One of the trickiest things to navigate as you approach your draft is how much -- or how little -- to react to training camp scuttlebutt, preseason highlights, and the resulting swings in Average Draft Position (ADP). Sometimes when a player’s ADP peaks this time of year, it’s warranted. But oftentimes, preseason surges in ADP are the results of groupthink and confirmation bias within the fantasy football community, which create landmines Fantasy GMs must carefully avoid.
Below you’ll find a list of players whose ADP has increased dramatically in PPR leagues since August 1st per Fantasy Football Calculator. Should you buy the hype on these guys or zig while the fantasy football hive mind zags?
Where we started: Pick 161 (14.05). Barber was expected to be the clear second-stringer in Tampa Bay after Ronald Jones was picked in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Where are we now: Pick 97 (9.01). Jones has struggled in camp and preseason games to the point his position coach is openly pointing at him and laughing in the media.
Are we sure we have it right? Unequivocally, yes. In fact, Barber’s ADP hasn’t risen high enough. Barber has run with Tampa Bay’s starters on 25-of-34 preseason snaps, compared to just 3-of-34 for Jones. So far, Jones has rushed for 11 yards on 12 carries, while Barber has totaled 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against mostly first-string defenders.
Even if Jones improves enough as the regular season progresses to force a split of Tampa Bay’s rushing workload, Barber can still return RB3 value in a committee. Jones’ struggles with dropped passes and fumbles in camp make it likely Barber will remain the top option for goal-line work and pass-catching duties for the Buccaneers all season. Don’t be afraid to reach into Round 7 (Isaiah Crowell territory) to acquire his services.
Where we started: Pick 140 (12.09). Most considered Njoku a raw but intriguing physical talent on a bad team with a crowded group of pass-catchers.
Where are we now: Pick 104 (9.08). Njoku caught two touchdowns in the Browns preseason opener.
Are we sure we have it right? No. A three-round jump for Njoku after one splashy preseason game screams overreaction, especially when you consider his opponent. The Giants gave up more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than any team last season and the addition of linebacker Alec Ogletree may have actually made them worse in coverage. Njoku’s preseason usage suggests he will be an every-down player this year, which makes him a priority streaming option in premium matchups. But he shouldn’t be drafted a full round ahead of reliable starters like Jack Doyle while competing for targets with a pair of Alpha Dog wide receivers (Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon) and one of the NFL’s premier pass-catching backs (Duke Johnson Jr).
Where we started: Pick 104 (9.08). Carson -- a former seventh-round draft pick coming off a broken leg -- was written off after the Seahawks drafted Rashad Penny in Round 1 of the NFL Draft.
Where are we now: Pick 74 (7.02). Carson has run as the starter in OTAs, training camp practices, and preseason games (and looked great doing it). Penny is questionable for Week 1 with a broken finger and put on 16 pounds since the Scouting Combine.
Are we sure we have it right? No. By all accounts, Carson has been fantastic in training camp. He’s also passed the eye-test in preseason action, rushing for 60 yards on 13 attempts while starting both of Seattle's exhibition games. Still, there are more reasons to be leery of Carson than Barber once you get to Round 7.
- Never a workhorse - Carson exceeded 20 carries in a game once in two seasons at Oklahoma State and missed time both years with injuries. He lasted three starts and 43 carries for the Seahawks before breaking his leg in 2017.
- Small sample - Carson’s brief stint as an NFL starter is remembered fondly due more to the failures of his replacements (Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls) than anything he actually accomplished. From Weeks 2-4, he was the cumulative RB27 and never finished as a top-12 weekly option.
- Beware the committee - Unlike in Tampa, where Jones is actively playing himself out of a job, Seattle still has plans on using Penny once he’s cleared to return. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer expressed as much recently with his, “It takes more than one” comments. And according to team beat writers, part of Seattle’s playbook is specially devoted to C.J. Prosise.
Throw in Carson’s lack of elusiveness as a runner, a poor offensive line, and the possibility the Seahawks diminished defense will cause their offense to skew pass-heavy, and this reeks of a backfield to avoid.
Where we started: Pick 75 (7.03). Dion Lewis departed via free-agency but was replaced by Sony Michel. Bill Belichick investing a first-round pick in a running back had the collective fantasy football world’s head on a swivel.
Where we are now: Pick 61 (6.01). Michel has what sounds like a chronic knee injury and was given a murky timetable to return.
Are we sure we have it right? Yes, with an asterisk. Burkhead still offers plenty of profit potential as the RB27, provided the slight tear reported in his knee is truly minor. In his healthiest stretch of 2017 (Weeks 8-14), Burkhead scored between 15 and 25 fantasy points in six out of seven games while handling 75% of New England’s carries from inside the five-yard line. This was all while Dion Lewis was active. As the odds-on favorite to resume goal-line duties for the Patriots, Burkhead may possess the most lucrative role in fantasy football. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach, New England leads the league in touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line by 13% over the next closest team. Burkhead will also benefit from Julian Edelman’s suspension by absorbing vacated slot targets.
We never want the words "knee tear" attached to our running backs in fantasy football, but Burkhead’s upside is still worth the risk at his elevated price.
Where we started: Pick 84 (7.12). Thompson was still recovering from an ugly 2017 leg injury and Derrius Guice -- the consensus second-best running back in this year’s NFL Draft -- slipped to Washington in Round 2.
Where we are now: Pick 65 (6.05). Guice tore his ACL in the first preseason game, leaving the uninspiring trio of Rob Kelly, Samaje Perine, and newly-signed Adrian Peterson to compete with Thompson for touches.
Are we sure we have it right? Probably. But not necessarily due to the Guice injury. Thompson was a cumulative top-10 running back before fracturing his fibula in Week 10 last year. Despite mixing in some duds, he also accounted for four top-12 weekly finishes, which trailed only Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, and Melvin Gordon III at running back through 10 games. If the 2018 ADPs of that crew are any indication, Thompson was and still is being undervalued.
Thompson should have been projected for his usual 10-12 total touches per game when Guice was healthy -- a number that doesn’t figure to rise much, if at all, now that the rookie is lost for the season. Washington has to know putting too much on Thompson’s plate will end poorly given his extensive injury history. But if he still resembles the guy in this highlight reel, there’s little reason to think last year’s efficiency was a fluke. We won’t see Thompson in game action until the regular season starts, which makes drafting him at his current ADP risky yet potentially profitable.
Where we started: Pick 53 (5.05). Landry was leaving the comfortable confines of Miami’s offense, where he had racked up at least 160 targets in two of the last three seasons. In Cleveland, he would have to compete for targets with Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson Jr, and Njoku.
Where we are now: Pick 38 (4.02). Coleman was jettisoned to the Bills for a conditional seventh-round pick and Gordon just completed another stint in rehab. Landry has won over the public with highlight-reel catches and profanity-laced tirades.
Are we sure we have it right? Yes. Assuming Cleveland’s run/pass splits remain relatively static this year, Landry can safely be projected for about 130 targets -- even if Gordon plays 16 games and commands about eight targets per game (a rather large ‘if’). Landry was the WR13 on 131 targets in 2016 and it appears the Browns will be more willing to target him downfield than the Dolphins were. While Landry is a safe bet to continue running at least half his routes from the slot, beat writers have noted Landry will go deep more frequently in Todd Haley’s offense. We saw evidence supporting this claim in the second preseason game when Landry ran a perimeter route and made a pretty catch on a ball that traveled about 30-yards through the air.
While he may not hog targets the way he did in Miami, a modest spike in yards per reception should make up the difference, giving Landry a solid chance to exceed his WR17 ADP.
Where we started: Pick 99 (9.03). Goodwin was clearly the top target for San Francisco once Jimmy Garoppolo took over last year, but it was his only relevant season since entering the league in 2013. Was he a one-hit wonder?
Where we are now: Pick 52 (5.04). Reports out of training camp are emphatic Goodwin is the 49ers No. 1 wide receiver over Pierre Garcon, who was out with a neck injury during Garoppolo’s run as the team’s starter in 2017. Goodwin has shined in preseason games, most recently catching three third-down passes from Garoppolo, including a 40-yard gain.
Are we sure we have it right? No. Goodwin’s breakout season was impressive and his rapport with Garoppolo is undeniable. While the 49ers will have more viable targets than they did during Garoppolo’s five starts last year (Garcon, second-round pick Dante Pettis, and Jerick McKinnon), Goodwin looks good enough to command the lion’s share.
The problem people aren’t talking much about is Goodwin’s troubling history of concussions. Since 2014, the 5’9’’, 180 lb. Goodwin has sustained at least four concussions and been in the league’s protocol six times. It’s easy to see the splash plays and get excited, but if he takes another blow to the head like the one that knocked him unconscious in Week 17 last year, San Francisco will have no choice but to hold him out for an extended period. In Round 9, the risk was minimal, but taking Goodwin in the same range as Golden Tate, Brandin Cooks, and Marvin Jones Jr is a much dicier proposition.
Where we started: Undrafted in 12-team leagues. Brown was coming off consecutive injury-plagued seasons in which he failed to start more than six games and moving to Baltimore -- a low-yield offense for wide receiver production last year.
Where we are now: Pick 139 (12.07). We haven’t been able to go more than a couple days since camp started without hearing about how Brown is exceeding expectations, standing out, or building chemistry with Joe Flacco. A toe-tapping touchdown in the back of the end zone in Monday night’s nationally televised preseason game pushed him over the top.
Are we sure we have it right? Absolutely. Brown is only two years removed from a 101-65-1,003-7 season as a second-year player. His two campaigns since were derailed by injuries and complications from his sickle-cell trait. There’s obvious risk Brown can miss action at any time, but it’s also more than factored into his rising ADP. Flacco looks much healthier than he did at any point last season and has the deep ball skills to unlock Brown’s legitimate WR2 upside. He remains a bargain in Round 12.
Where we started: Pick 56 (5.08). A third-round pick out of Oregon, Freeman lacked the post-draft buzz of other rookie running backs selected in the first two rounds, including Saquon Barkley, Rashad Penny, Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, and Derrius Guice.
Where we are now: Pick 34 (3.10). Freeman has soundly outplayed incumbent Devontae Booker in the preseason and looks to at least have the majority of early-down work locked up in Denver.
Are we sure we have it right? Indeed. Booker has generally failed to make an impact as a pro and was the only Broncos running back to average below 4.0 yards-per-carry in 2017. Freeman has shown an enticing blend of vision, power, and speed while splitting first-team reps with Booker down the middle. If Freeman continues proving himself in pass protection, he will emerge as a three-down workhorse on a team who plans to control games with its defense and rushing attack.
Where we started: Pick 156 (13.12). Lockett’s promising rookie season was two years and one gruesome leg injury ago.
Where we are now: Pick 133 (12.01). Lockett is finally 100% healthy and Doug Baldwin has missed the entire preseason with a knee injury.
Are we sure we have it right? Yes. Similar to Tyreek Hill, a healthy Lockett doesn’t need a massive target share to win you weeks on his own. But the great thing about his setup in Seattle is he may be the No. 2 target by default. Even if Baldwin’s injury isn’t serious, 34% of Seattle’s 2017 targets have been vacated by the departures of Paul Richardson Jr and Jimmy Graham. Lockett feels stronger physically and says he “can go back to playing his game this year”. The game he’s referring to was good for 51 catches, 664 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns in just 8 starts as a rookie in 2015. Target him as soon as Round 9.
Where we started: Pick 78 (7.06). Lynch was old, the Raiders signed Doug Martin to split carries, and Jon Gruden was ready to field a 1970s-style offense.
Where we are now: Pick 54 (5.06). Lynch looked fast and lean on a 60-yard touchdown run (that was called back due to penalty) in the preseason opener.
Are we sure we have it right? Yes, yes, 100 times yes. From Weeks 9-17 last season (once former Raiders coach Jack DelRio increased his workload) Lynch was the cumulative RB13 in PPR leagues. His results weren’t just volume driven either. Per PlayerProfiler, Lynch led all running backs in avoided tackles per touch last season.
The only reasons Lynch still isn’t being drafted as a clear RB2 are misguided narratives. Jon Gruden is not an imbecile. In fact, he is the definition of a competent offensive mind. Doug Martin is not forcing a timeshare. He is the least efficient running back in the NFL over the last two seasons. With Derek Carr healthy after playing through a back injury for most of 2017, plus a top-10 offensive line, Oakland’s offense is poised for a bounce-back. Let your league mates sleep on Lynch while you scoop your RB2 at an RB3 price point.
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