Finding Value From ESPN’s Default Rankings

Ryan Heath investigates which players are being overvalued and undervalued in ESPN drafts.

Regardless of what platform you draft on, the Average Draft Position of every player will be heavily influenced by the default rankings displayed in the website’s draft room. Savvy fantasy drafters can take advantage of their opponents’ deference to the rankings, potentially landing players multiple rounds later than they could on other websites. Today, I’ll be analyzing the disparities between ESPN’s default draft room rankings and our own rankings here at QB List.

In the table below, our top 200 overall players and ESPN’s ranking of each is displayed. The “difference” column is the amount the player’s ranking varies between ESPN and our cheat sheet. A large positive number here indicates the player will likely be selected later in ESPN drafts than our cheat sheet would suggest. In other words, these are players to target at their ESPN ranking. A large negative number indicates a player will likely be taken earlier in ESPN drafts than our rankings would advise; these are players to avoid on ESPN.

(All rankings and analysis are for leagues with PPR scoring in mind)

 

QB List vs. ESPN Rankings

 

That’s a lot of numbers! For those without the time to go through the entire list themselves, I’ve got you covered with some highlights.

D.J. Chark and DeVante Parker, our 46th and 48th overall players respectively, are both underrated by ESPN by about a full round in 12-team leagues. Landing either of these players in the fifth round of your draft will be a boon for your roster, as both are unquestioned #1 receivers on teams that will need to throw the ball frequently. Both players are athletic specimens who possess the upside to finish as top-12 receivers in fantasy. The lack of target competition on each of their teams also means they have relatively safe floors, and can probably be counted on in your WR2 slot week in and week out.

On the flip side, Courtland Sutton, whose fantasy prospects look fairly similar to Chark and Parker, is overrated on ESPN by 18 draft slots. At an ESPN ranking of 30th overall, Sutton is being drafted around his ceiling, and most in the wider industry would not predict him to outperform that draft position. If your league-mate drafts him there, smile knowing you’ll likely land Parker or Chark two or three rounds later.

At the running back position, we have both Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins ranked about two rounds higher than ESPN does. While one or both could fail to live up to our ranking, these players are in a high-leverage situation given how prolific the Ravens’ offense should be once again with Lamar Jackson at the helm. Ambiguous backfields on great offenses are the sort you’ll want to invest in during the middle and later rounds, as this is where league-winning running backs are most often found. At their ESPN rankings of late-6th and mid-7th round, Ingram and Dobbins respectively offer incredible upside given their costs. If either runs away with the job they will be a fantasy RB1, but even if they split work, they could both be in consideration as weekly FLEX plays given the offense’s high rushing volume. Last year, Baltimore running backs recorded 393 carries between them, and Ingram was the RB10 in fantasy points per game with just 202 of those carries. With Gus Edwards likely to take a backseat, Ingram or Dobbins could very well approach or exceed that finish this year.

At quarterback, we’re higher on the entire foursome of Deshaun WatsonRussell WilsonKyler Murray, and Dak Prescott. Any of the four could turn in an overall fantasy-QB1 season due to their combination of rushing ability and dynamic weapons in the passing game. Though waiting at QB is often optimal, hitting on one in the sixth round after you’ve filled out the rest of your starting lineup can give you an edge in more competitive leagues. If you manage to stack any of these players with a key piece of their offense, you’re raising your team’s potential ceiling even further. Will FullerTyler LockettChristian Kirk, and Michael Gallup are affordable options for pairing with their respective QBs that can also be had at decent value independently.

For those like myself who generally prefer to wait on the quarterback position, it looks like Teddy Bridgewater will be obtainable at the very end of every ESPN draft, given his insultingly low ranking on the service. The Panthers play the Raiders in week 1, a likely positive matchup for opposing passing games, so he’s an ideal streamer. Bridgewater will enjoy perhaps the most versatile set of receivers in the NFL this year, including Christian McCaffreyD.J. Moore, Swiss army knife Curtis Samuel, and deep threat Robby Anderson. A weak defense will necessitate Bridgewater throwing early and often this year. He also posted high marks in completion % and deep-ball completion % during his stint with the Saints last year, per FantasyData. Bridgewater shapes up as a zero-risk option for stingy fantasy drafters.

Finally, at tight end, Blake JarwinJonnu Smith, and Ian Thomas are a trio of cheap options ranked rounds lower on ESPN than on our rankings. Each have their merits, though I prefer Smith due to the relative lack of target competition he’ll face in Tennessee. Middle-round tight ends like Hunter Henry and Tyler Higbee are being significantly overrated. Their floors aren’t all that different from the cheaper options, and there is a big opportunity cost that goes with drafting them at their ESPN ADP over a player at a different position that occupies more spots on your roster.

For more in-depth thoughts on all of these players from our rankers, check out QB List’s rankings page. Good luck with your ESPN drafts!

 

(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

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