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Fantasy Football 2018: Early Draft Arbitrage - Footballguys

An early look at draft arbitrage to help optimize draft results.

Training camp is here. It’s Christmas in July!

Fantasy football gears are already churning, and that means we have some good draft data to sift through. We can see where players have been valued throughout the offseason and identify some values and potential busts.

Average Draft Position (ADP) has come under fire in recent years. Some find its usefulness dubious at best, and fantasy owners should certainly never rely on ADP alone to navigate their drafts. But ADP can be leveraged into an optimal draft path.

Of course, individual websites will affect respective ADP by nature of their rankings. That is part of the reason why consensus ADP* is not a good sole source for draft strategy information. But what we discuss here can be used as a blueprint for finding value and avoiding pitfalls in drafts.

One more thing — don’t be afraid to “reach” for a player. Sometimes value is the golden calf for fantasy owners, but don’t be afraid to take a player a round or two early if you really like him. That may seem to fly in the face of what we are looking at below, but it really means you shouldn’t feel nervous about taking, say, Cameron Meredith in the 10th round instead of the 12th. If you believe he is going to hit in New Orleans, go for it.

Undervalued

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: QB14, Rank: QB10)

He’s back.

Well, he’s throwing a small football without pain, and it looks like he might be back. The Mystery of Andrew Luck is closer to being solved — or at least forgotten — as he continues his journey back to starting in the NFL.

Of course, if Luck returns to game action at any point during the preseason, the value will be gone. But if you are drafting in early leagues already, Luck may prove to be one of those savvy picks who pushes your team over the top.

Cameron Meredith, WR, New Orleans Saints (ADP: WR52, Rank: 38)

Why is the No. 2 receiver on a Drew Brees team being virtually ignored in fantasy drafts? Cameron Meredith is coming back from injury, sure, but he is in line for a ton of quality targets on a good offense. While there is some mystery in Meredith’s role, there is no question about his talent. Meredith was one of the most reliable receivers in the league with a catch rate above 68 percent in Chicago before getting injured. That’s with the likes of Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley throwing him the ball.

Imagine, if you will, a scenario where Meredith ingratiates himself with Brees and sees 90-plus targets. With a little luck, Meredith could turn that into 70 receptions for 800 yards and six touchdowns. And what if he gets even more targets?

Not bad for the fifth receiver on your fantasy roster.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: QB14, Rank: QB8)

Matt Ryan is never a sexy pick. The one year we expected a lot out of him, he turned out to be a fantasy bust. One season’s trash is another’s treasure, though, and Ryan pretty well qualifies as a post-hype sleeper.

The Falcons quarterback finished 14th in fantasy scoring last season in spite of the dropoff. He is now in his second year under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, though, stabilizing what was perhaps a rocky first year together. More importantly, Ryan is still surrounded by Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hopper, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman to go with rookie Calvin Ridley as skill players. He may never reach the heights he did in 2016, but Ryan is going to wind up back in the top 10 this season.

Ben Watson, TE, New Orleans Saints (ADP: TE21, Rank: TE17)

Much like with Meredith, Ben Watson is simply not on fantasy radars beyond late-round backups. Maybe the fact he grew up with Thundercats and Fraggle Rock has something to do with it. The 37-year-old has defied Father Time with success, though. Watson was 11th in PPR scoring last season. That was on the Ravens, one of the worst passing offenses in the league. He, too, gets Brees new, a man who has turned tight ends into fantasy studs many a season.

His ADP is already on the rise — it rose three spots in the time it took to write this article — but if it settles down in the 20s, he will be a great value.

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (ADP: WR33, Rank: WR20)

For a 24-year-old receiver standing at 6’4” and 225 pounds who slated to be the No. 1 receiver on his team, Devin Funchess isn’t getting much love.

True, Funchess didn’t exactly light the league on fire after taking over for Kelvin Benjamin last season. His catch rate was abysmal at 56.8 percent, which is why he couldn’t turn his 111 targets into more fantasy points. Still, he was 20th in PPR scoring, and last season was probably a good floor for expectations.

The Panthers offense is bound to improve, and Funchess is just now starting to come into his own as a receiver in the NFL. He is going to have another top-20 season, and he can be had as a borderline WR3 in fantasy drafts.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: RB20, Rank: RB15)

Having a guy just five positional ADP spots away from your own ranking may seem a little nit-picky, but squeezing value out of your top picks is worthwhile exploring. That is especially true at running back, where your league might be inclined to spend early at the position.

Ajayi had an awful fantasy season by most measures in 2017. He looked stuck in the mud in Miami, and the Eagles didn’t utilize him enough to make him a consistent fantasy option.

LeGarrette Blount is gone, and Ajayi stands to gain a lion’s share of the touches his former teammate left behind. His only major competition for touches is Corey Clement, but Ajayi is a home run hitter who will probably see the bulk of the goal line work. Better yet, Ajayi was incredibly efficient as an Eagle, averaging 5.8 yards per carry when he was on the field.

All that to say, you can afford to wait at the position and still nab a nice starter in the fourth or fifth round.

Paul Richardson Jr, WR, Washington (ADP: WR57, Rank: WR37)

Sometimes you don’t have enough information in fantasy football, and most of the time that leads to fear-induced shunning among fantasy owners. That seems to be the case for Paul Richardson Jr. Not only was Richardson an injury waiting to happen in Seattle, but he is going from a great, established quarterback to Alex Smith, who benefited from Matt Nagy in Kansas City but now has a whole new offense to deal with in Washington. Richardson and Josh Doctson are going to duke it out for top target honors among receivers in Washington, though, and the former is more talented. If he can stay on the field, Richardson has a great shot to be Smith’s new Tyreek Hill. The best part is that he can be had for a late-round bench spot. The risk is baked into his ADP.

Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay Packers (ADP: RB45, Rank: RB28)

The burns are just now healing for fantasy owners after Ty Montgomery’s disastrous 2017 campaign. All those risks about injury and role became self-fulfilling prophecies, and Montgomery’s injury-plagued campaign opened the door for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to shine. Now they might all be sharing a backfield, which has combined with the burn ointment to depress Montgomery’s draft stock.

But what if Montgomery stays healthy and staves off the other two for playing time? He was electric in 2016 out of the backfield, and he could be a PPR stud if he stays on the field. At his current ADP, the risk is minimized. He is a nice value you can draft as a fourth running back.

Albert Wilson, WR, Miami Dolphins (ADP: WR78, Rank: WR54)
Danny Amendola, WR, Miami Dolphins (ADP: WR71, Rank: WR55)

There is already a bit of hype surrounding Wilson as he impresses at training camp. The newly minted Dolphin is going to vie to fill Jarvis Landry’s shoes, likely with fellow newcomer Danny Amendola.

One of these guys is going to become the starter in the slot, an immensely valuable position out of Miami in PPR leagues. The starter may not get quite the target share that Landry did in recent seasons, but it’s feasible to see 100-plus going to the slot receiver on this offense. Whoever emerges is going to skyrocket in fantasy drafts, but he will still probably be a relative value given how low they are starting out.

Overvalued

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (ADP: QB2, Rank: QB6)

Don’t get me wrong, Deshaun Watson is great. Hopefully, he is fully recovered from his injury and picks up where he left off last season. As you can see, his ranking isn’t too far off his ADP. But QB2 is simply too rich.

Watson’s touchdown rate from last season is simply unsustainable. Even if he is completely healthy, we cannot expect anywhere near a 9.3 percent touchdown rate from just about any player. We can hope for it, but the fact he is being taken as the second quarterback off the boards means fantasy owners are expecting it.

Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots (ADP: RB35, Rank: RB44)

Did Bill Belichick announce Rex Burkhead was going to be a workhorse this fall? That is the only explanation for why he is even being drafted as highly as he is now. The Patriots have done a better job throwing fantasy owners a bone with Blount’s touchdown explosion in 2016 and Dion Lewis’ great 2017 campaign. But Burkhead is in a nasty quagmire along with James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and first-round pick Sony Michel. We might get a little clarity if one or two of these guys doesn’t make the team, but there isn’t any reason to believe Burkhead is going to have more than a few good games as a fantasy option.

Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots (ADP: RB27, Rank: RB53)

See: Rex Burkhead. Only he’s a rookie.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: QB8, Rank: QB15)

Kirk Cousins is currently the eighth quarterback off the board on average. You like that?

Cousins has consistently overperformed his ADP since becoming a full-time starter in the league, but these are some absurd expectations for a middling talent starting over in Minnesota. Cousins has some nice weapons up there, but there are several quarterbacks who should be going ahead of him in drafts.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: TE14, Rank: TE26)

Is Tyler Eifert a quality fantasy option when he’s on the field? Absolutely. Is he on the field often? That is a rhetorical question.

Drafting Eifert as your second tight end — he is currently being taken as a high-end TE2 — is not the worst idea in the world. But that is a throwaway pick, particularly in best-ball leagues. There is simply zero reason to trust Eifert to stay healthy, and Tyler Kroft is coming for his job to boot.

Will Fuller V, WR, Houston Texans (ADP: WR30, Rank: WR46)

As with his quarterback, Will Fuller V’s touchdown rate was insane in 2017, and it is completely unreasonable to think he will score at the same clip in 2018. He scored a ridiculous seven touchdowns on just 22 targets with Watson healthy, completely defying the laws of probability in the process. The rest of the season he had a grand total of 15 catches for 144 yards in six games, albeit with far worse quarterbacking.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

His target count will tick upward in 2018, but DeAndre Hopkins will dominate the ball in Houston per usual this season. Long touchdowns are in store for him, but what happens when he doesn’t hit paydirt? Fuller is a far better best-ball option than anything else, where he can be covered up by other wideouts when he’s not putting up the few huge games he’ll produce.

*ADP as of the time of this writing.