Have you ever seen shots of the mega intersection in Shibuya, Japan, the famous one which features eight ways to cross the street and eight million people crossing it? Fantasy football is kind of like that intersection, crowded with people briskly navigating their way through a malaise. There are so many paths to choose — in the case of fantasy, it’s league formats, analysts, lineup decisions — yet so many lead you to the same destination, your own gut.
I have covered fantasy football for our site for the past three years, and quite frankly, it’s been awfully lonely. Traditionally, I pen a waiver column and a Startability Index (our quirky version of start/sit advice) in season and throw in some preseason articles you may find helpful and entertaining. But there have been no podcasts, no heated debates about tight end f vs. tight end z, and certainly no other writers giving you draft and lineup advice.
That all changed this week when fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice, previously of Pro Football Weekly, debuted on TFG. Pat’s inaugural column focuses on overvalued guys, and I strongly suggest you read it before partaking in any draft. This man knows his stuff; in fact, last season Pat ranked third in an accuracy study of over 100 fantasy analysts. Pat’s preseason rankings will be posted soon, and he’ll be providing weekly rankings and some specialty columns throughout the season. His rankings will be a guide, and the Startability Index will continue to focus on particular players that you, the readership, have either requested or I think are worthy of being addressed that week.
(Also, Judge Ed will be continuing with his fantasy ethicist column, so if some cheapskate owner is withholding his or her league fee or you just want a quit a league and don’t know how, turn to the judge for guidance.)
So welcome to the new TFG fantasy football team, our mini-Shibuya! As someone lucky enough to have traveled to Japan a few years ago, I can attest to how underrated it is as a vacation spot.
And like Japan, fantasy football is sprinkled with underrated guys, many of them also featuring fascinating histories and intricate style.
Here are my favorite 13 players who provide good-to-excellent values based on current ADP. All are chomping at the bit to aid your fantasy success. So let them!
(All ADP information is from FantasyFootballCalculator.com)
Darren Sproles, Saints (RB22): Drew Brees sure missed Sean Payton last season, but not as much as Darren Sproles did. The speedy multi-purpose back was virtually absent in the run game with only 48 attempts and 244 yards. Even in missing three games, that’s a sharp constrast to the 87 attempts and 603 yards he netted the year before. Payton will do his darndest to revamp the Saints running attack and that should mean a lot more involvement from Sproles, especially since neither Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram have proven themselves as bonafide every-down backs.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers (RB27): Mathews had a rough 2012 and has everything to prove this season. It won’t be easy with Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown added to the mix, but at this spot on the running back chain of command, Mathews is worth the risk.
One last chance for Ryan Mathews. But that’s it!
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals (RB32): Rookie Giovani Bernard is all the rage, an explosive threat with great hands. But as of now, Green-Ellis is still the starter, despite being two slots lower than Bernard.
Vick Ballard, Colts (RB41): The arrival of Ahmad Bradshaw has no doubt diminished Ballard’s value. But wait, Bradshaw has started training camp on the PUP list as he’s still not recovered from offseason surgery on his right foot. Bradshaw could be ready any time, but he’s clearly an injury risk, perhaps the highest of any (supposed) starting running back. And, of course, the foot could take longer to heal, leaving Ballard with a golden opportunity. Either way, look for Ballard to see a healthy dose of playing time in what could be a true RBBC situation.
Martellus Bennett, Bears (TE14): Jay Cutler loves to throw down the middle of the field. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a viable tight end since Greg Olsen. Enter Bennett. And perhaps more importantly, enter new head coach Marc Trestman and his West Coast offense roots.
Fred Davis, Redskins (TE17): Last preseason, Davis’s ADP spot was TE9. One slight disconnect with a run-first quarterback and an Achilles injury later, Davis has dropped significantly. But his talent has not. The tight end position is deep, but Davis ranks among the most athletic. In 2011, Davis made 15 plays that garnered over 20 yards, and 2 over 40 yards. With RGIII a bit more straightjacketed, and without great options at wide receiver, perhaps Davis can morph into his 2011 self.
Eric Decker, Broncos (WR25): If there’s one thing that Peyton Manning does not preach, it’s monogamy… at least from the quarterbacking standpoint. Yes, Wes Welker is on the team. Yes, Decker will lose some targets. But Decker’s ADP is way low for a starting receiver coming off an 85 reception, 1,064 yard, 13 touchdown season.
Steve Smith, Panthers (WR26): Smith’s still got it, as evidenced by his 1,174 yard output in a bit of a haphazard year for the Panthers. Now that Cam Newton has supposedly matured and will be more settled in the pocket, Smith should see a lot more catchable targets.
Josh Gordon, Browns (WR38): Gordon is the Dez Bryant of the Browns. Troubled, yet immensely talented. He put up 805 receiving yards and 5 TDs in his rookie campaign with the Browns, which is like the equivalent to 1,200 yards and 8 TDs on a normal team. Despite Gordon’s two-game suspension, he could provide great value at WR3.
Gordon has mad talent.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins (WR53): OK, so Hartline doesn’t score touchdowns. But no. 53 on the wide receiver depth chart seems awfully low for a guy with 74 catches and 1,083 yards, even with the arrival of Mike Wallace. Heck, Wallace’s presence may even help. Can you hear me, PPRers?
Tony Romo, Cowboys (QB9): Tony Romo is like the anti-Matthew Stafford. He puts up close to 5,000 yards (4,903) and everyone focuses on his 19 interceptions. Stafford puts up close to 5,000 yards (4,967) and everyone focuses on his almost 5,000 yards, not his 17 interceptions. Such is life. In Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, Romo has the arguably the best receiving corps in football. The Cowboys also added some much-needed offensive line help, which should give Romo more time to think. (Wait, maybe that’s not a good thing!)
Matt Schaub, Texans (QB23): Let’s see. Among active quarterbacks, Schaub was 11th in passing yards (4,008), 15th in touchdowns passes (22) and in the middle of the pack with (12) interceptions. Sure, Schaub comes sans running skills, but I’d be elated to nab him this low.
Alex Smith, Chiefs (QB25): Smith’s current ranking means owners in a 12-team league don’t even consider him viable as fantasy backup. That’s ridiculous. Smith starts his new life in Kansas City with something to prove, and the receivers in Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin to help him do so. At the very least, Smith won’t cost you interceptions.
Please submit comments and questions below. And add any names you believe we neglected to cover.