by Vince 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 Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB) to their Average Draft Position (ADP). These numbers will show where each player ranks at their position, not overall. This is a change from the way we have written 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.
People don't have much faith in the 49ers this year, and for reasons explained in Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (on sale now!), neither do we. However, bad teams often end up passing more than their superiors, and that should mean more opportunities for Colin Kaepernick. Aside from a small boost in touchdowns, our projections for Kaepernick are very similar to his statline in 2014. And there's nobody in San Francisco with a even a tiny chance of taking his job, so he's a very safe pick too. We're really not being overly optimistic here, but the masses are apparently prepared for a Josh Freeman-like collapse.
Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills are gone, but that doesn't mean the Saints are suddenly going to stop leaning on their Hall of Fame passer. Drew Brees led the NFL in completions, attempts, and yardage last year, the sixth time in nine seasons he has led the league in at least one of those categories. (And in one of the years he didn't, he was still first in completion rate and touchdowns.) Brees was sixth in fantasy points last season, but that was his worst finish since 2005, and you'd expect him to bounce back. Brees also benefits from a very easy schedule with 13 games against teams ranked 20th or worse in our defensive projections. He is 36 this year and an inevitable decline is on the horizon. But we don't think it's here yet.
From 2007 to 2013, Tony Romo never averaged fewer than 32.5 passes per game, and sometimes averaged more than 40. Then came 2014, when DeMarco Murray ran the ball 392 times and Romo's passes per game dipped to 29.0. Well, Murray is now in Philadelphia, with no clear replacement left behind in Dallas. The Cowboys say they want to run as much as they did last year, but our projections tend to live with this thing called "regression towards the mean." We also see the Cowboys taking a small step backwards in the win column, which should mean more late-game deficits and more passes for Romo.
This one matters only for your bench, or in leagues that start two quarterbacks. Our projection for Griffin's passing numbers is very close to the totals produced by Washington's trio of quarterbacks last season, and his rushing numbers are about the same on a per-game basis as what he did in 2014. That would make him a perfectly reasonable backup fantasy quarterback, but to the general public he's a complete pariah. There is certainly a lot of risk with Griffin, as you never know when Jay Gruden will roll "Cousins" or "McCoy" on his 20-sided die of QB management. But there is upside here too: Washington figures to be losing a lot this season, which might lead to Griffin passing more than he ever has before.
Note that the subhead there reads "Running Back," singular. We think the masses have done a fine job picking talent at this position, and aside from Lamar Miller, there aren't too many productive runners slipping to the later rounds of fantasy drafts. You could argue that Marshawn Lynch* (FPOB 1, ADP 5) or Eddie Lacy (FPOB 2, ADP 4) are underrated, but really, the top of our running back board is such a tight cluster that we wouldn't really blame anyone for passing on them to take an Adrian Peterson, Le'veon Bell, or Jamaal Charles.
(* In last week's piece, we mentioned that Bell was our top fantasy back, but that was with the playoff adjustment turned on. Turn that adjustment off and Lynch tops our board. I told you our running back rankings were tightly clustered.)
There are some other running backs who are underrated according to KUBIAK, but they're mostly guys in committee situations you wouldn't want to draft anyway, guys like Devonta Freeman (FPOB: 22; ADP: 38) or Bishop Sankey (FPOB: 27; ADP: 42). And the "underrated" there is more about figuring out the tea leaves of how the committees will work out, not about the actual projection of how good players will be on the field.
Meanwhile, our projection for Miller is virtually copy-and-pasted from his 2014 statline, with a little worse luck running but better luck receiving (which would make him even more underrated in PPR leagues). Miller was ninth among runners in fantasy scoring last year; it's a mystery to us why so many people expect him to decline so severely this fall.
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Editor's note: Hopkins' numbers were incorrectly listed in the original version of this article. They have been fixed.
We're listing these two together because ... well, go read the 2014 edition again. For some reason, Anquan Boldin and DeAndre Hopkins always get underrated by the general public. Boldin has been a top-40 fantasy wideout for a decade now, and suddenly he's going to vanish? Hopkins was 15th in fantasy value among wideouts last year, and now that he's the unquestioned top target in Houston his numbers are going to drop? Granted, Boldin is 35 this season, and we still don't know who Hopkins' quarterback is going to be. On the other hand, Boldin's physical playing style could help him age gracefully, and as we noted earlier, his quarterback is also underrated. Meanwhile, Hopkins has a track record of making bad quarterbacks look good. The positives here outweigh the negatives.
Between Griffin, Garcon, and DeSean Jackson (FPOB: 16; ADP: 25), people are really, really underrating the Washington passing game. There are many reasons to think the pits of 2014 were fluky. It was the first time Garcon has played more than 10 games and finished outside the top 40. Even in a down year, Jackson was 17th in fantasy value last season, so why would he suddenly fall eight spots? The opportunities for Jackson and Garcon look even stronger when we consider a likely move away from dumpoff passes in this year's Washington offense. There's no receiving back here. Roy Helu is now in Oakland. Niles Paul could play that role lining up at fullback, but now he is out for the year. There's really nobody left in D.C. to target except Garcon and Jackson, so their numbers should be fine this year.
It may seem like we're too high on Austin Seferian-Jenkins, considering he has just 221 receiving yards in his NFL career, but consider this: Those 221 yards all came in the first 12 weeks of the season, before a back injury shelved him for the rest of the year. At that point, he was 30th among tight ends in receiving yards, despite splitting targets nearly 50-50 with Brandon Myers. Had he been the clear top tight end for the Bucs, ASJ would have been a fringe fantasy starter. Well, it's a year later, and though Myers is still around, Seferian-Jenkins is the clear top tight end for the Bucs. No, we're not especially confident in Jameis Winston as player or the Bucs' win-loss record as a team, but they should be throwing the ball all over the place this fall. Seferian-Jenkins projects as a good TE2, but the 2014 second-rounder also has the upside to be a decent starter.
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Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen both joined the Colts both joined the Colts as rookies in 2012, and since then Fleener has edge in targets (5.2 to 3.9), receptions (2.9 to 2.5) and yards (37.8 to 31.2) per game. For some reason, people always expect Allen to emerge as the superior passing option, and it just never happens. Fleener was sixth among tight ends last season and 14th in 2013, and he seems like one of the safest fantasy picks you could make. Just not a particularly exciting pick.
As is the case with Boldin, Garcon, and Jackson, Jason Witten is mostly underrated because his quarterback is underrated. Witten has always been one of Romo's favorite weapons, with at least 111 targets seven years in a row after Romo took the starting job. Those targets dipped to 90 last season, but again, no DeMarco Murray should equal more passes in Dallas.
Here is where our numbers differ most strongly from the consensus. You should be able to land any of these defenses in the draft, and you'll be glad you did:
|Underrated Fantasy Defenses, 2015|
|Team||FPOB Rk||ADP Rk|