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Strategy Roundtable: Early-round Value Pick

Footballguys staff members offer their thoughts on value in early rounds

It's hard to find value in an early pick, but it's certainly possible. Name a consensus Top 20 player who you think will be even better than most expect. Why does he have so much value?

Matt Waldman: Adrian Peterson. The guy had nearly 1500 yards rushing behind a battered offensive line last year. This year, the offense should be more balanced because the line is healthy, the receivers are healthy, and it means Peterson and Rudolph don't have to stay at the line of scrimmage as much to block. If you've never seen Laquon Treadwell block, you're about to see him open lanes for Peterson that will transform gains of 10-12 yards into breakaway efforts.

I think Peterson will only be more efficient between the tackles, see more opportunities in the red zone, and catch more passes--even with the typical summertime aspirational coaching quotes of getting Jerick McKinnon more involved. Running back isn't a dead fantasy position. It might be changing, but there are still some of that old breed left. Peterson is one of them and I'll take his 30-something number on his birth certificate because, according to Dr. James Andrews, it comes with the joints of a newborn baby.

Andy Hicks: I agree with Matt on Adrian Peterson. Upside blinds people sometimes into making catastrophic fantasy mistakes.

I'll take another running back, although Peterson would be my number 1 choice, in Doug Martin. Martin finished the 2015 season as the 3rd ranked running back and had only 7 touchdowns. 1400 rushing yards at 4.9 yards a carry, with a rookie quarterback is an impressive feat. Now while his play in 2013 and 2014 can cause even the most heartiest of his supporters some doubt the fact is he is a more stable and safer choice than those around him at running back. Safe may be a poisonous word to some in the fantasy community, but when your first or 2nd round pick is at stake sometimes safety is a great thing.

Chad Parsons: Mike Evans. Jameis Winston enters Year 2 (rookie quarterbacks historically drag down passing games compared to future seasons with more development). Vincent Jackson returns to the lineup to deflect attention from opposing secondaries as Evans was force-fed targets as the only viable target for weeks at a time last year. Evans is also a prime touchdown regression candidate after a meager 4% rate in 2015, the missing piece to Evans being a top-5 performer. 2016 will be the year usage, efficiency, and touchdowns create the true breakout season for Mike Evans.

Jason Wood: I'll say Lamar Miller. Miller is coming off the board RB6, in the 2nd round. Yet, I could make a credible case for Miller as the top fantasy running back. He was a top 6 fantasy back last year in spite of playing in a bad system on a middling offense in Miami. Now he's the feature back for a Texans team that's looking for a new workhorse after running Arian Foster into the ground. Miller stands a good shot at leading the league in touches, and combined with his natural vision and instincts, he could lead the league in yards and should stand a very good shot at double digit touchdowns.

Phil Alexander: David Johnson is undervalued for as long as he isn't the consensus RB1. He's the lead back in an offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game last season and returns all of their key pieces. Scoring opportunities will abound for Johnson, who converted a stellar 62.5% of his goal line carries as a rookie (25% higher than league average and 52.5% higher than backfield mate Chris Johnson). Johnson is one of the most natural pass-catching running backs in the NFL. His receiving production will raise his weekly floor in the games he fails to score or break one of his signature splash plays (and elevate him to nuclear levels in his other games). After taking over as Arizona's starter in Week 13 last season, Johnson led all running backs in fantasy scoring by a 15% margin over the next closest back. Concerns he's an inconsistent runner seem overblown for fantasy purposes and that notion may have even been debunked by Football Outsiders' success rate metric, which rated Johnson as the league's second-most consistent runner last season when factoring in down and distance. I'm not sure what's left to nitpick. Chris Johnson stealing his snaps? David outscored the elder Johnson by a staggering 0.77 fantasy points per touch last season -- an 82% increase in efficiency. Don't overthink this -- take Johnson as soon as the big three wide receivers come off the board.

Ryan Hester: I'll go all the way to the 20th-ranked player to find my undervalued play. Keenan Allen is WR11 in ADP per consensus data available as of August 10. Allen was the WR3 in PPR scoring through Week 7 last year before he was injured just before halftime of his Week 8 game. San Diego profiles as a team that will throw frequently regardless of game script and perhaps be even more pass-heavy than they'd like due to negative game scripts. Allen was all set to lead the team in targets anyway, and Steve Johnson's season-ending knee injury could lead to Allen collecting even more targets. And with those targets coming from an accomplished passer in Philip Rivers, they should be of a quality high enough to make Allen a top-seven wide receiver if he remains healthy.

Chris Feery: I think Phil nailed it with his selection of David Johnson. It’s crystal clear that the Cardinals are expecting very big things from Johnson, and he should function as the centerpiece of a talented offense. He’s effective between the tackles, as a pass-catching target, and capable of ripping off monstrous gains every time he touches the ball. The Cardinals are pretty aggressive on the offensive side of the ball, and Bruce Arians is the perfect coach to make full use of Johnson’s tremendous skill set. As Phil said, Johnson needs to be at the top of your list once the big three receivers are off the board.

Justin Howe: I'll keep beating the Devonta Freeman drum. No one else boasts his all-around usage potential - my projections place him second in touches to Adrian Peterson, but with a mountainous PPR boost over the aging Viking. He's the trusted back on all three downs and in the red zone, where he was ultra-effective last year. Yet he's just fallen and fallen in summer drafts. In fact, a recent MFL10 I participated in saw him tumble to 3.03! If Freeman is your third-best draftee, or your second-best and paired with an elite WR like Odell Beckham Jr., you're in fantastic shape. Even zero-RB proponents like myself can gush over that kind of value.

Mark Wimer: Especially in PPR leagues, I think Rob Gronkowski is being undervalued due to the unfortunate Tom Brady situation, and the arrival of Martellus Bennett. However, I think that if Jimmy Garoppolo is merely adequate as a starter (and what better way to make his life relatively simple than to run a two-TE offense with high-percentage throws emphasized?) Gronkowski will be scoring consistently during Brady's suspension - and then, well, then comes Brady's revenge tour against every team that comes down the pike. Gronkowski could be the top receiver in the NFL during some of those weeks, full stop, and he should crush the field at his position, providing a lot of X-value to his lucky owners.

Devin Knotts: Julio Jones is the guy for me as people seem to continue to overlook him and do not include him in their top 3 wide receivers. This is a player who led the league in receiving yards, was tied for first with receptions, and was first in targets. The biggest drawback for Julio is that he only had 8 touchdowns which partially explains why a lot of people are not including him in this top 3. However, Matt Ryan will not have as bad of a year as he did last year where he only threw for 21 touchdowns. This means Julio caught 38% of the touchdowns Matt Ryan threw which is more than Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham.

Julio Jones should have the ability to get 10+ touchdowns this year and if he does you are looking at arguably the number one pick in the draft as he would have outscored the consensus number one player last season.

John Mamula: Ezekiel Elliott is undervalued as he will have an opportunity to finish the season as the top overall RB. Currently, Elliott is coming off the board at RB4, in the middle of the first round. Dallas did not draft Elliott 4th overall to split time. He will be a workhorse from day 1. During the last two seasons at Ohio State, Elliott accounted for 4,125 total yards and 41 touchdowns. Elliott has more overall talent than Demarco Murray, who rushed for 1845 yards behind this All-Pro offensive line in 2014. Reports are that Darren McFadden is still recovering from his offseason elbow surgery and may not be ready for Week 1. After the big 3 WR (Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Julio Jones) are off the board, Elliott is the pick at RB.