Draft Prep: Draft This, Not That

Mike takes a look at some overpriced fantasy options and some cheap substitutions to help you leave the table more satisfied on draft day.

Have you heard of the book “Eat This, Not That!”? It started out as a column in Men’s Health and is written by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding. They expanded the article into a book series, and they’ve been releasing one every year since 2008. The book describes changes we can make to be a little healthier in our everyday lives. Instead of coffee creamer, we should use milk. Instead of typical breakfast cereals, look for lower-sugar options or eat oatmeal. Instead of diet soda, have coffee, tea, or water. They even look at fast-food menus and curate choices there: Chicken Mcnuggets, for example, are a better option than the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. The book guides you as far as you want to go, but the goal is always the same–making better choices on a daily basis. As I thought about these books, I wondered if the same concept could be applied to fantasy football; could we make better choices in our drafts to save value along the way? Are there cheap options that can serve as replacements for the more expensive ones? Of course. I want to run position by position, looking at a high-price option people flock towards, and someone lower-priced we can replace them with.

(Note: I actually love watching most of the “don’t draft” players I’ve listed below in action. I simply avoid them because of their elevated draft costs. If I could have Patrick Mahomes on my real-life team, I’d do it in a heartbeat.)

 

Quarterback

 

The first mistake we are making in our fantasy diets is at the most important position in real life: the quarterback position. Novice fantasy players are drawn in by the high point totals of quarterbacks as well as the obvious name recognition. I could ask someone who doesn’t watch football, and they could probably still list off 5 quarterbacks; I highly doubt this is true of any other position. In reality, though, quarterback is more like the salad of the meal: it shouldn’t be able to ruin the day, but it can get us off on the right foot if chosen correctly. So, who are the good and bad choices at QB?

Don’t draft

  • Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP 3.03): Patrick Mahomes is an excellent young quarterback, and every team in the NFL would love to have him. I don’t care who you’re currently starting–your team would trade their QB for Patrick Mahomes in an instant. So why should we avoid Mahomes? He is too expensive this year. Mahomes is due for a major touchdown regression (he had an 8.6% TD rate last year), and I expect him to finish closer to 35 touchdowns this season. That’s still an excellent number, but it’s not enough to justify a third-round grade.

Instead, take

  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (ADP 5.04): Aaron Rodgers has finished as a top-10 quarterback in 4 of the last 5 years and 9 of the last 11 years. The only two seasons he failed were both due to injury, and he has 4 career QB1 finishes. That’s more than any other quarterback since 2001 and as many as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees combined. Rodgers was hurt all of last year and still managed a touchdown to interception ratio of 25:2. I expect Rodgers to be close to Mahomes this year in overall stats, and there’s a good chance he outright beats him.

Don’t draft

  • Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (ADP 5.07): Deshaun Watson was the QB4 last season, and he led the Texans to an 11-5 finish despite an 0-3 start. He is, by all accounts, a promising quarterback with a great start to his career. However, there are reasons to worry: Watson only threw for 300+ passing yards once in his last eleven games, and in 6 of those 11 games he threw for 0 or 1 touchdowns. Sure, he has rushing upside; so do cheaper options though. I haven’t yet even mentioned the higher risk for injury given Watson’s play style. That’s too much risk for the price, and I’ll pass on this one.

Instead, take

  • Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 8.05): If you are looking for another quarterback with rushing upside, there are plenty of options: Russell Wilson (376 rushing yards last season), Mitch Trubisky (421 yards), Josh Allen (631 yards), and Lamar Jackson (695 yards) are just a few, and all are much cheaper. I could easily write about each one, but I’m going to highlight Kyler Murray. Murray rushed for 1,000 yards in college last season, and he was the #1 overall pick. He joins Kliff Kingsbury’s offense; Kingsbury, for his part, has proudly proclaimed that he wants to run as many plays per game as humanly possible. Murray will have a plethora of weapons around him, and I could easily see 4,000 yards, 25+ touchdowns, and 500+ rushing yards. This is close enough to Watson to inspire me to wait.

 

Wide Receivers

 

Now that we are done with the salad course, we move into the hors d’oeuvres. Appetizers are the fun part of a meal, and their importance can’t be overstated. Even small redraft leagues will still require you to draft around 5 receivers; Thus, there are plenty of players to chose from and plenty of ways to mess it up. It can be a minefield with long touchdowns, fluke plays, and unreliable performers muddying the waters with their high season numbers. Don’t worry. I’m here to help you make the right choices at what is, in my opinion, the second most important position in fantasy football.

Don’t draft

  • D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers (ADP 6.11): D.J. Moore had an excellent rookie season (788 receiving yards, 172 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) and should be a force for the Panthers moving forward. His ADP still isn’t too bad considering the breakout, and I bet we see a further improvement this season. So how could I tell you to avoid him? That’s quite simple. In my opinion, D.J. Moore is only the second-best receiver on the Carolina Panthers roster. He isn’t a bad choice, to be fair; I just see a better one.

Instead, take

  • Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers (ADP 10.12): It takes quite an amazing performance to outdo what Moore did last year for Carolina. Well, Samuel had fewer rushing and receiving yards and he was injured for part of the year. What he did do, however, was to amaze every time he touched the ball. Samuel was a human highlight real, and you can read more about my thoughts on him here. Quite simply, Samuel has the route running and the moves to become an elite NFL wide receiver. I want to come along for the ride, and I love the 4-round discount in price.

Don’t draft

  • Will Fuller, Houston Texans (ADP 7.08): Will Fuller has yet to finish a complete season in his 3-year career. He hurt his hamstring and knee in 2016, his shoulder, chest, and knee in 2017 and his hamstring and knee again in 2018. You can read more about his injury history here if you’re curious. He has a career catch rate of 57.2%, he’s never hit 700 yards receiving, he’s never caught 50 passes, and he’s never had 8 touchdowns. If I was a betting man, I’d wager on more injuries and his job eventually being stolen.

Instead, take

  • Keke Coutee, Houston Texans (ADP 12.01): Sure, Fuller is hurt all the time. To be fair, though, Coutee was also out for much of last year with a hamstring injury of his own. What is it with this Texans team? He is almost 5 rounds cheaper than Fuller, and he was heavily involved when healthy. Coutee saw close to 7 targets and 5 receptions per games in his 6 games played. In the four games they both played, Coutee averaged 7.5 targets per game while Fuller averaged 4.75. That’s an obviously small sample size, but it makes me want to rank both players closer together than they currently are. When two players seem close in my mind, I’ll always take the bargain.

Don’t draft

  • Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (ADP 4.11): Kenny Golladay is only 25 and looks to have broken out last season. He put up 1,063 yards and 5 touchdowns in only 15 games, and I think he’ll continue to improve. However, a lot of Golladay’s best work came after Marvin Jones Jr. went down for the year. In games 1-8, with Jones fully healthy, Golladay averaged 6 targets and 4 receptions per game. From week 9 on, Golladay averaged more than 10 targets and 5 receptions per game. This is a huge bump, and it’s unlikely to continue. Don’t draft Golladay based solely on how the season finished.

Instead, take

  • Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions (ADP 8.11): In 2017, Marvin Jones Jr. had 1,101 yards and 9 touchdowns–good enough for a WR1 finish. Last season, he was on pace (through 9 games) for 903 yds and 9 TDs. I like the talent and upside of Golladay WAY more than that of Jones long term, but their prices should still be close for the coming year. Jones is an excellent discount in the 8th round, and I am happy to invest in him as my part of the Lions passing game. Oh, I almost forgot: Matthew Stafford was playing all of last year with a broken bone in his back. I’m guessing the offense improves with him back to full health.

 

Running Backs

 

After we have finished our appetizers, it’s time for the main course. Running backs are the foundation of our team, and I’m not going to tell you to avoid the top guys. Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and the other studs are at the top because they are worth their prices. They have the least concerns, and they should generally be safe. I’m more concerned with the guys going in the fourth and fifth rounds; this is where things become trickier. Let’s look at some running backs I’m avoiding, and some healthier choices for your fantasy squad.

Don’t draft

  • Sony Michel, New England Patriots (ADP 4.06): The New England Patriots are notorious for using a committee of running backs and it consistently makes for one of the best running attacks in the league. They were 5th last year in rushing yards, 10th in 2017, and 7th in 2016. It doesn’t matter too much who the back is: he succeeds. Why not take a shot on Michel then? Last year, he only had five games with 100 rushing yards, one or more touchdowns, or both. In his other 8 games, including 4 of his last 5, he had 63 or fewer rushing yards. Michel was also a non-factor in the passing game (7 catches all season). Pass on Michel this year for cheaper options in the backfield.

Instead, take

  • James White or Damien Harris, New England Patriots (ADPs 7.03 and 10.05): James White was a top-10 running back last year, so I honestly shouldn’t have to say much here. He is heavily involved in the passing game, and this should continue with Rob Gronkowski retiring and not much else–besides Julian Edelman–on the roster. White put up 12+ points in 12 games last year, so he is also safer than Michel despite his likely lower carry count. Damien Harris is only a rookie, but he might have a chance to steal the lead role out from under Michel. Michel is currently on the pup list, and it’s his second straight season starting out injured. Remember that the Pats spent a 3rd round pick on Harris; they clearly wanted him.

Don’t draft

  • Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (ADP 4.08): Chris Carson has a running style that’s best described as reckless, and it’s fun to watch him run headfirst into contact. This same bulldozing style, however, puts Carson at an elevated injury risk, and his history displays it; he suffered a torn ACL in college and a serious ankle injury in 2017, costing him most of his rookie year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carson was injured again at some point this year (though I would never wish it), and that’s a lot of risk for someone I’m counting on having for the whole season.

Instead, take

  • Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks (ADP 6.03): Two rounds after Carson, we can grab Penny. Rashaad Penny was a first-round pick in 2018, and he looked good in limited action last year. He is an explosive runner, and he has the ability to run away with the job if Carson gives him that chance. Even if Carson stays healthy, I still see Penny having a safe floor of 150+ carries in a Seattle offense that isn’t shy about its desire to run the ball. They led the league in rushing yards last season (on 534 carries), and I expect them to challenge for the title again this year.

Other swaps

  • I’ll pass on Philip Lindsey in the fourth round and instead think about Royce Freeman in the 8th. Lindsey has been hurt and Freeman has been running with the first-team offense during the offseason. This could have been the chance Freeman needed to jump-start his career. If I miss out on Alvin Kamara early (for the record I love Kamara at his ADP), Latavius Murray makes for an excellent consolation prize in the 7th round. He’d have top-12 upside if Kamara were to go down and still has value as a goalline threat. Finally, I’ll pass on Derrius Guice and his still shaky health in the 5th; I’ll instead hope that Adrian Peterson (9th) gets the workload like he did last year.

 

Tight End

 

After we finish the main course, it’s time for some dessert. This will be the tight end position, and it’s the last position I will address. Sure, we can still succeed without one of the best tight ends on our roster. However, life is much easier if we manage to pick a good one, and it doesn’t always require spending up for the premium choices. I want to look at a couple of overpriced options and some cheaper players that can take their places.

Don’t draft

  • Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts (ADP 6.11): This pick feels like the definition of paying for last year’s stats, and I won’t do it. Sure, the Colts are an excellent offense capable of lighting up the scoreboard. It’s also true that I love watching Andrew Luck play. However, Ebron was dominant last year thanks to a touchdown percentage (% of targets that went for a touchdown) of almost 12%. His career number, for comparison, is 6%. What also worries me is that when both Indy tight ends were healthy (6 games), Ebron saw fewer targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns than his battery mate. I refuse to buy Ebron at this price when I can get:

Instead, take

  • Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (ADP Undrafted): Remember Ebron’s battery mate? That was Jack Doyle. During the 6 games he was active, Doyle put up a stat line of 33 targets, 26 receptions, 245 yards and 2 touchdowns (vs Ebron’s 22 targets 18 receptions, 228 yards, and 1 touchdown). This would extrapolate to a 16-game season of 88 targets, 69 receptions, 653 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Ebron’s season-long stats were 66 receptions, 750 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Doyle also out-targeted Ebron in 4 of their 6 shared games (the fifth was a tie). Aside from the touchdown numbers, which are typically volatile from season to season, the two players were surprisingly comparable. I would not be surprised, however, to see Ebron and Doyle have a near equal split of the work. In that case, I’ll take Doyle for free vs Ebron at his premium.

Don’t draft

  • George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (ADP 3.11): George Kittle is the new hotness at the tight end position, and he was a target machine last year. Overall, he tallied 136 targets, 88 receptions, 1,377 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns. In fact, he was the only player on the team with more than 50 receptions. Wait–that can’t be right. Let me double-check that. Yup, WR Kendrick Bourne was second on the list with 42 receptions and then FB Kyle Juszczyk was third with 30. The 49ers should have Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, and Jerick McKinnon back from their respective injuries, they added Deebo Samuel through the draft, and they signed Tevin Coleman in free agency. That’s three more wide receivers and two pass-catching running backs to share targets with. I love Kittle’s talent, but I have a hard time expecting him to see anywhere close to as many targets this year. For that reason, I can’t pay a top-3 round price and I’m out.

Instead, take

  • David Njoku, Cleveland Browns (ADP 8.06): If you’re thinking of drafting Kittle, then I take it you want a young tight end who’s shown something on the field and also has plenty of upside. It would probably be nice if he was also in a good offense that would supply him with plenty of chances to score touchdowns. As a 21-year-old rookie in 2017, David Njoku had 60 targets, 32 receptions, 386 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Last year, he improved to 88 targets, 56 receptions, 639 yards, and 4 touchdowns. This increased production brought increased consistency with it; he had 11 games with 5+ targets in 2018 vs only 5 such games in 2017. Njoku is on the rise, but apparently not fast enough for the drafting public since he’s typically still on the board in the 8th round. Despite being 3 years younger than Kittle, Njoku is going 5 rounds later. I’ll take that discount and a piece of the ascending Browns offense.

 

As we finish preparing our fantasy feast, I want to remind you to look for the healthy options on draft day. Avoid the overpriced quarterback that will leave you feeling nauseous about the rest of your roster. Take the cheaper teammate when two comparable options are both out there. Don’t take the injury-prone starter who’s currently getting 55% of the work when a younger, healthier option is 6 rounds cheaper. Search out the values and build a team you can be happy with.

(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

2 responses to “Draft Prep: Draft This, Not That”

  1. Harrison says:

    Great write-up. Thanks! I agree with your take on DJ Moore/Curtis Samuel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.