By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
Like the levels of a video game adventure, each round of your fantasy draft features pillars of safety, landmines, and hidden gems. The trick is knowing which is which. While countless variables (injuries being the biggest) come into play, it is possible to predict the best strategy at each level. An underutilized insight for many fantasy gamers is the influence of offensive lines on skill players’ production. That’s a factor I focus on in my analysis, and will again here as we break down the draft, one round at a time.
Here is Part 2 of our three-part series: Picks 31-70
Round 4: Picks 31-40
Safest Bet: Devonta Freeman – Pick No. 35 overall
“What?! How can Freeman be a safe pick? He can’t stay healthy!” Well, he’s made it into the final weeks of the preseason without so much as a hangnail, and we can’t say that for a lot of guys. It’s unwise to predict injuries, but what we can predict are role and productivity. There’s no Tevin Coleman to compete with anymore, so Freeman’s role in a scintillating offense is secure. With rookie Chris Lindstrom it appears the Falcons have found a third stud for their o-line. It takes an outstanding player to total 3,175 scrimmage yards and 27 touchdowns in just two seasons, which Freeman has done (2015-2016). That’s safe enough for Round 4.
Underrated: Leonard Fournette – Pick No. 36 overall
While Freeman has been to the top of the fantasy mountaintop, Fournette has not. I thought he’d get there last year, but we all know how that turned out. Maybe bonehead suspensions and soft-tissue injuries will doom those hopes forever, but the big back is fully capable of doing what Derrick Henry did last December. Though Jacksonville’s o-line has struggled this preseason, they have a ton of talent and are finally getting healthy. As this unit gels, their run blocking should improve significantly. As a bonus, new OC John DeFilippo recognizes Fournette’s untapped potential as a receiver. I’m back in.
Overrated: Robert Woods – Pick No. 39 overall
Woods has come a long way since the former USC receiver seemed like an under-talented technician in Buffalo. Becoming a key cog in one of the league’s most prolific offenses certainly helps. However, defenses started figuring them out last year. This offense could regress if changes aren’t made, and there are signs the Rams will use fewer three-wide sets as they try to adjust and evolve. Brandin Cooks (who is going several picks later) has more tactical value as the deep threat, and Cooper Kupp is Jared Goff’s security blanket. If anyone’s snaps suffer, it would be Woods. I’m not predicting disaster for him, but the ceiling is higher for several WRs going later.
Round 5: Picks 41-50
Safest Bet: Chris Godwin – Pick No. 45 overall
Godwin is one such receiver, and while his hype train has been blowing its whistle nonstop all year, he’s a safe bet to break out. Godwin is an ideal Batman to Mike Evans’ Man of Steel. The Bucs’ offensive line is not a selling point, but it shouldn’t kneecap the passing game. Tampa’s defense could again be sieve-like and Bruce Arians loves to air it out, trailing or not. While we should expect a step back from 2018’s 39 pass attempts per game (4th in the NFL), Arians has predicted 100 catches for Godwin. Based on vacated targets, that’s not unrealistic. What’s not to like?
Underrated: Mark Ingram – Pick No. 49 overall
What happens when you put one of the steadiest RBs of his generation onto a run-first offense with a top-10 offensive line and a QB who must also be accounted for as a rusher? We’re about to find out. I like rookie Justice Hill as much as the next guy, but volume of carries is not a concern for Ingram — Baltimore led the league in rushing attempts last year and they’re not going to turn into Tampa Bay overnight. Ingram is closer to the end than the beginning, but his three-down skillset is intact. He has the potential to destroy this ADP.
Overrated: Kenny Golladay – Pick No. 47 overall
The best is yet to come for “Babytron,” but this season probably won’t be his high-water mark. Matt Patricia has focused on building a formidable defensive line and wants to run the ball as much as possible. With this philosophy, the Lions may wind up in the bottom tier of aerial production. What’s more, Marvin Jones is back and demands a significant target share when healthy. Golladay’s physical gifts and those of his increasingly conservative quarterback are the main checkmarks in his favor right now. It’s easy to imagine him having an underwhelming season statistically.
Round 6: Picks 51-60
Safest Bet: Chris Carson – Pick No. 60 overall
Carson is currently the 60th player off the board in Yahoo leagues, which is currently the Brink’s truck heist of fantasy steals. According to PlayerProfiler.com, he was 3rd in evaded tackles last year — not bad for a former 7th round pick. Only the Ravens run more than Seattle and their hefty offensive line is built to mash. While a largely no-name defense and tough schedule may force the Seahawks into high-scoring affairs, Carson has carved out a plum role in this offense. Rashaad Penny hasn’t really forced his way into a larger role and now Carson is looking to add more receptions to his resume. Yes, please.
Underrated: Sony Michel – Pick No. 52 overall
Michel’s injury risk is well documented, but now that he’s back and playing well his ADP seems out of whack. I’ve got the Patriots ranked as the NFL’s premier run-blocking line and as Tom Brady ages sans Rob Gronkowski, they’ll only employ the ground game more often. Last season we never saw the college version of Michel, but in camp he’s shown more of his pass-catching chops. If he also regains that extra gear, look out! While LeGarrette Blount’s 18 touchdowns in 2016 may be out of reach, the prospect of a healthy Michel should have mouths watering in the fantasy community.
Overrated: Baker Mayfield – Pick No. 51 overall
I won’t be stunned if Mayfield is a top-five quarterback this year, nor will I be shocked if he finishes 15th, either. First off, Cleveland’s defense could be good enough to cap its QB’s upside. Second, there are about 15 passers who could realistically finish top-five. And finally, the Browns’ offensive line is a legitimate concern. Beyond two rock-solid starters, the other three have a lot to prove. With a couple of injuries, Mayfield’s pass protection could become a major liability. Why take him here when the last two guys I’ve mentioned (and several other exciting non-QBs) are available?
Round 7: Picks 61-70
Safest Bet: Tyler Lockett – Pick No. 64 overall
Lockett was insanely efficient last year, which was less due to luck than it was to Russell Wilson and his best receiver being extremely good at football. (It definitely wasn’t Brian Schottenheimer’s innovative passing-game concepts.) They remain in the prime of their careers, Doug Baldwin is retired, and the defense is deteriorating. Seattle’s pass-blocking isn’t great, but when has “Dangeruss” required an airtight pocket to produce? Many see Lockett’s numbers as doomed to regress, but I think talent plus a target increase equate to ample fantasy goodness.
Underrated: Tyler Boyd – Pick No. 68 overall
Talk about target increases — there aren’t any better options than Boyd in the Bengals’ passing game until A.J. Green returns from injury. In fact, given the uncertainties surrounding Tyler Eifert and John Ross, the former Pitt Panther could be peppered with passes. That’s a lot of P’s, but here’s another one — progress, which is what Boyd’s game clearly showed last season. He can get the job done. Fortunately, Boyd excels in the short and intermediate game, because the Bengals’ undermanned offensive line will likely afford Andy Dalton little time to go deep.
Overrated: Chicago DST — Pick No. 63 overall
Haven’t we learned that top DSTs rarely repeat? In fact, the No. 1 unit often finishes middle of the pack the following season. What’s more, defensive mastermind Vic Fangio has departed for Denver and the Bears’ secondary was diminished by free agency. That seemingly inevitable regression could be offset by a healthier year from sack-master supreme, Khalil Mack, but it’s better not to bank on it. Don’t pass on Lockett, Cooper Kupp or Calvin Ridley to take a defense.