Golden Oldies

Eric Hardter

Despite only being about a month and a half removed from the 2018 NFL Draft, numerous dynasty leagues have already concluded selecting their rookie crop. As we know, however, the process of roster optimization remains perpetual, and many owners are now identifying remaining perceived weaknesses, and plugging their gaps accordingly. This can include all deals great and small, current players and future picks, with an eye towards both the immediate and long-term futures.

One subset of trades commonly seen around this time of the year is the acquisition of cheaper veteran players. The premise is relatively straightforward – Team A wants to upgrade a starting spot or add some prime depth without mortgaging the future, while Team B is looking to get younger and cash out on an aging player before the bottom falls out. It’s your classic short-term, win now venture for Team A, and a forward-thinking move for Team B.

What if, however, it’s possible for Team A to have its cake and eat it too? In other words, make a move to acquire a veteran player on the (relative) cheap, thereby gaining immediate fantasy value, but also accruing downstream dynasty value as well. With a couple of players I’m going to highlight below, it may just be possible.

The below list includes current NFLers who are past the point of no return (the dreaded 30 years of age), or will be soon. Such an age is traditionally viewed as a “no fly zone” for many owners, with a drop-off in value anticipated next year no matter what happens in the 2018 season. Despite that, I believe there are enough reasons for optimism to assert that the potential windfall of acquiring these players is disproportionate to the cost.

Included with each player will be a narrative as to why I anticipate a bump in dynasty value. I’ll also include the current ADP, reflective (though not completely directly proportional) of cost, as well as where I think they might find themselves at this time next year. Let’s get started!

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Doug Baldwin, WR SEA

June, 2018 ADP = 38.50

Anticipated June, 2019 ADP = 31.50

Of every player on this list, Baldwin easily has the largest hill to climb simply by virtue of where he currently falls in the ADP hierarchy. With only 37 players in front of him, as well as an impending rookie class between now and next year, movement options are limited. Even a simply “above average” year could result in a fall of a round or more.

With that said, Baldwin is also the youngest of this group (he’ll turn 30 in September), has been the most consistent (average line of 82.3-1,062.7-9.7 over the past three years, with finishes of PPR WR10, WR8, and WR14), and has arguably the best situation. Additionally, while he’s really exploded over the past three years, it’s not as if this display of skill has only been a recent trend. In fact, apart from a down sophomore campaign, Baldwin doesn’t have a single season with fewer than 50 receptions or 778 yards, despite playing on some truly putrid Seattle offenses (pre-Russell Wilson era).

To the aspect of situation, the Seahawks lost their second and third biggest targets to free agency, with the departed Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson accounting for 178 looks (32.2% of last year’s passing attempts). The two also corralled nearly half (16 of 34) of Wilson’s touchdown passes, and on the whole aggregated 319.3 PPR points between them. With other team options either unproven (Amara Darboh), uneven (Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, and Ed Dickson), or over the hill (Brandon Marshall), it’s easy to see Baldwin as the primary benefactor. This could be buoyed even further by the losses on a defense that was already sinking towards mediocrity in 2017, which could result in more passing attempts than anticipated.

Finally, it’s not as if the players above him in the current ADP pecking order are without warts. For various reasons, it’s easy to see many falling, including Amari Cooper (is he actually good?), Melvin Gordon (mediocre efficiency), Stefon Diggs (injury concerns), Allen Robinson (coming off an injury and on a new offense), Corey Davis (needs a big jump), Devonta Freeman (does Tevin Coleman dig into his share?), Derrius Guice/Jerick McKinnon (unproven), Jordan Howard (does the new offense suit him?), Rob Gronkowski (retirement concerns) and T.Y. Hilton (needs a bounce back after 2017). For all these reasons, seeing Baldwin jump a half round or more over the next year wouldn’t surprise me.

Michael Crabtree, WR BAL

June, 2018 ADP = 92.67

Anticipated June, 2019 ADP = 79.33

Well that’s a specific prognostication, isn’t it? Yes, but with a reason – it’s precisely the current ADP of 34-year-old Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a man who has proven that one number (age) is less important than others (production). If Crabtree has the type of season of which he’s capable, he could accomplish this feat (and more) 365 days from now.

Despite being viewed as the “lesser half” of Oakland’s receiving duo, over the past three years Crabtree actually outperformed the aforementioned Cooper in terms and receptions (232 to 203) and touchdowns (25 to 18), though falling 360 yards behind his teammate. While he wasn’t overly efficient in doing so, he nevertheless commanded an immense target share each year, which is expected to continue in 2018 due to the revolving door of pass catchers on Crabtree’s new team, the Baltimore Ravens. To that point, Baltimore has, somewhat amazingly, lost their top three targets from last year’s team (42.9% of targets), leaving the current leader in the clubhouse as running back Javorius Allen.

Whereas the team was proactive in seeking out replacements, Crabtree is easily the most accomplished pass catcher in the room, which now includes enigmas in John Brown and Willie Snead, and a motley assortment of rookie and disappointing veteran tight ends. Quarterback Joe Flacco will need a go-to target, and though he hasn’t been very good as of late, he ended the 2018 season with a flourish (as per this article from our friend Evan Silva), and is now another year removed from a torn ACL and back injuries. Crabtree has already served this function for multiple teams and multiple signal callers, and I expect this trend to continue in the 2018 season, priming him for a subsequent increase in value.

Julian Edelman, WR NE

June, 2018 ADP = 95.83

Anticipated June, 2019 ADP = 72.75

The year is 2043. A 65-year old Tom Brady is tossing touchdowns to Wes Welker, en route to his 12th Super Bowl championship. Meanwhile, Jordan Matthews truthers unite and swear that next year is going to be the year he breaks out…

So why did I lead off with the above? It’s because the disappointing Matthews was arguably the only “competition” brought in for the slot receiver and security blanket Edelman. Coupled with the loss of 236 targets between Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis, it’s abundantly clear the man is going to get fed.

To that point, over his past four seasons (excluding, obviously, a missed 2017 year), Edelman has already received a robust 9.7 targets per game, which he’s turned into an average of 6.5 receptions for 69.6 very nice yards. This has provided a robust baseline already in the PPR WR2 ballpark, before factoring in the occasional touchdown, of which he averages about five per year. With the red zone nightmare Gronkowski still around, there’s no reason to expect that latter number to increase, but Edelman’s floor remains regardless.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that Edelman is slated to serve a four-game suspension to start off the season. While it’s unfortunate from a seasonal standpoint, it actually presents a tremendous opportunity to buy now, weather the storm, and reap the rewards starting at week five and moving forward. Simply put, Edelman has been a Patriot for nine years (including last year’s missed season), and he’s not going to get bumped from his spot in the pecking order because of a measly quartet of contests. When he returns to producing like we’re used to seeing, the ADP will follow.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR DEN

June, 2018 ADP = 119.83

Anticipated June, 2019 ADP = 86.00

Along with the rest of the Denver offense, Sanders had a forgettable year in 2017, finishing with a paltry 47-555-2 line (on 94 targets). With the Unholy Trinity of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch averaging to connect on under 59% of their attempts with more interceptions than touchdowns, it’s more than reasonable to argue that the Broncos had league-worst play under center. Adding injury to insult, Sanders also missed four games, and clearly played hobbled towards the end of the season.

Enter free agent signing Case Keenum, the rising tide to lift all boats. Seemingly coming out of nowhere to take over for the Blue Cross frequent flyer Sam Bradford, Keenum represents a significant upgrade in accuracy, efficiency, and scoring opportunities from last season (yes, I’m well aware of how crazy that sentence would have sounded if written a year ago). As Sanders has shown, when provided even subpar to mediocre quarterback play (see 2015 and 2016) he can yield fantasy viability, with great play under center potentially leading to something like 2014’s 101-1,404-9 explosion.

The additional feather in the cap for Sanders is Keenum’s affinity for slot receivers. Last season Vikings slot man Adam Thielen exploded for a 91-1,276-4 line on 143 targets, most of them from the new Broncos gunslinger. If such a trend were to continue, both Sanders and teammate Demaryius Thomas represent exceptional bounce-back candidates. With the lowest ADP of the group listed here, and including Thomas, expect Sanders to see the biggest bump in value.

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eric hardter