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The Unusual Suspects: Players to Target in Your Final Drafts

Phil Alexander gives you eight players who have emerged with great value relative to their ADP as we approach the end of draft season.

Since I started writing about fantasy football three years ago, It’s become an annual tradition of mine to wrap up the preseason by sharing my ‘Usual Suspects’ - the players who ended up on the majority of my rosters, and will either lead me to glory, or haunt my existence during the upcoming season.

As I started writing this year’s edition, two things struck me.

First, I had already written about these guys all preseason. If anyone wants to know who ended up on most of my teams, they could read my player spotlights, value plays, check my rankings, or the results of numerous staff mock-drafts I took part in. There’s really not much more I can write about the guys I’ve been drafting all preseason, I haven’t already written.

And second, reading about someone else’s fantasy football teams is irritating at best, and useless at worst. If you haven’t drafted yet, you don’t need an inventory of my teams dating back to July. You need fresh, actionable advice. So instead of sharing the players who found their way onto most of my rosters, I’m changing things up a bit this year.

The following players aren’t found on many of the teams I’ve already drafted, but that wouldn’t be the case if draft season started today. My opinions on these players have changed significantly in recent weeks, and I’ll be targeting them in the two remaining drafts I have coming up this weekend. You can call these guys ‘late risers’, or say their ‘stock is up’, but I’m sure many would disagree. Let’s just call them the ‘Unusual Suspects’ - players I’ve recently changed my opinion on - who I hope can give us both an edge as we put a bow on draft season.

Running Back

Arian Foster

Why I doubted him - When I first set out to do rankings back in July, I was lower than most on Foster. I couldn’t see spending a late-first, or early-second round pick on a 29 year old running back with Foster’s history of soft tissue and back injuries.

How he won me over -  Oddly enough, Foster won me over by getting hurt. His groin injury and the uncertainty surrounding his recovery timetable has dropped his ADP to the early sixth round. With growing optimism Foster will not be placed on the Injured Reserve/Designated to Return list, it no longer looks like we have to worry about him missing the first eight games. If he only misses the first four, or even the first six games of the season, Foster is worth reaching for in the fourth round. When you consider the great work that’s been done on running back bust rates, Foster is barely a gamble at that price. On a per game basis, he was the second best fantasy running back behind DeMarco Murray last season. Elite production from your fourth (or fifth) best player wins you leagues. I don’t see a better home run swing on the board heading into this weekend than Foster.

Bishop Sankey

Why I doubted him - The prevailing narrative that he was awful as a rookie seemed to justify the negative opinion many scouts had on Sankey coming out of Washington. Then the Titans drafted David Cobb, who seemed like a direct Shonn Greene replacement.

How he won me over -  I swear this isn’t an overreaction to Sankey’s Week 2 preseason performance (six carries, 45 yards), though watching him break off runs like this certainly didn’t hurt. Unlike many, I liked Sankey coming out of college, and thought the bum rap he got last year was unwarranted. Yes, he failed to live up to his draft billing (in both fantasy and NFL circles), and the counting stats weren’t pretty (569 yards, two touchdowns, 3.7 YPA), but there were also reasons for optimism. Sankey forced a missed tackle on 19% of his rushing attempts - the eighth best rate in the league, putting him on par with Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell to name a few. His 2.51 yards after contact per attempt placed him 14th, just behind DeMarco Murray and C.J. Anderson. And just this morning, I saw this come across my timeline from Yahoo Sports’ Michael Salfino:

Salfino nailed the real reason Sankey has become so appealing. More so than obscure statistics, the fact Sankey is routinely available after Cobb (and guys like Darren McFadden) makes him a solid draft day value. The stories out of Titans’ camp on Sankey have been consistently positive. First, he was their most impressive back, then he was taking most of the first team reps, and finally Ken Whisenhunt said the bell cow role is up for grabs if someone steps up in the preseason. I’d say last week qualifies as Sankey stepping up. Considering he only costs an eighth or ninth round pick, Sankey may end up the cheapest starting running back in 2015 fantasy drafts.

C.J. Spiller

Why I doubted him - I’m cheating a little here, as I never doubted Spiller once he signed in New Orleans. In fact, I had been reaching as high as the early third round to acquire his services in early August.

How he won me over -  Here’s the reason I feel obligated to mention Spiller in this space:

Sean Payton has confirmed Spiller will be ready to play in Week 1. Even if he’s eased back into action initially, there’s still room for 90% of the monster PPR season so many of us saw coming before he underwent a knee scope. Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet leave behind 83 receptions on 106 targets, not to mention the target void the departures of Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills creates for the Saints. If Spiller is in there Week 1, I’d bet the farm on a 70+ reception season. He still has back-end RB1 upside now that he’s free from Doug Marrone’s clutches, and playing on the fast track in New Orleans. For the first time all draft season, it doesn’t feel like reaching when you take Spiller a round or two ahead of his ADP.

Wide Receiver

Brandon Marshall

Why I doubted him - Marshall is another player I was never particularly low on. When my rankings opened up he was the WR22, which was higher than many Footballguys' staffers. Still, Marshall always seemed to come off the board before I was ready to draft him.

How he won me over -  Geno Smith got chin checked, and the rest is history. Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting for the Jets, Marshall is one case where I’m willing to react to a small preseason sample. With about nine minutes to go in the second quarter last week, Marshall had already been targeted by Fitzpatrick five times. He finished with four catches for 62 yards, including a 30 yard reception where most of the damage came after the catch. It’s clear Marshall will be operating in the intermediate parts of the field, which is where Fitzpatrick is most comfortable throwing. Marshall will be his usual target-hog self in New York, which means a Top-15 season is within reach for one of the best fantasy wide receivers of the last seven years.

Jeremy Maclin

Why I doubted him - Again, I was seduced by the prevailing narrative. How could anyone want one of noodle-armed Alex Smith’s receivers on their fantasy team?

How he won me over -  This was a perfect example of how being exposed to the work of of over 60 brilliant writers here at Footballguys can help you see all sides of the story, and allow you to construct more informed opinions. Jason Wood’s spotlight on Maclin did exactly what the series was designed to do - it opened my eyes to the value Maclin offers this season. I won’t bother summarizing Jason here - go read the article if you haven’t already. Just know that at worst, Maclin is properly priced in drafts. He’s got nothing but upside as your WR3.

Davante Adams

Why I doubted him - Davante Adams is a pretty obvious name to list as a late-draft-season target in the wake of Jordy Nelson’s ACL tear, but I wanted to touch on him here because there wasn’t a player with a more inflated ADP all summer. It’s not that I didn’t like Adams in a late round flier sort of way, but that’s never how he was being drafted. Adams was routinely going in the eighth round, ahead of veterans like Mike Wallace and Larry Fitzgerald, who would have played larger roles in their respective team’s week-to-week game plans. Those who drafted Adams early were blinded by his studly performance in last year’s divisional game against Dallas, and would have been disappointed when they realized there weren't going to be enough targets available to support a breakout this year.

How he won me over -  Jordy couldn’t stick the landing on Sunday, and all of a sudden 151 of the best-aimed targets in the NFL are up for grabs in Green Bay. Adams won’t inherit all of them, but he steps in as Aaron Rodgers’ number two wide receiver, a gig that’s paid fantasy dividends pretty much forever.

Adams wasn’t very efficient with his targets last year, but he did average six catches for 80 yards in the four games he received seven or more targets. And if his red zone production in college is any indication, his touchdown upside is immense. I like him better than most of the Footballguys rankers, and wouldn’t blame you for pulling the trigger on him as early as round four in 12 team leagues.

Quarterback

Sam Bradford

Why I doubted him - Feel good stories about Bradford’s health were hard to come by early this summer. For the better part of the preseason, I was certain we’d see Mark Sanchez open the season as the Eagles’ starter - a line of thinking that led me to buy up way more Sanchez shares than I’d ever openly admit.

How he won me over - Bradford opened training camp healthy, and immediately stomped out any notion of a quarterback competition. We all remember Sanchez as a back-end QB1 when Nick Foles went down last season. Bradford was a better prospect than Sanchez ever was. If there’s even a little bit of the guy the Rams drafted out of Oklahoma lurking in Bradford’s oft-mangled body, Chip Kelly will find him, and squeeze a useful fantasy season out of him. If he manages a full 16 games, Bradford’s FLOOR is QB10. His ADP has ticked up by about a round and a half since training camp started, but Bradford can still be stolen as the QB15, allowing you to take more shots at running back and wide receiver in the middle rounds. Just be sure to reach for a decent backup quarterback a round or two early, to guard against Braford missing time again.

Tight End

Vernon Davis

Why I doubted him - Davis was a missing person last season, posting career lows across the board in just about every major receiving category.

How he won me over - The more I’ve thought about it, Davis has more upside relative to his ADP than any tight end in 2015 drafts. There’s a chance he’s completely washed at 31 years old, but he’s also just one year removed from a 13 touchdown season. We’ve seen plenty of elite tight ends remain productive well into their thirties, and none of them shared Davis’ athletic profile. With Torrey Smith in town to attract attention from safeties, Davis should have plenty of opportunities to exploit softer coverage. He’s also playing for a new contract, if you’re into that sort of thing. At best, Davis finishes Top-3 at the position, like he did in 2009, 2010, and 2013. At worst, he’s terrible again, you drop him, and move on. With an ADP approaching the 14th round, there’s zero risk in finding out what Davis has left in the tank.