By Amol Nadkarni
The following is analysis of top 10 reaches and values based on Mock Draft Calculator’s PPR ADP rankings:
(In no particular order)
1. David Johnson – There is no question that David Johnson is a talented back. He is definitely superior to his backfield teammates Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, but last season he was not used as a workhorse back. Instead Chris Johnson was seen as the “starter”, while David Johnson was used in a rotation role. This year David Johnson might see more of the field but Bruce Arians has shown that he still trusts Chris Johnson (gave him a contract extension) and Andre Ellington (was the starter before the emergence of the Johnsons). David Johnson is projected to go within the first eight picks of the first round, which seems pretty high for someone who could very much be part of a committee backfield in 2016.
2. Thomas Rawls – In many mock drafts Thomas Rawls is seen as a top 20 player, expected to go at the latest mid-to-late second round. Although he had a successful rookie season, it was cut short by injury and the question will be how he will bounce back from it. Furthermore, he faces competition from Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise. Rawls has not done enough to be considered the unquestioned starter in Seattle and many of the backs that are ranked higher (i.e. Eddie Lacy, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy etc.) are more proven than him.
3. Lamar Miller – Having signed with the Houston Texans this offseason, Lamar Miller has now been elevated to a top 10 fantasy back, projected to be picked early in the second round. This would suggest that he is a RB1, which really isn’t the case. Miller is a solid RB2 option, but to say he will be better than a Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy or Mark Ingram is a stretch. Miller has only had one 1,000 season in his career and that was two seasons ago. He might be worth the gamble but early second round seems to be a reach.
4. Jordy Nelson – There is no doubt that Jordy Nelson is one of the best wide receivers in the game today. However he is coming off a torn ACL and it remains to be seen if he will be able to produce at the elite level that he has in the past going into 2016. He is still a WR1 but it seems like a risk to draft him with an early pick in the second round. As of now, he should be viewed as a low end WR1 due to the uncertainty surrounding his recovery.
5. Matt Jones – Right now Matt Jones’ average draft position is somewhere in the mid-to-late fifth round, which seems fairly high considering that Jones could never make the starting running back position in Washington his own last season, despite the fact that he was given every opportunity to do so. Couple this with the fact that he is going ahead of more established and reliable running backs like Jeremy Hill, Justin Forsett, Jonathan Stewart and Giovani Bernard and you start to wonder is Jones really that good. He might be, but from what we saw last year it might be better served to wait a little longer before pulling the trigger on him so early.
6. Jeremy Langford – The average position for Jeremy Langford is as early as the high second to as late as the early fifth round. Langford might be the starter in Chicago but if you look at his all around game it just does not justify this high of a selection. He is not an effective runner, he will not be a huge threat out of the backfield and he is touchdown dependent. Furthermore, John Fox has been famous for his running back-by-committee approach and with the talented Jordan Howard part of that committee, there is no guarantee Langford will be the workhorse people might envision him to be.
7. Devonta Freeman – Former Florida State back Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene in 2016, totaling over 1,634 all-purpose yards and 14 all-purpose touchdowns. He is currently ranked as the sixth best running back heading into 2016 and will be taken somewhere in the late first or early second round. Although Freeman has shown that he can be an elite back, you should pump the brakes on overhyping him. Many backs set the league on fire and then fail to produce the next season. Freeman, who is a bit undersized, might be one of those running backs. Furthermore, the Falcons have a very talented runner in Tevin Coleman, who they selected fairly high in the 2015 NFL Draft and that cannot be ignored.
8. Josh Gordon – Once one of the most promising young receivers in the game, Josh Gordon’s NFL career now hangs in the balance. It remains to be seen if he will even be reinstated in 2016, but yet he is being drafted in fantasy anywhere between rounds three through nine. That seems way too high for a player that has so many off-the-field circumstances affecting his chances of playing. In addition, Gordon has been out of the game for a while and it remains to be seen if he can still play at the elite level fantasy gamers expect. He could be a steal if he is fully reinstated but wait a little longer before pulling the trigger on Gordon.
9. Denver Defense – There is no question that Denver’s defense is elite. Von Miller and Demarcus Ware form the best pass rush in football, while Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are one of the better corner tandems in the league. Despite this, Denver’s average draft position is between the sixth and tenth rounds and this just seems like a reach. There will still be quality players and sleepers available during those rounds, so unless you really believe that Denver’s defense is miles ahead of the others, you can afford to wait. After all, defense is the kind of position that you play week-to-week based off matchups.
10. Brandon Marshall – No matter where Brandon Marshall goes, he produces, as evidenced by his Pro Bowl season in 2016 with the Jets. In most drafts he will be selected early in the third round and although that seems like a fair position for him to be drafted, this might be the season that Marshall slowly declines. The quarterback situation is up in the air in New York, with Ryan Fitzpatrick (who he had a great connection with last season) yet to re-sign and rookie Christian Hackenberg getting first team reps. Even with Fitzpatrick back, the Harvard man has shown throughout his career that he is an erratic quarterback, who has never produced back to back solid seasons, which does not bode well for Marshall’s fantasy prospects in 2016.
(In no particular order)
1. Sammy Watkins – The Bills’ Sammy Watkins is an elite talent that has all the makings of being a top five wide receiver. Injuries have kept him off the field during his young NFL career and that is a concern, but when he is playing he has the potential to dominate games. Watkins is being drafted in the latter half of the third round, which is a steal for a player who has the ability to be a high-end WR1. Last season (especially down the stretch), Watkins and Tyrod Taylor formed a great connection, especially on deep balls. Expect this connection to continue in 2016, as Taylor will look to Watkins early and often.
2. Matt Forte – He might have a lot of miles on him, but Matt Forte is still a three-down back who can run, block, and catch. Forte will likely go anywhere in the late third to early fourth round, which represents tremendous value for a player who is an all-purpose yard machine. Jet’s offensive coordinator Chan Gailey knows how to get his running backs to produce (i.e. CJ Spiller, Chris Ivory, Fred Jackson) and he has stated that he will tailor the offense around Forte’s unique dual-threat abilities. That alone instantly makes this pick a steal.
3. Victor Cruz – Injuries have plagued Victor Cruz so much throughout his career that it is hard to forget how good he really is. He is coming off two back-to-back injury riddled seasons and that is why he will generally be drafted around the thirteenth round. Cruz has said that he is feeling good about his comeback and if that is true, then thirteenth round would represent excellent value. Cruz has shown that he can flourish against the top corners in the league but the beauty is when he gets back he won’t have to. Odell Beckham (and to a lesser extent Sterling Shepard) will draw a lot of coverage and attention, thus Cruz will be able to operate in the slot and exploit mismatches.
4. Jamaal Charles – Although he is coming off of a torn ACL, getting Charles in the second is a coup, because he is a first round talent. Charles has had an ACL injury before in 2011, only to rush for 1509 yards and five touchdowns the following season, so he has shown a determined resilience to overcome injuries in the past. Kansas City relies on Charles heavily and they will give him the best treatment and put him in the best positions to get full healthy for the 2016 season.
5. Mike Wallace – The Miami and Minnesota experiments didn’t work out for Mike Wallace, who is a talented receiver but has seen his production drop off due to poor quarterback play. Wallace now finds himself in Baltimore and playing with a quarterback in Joe Flacco, who throws perhaps the best deep ball in the NFL. Wallace is a speedster, who can take the top off any defense and with Flacco throwing him the ball, expect to see a similar version of Wallace from his Steelers days. Getting him in the fourteenth round represents very little risk and potential high reward. Think Torrey Smith during his Baltimore days.
6. Derek Carr – One of the brightest young quarterbacks to enter the league within the past few seasons has been Derek Carr. Coming off a season in which he threw for 32 touchdowns, Carr should be seen as a QB1. He will likely get drafted somewhere in the mid-to-late fourteenth round, but his gunslinger mentality will mean he will rack up the fantasy points and put up numbers week-in and week-out. Furthermore, he is protected by a solid offensive line and has a plethora of weapons to throw to in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Mychal Rivera.
7. Ladarius Green – In San Diego, Ladarius Green was always in the shadow of Antonio Gates. Now in Pittsburgh, things could be different, as he has a fresh start to showcase his freakish athletic abilities in the black and gold uniform. With the retirement of Heath Miller, Green will instantly step in as the starting tight end and with Martavis Bryant suspended, he could become Big Ben’s second favorite target (and main go-to in the red zone). Green represents great value in the twelfth round and he has the potential to develop into one of the elite tight ends in the league by season’s end, similar to that of Jordan Reed last season.
8. LeSean McCoy – The average draft position for McCoy this year is somewhere between the late third or early fourth rounds, which represents excellent value for a running back of his caliber. McCoy is coming off his fourth Pro Bowl season and is an integral part of Buffalo’s ground and pound attack. The Bills were the number one rush offense in the league last season and McCoy was a big reason for that. The Bills have another talented back in Karlos Williams, who will likely receive extended playing time but McCoy will not just be relegated to the sidelines. Expect McCoy to line up as a receiver sometimes and catch passes, which only elevates his fantasy value, especially in PPR leagues.
9. Ameer Abdullah – Last season, Ameer Abdullah showed glimpses that he could be a very good back in the NFL. Really the only thing that held him back was his fumbling issue, which forced him to be benched during games. That can be corrected and once it is, nothing is really stopping Abdullah to excel in the Lions offense, which might emphasize more the ground game with the sudden retirement of Calvin Johnson. Abdullah could be had in the early eighth round, which represents tremendous value for a back with his natural abilities. If he can get put his fumbling problems behind him (which he is working hard on), the sky is the limit for the former Nebraska Cornhusker.
10. C.J. Spiller – His first season in New Orleans could not have gone any worse. Everyone expected Spiller to be the new Darren Sproles in the Saints high-powered offense but it just never materialized. Spiller can be an electrifying back who can break a game open at any moment and one has to believe that Sean Payton will find a way to use Spiller more creatively. Reports out of Saints OTAs are that Spiller is looking like a different, more determined player. If this is true, a fourteenth round selection represents mighty good value for a player with his dynamic abilities.