Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
22 Aug 2014
by Vince Verhei
Yesterday we looked at this year's overrated players, those who have been going higher in fantasy drafts than their KUBIAK projections say they should. Today we'll flip the script and look at those players we like who have been falling into the later rounds. Once again, we'll be comparing each player's rank in Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB) to their Average Draft Position (ADP).
How should you use this information? Suppose we have a third-round grade on a player, but his average draft position has been in the sixth round or so. You could take that guy in the third round and expect good production. Or you could pass on him, knowing he'd probably still be available in rounds four or five, when he'd be an even better value pick. As always, fantasy drafting is an art, not a science.
FPOB rank: 67
Here is the rare occasion where the public is giving up on a player too quickly. From 2006 to 2011, Rivers was a top-ten fantasy quarterback five times in six years. He fell to 21st place in 2012, then rebounded to fifth last year. So which was the fluke season, 2012 or 2013? If you believe that Rivers' age is catching up to him (he turns 33 in December); that Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green are flashes in the pan; that Antonio Gates is washed up; and that Malcom Floyd is a poor complementary receiver, then you're probably not drafting Rivers. If, on the other hand, you believe in Rivers' durability (he hasn't missed a start since being named San Diego's top quarterback in 2006); that Allen/Floyd/Gates/Green/Danny Woodhead are actually an above-average group of receivers; that new offensive coordinator Frank Reich will stick with the short passing attack that was so successful for his predecessor, Ken Whisenhunt; and that Reich's promise to go to a no-huddle should create more attempts for Rivers, cancelling out any regression in his rate stats, then Rivers makes for a viable fantasy starter.
FPOB rank: 96
ADP rank: 130
Roethlisberger makes our underrated list for the second year in a row. Maybe it's because fans recall the defense-and-running game Super Bowl Steelers teams of the '70s, '90s, and '00s. Maybe it's because the Steelers' fortunes as a team have fallen off the radar in recent years. Whatever the reason, many fantasy players don't realize the value that Roethlisberger still has. Roethlisberger ranked between ninth and 19th place among fantasy quarterbacks in each of the past six seasons, which means you don't want him starting every week, but he's a perfectly viable backup. And in auction leagues, you could platoon him with someone like Jay Cutler or Andy Dalton, starting whoever's playing the softer defense that week, and get pretty decent overall production with very minimal investment.
FPOB rank: 31
ADP rank: 38
Gerhart hasn't played a ton in the past three years, but when the Vikings have given him the ball he's been very effective, averaging better than five yards per carry with a DVOA of 9.9%. And that's over 195 total carries, a pretty decent sample size. The Jaguars were mainly a passing team last season, but that's largely because they were always behind – they ranked 28th in total rushes, but 18th in first-half rush rate. If they can avoid blowouts, they should have a more balanced offense, creating more opportunities for Gerhart. And the rebuilt offensive line should be something of an upgrade, if only because it can't play much worse than last year's line did.
FPOB rank: 45
ADP rank: 60
Receiving backs tend to get underrated by many fantasy players. About half of Bell's production comes in the passing game, so he's not often considered one of the better "running" backs in the league. But in the past two years, he's ranked 29th and 17th among running backs in fantasy points. KUBIAK has him 20th among RBs this season, right in line with his past performance. His ADP among running backs has been 27th, which is pretty pessimistic.
Honorable mention: Matt Forte
FPOB rank: 2
ADP rank: 4
Can the fourth-highest player in ADP be underrated? Actually, yes, at least a little. We think Forte will play a big part in Chicago's passing game this year, making him the second-best prospect in fantasy football behind LeSean McCoy. And in PPR leagues, we think Forte should be the first player off the boards.
FPOB rank: 49
The real issue here is not that we have Boldin higher than anyone else, but that we have the San Francisco passing game as a whole higher than anyone else. We also like Colin Kaepernick (ADP 93, FPOB 66), Michael Crabtree (ADP 49, FPOB 29), and Vernon Davis (ADP 58, FPOB 42) more than most observers. This is not necessarily a good thing for 49ers fans. We see the team taking a slight step back this year, and with fewer second-half leads to protect, the 49ers will have to pass more in attempts to play catch-up. So sad news for those in the Bay Area, but good news for those in drafts around the country.
FPOB rank: 63
The Texans' top two receivers are Andre Johnson, a Hall of Famer in decline (though the exact severity of that decline is open to debate), and Hopkins, a first-round pick in 2013 who should be improving. Behind them are Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey, a couple of 2012 mid-round picks with a combined total of 53 catches in four NFL seasons. Tight end Garrett Graham was next to last in DVOA at his position last year. In other words, with no other options, we expect Hopkins and Johnson (whose FPOB rank of 28 is much higher than his ADP of 46) to get force-fed the ball, over and over again. And unless you think the J.J. Watt-Jadeveon Clowney tag team can drag the Texans to the playoffs by themselves, there should be plenty of second-half deficits and plenty of balls in the air in Houston this fall.
Honorable mention: Brian Hartline
FPOB rank: 92
ADP rank: 172
We have Hartline as the 36th-ranked wide receiver, so you don't necessarily want to draft him outside of bottom-of-the-roster filler. But it's worth pointing out that ADP has him 63rd at the position, even though he was 26th last year and 35th the year before, and it's not like the Dolphins made a move to bring in talent to compete with him. And he's not especially old, either; he turns 28 in November. Now I don't mean to preach from an ivory tower. Perhaps the average football player knows some pearls of wisdom we don't, or they've used their chalk to write a different equation than we have. Regardless, we can all enjoy our vanilla ice cream together. Wait, that has too much sugar. Better to have a tall glass of milk instead.
FPOB rank: 55
ADP rank: 100
There's something weird this year where tight ends, as a group, are largely being underrated by the general public. There's no rule that says you have to take Jimmy Graham in the first round and then wait eight rounds before another tight end gets drafted. Even among that group, Rudolph is going too late -- we have him as the fifth player at his position, but ADP has him tenth. Rudolph was 34th among tight ends last year despite missing half a season and catching passes from the three-headed monster known as FreemanPonderCastle. With better health, a more stable offense around him, and an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner who has always leaned heavily on his tight ends (see Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates, and Jordan Cameron in Cleveland last year), we expect Rudolph to explode.
FPOB position rank: 94
ADP rank: 250
We have Eifert as the 11th-ranked tight end, while ADP has him 22nd, the biggest difference among our top 24 players at the position. Eifert was 28th last year, but that came while he was really the No. 2 tight end in Cincinnati behind Jermaine Gresham. We don't think he'll be the No. 2 tight end for long, and we don't think it will be a particularly even split, either. The injury to Marvin Jones, meanwhile, means more targets for both.
FPOB position rank: 3
ADP position rank: 15
Many fantasy players just refuse to take a defense until the last round, so the overall ADP ranking of most fantasy defenses comes out a little wonky. It makes more sense to compare their rankings within the position, and there it's clear that the Bills aren't getting enough credit. And yes, this ranking accounts for the departure of Jairus Byrd, and the injury of Kiko Alonso. The Bills were eighth in fantasy defense last season, and that was artificially low because they didn't do well in the more random categories. They were second in both sacks (56) and picks (23) but had only three touchdowns and recovered only seven of 21 fumbles. Also remember that Buffalo's offense was right behind Philadelphia's as the fastest in football last year. That pace is going to mean more plays for their defense, which will mean more yards and points surrendered, but also more opportunities to collect sacks and turnovers, the real trademark of a great fantasy defense.
(There is a downside to Buffalo if you play in a league with playoffs: The Bills play Denver in Week 14 and Green Bay in Week 15, although they then get Oakland in Week 16.)
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