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Fantasy Football: One analyst's best value draft picks

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Return on Investment. That’s sports — fantasy and IRL — in a nutshell. Finding low-draft-cost opportunities that offer exponential gains is a necessary strategy in fantasy gaming. That might mean having to forego sexy in favor of stable, or passing on trendy for trend-ed, but since style points don’t count you don’t have to care.

Here are eight names — two players at each relevant skill position — who figure to outperform the current ADP.

Go ahead and eat your #basic heart out.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Football Team (ADP 155, QB22)

After 16 years in the league, fantasy managers have a pretty good idea — from a skill set perspective — of what the Bearded Baddie brings to the table. The highs are high; the lows can be subterranean. Over the past four seasons, however, Fitz has been shockingly more Magic than Fizzle, posting top-14 fantasy numbers in 20 — and top-10 stats in 16 — of his last 30 games (25 att min).

In Washington, he’ll reunite with former Bucs’ teammate Adam Humphries while also inheriting Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin (both of whom are coming off career efforts). Add Antonio Gibson (RB13 overall), J.D. McKissic (80 catches in 2020!), and Logan Thomas (TE8 overall), and the 38-year-old should be feeling young again. Plus, offensive coordinator Scott Turner figures to keep things fun, as his offenses (WAS in 2020 and CAR in 2019) have been top-10 in passing for two straight seasons.

Don’t discount Fitzpatrick’s mobility, either. Since 2017, the Harvard grad (had to) has averaged 3.5 rush attempts per game and 4.7 yards per rush, which lands him inside the top-14 for QB rushing metrics. Likely to throw the ball 600 times and rush for nearly 250 yards, Fitzpatrick is projected to record top-15 numbers despite being drafted in the 14th round of 12-team exercises (QB22).

Hail to the (fantasy) Football Team.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (ADP 149, QB28)

We remember what we last saw, and Tua’s Week 17 performance was certainly… unforgettable. But he’s not in the same place now as he was then. Fifteen months removed from a devastating hip injury and with new play-callers (one of whom spent the back half of last year coaching him up), the Alabama standout is stronger and leaning into the continuity that he wasn’t afforded in 2020. If training camp reports are to be believed, improved physical health and a better grasp of the playbook are all contributing towards notable growth in his second year.

And don’t forget the personnel enhancements. From the addition of downfield speedster Will Fuller to former college teammate Jaylen Waddle, Tua should benefit from a massive upgrade in pass-catching weaponry this go-around. His offensive line also features three second-year players who are expected to make a leap in their respective sophomore efforts, offering him more time to recognize the blitzes he so struggled with in his rookie effort.

While the Phins won’t be a pass-happy unit under Brian Flores, the 2021 squad figures to feature more tempo and balance. That should lead to not only an increased number of pass attempts (Tua averaged 29/gm in 2020) but also a better completion percentage (64.1%). This is, after all, a top-five selection who was regularly compared to Drew Brees during the scouting process specifically because of his accuracy.

Even given 2020's woes, Tagovailoa managed to record an accuracy rating of 7.9 (QB2) in his first pro campaign. Further factoring in a favorable strength of schedule, Tua’s production won’t necessarily be flashy, but it'll be steadfast enough to provide managers with solid QB2 numbers (3,700 passing yards, 200 rushing yards, 29 total TDs), making him a prime value target for super flex enthusiasts.

Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots (ADP 76, RB32)

Sneaky. That’s Harris. He’s not flashy or attached to a lit offense. But he quietly impressed in several categories last year. Per PFF, he was the highest-graded RB in 2020 (90.8), ahead of Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. Hyper efficient, the Alabama product averaged 4.8 YPC despite facing a stacked front for 42.3 percent of his carries (RB2).

A composed and deliberate power runner, Harris is fearless when charging up the middle. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but his elusiveness has improved since college, recording seven breakaway runs (RB18) and a juke rate of 28.2 percent (RB8) over 10 games last year. Bill Belichick seems sold, as he gushed to reporters (as much as BB gushes) about Harris’ evolution, indicating the third-year player’s command over the backfield.

The lack of receiving work and questions about goal-line opportunities (thanks, Cam) depresses Harris’ upside. That’s why he’s coming off draft boards in the seventh round, after Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. But that’s not accounting for his skill or the 200 rushing attempts he’ll clear. He’s your team’s RB3, coming at a discount.

James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 95, RB40)

“The Best Ability is Availability.” Anyone who’s ever rostered James Conner understands the depth of Bill Parcells’ now infamous quote. The former Steeler has yet to stay on the field for a full slate of games over his four-year career, after all. But his backfield mate, the ever polarizing Chase Edmonds, has recorded just two more rushing attempts (217) over his entire three years in the NFL than Conner did in 2018 alone (215).

Edmonds’ legs may be frustratingly fresh, but the coaching staff in Arizona has given us zero indication that this won’t be a full-blown RBBC. In fact, they’ve been very clear about this existing as the most equitable of timeshares. This week Kliff Kingsbury said he “expect(s) both guys to share the load,” which makes perfect sense since Edmonds has recorded double-digit carries just three times (and 20+ attempts only twice) in the two years since Kliff has been the team’s HC. But enough about Edmonds, let’s talk about Conner …

Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner
Does James Conner have enough in the tank to make an impact in the Arizona backfield? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A capable receiver out of the backfield, Conner recorded over 30 catches in back-to-back efforts in Pittsburgh. While it’s expected that he’ll handle early downs duties in Arizona, leaving the pass-catching to Edmonds, there’s still a possibility he siphons some targets away from Chase. Conner has also proven to be effective when healthy, as evidenced by his string of 100+ yard outings (and top-20 FF finishes) over the first half of 2020.

Even when hampered while grinding it out in the Steelers’ slumping offense, the Pitt product managed a breakaway run rate of 5.8 percent (RB13). Likely to carry the ball 9-11 times in one of the league’s most prolific offenses, Conner is a capable RB3 and one of the last values at the position available after rounds five or six. (He’s also currently being drafted an absurd 30 spots behind Edmonds.)

Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers (ADP 87, WR32)

Last year, DJ Moore and Robby Anderson closed out 2020 as fantasy’s WR22 and WR23, respectively. Yet heading into this season, Moore is being drafted nearly 30 spots ahead of Anderson. I say, let ‘em be distracted by Moore's (92nd percentile) SPARQ. Because the efficiency, versatility, and (surprise) value all belong to Anderson.

In his inaugural campaign with the Panthers, Anderson successfully executed a thorough rebrand, leading Carolina’s receiving corps in targets (138, WR8) and receptions (95, WR8). Previously known for owning the end zone, Anderson remains a deep threat, recording the second-most receiving scores over 20 yards since 2017 (15). But he’s also emerged as a dominant slot player, earning the fourth-highest grade from PFF (82.1) for WRs who worked the inside.

Routinely showing off his pre-existing rapport with Sam Darnold (of the 13 games Darnold started in 2019, Anderson either cleared 80 yards or scored in six of them), Anderson is equipped to exceed his 95-1,096-3 stat line from last season. Being selected outside of the top-30 fantasy players at the position, the 28-year-old might just be the best value on any/every board, as he offers savvy managers top-20 upside.

Gabriel Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills (ADP 187, WR68)

An ace ball tracker who knows how to high-point, Davis earned a reputation for being a big-play threat at UCF. That skill set transferred to the NFL immediately as he quickly earned Josh Allen’s trust, particularly in the red area of the field. Running a league-high number of go-routes (31.3%), Davis recorded top-30 fantasy numbers over the last five weeks of the season.

From Weeks 12-17 — John Brown was sidelined for much of this period — the then-rookie recorded a snap share of nearly 89 percent. Drawing seven red-zone looks over six games, he also found the end zone four separate times. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders on the heels of Brown’s departure is a buzz kill, but it also creates value.

I’m leaning into Davis’ upside. Sanders may be a technician, but he’s also in the twilight of his career at 34-years-old. Plus, Buffalo’s offense — despite the cold — is straight fire. Last year the Bills were No. 3 in total passing yards and tied for third (with KC and SEA) for receiving TDs (40). Maybe Davis’ volume is capped ... but the quality of his targets is the sort of thing for which Mafia Members slam themselves through tables.

Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints (ADP 191, TE20)

When the New Orleans Saints give up four picks to scoop a prospect at a scheme-friendly position … you take note. Even if you know that note won’t be good for a year.

At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the converted QB out of Dayton presents an ideal frame for the position. Plus, he can adjust to the ball mid-air, remains aggressive after the catch, and knows how to win in the red zone. He also gives A+ effort as a blocker … a skill he managed to demonstrate and even improve upon as a rookie, grading out as PFF’s No. 1 run-blocking tight end in 2020 (84.1).

Converting 15 of 16 looks last year, Trautman’s volume figures to explode in his sophomore effort. With Michael Thomas banged up, the 2020 tight end room (Jared Cook and Josh Hill) cleared out, and Emmanuel Sanders gone, over 150 looks have been vacated. A breakout to the tune of 60 potential catches, Trautman is an ideal late-round grab for managers who miss out on the top-tier TE options.

Gerald Everett, TE, Seattle Seahawks (ADP 186, TE28)

Coming off career highs in catches and yards, Everett’s ascent only figures to continue in Seattle. Released from Tyler Higbee’s shadow and reunited with former position coach Shane Waldron, the skies of the Pacific Northwest appear uncharacteristically sunny for the South Alabama standout. In an offense expected to operate at a heightened pace under an OC who regularly utilizes the position from a pass-catching POV, Everett’s breakout might finally arrive.

Reports out of camp seem to indicate that the 27-year-old knows it — and is ready to shine. With rookie D'Wayne Eskridge (toe) sidelined, Everett has received extra reps in camp, regularly connecting with his former division rival, Russel Wilson. Pete Carroll even said he anticipates Everett becoming “a real threat in the throwing game.” While effusive praise from Coach Carroll should be taken with a grain of salt, the fact that Seattle took a $2M cap hit (and used a void year) to sign the TE to a one-year, $6M guaranteed contract is evidence of the team’s investment.

Last year the Hawks’ TEs totaled 108 looks. Obviously, Greg Olsen (37) and Jacob Hollister (40) are off the squad, freeing up over 70 opportunities. Additionally, David Moore, who was third in team targets (47) in 2020, is now in Carolina.

We’re not sure exactly how much Russ will cook. We also know he’ll spread the ball around. But even at a simmer — and noting the other bodies on the roster — Everett could easily emerge as the team’s No. 3 receiving option (think of all that YAC) and flirt with 100 looks.

That’s top-12 upside for a player who's currently the TE28 in mock drafts.

Which value picks are you targeting? Let Liz know on social @LizLoza_FF

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