Fantasy Island: Mining for value in your fantasy football draft

Julio Jones had the second-lowest totals of his career in 2020, but battled a hamstring injury through much of the season. Is he still elite? (Photo by Seatacular)

By MIKE HERNDON

Do you play fantasy football? If so, you have a new reason to keep up with SportsChasers, as we will begin producing fantasy content this year.

I’ve been playing fantasy since 2011, winning a handful of championships and agonizing over waiver adds weekly. I play in mostly standard leagues, a couple PPR and keeper leagues, and one with wild bonuses that most reasonable people would consider overkill. Most of the info and opinions I’ll share here will be for standard redraft formats – though we may occasionally delve into the rookie pool for you dynasty players.

While I bring experience both as a sportswriter and a semi-successful fantasy player to this, the advice offered here is meant to make you think. At the end of the day, trust your gut. No fantasy writer bats 1.000. Many couldn’t outhit Dan Uggla.

With that said, on to our first post. One of the biggest pieces of preparation for a fantasy draft is identifying players you think are being undervalued, players you think you can steal at a discount. Because value, after all, is what we’re looking for – getting the most bang for our buck with each draft pick while filling each spot on the roster with the best available talent.

Here are a baker’s dozen players you might be passing on that I will be waiting to scoop up. While a lot is likely to change between now and this summer. I think these players are currently being undervalued in most fantasy rankings right now.

Receiver:

Julio Jones, Falcons – Yes, Calvin Ridley’s an exciting player. And yes, Jones’ 51 catches and 771 yards were the second-lowest totals of his career. But those totals came in nine games as Jones battled a hamstring injury through much of the second half of a season in which he never looked quite right. He’s 32 years old, and the drop-off is coming. Is he still elite? If I can get him at a two-round discount I want to find out. Write him off at your own peril.

CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys – Lamb and Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson are widely considered the best of a strong group of second-year wideouts, and yet Lamb still seems to be lagging well behind Jefferson in most early rankings. It’s difficult to understand why, unless people actually thought the Cowboys might let Dak Prescott leave. In the five games Prescott played, Lamb averaged eight targets, six catches and 87 yards per game, with two games of over 100 yards. Amari Cooper is a fine player, but Lamb could easily take over this team in 2021. He’s WR1b at the very least and in this offense, that’s gold.

Keenan Allen, Chargers — He had 100 catches for 992 yards last year despite missing three games. He’s shown a very good rapport with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, becoming as much, if not more, of a target hog in the last half of the season as he ever was with Philip Rivers. And for some reason, you can get him later than most of the other bona fide WR1s out there.

Courtland Sutton, Broncos – Jerry Jeudy is a talented player and there is cause for some of the excitement that seems to be surrounding him this summer. But he wasn’t even the No. 1 option when Sutton was out last year  – Tim Patrick was. When Sutton’s been healthy, there’s been no question who the go-to receiver is here. Some rankings have him properly slotted as a high-upside WR2 but others don’t seem to have gotten the memo. I’ll be waiting to catch Sutton if he falls.

D.J. Chark, Jaguars – There is some buzz around the Jaguars’ offensive skill players this spring, with Trevor Lawrence soon to be headed to Duval. But most of that buzz seems to be centered around the multi-talented Laviska Shenault. Go ahead and forget about the Jaguars’ WR1 and best deep threat. I won’t mind. If Shenault emerges as expected, his routes underneath and over the middle will open things up for Chark downfield.

Running back:

James Robinson, Jaguars – Robinson was gold for anyone who snapped him up off the wire in the first weeks of 2020, turning in consistent double-digit performances en route to an RB7 finish in standard. He is a true every-down back who augments his rushing with receiving chops out of the backfield. And he did all this on an awful, arguably tanking, team that seemed to switch quarterbacks every other week. There’s fear that his role could change under a new coaching staff in 2021 or that the Jaguars may look to bring in competition, but they see the same things we see: He’s not the Jaguars’ problem; he’s part of the solution. There are better uses for their free agent dollars. And now he’ll play behind Trevor Lawrence.

Raheem Mostert, 49ers – Injury risk is the concern here, as Mostert spent most of his first year as a featured back on the sidelines. But he’s shown explosive ability when he’s been on the field, and this is a running back-friendly offense that always seems to rack up numbers on the ground. This is a guy who’s capable for RB1 numbers at a low RB2 price – IF he (and the rest of the Niners) can stay healthy.

Austin Ekeler, Chargers – Ekeler hasn’t put up huge numbers as a runner and he missed a chunk of the season with injury last year, but he is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. In PPR leagues particularly, he’s going to eat. And you can probably get him at a low RB1 or even high RB2 price. The Chargers have a new coach so we’ll have to see if that affects his role, but we saw what his backups could do last year and the answer was: not much.

Kenyan Drake, Cardinals/free agent – His 2020 was a disappointment compared to the hype that preceded it, but Drake still averaged a respectable 11.2 fantasy points per game. He’s a free agent, so his value will largely be tied to wherever he lands, but he is an almost complete afterthought in fantasy circles right now. Don’t forget about him. If he finds the right spot, he could be a steal.

Quarterback:

Ryan Tannehill, Titans – He’s not a sexy option, but Tannehill has been one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks since taking over in Tennessee. No, he doesn’t throw as much as most QBs, but he still finished as QB7 in total points in 2020, ahead of higher-priced options like Tom Brady, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson. And you can probably still get him as a second QB in the late rounds of your draft. Thievery.

Joe Burrow, Bengals – There’s much more buzz around the Chargers’ Justin Herbert than Burrow, which is partly because Burrow ended the year on the sideline, injured. Burrow was less consistent than Herbert, but he showed flashes of excellence that should leave us excited for Season 2 as the Bengals continue to build their weapons around him. I love Herbert too, but you can get Burrow at a much cheaper investment.

Tight end:

Dallas Goeddert, Eagles – Zach Ertz appears to be on the trading black, which will open up that many more targets for Goeddert in a tight end-friendly offense that boasts no true WR1. Even with the uncertainty of a QB switch, he’s going to get his targets and he’s proven he can do something with them. He’s not completely off the radar, but he won’t cost you what Ertz did last year.

Robert Tonyan, Packers – The knock is that he’s touchdown-dependent in an offense where Davante Adams is going to gobble up the targets, but Tonyan showed flashes of being a true mismatch problem for defenses. He somewhat quietly finished as the TE3 last year and he’ll likely be available in the late rounds of your draft. And his quarterback is Aaron Rodgers.



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