Players who have changed one expert's mind this Fantasy Football draft season

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Lamar Miller have a chance to do some special things for fantasy players this season. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Lamar Miller have a chance to do some special things for fantasy players this season. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

It’s a long summer. And the best practice is to set your rankings and forget it. But aside from injury news, there is often good reason to modify a view you have on a player. When information changes you need to change your mind, not radically — that’s never a good practice given the weight of any training camp news short of an injury is never that great — but substantively.

Here are the players on whom my opinions have changed most significantly.

Not so fast on Watson taking big step back

Deshaun Watson was going regress big-time obviously and so I avoided him. Given quarterback in one-QB formats is overvalued, I just pretty much crossed him off my list. But most of my leagues wait forever to draft a quarterback. So the question really is whether he’s worth a sixth-rounder and whether he should be QB2. This is aside from the recovery from his ACL injury, which reportedly is going well.

So I modeled all the quarterbacks who in shorter samples of play posted years where they had a TD% (TDs divided by attempts) of over 6.0%. These quarterbacks did subsequently regress to about two thirds of that level (67.6%). But Watson’s rate was so high that even with this regression he would be 6.3%. And even regressing his yards per attempt from outstanding to merely good gives him enough touchdowns and yards to generate about 19 points per game without adding any running. Add some running and we’re talking QB2 easily.

Kamara isn’t being overvalued

Alvin Kamara also was a question of how much regression off an insanely efficient fantasy points per touch season. What happened the next year with similar lower-volume backs in history? Well, they declined about 15% in efficiency on average. Even median regression was only about 20%. And this group got 86% of the touches the next year, though a lot of this is related to injuries that are a similar risk for all backs, not just high-efficiency ones.

With Mark Ingram suspended for four games, it’s hard to see a decline in Kamara’s touches (assuming he stays healthy). He says he’s getting 15-to-20 per game. Middle that and regress his per-touch efficiency by the median rate and he still comes in at about an RB1 level of 365 PPR points. Hammer him with the most extreme regression in history and he’s just over 200, which puts a reasonable projection in the middle of that at about 285 points, solid top-five RB production. So Kamara is actually a solid pick and not an overdraft in the top half of Round 1.

Miller is a screaming value

Lamar Miller seems so boring. But if Watson is for real, this is going to be a big-time offense. He has no real competition for touches so even if he’s just a mini bell cow, he’s playing downhill in fantasy. And last year, he had just two carries inside the three, from where more than half of all rushing touchdowns come.

Miller is 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and should be utilized at the goal-line, where he was 2-for-3 in converting (average is just below 50%). The scrimmage yards are going to be there and my projection is for at least nine TDs. You know what isn’t boring: screaming values and I’ve come around to thinking that Miller is exactly that.

Lewis set to make big impact with Titans

Dion Lewis seemed sure to be the less important (non-touchdown, mostly third-down) part of a committee in Tennessee given how impressive Derrick Henry was in the playoffs. While he was sure to subtract from Henry’s fantasy value, Lewis didn’t seem to merit any serious consideration of his own at ADP.

But then this photo came out and I decided to do a piece on backfields tied to size for The Wall Street Journal. What I discovered is that the smaller back dominates these committees — totaling an average of 70% more scrimmage yards and besting the bigger backs in per-touch efficiency by just over 20%. So I am all in now on Lewis in the fifth round.

Rookie running backs could disappoint

I love rookie running backs and we had seven taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in 2018, tied for the most the past decade. I expected this summer to feel like a kid in a candy store getting bargains on these runners. But it’s been a really bad summer for most of them.

Rashaad Penny clearly wasn’t going to start even before breaking his hand. Sony Michel can’t supplant Rex Burkhead. Ronald Jones is looking up on the depth chart to an undrafted back. Kerryon Johnson is running behind LeGarrette Blount, who seemed washed last year when he couldn’t even convert on the goal line (a pathetic 1-for-9). It turns out this is not that unusual. All first- and second-round packs the past 10 years have averaged 13 games, six starts and 10.1 PPR points per game (8.2 in standard).

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Long live Fitzgerald

I don’t like 35-year-old receivers (who does), so Larry Fitzgerald was dead to me. At some point, the circus was going to leave town and this year was as good a chance as any. How many guys go out near the top of their game? But even in a new offense, Fitzgerald shows no signs of slowing down and actually seems the perfect fit for quarterback Sam Bradford’s ball-control style of play — and Bradford has had a healthy camp where he’s firmly secured the starting job. So it’s hard not to forecast Fitzgerald leading his team in targets for an all-time record 13th time, making him actually a bargain in the late-third, early-fourth round.

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