Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
23 Aug 2013
by Scott Kacsmar
Earlier this week we looked at nine players who were being overvalued in terms of their average draft position (ADP) compared to our KUBIAK projection system. Today we finish up with some underrated players you may be able to get as great value picks.
Just like with the overrated players, we compared overall rank for Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB) to ADP for the quarterback position, while RB /WR/TE are based on KUBIAK and ADP.
Rank per FPOB: 58
Rank per ADP: 76
There's no need to sweat it if you did not grab Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning as your fantasy quarterback. Plenty of value is available at the position this season and Andrew Luck is as good of a bet as anyone to emerge as a top-tier quarterback. The Colts already rely on him as much as anyone as evident by his 730 dropbacks (third-most in NFL history) last season. While he had 23 total turnovers, he did score 28 total touchdowns, including a team-best five on the ground. Luck is not going to put up huge rushing numbers, but he's a good bet for over 200 yards, so there's a little extra value in that.
While many expect the Colts to regress, keep in mind we are projecting them to have the easiest schedule in the league. The running game has been missing in Indianapolis for 6.5 years, and while money was spent upgrading the defense, it wasn't on any sure-fire difference makers. The growing failure to protect him last season led to his decline late in the year, but Luck should have better protection and not take as many hits. Reunited with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton from Stanford, Luck should be getting the ball out quicker this season instead of forcing things downfield in Bruce Arian's vertical attack. T.Y. Hilton has breakout potential for big plays in his second year.
The comparisons will always be there to Peyton Manning, but that's fine as long as Luck progresses in a similar way. Manning improved greatly in his second season back in 1999, and Luck has the talent to do the same. Luck may not need to drop back as often this season, but a boost in efficiency will raise his fantasy production. Speaking of dropbacks, our next quarterback is the safest bet not named Drew Brees to keep chucking it non-stop in 2013.
Rank per FPOB: 52
Rank per ADP: 67
After wearing the "injury-prone" label for two years, Stafford has shredded it with 1,512 dropbacks -- that includes a record 791 in 2012 -- and no games missed over the last two seasons. Now he just needs to improve on the "not a winner" reputation, as he is 1-23 against teams with a winning record in his career. We project the Lions to face the sixth-toughest schedule in 2013 with the NFC North and AFC North making up 10 of the games. That does not bode well for Stafford in leading Detroit back to the playoffs, but tough games should force him to keep throwing and piling up the numbers for fantasy football.
We also expect better numbers from Stafford after he saw his touchdown passes drop from 41 to just 20 in 2012. He did quietly rush for four touchdowns and had numerous completions (especially to Calvin Johnson) that were stopped just short of the end zone. Expect more scoring from Stafford as he will continue exceeding 4,000 yards passing.
He may have several real-life quarterback issues, but Stafford should be viewed as a fantasy stud.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 22
RB Rank per ADP: 32
Wait, an Arizona running back as a fantasy sleeper? I thought running backs went to the desert to die?
Yes, it is true running backs like Emmitt Smith and Edgerrin James faded away in the desert. Since moving to Arizona in 1988, the Cardinals have averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in 18 of the last 25 seasons. In that time no NFL franchise has been less successful at running the ball.
However, when you are hunting for a running back that has the potential to carry it 250-plus times this season, how can you overlook Rashard Mendenhall coming over from Pittsburgh? He will be reunited with Bruce Arians, so he knows the offense and has a coach who views him as a workhorse. Of course, Arians also views Levi Brown as an elite tackle, but delusions of grandeur can work to your advantage if Arians keeps running Mendenhall every week. Arians' offense also underwhelms in the red zone at passing, so Mendenhall has an opportunity to eat up the team's short touchdowns.
Most importantly, there is such little competition behind him. Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling are gone and Ryan Williams has shown almost nothing in this league with just 58 carries for 164 yards. It's a good opportunity for Mendenhall to rebound.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 20
RB Rank per ADP: 26
Again, when we are looking for value players with the potential to get a lot of carries, Mathews is another solid choice. He's been a big disappointment given he was the No. 12 pick in the 2010 draft and asked to replace a franchise legend like LaDainian Tomlinson, but do you really think he only scores one touchdown in 2013 like he did last year? Just two years ago, Mathews had 1,546 yards from scrimmage.
New coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt could combine to get Mathews playing back at that level, but his boost may also be out of necessity. With receivers dropping like flies -- we have not even seen Antonio Gates' inevitable injury yet -- who will Philip Rivers throw the ball to?
Before you start listing defensive players on the Chargers' schedule, let's just say a pass-heavy offense is not a wise approach this season. Advantage: Mathews, because Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown are mostly there for when Rivers takes a dump into the flat.
After some of the obvious big names (Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin) it gets tricky at running back. There are some teams you certainly want to avoid running backs for such as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and maybe Carolina. That's why guys like Mendenhall and Mathews look more attractive than expected.
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 19
WR Rank per ADP: 34
Is it the stigma of playing in Buffalo, or have people just gotten bored with Stevie Johnson? He's only produced three consecutive seasons of at least 75 receptions, 1,000 yards and five touchdowns. He's not even 27 yet, meaning he's only the seventh receiver ever to have three such seasons this early in his career. The first six were Kellen Winslow, Andre Rison, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. That's good company, yet few would put Johnson anywhere near it despite his documented triumphs over Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and some of the other league's top cornerbacks.
Did we mention he's been doing this in Buffalo?
Maybe the change at quarterback (replacement-level Kevin Kolb or dink-and-dunk rookie E.J. Manuel) is scaring people away, but keep in mind Johnson has been doing his thing with Ryan Fitzpatrick the last three years. He can adjust to a ball that's not thrown well and he generates 36.2 percent of his yards after the catch in his career.
Until proven otherwise, we expect Johnson to repeat what he's been doing the last three years. That's much better than his positional ADP rank of 34.
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 11
WR Rank per ADP: 28
Much like with Johnson, what has changed in Carolina isn't likely to keep Steve Smith down this year. Sure, he's 34, so the decline can hit any second now, taking Cam Newton's fantasy numbers with him. While the lack of receivers in Carolina may be a bad thing for Newton, Smith should continue to benefit from being the only good wideout on this team. Players like Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Domenik Hixon, and Ted Ginn Jr. are not threats to take many catches from Smith.
With seven 1,000-yard seasons, including 2,568 yards since 2011 with Newton at quarterback, Smith should have no problem putting up big numbers again on a team that demands it from him. At some point very soon the Panthers must find the next No. 1 receiver, but for 2013, it's still Smith's job.
TE Rank per KUBIAK: 9
TE Rank per ADP: 19
When the regular season begins, Colts fans can get back to blaming the offensive line for all that is wrong with the Colts offense. Until then, Coby Fleener is their new whipping boy, heavily criticized for a preseason where he's fumbled a catch and dropped several more. After a shaky rookie season with his college quarterback Andrew Luck, things have not gotten off to a great start in 2013.
However, this just makes him an even more attractive sleeper in fantasy football as his ADP dips. He's still talented enough to become a late-round steal. Pep Hamilton utilized tight ends a lot at Stanford and should do a better job of it than Bruce Arians did last year. While Dwayne Allen looks like the superior tight end right now, Fleener still has a very good shot at surpassing 600 yards in a pass-heavy offense.
With Luck's aforementioned progression in getting the ball out quicker, the Colts passing game should not be as focused on Reggie Wayne (195 targets) as they were last year. That means better ball distribution and more opportunities for Fleener. His practices have reportedly been solid this year, but the preseason tape shows a lot of mistakes. If he can clean things up in his second year -- remember, tight ends have a steep learning curve -- he just might be the stud fans expected a year ago.
TE Rank per KUBIAK: 14
TE Rank per ADP: 18
Remember when we mentioned at the beginning that Stafford has had 1,512 drop backs since 2011? That's good news for his receivers in accumulating volume stats. We expect less production from Calvin Johnson after last season's record performance. Pettigrew should be one of the top beneficiaries since he missed a few games and endured a trying 2012, managing just 567 yards. Reggie Bush joins the backfield, Nate Burleson has returned from injury and the Lions will expect more out of Ryan Broyles in his second season, but Pettigrew is still one of the team's top targets.
He has not yet exceeded 800 yards in any of his four seasons, but compared to unproven players rising in ADP like Jordan Cameron and Zach Sudfeld, Pettigrew should at least match their production in what is likely to be one of the league's most pass-happy attacks. Keep in mind we are projecting another down year for the tight end position.
Unless your league is unique in that it penalizes for dropped passes, Pettigrew is a safe pick for any fantasy roster that places more emphasis on the other skill positions.
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