Ideal Underdog Fantasy Draft Picks

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Ideal Underdog Fantasy Draft Picks

In last week’s article – “Scott Barrett's Underdog Fantasy Draft Guide & Primer” – I attempted to teach you how to fish; how to optimally play in Underdog’s tournament-style leagues, to better your odds of taking down their $2 million prize. In today’s article I’m just going to hand you some fish; highlighting a number of players I’m going out of my way to draft in Underdog drafts. The first third of the article will highlight the top pure values; players who you should be targeting in traditional 12-team leagues and tournament leagues. The next section will highlight the top #UpsideWinsChampionships picks who are better suited for Underdog tournaments. The final third of this article will dig deeper into players with an especially soft Week 17 matchup, which is – according to last year’s Best Ball Mania II winner Liam Murphy – “everything” in tournament leagues.

Without further ado…

Pure Value Plays

Notes: Players are listed in rank order according to ADP. Assume half-point PPR scoring for all references to fantasy points scored.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
ADP: Round 4, RB16

Since entering the league, Elliott has finished 3rd (20.6), 3rd (19.0), 8th (19.4), 5th (17.8), 14th (13.2), and (last season) 15th in FPG (13.4). Obviously the last two seasons have been rough – though these numbers imply he’s still priced beneath his absolute floor (ADP: RB16) – but in Elliott’s defense, the Cowboys were missing Dak Prescott for over two-thirds of the 2020 season, and then Elliott played through a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for over 75% of the 2021 season. (And still, despite that injury, Elliott out-touched Tony Pollard 252 to 169 in games they both played.) Over the last two seasons – with a fully-intact PCL and with Prescott in the lineup – Elliott averages 18.5 FPG (through nine games), which would have been good enough for a top-4 finish each of the past two seasons. Ultimately, Elliott is a clear top value, and one with minimal risk; it’s hard to imagine his role changing for the worse, given the $18.2 million they’re paying him and the fact that Pollard couldn’t crack a dozen touches per game while Elliott was playing through a (freaking) torn PCL.

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
ADP: Round 5, RB20

Montgomery’s role dramatically changed in the latter-half of last season. Namely, he was far more involved in the passing game – something which is otherwise typically a concern for a RB tethered to a hyper-mobile QB – averaging 6.0 targets per game over his final six games (up from 2.1). Over this stretch, Montgomery ranked 3rd in carries, 1st in targets, 1st in XFP, 1st in XTD, and 3rd in fantasy points scored (averaging 15.5 FPG). So why is he being drafted as the RB20 on Underdog? Good question. The team isn’t expected to be very good (over/under 6.5 wins), and the regime change increases uncertainty regarding his role, but still… To me, Montgomery seems mispriced by at least a full round, and also marks the end of a tier as the last of the likely bell cows.

Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
ADP: Round 6, WR35

Over the past five seasons, Thielen has finished 11th, 8th, 40th, 7th, and (last year) 16th in FPG. That 2019 season looks rough, but was really just a total injury-outlier year – Thielen was averaging 16.3 fantasy points per four quarters (would have ranked 3rd-best), before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 6. He’d spend the remainder of the season inactive battling that injury, or playing part-time and only as a decoy. And last year too, Thielen averaged 14.6 FPG (would have ranked 7th-best) prior to an ankle injury suffered in Week 13. In other words, Thielen has been a WR1 for five straight seasons when healthy – finishing 7th (last year), 7th, 3rd, 8th, and 11th in FPG if injury-adjusting his numbers – which makes his current ADP seem unbearably stupid (WR35).

Notes: More on Theilen’s Week 17 matchup a little later.

Russell Gage, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: Round 7, WR41

Gage had arguably the league’s toughest WR schedule last season. His natural position is in the slot, where he’s run 60% of his routes over his career. Last season he faced a defense ranking top-10 in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs in a whopping seven of his 14 games (50%). He seriously underwhelmed in those games, averaging just 4.1 targets and 4.0 FPG (~WR128). In all other games he averaged 9.3 targets and 15.1 FPG (~WR7).

So, here’s the good news: Although Gage remains in the same division, his schedule is far more favorable to slot WRs this year. The offensive environment is much better in Tampa Bay as well, which had 41% more passing yards and 2.2X as many passing touchdowns as Atlanta a season ago. Gage was personally recruited by Tom Brady, who has always targeted slot WRs at one of the highest rates in the league. And that’s equally true of the Bruce Arians scheme (which OC Byron Leftwich will be running). Last season all three Tampa Bay WRs finished as WR1s by FPG, and now Antonio Brown is gone, and Chris Godwin could miss a sizable chunk (6-8 weeks) of the 2022 season, still recovering from an ACL injury.

And here’s the best news yet: although Gage’s price is rising (up from WR50 one month ago), he’s still a screaming value in Underdog drafts (ADP: WR41).

Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams
ADP: Round 8, QB12

In Stafford’s first year learning the Sean McVay offense, he won the (freaking) Super Bowl and finished 5th in total fantasy points. He falls to 11th on a FPG-basis, just 0.3 FPG behind Dak Prescott (QB9) and 0.1 FPG behind Joe Burrow (QB10). Though that jumps back up to QB7 (21.1 FPG) if we include the postseason (24.2 FPG).

So, why do we think he’s going to be worse this year (ADP: QB12)? Their receiving corps is arguably better, replacing nine games from Robert Woods and eight games from Odell Beckham Jr. with Allen Robinson (ADP: WR22). And they may still add Beckham when he returns from injury. Stafford may not have the weekly upside to carry your team through the tournament rounds (so you may still need a solid QB2), but he is glaringly one of the top values at the position.

Christian Kirk, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
ADP: Round 8, WR43

Of course I trashed this signing relentlessly at the time, but in fantasy football, it pays to follow the money. Namely, that the Jaguars probably envision a different role for Kirk than the one he had in Arizona – they’re paying him like a top WR in the NFL, and Trevor Lawrence will be targeting him as such. But even if that’s wrong, then he’s still at least of the “better in best ball”-archetype, averaging 18.2 FPG in his top-25% of games over the past two seasons, versus only 2.2 FPG in his bottom-25% of games. After finishing 27th in fantasy points scored last season, as the 12th highest-paid WR in the NFL and the clear WR1 in an ascending offense, he represents an enticing discount with upside at his current ADP (WR42).

Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks
ADP: Round 8, WR46

No player fits the “better in best ball” archetype more than Lockett. Over the past three seasons, Lockett averages 29.4 FPG in his three best games each year. Across his other 39 games (81% of games), he averages just 9.0 FPG (~WR46). In other words, for three games each year he’s Ja’Marr Chase (15.7 FPG) and Stefon Diggs (13.8 FPG) combined. But the rest of the time, he’s just Jakobi Meyers (8.8 FPG).

That sort of volatility is extremely frustrating in start/sit leagues, but immensely valuable in best ball leagues. And his tournament-upside is immense; if one of Lockett’s massive spike weeks occurs in Week 17, it may be impossible to win the tournament without him.

Sure, he’s due for a QB downgrade – whether that’s Drew Lock (which actually might not be so bad, as throwing the ball deep [Lockett’s wheelhouse] may be the only thing he does well), Geno Smith (28% target share with Smith last year), or Baker Mayfield – but even with that factored in, he’s still a tremendous value. Over the past four seasons, Lockett has finished 14th (last season), 9th, 14th, and 14th in fantasy points scored. And yet he’s priced as just the WR46 by ADP – 23 spots behind D.K. Metcalf, and multiple rounds below where I’d be willing to draft him – despite his massive nearly-unrivaled weekly upside.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: Round 8, WR47

I’m pretty sure Valdes-Scantling (ADP: WR47) is the Chiefs’ new WR1, so it’s odd to see he’s being drafted behind JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR27) and Skyy Moore (WR44). After all, the Chiefs gave MVS $15 million in guaranteed money (on a three-year deal), while Smith-Schuster signed a one-year prove-it deal with just $2.5 million guaranteed. And Moore was only the 13th WR selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, although he’s being drafted as the rookie WR3 on Underdog.

Even if I’m wrong, and MVS isn’t the team’s WR1, he could still beat his ADP and pay off big in the tournament rounds. What MVS does well, Patrick Mahomes does better than any other QB in the NFL (though, granted, MVS’ former QB Aaron Rodgers comes close). Which is to say, MVS is one of the better deep threats in the NFL, and, thus, perfectly fits the “better in best ball”-archetype. MVS ranked 3rd in deep targets per game (2.0) last year, and ranks 5th in catches gaining 40-plus yards over the past three seasons.

Robert Woods, WR, Tennessee Titans
ADP: Round 9, WR51

Hopefully I made myself clear in this piece – I like Treylon Burks (ADP: WR38), but I don’t think he is NFL-ready at this point in his career. And I can’t even pronounce Nick Westbrook-Ikhine’s name correctly. So, of course, I have to like Woods, right?

And, why not? Woods has finished top-20 in FPG for five consecutive seasons, and now ranks as the overall WR51 by ADP. And, keep in mind, four of those five seasons came with Jared Goff at QB, and while competing for targets against the WR who just broke Jerry Rice’s record for most fantasy points scored by a WR in any season all-time.

Per Joe Rexrode (Titans beat writer for The Athletic):

“[Robert Woods should be the WR1 in this offense.] He and Ryan Tannehill have already been building chemistry, and it would take a setback for Woods to be anything but full go by Week 1. In fact, at this point, Burks realistically projects as WR3 to start, because Nick Westbrook-Ikhine continues to make strides as a playmaker. Burks has had to bail out of some work this spring and has been held out of some things, and wide receivers coach Rob Moore recently confirmed he has asthma. Mike Vrabel said that shouldn’t be an issue, but Burks clearly isn’t in top shape, and it may take him some time to become a major producer.”

Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns
ADP: Round 9, RB33

Hunt probably isn’t a great pick in start/sit leagues – as the RB1B (full-point PPR) or RB2 (half-point PPR) in a committee backfield – but he’s a phenomenal value in best ball leagues. And does offer some underrated upside, given Nick Chubb’s injury history, and the chance Hunt gets traded this offseason to assume a bell cow role somewhere else.

Hunt and Nick Chubb were active and fully healthy in only 16 full games the past two seasons, and over this span Chubb out-carried Hunt 274 to 177, while Hunt out-targeted Chubb 60 to 24. In other words, the value of their respective roles were nearly identical if measured by weighted opportunity points per game; Chubb averaged 12.3 (~RB16) to Hunt’s 11.3 (~RB19). And over this span, Hunt averaged 13.5 FPG (~RB15) to Chubb’s 17.2 FPG (~RB4). So, clearly he’s a strong value, with underrated upside, at current ADP (RB32).

Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
ADP: Round 12, WR65

I argued all offseason that there was a lot of parity among the WRs at the top of the 2022 class. And, as I’ve always said, I’m a big fan of exploiting hubris everywhere I can. In this instance, the hubris of fantasy drafters in thinking they can out-predict NFL front offices. Dotson was the 5th WR taken in the 2022 NFL Draft (only eight picks below the WR1, Drake London), and yet, in Underdog drafts he’s going 68 picks behind London, 37 picks behind Olave, and 34 picks behind Wilson. Dotson is one of the most polished and NFL-ready WRs in this class, is a perfect stylistic fit for Carson Wentz and will be an immediate Week 1 starter, and has been the star of offseason practices. He’s a phenomenal value with upside at his current ADP (WR65).

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams
ADP: Round 12, RB45

On a recent podcast, I said (half-jokingly): “The injury discount on Cam Akers is the same as it is for Bronko Nagurski… They’re both dead.” The post-Achilles risk on Akers is far too high for my liking, making him possibly my No. 1 fade at the position. So, obviously, I like the arbitrage on Henderson at current ADP.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
ADP: UDFA, RB65

Even if Alvin Kamara manages to avoid a suspension, Ingram stands out as one of the most mispriced players in Underdog drafts. But, luckily, I also think that’s extremely unlikely – and Kamara may be looking at a minimum suspension of six games.

And for those six-plus games, and should Kamara miss additional time at any other point in the season (ideally Week 17), Ingram has easy RB1-upside if he resumes his 2021 role. Ingram is old (age: 33), and I don’t think very good. And there’s a chance some other player assumes that RB2-role, but we do know that role is extremely valuable. He might have some (minimal) stand-alone weekly value in games Kamara plays – he averaged 4.9 FPG on 38% of the team’s snaps in games they both played for the Saints last year. But more than anything, he has massive upside in games Kamara might miss. Take a look at what we’ve seen from New Orleans’ RB2 in games the RB1 missed:

2021: Alvin Kamara sat out Weeks 10-13 last season. Mark Ingram missed Week 12, and wasn’t fully healthy for Week 13. So, in the two games Kamara missed and Ingram was fully healthy and active, Ingram averaged 15.0 carries, 7.5 targets, and 18.6 FPG (~RB4).

2020: Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray both sat out in Week 17 in 2020. Ty Montgomery, who had a total of -4 rushing yards through the first 16 weeks of the season, totaled 105 rushing yards on 18 carries in their absence.

2019: Alvin Kamara missed two games in 2019. What happened in those two games? Latavius Murray handled 91% of the team’s touches out of the backfield, averaging 24.0 carries, 9.0 targets, 153.5 yards, 2.0 touchdowns, and an astounding 34.4 fantasy points per game.

2018: Mark Ingram missed the first four games of the 2018 season (due to a suspension). Over that span, Kamara averaged 34.0 FPG. (He averaged only 19.8 FPG after Ingram’s return.)

Ingram is ideally paired with Alvin Kamara (a rare instance where drafting your RB1’s handcuff actually makes sense in a tournament-style draft) or someone like Breece Hall (who should be expected to score more fantasy points in the second half of the season than the first).

Upside Plays

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
ADP: Round 3, TE3

Pitts appears overvalued at first glance, ranking as the TE3 by ADP, after finishing 13th in FPG last year (8.4). That’s true, and Pitts probably has the widest range of outcomes of any player within his ADP-range… but at the same time, we always want to bet on generational prospects (the true outliers of the NFL, who have massive power-law potential for fantasy). And I’ve only ever talked up three prospects as being on par with Pitts – Ja’Marr Chase, Jonathan Taylor, and Christian McCaffrey. Pitts is the only one yet to hit big.

But Pitts’ rookie season was also far more impressive than it appears at first glance. Pitts was basically asked to be Atlanta’s WR1 last season, playing nearly as many snaps lined up out-wide (226, +9% more than Travis Kelce) as he did in the slot (271) or in-line (242). On one hand, that’s good – the ideal fantasy TE looks something like “a WR masquerading as a TE”, running a high number of routes and rarely blocking. On the other, he ran just as many routes lined up against highly-graded CBs as Deebo Samuel and Marquise Brown through the first half of the season. It’s tough to expect a rookie TE to put up big numbers against some of the best CBs the NFL has to offer, but boy did Pitts deliver!

This was far-and-away the most mind-blowing stat I’ve uncovered this offseason:

Beyond that, Pitts was flukily unlucky in the touchdown department, falling 4.5 (most among TEs) touchdowns short of his volume-based expectation (XTD). (Luckily, that’s something that always tends to regress to the mean.) Had he been perfectly neutral in touchdown efficiency/luck, he would have added another 1.59 points to his FPG average (bumping him from TE13 to TE5).

But beyond all that, he became one of just two TEs to ever crack 900 receiving yards as a rookie (he had 1,026), and TEs typically make a massive leap from their rookie (63% of their career baseline average) to sophomore (96% of their career baseline average) seasons.

Notes: Pitts is undoubtedly risky – he has a really wide range of outcomes. So, when you’re drafting him in a tournament-style league, you’re better off leaning into the assumption that he hits big. If Pitts falls short of or merely meets his ADP expectation, you probably don’t stand a chance of winning anyway. So, you might as well structure your roster along the assumption that a top-20% outcome came to fruition, and therefore not really worry too much about your TE2.

Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets
ADP: Round 5, RB19

According to my rookie prospect model, Hall profiles as a true bell cow at the NFL-level (on par with Najee Harris) and ranks as one of the 10 best RBs to come out over the past nine years.

All of this is explained in more detail here.

The Jets are expected to take a RBBC approach in 2021, with Hall serving as the team’s “lead back”, or as “the Batman to Carter’s Robin.” After taking Hall in Round 2 – but trying to trade up for him in Round 1 – I think that this (lead back in a committee) should be our minimum expectation for his role; realistically we should expect something around 60% of the team’s backfield XFP by season-end statistics. But maybe that’s averaged down from 40% through the first four weeks, and then 80% through the final four weeks. In which case, Hall appears immensely more valuable in Underdog’s tournament-style leagues. Remember, rookie RBs are typically far more productive in the second-half of their rookie seasons, and in Underdog tournaments, the second-half of the season matters exponentially more than the first.

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
ADP: Round 6, QB5

Murray is a near-guarantee to wind up as my highest-owned QB in Underdog tournaments. Given the format, you really want a QB with 25-plus point upside (and ideally 35-plus point upside) in the tournament rounds.

Murray’s weekly upside is massive, and nearly unrivaled. That’s thanks in part to his rushing abilities (obviously), but he also has underrated upside as a passer – he threw for three touchdowns and 400-plus yards in two of his last 18 games. Josh Allen is the only other QB in NFL history to accomplish that feat (at least twice in his career), while also recording 90-plus rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in at least three career games.

And maybe Murray’s upside is actually unrivaled at the position – well – at least so long as he stays healthy. (Bear with me for a second…)

2021: Before suffering an ankle injury in Week 8 against the Packers Murray was averaging 24.8 FPG, hitting at least 19.5 fantasy points in six of seven games.

2020: Murray suffered a shoulder injury in Week 9 that (per his own admission) didn’t start affecting him until Week 11. Up until that point, Murray was averaging 30.1 FPG (through nine games) with a low of just 23.1 fantasy points. 2019: Kyler Murray first popped up on the injury report in Week 13 with a hamstring injury (and then reappeared with the same injury in Week 17). Up until that point, Murray was averaging (as a rookie) 20.4 FPG.

So, if looking only at games before an injury occurred, then Murray averages 27.8 FPG over the last two seasons (16 games). For perspective, last season Josh Allen led all QBs, scoring the 4th-most fantasy points by any QB in any season ever, and this is +3.2 FPG (+13%) better than that.

Maybe Murray is injury-prone. Maybe HC Kliff Kingsbury wants to scale back on the rushing. Maybe. Who knows? All I know is I desperately want to chase this upside at this price in tournament leagues.

And by the way, Murray’s supporting cast is now better than ever — replacing Christian Kirk with Marquise Brown, Murray’s favorite WR from his Oklahoma days (over CeeDee Lamb). Add it all up and Murray is a steal at current ADP (QB6), offering a nearly unrivaled ceiling and an underrated floor – finishing top-4 in FPG in back-to-back seasons. I especially like pairing him with Brown (ADP: WR15) and TE Zach Ertz (TE10).

Notes: More on Murray’s Week 17 matchup a little later.

Alexander Mattison, RB, Minnesota Vikings
ADP: Round 11, RB39

On Mattison in particular, but really all RBs of his archetype, here’s what I had to say in my Underdog Draft Guide:

“Alexander Mattison is probabilistically a minus-EV pick, only cracking your starting lineup in the 1-2 games Dalvin Cook misses. But if Cook were to miss a dozen games or more, or even just Week 17, he could be one of the most valuable players in the tournament. Mattison has exceeded 12.0 fantasy points in just six of 42 career games (14%). But he’s also averaged 18.1 FPG (~RB4) in the six games Cook has missed. So, if this (albeit unlikely) outcome comes to fruition, you not only landed a potential power law player in the double-digit rounds (a massive advantage), but you’ve gained an edge on a large number of your opponents, as all 451,200 Dalvin Cook owners are now drawing dead in the tournament.”

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
ADP: Round 14, QB21

The cheaper a stack is, the more upside there is, and probably the more unique it is. For that reason, among others, I continually find myself gravitating towards Daniel Jones stacks in Underdog tournaments.

Jones is cheap (ADP: QB23, Round 15), has rushing upside, has a massively upgraded supporting cast (receivers, offensive line, and, crucially, coaches), is bound to see a massive uptick in pace of play, has historically provided spike weeks at one of the highest rates at the position, has the league’s most-improved strength of schedule, and the league’s best postseason schedule. And his WRs have the league’s 2nd softest playoff schedule at the position, and are all cheap as well – Kadarius Toney (ADP: WR49), Kenny Golladay (WR57), Wan'Dale Robinson (WR81), and Sterling Shepard (WR97).

All of this is explained in more detail here.

And that is a key point – I can make a compelling case for all of Jones’ pass-catchers at ADP, and two of them rank among my top values at their position (Toney and Robinson).

Kadarius Toney battled through injuries in 2021 (ankle, hamstring, quad, oblique, thumb, shoulder, and apparently knee), but was electric when on the field. He ended the season ranking 12th in YPRR (2.14, the 8th-best mark by any rookie WR over the past 10 seasons). From Week 4 on, he led all receivers in targets per route (0.37). You know I’m a big fan of talented but “problematic” WRs (see: Antonio Brown), so I’m happy to gamble on him at his current ADP (WR49).

Kenny Golladay finished 5th in total fantasy points in 2019, then averaged 11.2 FPG in 2020 (WR31) before suffering a season-ending hip-flexor injury in Week 9. He dealt with multiple injuries in 2021 (hamstring, hip, knee, rib), and finished 103rd in FPG (5.0). He’s the 14th highest-paid WR in the league, and was being drafted as the WR30 this time last year, but currently ranks 57th by ADP.

Wan’Dale Robinson was one of my favorite WRs in this class, and a must-draft target for me pre-draft. He was supposedly (per the NFL Mock Draft Cognizanti) severely over-drafted, but his Round 2 draft capital only increases his odds of success in my eyes. He’s currently being drafted as the WR81 – four full rounds later than any rookie WR drafted ahead of him in April.

Here are a few wild stats I never expected to see on Sterling Shepard: he ranked 15th in targets per route in 2021. He’s hit 17.0 fantasy points in five of his last five healthy games with Daniel Jones active (averaging 23.1 FPG). And over his last 11 healthy games with Daniel Jones active, he averages 9.1 targets (~WR9) and 17.4 FPG (~WR11). That said, the Giants just drafted his replacement, and he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles, an especially brutal injury for skill-position players. So, he’s probably better off avoided at his current ADP (WR97).

Of these names, I’m prioritizing Toney and Robinson, while also occasionally nibbling on rookie TE Daniel Bellinger. He’s going undrafted in 95% of leagues, but is already playing with the Giants’ first-team offense in training camp.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Green Bay Packers
ADP: UDFA, WR107

I like taking upside swings on players who are mostly going undrafted. If one of those players hits big (a la 2019 D.J. Chark) and he’s not even owned in 75% of Underdog leagues, that could result in a massive advantage. There are a number of these players I’ve been nibbling on, but Amari Rodgers stands out most to me, given what Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy told us (unprompted) back in April:

“I know [the Packers are] fired up about his future. I think Amari Rodgers is the guy in Green Bay to keep an eye on, and I know that they were fired up to draft him. I mean, they had him pegged going into the draft as the guy they wanted to take. And I think what kind of sidetracked him last year was them bringing in Randall Cobb. You know, they're trying to appease their quarterback [by trading for his good friend]. And they were in a position where they had to do that last year. And it was a unique relationship where Randall and Amari knew each other from, you know, Amari’s dad Tee Martin. And so, there was some past there where Tee was on staff at Kentucky with Randall. So there's familiarity. There's a good mentorship there between the two guys, but it kind of stunted Amari’s growth. I think he could have a big breakout this year.”

At the very least, Rodgers is tethered to a top-5 NFL QB on a team devoid of real target competition – Christian Watson is an exciting prospect though very raw and not quite NFL-ready, Randall Cobb (age: 31) reached 35 yards in only 3 of 12 games last year, Sammy Watkins was demoted to WR4 and then WR5 duties at the tail-end of last season with Baltimore, and Allen Lazard – though he did average 14.5 FPG over his last five games – ranks bottom-20 of 83-qualifying WRs in YPRR over the last three seasons (1.47).

Notes: I think Underdog drafters have finally corrected a glaring mistake we saw last year – namely, they were underrating the value of rookie WRs. Any given rookie wideout’s median expectation may seem low, but rookie WRs are also far more productive in the second half of their season, when points matter most… While most rookie WRs are now appropriately priced, I think there’s a pricing edge in sophomore wideouts. WRs typically make a massive leap from their rookie (63% of their career baseline average) to sophomore (96% of their career baseline average) seasons. Some other highly-drafted (Round 2) / highly-regarded sophomore WRs we may be neglecting: Rondale Moore (ADP: WR55), D’Wayne Eskridge (UDFA), Tutu Atwell (WR122), Terrace Marshall (WR103).

Adam Dunn-style Home Run Swings

As I’ve explained elsewhere, UPSIDE IS EVERYTHING in best ball tournaments. Really try to prioritize upside with every pick you make, and especially in the later rounds. In tournament-style leagues, like Underdog’s (where you want to finish 1st of 451,200 teams), a player’s upside is far more valuable than their downside risk is detrimental. It’s important to note that most — if not all — of the players in this section are not players you want heavy exposure to because of the immense downside they possess (as in, “not playing a single game” downside for some). Rather, they are a way to “zig” when a draft board falls a certain way and you need to create some major “what if” scenarios.

- Deshaun Watson (ADP: QB25) is probably suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season. But what if he’s not? What if he’s “only” suspended for 12 games? Well, then, you’ll get a QB for (essentially) free who has finished 6th (23.1), 2nd (21.4), 5th (20.7), and 1st in FPG (24.1) through four NFL seasons. Or, in other words, a very likely high-end QB1, which means he’s an ideal fit for teams punting early-round QB and looking for upside with a QB2/3 – he may be the only QB you need if you can make it to the tournament rounds… And you can lean farther into this stack (and the upside it provides), by pairing Watson up with Nick Chubb (Cleveland will offer more favorable gamescript and more scoring opportunities in games Watson is starting), Amari Cooper (Watson’s WR1 averages 16.1 FPG throughout his career, Mayfield’s WR1 averages 10.6 FPG), Will Fuller (who knows where he lands?), etc. Again, the NFL doesn’t want Watson to play a single game this year, and they may well get their way. But if your QBs lack upside 15+ rounds into a draft, he might be a more appealing selection for trying to take down a tournament than a boring RB5 or WR8.

- The last time Michael Thomas (ADP: WR36) played a full season (2019), he set the NFL record for receptions and scored the 18th-most fantasy points by any WR in any season ever, averaging 18.8 FPG. The last time we saw Thomas on the field (2020), with a borderline-TE attempting to play QB (Taysom Hill), Thomas caught 30 receptions for 343 yards over his final four games. That yielded an absurd 46% YMS, and, if adjusting for the fact that he wasn’t fully healthy and was not yet playing a full-time role (75% snap share), comes out to 10.0 receptions and 114.3 receiving yards per four quarters… Granted, it’s extremely frightening Thomas is “not ready yet,” still recovering from an injury suffered two years ago. And the risk of a zero from a player drafted in Round 7 is equally scary, but if he can return to form (even if it’s only in the second-half of the season) he could prove to be one of the most valuable picks you could have made in tournament drafts.

- Will Fuller (ADP: WR80) averages 14.0 FPG over his last 10 games (~WR11). And, over his last 25 games, he averages 24.0 FPG in his top-33% of games. He’s one of only four WRs to crack 45.0 fantasy points in a single game over the past three seasons, and he’s one of only 11 to crack 32.0 fantasy points more than once. There’s, of course, a chance he never plays football again, and even if that’s not the case we still don’t know where he might land. And, still, he’s finding his way onto a high number of my Underdog teams.

- Prior to last season Julio Jones (ADP: WR84), had averaged at least 85.0 YPG for eight straight seasons. He’s the first WR in NFL history with eight career seasons of 85.0-plus receiving YPG, let alone eight such seasons in a row. Absurdly, he’s also ranked top-5 in YPRR in each of those eight seasons. Obviously, last season was rough (6.5 FPG). Maybe the age-cliff (age: 33) hit him like a ton of bricks. Maybe his career is over. But, maybe, Indianapolis signs him and Matt Ryan helps restore him to his former glory.

- Antonio Brown (ADP: UDFA) cost me $1,000 in Week 17 DFS last year so he can win me $2 million this year. I can feel it in my bones. Of course, he himself has said, “Nah, don’t play yourself looking at me to play [this season].” At the risk of “playing myself”, Brown has finished top-10 among WRs in FPG in eight of the last nine seasons. He ranked 8th last year, and finished 4th in YPRR. No other player anywhere near his ADP-range offers the sort of talent or upside he does, and even if he doesn’t play at all, an outright zero won’t really kill you at this cost. Probabalistically speaking, he probably never plays football again, but then again, it wouldn’t shock me if a WR-needy team in playoff contention hires him as a mercenary sometime in the second-half of the 2022 season.

- Rob Gronkowski (ADP: TE22) has officially retired, but his agent Drew Rosenhaus left the door open, saying: “It would not surprise me if Tom Brady calls him during the season to come back and Rob answers the call. This is just my opinion but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob comes back during the season or next season.” Depending on where Gronkowski’s ADP falls following this announcement, he may be well worth a draft pick, and a bet that Gronkowski still wants to play but just doesn’t want to practice in the offseason. The talent is clearly still there, as evident by his TE3 finish last year (14.3 FPG).

- Taysom Hill (ADP: TE26) is probably now third in line for starting QB duties on the Saints, behind Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton. But, I mean… There’s a chance you’re getting a starting QB with a TE designation for fantasy. Even if that only happens once (in Week 17) that could pay off big. I’m probably not chasing this, personally, but hey… who knows.

Especially Favorable Week 17 Matchups

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (@ ATL) — The Falcons are the odds on favorites to be the worst defense against opposing QBs next season. By schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing QBs, they rank worst of any defense over the past two (+3.1, +30% more than next-closest) or three seasons (+3.1, +22% more than next-closest). And they’re the only defense to rank bottom-3 in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to QBs in each of the past two seasons. Murray also averages +7.1 more FPG in games Arizona won (25.3) than lost (18.2) over the past three seasons, and Arizona is favored by 4.5 points in this game… If you’re stacking Murray, which you should be, note that Atlanta ranked 3rd-worst by schedule-adjusted FPG to WRs last season (+4.3), but only 14th-worst against TEs (+0.6).

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears (@ DET) — The Lions are the odds-on favorites to be the worst defense against opposing RBs next season. By schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs, they’re the only defense to rank bottom-3 in each of the past two seasons, or bottom-6 over the past three seasons. On average, RBs have outscored their expectation by +5.2 FPG (+37% more than next-closest) when playing the Lions over the past three seasons… For Montgomery in particular, he’s long been one of the most schedule-sensitive RBs in fantasy, this may be a rare instance where Chicago is actually favored to win their game, and he averages 17.0 FPG across his last five games against Detroit (as opposed to just 15.3 FPG across his other 28 games over this span).

Rashaad Penny & Ken Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks (vs. NYJ) — The Jets are a terrific bet to be among the worst defenses against opposing RBs next season. Last season, opposing RBs out-scored their expectation by +10.4 FPG when playing the Jets – the worst mark by any defense over the past five seasons.

Dallas Cowboys WRs (@ TEN) — The Titans are the odds on favorites to be the worst defense against opposing WRs next season. By schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs, they ranked 2nd-worst last year (+5.4), and rank worst over the past two (+5.7) or three seasons (+4.8)… And you may want to consider turning this into a game-stack, adding at least one Tennessee WR in a bring-back. By schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs, Dallas ranks 2nd-worst over the past two seasons (+4.8). Dallas’ cornerbacks are tough if measured by real football metrics (e.g. interception rate, opposing passer rating) but by fantasy metrics they’re far more inviting, and especially susceptible to big plays – as evident by the fact that they surrendered the most receptions gaining 30-plus yards last season.

Green Bay Packers WRs (@ MIN) — The Vikings ranked worst by schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs last season (+6.2), and they rank bottom-4 over the past two (+3.6) and three seasons (+3.8). They’ve done little to address this deficiency, minus adding a rookie CB in Round 2. Their projected starting perimeter CBs are Cameron Dantzler (4.63 forty-yard-dash) and Patrick Peterson (age: 32), which makes me think they’re especially vulnerable to speed, and therefore makes Christian Watson (4.36 forty-yard-dash) stand out… If you’re planning on loading up on Green Bay’s WRs (who by the way, are all extremely cheap) you should consider forcing in Adam Thielen. He has said he always looks forward to playing at Lambeau Field, and it always seems to bring out the best in him. And, well, the numbers certainly seem to bear this out – he averages 16.3 FPG across his last five games in Lambeau and 16.4 FPG across his last 10 games against the Packers (averaging 26.5 FPG in his top-50% of games).

Adam Trautman/Taysom Hill, TE, New Orleans Saints (@ PHI) — The Eagles are a terrific bet to be among the worst defenses against opposing TEs next season. By schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs, they ranked tied for worst last season (+5.0), and worst over the last three seasons (+1.8).

Gamescript-Dependent Players & Week 17 Matchups

  • Derrick Henry is far-and-away the most gamescript-dependent player in fantasy, averaging +11.0 more FPG in wins (24.0) than losses (13.0) over the past three seasons. The Titans are favored in Week 17, at home against the Cowboys, but just barely (-1.5).

  • Aaron Jones averages a whopping +9.5 more FPG in wins (17.7) than losses (8.2) over the past three seasons. (Though, our sample isn’t great, as Green Bay has managed only seven losses in Jones’ 45 games over this span.) Luckily for Jones, the Packers are 5.5-point home favorites against the Vikings in Week 17. He very well could prove to be the single most valuable player in Underdog tournaments if one of his (nearly unrivaled) massive spike weeks occurs in this Week 17 game. Jones has eclipsed 38.0 fantasy points four times over the past three seasons – only one other RB has more than two such games (Derrick Henry with three), and only two other RBs have more than one such game (Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara with two).

  • Joe Mixon is glaringly one of the top-5 most gamescript-dependent players in fantasy, averaging +8.6 more FPG in wins (20.6) than losses (12.0) over the past three seasons. Unfortunately for him, he gets a tough on-paper matchup in Week 17, at home against the Bills, who are also slightly favored to win (-0.5).

  • Josh Jacobs is glaringly one of the top-5 most gamescript-dependent players in fantasy, averaging +8.5 more FPG in wins (18.2) than losses (9.7) over the past three seasons. Las Vegas is favored in Week 17, at home against the 49ers, but just slightly (-1.5).

  • Jonathan Taylor averages +5.5 more FPG in wins over the past three seasons, and, luckily for him, the Colts are 3.0-point favorites against the Giants in Week 17. (The Giants also ranked 6th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs last season.)

  • Dalvin Cook averages +5.4 more FPG in wins over the past three seasons, but, unfortunately, the Vikings are 5.5-point underdogs against the Packers in Week 17.

  • Ezekiel Elliott averages +4.7 more FPG in wins over the past three seasons, but the Cowboys are 1.5-point underdogs against the Titans in Week 17.

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and Lead DFS Writer.

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