Fitz on Fantasy: The QBs and RBs You Need To Target
Fantasy drafts are market-driven affairs. You can’t win your league on draft day, but you can get yourself on the right path by understanding the market and getting good value with your picks.
Based on ADP information provided by FantasyPros.com – and for the uninitiated, “ADP” means average draft position – these are some of the quarterbacks and running backs I’m likely to draft in the coming days.
Drew Brees, Saints (QB7) From 2010 through 2016, Brees averaged 656 pass attempts a season. Last year he had 536 pass attempts. Brees still finished QB9 in fantasy scoring last year despite throwing 120 fewer passes (7.5 fewer per game) than he averaged over the previous seven years.
Based on Brees’ ADP, people seem to think the reduced passing volume will stick. Hey, maybe it will. The Saints’ defense used to be a sieve; now it’s pretty good. New Orleans also has a terrific running game with Alvin Kamara and, once his four-game suspension expires, Mark Ingram. Maybe the Saints will equal or better their 11-5 record from 2017, once again outscore their opponents by 122 points and continually find themselves in favorable, run-friendly game scripts. Or maybe they won’t.
I think Brees’ passing volume will at least start to creep back toward past levels, even if it doesn’t get all the way back. He completed a career-best 72.0% of his throws last year and hit a six-year high in yards per attempt at 8.09. Those numbers suggest he’s still operating at an extremely high level even though he’s just a few months away from turning 40. I generally wait on quarterbacks, but if all the Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz worshippers want to let Brees slide into the seventh or eighth round, I’ll happily take him.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (QB10) I wrote last year that Stafford might be the NFL’s version of World B. Free, a volume chucker who’s never been able to translate that volume into true greatness. Stafford then went out and posted the best passer rating (99.3), best YPA (7.87) and the second-best completion percentage (65.7%) of his career.
Here are Stafford’s positional finishes in fantasy scoring over the last seven years: QB5, QB10, QB7, QB15, QB9, QB7, QB7. I think people are simply bored with Stafford. But now is the time that people should be getting excited about him. Stafford’s receivers (Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay) are terrific, and he’s never had a better offensive line in front of him. Again, I’m not aggressively targeting any quarterback, but there will be drafts where 12 other QBs are picked ahead of Stafford and you can get him in the double-digit rounds, which would be excellent value.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (QB23) I haven’t really ever gone to bat for this fellow redhead before. (Nor have I gone to bat for this one.) But Dalton is already priced below his QB17 finish in 2017, and he hasn’t finished out of the top 20 in QB fantasy scoring since entering the league in 2011.
Fantasy Insiders’ Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) recently noted that Cincinnati ran a league-low 927 offensive plays last year after running more than 1,000 in each of the previous eight seasons. Tyler Eifert is healthy again, John Ross looks as if he may have his act together in his second season, and the Bengals’ offensive line appears to have improved. If you play in a deeper league where it makes sense to draft a backup quarterback, Dalton is a worthy choice.
Eli Manning, Giants (QB26) Look, I’m not making a case for Eli himself. He’s 37, he’s been overrated for years, and his passer rating has slipped significantly in each of the past two seasons. But the reality is that he now has Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard at wide receiver, Evan Engram at tight end and Saquon Barkley at running back. Unless the Giants create four clones of Ereck Flowers and start all of them alongside the original on the offensive line, Manning could fall ass-backward into 4,200 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens (QB30) The rookie from Louisville is only recommended for those who play in deep leagues. Jackson hasn’t gone off yet in the preseason, and Joe Flacco has performed competently in limited exhibition-game snaps, so interest in Jackson may cool as we head into the heart of fantasy draft season. But Flacco hasn’t been an effective NFL starter in years. He hasn’t averaged 7.00 yards per pass attempt since 2014, bottoming out at 5.72 last year. Over the last three seasons, Flacco has thrown 52 TD passes and 40 INTs. Not good.
As talented as the Ravens are on the defensive side of the ball, I can’t imagine that John Harbaugh will stubbornly stick with Flacco deep into the season if Average Joe can’t kick-start the Ravens’ offense. Jackson certainly needs refinement as a passer, but he’s an electrifying runner who had 4,132 rushing yards in three college seasons (and remember, sacks count against a QB’s rushing yardage in college) to go along with 50 TD runs. Jackson could have the same sort of impact on the fantasy game that Michael Vick once had.
Alvin Kamara, Saints (RB6) When the 2017 season ended, I figured Kamara would be a 2018 fade for me since his rookie-year TD rate and yardage-per-touch rate were so outrageous and so seemingly unsustainable. But Kamara had only 120 carries last season, never getting more than 12 carries in a single game. The Saints will ramp up Kamara’s rushing-game usage, particularly with Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games of the season, so an uptick in volume should help offset a likely dip in Kamara’s efficiency.
Also, I believe offensive line play is the secret sauce in fantasy football, and Kamara has a terrific offensive line in front of him. I have Kamara ranked fifth overall, ahead of Antonio Brown and Saquon Barkley.
Melvin Gordon, Chargers (RB9) Speaking of offensive lines, the Chargers should field an improved one in 2018. They signed Mike Pouncey to hold down the center position, and they’re getting back guard Forrest Lamp from an injury that wiped out the first-rounder’s rookie year.
Don’t get hung up on the fact that Gordon has yet to average 4.0 yards per carry over a season. Instead, look at his receiving numbers. Gordon had 41 catches for 419 yards and two TDs in 2016, 58-476-4 last year. Gordon was RB7 in fantasy scoring two years ago despite playing only 13 games, and he was RB5 last year. The Chargers have an airtight defense that should often put them in Gordon-friendly game scripts. Don’t overthink this one.
Royce Freeman, Broncos (RB25) What looked like a deep rookie RB class is suddenly looking shallow in terms of immediate impact. Derrius Guice tore his ACL and is out for the season. Sony Michel has a knee issue. Rashaad Penny has a finger injury and is currently a second-stringer. Ronald Jones hasn’t looked good. But Freeman, a third-round pick of the Broncos, appears poised to take over as the Broncos’ lead RB. The team may claim that it’s still a battle between Freeman and Devontae Booker, who’s been a disappointment over his first two seasons in Denver, but it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t acknowledge before long that Freeman is the better back.
Sturdily built at 5-11 and 231 pounds, Freeman carried a big load during his four seasons at the University of Oregon, with 1,026 total touches. Booker is a good pass catcher but has shown no aptitude for running the ball at the professional level. At the very least, it seems likely that Freeman will get the early-down work while Booker handles passing-down duty. But Freeman may have three-down potential, and I’m willing to invest in the prospect of heavy usage at an affordable price.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders (RB29) I was totally out on Lynch last season, wary of his health, his age and the possibility that his unretirement was a money-grab.
The Raiders used Lynch sparingly over the first half of the season, but in his final eight games he ran for 625 yards and five TDs, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He even had 16 receptions for 113 yards over that stretch. Multiply Lynch’s second half times two, and you’d get 1,476 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. It’s not just about numbers, though; Lynch looked tremendous. He has a strong offensive line in front of him, and it’s all systems go for 2018. I can’t understand for the life of me why his ADP is RB29 when it was RB10 at this time a year ago. I feel much better about him now than I did then.
Aaron Jones, Packers (RB41) The Packers seem destined to go with a committee approach at running back this year, using Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Jones. The 5-9, 208-pound Jones isn’t good in pass protection and will serve a two-game suspension at the start of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, which means he’ll start as the low man on the totem pole. Williams has a broader skill set, and Montgomery is better as a pass catcher, but as an avid fan and follower of the Packers, I still think Jones is the best runner of the three. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year, with a 131-yard rushing day and a 125-yard rushing day. His only touch in his Week 13 return from a sprained MCL was a game-winning 20-yard TD run to beat the Buccaneers in overtime.
Jones is being drafted as an RB4, and pretty much every running back being drafted that late is a committee back. I don’t think most of the backs being drafted in that neighborhood offer the sort of top-end potential that Jones does.
Corey Clement, Eagles (RB48) First off, the last name is pronounced “CLEM-ent,” not “Clem-ENT.” (Sorry, but the relentless mispronunciation has been bugging the hell out of me.)
I’ve mentioned this before: I’m a devoted Badger, and the Clement I saw last year bore little resemblance to the Clement I saw in Madison. The NFL version looked much quicker and was surprisingly useful in the passing game (especially in the playoffs, when he had a five-catch game against the Falcons and then a four-catch, 100-yard receiving performance in the Super Bowl, which included a memorable 55-yard TD).
Jay Ajayi wore out his welcome in Miami, where he came to be seen as something of a malcontent. He has a worrisome knee issue that affected his draft stock, and he’s not especially useful in the passing game. There’s no question that Ajayi will open the season as the Eagles’ No. 1, and Darren Sproles is back, too. I don’t think Clement will be startable right away, but I think he’ll have flex value before long, and there’s some serious upside here if either Ajayi or Sproles goes down.
Rob Kelley, Redskins (RB51) The season-ending injury to Derrius Guice leaves the Washington backfield to the trio of Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine and Kelley. Thompson is the unquestioned passing-down back and probably the most valuable fantasy commodity, but one of Perine and Kelley should have significant fantasy value, too, and my money is on Kelley.
“Fat Rob” is now “Fit Rob,” going from 239 pounds to a slender 221. Kelley has looked good in the preseason at a lighter weight. He was surprisingly useful for the Redskins in 2016, finishing RB22 on 168 carries. Perine got a lot of work late last year after Thompson broke his leg in Week 10 but didn’t show much, finishing the year with just two TDs on 197 touches and an average of 3.4 yards per carry (though in fairness, the Redskins’ offensive line was in rough shape due to injuries). The crowded backfield is keeping Kelley’s ADP in check, and I think there’s value here if his price stays below RB40 or so.
Nyheim Hines, Colts (RB52) At 5-9 and 197 pounds, Hines certainly doesn’t offer bell-cow upside, but he figures to be the primary passing-down back in a Colts offense that has Andrew Luck back at the helm and a shortage or credible pas catchers. Hines had a rough first preseason game, muffing two punts, but he’s been getting a lot of slot reps in training camp, and his 4.38 speed and pass-catching chops give him attractive PPR upside.
Jordan Wilkins, Colts (RB58) I don’t love putting two Colts on my list of RB targets. And honestly, I don’t think Marlon Mack (who’s not on this list) is such a bad buy either. If Andrew Luck stays healthy all season, the Colts’ backfield should score a lot of fantasy points.
Hines is probably too small to see a lot of early-down work, and perhaps the most important distinction between Mack and Wilkins is that Wilkins hasn’t failed at the NFL level yet. Wilkins isn’t an elite RB prospect, but at Ole Miss he was a productive runner in the nation’s toughest conference. At this price, you can draft him, hope for a sizeable role early on, then painlessly cut bait if he doesn’t pop right away.
Matt Breida, 49ers (RB54) The idea of the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jerick McKinnon playing a workhorse role for the 49ers seems fishy, doesn’t it? At 5-9 and 195 pounds, Breida isn’t any bigger, but like McKinnon, he’s an outstanding athlete. Breida had a nice little rookie season and is the clear No. 2 running back in an improving offense. Plus, Shawn Siegele (@FF_Contrarian), the godfather of the Zero RB strategy, talked about Breida as one of his favorite Zero RB running back targets for 2018. That’s good enough for me.