A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the Top 150 and identify players that should outperform their draft position.
Player Receiving 6 Votes
Philip Rivers, LA Chargers
Gray: There aren't very many absolutes in fantasy football. One of them, however, is that Philip Rivers will be underrated in the preseason. Regardless of his supporting cast, Rivers simply produces yards and touchdowns. Every year. The fantasy community always wants to find the next big thing, and that quest pushes Rivers down the draft board. You can take advantage of this again in 2018.
Haseley: Philip Rivers is currently among the last fantasy starting quarterbacks on the ADP board among quarterbacks; however, he has surpassed 4,000 yards passing in five straight years and nine of the last ten. The last five years he has averaged 30.6 touchdown passes and respectable 7.68 yards per attempt. I will gladly take Rivers at his current draft position.
Holloway: Rivers is an excellent high floor quarterback. He has not missed a game since 2005 and has passed for over 4,200 yards for five consecutive seasons while averaging over 30 passing touchdowns. At his current ADP, he is a value pick, and since he recently lost Hunter Henry, his top tight end for the season, his ADP may fall even lower. However, Rivers has four quality wide receivers (Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams & Travis Benjamin) and three decent receiving backs (Melvin Gordon III, Austin Ekeler & Justin Jackson). Look for Rivers to again pass for over 4,200 yards and 28 touchdowns, producing value far above his draft position.
Howe: Amongst the massive list of low-QB1/high-QB2 names on the board, Rivers is one of the typical fallers in drafts, as owners tend to chase upside in the quarterback rounds. But he’s proven too consistent to drop too far, finishing QB12, QB9, and QB8 over the past three years. Even without Hunter Henry, there’s enough pass-catching talent to produce another rock-solid season.
Parsons: Rivers has been a Rodney Dangerfield-type fantasy quarterback for years, getting no respect compared to his results. Rivers' ADP this year reflects a stacked position and the lack-of-flash older veteran being underrated. Rivers has finished in the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in 10 of 12 seasons dating back to 2005 and the last five straight. Despite losing Hunter Henry, Rivers is stacked at the skill positions with strong weapons and a budding defense. Another perk of Rivers is his high floor with 26 or more touchdown passes in each of the last 10 seasons and 4,200+ yards the norm for Rivers over the span.
Wood: Philip Rivers is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. In 12 seasons as the Chargers starting quarterback, Rivers has been a Top-10 fantasy quarterback eight times. He's been a Top-12 fantasy quarterback ten times. Yet, every season the pundits make up reasons to doubt the future Hall of Famer. This year, it's the loss of Hunter Henry to a torn ACL. While Henry's injury is a setback, it merely lowers Rivers from a potential Top 5 option to a rock solid fantasy QB1. The Chargers have a proven system and a cohesive offensive roster. The receiving corps goes four deep, at a minimum, and the defense and running game guarantee Rivers will see plenty of single coverage downfield. Betting against Rivers has been the wrong play for a decade and a half. Learn from others mistakes, and get on the right side of this fantasy star.
Players Receiving 5 Votes
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Brimacombe: Matt Ryan followed up his career year in 2016 with a dud last season only passing for 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Ryan only had five games with multiple touchdown passes in 2017, and they were all just two scores each. In 2016, he had 12 games with multi-touchdown passes with seven of them being three or more score games. Ryan now has his rich new deal and the Falcons upgraded the passing game with their first-round draft pick, Calvin Ridley. When drafting a quarterback later in drafts, you want to look for top-five potential. Ryan has shown that in the past and has an upgrade of talent now with the addition of Ridley.
Gray: This one seems easy. Ryan finished 2017 as QB14, but he's going off the board later than that in 2018. Sure, Ryan, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and the entire Falcons offense disappointed in 2017. But with another season together, last year is the floor for this offense. Arguably, the offense should be upgraded simply due to increased comfortability. Also, losing Taylor Gabriel - who is a nice player - while gaining rookie Calvin Ridley is a big upgrade in talent. At worst, Ryan is one of the top options as a fantasy backup, but there are zero reasons to think he won't bounce back this season.
Haseley: Not enough attention is being given to Calvin Ridley and how he is going to fit in with the Falcons offense. Julio Jones is the primary focal point on defense, which is going to leave Ridley open as a utility receiver on short-intermediate routes. The passing game has the potential to flourish in a tough NFC South division and Ryan is the one who could benefit the most. His ADP which is past 15 is difficult to comprehend given his stable of weapons to target and the propensity for his team to score.
Pasquino: Matt Ryan has to be a favorite value quarterback so far this year. For Ryan to come off the board after 15 other quarterbacks feels like a complete travesty. Julio Jones’ quarterback has to have a higher value than that, especially when you factor in a play-making top prospect in Calvin Ridley and two running backs (DeVonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman) that can both catch plenty of short passes out of the backfield. Playing in a dome and against high scoring teams in the NFC South should lead to plenty of production for Ryan this season.
Waldman: As long as Julio Jones remains with Atlanta, Matt Ryan will have a much better year than his current ADP. When Roddy White’s play declined, the Falcons never found a suitable replacement. Kyle Shanahan was a skilled enough play caller to work around it. However, Ryan’s greatest skill as a passer is the short and intermediate timing game. These are the routes White ran to perfection in his prime. Ryan to White was nearly unstoppable against top corners or double coverage. It opened up the rest of the passing game in ways that Jones’ skills and role does not. Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley has these route skills. It will allow the Falcons to diversify the offense without always spreading the field. Having a second excellent route runner will help Ryan return to top-10 fantasy production at his position.
Alex Smith, Washington
Alexander: Smith is currently being drafted well below his floor. Coming off a fourth-place finish in quarterback fantasy points per game, he now gets to play for Jay Gruden, who coaxed three consecutive top-8 quarterback finishes out of Kirk Cousins and once made Andy Dalton the fantasy QB3. Gruden's variation of the West Coast offense fits Smith well and he'll benefit from a talented supporting cast of pass-catchers, including Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson Jr, and Chris Thompson. If it weren't for bad luck with offensive line injuries, Washington likely would have been a borderline top-10 scoring offense in 2017, just like they had been the previous two seasons. The drop-off from Cousins to Smith (if there is one) isn't great enough to derail an offense that has been historically fantasy-friendly for quarterbacks.
Bloom: How much of Smith’s 2017 was Andy Reid, Matt Nagy, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt, and how much of it was a new Smith after Pat Mahomes was breathing down his neck? We’ll find out this year with Smith in Washington, an environment that shouldn’t be considered a big downgrade from his situation in Kansas City. Kirk Cousins was a solid mid-level QB1 the last two years, and that was while he was going through wide receiver turnover and 2017 offensive line woes. Smith will also have to adjust to new receivers, but is he really a big step down from Cousins and Andy Dalton, who have been consistent QB1s with top-five weekly upside in Jay Gruden offenses? Smith is a fine pick as your September quarterback with an opening trio of the weak secondaries of Arizona, Indianapolis, and Green Bay.
Hindery: The case for Alex Smith as a value play at his current ADP that puts him as a low-end QB2 is easy to make. He was a top fantasy producer last season, steps into a role that has produced huge fantasy production in recent seasons, has a deep group of receiving weapons, and has underrated dual-threat ability. Somewhat quietly, Alex Smith finished as the 4th-highest scoring fantasy quarterback last season. He steps into a Washington offensive system that allowed Kirk Cousins to finish as the 5th-highest scoring fantasy quarterback last offseason — even though Washington’s offense was decimated by injuries. Smith is a great fit in Jay Gruden’s quarterback-friendly version of the West Coast offense and will have plenty of talent at his disposal. Jamison Crowder, Chris Thompson, and Jordan Reed should provide much more than they did last season and prove potent in the short-passing game. Paul Richardson Jr provides an excellent deep threat and Josh Doctson should continue to develop as a jump ball specialist. As a fantasy bonus, Smith has rushed for 987 yards and 8 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Holloway: Smith was traded away by Kansas City after passing for career highs of 4,042 yards, 8.00 ypa and 26 touchdowns a year ago. In 2018, he will be the starter for Washington, who ranked 2nd in passing yards in 2016 and 12th last year. Even though Washington drafted Derrius Guice in the 2nd round this year to improve their running attack, Smith could set career passing records for the second straight season. Washington already had a young and talented group of wide receivers and added free agent Paul Richardson Jr, who brings speed and an ability to stretch the field as a deep threat. Chris Thompson is also a great fit with Smith, as well as two quality tight ends in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis.
Tefertiller: Even though Smith finished last year as a top-five quarterback and Kirk Cousins finished inside the Top 10 at the position, Smith is still drafted as a low-end fantasy QB2. Yes, he is unsexy for fantasy owners. Last year, however, showed the player and situation can enable a finish as a QB1 for fantasy owners.
Players Receiving 4 Votes
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota
Brimacombe: The Vikings were one game away from the Super Bowl with Case Keenum under center and now with their big-money splash in free agency they have landed Kirk Cousins. Cousins landed himself a 3-year, $84 million deal as he is entering his seventh season in the league, coming off three straight years as the starter in Washington. In those three seasons, he has never missed a game and he has thrown for over 4,000 yards and had at least 25 passing touchdowns in each season. Cousins is also an underrated runner as he has 13 rushing touchdowns over those three years with at least 4 in each season. Cousins is coming off back to back years as a top-five fantasy quarterback and now has an upgrade on offense with the likes of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and a healthy Dalvin Cook.
Haseley: If Case Keenum found success with the Vikings offense in 2017, imagine what Kirk Cousins can do? As the 8th quarterback off the board, Cousins may be a tad undervalued. He has three consecutive 4,000+ yard seasons with an average of 26 touchdown passes per season in that span. The additions of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph give him plenty of weapons to target on offense. Cousins looks every bit the part of a Top 6 or higher quarterback this year, which makes getting him later than that mark a bargain.
Pasquino: Kirk Cousins finally got what he was looking for – a big payday. Cousins heads over to the Vikings and gets three top quality targets (Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and tight end Kyle Rudolph) who helped propel Case Keenum to top fantasy production while starting last season. Cousins has been a QB1 in Washington with far weaker wide receivers and an elite tight end who just could not stay healthy. Cousins should slot right in as a later QB1 in drafts with strong top-five upside in most matchups.
Wood: Case Keenum entered the 2017 season as a failed starter. He struggled in spot start duty for three teams, had just 24 touchdowns in 27 games, and a sub-7 career yards per attempt average. He was below average. Then, under the watchful care of Mike Zimmer and Pat Shurmur, Keenum blossomed and finished as the 15th best fantasy quarterback. Enter Kirk Cousins. Cousins has been a Top 10 fantasy quarterback in all three seasons as a full-time starter and has back-to-back Top 5 finishes. He moves from a dysfunctional Washington team with no elite receiver and an oft-injured tight end, with no running game to a Super Bowl contender with a pair of Pro Bowl caliber receivers, a dynamic pass-catching running back, and a healthy tight end that dominates in close quarters. Unless Cousins gets hurt, he's as close to a lock for QB1 performance as anyone at the position.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay
Alexander: Judging by his current ADP, the majority of early drafters expect Winston's counting stats to remain in decline. The majority is wrong. Although the sprained AC joint that caused Winston to miss three games didn't place him on the injury report until Week 7, it's been reported the injury initially occurred in Week 3. If true, he played through a bum throwing shoulder for seven games, yet still finished the season with career-highs in completion percentage, yards per game, and yards per attempt, while also trimming his interception rate to a career-low 2.5%. Once he returned from the three-week layoff, Winston threw for 1,584 yards -- more than any other quarterback in the NFL over that span -- and had nine touchdown passes, third-most in the league. Armed with dangerous play-makers at every level of Tampa Bay's offense, Winston is poised to pick up where he left off at the end of last year.
Bloom: Winston was hurt last year, so his season-end numbers hide that he was actually one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the all important Weeks 14-16 and consistently productive when he was healthy. The Buccaneers passing game will be elevated by growth from O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin in quality and role, and the running game could get jump-started by second-round pick Ronald Jones. The Buccaneers offense should be better in the red zone with their myriad of weapons and get there more often with a more functional offense. Winston’s ADP isn’t reflecting that his arrow is pointing up.
Hindery: Winston had an injury-plagued season in 2017 and had too many costly turnovers. Those issues overshadowed the fact that he made significant progress in other areas and showed signs of emerging as a fantasy star. He was fourth in the NFL in yards per passing attempt and finished seventh in passing yards per game. Winston played just 11 full games last season and threw for 325+ yards in 6 of those 11 starts. For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady threw for 325+ yards in just 4-of-16 games last season. Winston has an exciting group of skill position weapons at his disposal with emerging second-year talents Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard to go along with proven veterans Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Cameron Brate. Winston is a dark horse bet to lead the league in passing yards in 2018.
Wood: Winston finished 13th as a rookie and 11th in his second season. His 18th place finish in 2017 has many painting a picture of a young quarterback regressing at a time when passers usually take the next leap forward. That would be myopic, misguided analysis. Winston's 18th place finish related more to his only playing 13 games. On a per game basis, Winston was the 13th best fantasy quarterback -- right in line with his first two seasons. He also set career bests in completion rate (63.8%), yards per attempt (7.9) and interception rate. With improvements on the offensive line and an expanded role for receiver Chris Godwin, Winston has an enviable cast of receivers; which is to say nothing of the dynamic duo at tight end in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Even a modest improvement makes Winston a Top 10 fantasy quarterback, but he's capable of more.
Players Receiving 3 Votes
Jared Goff, LA Rams
Hester: Goff was one of the league's biggest surprises in 2017. The reasons for Goff's turnaround are primarily the arrival of head coach Sean McVay, the "leap" made by Todd Gurley to the elite status expected of him, and the consistency of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. All of those elements are still in place for 2018. The main personnel change among the skill group is the loss of Sammy Watkins, which is offset by the addition of Brandin Cooks. Goff has one terrible season and one outstanding season on his resume. Considering the typical growth arc of players from rookie season beyond and the personnel still in place in Los Angeles, it's easier to assume that 2017 is closer to the norm for Goff than 2016.
Hicks: Jared Goff finishing as the 12th ranked quarterback in 2017 is highly deceiving. Unlike almost all the guys ranked ahead of him, he was rested in Week 17. An average game would have moved him up to seventh. A great game in Week 17 could have moved him to second. Yet here he is as a borderline fantasy starter in 2018 according to ADP. Take Goff this year as major value for several reasons. Goff is a rapidly improving passer. Brandin Cooks is in for the unreliable Sammy Watkins. Robert Woods missed four games and played injured in others, while the tight ends and Cooper Kupp will only get better. This is a team going places, and Goff will be at the head of the queue.
Waldman: Pocket quarterbacks often experience significant growth and uptick in production during their second full season as starters. Although Goff started roughly half of the 2016 season, 2017 was his first full year as a starter and his first year with a new coach and offensive coordinator. Last year was also the first season Goff had with a revamped offensive line and receiving corps. In fact, all three wide receivers were new arrivals in L.A. last year, and Goff managed to improve his completion percentage from 54.6 percent to 62.1 percent. He also limited his interception total (7) in 2017 to the same amount he threw as a rookie, although he attempted 273 extra passes. Continuity, individual talent, and surrounding talent are all reasons Goff should make another leap into the top-10 in 2018.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City
Hester: Getting in early on unproven players is one of the most fun parts of fantasy football, and Mahomes is the "mecca" of buy-lows. For fantasy football quarterbacks, three things have a significant impact on their ceilings: scheme, playmakers, and individual talent (especially rushing ability). Mahomes has the trust of Andy Reid, a coach that has made many quarterbacks productive, regardless of their talent. In addition to Reid's tutelage, Mahomes will also benefit from the returns of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt -- all of the key playmakers from Alex Smith's QB4 season in 2017. The biggest "loss" (emphasis on those quotation marks) is Albert Wilson. His 42 catches will be replaced by free agent signing Sammy Watkins, giving the huge-armed Mahomes another deep target. There are examples that prove the don't-spend-on-quarterback" theory every year. Mahomes is the reason this year.
Pasquino: Mahomes may be entering his first season as an NFL starter, but it is not like he is a rookie here. Andy Reid has been down this path before, albeit a rather long time ago. In his first season in Philadelphia, Reid had Don Peterson at quarterback until Donovan McNabb was ready to go as the starter. While I am not directly comparing Alex Smith and Mahomes to those two, Reid’s history of managing quarterback growth and ability to evaluate talent does lend itself to a good upside for Mahomes. It also helps that the Chiefs have one of the best tight ends (Travis Kelce), running backs (Kareem Hunt), and play-making wide receivers (Tyreek Hill) along with the addition of Sammy Watkins. Mahomes is a cheap QB2 that offers quite the upside.
Waldman: Mahomes will be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks of the 2018 fantasy preseason, because there are analysts like me who believe he will be an elite quarterback long-term and see enough flashes of those skills to expect a strong debut as a first-year starter. Still, Mahomes will have a lot of ups and downs. He’ll throw some ridiculous-looking interceptions to those who don’t study the game. However, Mahomes is an aggressive and confident passer with tight-window accuracy who has a track record of success with targets that only the best attempt. Alex Smith improved his vertical game at Kansas City, but his metrics match his film: Smith needed big windows to attack deep and rarely trusted himself and his receivers to target tight windows like Mahomes. Expect Mahomes to generate bigger plays, greater red zone production in the passing game, and more diversity of production among receivers.
Player Receiving 2 Votes
Matthew Stafford, Detroit
Brimacombe: Matthew Stafford continues to be one of the top fantasy producers at his position year in and year out. The Lions have very little in the run game and a whole lot going on in the passing game. Over the past seven seasons, Stafford has finished as the 5th-, 9th-, 4th-, 15th-, 8th-, 7th-, and 6th-ranked quarterback and has not had fewer than 24 touchdowns in a season over that span. The Lions have a nice trio of wide receivers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr, and Kenny Golladay that will continue to boost Stafford’s numbers. A breakout from Golladay could be a key piece of the offense to help move Stafford into that top-five quarterback range.
Hicks: Drew Brees is a fantasy cornerstone at quarterback, finishing as a fantasy starter for the last 14 years. After Brees, only three quarterbacks - Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford - have been a fantasy starter in six of the last seven years. Wilson is getting drafted too high to be considered value, and Rivers just lost a major weapon in Hunter Henry. That leaves Matthew Stafford. Stafford has finished, not in order, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 15th in the last seven years. He has played every game over this time and has reliable weapons in Marvin Jones Jr and Golden Tate along with an improving force in Kenny Golladay. Detroit added running back Kerryon Johnson this year in the second round. If there is just a semblance of balance in the offense this year, Stafford could be in for his best year yet.
Players Receiving 1 Vote
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Howe: The 2017 stats feed the 2018 projections, so the 2018 projections don’t love Brees. But you should be scooping him up in every draft in which he slips into Round 8 or 9. Brees looked perfectly spry in his minimized 2017 role, which looks exceptionally oddball next to his history – it was his first season since 2007 to produce fewer than 289 yards per game and a touchdown rate below 5.0%. Any bounceback at all would keep him a QB1, and that ceiling is sky-high.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
Bloom: There is a non-zero chance that Luck is a wasted pick. We’ve been here before, the Colts saying everything is fine and a lack of specifics on Luck’s condition. Last year, Luck’s value died a slow painful death during the season when it became clearer and clearer that his shoulder wasn’t sound. This year, we could be set up for the same fall, but his ADP has dropped to the level it was after it became clear that something went awry. There is an additional risk that, a la Chad Pennington, Luck returns but with a lower ceiling and ability. But the Colts haven’t made any moves that indicate short or long-term worry. It’s easy to forget that Luck was the No. 1 quarterback last time he was healthy. Getting a shot at that in the 10th round or later is a tolerable risk/reward equation when it is so cheap to take a second upside option at quarterback to hedge your bet on Luck.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee
Simpkins: Even being a normally-pessimistic Titans fan, it's easy to see everything coming together in a way that will turn this bottom-third-of-the-league passing offense into one that will sit among the top third by year’s end. The acquisition of Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur will mean the institution of spread, play action, and run-pass option concepts, which are more in line with the successful offensive philosophies of the modern NFL. Mariota has familiarity with these concepts from running them in his college offense in Oregon. It may surprise you to learn that in the instances in which former Head Coach Mike Mularkey allowed Mariota to run the offense from a play action set last year, Mariota logged the highest quarterback rating in the league. Expect these changes to better fit the offensive cast that Jon Robinson has been assembling for the past three years, especially the conduit through which the offense runs, Marcus Mariota.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Holloway: Roethlisberger generally misses a game or two most seasons, but he has averaged 278 yards passing and two touchdowns per game played over the past two seasons. Roethlisberger’s seasonal rank falls short among peers, but the Steelers have ranked 5th in 2016 and 3rd last season in passing yards per game. He has excellent returning receiving weapons in Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Vance McDonald and has added rookie James Washington. Retirement talk has gone away with the departure of their offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Roethlisberger’s passing production offense could improve from an already high level, particularly if Bell stays away from all pre-season preparation.