/2019 Fantasy Football: Best Value Draft Picks

2019 Fantasy Football: Best Value Draft Picks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    One word in fantasy football drafts is more important than any other: value.

    Whether you’re drafting from the first slot or the No. 12 hole, success on draft day hinges on getting value with your picks by selecting players who will outperform their draft slots.

    Fantasy leagues aren’t won in the first or second round, where it’s much easier to determine who to pick. The rubber meets the road in the middle and late rounds. Selecting a fifth-rounder who performs like a third-rounder is how playoff teams are made. Getting an eighth-rounder who turns into a solid weekly starter is how championships are won.

    All the players listed here are strong bets to out-point their average draft positions at Fantasy Pros and offer a good (or even great) return on investment.

    They’re the kinds of values who will lead your team to glory.

          

    Need more help with your fantasy football lineup? Matt Camp answers your Fantasy questions live on B/R Gridiron’s new show, Your Fantasy Fire Drill. Download the B/R app now to submit your questions and tune in every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    ADP: QB10 (No. 88 overall)

    Few things will scare off fantasy drafters quicker than a player who heads into the season hurt. As soon as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went down with a sprained foot in the preseason, his ADP started to crater.

    Newton has already shed his walking boot and was back on the practice field Monday, though Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer reported Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated the team is taking it easy with its MVP quarterback.

    “He’s basically just striding [his throws] out right now, not driving off of his leg or anything like that,” Rivera said. “I didn’t get the number of how many throws he made, but he threw it and threw it pretty well today, so we’re excited. He didn’t really drop back.”

    The Panthers are reportedly optimistic Newton will play in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams, and that should have fantasy drafters licking their chops at the prospect of getting him at a discount.

    Last year, Newton was eighth in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks in NFL.com default fantasy scoring during a year in which his throwing shoulder was troublesome. The year before, only Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks had more total fantasy points among quarterbacks.

    Newton’s shoulder rehab has reportedly progressed well, according to ESPN’s David Newton, and even if you’re worried his flipper could cost him a game or two, his per-game upside is more than worth an eighth-round pick.

    After all, that’s why fantasy GMs keep a backup quarterback on the roster.

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    ADP: QB12 (No. 101 overall)

    Among fantasy quarterbacks in 2019, there’s no bigger head-scratcher than Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    All Roethlisberger did in 2018 was lead the NFL with 5,129 passing yards and finish third in fantasy points at the position. And yet in 12-team leagues, Big Ben is being drafted outside weekly starter territory.

    It makes no sense.

    Yes, Roethlisberger lost Antonio Brown during the offseason. But as Steven Ruiz wrote at For the Win, that lone personnel loss doesn’t fully explain this free-fall:

    “I, too, am a little worried about the Antonio Brown trade, but Roethlisberger is basically in charge of his own play-calling and we know he’s going to throw the ball at least 600 times this season. Pittsburgh’s receiving corps may be a little worse off, but there’s enough here for Ben to repeat as a top-five fantasy quarterback. He’s currently going as QB13. Roethlisberger’s efficiency numbers may drop, but the volume will be there.”

    It’s not like Roethlisberger’s cupboard is suddenly bare. His connection with third-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster was plainly evident in Pittsburgh’s dress-rehearsal dismemberment of the Tennessee Titans.

    Roethlisberger could slide outside the top three in fantasy points this year—or maybe even the top five. But if he finishes in the back end of the top 10, he will still be a solid value in 2019.

    Never mind all the running back and wide receiver talent you’ll be able to add while other teams are reaching for signal-callers.

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    ADP: RB21 (No. 41 overall)

    For much of draft season, considerable uncertainty surrounded Seattle Seahawks tailback Chris Carson. Much of it centered on second-year pro Rashaad Penny and how much work he would siphon from last year’s No. 15 points-per-reception (PPR) tailback. Some even predicted Penny would wrest the lead job from Carson altogether.

    Or not.

    Penny struggled early in the preseason, managing just 13 yards on 12 carries over the first two exhibition games. And after reports that Carson is expected to receive two-thirds of the backfield touches and be used more in the passing game, it appears he’s firmly entrenched as the top back for the league’s most run-heavy team.

    That’s enough for Adam Ronis of Sports Illustrated:

    “Carson is rising and has gone in the fourth round of recent drafts. The talk out of Seattle is Carson will be more involved in the passing game. The Seahawks were one of the most run-heavy teams last season and Carson was seventh in carries last season in 14 games. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he would like Carson to see around 50 targets. Last season, he saw just 24 targets. Fantasy football owners participating in PPR leagues are targeting Carson earlier than ever since news out of Seattle broke.”

    At the very least, Carson again looks set to be the rock-solid second fantasy starter he was in 2018. And if he does lock down a heavy workload and more usage in the passing game, the 24-year-old could slide his way into low-end RB1 territory.

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    ADP: RB28 (No. 64 overall)

    Much like Chris Carson, much of Tevin Coleman’s depressed ADP can be attributed to a crowded San Francisco backfield. Jerick McKinnon could be set to return to practice as he rehabs an ACL tear. Matt Breida, just as he did when healthy last year, has looked good in the preseason.

    That strong preseason from Breida (coupled with a so-so one from Coleman) is scaring some fantasy drafters off the 26-year-old. But where some see cause for concern, Heath Cummings of CBS Sports sees an opportunity for the v-word:

    “Breida is definitely good, and as long as McKinnon stays out of the picture there’s plenty of room for both backs to be useful in Fantasy, but I’m not going to let one game of efficiency change who I expect to lead the team. I doubt the head coach is either. I have Coleman projected for 230 touches, which would be a career-high. Maybe you think that’s a little too high after Saturday? That’s perfectly fine. He’s been a top-24 running back each of the past three seasons with fewer than 200 touches. Coleman should still be the lead back and has produced better in the passing game than Breida in the past. I have no problem with him as my No. 2 running back.”

    That head coach (Kyle Shanahan) is well aware of what Coleman’s capable of thanks to their time together in Atlanta. It’s one of the reasons the Niners signed Coleman to begin with. Back in 2016, he posted top-15 numbers in PPR fantasy points per game as a complementary back to Devonta Freeman in Shanahan’s offense.

    As the lead back in San Francisco, he’s more than capable of doing so again.

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    ADP: RB32 (No. 74 overall)

    In fairness, there’s risk involved with drafting Washington Redskins tailback Derrius Guice. After all, the next NFL carry he gets in a game that counts will be his first, as the second-year pro tore his ACL in camp last year.

    However, Guice looked healthy and explosive in his exhibition debut, gaining 44 yards on 11 carries. More than a few analysts, including ESPN’s John Keim, believe he is only getting started and that the sky is the limit:

    “I definitely think he’ll ultimately be the guy. I can see him eventually getting 60 percent of the carries. Even he admits he’s still working his way back. But the other night was great for him. He shook some rust, gained some trust in the knee.

    “To me, he’s a solid play [at that range in fantasy drafts] because there’s more upside. He potentially could be their best back within a few games.”

    This more than likely isn’t a pick that will net short-term returns—not with Guice still working his way back and the ageless Adrian Peterson still in D.C.

    But before last year’s injury, camp reports about Guice were glowing. And while Peterson had a good year, topping 1,000 yards for the Redskins in 2018, he’s certainly not the team’s future at the position.

    Washington spent a second-round pick on Guice last year, presumably hoping he would be. And sooner than later, the team is going to want to find out whether that’s the case.

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    ADP: WR28 (No. 62 overall)

    We’re seeing something of a return to the old days of fantasy draft strategy—if by old days you mean 10 years ago. More and more teams are hitting the running back position hard early, confident there will be upside available later on.

    As Mike Tagliere reported for Fantasy Pros, that’s because there are wide receivers available in WR3 territory with potential top-12 upside—players like Alshon Jeffery of the Eagles: 

    “He was another one who played an abbreviated season in 2018, finishing with 92 targets in 13 games. He still finished as the No. 26 wide receiver and that was despite playing some of those games with backup Nick Foles. In 29 games under Doug Pederson, Jeffery has averaged 7.3 targets per game, which is a 117-target pace. Adding DeSean Jackson to the offense will only help shift coverages away from Jeffery’s side of the field, something he hasn’t had the last two years. With Carson Wentz healthy, Jeffery has WR1 upside.”

    After clearing 1,100 receiving yards for the Chicago Bears back in 2014 (his second straight season topping that benchmark), Jeffery hasn’t hit 850 yards in a campaign since. But the 29-year-old was on a 1,000-yard pace last year, finished inside WR2 territory in 2017 and was 23rd in PPR fantasy points per game in 2018 and 22nd among wide receivers in 11 games with Wentz.

    Assuming Wentz stays on the field, Jeffery’s floor is WR2 territory. In an improved Eagles offense, his ceiling is inside the top 12.

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    ADP: WR30 (No. 70 overall)

    If I bang the drum any harder for Robby Anderson this summer, then my arm is going to fall off. I’ve been talking him up as a value at wide receiver for some time and drafting shares of the Jets wideout wherever I can.

    The problem is that I’m not alone in this belief. All sorts of fantasy pundits are touting Anderson as a potential breakout candidate, including Ryan Talbot of NYup.com:

    “The New York Jets added plenty of talent around second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, but Robby Anderson should remain his favorite target in the passing game. One season ago, Anderson was targeted 94 times in 14 games. Anderson hauled in 50 of those targets for 752 yards and six touchdowns.

    “Anderson is a big-play threat anytime he has the ball in his hands. Considering New York’s cornerbacks, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team involved in quite a few shootouts this season. That could bode well for Anderson and lead to his first 1,000 yard season.”

    Over a three-week stretch from Weeks 13-15 last year, which also happens to include part of the fantasy playoffs, Anderson caught 19 passes and averaged over 100 yards with a touchdown per game. He may not put up those gaudy numbers over an entire season, but it’s been clear in the preseason that surge wasn’t a fluke. Quarterback Sam Darnold has looked his way with regularity.

    A middling WR3 price point for Anderson is laughably low.

    Take advantage of it.

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    ADP: WR38 (No. 84 overall)

    One of the advantages to drafting late (other than ducking preseason injuries like Lamar Miller‘s or bombshell surprises like Andrew Luck‘s retirement) is the opportunity to take advantage of changing outlooks for players.

    While it can be risky to alter an outlook substantially based on one exhibition contest, Dede Westbrook’s fantasy arrow is pointing up in a big way if Jacksonville’s dress rehearsal against the Miami Dolphins was any indication.

    Westbrook was targeted seven times—more than half of quarterback Nick Foles’ 10 attempts on the evening. He converted those looks into four catches for 29 yards and a touchdown. And as Cummings pointed out, he nearly had a much bigger game than that:

    “We’ve been raving about Westbrook as the No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville all summer, so it was nice to see him dominate targets the way he did. But it wasn’t just the target volume or the passes completed that gave me reason for optimism. There were two attempts well downfield that almost connected for Westbrook. If he’s targeted downfield regularly there’s no reason he can’t be a top-20 wide receiver.”

    Given the quarterback play in Jacksonville during recent years, it’s at least somewhat understandable that fantasy drafters aren’t stampeding to select any Jags wideout. But Foles was brought in to remedy the deficiencies in the passing game.

    It appears he has already settled on Westbrook as his go-to option through the air. If that’s the case, there’s big-time value to be had in the eighth round of 12-team drafts.

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    ADP: TE5 (No. 57 overall)

    Where tight ends are concerned, value is a relative concept in 2019.

    There’s very little depth at the top of the position. After the Big Three—Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, all of whom are usually off the board by the end of Round 3—the waters muddy quickly.

    However, one player available over two full rounds after Kittle has a chance to jump into that top tier of tight ends.

    With Odell Beckham Jr. now catching passes in Cleveland, the Giants lack any kind of proven downfield threat or red-zone option. As Jason Schandl wrote for FanDuel, Evan Engram’s athleticism and a bump in target share could portend a breakout season:

    “Volume shouldn’t be hard for Engram to come by in 2019 either. Over the last two seasons, Engram’s targets per game have jumped from 5.6 when Odell Beckham Jr. was on the field to 7.8 when Beckham sat, which would represent a difference of more than 35 targets over a 16-game season. Golden Tate is suspended to start the year, and behind Tate and Sterling Shepard, the New York Giants’ receiving corps is rather barren.”

    It’s not like Engram hasn’t already made a fantasy dent. He was fifth in PPR fantasy points among tight ends as a rookie in 2017 and seventh in PPR fantasy points per game in 2018.

    But as the de facto top target for a team that will be playing catch-up all the time, Engram is on the brink of his best season yet.

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    ADP: TE11 (No. 106 overall)

    The reality at tight end leaves you with three potential paths to take.

    You can invest heavily in an early-round pick like Kelce, Ertz and Kittle. You can wait a couple of rounds and hope a player like Engram, Hunter Henry of the Los Angeles Chargers or O.J. Howard of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leap-frogs into that top tier. Or you can wait several more rounds and sacrifice a bit of ceiling while stockpiling backs and receivers before adding a guy like Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons.

    Hooper quietly had a nice season in 2018, posting a 71/660/4 stat line that was good for sixth in PPR fantasy points at tight end. Justin Carter of RotoBaller thinks that finish may be hard to duplicate in 2019, but that doesn’t mean Hooper isn’t still of use to fantasy GMs in PPR formats: 

    “I would caution against Hooper in standard-scoring leagues because he didn’t have a single 100-yard game last season, but in PPR, he’s a much better play. He had at least three receptions in all but three games last season and had nine or more catches three times. Hooper’s a good safety valve for Matt Ryan, someone that he can target over and over while reasonably expecting Hooper to bring in the vast majority of those targets.

    “While Hooper’s overall finish this year isn’t likely to be what it was last year unless we see another rash of tight end injuries, he’s a solid and productive player who you can get later in your drafts than other top tight ends.”

    Given the mess that is the tight end position in 2019, a finish anywhere inside the top 10 (and at least a measure of consistency) would make Hooper a bargain.