Fantasy Football Draft Dominator — Finding Value at QB and TE
Which quarterbacks and tight ends are overvalued or undervalued heading into your draft?
It’s the week before Labor Day and that means you’re probably making your final preparations for this year’s fantasy drafts. Who’s your top sleeper? Should you go with the Zero RB strategy? Who is this year’s Cam Newton or David Johnson? And are we really taking WRs with the top three picks now?
Fantasy football is all about value. The biggest mistake drafters make is picking a few guys they like and going hard after them to a fault. Almost any player in fantasy is potentially valuable — it just depends on what you’re investing in them. So use Average Draft Position (ADP) to get a sense of where guys will go, and watch for value that drops.
Never go into your draft with a set target for each round. Your target should be taking the value available at each pick. I don’t like drafting Cam Newton this year — but I’ll take him happily if he’s there in the 6th round instead of the 3rd. It’s all about relative value and sorting out the studs from the duds.
Quarterback is the most stable and predictable fantasy position. The studs usually produce barring injury, and key stats like Yards Per Attempt (YPA) and Touchdowns Per Attempt (TD%) are strong predictors of what to expect year to year. The QB touches the ball more than any other player, which means a greater sample size and a more stable base for statistical models. That means QBs are safe and much easier to predict than other positions and it makes them a pretty safe investment.
Undervalued — Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers struggled last year along with the whole Green Bay offense, a product of injuries to lead receiver Jordy Nelson and some of the offensive line. His career averages of 66% completions, 6.5% TD%, and 8.2 YPA plummeted to 61%, 5.4%, and 6.7 respectively. It was a really bad year.
But it’s a new year. Lacy looks good, Jordy is back, and all of those numbers should bounce back. Rodgers is the most likely QB1 and one of the safest picks in any draft, and he’s going in the 4th round in many leagues where opponents are gambling on Kelvin Benjamin and Jeremy Langford. Take the sure thing; last year was an aberration.
Overvalued — Cam Newton
Cam is the defending NFL MVP and he was a fantasy MVP last season too, but that was last season and this is now. And now he’s being drafted at QB1 in the 3rd round which is too high, even for a quarterback that has consistently been a top fantasy producer literally his entire professional career.
The main concern is the touchdown total, both by air and by land. Cam had 10 rushing TDs last season, almost as many as his previous two years combined (11). He also set a career high in pass TDs — by 11. That coincided with a TD% that spiked from 4.3% in his career to 7.1% last year. That stat is very likely to regress to the mean and take many of Cam’s TDs along with it. Take away 8 passing TDs and 4 rushing TDs, and Newton is still a strong QB starter but not a 3rd round pick and not the first QB off the board.
You never want the MVP the year after the MVP season.
Undervalued — Tom Brady
There’s nothing better than studs that get suspended a few games at the start of the season and plummet in perceived value. I want my studs there in weeks 13–16 for the playoffs. There are a billion useful QBs you can play for a few weeks of Brady suspension. We all know he’s a stud, and you remember what happened the last time he played pissed off all season. That guy is going in the 6th round or later? He should be a top 3 QB in ppg. Go get him.
Overvalued — Carson Palmer
Palmer is QB8 by ADP, which puts him just outside of the top 7 tier and firmly on my Do Not Draft list. At age 36 Palmer set career highs last year in YPA and TD%, two QB stats that love to regress toward the mean. Palmer adds zero value on the ground and has only a moderate number of pass attempts, so if the YPA and TD% drop back to normal then Palmer’s value does too. Instead of 4700 yards and 35 TDs, expect something more like 4200 and 27. In 2016 that makes him barely usable as a backup. Do not draft.
Undervalued — Jameis Winston
Winston is the one guy after the top 7 that really stands out to me, a high upside guy that makes an excellent late pick if you wait on a starter or want a possible trade chip. He was already a top 10 QB over the second half of his rookie season, and QBs often see a huge spike heading to their sophomore season. TD% goes up, INT% goes down, and that bodes well for Jameis who should see 4000+ passing yards and 25+ passing TDs. The hidden value is that, like Cam Newton, he’s basically Tampa’s goal line back. He had 6 rushing TDs last year and that adds a ton of value.
Jameis has a good shot to end up with pretty similar stats to Newton this season, minus a few hundred rushing yards. He’ll get plenty of garbage time opportunities and has a great chance to finish among the top 8 fantasy QBs. He could be this year’s Cam Newton. Do grab a second QB though; he’s got a brutal starting schedule and will be an early bench in some tough games.
Overvalued — drafting a backup QB
There’s a clear top 7 ADP tier: Newton, Rodgers, Luck, Wilson, Brees, Brady, Big Ben. Get one if they slide and then don’t touch another QB all draft.
You probably don’t want to play the starting QB from LA, Philly, Houston, Minnesota, SF, Denver, KC, or Cleveland. That leaves 17 more QBs that are usable as matchup plays or starters, and they go in a different order in every league. If you don’t have a QB yet, wait til around QB15 in round 10+ and grab two you like. If you did get one in the top 7, don’t bother with a backup at all. Just play your stud every week and grab Cutler or Mariota on the one bye week. Heck even Dak Prescott or Robert Griffin could be good.
Undervalued — getting one of the studs if they slide to the 6th or later
Value is always relative. If you’re in a league with newbies and all the QBs go early, sit back and eat up the RB/WR value and grab a couple QB options later. This year it’s going in the other direction. Your league mates have read every analyst in the world tell them how overvalued QBs are, determined to wait wait wait and take Bortles in the 8th.
If you come away with Rodgers in the 4th or Luck or Brees in the 6th, you can pretty much bank on top QB production all season barring injury. I promise you, that extra 3–5ppg counts just as much at QB as it does elsewhere. When the world zigs, you should always zag.
Tight ends are similar to QBs. Get the stud — they’re worth it. And whatever you do, just don’t be one of the people drafting the middle round guys. You’ve read this elsewhere and it’s truest at TE — you should either be the first to draft one or the last. Get Gronk, or Reed if you trust him to stay healthy, or sit things out and grab a usable starter much later.
Undervalued — Rob Gronkowski
Gronk is worth the high draft pick every year. I don’t even love Gronk this year, with Brady missing the first few weeks and a likely need for more blocking, but he’s still a superduperstar TE. Gronk has been the #1 fantasy TE in ppg in 4 of the last 5 seasons… and he was #2 the other year. He is the surest value in fantasy football, and this year he even comes with an easily draftable handcuff to protect from injuries in Martellus Bennett.
Gronk would’ve finished last season as a top 10 receiver and a borderline top 5 RB by point total. And unlike those positions, he scored about double the points of a replacement level player. He may be the most valuable asset in fantasy football.
Overvalued — Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker
Olsen and Walker are drafted at the end of the “stud TE run,” which is code for “beginning of the regular TE run.” Olsen set career highs in yards, YPC, and TDs last season. With Newton coming back to earth and Kelvin Benjamin back, expect Olsen to return to perfectly-usable-but-not-stud-TE status.
Delanie Walker reminds me of Kendall Wright. In the perfect situation last year — poor run game, crappy WRs, rookie QB that loves checkdowns — he set a career high by 31 receptions. That is sure to regress. Tennessee should be more balanced this year and Walker should be a usable low-end TE.
Notice you keep seeing the words “usable TE”? Don’t draft a usable TE with Luck and Brady on the table or with all those high upside RBs and WRs still sitting there. If you don’t get Gronk or Reed, you already missed the stud TEs and you can’t change that. Wait til the 9th and grab some other usable option.
Undervalued — Zach Ertz
So you missed the top TEs — no problem. Take a shot on Zach Ertz instead. Ertz could quietly be the top receiver in Philly this year in Doug Pederson’s new offense that featured Travis Kelce so prominently in Kansas City. Ertz consistently gets a lot of receptions and targets, and the one thing that has been missing — the touchdowns, just 2 last year — could easily spike if he turns some frequent redzone looks into scores. Ertz is as good a starter as Olsen or Walker and could finish as high as TE2 if things break right.
Overvalued — Julius Thomas
This is pretty simple. Julius Thomas’s main value is his value as a big target in the redzone. If you draft him, you need the TDs. But Jacksonville also has Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns as excellent TD threats as well as a newly signed goal line back in Chris Ivory too. There’s just not enough here to make Thomas a consistent starting fantasy TE. We’re not in Denver anymore.
Undervalued — Jason Witten
A new starting QB will almost certainly increase the fantasy value of his tight end — they love those checkdowns. Witten should get plenty of attention from Dak Prescott, and Romo always looks his way plenty too. Even when everything went wrong in Dallas last season and Witten had his worst production year in a decade, he still finished as a back-end fantasy starter. Witten is boring — if you think it’s boring to get a perfectly usable starter in the last round of your draft. He’s being drafted as TE17 right now which basically makes him free. He’ll be solid as always.