by Vincent 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. We'll look at underrated players in a separate article next week. Each player is listed with their rank in 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. These numbers will show where each player ranks at their position, not overall. Players at different positions can change in overall value greatly depending on league settings and waiver wire rules, but their rankings within their position shouldn't change much except in PPR (point per reception) leagues. Obviously, which players are underrated or overrated by ADP may change if your league has non-standard rules.
(Ed. Note: It's important to mention that this year, ESPN switched its default leagues to PPR, so their ADP tends to reflect values based on PPR. Because of this, we also switched the default scoring when you first download KUBIAK to PPR scoring, and the KUBIAK ranks listed below reflect that.)
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We should start here by noting that there aren't many quarterbacks with a huge gap between FPOB and ADP... well, at least, not many who are rated lower by KUBIAK than by ADP. There's at least one quarterback with a big gap in the other direction, but we'll be writing about that next week.
Marcus Mariota, TEN
FPOB Rank: 16
ADP Rank: 12
Mariota was 12th in fantasy scoring last year in 15 games, so another No. 12 finish seems reasonable. We have him a little lower, and it's not because we expect his numbers to drop off. We're actually projecting Mariota with about 450 more passing yards in 2017 than he had in 2016, with small upticks in passing touchdowns and rushing yards and touchdowns as well. The problem for Mariota is risk. Mariota comes out with a Red Risk variable for two reasons: first, because he's sustained injuries in his first two NFL seasons, and second, because the Titans offense has been very run-heavy and there are strong odds that winning more games in 2017 will keep the pass attempts low again. We also still have some questions about Mariota's receivers. Rishard Matthews had nearly 1,000 yards last year, but never even hit 700 yards in his first four seasons and carries some regression risk. Corey Davis may be great one day, but there's no guarantee that any rookie will be productive, especially not in his first season. And Eric Decker is 30 years old and missed most of 2016 with hip and shoulder injuries. There's enough question marks here to bump Mariota down from "low-end fantasy starter" to "backup with upside."
Cam Newton, CAR
FPOB Rank: 10
ADP Rank: 7
In his first five NFL campaigns, Cam Newton averaged 641 rushing yards per year, and never had less than 539 rushing yards in a season. Last year he only had 359 rushing yards, and his five rushing touchdowns also tied a career low. Ordinarily you'd look at numbers like these and see 2016 as an outlier, and say Newton's rushing stats are primed to rebound. We're not so sure -- all talk out of Carolina this offseason has been that the Panthers want Newton to run less. That's one reason they used a first-round draft pick on Christian McCaffrey, so he and Jonathan Stewart could handle the groundwork. Newton's passing numbers should be better than they were last year, but far short of what they were in his MVP 2015 season. And without the great rushing stats he has had in the past to back that up, he's a low-end QB1 at best.
Andrew Luck, IND
FPOB Rank: 6
ADP Rank: 5
Honestly, we're reaching for a third quarterback for this section, but no passers outside of Mariota and Newton are going much higher in fantasy drafts than we have them in our projections. Luck is the highest-rated guy who is going too high, even by just one spot, so let's find some reason for pessimism here, however slight. The biggest is health -- Luck is on the PUP list right now following shoulder surgery, and the Colts have said there is no guarantee he will be ready for the opener. On the field, this year's Colts look a lot like last year's Colts. Frank Gore will be 34, and if he ever plays like his age, the running game could collapse. But that would just mean more passes and maybe even better fantasy numbers for Luck. You know what? This whole thing was a mistake. Keep an eye on reports on Luck's status and draft him at your own risk, but we should have stopped after Mariota and Newton. They are the only quarterbacks this year going off the boards significantly higher than they should, and the differences aren't even that significant.
Joe Mixon, CIN
FPOB Rank: 32
ADP Rank: 16
OK, here we go. This is more like what we mean by overrated. Mixon is going as an RB1 in many leagues, but we don't even have him as a fantasy RB2. It's not like Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard dropped off the face of the earth, and right now we've got those three backs splitting carries, in that order, by a 44/34/21 percent split. And that's just on rushing plays -- we think Bernard, not Mixon, will lead all Bengals backs in receiving. The whole depth chart here is a fantasy mess and you should stay away from all three of them until a roster move or injury clears the waters.
Marshawn Lynch, OAK
FPOB Rank: 21
ADP Rank: 13
A reminder to anyone counting on Marshawn Lynch to be a dynamic fantasy player this year: he spent last year biking his way through Scotland; he spent most of the year before that suffering through abdominal injuries; and even when he did play in 2015, he was ineffective, averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per carry and 60 yards per game. Now he's 31, and as we showed in a table in Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 (available right now!), no player has ever rushed for a thousand yards at that age without rushing for at least 700 the year before. Success here would be very unusual for Lynch -- though, of course, he has always been an unusual guy.
Leonard Fournette, JAC
FPOB Rank: 15
ADP Rank: 10
So there's a common theme among running overrated running backs this year: guys who weren't in the NFL in 2016 are going off the boards too high. This could be an effect of fantasy players taking the term "fantasy" to its literal level. It's a fact that Leonard Fournette has never failed to rush for 2,000 yards in the NFL, so perhaps it feels safe to imagine him doing just that. In reality, Fournette is going to a Jacksonville offense that rarely reaches the red zone -- just 125 drives since Blake Bortles was drafted in 2014. Only four offenses have fewer red zone drives in the past three seasons: the Titans, Raiders (!), 49ers, and Rams. At 240 pounds, Fournette figures to be a good goal-line back some day, but he probably won't get many chances this year.
Dez Bryant, DAL
FPOB Rank: 21
ADP Rank: 9
Remember when Randy Moss set a single-season record with 23 touchdown catches for the near-perfect 2007 Patriots? Moss didn't actually lead that team in catches. Wes Welker did. Kevin Faulk and Donte' Stallworth got their grabs too. Dez Bryant this year has a similar role to Moss' on that Patriots team. Not that we're forecasting 16 wins for Dallas or 20-some touchdowns for Bryant (if we were, he damn sure wouldn't be in the "overrated" essay). But Bryant now looks like the deep-ball specialist amongst a stacked receiving corps -- he was actually third on the team in catches per game last season. There's only one football, and Bryant will again have to battle Cole Beasley and Jason Witten (not to mention Terrance Williams, Darren McFadden, etc.) for opportunities. And despite Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, Dallas still figures to run the ball as much as they can, which will also limit Bryant's numbers. Did we mention that Bryant missed three games last season and seven the year before? Really, Bryant has been declining for a few years now, but nobody seems to have noticed. Those halcyon days of 2014 are gone for good, everyone.
|Dez Bryant, KUBIAK Projection vs. Past Seasons|
|Season||Overall||Per 16 games|
|* KUBIAK projected statistics|
Keenan Allen, LACH
FPOB Rank: 30
ADP Rank: 18
In four years, Allen has averaged 5.8 catches per game, for 68.9 yards. We're projecting him for 5.4 catches for 64.1 yards per game this year -- slightly lower than those career numbers, but not that far out of line. We figure Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, and Hunter Henry will get their catches too. The bigger issue, though, is risk, and Allen may be the biggest injury risk in all of fantasy football. In his four seasons, he has missed one, two, eight, and 15 games. It seems inevitable that he'll get hurt at some point this year. He's healthy right now, which means there is the possibility of some insane short-term production, especially in PPR leagues -- in his last nine games, Allen has 73 catches for 778 yards and four touchdowns -- but otherwise, he's too unreliable for anyone not playing in a half-season league.
Terrelle Pryor, WAS
FPOB Rank: 22
ADP Rank: 16
Terrelle Pryor's mere presence as an NFL wide receiver is still very much an experiment. He has exactly three more 100-yard receiving games than you do, assuming you are not a No. 1 NFL wide receiver. There's no question that Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than anyone in the clown car Pryor played with in Cleveland last year, but there's also no question that Pryor will have big shoes to fill with DeSean Jackson no longer in Washington. Washington's receiving corps is also much deeper than Cleveland's was last season. In 2016 Pryor had 58 more targets than any of his teammates. This year, with Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder around, he might not even lead the team.
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O.J. Howard, TB
FPOB Rank: 29
ADP Rank: 12
Put aside for a moment that rookie tight ends rarely put up big numbers. Just look at this Bucs roster right now. Where on earth is Howard going to find any targets? Mike Evans (173 targets last year) is still on this team. Adam Humphries (83) is still on this team. Even at tight end, Cameron Brate (81) is still on this team. On top of all that, Tampa Bay has added DeSean Jackson, who had 100 targets with Washington in 2016. Again, there's only one football to go around, and Howard figures to get lost in the shuffle with all this veteran talent around him.
Martellus Bennett, GB
FPOB Rank: 10
ADP Rank: 8
Bennett's numbers should be much better in Green Bay this year than Jared Cook's were last year, for sure. But will they be that much better than what Bennett did last year in New England? He's going from one Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback to another. He'll have plenty of competition for catches again (Julian Edelman and James White last year, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams in 2017). We're projecting him to basically match his 2016 statline -- a few more catches and yards, one fewer touchdown. Expecting much more than that seems overly optimistic.
Steven Hauschka, BUF
FPOB Rank: 27
ADP Rank: 8
Mock drafters! Explain yourselves! How did this happen? Do you really think that just because Steven Hauschka was a viable fantasy kicker in Seattle, he'll still be a good choice in Buffalo? In six years with Seattle, Hauschka averaged 32.8 field goal attempts and 41.0 PAT attempts per season. In those same six years, the averages for Buffalo kickers (mainly Dan Carpenter) have been 30.2 and 38.2. That may not seem like much difference, but it's total opportunity loss of 10.8 points for Hauschka. Take that away from his 128 points scored last season, and he falls from seventh place among kickers to 18th. And that's what Buffalo's kickers have averaged -- it's hard to see them matching that with Jordan Matthews and Anquan Boldin now their top wide receivers. Oh, and did we mention that Hauschka will be kicking in BUFFALO? So much to hate here, so little to love.
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FPOB Rank: 14
ADP Rank: 3
Since J.J. Watt was drafted in 2011, the Texans have been a top-10 fantasy defense four times, finishing as high as second in 2014. Of their two seasons outside the top 10, one was last year, when Watt barely played and they finished 18th. The other was in 2013, when they were... dead last. And Watt played 16 games that season. The old Watt was the best defensive player in the league, but even if he returns to that form this year, it doesn't guarantee a strong fantasy season for Houston's defense. They are likely to have the sacks, but not necessarily the interceptions. And if you play in a league with conventional fantasy playoffs, beware: the Texans play against the best offense in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in championship week.