With training camps open and the fantasy draft season about to begin in earnest, The Football Girl and I are taking a look at some underrated and overrated fantasy performers. I’ll offer up a list of blue-light specials, while The Football Girl tackles the caveat emptor crowd tomorrow. (Current ADP information comes courtesy of our friends at FantasyPros.com.)
Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers
On the eve of the 2014 fantasy season, Kaepernick was being drafted QB12, nearly a full round ahead of Russell Wilson. As of this week, Kaepernick’s ADP was QB19, behind rookies Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. There’s a perception that Kaepernick’s 2014 season was a colossal failure. Granted, he took a step backward. But really, the difference between Kap’s 2013 and 2014 passing numbers is barely perceptible. He threw for 172 yards more in 2014, though his yards per attempt were down, and he threw two fewer TD passes and two more INTs than in 2013. Kaepernick ran for 524 yards and four TDs in 2013. He increased his rushing yardage to 639 last year but only managed one TD run. Let’s face it: Kaepernick will probably never be a high-volume passer. But the dude can really run, and I think Kap can be a much better passer than once-coveted running QBs like Michael Vick and Kordell Stewart who flamed out due to their aerial incompetence. There’s also a chance of an uptick in passing volume due to the distinct possibility that the 49ers will suck this year and often be playing from behind. (Sorry, Football Girl.) Kaepernick’s running ability gives him a high floor, and with improved passing mechanics (he reportedly fine-tuned his throwing motion in the offseason), he could finish as a top-10 QB. I love the idea of taking Kaepernick late, pairing him with another latter-round QB and spending my early-round draft capital on other positions.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings
Rudolph has missed 15 regular-season games over the last two years, hence his bargain-basement ADP of TE18. The last time Rudolph played a full season, in 2012, he had nine TD catches, and that was before the arrival of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has a history of eliciting strong production from his TEs. The 6-foot-6 Rudolph could be a red-zone colossus in an improved Vikings offense that has a legitimate QB in Teddy Bridgewater and gets back RB Adrian Peterson, who commands substantial defensive attention. If Rudolph gets hurt again, so be it. You can play the waiver wire while he’s gone. But for now, the injury concerns with Rudolph have created a superb buying opportunity.
Roy Helu, RB, Raiders
Latavius Murray has an ADP of RB19, while Helu sits at RB66. Murray offers an appealing blend of size and speed but remains unproven. Helu is a very good pass-catching back on a team that figures to be playing from behind a lot, and is working with a quarterback, Derek Carr, who’s quick to check down to his safety-valve targets. Passing-game usage will give Helu a firm floor, especially in PPR leagues, and unless Trent Richardson can glue the pieces of a broken career back together, Helu will also be Oakland’s fallback option in the running game if Murray flops. Though used sparingly in the running game as the backup to Alfred Morris in Washington the past few years, Helu has a career average of 4.4 yards per carry and strung together three consecutive 100-yard rushing games as a rookie back in 2011.
Roddy White, WR, Falcons
White is 33 and has fallen short of the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last two seasons. He’s also dealt with injuries, missing five games over the past two years after compiling a perfect attendance record over his first eight NFL campaigns. But White was productive last year from mid-October on, catching 61 passes for 668 yards and five TDs over his last nine games. Julio Jones will obviously be a target monster for the Falcons, but with the Falcons short on pass-catching depth, White will get plenty of looks from QB Matt Ryan. White offers considerable upside at a price of WR33.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Saints
After a disappointing, injury-plagued season in Buffalo, Spiller has an ADP of RB26, which is probably a half-dozen spots too low. Erstwhile Bills head coach Doug Marrone had no idea what to do with Spiller, repeatedly slamming this uniquely talented open-field ballcarrier in between the tackles. Spiller is now in New Orleans, and Saints head coach Sean Payton knows how to get the ball to a speedy running back in space, having turned Darren Sproles into a dangerous offensive weapon. There used to be enough RB targets in New Orleans to keep both Sproles and Pierre Thomas busy. Now, Spiller is the only capable pass-catching back on a team with plenty of targets to go around. I like Spiller’s chances of once again being a fantasy difference-maker, and I’d happily take him as my RB2 in the fifth round.
Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals
It’s fair to classify Palmer as an injury risk. He’s 35, he’s coming back from a torn ACL, he blew out the same knee earlier in his career, and he dealt with a weird nerve issue in his throwing arm early last year. But for as long as Palmer can remain upright, he’ll throw effectively to a very good group of wide receivers, and he’ll throw it a lot under the direction of Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, president of the Vertical Passing Game Fan Club. A gamble on Palmer’s health is worth the potential reward, but with Palmer’s ADP at QB26, you won’t be putting a lot of chips on the table.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
A summer darling of the fantasy football cognoscenti, Robinson nonetheless has a modest ADP of RB32. That seems like his rock-bottom floor in PPR leagues, assuming he’s able to stay healthy after losing the final six games of his rookie season to a broken foot. The fact that A-Rob plays for the bottom-feeding Jaguars with throw some of your competitors off his scent and keep his buy-in reasonable. Robinson is far and away the most talented receiver on the Jags’ roster, so young QB Blake Bortles will pepper A-Rob with targets. Robinson averaged 9.0 targets over his last eight games. That projects to 144 targets over a full 16-game season, which would have ranked eighth in the league last year. If Robinson gets similar target volume this year, he can’t help but put up good numbers. I think A-Rob has a good chance to be Jacksonville’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints
In addition to the aforementioned Roddy White, there are some other old-guy WR values to be had: Larry Fitzgerald (WR37), Steve Smith Sr. (WR40), Anquan Boldin (WR45). But 32-year-old Marques Colston plays with a top QB in Drew Brees and stands to benefit from an offseason exodus of pass catching talent that saw TE Jimmy Graham and WR Kenny Stills leave town. I do have concerns about Colston’s waning ability to get separation from cornerbacks, but I’ll be shocked if Colston doesn’t see more than the 6.2 targets per game he averaged last season. Assuming there’s already at least one top-10 receiver on my roster, I’ll gladly take Colston as my third wideout.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
At RB34, No. 93 overall, Martin is awfully cheap for a guy who figures to be a lead back. The threat that Charles Simms posed to Martin’s job security appears to have been overstated. After two disappointing, injury-plagued years, it’s fair to wonder whether Martin’s terrific rookie season in 2012 was a fluke fueled by a couple of huge games against bad teams. I’m willing to bet (and at this ADP, it’s a pretty modest wager) that poor health and abysmal blocking were largely to blame for Martin’s career downturn. With better health and even minor improvement in an O-line that the Bucs upgraded in the draft, Martin should provide a nice return on investment.
Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
It’s not as if Miller is being grossly undersold at RB18 and No. 39 off the board overall, but I think he’s a better investment than Carlos Hyde, Frank Gore or Alfred Morris, who are all being taken earlier. The concerns are that Miller hasn’t been used as a true workhorse, and that rookie Jay Ajayi could steal carries. But Miller finished RB9 in fantasy scoring last year even without a hefty workload, and it’s possible the Dolphins could loosen his leash this season. I have faith in Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and the Dolphins were quietly one of the better run-blocking units in the league last year, ranking ninth in that category, according to Football Outsiders. Miller is a solid draft value in the back half of the third round.