With the preseason nearing week three dress rehearsals, fantasy drafts will soon be underway. The trash talk is picking up again, but you’re going to have to back it up.
Everyone has been burned by early draft picks that seemed infallible at the time. Andrew Luck, Jeremy Hill and Eddie Lacy still make their 2015 fantasy owners sick. Many considered Luck the number one quarterback. He managed to play in seven games and he ranked 12th in average points during that period. Owners wasted an early pick on their league’s worst QB1 – or a backup quarterback for 8-team and 10-team leagues. Hill and Lacy averaged the 28th and 40th most points for running backs respectively. They were fantasy football serial killers, wiping out teams that made the fatal decision to draft them.
For every failure, there’s a success story. Kirk Cousins averaged half a point less than Aaron Rodgers, normally a statistical machine. Jaguars receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both put up top-15 performances. Devonta Freeman, a late round pick, led all running backs in scoring.
Who are the players to avoid this year? Which decisions will you brag about later? This list hopefully provides some answers.
All statistics, rankings and draft positions are based on standard, 12-team leagues. The parentheses denote ADP by position and overall ADP, which are compiled from FantasyPros consensus rankings. Here are eight players who will outperform their average draft position and seven who won’t.
*Numbers are correct as of August 24th, 2016.
18 Outperform: Matthew Stafford (QB 17, 133)
Matthew Stafford’s draft position suggests he is a middle of the road QB2. After Calvin Johnson’s retirement, many seem content to write Stafford off as a serviceable fantasy backup. He’s capable of more. Matthew Stafford will finish the year as a top twelve quarterback. Megatron’s unexpected absence certainly hurts, but Stafford completed 310 passes and 23 touchdowns to players not named Calvin Johnson last season. Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme and the addition of Marvin Jones will help fill the void. Detroit performed abysmally in their first seven games in 2015. Once the team fired Joe Lombardi and replaced him with Cooter, Stafford elevated his game. Between weeks 8-17, the Lions quarterback averaged the sixth most points in the league. Expect him to hover slightly below that production in 2016. He’s currently coming off the board in the eleventh round. Couple Stafford with another high QB2 late in the draft and play the matchups.
Draft Stafford before: Eli Manning, Jameis Winston
17 Underperform: Blake Bortles (QB 10, 75)
The Jaguars are a team on the rise – a hot pick to make a run for the playoffs. Their defense has taken major steps toward improvement, both through the draft and free agency. As a result, Jacksonville should find themselves either ahead or competitive more often. Bortles threw 606 passes last year, often while chasing games. He put together a high scoring fantasy season, but he’s due for a regression in touchdowns and attempts. Bortles scored the fourth most points of any fantasy quarterback. That’s better than only four eligible players. Bortles threw the second most touchdowns in the league (35). He also tossed the most interceptions (18). The arguments clearly exist on both sides of the coin. Perhaps he will meet expectations. It is just as likely he delivers a frustrating fantasy season of backup QB performances highlighted by brief flashes of stardom.
Draft Bortles after: Phillip Rivers, Tony Romo
16 Outperform: Tyrod Taylor (QB 16, 122)
One of the most frightening things in the world is to start a quarterback on a Rex Ryan team. Luckily, Tyrod Taylor’s potential transcends that fear. He is worth the risk. Taylor will easily outperform his QB 16 ranking. His scrambling ability plays a huge role in elevating his value. He rushed for 568 yards last season, second amongst all quarterbacks. Taylor threw for only 20 touchdowns, but it was his first year as a full-time starter. His performance improved as the season progressed. His comfort with the team and the fact that he isn’t looking over his shoulder should result in an even better 2016. His second half numbers and recent preseason performance reflect this. He ranked in the top ten in quarterback scoring during the last eight weeks of 2015. Tyrod also looked proficient in his second preseason game, going 7-10 with one touchdown. Consider him a bargain bin Cam Newton.
Draft Taylor before: Andy Dalton, Derek Carr
15 Underperform: Ben Roethlisberger (QB 6, 53)
Big Ben has eclipsed 30 passing touchdowns only twice in his career and he won’t do it again this year. The Steelers are starting the season down several key players. Martavis Bryant, the team’s number two receiver, has received a yearlong suspension. Le’Veon Bell will miss the first three games due to his own suspension. Even when Bell returns, there is no guarantee he will immediately return to form after a torn MCL. Ladarius Green, the heir apparent to Heath Miller, remains on the PUP with a lingering ankle injury. The Antonio Brown-Ben Roethlisberger connection delivers astounding results, but the offense won’t be firing on all cylinders for nearly a quarter of the season. The Steelers play in the brutal AFC North. More injuries are all but guaranteed. Pick up Roethlisberger if he starts falling. Otherwise, let someone else take the risk. Last year showcased the depth of the quarterback position in the middle rounds.
Draft Roethlisberger after: Carson Palmer, Drew Brees
14 Outperform: Melvin Gordon (RB 26, 71)
2015 made Melvin Gordon look like a reach for both fantasy players and the Chargers organization. His touchdown total equaled the number of fantasy owners who wished they selected him: zero. The lack of production resulted in a draft position outside a standard league’s starting two running backs. His drop in stock won’t last. The Chargers hired Ken Whisenhunt for a second stint as their offensive coordinator. He fulfilled the same role in 2013. Under Whisenhunt’s offense, Ryan Mathews, a perennial disappointment, ran for a career-high 1,255 yards. Danny Woodhead added 1,034 yards from scrimmage, 76 catches and 8 touchdowns. Danny Woodhead will look to continue that success with Whisenhunt, but he’s now 31. That’s “fall off a cliff” age for a running back. If Gordon comes close to Mathews’ previous success and eats into Woodhead’s receptions, he would become an amazing value pick. It’s not a reach at the end of the fourth round.
Draft Gordon before: Matt Jones, Ryan Mathews
13 Underperform: Doug Martin (RB 9, 20)
The Muscle Hamster muscled his way to a new five-year contract. It’s good for him, but possibly a death sentence to his fantasy worth. Much like Bortles, Doug Martin has polarizing statistics. Is he the 1,400-yard running back from both his rookie campaign and his contract year, or is he the unimpressive halfback who ran for less than 1,000 yards in his two other seasons combined? Let’s put him somewhere in the middle for year five, bordering on 1,000 yards as a starting base. Charles Sims continues to improve and take third downs from Martin. The timeshare will limit Martin’s ability to rack up receiving yards. Jameis Winston scored the same amount of rushing touchdowns as Martin last year (6). Winston’s scrambling ability, especially at the goal line, will continue to rob Martin of opportunities this year. These factors make it less likely that Martin reaches 1,000 yards and more likely that his performance lands him out of the top 15 running backs.
Draft Martin after: Eddie Lacy, LeSean McCoy
12 Outperform: C.J. Anderson (RB 14, 32)
C.J. Anderson’s inclusion as a player who will outperform his ADP will be met with a chorus of groans. He is yet another running back who crushed dreams in 2015. Anderson will bounce back, even if rookie running back Devontae Booker eats into his carries. Coach Gary Kubiak loves to pound the rock and the Broncos need to succeed on the ground thanks to their current quarterback fiasco. It’s why the team matched Miami’s offer sheet on C.J. during the offseason. He reasserted himself as the main cog in the Broncos’ backfield during the 2015 home stretch. Including the playoffs, C.J. Anderson ran for four touchdowns in his final five games while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He has once again showed promising flashes this preseason. He won’t obliterate his draft expectations in the middle of the third round, but should beat out others as a legitimate RB1.
Draft Anderson before: Thomas Rawls, Doug Martin
11 Underpeform: Devonta Freeman (RB 8, 14)
Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene last year following Tevin Coleman’s injury. He averaged a remarkable 7.2 more points per game than the next best running back during the first eight weeks. The second half of the season brought him down to earth. Freeman finished weeks 9-17 tied for 13th in terms of average points. He scored three of his 14 total touchdowns during this period. 668 of Freeman’s 1,056 rushing yards came during the first half of his frontloaded campaign. Whether he wore down or teams learned how to stop him, the season’s tail end gave a better image of what to expect in 2016. Freeman remains a threat as a receiver, but Coleman could steal valuable snaps. The Atlanta backfield will develop a hot hand approach between their two young runners. Freeman may be drafted as a top ten running back. He won’t end the season there.
Draft Freeman after: Jamaal Charles, Mark Ingram
10 Outperform: Devin Funchess (WR 48, 150)
Devin Funchess raced up draft boards after Kelvin Benjamin’s season-ending injury last year. His 31 catches for 473 yards and 5 touchdowns didn’t necessarily warrant the ascension, but he will also produce better stats than a 13th round pick. He has had a full year to acclimate to the NFL. A jump in all statistical categories should be expected. With Benjamin’s return, Funchess falls in the pecking order. Greg Olsen and Benjamin will receive the lion’s share of the targets, but Funchess still deserves consideration. Ted Ginn Jr. was tragically born with actual bricks for hands. Funchess should have no problem passing him on the depth chart as the season progresses. At 6’5” and 6’4”, Benjamin and Funchess pose enormous matchup problems. Defenses will emphasize stopping the former, leaving the latter to receive open space and opportunity. Devin’s progress and development have received rave reviews during training camp. Keep an eye out for Funchess in rounds 10-12.
Draft Funchess before: Vincent Jackson, Torrey Smith
9 Overperform: Doug Baldwin (WR 21, 46)
Doug Baldwin had a career year in 2015. It was a mirage. A remarkable five game stretch with eleven touchdowns disguises Baldwin’s average stat line. Remove those five games. 1,069 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns become 585 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Those are his totals for the other 11 weeks. Using the less impressive statistics, the projections for a 16-game season are 851 yards and four touchdowns. Obviously that isn’t how fantasy football works. Owners who started Baldwin got to enjoy his miraculous streak on their way to the playoffs. That doesn’t matter anymore. Points don’t carry over year to year. You have to look at the big picture. 851 yards and four touchdowns fall in line perfectly with Baldwin’s three most successful seasons prior to 2015. Not counting his worst year, 2012, he averaged 797 receiving yards and four touchdowns. This is what fantasy owners can expect. He is not a top-25 wide receiver. Do not treat him like one on draft day.
Draft Baldwin after: Jeremy Maclin, Michael Floyd
8 Outperform: Donte Moncrief (WR 28, 65)
Andrew Luck threw one-third of his 15 touchdowns to Donte Moncrief in 2015. The receiver tallied a touchdown in five of Luck’s seven starts, displaying consistency expected from a reliable fantasy starter. Before Luck went down, Moncrief was on pace for 77 catches, 870 yards and 11 touchdowns. It would have culminated in a breakout year. Instead, his third season with the team will announce Donte Moncrief as a must-own. T.Y. Hilton will nab his share of home run balls, but the more physical Moncrief is a much improved route runner. He gives Andrew Luck an option all over the field, especially near the end zone. Do not hesitate to select Moncrief in the early middle rounds.
Draft Moncrief before: Larry Fitzgerald, Emmanuel Sanders
7 Underperform: DeAndre Hopkins (WR 4, 8)
DeAndre Hopkins will underperform for several reasons, none of which involve DeAndre Hopkins. He drove defensive coordinators insane no matter who lined up behind center last year. Regardless, he will not be the fourth highest scoring receiver in the league. The 2015 Houston Texans had one play at their disposal following Arian Foster’s season-ending injury. Bill O’Brien scrapped everything in the playbook and penciled in “Chuck it to DeAndre.” Lamar Miller’s arrival restores balance to the offense. Hopkins won’t need as many targets. It’s also difficult to place complete trust Brock Osweiler. He’s unproven and overpaid. Sanders and Thomas failed to thrive with him in Denver. What will happen when his primary receiver is double covered on every play? The last reason Hopkins won’t meet his ADP is simple. The consensus has him as the fourth receiver taken off the board. He finished 6th in WR points last year. The situation has not transformed in a way that projects any higher for 2016. Hopkins could easily have a standout year and still rank 9th or 10th in points scored.
Draft Hopkins after: A.J. Green, Dez Bryant
6 Outperform: Vance McDonald (TE 30, 287)
Rob Gronkowski belongs in his own tier. After a small group of tier two tight ends, the rest exist in a logjam of mediocrity. Therefore, the “outperform” tight ends are included in an effort to locate 2016’s Gary Barnidge. Vance McDonald is firmly entrenched in fantasy obscurity. He’s a nonfactor according to his average draft position. His numbers during the second half of 2015 suggest otherwise. Blaine Gabbert took over as starting quarterback in week 9. The 49ers enjoyed a week 10 bye. Between weeks 11-17, McDonald connected with Gabbert for 262 yards and three touchdowns on 21 catches. He missed week 14, which makes his average points per week 7.4. That ranks 11th for tight ends during the 7-game period. He’s carried that chemistry into the preseason for 92 yards and one touchdown. As long as Gabbert wins the starting job, McDonald will be a high-end number two tight end.
Draft McDonald before: Benjamin Watson, Jordan Cameron
2 Underperform: Jimmy Graham (TE 12, 109)
Even before the injury, Jimmy Graham never fit in Seattle’s offensive plans. The Seahawks utilized him in blocking schemes far more often than the Saints did. He never developed a rhythm with Russell Wilson. A torn patellar tendon and a year of rehab won’t do anything to improve the situation. Pete Carroll does not know if Graham will be ready for the season opener. Even if he manages to suit up for a full season, his strength and explosiveness won’t return immediately. The same patellar tear ended Victor Cruz’s 2014 season. He hasn’t returned to the field since. Graham won’t necessarily experience nagging injuries from compensating his injured leg like Cruz, but it’s foolish to expect him to return to form. Graham tallied 48 catches for 605 yards and two touchdowns with Seattle. He won’t even sniff the success he left in New Orleans. Draft someone less risky and pick up Graham as a lottery ticket if you have a deep bench – just don’t count on it.
Draft Graham after: Dwayne Allen, Zach Miller
1 Outperform: Jared Cook (TE 21, 198)
The Green Bay Packers signed Jared Cook to a one-year “prove it” contract during the offseason. 6’4” with a 4.49 40-yard dash, Cook is an athletic freak labeled as an underachiever. He could have shown more in his career, but it’s hard to blame him. He’s played for 11 quarterbacks in seven seasons. The most recent were Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Austin Davis and Sean Hill. Cook can finally shed his long streak of subpar quarterbacks. He has Aaron Rodgers behind center. The Packers have not had a true threat at tight end since Jermichael Finley. Richard Rodgers was a touchdown machine of sorts last year, but lacked the athleticism to stretch the field or make defenders miss on a consistent basis. Green Bay’s passing game should take several leaps forward with the return of Jordy Nelson and a slimmed down Eddie Lacy to keep defenders honest. Jared Cook could smash expectations in his new home. He’s worth a late-round flier based on potential. Do not wait until he makes a statement. The waiver order may not be in your favor.
Draft Cook before: Eric Ebron, Jason Witten