The Gut Check No.333: Pivot Players

Waldman reviews breakout candidates with ADPs of the 10th round or later.  

1+19=20 . . . 

12+8=20 . . . 

4+16=20 . . . 

There are lots of paths that lead to the same outcome. It is the same with preparing a draft strategy. As long as it's a systematic method of travel--projections, average draft position, tiers, etc.--a fantasy owner will build a strong foundation towards a winning season.

Some begin studying from the top-down; I prefer working from the bottom-up. There are advantages to beginning with late-round players:

  • It's a quicker way of identifying the depth of each position.
  • Working from the bottom-up reveals the most favorable draft strategies.
  • Studying the late-rounds first gives owners an early jump on compiling a smart free agent list.

This article doesn't go step-by-step into developing draft strategies or a free agent list; there is more prep work to do before addressing an over-arching plan. Today's piece is a scouting expedition of potential values available in the 10th round or later. This is not an exhaustive list, but some of my favorites to keep in mind  

These options have ADPs that fall into the second half of a 20-round draft, but their values are high enough that they warrant a pivotal investment in an overall draft strategy. Some of these players will see their value rise high enough that they will get picked inside the 10th round, but I'm expecting most of them to remain in their current ADP range.  

The Second-Half Riser: QB Teddy Bridgewater 

The Vikings' rookie starter was the No.11 fantasy quarterback during the final 7 weeks of the 2014 season. Only Drew Brees, Ryan Tannehill and Tony Romo had higher completion percentages during this stretch.

For some context, Brees, Tannehill and Romo all had top-2- fantasy performers at running back during this stretch: DeMarco Murray (No.4), Lamar Miller (No.11), and Mark Ingram II (No.18). Matt Asiata of the Vikings was the 21st-ranked fantasy runner during the same stretch. 

Brees, Tannehill and Romo also had the No.2, No.15, No.16, No.23, and No.24 fantasy receivers and the No.6, No.10, and No.14 fantasy tight ends in their arsenals from weeks 11-17. Bridgewater had the No.31 and No.32 receivers, the No.26 TE, no Adrian Peterson, and at least three years fewer experience as an NFL starter during the same span of time. 

Bridgewater's 7.8 yards per attempt was also the sixth-highest total of the top-20 fantasy passers during these final seven weeks. The Vikings was attacking defenses; not playing it safe. 

Bridgewater's ADP ranges from 82 to 155 five different ADP indices with an average of 127; the 10th round for QB15 that performed as QB11 with the following factors to remember:

Even if the offensive line still struggles to stay healthy (left tackle Matt Kalil's knees), Peterson's presence should offer enough relief for Bridgewater to attack down field with greater frequency than he did in 2014. Expect a more balanced offense with greater efficiency from Bridgewater.

With the addition of Mike Wallace and another year of offseason preparation from Johnson, Patterson, and a healthier Kyle Rudolph, there are enough weapons for Bridgewater to make the jump to fantasy QB1 production in 2015. If there's a QB that should be the common denominator in every QBBC strategy this summer, Bridgewater earns my vote. 

Other Second-Half Risers With ADP-Friendly Status

  • WR Kenny Stills - The No.16 fantasy WR during weeks 11-17 is only 23 and replaces Mike Wallace in Miami (see below). 
  • WR Rueben RandleThe No.22 fantasy WR in the final 7 weeks of 2014 benefited from Victor Cruz's injury and Odell Beckham's explosion onto the scene. The light hasn't come on as a clutch pass catcher and consistent route runner, but he is capable of fantasy WR3 production with an ADP in the range of rounds 12-13. 
  • WR Robert WoodsThe Bills' third-year receiver reminds some of his fellow USC alum Steve Smith, formerly of the Giants. A fine route runner with reliable hands, Woods may play third banana to Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin, but with an ADP of 246 and Harvin's injuries and growing reputation for not playing well with his teammates, Woods could still figure prominently in Buffalo. Woods was the No.30 fantasy WR during the final seven weeks of the 2014 season. He's a talented late-round pick and a quality pick that should be on high on your waiver wire monitor list if he goes undrafted. 
  • RB Lamar MillerThe Dolphins' fourth-year runner has an ADP of 32, which is a nice bargain for a starter. Although leaving the board late in the third round, Miller was the No.11 fantasy RB from weeks 11-17 and led that top-40 producers at his position with 5.4 yards per carry. He's a smooth runner who makes his job look effortless. According to John Owning of DraftBreakdown.com and a few others I've spoken with, the Cowboy's inquire the Dolphins repeatedly about Miller during the offseason. 
  • RB Tre Mason - Todd Gurley is the future, but Mason could remain front and center in the Rams' present. Most people don't believe teams when they say they will be patient with a player's return from injury, but the St. Louis has enough depth at the position to mean it. Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead both made the statement together at a post-draft press conference so I'm more inclined to believe that the extra caution with Gurley could mean that we don't see the runner until at least mid-to-late October. Mason could be a starter for 50-60 percent of a fantasy season. From weeks 11-17, Mason was the No.12 fantasy RB with reserve-caliber QB play. Nick Foles isn't a great player, but he's capable of raising the bar enough to give Mason more opportunities. With an ADP of 78, Mason isn't bad value. Based on the ADP indeces there's enough variation that I'd see if you can get Mason in the mid-to-late eighth round rather than the late sixth.  
  • RB Latavius MurrayThe No.19 fantasy runner from weeks 11-17 in 2014, Murray has the physical skills and the hands to produce with consistent opportunities. Murray's 5.4 ypc during this stretch ties him with Lamar Miller in this department. His ADP of 51 makes him an early fifth-round value, but would you take him over Jonathan Stewart, C.J. Spiller, T.J. Yeldon, and Isaiah Crowell in the same range? If Murray solidifies his status as the starter I can see how the answer would be yes. Right now, the answer is no, but I'll give him and the Raiders another 6-8 weeks to change my mind.    

Better Than the Competition: RB David Cobb

The Titans rookie is the most talented back on the roster. Bishop Sankey is a more explosive athlete, but he struggled with the conceptual points of the offense. Truth be told, Sankey struggled with those same points at the University of Washington.

Football talent is the integration of the physical-mental-emotional approach to the game. Sankey has some of the physical skills, but did not display enough of the other two last year. Cobb isn't an elite rookie talent that excites fantasy owners, but he has the tools to become a productive starter: the baseline explosion to succeed in the NFL; more savvy as a decision maker; and more power than Sankey.   

For an extensive look at Cobb, join me and former college running back Emory Hunt for a long look at Cobb's college tape in this RSP Film Room episode:

 

Cobb has the tools to develop into a reliable three-down option in short order and Tennessee will need to run the ball between the tackles if it wants to give rookie Marcus Mariota or second-year option Zac Mettenberger time in in the passing game. As Matt Bitonti characterized in his offensive line rankings, Taylor Lewan, Chance Warmack, and Andy Levitre have the muscle to open creases. Cobb has the mentality that Sankey lacked last year to complement this line well. 

There's still an opportunity for Sankey to develop into a better player and the politics of the NFL generally dictates that an early-round pick like Sankey will get the first shot to prove his coaches, scouts, and general manager correct. Sankey's ADP of 96 (end of the 8th round) places him in the same range of backs that are more proven talents: Rashad Jennings, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Martin, Chris Ivory and Shane Vereen.

There are also backs like Joseph Randle, Ameer Abdullah, Charles Sims, and Duke Johnson Jr with arguably more skill as less proven options in the same ADP range as Sankey. I haven't even mentioned options at other positions in this ADP range that I'd prefer to Sankey. Cobb is a better value if you're seeking a potential every-down back in the 10th round. The investment is lower and the upside is higher. 

Other Qualifiers With ADP-Friendly Status

  • QB Jameis WinstonThe FSU quarterback's game brims with confidence. That belief in oneself often spills over to arrogance and recklessness, but I favor aggressive quarterbacks that want to attack the field. Winston will make his share of boneheaded plays this year, but he'll also have his share of spectacular moments. I'm a believer in his surrounding talent at receiver and Winston's selective amnesia to forget bad plays and play through the chaos. If you draft 20-25 rounds deep, Winston is worth taking as your QB3 that could develop into a solid QBBC contributor that will allow you to trade one of your first two options. 
  • QB Geno SmithIt's still a debatable notion that Smith is better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, but I'm buying it until I see otherwise. I'm also buying the Chan Gailey Aura. When a coach can help Tyler Thigpen post top-10 production in 11 games as a second-year player off the bench, I think Gailey can do a lot more with a talent like Smith. I didn't have a particularly high ranking for Smith as a prospect compared to my peers, but I've seen enough with him in New York to believe that he can develop into a competent starter. Defining that in fantasy terms, I'm talking a performer in the bottom half of the top 15 quarterbacks. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have the talent and experience to help Smith on and off the field. 
  • RB T.J. YeldonDenard Robinson played well last year, but the Jaguars tailored a lot of plays to help him generate big plays. Although Robinson still performed well on runs between the tackles, Yeldon provides Jacksonville a far more experienced interior runner with the physicality to wear down an opposing defense. Whereas an offense can help Robinson produce, Yeldon has more skills as an all-around runner, receiver, and blocker to help an offense produce. That's the difference.  
  • RB Doug MartinDirk Koetter lobbied the Buccaneers to keep Martin in Tampa. I have a lot of respect for Koetter after the work he did in Atlanta to keep that offense competitive despite losses at offensive line, receiver, running back, and tight end. Matt Ryan deserves the credit he's getting, but Koetter was inventive and did a fine job of calling plays with limited surrounding talent. Koetter knows Martin is a better talent than Charles Sims. Few outside the organization have a clear idea why Martin has fallen out of favor. Sure, he pressed too hard to make big plays behind a struggling offensive line and he could have been more disicplined. I think Sims (ADP 94) has the skills to do competent (fantasy range of top 20-35 at the position) work, but Martin has top-12 upside. I'll consider him at ADP 103 if I'm picking a block of mid-round runners as a draft strategy. 
  • RB Ray RiceSay what you will about the moral implications of having Ray Rice on an NFL team, much less your fantasy team. However, if there were film of what Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, or Michael Vick did to living beings, I doubt they'd be playing in the NFL today. While I believe that our justice system has major flaws with how it assesses penalties for crimes ranging from drug possession to domestic violence and animal cruelty, the fact remains that Rice is a free man even if I don't believe he did enough to pay for his crime. It is worth noting that Rice has probably been the most publicly repentant of the athletes involved in domestic violence and he was speaking to kids about his mistakes well before the video even surfaced. He also didn't hide anything from the commissioner's office when he came there to explain what happened. It doesn't assuage his guilt, but it does show ownership of a huge mistake from the start and it makes Rice a decent candidate to address the issue of domestic violence and use a return to the NFL as a platform. The throw-away analysis of Ray Rice the player is his decline in 2013, but to say Rice was not the running back he used to be after playing through an injury that he shouldn't have competed with lacks nuance. Rice looked every bit the player he was during the 2014 preseason. If a team is ballsy or desperate enough to sign Rice, the only reason fantasy owners shouldn't consider him at ADP 228 is moral stance--and that's reason enough. 
  • WR Dorial Green-BeckhamSome writers are acting like Green-Beckham might not be a capable option as a rookie because he missed football last year. If Green-Beckham missed the entire season due to injury, I'd agree with the assessment. The truth is that the Titans rookie practiced with the Oklahoma Sooners for the entire 2014 season, and dominated that defense all year long. Justin Hunter is an enticing physical talent that entered the league with technical and emotional gaps in talent and Ken Whisenhunt told local media that "At some point, you either get it or you won't be in this league anymore," when talking about Hunter's performance. Green-Beckham might be considered less experience and rough around the edges as a technician, but he's far more consistent with how he applied his technical knowledge as a route runner and pass catcher than Hunter ever showed at Tennessee.  At ADP 140, I'll seriously consider an investment in this rookie. 

Rookie Receiver Fever Antidote: WR Kenny Stills

Fantasy owners have a touch of Rookie Receiver Fever in 2015 after seeing the success of the 2015 class. Amar Cooper, Kevin White, Nelson Agholor and DeVante Parker are all drafted among the top 100 fantasy players at this point of the summer. Breshad Perriman and Dorial Green-Beckham are a beat writer's good word or two away from reaching that perch as well. 

Parker has been splitting snaps with Greg Jennings in OTAs and made several catches doing what he does best: rebounding against defenders in single coverage. OTAs are a great time to see a prospects athleticism on display, but the regular season is where Parker will get tested at the line of scrimmage with a physical game. This is where Parker has faltered thus far. 

If you read the recent OTA news and notes on Parker, you'll notice that Ryan Tannehill praise Parker's natural ability to use his body and keeping the defender away at the catch point. This is good information, but it's like saying a Waffle House cook makes edible breakfast food. What we're waiting to find out is if Mr. Waffle House chef can hang at the fine establishment that earned Michelin Star.  

Let's circle back to the fact that Parker is splitting snaps with Jennings and Jarvis Landry is a slot option that averaged 9 yards per reception despite his impressive 84 catches. Stills is the player most likely to replace Mike Wallace in the Dolphins offense.  

With two years of work with Drew Brees on his resume before reaching the age of 23, Stills has a lot of football left in an offense with ascending talents at the skill positions. His ADP of 111 suggests that most don't regard Stills in this way.

I believe the reason has to do with him getting traded by the Saints after just two years with the team. There aren't any stories that confirm if Stills fell out of favor with the team for detrimental behavior. Larry Holder of NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune cites some maturity issues, but he also states, "I'm not sure if the issues were so overwhelming that the Saints were hellbent on unloading him. But the team probably figured Stills would be an attractive piece considering his on-field ability and relatively cheap price tag." 

That price is $634K in 2015 and the Dolphins gave up a third-round pick and LB Dannell Ellerbe. In return, the Dolphins get a receiver that caught 75.9 percent of his targets last year, which was among the second-best best reception rate among receivers in the NFL last year. Granted, Brandin Cooks' rate was tops among with 76.8 percent and that was the player Stills replaced in role after Cooks got hurt. 

The Dolphins also have a scheme that inspires some easy pitch-and-catch opportunities. Parker will project as the man of the future, but the future is tomorrow; the present is now. I would not be surprised if Stills leads the Dolphins in receiving this year.

Compared to ADP peers Marquess Wilson, Percy Harvin, Kendall Wright, and Cody Latimer, Stills looks like the smartest choice of the bunch.

Wilson is fighting for a roster spot with Kevin White the odds-on favorite to at least split time with Wilson. Harvin has more upside, but he has to prove he hasn't taken the Santonio Holmes Slide. Wright has the most compelling argument if you have confidence in his pairing with a rookie quarterback vs. the Stills-Tannehill combo. And as much as I like Latimer, it's dependent on the Broncos reverting to a wide-open offense that isn't the current plan.

It's weird to consider Stills, a fine deep threat with route skills and reliable hands, the safest pick. Considering he's only 23, I prefer labeling the Dolphins' new option a breakout candidate.

Other Candidates

  • WR Kenny BrittThere will be a lot of fantasy owners with emotional bias against Britt as a prospect because they were repeatedly burned by the receiver. I was probably the most bullish on Britt last year, but Sam Bradford's injury sunk Britt's ship early. Despite a lack of solid QB play, Britt managed a 700-yard, 3-score season; stayed healthy; and stayed out of trouble. Jeff Fisher went as far to say that Britt has been a positive influence in the locker room. Britt is only 27, Nick Foles is an upgrade, and Brian Quick is recovering from a difficult shoulder injury. Britt's ADP at 184 is a bargain investment as a potential WR3-WR4. 
  • WR Cecil ShortsShorts often gets hurt and he's had some issues with drops. Fine. He also gets an upgrade at quarterback in Houston, and that statement is a mouthful when considering that Houston's quarterback depth chart is stocked with a noodle-armed journeyman (Brian Hoyer); a big-armed prospect with questions about his pocket presence (Ryan Mallett); and a rocket-armed project (Tom Savage) who, for the betterment of NFL quarterback play should make the selfless decision to volunteer for a Young Frankenstein-like experiment to transplant Hoyer's brain in his body. Jaelen Strong will earn his opportunities, but Shorts' ADP of 197 makes him too enticing to pick up. The physical talent is still there and the new setting could be just the trick for Shorts to thrive. 
  • WR Dwayne BoweSomeone has to catch passes in Cleveland. Then again, the Browns didn't have a top-50 fantasy receiver last year.  and from a standpoint of deep targets, Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel are a massive upgrade to Alex Smith. Bowe has been a top-24 fantasy receiver for 50 percent of his 8-year career. His targets dropped each year from 142 in 2011 to 95 in 2014. His ADP of 173 makes Bowe WR 64 in drafts. It's a fair projection based on his WR 63 performance last year. I still like the upside potential when considering the low-cost investment. 

Erased By Injury: WR Marvin Jones Jr

Here today-gone tomorrow, players like Jones are easily forgotten when they only offer glimpses of a breakout. Jones was the No.16 fantasy receiver after the first 10 weeks of 2013. A foot injury robbed the Bengals receiver from building on that 51-712-10 effort. 

Entering his fourth season, Jones rejoins an offense that now has two established ground threats and a third receiver in Mohamed Sanu (56-790-5) that will provide Jones competition for that WR2 spot. Sanu had strong moments, but his production tailed off after Week 10 and he had several drops down the stretch and he struggled to get open. 

Although Sanu is a better ballcarrier after the catch, Jones is the superior route runner to Sanu and he's a more reliable receiver. Jones' ADP is 165--the back quarter of the 13th round--and I expect that value to rise if he continues to stay healthy and remain the odds-on favorite to start opposite A.J. Green. 

Don't expect Jones' ADP to climb inside the 10th round, because most fantasy owners will remain cautious about Cincinnati offensive players not named Green, Hill or Bernard. There are enough opportunities in the Bengals offense to sustain a second fantasy receiver. During the same stretch where Jones was the No.16 fantasy receiver, Giovani Bernard was the No.11 fantasy RB; Green the No.2 fantasy WR; and Dalton the No.6 fantasy QB. 

The question isn't the offensive scheme; it's the talent and how well it's performing. Most schemes want balance and last year, the Bengals were running the ball a lot because Green was hobbled for several games--missing three weeks--and Jones was out for the year. When Sanu and Brandon Tate are major contributors in the passing game, you understand why Cincinnati wasn't as productive through the air as 2013. 

Michael Crabtree, Marqise Lee, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are ADP value mates in Jones' current range. Many fantasy owners wil prefer this quartet to Jones in the 13th round citing upside. What they really mean is that they're slaves to name brand or athleticism.

Lee, Dorsett, and Patterson have great speed and enticing open field potential. Crabtree will draw fans in the 13th round because they're hoping for a renaissance in Oakland. 

Jones is flat-out better than all of these players at this point of their careers. The only two players on this list I can imagine valuing above Jones is Crabtree and Patterson. Crabtree must show that he has rebounded from his Achilles' injury and the 49ers let him go too soon. Patterson will have to be so vastly improved with his route skills that he can beat starting-caliber cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. 

I'm not counting on either as much as I'm counting on Jones winning the job opposite Green. 

Opportunity Knocks: TE Josh Hill 

If you haven't already been hit over the head with Josh Hill gets Jimmy Graham's seat at the table analysis, it will happen soon enough. Since Graham became a full-time part of the Saints' offense, he hasn't had less than 85-889-9 as a receiver. Another way to put it: Graham has either been a stud tight end or an overall dominant fantasy force. 

A lot of the reasoning behind the rhetoric surrounding Hill's candidacy for breakout is that the Saints didn't try to replace Graham with another top-drawer free agent tight end or a top rookie. Forget the words and look at the numbers. Most of the Footballguys doing projections aren't giving Hill stats that remotely look like Jimmy Graham's production.   

Writers may expect a breakout, but they aren't seeking dominance. Although Sean Payton says that Hill will play Jimmy Graham's role in the offense, the Saints want to run the ball more with Mark Ingram II, C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson. Ben Watson is the best blocking tight end on this depth chart and it's safe to expect Watson to earn more time on the field. 

At the same time, Payton also told ESPN the following about Hill: 

This Josh Hill is another player that I love. When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you at look this measurables--and he didn't go to the Combine, thank God.

Hill in the Graham role will still have a lot of opportunities, because New Orleans did little to replace Kenny Stills. Marques Colston is in his career twilight, Brandin Cooks is the top perimeter threat, and the gang of Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Jalen Saunders, Brandon Coleman, Seantavious Jones, and R.J. Harris are unproven. 

Hill has a strong shot of becoming the 3rd or 4th option in the Saints' passing game this year. I think Graham's 85-889-9 floor is much closer to Hill's absolute ceiling, but in most years those stats would place Hill among the top 4-5 tight ends in fantasy football.

A conservative projection of 60-70 catches, 600-700 yards, and 5-7 touchdowns still places Hill within the top-12 fantasy tight ends. He's currently TE13 with an average ADP of 123. I think it's a dead-on assessment of Hill's baseline value, making him a solid bargain with elite upside in the 10th round. 


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