For most fantasy football leagues, draft day isn’t quite upon us. Following this week’s set of NFL exhibitions, most fantasy leagues will be targeting the weekend of Aug. 24-26, which gives owners a chance to size up the players they’re not sure about while monitoring major news and updates.
That’s why it’s so difficult to figure out which players are being undervalued, particularly those in the middle to late rounds. ADPs (average draft positions) for some players will begin rising and dropping, depending on job announcements and injuries.
While those early rounds are obviously pivotal, how you fill out your roster through the rest of the draft can be just as important. Entering the 2018 season, a handful of players offer intrigue and could pay dividends with a late selection. Here are a few names to consider monitoring leading up to the draft.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans: Let’s not sugarcoat it: Mariota wasn’t very good in 2017. It was frustrating after he played so well during the stretch run of the 2016 season. Mariota finished with 20 or more points in nine games in 2016. Many owners were salivating at the idea of having him heading into last year, but that’s not the case entering this season. His ADP is 133 and he’s currently the 24th quarterback going off the board in ESPN leagues. He’s not worth an early pick, but when Mariota is playing well, he can do many of the things that made Deshaun Watson so exciting to watch last year before the Houston Texans QB’s season was cut short by injury. Certainly a lot of Mariota owners last year thought that would be the case.
If you’re like me, you pass on QBs early, and opt for a couple with upside later on. Here’s why that’s a sound strategy: Philip Rivers scored 326-plus points last season. Tom Brady finished with 359-plus. That means over the course of the season, Brady was good for a couple more points a game. The trade-off of taking a QB earlier in drafts means you have less depth elsewhere. Meanwhile, you’re more than capable of drafting a QB later in the draft that will provide similar point totals as the elite signal callers. It’s possible to play the matchup game with fantasy QBs and have a successful season. And within the top 10 QBs going off the board, there are many question marks. Load up at running back and wide receiver, and pair Mariota with another solid QB.
Other QBs who could be pleasant surprises: Patrick Mahomes (ADP 123), Alex Smith (ADP 126)
Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks: In the post-Marshawn Lynch Seattle backfield, it appeared the Seahawks had found their man in Carson. He was settling into his role as the No. 1 tailback in 2017 before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. While Seattle did draft Rashaad Penny in the first round, don’t let that muddy the waters: With a renewed emphasis on the run game, Carson is going to be a big part of Seattle’s offense.
Penny’s arrival shouldn’t scare anyone from grabbing Carson, whose current ADP is 140. Penny isn’t being taken early in mock drafts; he’s been the 24th tailback off the board in ESPN leagues. Carson is the 43rd RB being taken in drafts. At the very least, if you grab one of these tailbacks, you should consider grabbing the other to make sure you’ve got the situation under wraps. There are pundits who believe Penny will shoulder the workload, but as of now, it’s a true running-back-by-committee situation. Others see it differently with Carson being featured as the bell cow.
Carson is getting most of the work with the Seahawks’ first unit. Meanwhile, Penny just flew to Philadelphia to have surgery on his finger, putting in doubt his status for Week 1 of the regular season.
Peyton Barber, RB, Buccaneers: Down in Tampa Bay, Barber finds himself in a similar situation to Carson. The third-year tailback out of Auburn is currently first in line for touches in the team’s busy backfield. The Bucs drafted Ronald Jones in the second round, and he’s undoubtedly going to see playing time and is even likely the better long-term selection, but for the time being, Barber is the back to own and figures to get the lion’s share of touches.
Barber tallied 335 yards rushing and hauled in 12 receptions for 83 yards over the final five games of the 2017 season. He’s carrying the load so far this preseason and has the support of the coaching staff.
Barber’s stock is sure to climb in the coming weeks if he’s going to be leading the way in a backfield that has plenty of others seeking touches. However, Barber’s draft status is pretty much nil. He’s not listed in ESPN’s top 200 rankings and is currently the 61st running back coming off the board. By the time you draft, the hunch is he’ll be much higher, but still probably not on the radar for many owners.
All you can ask of late draft picks is a chance that they will turn into something more. In Barber’s case, he has an opportunity. If he takes advantage of it, he could make owners very happy.
Other RBs who could be pleasant surprises: Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ADP 107)
J.J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. … okay, I admit, I did tout J.J. Nelson a year ago as a potential breakout candidate. And he had some nice results early before running back David Johnson was lost for the season. The Arizona offense never really recovered.
But here’s why 2018 is going to be different. John Brown isn’t in Arizona. Jaron Brown isn’t in Arizona. And while there are other wideouts vying to play opposite Larry Fitzgerald, Nelson may have the edge. He has earned kudos on his route running from Cardinals receivers coach Kevin Garver. With a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator, Nelson’s speed makes him an appealing weapon. Here’s the best part: Nelson is not on anyone’s radar. He has no ADP and isn’t listed in ESPN’s top 200 rankings. You can probably get away with taking him with your last pick. Then have the last laugh when he starts producing. However, the Cardinals’ QBs, Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen, don’t exude confidence.
Other WRs who could be pleasant surprises: Saints WR Cameron Meredith (ADP 155), Cowboys WR Michael Gallup (ADP 157)
Jack Doyle, TE, Colts: Somewhere in the ninth or 10th round, Doyle is going to be sitting there. He’s currently the 10th tight end being taken in drafts, with an ADP of 108. That happens to be the same number of targets Doyle tallied in 2017, fifth among tight ends, this despite missing a game. Only Travis Kelce, Evan Engram, Delanie Walker and Zach Ertz saw more targets.
The impressive thing about Doyle’s season is that Andrew Luck wasn’t behind center. Now that Luck is expected back, it would seem Doyle could at least match the 80 receptions he totaled in 2017.
With few exceptions, tight ends should be treated similarly to quarterbacks in that it’s smart to wait to select one in the later stages of drafts. There’s a lot to like about Doyle, and with Luck on the field, he’s likely to find the end zone more than the four times he did so in 2017.
Other TEs who could be pleasant surprises: Bills TE Charles Clay (ADP 145), Saints TE Benjamin Watson (ADP 165)
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