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?
Chad Parsons: In the top-20 or so, give me Jordy Nelson. With a back-half WR1 ADP, Nelson in his last three healthy seasons has hit 1,250 or more receiving yards in each season and amassed 35 touchdowns, finishing as the overall WR1 and No.2 fantasy options the past two seasons. The top option for Aaron Rodgers is heavily insulated with their floor and Nelson has three seasons of 13+ touchdowns in his run with Rodgers of late. Considering the discount from the top receivers, Nelson is a strong candidate to beat his positional ADP yet again this season.
Stephen Holloway: As far as value picks inside the Top 20, I am struggling to identify them. I think that the potential is much higher for several top twenty guys to fall allowing Hopkins, Doug Baldwin or Demaryius Thomas to slip into the top twenty. If pressed to identify one, I will back Chad's call on Jordy Nelson. I took him at #11 overall the other night in a staff mock draft and heard one surprised comment. Nelson finished at #1 in non-PPR and #2 in PPR scoring a year ago and I like him to maintain close to that production level this season.
Devin Knotts: Jordan Howard is underpriced largely because of the concern about the rest of the offense in Chicago. Looking at his stats you have to factor in that Howard is a player who essentially missed four games last year as he was the backup for the first three games of the year and got hurt in a game against the Packers. The offense will not be worse than last year when they had Matt Barkley start seven games last year and these were some of Howard's best performances. This is a running back who should exceed 300 carries this season and catch around 40 passes and have a great chance to finish as a top five running back in 2017.
Ryan Hester: The question mentioned how hard it is to find value high in the draft, but I'm going to go even higher than the others to find my value play. It's rare to argue that a consensus top-10 pick is being under-drafted, but that case can be made for A.J. Green.
Last season, Green was injured just two offensive snaps into Cincinnati's Week 11 game vs. Buffalo. Considering Green barely even took the field that day, let's base his "pace" stats on nine games played, despite his injury occurring in his team's 10th game.
Green's 2016 stats:
- 99 targets
- 66 receptions
- 964 yards
- 4 touchdowns
- 186.4 PPR points.
Extrapolating those nine-game stats into 16 games (i.e. multiplying by 1.77, or the result of 16 divided by 9), Green's pace stats were:
- 117 receptions
- 1,713 yards
- 7 touchdowns
- 331.4 PPR points.
I know pace stats are evil because they're predicated on small sample size, but go ahead and read those again. 117-1,713-7. Those totals would have beaten Antonio Brown (the overall fantasy WR1) by 24.1 fantasy points.
I would take Green (currently WR5) over Mike Evans (currently WR4) eight days a week. And a case could be made that Green could be taken over Julio Jones due to his lack of red zone acumen and Odell Beckham Jr due to potential competition for targets from Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. If you're drafting at 1.08 or later in a PPR league and Green is on the board, run the draft board, grab Green's sticker, slam it on the board with authority, and count your lucky stars.
Danny Tuccitto: I've got two: A.J. Green and Rob Gronkowski. Currently, Green is WR5 and has an overall ADP of 8, while Gronkowski is TE1 with an overall ADP of 19. According to my "true" stats, they're the WR1 and TE1 in terms of efficiency among players returning to their 2016 team. In the vast majority of cases, high efficiency doesn't mean much in the absence of high volume, but I don't think we have to worry about that in the specific cases of Green and Gronkowski. If healthy, and that's a big if, with these two, they're going to get theirs.
Dan Hindery: The further the offseason has progressed, the more excited I get about Amari Cooper as a mid-late 2nd round target. Mike Evans was going in this same general range last offseason before a big third-year breakout. Cooper could be poised to make the same kind of jump into the elite tier of impact fantasy players as he enters his third season at just 23-years old. Raiders beat writers are predicting a breakout season and Cooper has excelled early in camp. He has bulked up to 217 pounds while not losing any speed and his increased strength should make him more of a threat in the red zone. I see a realistic chance for the type of 100-catch, 1,500-yard season out of Cooper that would allow him to outproduce the already lofty expectations of his current ADP.
Justin Howe: I've just beaten the Melvin Gordon drum into a bruised hulk of metal this offseason, but he's still not getting enough attention. To me, he's the clear-cut RB4 option on the board. Only the top three can rival his expected workload: Gordon took a staggering 85.7% of running back rushes last year and 70.9% of targets (even higher after Danny Woodhead went down). Now, there is no Danny Woodhead; in fact, there's probably not another back above replacement-level talent anywhere on the roster. LeSean McCoy, who's 29 and a similar injury risk to Gordon, can't dream of that kind of backfield dominance. He'll be spelled by Jonathan Williams and pulled at the goal line fairly frequently, while Gordon looks set to remain the only real backfield piece on the roster and a goal-line dynamo. Gordon WAS the Chargers' offense inside the 5 last year, and his touchdown outlook remains golden. Even if his efficiency doesn't take much of a leap in his third year, we're still likely looking at 275+ rushes, 50+ receptions, and 8+ touchdowns - numbers that virtually no other running back can claim as a mid-level projection.
Andy Hicks: I am not sure if either Amari Cooper or Todd Gurley make the cut, but Cooper was a common pick in the Early Round bust pick, so while I've mentioned him already there, I will pick up a bit more here. As I mentioned there, the similarities between Julio Jones/Roddy White (and Matt Ryan) and Amari Cooper/Michael Crabtree (and Derek Carr) are interesting.
Everyone sees Cooper and Crabtree on a similar plain and the last 2 years stats would let you believe that, but Cooper, just like Julio, entered the league as a very high draft pick who had a solid NFL pro opposite him and a young up and coming quarterback at his disposal.
Everyone could see what Julio would become and they should be seeing the same with Amari. Just like with Julio people kept riding Roddy White as 1B or even 1A, until it was clear that Roddy White was over 30 and Julio was a stud by year 4. Technically Jones outplayed White in year 3, but they both endured injuries during the 2013 season.
Obviously, all four of these receivers are different players in different situations, but the eyeball test on Cooper shows imminent elite receiver. The improvement from year 1 to year 2 was subtle but clear. I expect the final leap into what Jones flashed in his 3rd season, but we didn't see until his 4th year.
Chris Feery: I was on the DeMarco Murray bandwagon last offseason, and I’ve secured a ticket for this year as well. He’s falling into the second round on average, but he brings legitimate Top 5 running back value to the table. Perhaps folks are a little leery because of the expected increase in touches for Derrick Henry, but there’s plenty of carries to go around in this offense. The Titans pounded the rock 476 times last year, which was the third-most in the league. There’s nothing to suggest we won’t see similar in 2017. The club has an intriguing mix of pass catchers, but we’re still waiting to see how things shake out on that front. The Titans will run the ball - a lot - and Murray will have a healthy portion of the workload. I’m more than happy to snag him in the second round.