Fantasy Football Intelligence: Fine Tuning Your Draft

Last week among other things we talked about risk mitigation. One example was drafting as close to the start of the season as possible. Friends don’t let friends draft in August. Leonard Fournette is our cover boy this week and he doesn’t look happy. He just got released. You know who else isn’t happy? Anyone who drafted him expecting to use him as their RB2 or Flex in week one. His ADP on August 31st was 32, meaning the back half of the 3rd round. That’s an important piece of draft capital. His future is now uncertain, as is the production of the backs on whatever team ends up signing him. Leagues drafting this weekend or early next week can factor his circumstances in while August drafters bought a car that just depreciated 50% as soon as they drove it off the lot.

Here is the 2020 Draft Board V3. The final board will be published on Labor Day, but barring injuries and significant updates (such as Fournette or Devonta Freeman signing somewhere) it won’t vary much from this one.

Let’s look at certain players who Fantasy Football Intelligence ranks meaningfully higher or lower than most sources. This site offers consensus expert rankings (ER). Be sure to consult the ADP for whatever site you use (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports, NFL.com, etc.) as well. Those are the rankings that most in your league are looking at during the draft, and they may give you guidance when anticipating the picks opponents are likely to make.

(It would be helpful to print the draft board or have it open on your screen.)

QB

Kyler Murray (FFI QB8/ER QB5) – Kyler is ascending, but not without risk. He’ll have to improve quite a bit on his 233 YPG and 20 TD passes and there is no guarantee he will do any better than his 34 YPG and 4 TDs running. Arizona’s O-line is suspect and they run more along the goal line than you think.

Matt Ryan (FFI QB4/ER QB8) – Atlanta should be in a lot of shootouts. Ryan “only” threw for 26 TDs last year after 35 the prior year. His expected case is north of 30. Running Dirk Koetter’s offense and with plenty of weapons to throw to, we expect Ryan to throw for close to 5,000 yards. The offensive line should be healthier and Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst should not be a downgrade from Sanu and Hooper. Calvin Ridley is still getting better. Ryan won’t run much, but that should keep him healthy and slinging.

Jared Goff (FFI QB13/ER QB17), Daniel Jones (FFI QB17/ER QB14) – We simply see Goff as the safer choice working with a known commodity in Sean McVay’s offense. While Todd Gurley regressed last year, he still managed 12 rushing TDs. While Goff often looked ugly in the real game, he accounted for at least two scores in 10/16 contests and averaged 290 yards passing. Jones accounted for 2+ scores in just 5/10 starts and missed a couple of starts with an ankle injury. He only passed for >250 yards in 5/10 games. He’s good for a spot start, but he’s also moving from passing 64% of the time in Pat Shurmur’s offense to a new offense with Jason Garrett and Joe Judge that will probably try to run more.

RB

We have Zeke at #1 for standard scoring, but it is really a coin flip with Barkley and McCaffrey too. Any of the three could put up the best numbers, but we feel that the Cowboys surrounding cast and the fact that Elliott has already recovered from Covid-19 makes him the safest play and top choice in a non-PPR format.

Miles Sanders (FFI RB18/ER RB11) – The Eagles lost two starters off the offensive line to injury (including All-Pro G Brandon Brooks) and they are still figuring it out. We like Sanders as a player, but Doug Pederson usually runs a committee, Sanders isn’t a banger around the goal line and Wentz has two bookends at TE that excel on short routes. As the draft board shows, while they also have some warts, we are just a bit higher on A. Jones, Ekeler, David Johnson, Mostert and Ingram.

Todd Gurley (FFI RB24/ER RB16) – He might outperform RB24, but let him do it for someone else. Especially in a year like this, don’t borrow trouble by reaching for a running back with an arthritic knee. If you can get him at RB24, have at it.

David Johnson (FFI RB15/ER RB20) – He’s not without risk, but if you are picking late in the first round and end up with a QB or WR and you find yourself looking for a RB in the third round, or similarly, if you get one of the top three RBs and you have a chance to grab him as your RB2 in the 3rd, you might get him there and he could give you RB1 production at RB2 price. We endorse the calculated risk.

David Montgomery – (FFI RB21/ER RB24) – Montgomery is subject to last minute information. He was looking like nice RB2 value before pulling up with a leg injury. It now looks like he will miss at least a couple of weeks, and as with Gurley, owners are borrowing trouble drafting an injured player. If you are picking soon and would rather take any of the backs in the yellow zone ahead of Montgomery, it is understandable.

Jonathan Taylor (FFI RB24/ER RB18) – Taylor has a lot going for him, but looks much better as a RB3 than as your RB2. He will share time with Marlon Mack, at least to start. Hines will probably play 3rd downs. Taylor had a fumbling problem in college. All that said, he is a huge talent running behind one of the top lines in the league. He may bump up a few spots on the board, but the boards that currently rank him ahead of Gordon, Ingram, Mostert and David Johnson are a bit too bullish.

WR

Calvin Ridley (FFI WR9/ER WR16) – The experts have Cooper, A.J. Brown, A. Robinson and D.J. Moore ahead of Ridley. We disagree. He’s a great route runner who has scored 17 TDs in his last 29 games. Thanks to Julio Jones, he is almost always single covered. Did we mention that Atlanta likes to throw the ball? He may drop a bit in your draft because he missed three games at the end of the season. If you land him in the 3rd round or later, he’s a great value.

D.J. Moore (FFI WR29/ER WR14) – Last year we were big takers on D.J. Moore stock and he returned a decent payoff as WR18. The 4 TDs were a disappointing, but 87 for 1,175 was a solid performance. We’re not sure he will see 135 targets again (Kyle Allen forced a lot of throws his way), though Teddy Bridgewater is more accurate than Allen. He will be the #1 WR on Carolina, but they still have Curtis Samuel and they added Robby Anderson and both had better luck in the red zone. With a new system and QB, we see Moore looking more like a WR3 this year.

CeeDee Lamb (FFI WR30/ER WR44) – We touched on this last week. Dallas threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 30 TDs last year and should perform similarly in 2020. Lamb starts out as the slot receiver and should see plenty of action with Cooper and Gallup, so no double-teams. Cooper and Gallup are strong downfield receivers, but neither is a red zone beast. They have had their share of injuries and between the two of them, someone will miss a few games and open up more opportunity for Lamb. Dallas is so enamored of Lamb that they gave him #88 – a very important number for the franchise (Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant). We rank Cooper as WR11 (ER WR13) but we dropped Gallup to WR37 (ER WR28) because we would rather have Lamb a round or two later.

Emmanuel Sanders (FFI WR35/ER WR45) – Not a flashy choice at this stage of his career, but he’ll see plenty of snaps in the Saints offense. You could probably do worse at WR3/4 and if Michael Thomas were to miss significant time, he could be a league winner. His stats have been trending down, but neither Denver nor San Francisco has the desire or ability to pass the way New Orleans does – Sanders could be a nice surprise at the end of your draft.

TE

Hayden Hurst (FFI TE5/ER TE9) – The buzz is catching up on the former 2nd round pick who was drafted by Baltimore, he’s now being drafted in the top 10 despite just 30 catches and 2 TDs last year. He was lapped by Mark Andrews in Baltimore, but he made some plays when they looked to him. He walks into a great situation in Atlanta that Austin Hooper parlayed into 75 catches/787 yards and 6 TDs last year. Atlanta traded a 2nd round pick for Hurst, so they think as much of him as Baltimore did when he was drafted.

Tyler Higbee (FFI TE17/ER TE8) – Higbee finished last season with over 500 yards and 2 TDs in the last five games. His ADP and ranking are a function of recency bias. He may not even be the best TE on the Rams. Sean McVay expressed a desire to get his other TE, Gerald Everett, who was the starter until he got injured, more involved. Drafting Higbee at TE8 is buying high. In addition to Hurst, we prefer Jared Cook and Mike Gesicki, among others, who are ranked behind Higbee in the consensus ranks.

Note to Patriots fans about Brady and Gronk: We have Brady at QB10 (ER QB11) and Gronk at TE12 (ER TE11), so we are mostly in line with the expert consensus. Brady is a safer play since he is more likely to stay on the field. Gronk also has O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate to contend with for snaps, and if Bruce Arians is smart, he will nurse Gronk through the season and not overuse him. Brady could really pay off if you fill your other starting spots and wait on QB, and in most leagues there is generally plenty of talent available on the waiver wire if he disappoints. We don’t recommend drafting Gronk as a starter, but if you have the roster space to stash him and see how he looks and how much play he gets, by all means do so.

Note to Patriots fans about the Patriots: There are no sure things this year. Newton may be serviceable as a back-end starter, bye week fill-in or matchup driven streamer. At QB14 he’s not an every week starter until we see more. The RB situation is muddled as usual. There may be opportunity; draft Sony Michel (RB38) as an RB3/4 if he lasts that long, or maybe even Damien Harris (RB39) as a last round lottery ticket. James White (RB41) is useful in PPR, but he’ll probably get taken sooner than he should in standard with his role still nebulous. Any one of them could have value once the roles are clarified, but that won’t be until the season starts. Edelman and Harry (WR40/41) should be the top two WRs, but they are WR3/4 at best until we see the offense. Stay away from the TEs and Ks for now. The defense is good, but remember that they played a historically weak schedule in the first half before tailing off when the schedule got tougher in the second half. They have plenty of games when they should do well this year, but you will want to stream another defense for the Seattle, KC, SF and Baltimore games.

Now that we’ve fine tuned the draft board, this song fits, and like the blog, it’s a long version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Benjamin

Lee Benjamin has been a football fan since Jim Plunkett was under center for the Patriots and his first ever fantasy football pick was a young Jerry Rice. He’s won more championships during Tom Brady’s career than Tom Brady, though unfortunately, they pay a lot less. Lee appears on Cail & Company every Tuesday during football season to review and preview NFL action from a fantasy football perspective. His blog, Fantasy Football Intelligence, is published regularly on the WTPL, WTSN and Frank-FM sites. Lee spent over 25 years in New England media. He now resides in South Florida and enjoys freelance writing about sports and politics.