Trying to look at everything at once can make fantasy football overwhelming. There are metrics and strategies that can pull on player values and in-draft decisions in many different ways. You can find something to back up just about any selection. Sometimes simplicity is better. Sometimes we can look at two or more players at the same position on the same team and immediately see that the fantasy community has either introduced a huge value gap where it is not warranted or failed to put one in place where there is clear separation. If we can identify these layup draft decisions, it can make the exercise simpler, which makes our brains calmer, which leads to better drafting.
Instead of Rob Gronkowski in the first, take Martellus Bennett in the 11th or later
Why: Gronkowski is still the TE1 as far as any impartial observer is concerned, but the gap between him and the pack narrowed in 2015. Jordan Reed was basically the same player on a points per game basis, and he is available two rounds later at an injury history discount Gronkowski used to have. Bennett gives the Patriots a formidable #2 tight end who can siphon away red zone targets, and allow Tom Brady to punish teams that try to take Gronk away by creating a mismatch against the linebacker/defensive back in the opposing defense who is not the tight end stopper in the passing game. Bennett won’t put up Gronk’s numbers, but he’ll be closer than most people expect, and if Gronk goes down, jackpot! Even if you miss on Bennett (you won’t), players like Julius Thomas and Antonio Gates offer high ceiling/high floor options well into the mid-rounds. You won’t regret passing on Gronkowski.
Instead of Matt Forte in the fourth, take Bilal Powell in the 12th
Why: Even before Forte’s hamstring injury popped up as a potential omen of doom for him on the downslope of his career, there were lots of signs that the Jets would use these backs in a similar fashion. Powell played the best football of his career at the end of 2015, and the team signed the two backs to similar contracts, with only a few million guaranteed dollars over a multi-year deal separating them. Forte was already being used in a committee with Jeremy Langford last year, who hasn’t reached the level of play or dependability in the passing game that Powell showed in 2015. Forte is one of the most overvalued running backs, and Powell one of the most undervalued.
Instead of Golden Tate in the fifth, take Marvin Jones Jr in the eighth (or Anquan Boldin in the 15th or later)
Why: Tate made out when Calvin Johnson was out in 2014, but that was a different pass offense with a different coordinator and supporting cast. Enter Marvin Jones Jr, Anquan Boldin and growth from tight end Eric Ebron and running back Theo Riddick, and you have a ton of targets and a quarterback who will likely spread it around. Early reports have Jones being as prominent a target in the offense as Tate, who might also see a reduction in the high percentage targets from the slot that created the better weekly PPR profile. Tate can make some big plays outside, but he won’t be as consistent week-to-week. Tate and Jones are going to be close in weekly projections, they shouldn’t be three rounds apart in drafts. Watch out for Boldin to become a favorite of Stafford with his reliable play even in close quarters while his ability to separate diminishes. He should get to develop even more chemistry with Stafford while Eric Ebron is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Instead of Kelvin Benjamin in fourth, take Devin Funchess in the 12th
Why: Benjamin was a fantasy force as a rookie in 2014, but he was highly inefficient and benefited from garbage time touchdowns that won’t be there on a more competitive Panthers team. Perhaps Cam Newton will continue to target him disproportionately and Benjamin will return strong WR2 value, but Devin Funchess has been a star of the offseason, and he offers a very similar profile to Benjamin. Add in Ted Ginn Jr’s deep ball ability and Benjamin is coming back to a different pass offense than one he dominated in 2014. Funchess wasn’t that inspiring as a wideout at Michigan in his final year, but he chalked that up to a toe injury, and the way he moved in his rookie year at Carolina seems to indicate that he wasn’t making excuses. He might end being the equal of Benjamin in both NFL and fantasy terms, and if this is a tough pass offense to predict week-to-week the draft capital squandered to get a piece of it is much easier to stomach in the 12th.
Instead of Markus Wheaton in the 11th, take Sammie Coates Jr in the 12th
Why: Other than “contract year”, it’s hard to tell a story where Markus Wheaton is the second-most valuable fantasy pass catcher in the Steelers prodigious offense. Wheaton already had a chance to fill in for a suspended Martavis Bryant last year, and Darrius Heyward-Bey outplayed him. Sammie Coates Jr has been on fire all offseason and carried it over to the preseason, so he should hold down the outside spot Bryant occupied, while Wheaton is facing competition in the slot from Roethlisberger favorite Eli Rogers. Other than a game against Seattle when Wheaton took apart the Seahawks secondary with the best matchups, he was not exciting in any way for fantasy last year. He should not be going ahead of Coates, who has a much higher weekly and season-long ceiling without the baggage of a disappointing career to date. Even if Coates busts, last year points to Heyward-Bey being the beneficiary, not Wheaton.
Instead of C.J. Anderson in the third, take Devontae Booker in the 11th or later
Why: At the beginning of the year, this could look like a mistake. Anderson is set up to be the focal point of an offense without a quarterback, and the defense should set him up with game scripts to feed the run. Anderson has been an RB1 for half a season as the lead back, and Denver is paying him like one this year. On the other hand, this same coaching staff didn’t give him more than 15 carries in a game last year, they didn’t aggressively try to keep him with a strong offer or high tender in restricted free agency, and they drafted Devontae Booker - a comparable talent - in the fourth round. Anderson has never made it through a season without some injury issues, and if he stumbles this year, Booker could be just as good or better and turn this into a similar committee to the one Ronnie Hillman was part of with Anderson last year. If Anderson can play 16 games and stay healthy, he will be a value in the third. If not, Booker should be flexworthy at worst, and potentially a league-winner. Taking both is not a terrible strategy, but taking Booker only is more likely to be a genius move in hindsight.
Instead of Larry Fitzgerald in the fifth or John Brown in the sixth, take Michael Floyd in the fifth
Why: This one isn’t difficult if you look at Floyd’s 2015 thinking about his gnarly hand injury in August that included finger bones breaking through the skin. He had a slow start, but finished with five 100-yard games in his last seven contests, including one where he was slowed by a hamstring injury. The Cardinals will basically treat this trio as a 1A, 1B, and 1C, but Floyd already showed last year that he can produce like a fantasy WR1 in that setup. He has even more upside if John Brown or Larry Fitzgerald go down, and Brown already suffered a concussion in training camp. Floyd has the physical profile as a fantasy WR1, he’s in a great offense, and he already broke out last year. The answer to “Which Cardinals receiver should I take?” is an easy call.
Instead of Ryan Mathews in the sixth, take Darren Sproles in the 13th
Why: Mathews is back and over his pre-camp ankle injury, but it is only a matter of time before he shows up on the injury report again. The Eagles had made it clear that this will be a committee, and you should count on Sproles to get the most targets and have the most stable role week-to-week. Mathews could be the workhorse to salt away wins, but the quarterback situation on this team doesn’t point to a success season. Instead it points to losses with catchup game scripts and less challenging offensive gameplans to suit an uninspiring, backup, or rookie quarterback. Sproles was a borderline RB1 in PPR leagues not that long ago, and the Eagles signing him to a one-year extension this summer shows that this regime likes him and will use him. You might to completely pass on this offense, but if you do take an Eagle, make it Sproles.