerhart’s floor is among the highest of the RB2 group. He is a three-down back on a team which should be committed to running the football. If he stays healthy, 300 touches are well within the realm of possibility.
The real question is how effective will he be with the work? He only has 137 first-down carries in his career, and though he sports a very impressive 5.01 YPC on those attempts, digging deeper into the carries reveals he was not quite that effective. 23 of the 137 first-down runs went for no gain or worse, 91 of the runs went for four yards or less and his average plummets to only 4.28 yards per carry if we remove his two 40-plus yard runs, which seems like a more accurate average when looking at the results as a whole.
Add in that all these carries came behind an offensive line that was far superior to the bottom-ten outfit he will be running behind in Jacksonville, and we have the makings for a sub-4 YPC season. Pure volume will keep Gerhart as a mid-level RB2 even at that efficiency level, but drafting him any higher than that, especially if it means passing up on a top-12 wide receiver, is a mistake.
Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants – June 1 ADP 5.07 – Current ADP 4.07
Another player knocking on the ceiling of his value is Rashad Jennings, who is up a full round over the last two months.
At 29, Jennings is a journeyman back that botched his first chance at a starting gig in Jacksonville in 2012, though he was dealing with a knee ailment at the time. He made up for the disappointing showing last season, posting a 163-733-6 rushing line and adding 36 catches for 292 yards in eight starts for the Raiders. The Giants signed him to a four-year, $10 million contract on the back of that performance.
That is starter money in today’s NFL, but it may not be that simple for Jennings. Fourth-round pick Andre Williams was already spotted working with the Giants’ goal-line unit, and the conductor of last season’s hype train David Wilson has been practicing with the team after being cleared for all football activities.
Both pieces of information should muddy the backfield situation and take carries away from Jennings, but that rain cloud carries a silver lining for Jennings’ supporters. Every piece of positive news for Wilson or Williams should help to lower Jennings’ ADP. It would not be surprising if his ADP falls back into the late-fifth round, which would move him back into the value-pick conversation.
Jennings is not a special player, but he is a quality back with the talent to take the opportunity New York should offer. He should see the majority of the work and has a decent shot at 250 touches this season. That number would make his current ADP just about right, and make him a value pick in the fifth round and beyond.
Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins – June 1 ADP 12.09 – Current ADP 7.01
Considering the hubbub surrounding Knowshon Moreno’s weight and knee health, Miller’s five-round rise in ADP is actually milder than anticipated. This is just the beginning, though. Moreno started Dolphins’ camp on the PUP list, and according to ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker, Moreno “has ground to make up” on Miller for the starting job. Once the general public realizes Miller is the starter in Miami, his ADP will climb.
That could be a problem. Miller has the best pure running talent on Miami’s roster, but he displayed inconsistent vision and decision making ability last season, often missing the few chances his disintegrating offensive line afforded him. The offensive line does not project to be much better this year, but perhaps the offensive concepts of new OC Bill Lazor will put Miller in a better position to succeed.
That perhaps is a bet worth making in the seventh round, but if his ADP begins to climb into the fourth or even fifth round, the wager becomes more difficult to make. He is worth a shot, but not before the sixth.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings – June 1 ADP 5.03 – Current ADP 4.05
Patterson is the poster boy for the overvalued “sleeper.” An unquestioned physical monster, he is being drafted among the likes of Pierre Garcon, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roddy White. He certainly has the upside to compete with and even surpass that group, but there are questions that need answering before he is considered a top-15 wideout.
The most important of those is his ability as a receiver. It is true that Norv Turner was so giddy at the thought of utilizing Patterson he immediately scribbled “10 plays” in his dream journal, but the fact that Turner felt the need to install specific plays for Patterson should be a hint as to where he is as a receiver.
Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant do not have specific plays drawn out for them. They run routes and make plays within the constraints of the offense. Patterson does not have the ability yet, as evidenced by his usage last season. According to Pro Football Focus, 22 of Patterson’s 72 targets and 19 of his 45 catches came behind the line of scrimmage. More importantly, 38% of his receiving yards came on passes he caught behind the line of scrimmage.
That kind of production is unsustainable, so he will have to improve on the 52% catch rate and 5.8 yards per target he put up on passes thrown past the line last season if he is to meet his current draft value. He has the talent to do it and may show during the preseason he has acquired the receiving skill necessary to be a big-time fantasy player, but until then he is severely overvalued.
Rueben Randle, WR, Giants – June 1 ADP 12.02 – Current ADP 9.05
With his talent seemingly under constant question and his team drafting another wide receiver in Odell Beckham in the first round, Rueben Randle’s stock could not have been much lower following the NFL draft. A strong spring and a new offensive system have raised his ADP somewhat, but his touchdown potential still makes him a great value.
The disaster that was last season notwithstanding, betting on Eli Manning to throw at least 25 touchdowns has been a smart bet. He had done it each of the four seasons prior to 2013, averaging 28 scores a season over that span. With the Giants transitioning to a new, more pass-friendly offense under OC Ben McAdoo, there is reason to believe he can reach those heights again.
If that is the case, then someone will have to catch those 25-odd touchdown passes. That is where Randle comes in. Beckham, though talented, struggled with superior competition in college and may find the transition to the NFL fairly difficult. Victor Cruz is the de facto No. 1 receiver in New York, but he is not the prototypical goal-line threat, with only nine of his 23 career touchdowns coming from inside the red zone. The barren wasteland the Giants call the tight end position is unlikely to be of help either.
That leaves Randle as basically the only receiving option in the red zone, giving him legitimate double-digit touchdown upside. He may not reach those heights this season, but it is a bet worth making in the ninth round.
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers – June 1 ADP 13.03 – Current ADP 10.12
Green is another player that offers tremendous value despite his climbing ADP simply because his upside is off the charts. Some of that upside stems from Green’s combination of a 6-6, 240 frame and 4.5 wheels, but Green also has shown the ball skills and body control necessary to be a big-time playmaker at some point in his career. The only question is when?
Fantasy owners are hoping the answer is this season, and there is some evidence supporting that hope. After only being on the field for 17% of the Charger's offensive snaps through the first half of last season, Green saw 48% of the snaps over the final eight games, racking up 20 of his 34 targets and all three of his touchdowns over that span.
While those numbers are not fantasy worthy, they do show the Chargers were increasingly interested in utilizing Green as the season wore on, and that trend is likely to continue this season with Antonio Gates squarely in the twilight of his career and San Diego’s receiving corps uninspiring outside of Keenan Allen.
He will not be a starter out of the gate, but Green has a real shot to develop into a difference maker over the course of the season. He is an excellent value in the tenth round.
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