2014 Fantasy Football: Overvalued and Undervalued Players
It’s time to explain myself. Here are the guys that I have ranked farthest away from the expert consensus (ECR) on FantasyPros.com.
Cam Newton — My rank: 4 — ECR: 8
Editor’s Note: This article was written without knowledge of Newton’s hairline rib fracture. As a result, the author would have Newton ranked closer to his ECR of 8. However, if Newton’s ranking and ADP among quarterbacks fall lower than eight as a result of the injury news, Newton would be a value as the eighth QB off the board.
This one is pretty easy to explain. Newton has been a top four quarterback in each of his three seasons in the league. I see absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be ranked as if he’ll do it again. I understand why the big three are ranked ahead of him, but I don’t get why any other quarterback would be ranked ahead of him.
Matthew Stafford is ahead of him in the consensus despite only being a top five quarterback one time in a season where he threw for 5,000 yards and 40+ touchdowns. Think he’s doing that again? That’s kind of what you’re betting on if you think he’s better than Cam this year. Andrew Luck? I’ve come around on him from where I was last year, but I find it hard to believe he’s going to garner 60+ fantasy points with his legs again this year. Matt Ryan should have his receivers back this year, but he had them both in 2012 and didn’t crack the top five at the position. Nick Foles has only ten games of being good under his belt. I don’t understand why people are finding reasons to rank them ahead of Cam.
I took a trip around the internet to find out some reasons people don’t like Cam this year. The main reason I came across was that a weak supporting cast is going to hold him back. Supposedly the absence of Steve Smith will hurt his passing numbers and a lesser offensive line will hurt his rushing numbers. As for Smith, he wasn’t that good by any metric last year. He was 44th among receivers in fantasy scoring and 42nd in yards per pass route run. So Cam can’t keep doing what he has done without a guy who wasn’t a top 40 receiver last year? And Kelvin Benjamin can’t be a top 40 receiver? It would only take about 800 yards and four touchdowns to get there. I think it’s possible his receiver situation is better than it was last year. As for the offensive line, ProFootballFocus had Carolina at 30th in the league in run blocking. Maybe they’ll be worse, but they can’t be that much worse. And he still put up 100+ fantasy points with his legs with a bad offensive line. That’s partly due to the fact that a bad run blocking offensive line doesn’t have that much to do with a quarterback’s rushing production. You could argue that a bad O-Line leads to more scrambling and thus more rushing production.
Ben Roethlisberger — My rank: 23 — ECR: 16
This is less about me having an issue with Big Ben and more about me thinking other QB2 types have much more upside. I’ll take a shot on Andy Dalton approaching what he did last year and being a top ten quarterback again. I’ll take a shot on Geno Smith, the guy who scored 20+ fantasy points in five weeks last year, being more consistent. I’ll take a chance on Johnny Manziel getting the job early in the season and racking up the fantasy points with his legs. It’s not that there’s anything I specifically hate about Roethlisberger, I’d just much rather shoot for a little more upside with a backup quarterback.
Steven Jackson — My rank: 20 — ECR: 31
I get it. Jackson turned 30 last year and saw a streak of eight straight years of 1,250+ yards from scrimmage come to an end as he missed four games, averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and only totaled 734 yards from scrimmage. And Jackson has already had injury issues in the preseason. In his absence Devonta Freeman has been ProFootballFocus’ #1 rated running back in the preseason. So like I said, I totally get it.
But I’m less concerned about Freeman than I am about Jackson’s health. But I’m not in the business of predicting injuries. If he’s able to line up in the backfield, I’m confident he’ll line up back there much more than Freeman. And if he gets the touches, he’ll be a steal as the 31st running back off the board. To return value at that draft position, he’ll need to get about 700 total yards and seven touchdowns. Last year, in just 12 games, he had 734 yards and seven touchdowns. Even if he’s as bad as he was last year, he’ll produce enough value for RB31. But if he stays healthy, he’ll return much more value. If you can grab him as your RB3, you’ve got some upside on your hands.
Ben Tate — My rank: 28 — ECR: 23
Obviously Tate’s ability to stay healthy is a concern, but I can’t ignore Jackson’s injury concerns and cite Tate’s as a reason to avoid him. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that Tate has averaged 4.3 yards per carry over his last 250 touches. He did average 5.4 yards per carry in his rookie season, but that was behind the 4th best offensive line that year according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards stat. Houston’s O-Line has still been well above average the last two years but never as good as they were in 2011. So I’m more comfortable saying Tate will average around 4.5 yards per carry as opposed to a number at or above 5.0. Cleveland’s O-Line was not as good as Houston’s last year, so that makes me even more confident in something close to that 4.3 average.
That yards per carry mark would probably make him a borderline top 20 back over the course of a full season. But we can’t bank on a full season given Tate’s history. The main difference between Jackson and Tate is that Jackson’s ADP represents somewhat of a worst case scenario, while Tate’s reflects something closer to a best case scenario. It’s better to pay for guys whose draft day price leaves them room to go up, not down.
Eric Decker — My rank: 22 — ECR: 29
Remember that hope I mentioned above that Geno could be more consistent this year? Decker would obviously be the biggest beneficiary if that comes to fruition. Jeremy Kerley led the Jets in receiving last year with just 523 yards. It’s hard to evaluate how good Decker really is, but it’s obvious that he’s much better than anyone Geno had to throw to last year.
The reason Decker is so hard to evaluate is the wild difference in the quality of quarterbacks with which he has played. With Peyton Manning he had two seasons with 1,000+ yards and double digit touchdowns. With Tim Tebow he had 612 yards and 8 touchdowns. So how much better did Peyton make him? How limiting was Tebow? And you also have to consider his season with Tebow was just his second year in the league and first year starting a majority of the games.
With Peyton, Decker was about a 190 fantasy-point-per-year player. With Tebow he had about 110 points. And again, that was his first full year as a starting receiver. To be a top 20 receiver he’ll need to put up about 140 points this year. Given that the midpoint between what he did with Peyton and what he did with Tebow was 145, I’d say he can be a top 20 receiver. I think he’s probably a better receiver than he was when he played with Tebow, and I think Geno is a better passer than Tebow was. It will only take 920 yards and 8 touchdowns for Decker to get to 140 points. If you don’t think he can do that, pass him up. But I’ll happily take him as a WR3 when he has a pretty good chance at being a WR2 by my estimation.
Cordarrelle Patterson — My rank: 30 — ECR: 20
Someone is going to have to explain to me why a guy who averaged less than 30 yards receiving per game last year is ranked as a top 20 receiver. I understand that his speed allowed him to run for three scores and return two kicks for scores, but are you really banking on non-traditional production like that from your WR2? Even with all that production that didn’t come from catching the ball, Patterson wasn’t a top 30 receiver. And he didn’t manage to produce big plays when catching the ball. He averaged just 10.4 yards per reception which was 98th out of the 111 receivers who took 25% of their team’s snaps. That’s despite him being 7th in the league in yards after catch per reception. He was not the deep threat you might expect given his ‘playmaking’ ability.
I realize that he has a lot of upside if he can improve his performance as a receiver and not just derive value from being a playmaker. But I don’t see the point in paying for that expected leap. As the 20th receiver off the board, he absolutely has to take that big step forward to return value. And that’s assuming he’s able to continue the miscellaneous production from running and the return game. Betting on a receiver to score five touchdowns via those plays is a pretty risky bet.