by Vince Verhei
If you're familiar with Football Outsiders, you know that every year we use our KUBIAK projections (available here for a mere $20!) to forecast the upcoming fantasy football season. It's an invaluable tool for fantasy football players, who get not just a list of players ranked by total point production, but a fully customizable spreadsheet that can be designed to sort players by almost any scoring system your league might use. The spreadsheet also lists where players have been taken in drafts on other web sites, so you can see where KUBIAK rankings differ from conventional wisdom. That knowledge can prove even more valuable than the rankings themselves, suggesting not only which players could be most valuable, but also when you're likely to find a steal in later rounds.
Today we'll look at the overrated players (those going higher in drafts than KUBIAK thinks they should), with the underrated players to come tomorrow. Each player is listed with their rank in overall Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB), which is the spot where KUBIAK says they should be drafted, along with their rank in Average Draft Position (ADP), which is where they have actually been going in fantasy drafts. Obviously, which players are underrated or overrated by ADP may change if your league has non-standard rules.
FPOB rank: 98
ADP rank: 74
Foles makes for an interesting case study simply because his statistics in 2014 are so difficult to project. Foles' numbers last season were sensational. He totaled 2,645 yards and 24 touchdowns in his ten starts last year, numbers that work out to 4,232 yards and 38 touchdowns over the course of a full season. The former number would have ranked 10th in the league last season, and the latter would have ranked third behind a pair of Hall of Famers (Peyton Manning and Drew Brees). And he did all that while throwing only two interceptions. Add in a handful of rushing plays (because any quarterback, no matter how immobile, is going to get some runs in a Chip Kelly offense) and that adds up to 28.6 fantasy points per game over those ten starts. Manning, who you'll recall had an awfully good season, averaged 25.6 fantasy points per game.
Obviously, nobody thinks Foles is going to be THAT good again. The interceptions are almost guaranteed to rise (it's not like he could throw much fewer), and his impressive yardage and touchdown totals are skewed by an early-November game against Oakland. Foles scorched the Raiders for more than 400 yards and seven touchdowns (more than one-fourth of his season total), but in his next eight games (including the playoff loss to New Orleans), he surpassed 300 yards only one time. Opposing defenses have had a full season to study Kelly's scheme, and that should lead to fewer receivers finding wide-open lanes deep downfield. Foles wasn't considered a top prospect when the Eagles took him in the third round in 2012 (though his LCF forecast was fairly bright), and certainly didn't look like a star in his rookie season (-20.4% DVOA in 286 passing plays). His true talent level is probably closer to his 2013 performance, but that performance has raised expectations unrealistically high. In 2014, he should look more like a developing young quarterback in a run-heavy scheme—which, of course, he is.
FPOB rank: 115
ADP rank: 98
Like Foles, Cutler only played about two-thirds of a season (11 games, to be precise) in 2013. Unlike Foles, he wasn't lights-out in those 11 games, with 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and only 238.3 yards per game. The Bears offense improved significantly after Cutler went down as Josh McCown played completely out of his mind. There are two ways to look at that info. One is to live by the rule that you should never draft a quarterback who was outplayed by Josh McCown. The other is to say that if Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have developed to the point that they can make Josh McCown look good, imagine what they can do with a fully healthy Cutler.
Popular opinion seems to favor the latter of those theories, as Cutler's average draft slot has him as the twelfth quarterback going off the boards. We disagree, and it's not as if we're terribly down on Cutler—we're projecting him to throw for 4,076 yards and 29 touchdowns, which would be his best totals in either category since his days in Denver. We're projecting a big year for quarterbacks, though, and odds are you'll be able to do better than Cutler this fall.
FPOB rank: 30
ADP rank: 9
The heart and soul of the Seahawks' Super Bowl championship isn't going to last much longer in Seattle, and everyone knows it. Lynch has been a top-five fantasy runner for three years in a row now (average production in those three years: 1,592 yards from scrimmage, 13 total touchdowns), but he will be 29 in 2015 with a cap hit somewhere north of $8 million. The Seahawks have a pair of youngsters waiting to take his spot in 2012 fourth-rounder Robert Turbin and 2013 second-rounder Christine Michael. Both are likely to eat into Lynch's playing time sooner rather than later, which is why Lynch held out of minicamp until the Seahawks agreed to guarantee a portion of his 2014 salary that had been incentive-based. When a player himself concedes that he's unlikely to achieve statistical benchmarks, it's time to knock him down your draft board, kids. We see Turbin and Lynch getting about 45 percent of the carries in Seattle this season, and that could mean the end of Lynch as an RB1.
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FPOB rank: 58
ADP rank: 28
The Rams entered 2013 with a muddled picture at running back, but by the end of the year Stacy, a fifth-round rookie out of Vanderbilt, had emerged as the workhorse on the team. In the second half of the season, he amassed 625 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, finishing 11th timeframe. That says more about opportunity than it does anything special about Stacy, though. On the season, eight of his nine touchdowns came inside the 10-yard line, and six came inside the 5, and four of them came at the 1. He also averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry, and we're not real big on running backs who have shown that little pop. The Rams drafted Auburn's Tre Mason in the third round this year, which also shows a lack of faith in Stacy to get the job done over the long haul.
FPOB rank: 116
ADP rank: 51
We've gotten a lot of feedback surprised that we have Rice ranked so low. It would be easy to blame Rice's struggles last year on the offensive line -- the Ravens were last in Adjusted Line Yards, and it's not as if Bernard Pierce was lighting the world on fire, either. But Rice's receiving numbers plummeted too. In his first five seasons, he averaged 543 receiving yards per season, and 8.7 yards per catch. Last year, those numbers sank to 321 and 5.5. And our game charters tallied only nine broken tackles for Rice last season, after he had 27 in 2012 and 29 in 2011. Rice's off-field issues certainly aren't helping things, but there are plenty of on-field reasons to be concerned about Rice's career.
FPOB rank: 62
ADP rank: 42
Between 2005 and 2011, Fitzgerald ranked among the top five wide receivers in fantasy points five times in seven seasons. Everything went wrong in 2012 (by which we mean, John freakin' Skelton was Arizona's leading quarterback) and Fitzgerald fell to 42nd. Then the Cardinals added a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald improved all the way to ... 16th. Michael Floyd is now Arizona's top wideout. Fitzgerald turns 31 by the end of the month, and each passing season brings him closer to his Hall of Fame induction ... and farther away from his peak.
FPOB rank: 85
ADP rank: 55
In five NFL seasons, Harvin has in the top 50 in VBD fantasy value exactly once. The Seahawks have other options at wide receiver, including Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, and they also drafted Paul Richardson in the second round as their designated speed-burner deep threat. If Harvin's healthy, he's still part of a crowded receiving corps on a run-first team. And as we all know, he hasn't always been healthy, either.
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San Francisco 49ers
FPOB rank: 150
ADP rank: 109
In most drafts, the 49ers have been the second defense off the board after Seattle. According to KUBIAK, they won't even be a top-ten fantasy defense. Real defense does not equal fantasy defense. In the past three years, their average ranking in defensive DVOA has been 6.0, but their average ranking in fantasy defense has been 11.3. Though they'll likely be good at limiting opponents' yardage and scoring, the 49ers don't seem to have the personnel to generate the sacks and turnovers that win fantasy games. Cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are unproven as starting cornerbacks, Aldon Smith is likely facing a lengthy suspension, and NaVorro Bowman won't be back until midseason at the earliest. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are still in town, and 49ers might be worthy of a starting spot in your league—but not among the first defenses going off the board.