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Fantasy flip: one team, two players, opposing values
Finding players with clear paths to touches and targets is the name of the game in fantasy. Sometimes a team’s pecking order, however, doesn’t guarantee volume. In this series, I highlight two players on the same team and explain why the lesser known option is the better overall choice. Welcome to fantasy flip!
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions (138.1 ADP, TE14)
Hello summer! And hello to another preseason packed with puff pieces precisely outlining the entirety of Ebron’s potential! The breakout is nigh! Or is it?
I mean, it could happen in 2017. After all, Anquan Boldin’s 97 targets (and 23 red zone looks) are up for grabs. And blocking TE Darren Fells has been added to the team to help shoulder the load, keeping the heavy lifting away from Ebron and allowing him to instead focus on his receiving duties. Of course, the former first-round pick needs to stay healthy in order for any of this to occur. Yet to play a full sixteen-game season, the 24-year-old has already missed 12 days of camp with a hamstring issue. And it’s worth noting that on passing downs, Detroit employed three-WR sets 93 percent of the time last year.
So … rather than counting on Ebron for a fourth year, I’d keep an eye Lions rookie receiver Kenny Golladay. That is if you like your potential breakouts at an under-the-radar price.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions (158.8 ADP, WR62)
Selected by the Lions in the third round of this year’s draft, Golladay is a smooth-striding jump-ball specialist. Two inches taller and eight pounds heavier than Marvin Jones, Golladay is expected to start the season as the team’s No. 3 receiver. Following up a buzzy spring with a sizzling summer, Golladay wowed in the Lions’ first preseason effort, grabbing three balls for two scores and leaving Colts defenders gasping for air.
On a team still searching for Calvin Johnson’s replacement, and on an offense that averaged more than 37 pass attempts per contest, the former Huskie has landed in an ideal spot. The production may not be immediate, but given how quickly Jones faded down the stretch last year, and how much the strong-armed Matt Stafford likes to sling it deep (the Lions ranked tenth in pass attempts over 40 yards in 2016), Golladay is much more than a late round lotto ticket.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (34.6 ADP, WR15)
For five consecutive seasons, Thomas has posted at least 90 grabs and 1,000 yards. He’s also been a top-twenty fantasy WR since 2012. As Scott Pianowski points out, that’s a heck of a floor. Reportedly in the #BSOHL and with last year’s pesky hip problems behind him, Thomas feels like a lock for top-18 production. After all, he averaged 9 targets per game and managed 21 red zone looks on the year. Sounds like a safe bet, right?
Probably… but why spend a third round pick on a player whose production has declined every year over the past four years and who committed the second most drops (10) in the league last year… especially when his teammate, who closed out 2015 and 2016 with near identical stat lines, is available four rounds later?
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (77.5 ADP, WR33)
Prototypical size for a receiver (i.e. over 6-feet-tall) usually translates to a higher caliber catch radius, which has its obvious advantages in the red area of the field. Sanders, however, seems to be the exception to the rule. Showing superior chemistry with Trevor Siemian (who appears to be edging out Paxton Lynch for starting duties), the 5-foot-11 and 180 pound wideout received more red zone opportunities than Thomas last year.
He also separated better, averaging half a yard more distance between himself and defenders when catching the ball. There’s no denying that Thomas attracted opposing teams’ top CBs (as evidenced by his 4.7 CUSH stat), but facing lesser defensive attention worked in Sanders’ favor. Given the team’s skinny usage tree, and with only 10 targets, 11 catches, and 51 yards separating the two WRs, it makes good sense to lean into value and nab the cheaper option.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins (29.5 ADP, WR13)
Ranked as my WR13, I’m all sorts of bullish on Pryor. After all, he’s been the definition of resilience and adaptability. Not only did he switch positions, but he dominated at his new gig, successfully converting nearly 82 percent of contested catches (9th best among NFL WRs). And that was with a turnstyle of subpar talent under center. Now he’s entering a situation with a solid QB and 200 targets up for grabs. There’s little doubt he’ll improve on his 1,000+ yard and 5 TD effort from 2016.
But… he’s also being drafted at peak value. Last year’s WR21 overall, there’s zero room for Pryor to stumble, which is asking a lot from a player entering a new situation and offense. Admittedly Pryor’s upside is tantalizing, but with more proven options like Doug Baldwin and T.Y. Hilton going around the same time it makes more sense to nab…
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins (72.6 ADP, WR31)
The pass-catching weapon who scored the most TDs in DC, Crowder proved to be much more than a “PPR” guy in 2016. Posting a 67-847-7 stat line, the Duke product was third in total team targets (99) behind Pierre Garcon (114) and DeSean Jackson (100). With both Garcon and DJax off the squad, and Jordan Reed dealing with a lingering toe issue, Crowder could commandeer a 100+ catch season.
After spending nearly 56 percent of his snaps in the slot last season, Crowder is expected to move outside and line up opposite Pryor in two-wide sets come the fall. That means more opportunities for the long-armed receiver. And with Josh Doctson missing out on reps due to a hamstring pull, Crowder should continue to exist as one of Kirk Cousin’s favorite targets. All signs point to a break-out campaign for the “undersized” dynamo, who figures to put up WR2 fantasy numbers n 2017.
Share your favorite fantasy flips with Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF.