How much should you follow the money in your fantasy football draft?

Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson’s salary suggests he’s being under-appreciated in fantasy drafts. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson’s salary suggests he’s being under-appreciated in fantasy drafts. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Should we follow the money in fantasy football?

Sure, we want to win it. But our world of player valuation is parallel to the real NFL world where teams pay players money and presumably, based on it, envision a commensurate role for them.

If we assume that the money that teams have invested in players in reality will influence their usage and thus their fantasy production, there are some players being seriously undervalued this draft season. Of course, a team being stuck with an overpaid player doesn’t mean they love the guy, especially when there are accounting issues like dead cap money that makes the player more expensive to release than to keep. But we’re going to try to weed those poison-pill guys out as best we can.

And with some players, as in this first example, it’s not really their fantasy value that matters to us but the impact of this role on a highly-drafted player with whom he shares touches. And we’re not going to focus on the dollar amount here as much as we are where the player ranks at his position, according to OverTheCap.

Why did the Giants make Jonathan Stewart the 17th-highest-paid running back this spring when it was clear they had their sights set on Saquon Barkley in the draft? Does this mean they’re going to carve out a defined role for Stewart? If it’s every fourth series or something, okay. That’s bad, but livable. But if it’s goal-line back, that’s a nightmare. And reports are that the Giants are planning to do this. Stewart hilariously is not even an average goal-line runner. But that would nonetheless potentially crush Barkley’s value given that about 55% of rushing touchdowns historically come at the goal line (three-yards and in). This is why you can’t do something crazy like take Barkley over David Johnson, who really should be the No. 1 player on the board.

Duke Johnson is the highest paid Browns running back and was just signed. If they envision just a third-down role for him (we noted last year this is just 12.5% of total fantasy running back scoring), why make him the 19th highest-paid running back? Clearly Johnson doesn’t profile as a bell-cow but could be a 125-carry, 70-catch back? The Browns seem to think so. And if your argument is they’re clearly going to play highly-drafted rookie Nick Chubb, note that they are seemingly committed to starting Tyrod Taylor over No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Johnson easily has the highest floor (Chubb and high-priced Carlos Hyde are vying for one role) and possibly the highest ceiling among Browns backs yet is going around 116 overall.

Bilal Powell is being paid $4 million in salary by the Jets and his total cap cost is nearly $5 million. He’s either the 17th or 12th highest paid back depending on how you look at it. Again, the Jets this year 100% chose to pay him $4 million in salary when they could have just cut him for basically no charge. Isiah Crowell is making $2 million. So if the Jets are being rational in paying running backs, Powell at the 128th pick is better than Crowell at the 117th.

Tavon Austin is complicated. He’s a RB and WR now. The Cowboys insist they’re going to give him “up to two dozen” touches a game (including special teams) this year. Yet he’s only being drafted late in really deep leagues. His contract is complicated: He’s making $7 million but the Cowboys are “only” paying $3 million. Still you’d expect Austin to command a veteran’s minimum so this may not be smoke by the Cowboys. It’s not going to cost you anything to find out.

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The Redskins give Paul Richardson $12 million guaranteed in free agency. Only nine receivers are making more in 2018 compensation. But with the league’s accounting rules, he counts as only about the 50th highest paid receiver. Let’s split the difference and say he’s the 30th highest paid. But Richardson is WR59 in Yahoo right now. Jamison Crowder is going 30 spots higher. I recommend waiting and getting Richardson, who I easily would draft over Julian Edelman, Cooper Kupp, and Dez Bryant. Those three go so much higher on average that exactly zero leagues will force me to reach for Richardson. He’s just sitting there waiting for you.

Kenny Stills has the 15th-highest cap number. Miami must like him a lot. A ton of targets have left town with Jarvis Landry. Yet Stills is WR64? This is nuts. He’s only 26 and has 15 touchdowns in his last two years with the team, mostly without his starting quarterback. Last year, Stills was WR27 in Yahoo scoring and why isn’t that his floor now given the exodus of Landry and Miami’s financial commitment to him?

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