We’re right in the thick of draft season this time of year, and we’re seeing the terms “sleeper,” “bust,” and “value” being thrown around left and right. I’m going to bring a bit of clarity to the term “value” by identifying what looks like the best bang-for-your-buck picks in drafts this year. We’re going to focus on players that have a chance of far eclipsing their current averaged draft position and present unique upside for your fantasy football rosters this year. All ADP data for this exercise is taken from FantasyFootballCalculator’s 12-team PPR leagues. Their ADP is typically more reflective of casual drafting leagues and presents perhaps the truest form of ADP we can use for this exercise.
Javorius Allen, RB
In my fantasy leagues that have already drafted, I’ve dropped my kicker and replaced them with Allen. Danny Woodhead is dealing with a hamstring injury and Terrance West, well, Terrance West just isn’t the type of back I like to invest in when playing in PPR leagues. West averaged a pedestrian 2.63 yards after contact per attempt and doesn’t possess much intriguing upside as a receiver out of the backfield (just 6.9 yards per reception). Allen on the other hand, finished his rookie campaign in 2015 top-10 in targets among running backs as a versatile option out of the backfield. Woodhead has played in just 21 of the last 48 games and if West were to falter for any reason, Allen could step in immediately as a multi-dimensional weapon in a potent offense. Allen has been having a strong camp this summer and looks poised to emerge as one of this year’s “sleepers” and “value” picks.
Andy Dalton, QB
I’ve mentioned Dalton in just about every other article written this summer, but maintain that he’s the late-round quarterback you should be pursuing in drafts this year. Cincinnati surrounded Dalton with an upgraded supporting cast and is in line for major positive touchdown regression after posting a career-low rate of 3.2 percent. If A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert can stay healthy, the breakout is imminent.
Kenny Britt, WR
In the nine games Britt wasn’t playing with Jared Goff last year, he averaged 14.4 PPR points per game – a WR21 pace. In fact, he was averaging 2.20 yards per route run during that span (same rate as Odell Beckham Jr.), and carrying an average stat line of 4.9 receptions for 77 yards and 0.3 touchdowns. Britt stands to inherit the 132 targets left behind by Terrelle Pryor (if not more), and enter an offense that led the league in most time spent trailing in a game. Cleveland passed 64.4 percent of the time last year (mostly out of necessity), and while the team has made significant strides, we still may not see it all come together in 2017. That will likely mean continued heavy passing, with them leaning heavily on Britt. Last year Pryor had a 24.7 percent target share in Cleveland. If Britt can achieve anything close to that, he could be an absolute steal in the 11th (?!!?) round.
Martavis Bryant, WR
In Bryant’s 24 career games (including postseason), he has averaged a 4-65-0.67 stat line. That’s a 64-1,040-10.7 stat line if prorated over the course of a full season. Those numbers would’ve netted Bryant a WR13 finish last year. Bryant’s currently going at the Round 4-5 turn. If I’m drafting there, I’m quite content taking Bryant as my fifth player off the board.
D’Onta Foreman, RB
If you’ve rostered Lamar Miller over the last few years, you know how frustrating it can be from a week-to-week perspective. Foreman is one of my favorite zero-RB candidates in case Miller were to face any type of injury this season. In fact, our data analytics friends at RotoViz had Foreman as the top running back in both their RB Prospect Lab and their RB Success Model. Foreman’s an injury away from significant playing time as a workhorse in the Texans’ backfield.
I’m sorry Jaguars fans, unless we see either a miraculous turnaround in Blake Bortles or a change at quarterback, we just don’t have many fantasy viable options in this offense beyond dart throws (though admittedly, Dede Westbrook was considered here). The D/ST unit on the other hand, has made significant additions this past offseason to the point where they could be an incredible unit if it all comes together. A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Barry Church, and a healthy Dante Fowler Jr. make this an intriguing unit – especially against their Week 1 opponent, the Houston Texans.
Andrew Luck, QB
I say it often when it comes to DFS, but uncertainty creates opportunity, and that’s exactly what we have this year in Luck. Luck is routinely going in the ninth round of drafts this year due to injury concerns. It’s enough to make me break my own rules in late-round quarterback drafting and grab an elite asset. Last year Luck ranked top-six in passing touchdowns (31), yards per attempt (7.78), air yards (2,556), and fantasy points per game (20.5). Getting that in the ninth round? That’s what I call value. Pick up Carson Palmer as your last draft pick to float by the injury-concerned weeks and then profit from Week 4 on.
Marcus Mariota, QB
The 2017 Titans offense is an interesting one. Centered around a strong offensive line, Tennessee has a potent rushing attack supplemented by a diverse passing attack. This is a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario to me, and the lynchpin of its success, Mariota, has become a must-draft for me. From Week 5-12, Mariota was the overall QB1, averaging 24.2 fantasy points per game. He threw multiple touchdowns in all eight of those games and was a force to be reckoned with. His ADP varies wildly from league to league, but if he slips into double-digit territory, have no fear when clicking the “draft” button.
Kareem Hunt, RB
I don’t believe it’s far-fetched to label both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill as overpriced, so that leaves Hunt by default as the value play here in Kansas City. That being said, Hunt has a chance to go absolutely nuclear as the top rookie running back. Head coach Andy Reid has had incredible success throughout his career with his running backs, as the lead back has averaged 19.5 PPR points per game. Hunt’s ADP is also all over the map given the recent news of Spencer Ware being out for the season. I don’t think he’s a reach at all when entering the murky waters of the third round this year.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Do you know how many fantasy points separated Sanders and Demaryius Thomas a year ago? Just 13.7. Less than a point a game. Thomas finished as the WR16 last year and Sanders finished as the WR20. Drafters are strangely forgetting how close they were last year and there’s a large discrepancy in ADP between the two heading into 2017. Thomas is being drafted as the WR16 and Sanders is being drafted as the WR34. Sanders averaged 8.6 targets per game and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third season in a row. Don’t overthink it. He’s a terrific value in the seventh round.
Michael Crabtree, WR
Since signing with Oakland, Crabtree has finished as the WR16 (2015) and WR12 (2016). His younger protégé, Amari Cooper, has finished the last two years as the WR21 and WR14. Crabtree has bested the former No. 4 overall draft pick each of the last two years and I don’t really feel it’s that bold to forecast him doing it a third time (I have Cooper ranked after Crabtree at WR18). While the PFF consensus has Crabtree back at WR24, I’m by far the most bullish of our group putting him at WR17 and even that feels a bit reserved. Crabtree has led Oakland in red-zone targets (34), touchdowns (17), receptions (174), and overall fantasy points over the past two years combined. I’m willing to bet he sustains those numbers for a third year.
Tyrell Williams, WR
With first-rounder Mike Williams out of the picture to begin the season, Tyrell Williams has a great chance at building off last year’s success with the Chargers. Williams put up one of the quietest 1,000-yard seasons in recent memory, but finished the year as the WR18. He didn’t blow us away by any means – ranking 29th in yards per route run (1.87) and 68th in WR Rating (80.9) — but it’s hard to ignore the steady 7.4 targets per game he averaged. Williams is now being drafted as an afterthought, going as the WR40. Now that’s a value pick.
Bilal Powell, RB
I really wanted to put ArDarius Stewart here, but after watching the Jets’ preseason games, I just simply can’t rely on that passing game. Powell gets it by default. The good thing is Powell is quite good. From Week 11 on last year, Powell averaged 18.8 touches per game, seeing a nice 69 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. He finished as a top-12 PPR back in three of those six games. In fact, out of the 42 running backs with at least 100 or more carries last season, Powell led the position in percentage of carries that went for first downs (34.4). He ranked third among that subset in receptions (58) and his yards after contact per attempt – the rushing yards credited to him and not the offensive line, was sixth-highest at 3.17. Powell finished the year fifth in fantasy points per touch and can be regularly had in the fifth-/sixth-round area.
DeVante Parker, WR
The arrival of Jay Cutler immediately springs Parker back into the “breakout candidate” conversation. We’ve seen them develop an immediate rapport in preseason and it should hopefully translate onto the field this year. Parker is a size.speed freak at 6-foot-3 inches, 209 pounds, while running a 4.45 40-yard dash. In the eight games Parker saw at least six targets, he averaged 14.4 PPR points – a pace that would’ve put him on pace for a WR16 finish. Cutler has compared Parker to a younger Alshon Jeffery, and if those two can recreate similar magic to what Cutler and Jeffery had in Chicago, Parker could end up being a tremendous value in the fifth or sixth Round.
Rex Burkhead, RB
I’m circling back to that uncertainty comment, because as much as we think we know about the Patriots’ backfield, Bill Belichick certainly knows more. I’ve heavily invested in Mike Gillislee this offseason, but I’m not too stubborn to say there’s a very real possibility that Burkhead could end up being the New England back to own in 2017. Burkhead is the perfect versatile back that Belichick covets, excelling in both the run game (4.6 YPC on 74 attempts last year) and pass game (ran 64 of his 75 snaps as a wide receiver in 2015). His ADP at RB45 makes him a perfect stash candidate if things go awry with Gillislee.
Zay Jones, WR
If Rick Dennison follows his coaching tree play-calling tendencies, we can expect a lot of short-to-intermediate West Coast passing for the Bills. That is an area Jones has a chance to completely shine in. Jones lived off quick passes at ECU, averaging just 11.1 yards per receptions, but hauling in a whopping 158 receptions in the process. We likely won’t see Jones ripping off big plays down the sideline in this offense given his limited route-running, but he could still turn into a hyper-productive receiver from a PPR viewpoint.