Players worth reaching for in your fantasy draft

Players worth reaching for in your fantasy draft

Draft Strategy

Players worth reaching for in your fantasy draft

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Every year owners pour over data to figure out where they should target players. The difference on draft day sometimes comes down to the owners willing to take certain players earlier than they’re projected to go. Here’s a list of players likely to outperform their ADPs. Don’t be afraid to reach for them when you’re on the clock.

Average Draft Position (ADP) is taken from Fantasy Calculator data as of August 17 and is based on a 12-team PPR league.

Round 1 – Odell Beckham Jr., WR Giants (ADP: 1.11)

It’s hard to believe but Beckham enters 2018 a little underrated.

Not much went right for the Giants in 2017, including Beckham being lost for the season in Week 4 with a broken ankle. Before last year, Beckham recorded at least 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons.

Fantasy is all about the stats and no receiver puts up better stats than OBJ. He was the first player since 1967 with 30 receiving touchdowns in his first 35 games and he had more receiving yards through his first 35 games than anyone since 1965 had in their first 40 games. Oh, and he was scoring touchdowns at a record pace before getting hurt last season. Is that good?

Beckham did all this with no threat of a running game. The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley with the second pick in this year’s draft. It’s the first time in Beckham’s career the Giants have a big-play threat in the backfield to take pressure off him.

Beckham is an absolute steal at the end of Round 1. The only receiver that should be taken over Beckham in fantasy drafts is Antonio Brown.

Round 2 – Devonta Freeman, RB Falcons (ADP: 2.07)

Freeman’s fantasy value seems to have taken a hit because Tevin Coleman played so well in the three games Freeman missed last season. That’s a mistake.

When Freeman is healthy, he’s been Atlanta’s primary ball carrier the last two years. Before Freeman was sidelined with a concussion in Week 9, Coleman only saw 10+ carries in a game once. With Freeman out, Coleman got 20, 20 and 19 carries. Once Freeman returned, it was back to business as usual with Coleman seeing a total of 34 carries in the Falcons final four games.

The bottom line is when Freeman is healthy, he’s clearly the lead back. Take out the Cowboys game where Freeman got injured early and he averaged 15 carries a game. Freeman is excellent value in the second round.

Round 3 – Adam Thielen, WR Vikings (ADP: 3.07)

Thielen is going in the third round as the 11th receiver off the board on average. While that draft position seems about right, Thielen has a chance to improve on last year’s numbers of 91 receptions, 1,276 yards and four touchdowns with Kirk Cousins at quarterback.

Thielen does have Stefon Diggs to contend with for looks but he’s been targeted at least eight times in 14-of-22 games since being inserted into the starting lineup two seasons ago. There’s some debate as to which receiver will benefit the most with Cousins at quarterback. It’s irrelevant because both guys will eat in the Vikings’ offense.

Owners who get Thielen as a WR2 in the third round should pat themselves on the back. That’s great drafting.

Round 4 – JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Steelers (ADP: 4.06)

Smith-Schuster is being drafted as WR19 in PPR formats. While that’s not bad for a second-year receiver playing with Antonio Brown, he’s going to blow that draft position out of the water.

Smith-Schuster is a double-threat because he’s a big play receiver who also excels in the red zone. Brown is always going to eat up targets but playing with him actually benefits JuJu because he sees so few double-teams. Good luck covering Smith-Schuster one-on-one.

Smith-Schuster won’t catch more passes than Brown but don’t be surprised if he ends up with more touchdowns this season. He’ll end up being one of the draft’s biggest steals.

Round 5 – Marquise Goodwin, WR 49ers (ADP: 5.04)

The 49ers don’t have a traditional No. 1 receiver. For fantasy purposes, Goodwin is San Francisco’s top receiver. He’s also clearly Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target.

Once Garoppolo took over as the 49ers’ starting quarterback for the final five games of last season, Goodwin was targeted 43 times and caught 29 passes. He came one yard short of recording three 100-yard games. Turns out, Goodwin is a productive receiver when C.J. Beathard isn’t throwing him the ball.

Goodwin is being selected in the ninth round on average, while Sammy Watkins is going in Round 6. Would you be shocked if Goodwin had a more productive fantasy season? You shouldn’t. Goodwin will easily out-perform his ADP this season.

Round 6 – 
Tarik Cohen, RB Bears (ADP: 6.08)

Bears head coach Matt Nagy has said on a couple of occasions that he’s “giddy” about Cohen. Usually when a coach uses the word giddy to describe a player, it’s good news for fantasy owners.

Bears fans know that Cohen may have been the most under-utilized player in the NFL last season under John Fox’s archaic regime. That will change this season. Nagy has repeatedly compared Cohen to Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill, who he coached in Kansas City. Cohen is expected to take on a slash-like role where he’s used at both running back and receiver.

Look for Cohen to emerge as one of the top pass catching backs in the NFL. Cohen caught 53 balls as a rookie. He’ll easily eclipse that total in Nagy’s offense. Cohen is one of the few non-starters at running back who will have a major impact on your fantasy team.

Round 7 – Isaiah Crowell, RB Jets (ADP: 7.11)

In fantasy football, it’s not just about the player. It’s also about the situation. Crowell is being drafted in late round seven on average, despite the fact he’s clearly the Jets’ starting running back.

Crowell’s biggest competition for touches, second-year running back Elijah McGuire, fractured his foot and could miss the start of the season. Bilal Powell will be a factor in the passing game but the Jets’ coaching staff has repeatedly shown us they don’t trust Powell to be the lead back.

Crowell is coming off an average year in Cleveland where he rushed for just 853 yards and two scores, although running backs on winless teams don’t tend to have big fantasy seasons. In 2016, Crowell rushed for 952 yards with seven touchdowns, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Crowell won’t win you a fantasy title and he doesn’t have the upside of other backs. However, getting a productive running back who is set to see a lot of touches isn’t a bad deal in the seventh round.

Round 8 – Cooper Kupp, WR Rams (ADP: 8.03)

Who will be the biggest steal in fantasy drafts this year? The answer to that question is Cooper Kupp.

Don’t let the trade for Brandin Cooks scare you off Kupp. He’s Jared Goff’s favorite receiver, especially in the red zone. Kupp ranked tied for third in the NFL last year with 23 red zone targets. He scored five red zone touchdowns and dropped two other easy opportunities. Some receivers just excel near the goal line and Kupp is one of them. Larry Fitzgerald, Davante Adams and Eric Decker have consistently seen their fantasy value increase thanks to red zone production.

Cooks has never been a significant factor in the red zone, so look for Kupp to continue to be Jared Goff’s primary target in the red zone. Kupp put up a  62/869/5 stat line as a rookie. He’ll blow those numbers out of the water this year.

Round 9 – Matthew Stafford, QB Lions (ADP: 9.09)

Stafford may be the most underrated quarterback in recent memory. He’s finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in six of his last seven seasons. Stafford is tied with Drew Brees for the most fantasy top-10 finishes by a quarterback since 2011. Last year, Stafford was fantasy’s No. 7 quarterback after throwing for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns, while averaging 17.1 points per week.

How consistent has Stafford been over the years? How about seven straight seasons of at least 4,200 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. He has four seasons with at least 29 touchdown passes. Last season, Stafford threw for at least 250 yards 10 times. He threw multiple touchdowns in a game 10 times. Despite never being one of the top quarterbacks drafted, Stafford puts up QB1 numbers year in and year out.

Stafford’s seven top-10 fantasy seasons since 2011 is more than Aaron Rodgers (five), Tom Brady (five), Cam Newton (five), Philip Rivers (five), Russell Wilson (four), Matt Ryan (four), Ben Roethlisberger (four) and Andrew Luck (four).

Is that good? Grab Stafford later in the draft and laugh all the way to a fantasy title.

Round 10 – Sterling Shepard, WR Giants (ADP: 10.08)

Shepard is a candidate to be a third-year breakout receiver after putting up two productive seasons with the Giants. Last year, Shepard led a depleted Giants receiving corps with 59 receptions and 731 yards in just 11 games.

Shepard has 11 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons; an impressive number for a slot receiver on an inconsistent offense. Miscast in 2017 as the Giants No. 1 receiver last year, Shepard will return to the slot this season. With defenses focused on stopping Beckham, tight end Evan Engram and rookie running back Saquan Barkley, Shepard should be the main beneficiary.

Shepard averaged a strong 12.4 yards per reception last year. If the Giants passing game is improved under new coach Pat Shurmur, 70 receptions and 900 yards are well within reach for Shepard.

Round 11 – Marcus Mariota, QB Titans (ADP: 11.11)

The boring, predictable Mike Mularkey is out and Sean McVay protégé Matt LaFleur is in to run the Titans’ offense. Mariota is coming off his worst season with only 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. LaFleur will do something Mularkey wasn’t smart enough to figure out: Design an offense around Mariota’s strengths.

The Titans’ offense will be one of the most improved units in the NFL this season under LaFleur. Draft Mariota late as a QB2 with the expectation that he’ll eventually be a QB1. Coaching can make all the difference. Just ask Jared Goff.

Round 12 – O.J. Howard, TE Buccaneers (ADP: 13.11)

Howard is a top-5 talent and he’s going in the late thirteenth round on average. Cameron Brate is still around to be a pain in the butt but no other later-round tight end has the upside of Howard. Remember, when Howard got drafted last year, people were drooling over him. What’s changed? Nothing, other than the fact his production will go up in his second season.

Howard only caught 26 passes as a rookie, but they went for 432 yards and six touchdowns. A bigger role in 2018 could push Howard’s totals around 700 yards and 7-8 touchdowns. Owners would love to get that production from Greg Olsen and he’s going in the fifth round.

Howard showed he’s a big-play tight end by averaging 16.6 yards per reception last year. He’s a stud waiting to happen. Owners should be fighting over him in the 12th or 13th rounds.

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