by Scott Kacsmar
Hopefully many of you have waited to do your important fantasy football drafts as a wave of injuries has washed over the NFL landscape. Each week of the preseason brings us more injuries and players stepping into bigger roles. This forces adjustments to Football Outsiders’ KUBIAK rankings, which do not always match the average draft position (ADP) of every player. We can use KUBIAK -- a customizable spreadsheet available here for $20 -- to judge draft value with regression analysis and historical comparables. Some players are going way too high, while hidden gems continue to slip down the draft board.
This week we are looking at the latest KUBIAK rankings compared to ADP to find the overvalued and undervalued players. Let's start with the most overrated players that our system says you may want to avoid.
This year, our projections for quarterbacks seem to be very similar to conventional wisdom when it comes to the order of players. However, we have most of the top 20 quarterbacks going higher than ADP suggests. So we will be comparing the rankings in overall Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB) to ADP for quarterbacks, as there was never more than a four-spot difference (Jay Cutler) in ranking specifically at the quarterback position. The top eight quarterbacks in KUBIAK match the top eight in ADP.
Last season the leading passers on the league's 32 teams combined to start 451 games and throw 87.96 percent of the 2012 season's pass attempts. Both are records in the 16-game era. Last year may prove to be a lofty benchmark, but quarterbacks are getting plenty of protection now from the rules on illegal hits, and most teams have a high investment into a quarterback, so the potential for a full-season starter has never been higher.
Rank per FPOB: 183
Rank per ADP: 162
Though we are essentially projecting a career season from Freeman in yards and touchdowns, his risk factor is considerable in a crucial contract year. Tampa Bay drafted Mike Glennon in the third round, so the succession plan is in place should Freeman stumble or start 2013 as badly as he ended 2012.
The Buccaneers have talent around him, though there's certainly a lack of receiving depth after Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Running back Doug Martin had a great rookie season. His progression behind a healthier offensive line could limit Freeman's potential to accumulate volume, while a decline could hurt Freeman given his struggles in the absence of a good running game.
While some players thrive in a "prove it" contract year, Freeman's notorious inconsistency should be enough to stay away from him in fantasy this season.
Rank per FPOB: 189
Rank per ADP: 139
Palmer is one of three players featured here who would have been a fine choice if this was 2007. Similar to how the networks still rely on ranking defenses by total yards allowed, Palmer gets the "he has solid numbers!" treatment because he threw for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns in Oakland last season.
That might be his absolute peak in Arizona this season, assuming he survives behind Bruce Arians' offensive scheme. Having closely watched Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck lead the league in PAROOHH -- that's the "Pulled a Rabbit Out of His Hat" statistic -- the last six years, there's no way Palmer can do the same at his age (going on 34 if you can believe it) with his lack of mobility. When those quick pressures come right in his face, things are going to get ugly. Even in August I can already get a whiff of the sack-strip fumbles and panicked throws to interceptions that will come as a result of that pressure.
Furthermore, Arians' offense struggles in the red zone, especially when it comes to throwing the ball. There's no solid tight end option here, so it's basically athletic catches by Larry Fitzgerald, who will rebound with Palmer, or bust. Michael Floyd should improve on his rookie year (562 yards) and the underrated Andre Roberts has steadily improved in his three seasons with the team. Palmer will get more out of this receiving corps than the ghastly quartet from last year did, but the lack of a tight end, red-zone issues and an offensive line that will still buckle under pressure are too much to overcome to make this a quality fantasy season for Palmer.
If Arians thinks his offense can remain as vertical as it has in the past with a quarterback like Palmer, who was 10-of-50 passing on balls thrown 21-plus yards in 2012, then he's in for a rude awakening.
While the quarterbacks were compared on an overall fantasy baseline, for the rest of these players are analyzed comparing positional rankings for KUBIAK and ADP.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 29
RB Rank per ADP: 23
Sproles is a very good football player, but for fantasy, he's a bit overvalued, especially if you do not play in a point per reception (PPR) league. Part of his all-purpose greatness does not translate to points in the vast majority of leagues, and he has only one return touchdown in the last three seasons.
What makes Sproles attractive is the fact that Drew Brees throws the ball so often and he loves to throw it to the running back. Sproles has seven touchdown receptions in each of the last two seasons. That mark of 14 touchdowns in two years is mighty impressive given the career totals by other backs like Roger Craig (17), LaDainian Tomlinson (17), Walter Payton (15), Tony Dorsett (13), Emmitt Smith (11) and Barry Sanders (10). Sproles had 11 receiving touchdowns in his first 78 games. Historically, there isn't much reason to believe he can repeat seven again. Part of that has come with Brees becoming the first quarterback to surpass 40 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, as well. Brees may very well be in that range again, but it's hard to sustain that many touchdowns. When it comes to who is most likely to be hurt by a decline there, it's definitely Sproles and not Marques Colston or Jimmy Graham.
When it comes to rushing, Sproles only has 384 carries in 107 games. The Saints have no reason to rely on him for carries. Sproles is 30 now, as well, with 14,231 all-purpose yards. The inevitable decline could start soon.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 24
RB Rank per ADP: 18
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 15
RB Rank per ADP: 13
One is a model of rushing consistency with eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The other has the same number of career touchdowns (six) as he does games missed due to injury in 2012. Both play behind suspect offensive lines on pass-happy NFC teams we are not very high on in this year's projections. You should be concerned about drafting them as a starting running back.
As detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, Murray has had a litany of injuries going back to his college career at Oklahoma. Last season a sprained foot kept him out of six games. His health risk is very high, which does not help when the offensive line is such a work in progress. Dallas has not had a solid rushing attack in several years, which is partially why Tony Romo has thrown for 9,087 yards since 2011. When you have a budding superstar in Dez Bryant, a future Hall of Fame tight end in Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and some other weapons, why would you not keep throwing? Murray's not a significant part of the Dallas offense.
For Jackson, he finally gets to play on a good team with a very good quarterback instead of suffering behind some of the worst offenses of the 21st century in St. Louis. He's only rushed for more than eight touchdowns once in his career, but the better offense in Atlanta should give him a few more red-zone opportunities.
However, this does not mean he will be a more effective rusher as the Falcons have progressed away from a run-heavy offense with slow-burning Michael Turner to letting Matt Ryan pile up the yards with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Long-time center Todd McClure retired and right tackle Tyson Clabo was released so the line is in flux.
Only Emmitt Smith (11), Barry Sanders (10) and Curtis Martin (10) have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in more than eight consecutive seasons. We recently increased our expectation for Jackson's workload, so the gap between Jackson's KUBIAK projection and his ADP is not as large as it was in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, but we still see a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season as a realistic best-case scenario. He is a marginal upgrade over Turner. He's a much better receiver than Turner, but the Falcons also have Jacquizz Rodgers for that.
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 25
WR Rank per ADP: 16
Most know the story on Amendola already. If he stays healthy, he will put up Wes Welker-numbers in New England. Welker averaged 120 catches for 1,462 yards and eight touchdowns the last two seasons. If you're playing with PPR scoring, he's an even better option.
However, we also know Welker was very durable ... while Amendola has not been in his career. Amendola may have suffered injuries of a freak nature, but they still happened and he is a smaller slot guy expected to take on the biggest workload of his career. That means more contact and more injury risk as he battles with linebackers on many of his catches.
DVOA hates Amendola, which is irrelevant to fantasy, but may offer some insight into a flaw with his game. Amendola averages 8.81 yards per reception, which is the lowest average in NFL history by a wide receiver with at least 100 receptions. That average will increase in New England with superior quarterback play from Tom Brady, but not by a lot. This idea that Amendola is going to see a lot more vertical routes than Welker reeks of hyperbole. The Patriots had a well-defined role for Welker on short passes and they will apply the same to Amendola, which is why he's not much of a threat to score double-digit touchdowns.
One thing no one can say about Amendola is that they were not warned of his injury risk. Roll the dice if you dare.
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 50
WR Rank per ADP: 32
Jennings now plays for the rival Vikings, which means he has gone from playing with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to Christian Ponder. We think that's a huge problem for Jennings' fantasy value. He has been in a pass-happy offense with some of the best quarterback play ever; now he plays in a run-heavy offense with a dink-and-dunk quarterback who struggled to crack 100 yards in some games last season. Ponder was much better suited to playing with Percy Harvin, who Minnesota traded to Seattle before signing Jennings to a five-year deal worth $18 million guaranteed.
Did we mention Jennings is about to turn 30 and only had 366 yards in eight games in 2012 after struggling with injuries the last two years? His high ADP is nothing more than reputation. Receivers moving to new teams have had some great debuts in the recent past, but at this point Jennings is definitely not as talented and durable as Brandon Marshall or Vincent Jackson.
Maybe one day Jennings can look back on the 2013 offseason and the talk will focus on how disappointing the end of his career was after he left Green Bay, the brainwashing capitol of the NFL.
TE Rank per KUBIAK: 21
TE Rank per ADP: 11
After catching 32 passes in his first three seasons combined, Brandon Myers had an "explosion" with 79 receptions for 806 yards in Oakland last year. In a down year at the position, Myers was a fantasy savior for many. To me, his season felt like one Eric Johnson had on the 2004 49ers. Johnson had 82 receptions for 825 yards (but only two touchdowns) while catching a lot of short passes on a bad team with a quarterback piling up meaningless stats. Carson Palmer was of course the master of that last season. No one had more yards, completions, or touchdowns when trailing by at least 17 points than Palmer.
Myers only had 15 catches for 151 yards (most by a tight end) in those big deficit situations, but half of his four touchdowns came during those plays. In New York, he will be playing for a better team with a better quarterback in Eli Manning. Manning can throw for 500-plus yards to any no-name tight end, as Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard can attest to.
However, the Giants are still likely to be targeting their wide receivers a bit more. Victor Cruz (shiny new deal), Hakeem Nicks (wants a shiny new deal) and last year's second-round pick Rueben Randle should be the focal points of the offense. Myers may put up Martellus Bennett-like numbers, which means 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, but he's not catching 79 passes this season unless Cruz and Nicks both get hurt.
Tight end is tough this year with Rob Gronkowski and Heath Miller both having uncertainty over their timetable for return from injury. Dustin Keller just went down for Miami, joining Dennis Pitta on the list of injured starters. Vernon Davis has talked about playing some wide receiver. Antonio Gates is a San Diego receiver, which means he's a ticking time bomb for injury. Aaron Hernandez did something terrible. Do you go for a real unknown like Zach Sudfeld (New England) or Jordan Cameron (Cleveland)? It's these factors that make people hype someone reliable like Myers.
TE Rank per KUBIAK: 24
TE Rank per ADP: 15
A few teams have copied the recent Patriots blueprint of having two reliable tight ends, which makes you wonder how the production will be split. How much does Gavin Escobar cut in to Jason Witten's targets in Dallas? How will the Colts utilize Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen?
The most intriguing new duo now belongs to Cincinnati, with Jermaine Gresham, who had 737 yards in 2012, and first-round pick Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame. The Bengals are not yet an elite passing team, but this offense needed a third receiver to go along with Gresham and stud wideout A.J. Green as they try and gauge Andy Dalton's progress. How offensive coordinator Jay Gruden plans to use Eifert with Gresham remains to be seen, but it is expected he will move around a lot.
Historically, you want to avoid rookie tight ends. The position has a steeper learning curve than most, and value is rarely found in year one. For example, back in 2010 Gresham was just the fifth rookie tight end drafted in the first round to top 50 receptions. Not only was Mike Ditka a pioneer of the position, but he also had the gold standard rookie season by a tight end with 56 receptions for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns for Chicago in 1961. Jeremy Shockey (2002) is second with 894 yards. Even the great Tony Gonzalez only had 33 catches for 368 yards in 1997 -- and that was on the AFC's No. 1 seed (Kansas City) with very few weapons after Andre Rison.
If Eifert can put up 50 catches for 500 yards and a few touchdowns, then he's above the rookie curve, but that's a higher-end projection, and you can probably find at least 20 tight ends to do that this season. The Bengals may aspire to be the 2010-12 Patriots, but they probably aren't going to make that leap overnight.