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Nerves of Steel: My Preseason Underrated List

This is the greatest time of year for fantasy football fanatics. Week three of the pre-season and for the majority of us, DRAFT WEEK! Confidence is never higher than in the days leading up to the draft. The annual “this is gonna be my year” speeches, the smack talking, the bonding of friends, it doesn’t get much better. I say enjoy it because for the majority of us, it’s all downhill from here. There can be only one winner and we at DLF are going to help you be that champion.

This is such a unique year for drafts.

After the “Top Three,” the first round is a crap shoot. Four through twelve could pretty much be picked out of a hat. We know for the most part which players are going to be involved in those picks, but the order in which they’re taken is anybody’s guess and everyone’s personal preference. For the true mavericks out there, there is opportunity to be had, but it’s not for the weak at heart. It goes against ADP and breaking free of being a “rankings slave.”

I’m talking about going against the grain and drafting purely based on long term value. A drafter’s ultimate “buy low” strategy that will undoubtedly cause hair loss, occasional nervous breakdowns, and sleepless nights. Right now is a very opportunistic time in dynasty start up drafts, one that I have not seen before. Due to uncertainty after the top three, elite players holding out, current injuries, players coming off season ending injuries, and just all around knuckle heads, players who were going as high as number four overall are now slipping down draft boards and presenting incredible values. It’s to the point that if I did not have a pick in the top five, I would seriously consider trying to trade out of the first round to collect as many picks in rounds three through six as I could.

I looked at MyFantasyLeague.com’s ADP data since August 15th in 12 team PPR keeper league start-ups (they do not have a “dynasty” filter) and have identified some players whose current ADP does not reflect their actual worth in Keeper/Dynasty leagues. Here is the link in case you would like to see for yourself. The rookies ADPs are slightly inflated due to being taken so highly in “rookie only” drafts.

WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS IN A REDRAFT LEAGUE

Best first round value: 1.09 Darren McFadden, RB OAK

I believe there are two kinds of people in fantasy football – those who didn’t have Darren McFadden in 2010 and were burnt because of it, and those who have had Darren McFadden every other year and were burnt because of it. Do you remember that scene in Hangover II where Stu has the napkin over his orange juice because he’s afraid to get roofied by Alan? We’ve been roofied by McFadden before and now we cover our orange juice. Don’t cover your orange juice anymore! In limited pre-season action McFadden has looked explosive, dynamic, and ready to roll. With Carson Palmer and Co. there to keep defenses honest, RUN DMC will see some of the widest running lanes he’s seen as a pro.

I know McFadden has never played a full 16 game season and I know he’s a running injury risk, but in my opinion there are only five running backs who have the ability to finish as the number one back in a PPR league – Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Ryan Mathews, and Darren McFadden. With Mathews being injured and uncertain to start the season healthy, that really only leaves four to battle it out. Take advantage of everyone else’s hesitation and gamble on the upside. If you’ve owned him before, you’re already familiar with the “Waiver Wire Dash,” so that’s a plus!

Best second round value: 2.01 Maurice Jones-Drew, RB JAX

If not for his holdout, Jones-Drew would easily be the fourth running back behind the elite three. After leading the league in rushing last year, Jones-Drew feels he deserves to be paid in line with the game’s premier runners and has dug his heels in deep in a nasty holdout. MJD holds basically zero leverage in the situation since he just turned 27 years old, has two years remaining on his contract, is seeing a talented back up playing better in the pre-season than he arguably ever has and now has an owner who has very publicly said he will not re-negotiate and seemingly doesn’t care if he shows up or not. Now there are rumors that Jones-Drew says he’s open to the possibility of a trade.

It’s not going to happen.

What’s likely to happen is his money being shuffled around and converted into a signing bonus or some easily earned incentives will be added to his contract and everything will be fine. When hurt feelings are the biggest obstacle, it’ll work out.

Maurice Jones-Drew’s ADP is currently at the beginning of round two and will continue to slip downward. If he shows up to camp today it will shoot back up to the 4-6 range. Everyone drafting 9-12 has a legitimate shot at a running back with top three potential. The best news is he’s currently healthy and has always had a reputation of showing up in tip top shape.

Best third round value: 3.10 Ryan Mathews, RB SD

What a difference two weeks make. Ryan Mathews was the hot name as the number four running back in just about every type of fantasy league, PPR or not. On his very first carry of the pre-season, all that came crashing down with a fractured collar bone. Now he’s being selected at the end of round three? That might be the greatest value in all of fantasy football. I understand there are durability concerns and rightfully so, but if you were willing to draft this guy at 1.04 as recently as two weeks ago, you should still be on board with Mathews given his current ADP.

This isn’t a knee injury, a muscle/ligament tear, or something that would be re-occurring in any way. It was a freak fracture that could have happened to any other back in the league. Recent reports on his recovery state his return could be anywhere from week one to week three. Even if he misses the first two games that should still give you 14 games of a healthy elite running back drafted in round three – you aren’t going to find that kind of value anywhere else. If Mathews slips to me anywhere in round three, I’m taking him and am going to be excited about it.

Best fourth round value: 4.11 Percy Harvin, WR MIN

For all the attention that Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, AJ Green, and Jordy Nelson got last year, Harvin really flew under the radar. He had 138 offensive touches last year hauling in 87 catches and carrying the ball 51 times. NOBODY was hotter or averaged more fantasy points at the wide receiver position in PPR leagues than him from week ten on when he had 56 receptions for 633 yards and six touchdowns while adding another 32 carries for 160 yards and another score. He did all this after Christian Ponder took over in week seven.

The arrow is definitely pointing up for Harvin. It seems as if the migraine problem is behind him and Christian Ponder simply loves him. With the super human-like Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL, the emergence of Kyle Rudolph, the suspension of Jerome Simpson, and a division so loaded with offensive firepower that scores will look like a video game, the Vikings will continue to get the ball into the hands of their most explosive playmaker in any way possible. In fantasy football, you look for guys who have the opportunity to produce and there are few players who can match Harvin’s ability to reach pay dirt. I would be comfortable having him as my WR1 and when people are drafting bigger names ahead of him, let him fall into your lap.

Best fifth round value: 5.03 Brandon Lloyd, WR NEP

This was a tough choice for me, Lloyd at 5.03 or Antonio Gates at 5.02? Health permitting, both will outperform their draft day ADP, but I went with Lloyd because I think the tight end position is deep enough that there is value to be had later.

It’s no secret there is a perfect storm brewing in New England with Josh McDaniels returning to coordinate the Patriots’ offense again. The last time he was New England’s offensive coordinator the Patriots went undefeated and Tom Brady threw 50 touchdowns. Granted, Lloyd is not Randy Moss circa 2007, but he has proven track record with this offensive coordinator and McDaniels undoubtedly knows how to maximize Lloyd’s talents. With the amount of talent in New England this year, I don’t know how anything short of divine intervention will slow these guys down. How do you defend the field if the Patriots trot out Lloyd and Wes Welker on the outside, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, Aaron Hernandez at H-back, and Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps at tailback? What personnel package do you have out there to stop that? Who do you double team?

There are obviously a lot of mouths to feed in New England, but the piece Brady and Co. have been missing since Moss’ departure was a legitimate deep threat. While Lloyd’s value is lessened in a PPR league, his value remains high based on potential for astronomical yardage totals. Tom Brady threw the ball over 600 times last year while breaking Dan Marino’s single season record for passing yards, and that number only figures to go up. Lloyd at the beginning of round five is a good value for teams that start out RB-RB-RB in drafts. To get him as a WR2 is stealing, despite his age.

Best sixth round value: 6.10 Andrew Luck, QB IND

Conventional wisdom says not to draft a rookie quarterback. They struggle to pick up the game and almost always throw more interceptions than touchdowns. While the TD:INT ratio might be true for Luck, that’s where conventional wisdom stops. This guy is the truth. His first preseason pass as a professional went 63 yards to the house and almost broke Twitter. That game versus the Rams was as impressive of a first impression I’ve ever witnessed and his follow up versus the Steelers on Sunday Night Football was equally impressive. He’s unfazed by mistakes, quickly adjusting and moving on. This team is not good. The defense is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and will likely cause Luck to go into catch up mode for a few years. Sign me up.

After the recent seasons of rookie quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco, the expectations are high. Replacing one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game brings expectations that are even higher. Watching him on the field and off, nothing looks like it’s too big for him. The biggest problem rookie quarterbacks have is getting the game to slow down for them. Andrew Luck already looks like he’s bored when the ball snaps – that’s the kind of confidence I want in a quarterback and I think we could see the rookie record for passing yards get broke again this year. He really has the chance to put up a top ten quarterback season in year one. I would rather start Andrew Luck on my fantasy team this year than Philip Rivers or Peyton Manning. Ya, I said it.

Best seventh round value: 7.05 Kenny Britt, WR TEN

Everyone needs a little knucklehead in their lives! Having eight run-ins with the law over the past three seasons and returning from a knee injury are not the only things that could keep Britt off the field at the beginning of the 2012 season.  Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Britt is still only 23 years old. True story, he doesn’t turn 24 until September 19. So, assuming he gets his head on straight, his best football is arguably ahead of him.

Before going down with a torn ACL in week three, Britt had hauled in 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season. It was quite obvious that Britt was the best player on the field for the Titans and teams did not have an answer for him. Now he’s slowly recovering from multiple surgeries on his right knee while also experiencing soreness in his left, possibly from over compensating for the right, all while waiting for word on his expected suspension to start the season. It is being reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Britt’s suspension should only be of the one to two game variety. That might actually work out to his advantage by forcing him to take a little extra time to heal, as long as the free time doesn’t lead to more shenanigans.

Bottom line, Britt is an elite talent at just 23 years old. He’s the kind of guy that could be on your dynasty or keeper team for a decade plus and getting a guy like that in round seven is well worth whatever short term risk that is involved. To get him as a WR3 is just icing on the cake considering he has the potential to be a WR1 in fantasy leagues.

Best eighth round value: 8.12 Denarius Moore, WR OAK

The reason I love this value so much is for a couple of reasons, first, I love Carson Palmer in this offense with these weapons. Second, in this scenario where I would end up with Brandon Lloyd as my WR2, I don’t need Moore to put up eye popping stats right away. I just need Moore to develop at a faster rate than Lloyd’s decline. Finally, I think Moore is the Mike Wallace of the west. As with most of the guys on this list the only thing holding Moore back is his ability to keep his hamstrings healthy. It was a problem throughout his rookie year and it has become an issue already in his second season.

The upside to be special is definitely present. In limited action last year without a training camp and with a quarterback coming in off the street mid season, Moore put up a very respectable 33 catches for 618 yards and five scores in just 12 games.  On top of that, Palmer can’t say enough good things about him, continuously gushing about his excitement to play with a receiver of his caliber.

The later your draft, the later you will probably be able to get Moore. I expect him to go anywhere from very early eighth round to the late part of round nine. I would not hesitate to reel in his upside anywhere in round eight.

Best ninth round value: 9.01 Ben Tate, RB HOU

What better RB4 than a guy who has stand alone flex appeal as an NFL backup, but bona fide RB1 upside if he starts? Houston and Kansas City should battle each other for the league lead in rushing attempts this year, to the point that they will be able to feed four fantasy relevant running backs.

With Arian Foster nursing a hamstring injury to start last season, Tate stepped in and ripped off consecutive 100 yard games for the Texans. When Foster returned healthy, Tate remained involved in the Texans run game coming in to spell Foster for a series here and there. When the dust settled, Tate fell just 58 yards shy of his first 1,000 yard season.

Tate just turned 24 years old and has two years left on his rookie contract, but the Texans could shop his services after this season in an effort to get value for a player they will probably lose for the 2014 season. Even if you don’t own Foster, Tate has plenty of standalone value and if anything does happen to Foster, Tate becomes an every week starter at a position full of volatility. In my eyes, he’s definitely worth a ninth round flier.

Other late round value:

Toby Gerhart, RB MIN (12.08) His ADP is on the decline because Adrian Peterson was built in the Gatorade lab or could possibly even be a Terminator, but he is one tiny setback away from being a low end RB1 or a strong RB2.

Carson Palmer, QB OAK (14.02) I’ve been beating the drum for Palmer since I got to DLF, you can read the article here.

Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN (15.12) A huge sure handed red zone target with a Gronk-like catch radius. He’s a security blanket for Christian Ponder and is essentially the WR2 in Minnesota. He has the best chance to make a Jimmy Graham like leap into the upper echelon of elite tight ends.

Jon Baldwin, WR KCC (17.02) After a rookie season that was pretty much a wash for all things Kansas City, Baldwin gets a new offensive coordinator, a revamped running game, a motivated partner that will attract most of the attention in Dwayne Bowe, and the potential to be the man next year when and if Bowe leaves. Reports out of Kansas City are Matt Cassel looks rejuvenated and motivated after the firing of Todd Haley. Baldwin is well worth a dynasty stash in round 17.

In my opinion, every single one of these guys are currently being undervalued. With a little luck, a little maneuvering, and a whole lot of patience, you could build this team through a startup dynasty draft. One of the biggest mistakes we make on draft weekend in being short sighted. You always want to shoot out of the gate with momentum on your side, but you have to remember you’re building a team to win in week 16 this year and for years to come. Nobody cares if you start out 4-0, they only care if you hoist the trophy, cash the check, or bask in the glory of a championship.

Follow me on Twitter @OlingerIDPGuru

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Ray Voeller
9 years ago

Reggie Wayne should be in there. His value ties in there with Luck.

bbwayne
9 years ago

I’m glad you are sticking up for Palmer. I still think he is underrated this year. Preseason has been hit or miss but still too much talent from the supporting cast. However, he will be a turnover machine unfortunately.

StevieMo
9 years ago

Palmer’s fortunes will be tied to McFadden’s good health, in my opinion. Not only will teams have to game-plan stopping McFadden’s rushing attempts, he’s a terrific target for Palmer and one the Raiders are even having line up spread wide on occasion. A solid QB2 with some upside.

jlasaf2007
9 years ago

One of the better articles I’ve read on DLF.

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