Every year as we reminisce on the fantasy football season, we look back at the original draft board and wonder, “How in the world did _____ fall so far in the draft?”. This happens to everyone year after year, and with this article I am hoping to help you educate yourself while you prime for your drafts so that you don’t make those mistakes.
With all of the recent news about players being banged-up, holding out, and the all so important preseason hype trains, it is becoming more and more difficult by the day to know who to take in drafts. Well, based on my research I have compiled a list of five players to target based on their ADP (Average Draft Position).
Ezekiel Elliott – RB, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 4th overall)
It’s hard to say that an RB going in the top 5 picks is a “value”, especially with the contract holdout looming largely over his head. That being said, before the holdout I had Elliott as my #1 ranked RB and overall player for fantasy this year and it wasn’t even particularly close. I think with the offense surrounding him being in the best shape of his young career, Zeke is going to EXPLODE this year.
Last year he didn’t have Travis Frederick or Tyron Smith fully healthy, the offense was terrible (finished 21st overall in points per game) and Zeke only had 6 rushing touchdowns. For perspective, he had 22 rushing touchdowns during his first two seasons in the NFL. Despite this, he still finished as the RB #5 overall.
To put the icing on the cake, Zeke’s major flaw in the fantasy world is that he is an RB that “Doesn’t catch passes”. Well, what if I told you that after Amari Cooper joined the team, Zeke averaged 7.4 targets per game which extrapolated to a full 16 game season would have led to 118 total targets. Do you know how many RBs saw more than 118 targets last year? Three. They were Christian McCaffrey (124), James White (123) and Saquon Barkley (121). Add in the fact that Elliott led the league in carries by 43 attempts with 304, and it is easy to project a monster year for him.
He should be the #1 overall pick in every draft and the fact that you can get him at #4 right now is a blessing. Yes, there is a chance that he misses some games because of the holdout but ultimately I believe that it’s all smoke and mirrors right now and he will be back for week 1.
Chris Carson – RB, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: 37th overall)
Carson is one of those guys who has flown criminally under the radar all offseason. Every analyst who was hyping up former first round pick Rashaad Penny all of last year is still riding the wave and it has led to Carson’s ADP dropping.
Seattle ran the ball on 52% of their plays in 2018 which put them at the top of the NFL with 558 rushing attempts on the season. Despite battling injuries throughout the year, Chris Carson saw the 7th most attempts of all RBs last year with 247. While it was obvious that Carson was the lead back, now Chicago Bear Mike Davis still managed to amass 112 rushing attempts. Some people believe that all of that vacated work will transfer right to second year back Rashaad Penny, but I don’t believe that to be the case. I think if anything Carson will AT LEAST get 30% of those lost Mike Davis attempts which would put him up at around 270 rushes this year. That number would have been second in the NFL only to Ezekiel Elliott in 2018.
If you want to dive even deeper into Carson’s numbers, let’s just say he finishes the year with 270 rushing attempts. If you break that down into a per-game average, it would be around 17 carries per game (16.88). Carson had 8 games in 2018 where he saw at least 17 carries. In those games combined, he averaged 18.3 fantasy points per game. 18.3 points per game across a 16 game season would give him 292.8 total points, and he would’ve finished as the RB5 in front of Ezekiel Elliott. To everyone who thinks I would be crazy to project that amount of carries per game for Chris Carson, think again because I’m actually being conservative. The Seahawks ran the ball 35 times per game last year, so 17 per game is actually less than 50% of the total carries. Carson could walk into an even bigger workload than the one I project, which is why he will be an absolute stud this year.
Carson finished the year as the RB15 overall even with the workload he had. Now, the Seahawks are talking about giving him even more touches this year both on the ground and through the air? Sign me up all day. Carson only saw 24 targets last year and Seattle is saying they want him to see around 50 this year. I know we have to take preseason talk with a grain of salt, but at the very least you know they still want Carson to be heavily involved in their offense. If you can combine his workload on the ground with an uptick in targets, you could potentially snag a top-5 running back at the end of the third round which is why Chris Carson is one of my favorite values right now.
Cam Newton – QB, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 91st overall)
This was one of the biggest surprises for me to end up on this list. I have never been the biggest fan of Cam Newton, but you can not ignore his production.
Before the shoulder injury against the Eagles last year, Newton was averaging 23.5 points per game (the 4th most over that span). For context, 23.5 points per game would have led Newton to finish as the QB2 behind Patrick Mahomes in 2018. I know that there is weekly volatility and not every QB can maintain their first half of the season pace, but you can’t deny that Newton was dominant to start the season. I’m not a doctor and can’t exactly speculate as to what was wrong with his shoulder, but I can tell you that it very negatively affected him throughout the rest of the season. Despite having a nagging shoulder injury and not playing in the last two games of the season, Newton finished as the QB12 overall and QB8 in points per game.
Looking ahead to the 2019 season, things are pointing up for Newton. His shoulder appears to be fully healthy after surgery and he is surrounded by one of the best supporting casts he has ever had. He has his favorite target Greg Olsen back, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.
Olsen has helped Newton fantasy-wise throughout his career, D.J. Moore got the rookie season under his belt and is looking to take the next step, McCaffrey is arguably the best pass-catching RB in the entire NFL, and Curtis Samuel has been turning heads all training camp. If what we saw from Newton last year was what he could do with a shaky situation around him as well as a major injury to his throwing shoulder, then I don’t see why more people aren’t excited about him this year.
Newton is being drafted as the QB8 overall right now and I think he can push to be top-3 overall, possibly even number one overall again. For where he is going in drafts, Cam Newton brings fantastic value for your team.
Josh Gordon – WR, New England Patriots (ADP: 109th overall)
I am aware that his ADP is probably going to spike sometime in the near future with the news of him being conditionally reinstated coming only a few days ago, but here is why Josh Gordon is a steal this late in drafts.
As most people know by now, the Patriots run one of the most sophisticated offenses in the league and you really have to be in that system for a while to understand it and make an impact. We’ve seen plenty of receivers come in mid-season and be more or less an afterthought because they couldn’t get on the same page with Brady and frankly didn’t know what they were doing. While we did see some of that with Gordon last year, that didn’t stop him from putting up NUMBERS. From when he joined the team in week 4 to week 15 when he stepped away from football, Gordon was the WR25 overall in scoring with 110 points. He outscored names like Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin across that span. Oh, and all of those players are being drafted ahead of him right now.
To make this even juicier, here are the statlines Gordon was able to put up last year in the three games he played without Rob Gronkowski, who is now retired.
- 7 targets 4 receptions 100 yards
- 9 targets 5 receptions 130 yards one touchdown
- 12 targets 4 receptions 81 yards
Now I could extrapolate that to a 16 game pace but the truth is it’s too small of a sample size to give you a clear picture and level expectations for him.
The bottom line is that from the minute he stepped onto the field, you could see that Tom Brady trusted him and wanted to get him the ball. That is not something you often see for a WR who joins a new team in the middle of the year, especially in this complex Patriots system. Without Gronk, Brady will be looking to throw the ball elsewhere besides just Julian Edelman and James White. If you factor in that he has had another year to become more acclimated to the system and start the season with the Patriots, and you may have a fantasy stud on your hands. Being drafted as the 44th overall wide receiver right now is extremely valuable for someone who is in my opinion very likely to finish in the top 25 barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Justin Jackson – RB, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 128th overall)
With every day that goes by, it seems more and more likely that the Melvin Gordon holdout will continue into the season. If I had to take a guess, I would say that there is probably a 50% chance that Gordon doesn’t even play in 2019. I don’t know the specifics of his current contract and what it might cost him but with both sides at a stalemate it’s not looking too bright for his prospects.
With this, everyone seems to be jumping onto the Austin Ekeler bandwagon. While I agree that he will see an uptick in touches with the Gordon absence, he has carved out a specific role on the team and I don’t think they want to give him Gordon’s workload. Cue Justin Jackson. I’m not going to sit back and act like he was phenomenal when he played last year, but Jackson is a very good running back. In the games that Melvin Gordon missed last year, he wasn’t spectacular fantasy-wise but it was obvious that he was a guy that the Chargers trusted. With another year to learn the offense and adjust his body to the NFL, I think he legitimately has the tools to be a very good NFL running back.
Like I mentioned earlier, Austin Ekeler is good but he has a specific role on the offense that they would rather not change. They don’t want to see the 5’10 200 pounder running it up the middle every carry because at some point he is just going to get injured. Jackson is built much better from a frame and skill standpoint for that role. Now, I don’t think that Jackson will see the same exact workload as Gordon would’ve if he was playing, but with a high scoring offense like the Chargers he doesn’t have to. Jackson will have more than his fair share of opportunities to be valuable if he can carve out enough of a role in this offense.
If the preseason has shown us anything it’s that Jackson looks more like a workhorse and Ekeler is more of a gadget player. Will Austin Ekeler outscore Justin Jackson this year? In all honesty he probably will, but that doesn’t mean Jackson won’t have any fantasy value. I don’t think he can be a top 10 running back if he plays the whole season, but for someone who is going in the 12th round, he will absolutely be valuable should Gordon continue to holdout.