With draft season officially upon us, it’s time for you to hit the books and study up. The single goal of your fantasy draft should be creating a team with the capability of outscoring your opponent on a week-by-week basis. That’s it. Ideally, you mix solid floors with stratospheric ceilings, avoid risk and don’t lose anyone to injury. Sounds pretty nice, right? In reality, however, almost nothing goes according to plan in the NFL due to injuries, mysterious coaches, in-season benchings, plain ‘ol bad luck and so much more. Even though drafting the first eight rounds or so is probably the most fun and important part of the draft, it’s that back half that can be crucial to a successful season.
ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry has often said, “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it,” and I find the opposite to be true as well. With your starting lineup already filled out, it’s difficult for you to lose your league in the late rounds, but you can absolutely win it there. And that’s why late-round fliers are important.
This is the seventh installment in a series of articles focusing on important fantasy football information for upcoming drafts. As a refresher, the purpose of these articles is to find value relative to ADP, or average draft position. The goal of drafting in each round should be selecting the player that provides the most value at that draft position, not simply the player who will score the most points. This concept helps explain why owners are opting to draft quarterbacks later and later; the gap in point scoring is smaller for quarterbacks than it is at other skill positions. Often, these will not be sexy picks or players you are super excited about drafting. That’s probably why they’re valuable. There is typically something at play – whether a common misconception, recency bias or something of the like – that causes a player’s draft slot to fall unfairly low.
ADP can fluctuate wildly in the later rounds, so it’s important to remember the number is merely an average. It shouldn’t be shocking when someone else targets your favorite late-round pick three spots – or even an entire round – before you do. If there is a player you really believe in for valid fantasy reasons like projected volume, playing in a high-scoring offense or proven touchdown prowess, then it’s ok to take them in the 12th despite their 13th-round ADP. It is not ok to do this, however, if you want the player because they play on your favorite NFL team, you’ve enjoyed having them on your fantasy team in the past, or you think they seem like a cool dude. Don’t do that.
Before we get to the fliers, it’s important to note I’m typically chasing upside in the later rounds. Sure, you can draft Duke Johnson in the 11th round of your draft (current standard ADP of 11.07, 9.02 in PPR), but he’s a pass-catching backup running back on a bad team with a low offensive ceiling. How much upside is available there? He’ll likely have a few usable weeks this season, but will you be able to predict them? More than likely he’ll soak up an important bench spot for over half the season, as a guy you can’t start or trade, but is still arguably too valuable to send to the waiver wire. Do you like having that player on your team? Me neither. Last year Spencer Ware went in the 10th round, Jay Ajayi in the 13th and Jimmy Graham in the 14th. These are the type of upside stabs that can win you your league, or at the very least provide needed depth to help secure a playoff berth. They are especially pertinent in deep leagues or best ball drafts.
Click here to find wide receivers I believe are undervalued at their ADP.
Click here to find running backs I believe are undervalued at their ADP.
Click here to find tight ends I believe are undervalued at their ADP.
Click here to find quarterbacks I believe are undervalued at their ADP.
Click here to read my thoughts on risky boom/bust players.
Late-round wide receiver targets
*Note: All ADP data is from Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team PPR leagues unless otherwise noted. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only be focusing on players with an ADP after the 10th round.
Rishard Matthews (PPR ADP: 11.07, WR52)
I loved Matthews heading into last year’s draft and think he presents a solid value again this year. His 11th round ADP is likely due to Tennessee adding Eric Decker (8.01, WR37) and Corey Davis (10.02, WR46) at wide receiver, in addition to expected negative touchdown regression after Matthews scored nine touchdowns on 65 receptions last year. Before the Titans added perennial touchdown hog Decker, Matthews was going as high as the seventh round.
Now he can be had in the 11th round (12th in standard) even though we have no idea what Marcus Mariota’s target distribution will look like. While it’s reasonable to project Decker and Davis for a good chunk of volume, it’s still possible Matthews leads the team in targets. In fact, footballguys.com’s Justin Howe currently projects Matthews to lead the Titans in targets. It’s typically impossible to get the target leader in an efficient offense tied to a good quarterback this late in drafts, and yet here Matthews is staring us in the face.
It’s noteworthy that Mariota and Matthews developed obvious chemistry last year, particularly in the red zone. Decker, on the other hand, was a mid-summer addition and Davis has been in and out of offseason practices with a hamstring injury. Matthews finished as the PPR WR21 last season despite being installed as a full-time starter in week five, which is not coincidentally when Mariota exploded last season. This is the sort of late-round upside you want to chase.
I already stated my case for Mike Wallace (11.08, WR53) earlier this summer. He’s finished outside WR30 once in eight seasons, yet is going at WR53. Yahoo’s Michael Salfino agrees with my takes on Matthews and Wallace.
Robert Woods (13.06, WR60)
I understand that Woods has an incredibly unsexy fantasy name and team situation, so this might seem counterintuitive to the CHASING UPSIDE rant from above, but bear with me. The Rams and shiny new head coach Sean McVay paid Woods a huge five-year, $34 million contract to be the team’s #1 wide receiver this summer. McVay was formerly the offensive coordinator in Washington, where he helped steer Kirk Cousins and Co. to back-to-back top-ten offensive efficiency seasons. In the X receiver role in McVay’s offense last year, which Woods is slated to take, Pierre Garcon (7.03, WR34) finished as the PPR WR31 despite having monster competition for targets.
With the fourth-lowest Vegas win total in the league (5.5), Los Angeles (weird, right?) will likely face negative game script throughout the year, which means the target leader on this team will be fantasy relevant. Here’s betting it’s Woods. Kenny Britt (10.11, WR49 and someone I’ve also written about) found himself in that role last year and impressively finished as the PPR WR 26 in per-game scoring despite playing with a sub-par quarterback carousel.
The Rams have the second most targets unaccounted for from last season’s roster. Woods’ name is unsexy because he played in a run-first, play-action deep pass offense that led the league in rushing and didn’t have much use for the intermediate routes that he runs. Still only 25, he was an absolute monster at USC and can line up in the slot or outside which will keep him on the field. Interestingly, Woods is going after Bills rookie Zay Jones (13.04, WR58), who is literally stepping into the exact same spot Woods was in last year in Buffalo. Woods won’t win you your league, but he’ll beat his ADP and might just offer you PPR WR30 numbers from the 13th round. Sign me up.
Ted Ginn (13.07, WR61)
Ginn isn’t necessarily considered to be a reliable weekly player, but he screams upside at his palatable 13th-round ADP. His career has uniquely trended up after turning 30, as he managed to average 49 receptions, 745 yards, 15.35 yards per catch and 7 touchdowns over the last two seasons. In standard leagues he finished as the WR49 in 2016 and the WR26 in 2015, yet he’s going sixty-first off the board this year in a better offense with higher pass volume and playing with the league’s premier deep ball thrower. His ceiling is now higher than it’s ever been, yet he can be had basically for free.
The Saints are missing 143 targets from last season’s roster (12th in the league), many of which were deep balls thrown to Brandin Cooks (2.12, WR12). Ginn is no Cooks, but even at 31 he is easily one of the fastest players in the league and now plays with Drew Brees, who Pro Football Focus charted with the third-best completion percentage on targets 20+ yards downfield last year. Though like all deep threats, Ginn is a better best ball investment than redraft pick, we’ve seen Brees elevate speedsters like Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson to fantasy relevance before. A large part of chasing upside late in drafts is about targeting high-scoring offenses and potential target volume, both of which are working in Ginn’s favor.
Tyler Lockett (13.11, WR62)
Lockett is the perfect post-hype fantasy receiver, as drafters are over-correcting last year’s 7.01 ADP and letting him slip to the 13/14 turn. Don’t be one of those drafters. Lockett was bound to regress last season after scoring six touchdowns on only 51 catches as a rookie, but that number dropped to one measly touchdown as he battled through multiple injuries in 2016. Recency bias flavoring their draft palettes, many owners have forgotten his explosive rookie season and the special teams prowess that led to two more touchdowns as a rookie.
Lockett was recently activated from Seattle’s PUP list and should enter the season at full health. If he’s able to win the #2 wide receiver role in a hyper-efficient offense led by Russell Wilson, then he’s the exact type of pick you want in the late rounds. A 55-750-5 season with an extra punt return touchdown is a pretty reasonable projection for a healthy Lockett. Those numbers would make him a huge value in the 13th round. If for some reason he can’t win the #2 job in Seattle, then former second-round pick Paul Richardson (14.05, WR73) is also worth a late-round flier.
Anquan Boldin (14.04, WR70) just signed with the Bills and immediately became interesting after joining one of the worst receiving corps in the league. He’s doubtful to have 12-team redraft value, but his red zone prowess and target-potential in the case Sammy Watkins (3.11, WR17) gets hurt both make him a very solid deep league target. Even with likely touchdown regression coming, Sterling Shepard (13.05, WR59) plays in a decidedly pass-first offense and had deep league appeal before he went down with an ankle injury. His ADP has dropped a full round since the reportedly gruesome ankle injury, even though his MRI came back positive and he’s slated to be ready for week one. I’m buying Breshad Perriman (14.06, WR77) where I can. He was on the top of everyone’s “sleeper” list before the Jeremy Maclin signing, but since then his ADP has plummeted to the 14th round.
As rotoworld.com’s Evan Silva points out, Perriman stands 6’2′ at 212 lbs. and ran an absurd 4.26 forty-yard dash at the NFL combine. He has reportedly dominated Ravens camp this summer and was basically a rookie last year after knee injuries ruined his actual rookie season. Most importantly, Baltimore is missing a league-high 339 targets from last season’s squad, in addition to a league-high 47% of team air yards. Even with the Maclin signing, there is still plenty of room for Perriman to eat.
Josh Doctson (12.06, 56) is intriguing in the 12th round due to his size/skill combination and offensive situation. Similar to Baltimore, Washington is missing the fifth-most targets from last year in addition to 50% of the team’s air yards. Sure, you can draft Cole Beasley (12.02, WR55) in the 12th round (one spot ahead of Doctson) in PPR leagues, especially if for some reason you’re light on receivers at that point in your draft (which I seriously don’t recommend), but how much theoretical upside does he have? He led Dallas in targets last season yet only finished as the PPR WR42 (PPG) despite Dez Bryant missing four games. Doctson has prototypical size and college production for a #1 receiver and steps into a high-ceiling, pass-first offense. If he’s healthy heading into the season, he should be on your radar.
There are whispers Josh Gordon (14.06, WR75) could be reinstated this season. Even if there’s a 5% chance of this happening, why draft a kicker with your last pick over Gordon? Despite underwhelming so far as a pro, Devin Funchess (14.03, WR68) has mainly made his numbers in the red zone. There are worse ways to chase points this late in the draft. One of Chris Hogan (14.10, WR78) and Malcolm Mitchell (undrafted) will have fantasy relevance this season, and maybe both will if Julian Edelman (5.03, WR36), Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen all live up to their injury-prone labels. It might be worth your last pick to find out which one.
Think I’m wrong? Feel free to yell at me on Twitter @eweiner_bball.
Statistics courtesy of rotoworld.com, fantasypros.com, pro-football-reference.com, fantasyfootballcalculator.com, and footballguys.com