The NFL Draft takes place on April 27th-29th. In many leagues, it is shortly followed by an event that is akin to Christmas morning for most dynasty owners. Of course, I’m speaking of rookie drafts. It’s about this time of year that leagues that have been in the lull of the offseason burst to life. Owners begin to wheel and deal to amass as much last-minute pick capital as they can or position themselves in the draft to snag their target players. It’s one of the most fun parts of dynasty fantasy football.
As a maxim, the value of rookie picks is never higher than this time of year and the value of veteran players is never lower. The closer to draft day your league is, the more people go gaga over rookies and the less they care about players on their roster, particularly the ones that have not performed well for them lately.
This creates an exploitable situation.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say that you have $500,000 in your 401k at retirement. You could elect to stay in the U.S. and use that money, and that would be fine. However, some folks choose to retire in Mexico for financial reasons. The exchange rate at the time of this writing is 18.66 pesos to every one U.S. dollar. Simply put, your money goes much further in Mexico. While you can live a comfortable existence for the rest of your days in America, you can live like a king in Mexico. Most goods and services cost less, so your buying power is much greater.
It’s the same principle in dynasty leagues. Your rookie picks are those dollars. You can certainly take your picks straight up and purchase some rookies in a very good class. Alternately (and I recommend this for rebuilding teams), you can trade up and down based on your board, get the talent you covet, and store up future picks for the next year.
Yet there’s another option that most dynasty owners don’t consider -- you can do the equivalent of moving to Mexico and stretching your dollars by using your highly valued 2017 rookie picks to purchase veterans (and possibly get future picks added to the deal) at a discount.
This strategy certainly is usually a better fit for contending teams targeting productive players. While it’s nice to take rookies that can eventually mature into something greater, it’s also important for contenders to be able to put their foot on the gas and acquire players who are further along in their development and could contribute to one or more championship runs. I find that it’s better for rebuilders to stick to acquiring target rookie players and future picks because there is more risk and less value insulation in going with veteran players. There are rare times a non-contender might use this tactic. For example, on one of my rebuilding squads, I was recently able to trade the 1.07, 1.08, and 2.07 for Amari Cooper. I see the young Cooper as a core asset, so giving up two later firsts and a late second made complete sense. I am certain that the other owner valued Cooper highly, but made the mistake of getting intoxicated by the rookie picks this close to the draft.
As Sigmund Bloom often says, successful owners zig when everyone else is zagging. Knowing that most owners are thinking about acquiring their picks and unwrapping their shiny new rookies on draft day, let’s take the road less traveled to maximize our buying power. Here are some of the skill players that are devalued right now that I am commonly targeting:
Jameis Winston, TB
Why his perceived value is deflated: Winston’s off-the-field antics in college and a recent PR blunder continue to make owners nervous about his maturity. Additionally, Winston has yet to break into the elite production ranks of the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, etc.
Why you should target him: If you’ve watched the film of Winston’s progression, you see a quarterback who is making steady improvement. What scouts said about Winston coming out of college was true-- he processes the game on a high level and has the physical tools to match. Tampa Bay added a very important piece for Winston by acquiring DeSean Jackson, a receiver who can get deep for Winston and keep defenses from keying exclusively on Mike Evans. Tampa is taking a long look at other offensive weapons, having worked out many running backs and tight ends through the pre-Draft process. Everything seems to be coming together to point to Winston taking the next step.
Action plan: In start 1 QB leagues, I begin by throwing out offers with a mid-second round pick and a non-core player (for example: 2.06 and Marvin Jones Jr) to see if I can get a deal done. Two mid-seconds also may be enough to get your trade partner to accept.
Where's the line: I would pay no more than the 1.08 straight up for Winston.
In SuperFlex formats, I would give any standalone rookie pick I owned to acquire his services. Start low and work your way up, first trying to combine non-core players with your lower picks.
Where's the line: 1.01 + 1.05 combined is where an owner is paying market price and no longer getting value from making a deal.
Todd Gurley, LAR
Why his perceived value is deflated: Simply put, people were burned by Gurley last year when Jeff Fisher’s 7-9 empire finally came crashing to the ground. Owners fear that while Gurley is talented, he’ll never overcome his situation. Also, Todd Gurley hasn’t caught many passes to date in his NFL career.
Why you should target him: Trust the talent, especially when it’s generational in nature. Also, the situation should be improving significantly. Sean McVay is the youngest NFL head coach, but after watching Jeff Fisher try to bang the round peg through the square hole for years, it’s exciting to think about a young, fresh perspective on offense. McVay was instrumental in helping Washington get their offense going after being humdrum for many years, and it sounds as if he possesses a clear understanding of how he wants to utilize Gurley. Many forget that Gurley demonstrated he was a fine pass catcher during his college days at Georgia. I expect McVay knows this too and will take advantage of this untapped part of his game. Another thing that is being underrated by the fantasy community is the addition of wide receiver Robert Woods. How does this addition help Gurley? Note how effectively LeSean McCoy ran last year in Buffalo. Part of the reason for that was Robert Woods’ stellar blocking downfield. He’s quietly become one of the best blocking wide receivers in the game.
Action plan: Gurley is still held in relatively high regard, but his stock is probably at the lowest it will be for some time. Combine two late firsts (example: 1.07 and 1.09) to see if you can pry him away. Add a late second or an ancillary player to the mix if that doesn’t move your trade partner to accept. I was able to acquire him for DeMarco Murray and a mid-second in one league.
Where's the line: I would give up to the 1.02 straight up for Gurley if push came to shove, but hopefully you won’t have to.
Carlos Hyde, SF
Why his perceived value is deflated: Past injuries. Also, he’s on a bad team! Don’t you know that players on bad teams can’t have fantasy success?! Joking aside, the stink that comes with being on a bad squad seems to have rubbed off on Hyde.
Why you should target him: To quote Adam in the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, “Bless your beautiful Hyde, wherever you may be!” Ok, maybe that was a bit out of context, but Hyde proved last season that being on a bad team wasn’t going to keep him down. Additionally, things are going to get better for Hyde, who now has offensive guru Kyle Shanahan calling the shots. The team seems to want to continue running Hyde down opposing teams’ throats. A big clue to this was when the 49ers signed Kyle Juszczyk, arguably the top fullback in the league, to a contract that made all other free agent running backs salivate.
Action plan: Combine an early third-round pick with a developmental player on your roster (example: Ameer Abdullah and 3.02) and see if your league mate will bite. If that doesn’t work, continue by combining a second and a third (example: 2.08 and 3.03). Keep working your way up until you reach an accord.
Where's the line: The 1.10-1.11 range is where I would call negotiations quits.
Allen Robinson, JAX
Why his perceived value is deflated: He’s playing with a bad quarterback whose regression tanked his production last year. Some dynasty owners fear that Robinson’s 2015 season was a mirage.
Why you should target him: While watching the tape, it’s clear that Robinson’s skills are still intact. His offense simply did not have time to get him the ball, and the offense was predictable when the running game and his quarterback floundered. The Jaguars might benefit from a new between-the-tackles runner who can keep the offense on schedule. Most mock drafts have the Jaguars taking Leonard Fournette, who I believe is a superior runner now than either TJ Yeldon or Chris Ivory. If this were to happen, I would feel much better about Robinson’s short-term prospects. As for Blake Bortles, he already contributed to Gus Bradley being canned and the new coaching staff has no ties to Bortles. If he can’t go back to being serviceable, we can expect the Jaguars to take a swing at quarterback in what looks to be a strong 2018 class. I’m confident that either way, the situation will improve; it’s just a question of how long it will take. While we might be in for another rough ownership year, Robinson’s talent is such that I’m willing to buy low now while the stock is depressed with the thought that it will go back up. I still view him as a core asset and you don’t want to wait until everyone else comes around to that viewpoint again.
Action plan: Let’s not insult the other owner’s intelligence too much. First try combining one mid-to-late first with a non-core player (example: Donte Moncrief + 1.08). Two mid-to-late firsts may be another avenue to go down.
Where's the line: Getting him for 1.03 straight up would still be value if push comes to shove, but I’m going to try everything in my power to avoid having to pay that much.
Sammy Watkins, BUF
Why his perceived value is deflated: Injuries have plagued him throughout his young career. There are also worries about Buffalo bringing in a complementary receiving option in the Draft to cut into his already slim piece of the pie.
Why you should target him: The talent is clearly there. His foot has continued to bother him, but a revision to the screw in his foot should fix the issue that has been causing him pain. The team kept Taylor as the starter and brought in Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison, who has had success with taking poor offenses on defensive-minded teams (Texans, Broncos) and making them viable. Also, a legitimate complementary option would help, not hurt, Sammy Watkins. One reason the Bills have relied largely on their running game is because the receiving options outside of Watkins have been poor. Giving Watkins a reliable #2 would not only take pressure in coverage off of Watkins, it would also allow the offense to have additional dimensions and opportunities. In other words, the pie would get bigger.
Action plan: Confidence in Watkins is waning, so now is the perfect opportunity to wrest him away from an owner who is losing heart. Two late firsts is an appealing starting point. I could also see combining someone in the Kevin White/Josh Doctson/Corey Coleman mold and a late first.
Where's the line: I would be willing to give up the 2017 1.01 for Watkins, but it’s usually not what it will take to pry him away from the other team.