Friday, August 24, 2012

Mega Fantasy Sleepers Preview: Steals, Robberies, and Hijackings

Boom goes the Dynamite!!!

In Fantasy Football what's most important when valuing individual players, or your team as a whole is not how well your players perform, but how much your players exceed expectations.  Last year in Fantasy Football Calvin "Megatron" Johnson was fantasy's number one overall receiver.  Victor Cruz meanwhile was the number five scoring fantasy receiver.  If you had the option between Cruz and Megatron last year I don't think anyone would say Cruz.  However, if you could choose between Calvin Johnson in the third round, and an un-drafted Victor Cruz you would be smart to take Cruz.  This is because of a metric I created myself called Value Above Draft Position or VADP.  For example Cruz was an un-drafted player in most standard 10-team leagues with a 16 player roster size.  This means that however many wide receivers are taken within the top 160 Cruz would need to out perform to exceed his draft day value.  This year 50 wide receivers are being taken in the top 160 draft picks on average on ESPN.  Assuming the number was relatively the same Victor Cruz's VADP would be however much he outscored the 50th highest scoring wide receiver.  Last year Victor Cruz scored 198 fantasy points while Mike Williams of Tampa Bay scored 85 points making him the 50th highest scoring wide receiver.  This means Victor Cruz has a 2011 VADP of 113.  Calvin Johnson on the other hand was on average taken in the late second round at 17th overall.  Since Johnson was on average the 5th wide receiver off the board his VADP will compare his point scoring to that of the fifth overall wide receiver.  Coincidentally that receiver happens to be Victor Cruz.  Cruz scored 198 points and Johnson scored 254 giving Johnson a VADP of 56.  This means that while Johnson had a great season, Victor Cruz was more valuable.

By now it should be clear that a fantasy football player should not be judged based on how many points they score, but instead on how valuable that player was.  Here are some players I think are being significantly undervalued, and will end up posting good VADP marks.   A steal is considered a player who I think should be going about a round earlier.  A robbery is considered a player who I think should be going about two rounds earlier.  A hijacking is considered a player who I think should go three or more rounds earlier.  Position by position I'm going to give one hijacking, steal, and robbery.

Steal: Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is on average going as the 11th quarterback and 62nd overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  The Atlanta Falcons have a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter who though he does not have much offensive success in the past has said he is going to open things up in the passing game this year.  Matt Ryan has a great pass catching back in Jacquizz Rodgers, a very good third receiver in Harry Douglas, and two dynamic all-pro receivers that complement each other well.  With both Julio Jones and Roddy White to throw to, and another year in the bag for Ryan I think he should improve upon last year and become a top-ten QB in fantasy football this year.

Robbery: Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin is on average going as the 13th quarterback and 85th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  RG3 is a rookie quarterback so obviously he is a big risk, but I think he has huge fantasy potential.  The past two seasons the Redskins have insisted on throwing the ball a lot despite the fact that they have had Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and the guy who makes Tim Tebow look like Tom Brady in John Beck throwing the ball.  In fact the Redskins have finished top-five in the league in pass attempts both years with Mike Shanahan as the head coach.  Now that Shanahan has a quarterback with some skill I think there is no reason he wouldn't pass that much, and RG3 should benefit.  I think on passing alone Griffin will be a borderline fantasy starter, and finish somewhere in the 10-12 range at QB.  What makes him special is I think he will also rack up some points via his running ability, and become a top-ten fantasy QB.

Hijacking: Jake Locker
Jake Locker is on average going as the 25th quarterback and the 143rd overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  I think Locker's stock will rise a little more after some stellar pre-season performances and recently being named the starter, but the stock won't rise enough.  Jake Locker is an incredible athlete with big arm strength, and a 4.59 40 yard dash time.  That's the same time as fantasy stud and fellow second year quarterback Cam Newton.  Locker has some serious pass accuracy, and decision making issues but the news out of training camp is that he has been dramatically improving.  With all the physical tools to be a stud, a running back like Chris Johnson to take pressure off him, and receiving threats in Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and rookie Kendall Wright I think Locker will have a good year.  Locker has the upside to be a top-ten QB with his running ability and throwing tools, but at the very least I think he should be a quality backup in ten team leagues who should go as about the 15th quarterback off the board in fantasy drafts.

Steal: Jamaal Charles

"High Five!"
Jamaal Charles is on average going as the 11th running back and the 25th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Charles has looked great so far in pre-season, and there are no doubts that he will start come week one.  I think it is possible Charles won't be quite the same guy as he was pre-injury, but I think he will be very close to as good.  Another concern with fantasy owners is that Charles will have to compete with Peyton Hillis for goal line work, but that is not a legitimate concern.  In 2010 when Charles posted the 4th best season among running backs that year Thomas Jones rushed for over 1,000 yards while getting most of the goal line work.  Charles is such a dynamic back that he doesn't need to worry about Hillis, and it's not like the Chiefs are going to throw the ball.  I think Charles will end the season around the fifth overall running back (I have him ranked seventh), and should be considered an early second round pick.

Robbery: Cedric Benson
Cedric Benson is on average going as the 38th running back and 105th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  The running backs going 35th to 40th around Benson are Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller, Donald Brown, Toby Gerhart, and David Wilson.  Ingram is in a time share with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.  Spiller is a backup to Fred Jackson, Donald Brown sucks, Gerhart is a backup to Adrian Peterson, and David Wilson is a backup to Ahmad Bradshaw.  Cedric Benson meanwhile is a clear cut starter who finished as Fantasy's number 23 running back last season.  I guess some people haven't got the memo that James Starks is not going to be sharing carries with Benson because there is no reason he should be going so late.  I'm not saying Benson is a dynamic back by any means (in fact I think Spiller, Wilson, and Gerhart are all much better and are good sleepers/handcuff backs who will do good if the opportunity arises), but in fantasy football opportunity matters more than talent.  Benson is probably not going to get a ton of carries in such a great passing attack, but I think he will slowly trot out a top-30 RB season.  By no means would I draft Benson as a starter in fantasy, but I think he will be a good bye-week fill in and occasional flex play.

Hijacking: Doug Martin
Doug Martin is on average going as the 28th running back and 80th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Martin is a 5-9 223 pound running back who ran a 4.43 40, is a good pass blocker, and a very capable receiving back.  The player who he reminds most of is Ray Rice.  Rice is a 5-8 212 pound running back who ran a 4.42 40, is a good pass blocker, and a very capable receiving back.  With Legarette "Imma punch you" Blount (a notoriously bad pass blocker, receiving back, and runner) as his only backfield competition I think Martin should get the bulk of the carries for Tampa Bay as soon as he steps on the field.  I think Martin will end the season as a borderline top 20 fantasy running back, and will be a quality starter as a running back two in fantasy football most weeks.

Steal: Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd is on average going as the 17th wide receiver and the 50th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Lloyd is an incredibly dynamic deep ball threat who has arguably the best deep ball thrower in football as his quarterback.  Lloyd also has Josh McDaniels who was his offensive coordinator in Denver and St. Louis on the team, and McDaniels loves to throw to Brandon Lloyd.  With Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez all taking the defenses attention away from him Lloyd should be open on a lot of deep balls, and Tom Brady is more than capable of hitting him in stride for the touchdown.  Lloyd will finish as a top-15 wide receiver, and with top-ten upside Lloyd should be going around 35th overall in my mind.  As a Patriots fan still suffering from that brutal Super Bowl defeat I am ecstatic about the addition of Lloyd to this already imposing passing attack.

Robbery: Torrey Smith
Torrey Smith is on average going as the 30th wide receiver and the 89th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  This makes no sense to me at all, and this is why:  Last year Torrey Smith finished as the #22 overall fantasy football wide receiver as a rookie.  Most second year players improve from their past season.  Joe Flacco is a young quarterback who loves to throw the deep ball, and Torrey Smith is super fast and loves to run for the deep ball.  Anquan Boldin was Smith's main competition last year for targets, and he's just getting older.  Smith has looked great for the Ravens so far in pre-season, and should have a great top-20 season at Wide Receiver this year.  In my mind he should be going in the late 6th round making him a "hijacking" who I only called a robbery because the next guy on this last is a true hijacking.

Hijacking: Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin is on average going as the 18th wide receiver and the 56th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Last year Percy Harvin finished as the #8 wide receiver in fantasy football and was incredible in the second half of last season.  I think Percy Harvin will be able to stay healthy, and be one of the focal points of this Vikings offense.  The news from Vikings camp is that Christian Ponder and Harvin have developed a strong connection, and Harvin should continue to thrive.  With Adrian Peterson coming back from his ACL surgery I think Harvin will get some rushes in the backfield to boost his stats just like he did at the end of last year.  Most importantly Percy Harvin is a super talented receiver, and is the only talented receiver on a Vikings team meaning he is going to get a ton of opportunity.  I think Percy Harvin should be a mid to late third round running back, and will again finish as a top-ten wide receiver in fantasy football.

Steal: Fred Davis
Fred Davis is on average going as the 9th tight end and the 101st overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  See Griffin, Robert.  I already talked about how much the Redskins throw the ball.  I already talked about how much I love RG3.  The reason I like Fred Davis is because of his talent, RG3, and Shanahan's offense.  Shanahan traditionally likes to run a lot of QB rollouts, and with a mobile quarterback like Griffin I think that trend will continue.  When a QB runs a rollout the TE is generally a primary option on the play, and I think Davis will get a lot of looks on rollouts this year.  Fred Davis is going in the early 11th round, but I think he will be a quality TE starter and deserves to go around the 9th round.

Robbery: Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen is on average going as the 15th tight end and the 137th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Last year Cam Newton threw almost exactly 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns to his tight ends.  Those two tight ends were Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.  This year Jeremy Shockey is not on the team.  I think Olsen has the potential to have a 1,000 yard 10 touchdown season, but at the very least will have a 800 yard six touchdown season.  If he were to have the 800 yard season he would finish with 116 fantasy points which would have put him as the 7th overall fantasy tight end last year.  If Olsen were to have a 1,000 yard 10 touchdown season (which I'd say there is about a 25%-33% chance of) he would have been fantasy's #3 tight end last year behind Graham and Gronkowski.  I think Olsen has big upside, and should be drafted around 7th at tight end, at about the 75th overall pick.

Hijacking: Jermaine Gresham
Jermaine Gresham is on average going as the 17th tight end and the 139th overall pick in ESPN live fantasy football drafts.  Gresham is a 6-5  260 tight end who runs a 4.65 40 and is only 24 years old.  Gresham was fantastic in college at Oklahoma, and earned a first round pick.  With Andy Dalton hopefully improving from last year Gresham should develop a better connection with him.  A.J. Green is the only other receiving threat on this team because Brandon Tate is the #2 WR for this time.  Tate is by no means a up and coming star like Green, so Gresham should get plenty of targets.  Jermaine reminds me of the Graham/Gates type wide receiver like tight ends who just make plays.  Even last year when Gresham didn't have a great connection with Andy Dalton he still finished as the #13 fantasy tight end, and a couple jaw dropping highlights like this: Jermaine Gresham One-Handed Catch

There are a ton of potential sleepers in football, and I could write this article again with completely different people, but these are some of the players I feel the strongest about.  Jake Locker, Doug Martin, Percy Harvin, and Jermaine Gresham I think are all being significantly undervalued, and I will get Martin in Harvin in almost every league (Locker and Gresham are great, but if I have say Rodgers and Graham I'm not going to go after either of them).  All these players are great talents (except for you Cedric Benson), and I think they will all post significantly good VADP numbers.  I created VADP while writing this article to try and explain value of certain players, and I think I will continue to use the statistic in my fantasy football analysis.

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