My Guys: Scott Pianowski's nine favorite fantasy football draft targets

When it comes to fantasy analysis, boring value has always been my jam. A decade ago, I created something called the Ibanez All-Stars, a way to appreciate older baseball players who were commonly under-appreciated (and under drafted) in fantasy arenas.

Of course, it’s a dated reference now; Ibanez retired six years ago. And this is a fantasy football column, and football in general is a sport where younger players are more important to us. I grasp all these things.

Nonetheless, the theme still holds true so there will be a handful of boring value jams on this list, because I go where the market nudges me. We’re in an age where the information edge is very small, almost non-existent — no more becoming an instant Vikings expert because your college roommate lives in Eden Prairie. Mind you, I still care about information and I carefully vet who’s giving it to me; you should, too. But the days of crushing the competition on tidbits alone, that’s out the window.

My goal is to exploit the fantasy draft market for as much as I can. Obviously you’ll need to season this to taste; you know your league better than an outsider does. If the ADP went to the moon on any player, I might be tempted to walk away; and almost any player becomes interesting if the ADP drops way too much. But you don’t need to be told how to handle outlier situations like that; what’s truly actionable is sharing how we feel when players fall around their expected ADP. Figuring out where the likely ADP is soft or misguided — that’s the summer assignment. Draft like a champion today.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to run good (as the poker players say) in the money weeks. That never hurt.

That’s a long preamble. Let’s give you what you want. Here are “My Guys 2020”. Maybe some of them will overlap with yours, maybe you’ll disagree on most or even all. That’s the game. Consider the opinion of everyone you respect, but come to your own conclusions, make your own picks.

All the Check Marks — Tyler Boyd (Yahoo ADP 88.5)

If my editors would have let me, I could have made this article entirely about Tyler Boyd. He’s been a screaming value all summer, and I’ve been collecting as many fantasy shares as I can.

Consider all the evidence in favor:

• Cincinnati wasn’t as bad as its 2-14 record last year. The simply pythagorean method — your point differential says how good you really are — suggested 4.4 wins, and a 2.4-win differential is unusually high in the NFL. There’s more talent here than is commonly accepted.

Joe Burrow looks like a likely rookie year smash, a mix of smarts, maturity, and the requisite athletic ability. Maybe it’s not that high of a hurdle to clear considering how football has changed, but I think he has a fair chance to give us the best rookie quarterback season of all time.

• Boyd is in a sweet spot with respect to player arc; entering his fifth season, his age-26 season. He graded as the WR17 two years ago, despite missing two games. He fell back to WR25 last year, despite Cincinnati’s dreadful quarterback play.

• And yet Boyd is merely WR31 in Yahoo ADP. You’re drafting him at his demonstrated floor. But what if he gets better? What if Burrow is the real deal? What if A.J. Green, into his age-32 season, cannot be a major factor again?

• I love that Boyd mans the slot, where throws are quicker, easier to define. It’s also an area Burrow loves to target — check his 2019 LSU tape. Burrow has also gone out of his way to praise Boyd this summer, and while most positive camp quotes have to be taken with a grain of salt (teams are far more enlightening when they tell us negative things), I’m nonetheless encouraged to hear those words. Maybe it’s Confirmation Bias talking. Who’s to say?

Boyd is often the fourth receiver I draft, when he could easily be a set-and-forget WR3 or even WR2 this season. The Bengals look like a fun, scrappy, improving offense to me. I believe in the quarterback, which is a huge part of all this.

Yes, please.

Efficiency vs. Opportunity — A.J. Brown (39.9), Mark Andrews (36.6)

Brown and Andrews were both breakout stars last year, the type of picks (or pickups) that sparked a successful fantasy season. But some managers are shying from them in 2020, worried that the amazing efficiency both players showed is unlikely to repeat this year.

That is true — outlier efficiency seasons are bad bets to repeat. But Brown and Andrews both were given such limited opportunity last year, they will likely offset any efficiency dips by the raw gain in targets.

Remember, it took the Titans two months before they realized Brown was a Terrell Owens-clone, waiting to bust out. Assuming good health, he’ll smash last year’s modest 84 targets.

Recall, Andrews and the Ravens were a dominant 14-2 last year, and didn’t have to proactively chase games in the second half. Baltimore should be very good again, but some team regression is likely — and that should lead to more passing volume. The team also let Hayden Hurst go, and although his skill set was different than the route-happy Andrews, it could lead to an Andrews opportunity bump. Bottom line, Andrews likely sails past last year’s 98 targets.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) during NFL football training camp Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (George Walker IV/Pool Photo via AP)
Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown was great as a rookie, but expect more this season. (George Walker IV/Pool Photo via AP)

Old School Boring Value Jams — Matt Ryan (74.8), Jared Goff (128.1), Marvin Jones (111.9), Jamison Crowder (125.7)

There are so many acceptable quarterback options, it can get overwhelming. Just remember, you can potentially do well at any ADP point. No one leaves a fantasy draft (or a season) muttering at how limited the acceptable-QB pool is.

Ryan is tied to a leaky defense and a suspect running game. This has carnival written all over it. Sean McVay was the toast of the NFL 15 minutes ago — then everyone told a silly McVay joke or two, and moved along. He’s still a plus for his fantasy players. Goff offers sneaky passing upside at a ticket outside the Top 12.

Jones is the secondary passing option on a team that was really humming for two months — before Matthew Stafford got hurt. Jones has two whispering nine-touchdown seasons in three years. Maybe Darrell Bevel was the elixir this team needed.

It’s trendy to bash all things Adam Gase, and I’ve spent some time in that lane. But I still see star quality in Sam Darnold, who deserves a mulligan after last year’s mono-wrecked season. He’s younger than Burrow, remember. Crowder will be his primary receiver again, and while he probably can’t be a home-run pick, a double at his ADP spot will do just nicely. Heck, sometimes it’s enough to get on base.

Post-Hype Sleeper — Chris Herndon (135.0)

Egads, another Jet. No, I’m not some secret Gase sympathizer. I just remember how magnetic Herndon looked in his rookie season — 502 yards is a monumental win for any first-year tight end. Everything went wrong for Herndon in 2019, and as a result he’s a steal as TE28 (!) in Yahoo drafts. Even if you push that positional ADP up about 10-12 spots (which you will have to do in sharper leagues), I’m still plenty interested.

When have you lost money on Russell Wilson? — Russell Wilson (44.0)

Wilson has eight seasons in the NFL books. He’s never missed a start. He’s never had a losing season. He’s never been outside QB11, and he’s been a Top 3 quarterback four different times.

And all this production has come despite generally unfavorable game scripts. Often times the Seahawks have been a team defined by their staunch defense, and often times (to the disgust of NFL Twitter) the Seahawks have forced their offense to be run-heavy for the majority of games, before asking Wilson to bail the thing out at the end. If this team was a college student, it would pull an all-nighter on every term paper.

Wilson has nonetheless starred (in real life and fantasy) despite these things. And maybe the 2020 setup will be more pass-proactive. The defense is ordinary. The offense has the two best receivers Wilson has ever worked with — Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf (that’s a big statement for me, as I loved Doug Baldwin). Wilson’s ADP is fair, but I wonder if he still has an MVP-chase type of season percolating in him.

And yes, draft Lockett and Metcalf, too. Not one or the other. Get invested on both sides, where you can.

There are tons of other players I can talk up, but eventually you have to put a cap on this. Sure, I love Andy Reid’s offense, too. Yeah, I’m in on the Cowboys. I’m believing a Ben Roethlisberger comeback, which opens up all sorts of Steeler angles. My favorite stack-on-a-budget is the Minshew-to-Chark sandwich. Like thousands of others, I love Terry McLaurin. Derrick Henry is my favorite bell cow in the middle of the first round. In the second half of a draft, I start focusing on the upside of Chase Edmonds.

This article could be longer than the phone book. But eventually you have to cut the cord, make some choices, load up the file, hit send. A bottomless cup of targets, that defeats the purpose.

Send. Trust yourself. Go build your dream team.

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