2018 KUBIAK vs. ADP: The Underrated
by Vincent Verhei
Last week 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 KUBIAK to their Average Draft Position (ADP). These numbers will show where each player ranks at their position, not overall. This is a change we made in 2015 compared to the way we wrote these pieces in the past, but we think it's a good one -- players at different positions can change in overall value greatly depending on league settings and waiver wire rules, but their rankings at their position shouldn't change much at all. Obviously, which players are underrated or overrated by ADP may change if your league has non-standard rules.
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.
We should note that KUBIAK is generally better at picking out players who are overrated than it is at picking out players who are underrated, and the difference between KUBIAK and ADP is often bigger for those extremely overrated players than it is for the most underrated players.
If you're interested in history, you can check out what we said in 2011, 2012 (overrated and underrated), 2013 (overrated and underrated), 2014 (overrated and underrated), 2015 (overrated and underrated), 2016 (overrated and underrated) and 2017 (overrated and underrated).
Typically we go through these lists position-by-position, but we're going to start with a pair of players who are underrated because they share similar availability questions going into this season.
Mark Ingram, RB, NO
KUBIAK rank: 13
Julian Edelman, WR, NE
Ingram and Edelman have both been suspended for the first four weeks of the season -- Ingram for performance-enhancing drugs, Edelman for "a substance that wasn't immediately recognizable." So they will produce a combined total of zero fantasy points in the first quarter of the season, and on the surface that makes it easy to see why they are being drafted so low. However, just because they won't score any points in September doesn't mean you won't if you draft them. When Ingram and Edelman are out of your lineup on suspension, those spots in the lineup are not blank. They are filled with bench players -- and if you know off-hand that your starter is going to miss four games, you're going to pick up a high-level bench player to fill his shoes. So for Ingram, we take his projection and add four games of the average running back ranked 31st through 36th in KUBIAK; for Edelman, we do the same, adding four games of wide receivers ranked 37th through 40th. (These numbers are sort of educated guesses based on the most popular league setups, number of teams, and use of flex positions.) KUBIAK customers can find a further explanation for this process on the "QB Battles-Suspensions" page of the worksheet. We should add that the value of these players drops the more teams that are in your league, since more teams equals more starters, which means your bench players will be found further down the rankings.
This also applies to Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, by the way. Winston's average draft position is 23, but he's 16th in the latest KUBIAK projections. That's still not a starting quarterback in most fantasy leagues, but he would be a decent backup and should be available late in your draft.
Marcus Mariota, TEN
Mike Mularkey is out the door, and "exotic smashmouth" left with him. In step new head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who are expected to use more spread formations and throw more passes, which means more fantasy points for Mariota. It's also fluky that Mariota threw for more than 3,200 yards last year, but only 13 touchdowns. He threw 19 touchdowns as a rookie and 26 in 2016; we're expecting a similar number of scoring passes this fall.
Alex Smith, WAS
In Smith's five years in Kansas City, the Chiefs averaged 520 passes per season. Now he moves to Washington, where Jay Gruden's offense has averaged 562 passes per season in his four years with the team. If he stays healthy, Smith's pass attempts should go up about 10 percent -- and his production should rise by a similar rate.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
We are running out of things to say about Roethlisberger, who has now made the all-underrated KUBIAK list four times in the past eight seasons. This highlights that some players, for whatever reason, don't get the respect they deserve in fantasy drafts. Roethlisberger, Ingram, Tevin Coleman, and Larry Fitzgerald are all holdovers from last year's piece. Matthew Stafford was mentioned four times from 2011 to 2017; he was underrated again this year, but with a KUBIAK ranking of 9 and an ADP of 11, the difference was slight. As for Roethlisberger, it looks like he's fooling KUBIAK somewhat -- he has finished in the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks just twice in the past eight years. This could be a case where KUBIAK assumes that eventually Roethlisberger will play all 16 games, something he has done just three times in 14 NFL seasons. We did give Roethlisberger a Yellow risk, which accounts for him missing a game or two. If you change his risk to Red, he drops to 16th in KUBIAK, which is actually lower than his ADP. For the record, our projection for Roethlisberger very closely matches what he did on a per-game basis in 2017, with a slight drop in interceptions.
Tevin Coleman, ATL
As mentioned earlier, Coleman makes this list for the second year in a row. Perhaps he's falling in drafts because his receiving ability is undervalued -- about one-third of his scrimmage yards have come as a receiver in his career. He has ranked 17th and 22nd among running backs in fantasy scoring, so he has been a legit starter in most leagues, if a low-end one.
LeSean McCoy, BUF
OK, this one makes sense. There's a real messy legal situation hanging over McCoy's head. McCoy is being sued by his ex-girlfriend, who claims he arranged a home invasion and assault against her. No charges have been filed in the case, but police in Milton, Georgia, call the case an "open and active investigation," and McCoy could be suspended at any time. For now, we can only go on what we know. McCoy's 3,300 rushing yards in three seasons in Buffalo are the most in the league during that time. He may be the only good offensive player on Buffalo's roster. And with the league's worst quarterback depth chart, he should get plenty of carries no matter who ends up taking snaps. As long as he's a free man.
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Fitzgerald is getting older (aren't we all?) but that just means he is becoming a different football player, not a worse one. The move to the slot has been a good one for Fitzgerald -- he has at least 107 catches in each of his last three seasons, something he never did in his first 11 NFL campaigns. The Cardinals have swapped out John and Jaron Brown for Brice Butler and Christian Kirk, but Fitzgerald is still clearly the top target in the desert. And either Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen should be an upgrade over Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton. There's still plenty of upside here.
Adam Thielen, MIN
This is interesting because Thielen's teammate, Stefon Diggs, made our all-overrated column last week. The issue here seems to be touchdowns -- Thielen scored only four of them despite gaining more than 1,200 yards last year, while Diggs had twice as many scores on less than 900 yards. That's unusual, though; Thielen had more touchdowns than Diggs in 2016. He has since emerged as the clear top wideout in Minnesota, and top wideouts wind up leading their team in touchdown grabs more often than not.
Jared Cook, OAK
Cook's ceiling is limited -- in nine NFL seasons, only once has he been a top-ten fantasy tight end -- but he's also reliable, with at least 40 fantasy points in each of the last eight seasons. The only other tight ends who can say that: Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Jason Witten. He won't win many games for you, but he'll fill that spot in your starting lineup for the low price of a late-round pick.
Tyler Eifert, CIN
Eifert is the anti-Cook. To quote FO head honcho Aaron Schatz: "Eifert is higher than ADP because we don't have a Risk variable stronger than Red. ADP is probably a better place to have him honestly. But you know, take the chance! If he's healthy, he's damn talented." Case in point: Eifert has scored 18 touchdowns in the past three seasons. That's more than any other tight end except Gronk (22), Kyle Rudolph (20), and Jordan Reed (19) in that timeframe. However, he went from 13 touchdowns in 2015, to five in 2016, to zero last year. He has played in just 24 of 64 possible games in the last four seasons. Eifert has already missed time in camp with a back injury but says there is a 100 percent chance he'll be ready for Week 1. We'll see about that.
Evan Engram, NYG
I'm just listing Engram here to make a larger point about our tight end projections in general. The top three players at the position are Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz, and then there is a 28-point drop from Ertz to Engram at No. 4, and then there is a big gap of very tightly clustered players. The gap between Ertz and Engram is bigger than the gap between Engram and No. 12 Jack Doyle. In other words, if you miss out on the Big Three, don't bother taking a tight end until the last round -- at that point, they're really all about the same.
Phil Dawson, ARI
Spoiler alert: though Dawson was ranked ninth in the last KUBIAK download, he's going to drop a bit (to 12th) in the next update. It's still odd that he's getting overlooked so frequently. He had 40 field goal attempts last year, and figures to get more scoring chances this year with an upgrade at quarterback and the return of David Johnson.
Green Bay Packers
There's a weird bug in the ADP rankings we are using where the top 16 defenses are all individually ranked, then ten teams are tied at 17th, and then the last six teams are tied at 27th. So we can't really be sure where the Packers, Browns, and Seahawks are going in drafts across the country. However, we think each will be a solid fantasy defense, so we are certain they are going too low. You should be able to take your pick after your buddies have reached for the Jaguars, Rams, or Chargers in earlier rounds.