Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire
Every preseason, we see many players shooting up draft boards as a result of a variety of circumstances. Whether it’s an injury to someone ahead of them on the depth chart, praise from coaches, or preseason performance, understanding the dynamics behind the shifting ADPs can help savvy fantasy owners uncover both draft-day values and inflated prices for mediocre fantasy contributors. Today, I’ll be taking a look at four of the players that have seen a significant increase in ADP since the preseason began, and analyzing whether they are worth drafting at their newly-set prices.
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Carolina Panthers)
It’s incredible what a flashy play in the preseason can do for a young player’s ADP. Observe:
This 71-yard touchdown run has catapulted McCaffrey from the back of the second round to the front of it. Though the fantasy community wisely didn’t overreact to earlier reports that McCaffrey could see over 200 rushing attempts, this play was what it took for drafters to finally take notice of him. I myself have no problem drafting McCaffrey at any point in the second round of PPR leagues, but the above play isn’t any part of my reason. Consider the running backs going alongside McCaffrey: The likes of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Kareem Hunt, and Devonta Freeman. None of them have a floor anywhere near McCaffrey’s, and in the early rounds of your draft, you should be trying not to lose your league rather than trying to win it. Freeman is still in a timeshare with Tevin Coleman and in an offense being called by Steve Sarkisian, Hunt is on a team with a new young quarterback and has a coach notorious for fickle usage of his best players, Cook has a four-game sample size in the NFL and has endured reports that Latavius Murray could eat into his workload, and Fournette is the biggest injury risk of the group and is on the most one-dimensional offense that opposing defenses will likely figure out this season.
Aside from a freak injury that any player could suffer, what’s the worst thing that could happen to McCaffrey? That he’s vultured at the goal line constantly by Cam Newton and C.J. Anderson? McCaffrey didn’t have a single goal line carry last year, but still finished as an RB1 in PPR leagues because of his target volume. In other words, the TD-vulturing can’t possibly get any worse than it was last year. How were we able to get this guy at the end of the second round a few weeks ago, anyway? It’s mostly because fantasy owners are far too hungry for upside, and with McCaffrey flashing some of the rushing ability we’ve known he’s had since college, owners are finally starting to care. Particularly if you draft an elite WR in the first round, I can’t recommend McCaffrey enough to anchor your RB1 position.
Royce Freeman (RB, Denver Broncos)
Royce Freeman’s story is largely one of outlasting. Outside of Saquon Barkley, Freeman is currently the only player in a loaded class of highly-drafted rookie running backs to be healthy and without negative press up to this point. Since the fantasy community is always eager to jump on any rookie running back with a pulse, Freeman’s ADP has crept into the fourth round, alongside other backs such as Alex Collins and Derrick Henry. Freeman has something in common with those other two backs: none of them are going to be catching many passes.
Reports out of Denver claim the team loves Freeman on first and second-downs, but that they’re equally satisfied with Devontae Booker on third downs. See this quote from head coach Vance Joseph:
“I’ve been around Book for almost two years now, so I’ve watched him play and he’s doing what he does well—that’s third downs, catching the ball, outside zone is his best run,” Joseph said. “Royce is a downhill pounder. He’s a one-cut runner with pretty good vertical speed. I’ve been impressed with both guys, and again to go back to the tight ends question, we need both guys. They’re both really different in what they do for our offense.”
Given Freeman’s rather average usage in the passing game in college (58th percentile target share at Oregon), I’m buying the idea that Booker manages to mostly hold on to his third-down role for most of the season. A running back with a two-down ceiling doesn’t represent a good value to me in the fourth round, especially if he’s not within an offense that’s expected to be near the top of the league (this criticism applies to Collins and Henry as well). Adding that to the inherent injury risk and replaceability associated with the position leads me to select a wide receiver over these types of running backs every time in PPR leagues, as players with incredible upside such as Amari Cooper and players with much safer floors like Jarvis Landry can be had around this spot.
The perceived positional scarcity at the running back position has artificially pushed players like Freeman, Collins, and Henry up draft boards. He was a decent enough value earlier in the preseason, but with Freeman (like Collins and Henry) now being drafted much closer to his ceiling, I’m avoiding him at his ADP.
Marquise Goodwin (WR, San Francisco 49ers)
Goodwin may be the single biggest riser this preseason not spurred on by any injury or change in team situation. As far as I can tell, Goodwin’s ascension from the ninth and tenth round all the way to the sixth was chiefly caused by reports that he and Jimmy Garoppolo are connecting well in practice. My rule for preseason press is as follows: Take the good with a grain of salt, and magnify the bad. Since those drafting Goodwin seem to have done the opposite, let’s instead examine Goodwin’s performance last season.
Did we really see enough in Goodwin’s five-game sample size with Garoppolo last year to warrant such a relatively high pick? Though he was the WR8 in PPR through those five weeks last year, it took him an average of 8.6 targets per game to accomplish this. That’s comparable to what Adam Thielen saw last year, but barring injury, I’d be very surprised if Goodwin maintained anything close to that target share. The 49ers receiving corps was incredibly injured last year, with Goodwin basically the last man standing. Now, Pierre Garcon is healthy, a true satellite back in Jerick McKinnon has joined the team, and second-year tight end George Kittle is likely to get much more playing time. He’ll definitely have big weeks, but with a catch-rate from last season bordering around 50%, it’s unlikely that Goodwin will be a reliable fantasy option worthy of taking over players going around him like Marshawn Lynch and Chris Thompson. Goodwin was a fun and trendy pick in the ninth round, but there’s now very little room for him to outperform his current ADP.
David Njoku (TE, Cleveland Browns)
After his 2-TD performance in preseason Week 1, Njoku saw a nice rise up draft boards landing him in the neighborhood of the tenth round as the TE12. I still believe he’s well worth the pick at that spot for the upside he possesses. I’ve tried to get away from simply linking to Playerprofiler and saying “LOOK AT THOSE BIG BARS” but that’s exactly what I’m doing right now. While you’re there, notice that Njoku measures 6’4, 246 pounds, suggesting an ability to remain in the game in goal-line situations, a critical attribute for prospective fantasy TE1s that won’t come close to leading their team in targets.
Njoku’s NFL sample size is small, so it’s difficult to do much more than speculate, but the Browns have shown every intention to use Njoku over Seth Devalve this year, moving away from their relatively even snap shares last year. Yes, there are questions about the target share a tight end could command in an offense that includes Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, and Duke Johnson, but becoming a go-to option in the endzone for Tyrod Taylor could very well lead Njoku to TE1 status. Roll the gifs:
Why not take a shot in the tenth round or later at such a thin position? Considering he’s up against Jack Doyle, who could be splitting time with Eric Ebron, and George Kittle, another second-year tight end with less college production at a smaller school taken later in the same NFL draft, Njoku seems the obvious choice for a late-round stab at the position.
There you have it, my views on some of the top risers in ADP over the last few weeks. Stay tuned later on for when I cover some of the furthest fallers.