NFL Best Ball: Early Value Candidates
With the NFL Draft roughly two months in our rearview mirrors, we’ve had time to properly consume this major event and infuse it into our perception of each team.
The most obvious changes within the last few weeks relate to rookies, as they’ve finally settled in with their new organizations and provided some clarity to fluid depth charts. Likewise, a few free agent signings have also affected the landscape and caused some adjustments to what might’ve been considered firm depth charts.
I’ve gathered draft data from 12-team leagues on DRAFT to provide my opinion on the best values at each position currently.
Forecasted Value Players
Let’s take a look at QBs offering excellent value propositions. The thing about the quarterback position, more so in 2019 than years prior, is that the range of outcomes for every player between QB7 and QB24 overlaps heavily.
Carson Wentz (QB8 – ADP 98.1) – I love players with injury discounts, and Wentz is front and center for me heading into 2019. The Eagles added pieces from both free agency (DeSean Jackson) and the draft (Miles Sanders, JJ Arcega-Whtieside) that will provide Wentz an excellent chance at winning MVP. One of my most-drafted quarterbacks this best ball season.
Cam Newton (QB11 – ADP 110.6) – Newton arrives at a discount relative to prior seasons due to uncertainty about his labrum repair. While he may miss some time during training camp, I’m not concerned about his availability for 2019.
Ben Roethlisberger (QB14 – ADP 122.7) – I’m not sure the reasoning behind Roethlisberger’s slide, but my guess is that it has more to do with age and uncertainty surrounding his supporting cast. I think he’s the key to this offense, making Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell mere cogs in the machine. I think he has a shot to finish as a top five QB in 2019.
Dak Prescott (QB15 – ADP 122.8) – Prescott has a new lease on life with Amari Cooper and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Through three years of play in an archaic, ultra-conservative offensive system, Prescott still produced consistent QB1 numbers (10th, 11th, and sixth) across the last three seasons. Don’t let perception fool you.
Philip Rivers (QB18 – ADP 137.8) – Rivers is perennially undervalued. The slow-paced Chargers offense does create some consternation about his ceiling potential, but given his current price in drafts, Rivers can out-punch his ADP by 2-3 rounds easily.
Tom Brady (QB22 – ADP 147.7) – Ageism at work again? Brady’s ADP has steadily declined over the last three months, likely due to Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and the perception of his impact on the offense. While Gronk’s greatness can’t be denied, New England will have no issue reimagining their offense for 2019. This makes Brady an incredible buy-low opportunity.
Andy Dalton (QB26 – ADP 181.1) – I could simply cut-and-paste my blurb on Dalton from 2018 and be done. He has great weapons around him (AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon) and faces a schedule that will require the Bengals to score points to win. The scheme & play-calling are a huge unknown, but almost anything is an improvement on what Cincinnati has rolled out the last few seasons.
Marcus Mariota (QB28 – ADP 189.7) – Mariota is playing for a second contract or a huge franchise-tag payday. He has incredible skill receivers at his disposal (running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, wide receivers Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Taywan Taylor, tights ends Delanie Walker and Jonnu Smith). Most of all, Mariota is 100% healthy and has added weight coming into 2019. While I think this offense will lean conservative and run-heavy when it has leads, that doesn’t mean Mariota can’t outperform his QB28 ADP by 5-6 rounds.
The first batch of RBs I want to discuss are those that I believe can finish inside the top five at the position.
Derrick Henry (RB15 – ADP 29.5) – The public perception is that Tennessee will be heavily committed to the run in 2019 under apparently-conservative head coach Mike Vrabel. If their late-season commitment to Henry is a sign of things to come in 2019, RB15 is a great price. While he exists in a wide tier of running backs, Henry is close to the cheapest option in that tier, and I prefer him for that reason.
Leonard Fournette (RB16 – ADP 29.6) – I mentioned the wide tier of potential RB1s, and Fournette slides in at the tail end, as well. The team appeared committed to him as a three-down bell cow prior to his early injury last season, supplying him with targets in addition to a heavy rushing workload. The Jaguars will attempt to play ball-control offense and milk Fournette for everything he has, presenting an opportunity to capitalize on a mid-third ADP.
Devonta Freeman (RB18 – ADP 31.8) – He isn’t faced with any competition for the starting role, and the team attempted to build around the running game all offseason. I think Freeman can out-punch his ADP by 6-12 spots by simply being part of a better offense in 2019.
Latavius Murray (RB33 – ADP 75.0) – Pretty simple logic here. In 2018, Mark Ingram was a solid fourth-round pick despite a four-game suspension. New Orleans parts ways with Ingram, then seeks out and signs Murray to a healthy four-year contract. The front office has also stated that they don’t want to give Alvin Kamara workhorse touches. Murray can produce RB2 numbers at an RB4-5 cost.
Miles Sanders (RB35 – ADP 85.4) – Outside of Darrell Henderson, this is the rookie running back that I’ve targeted the most. While I believe he opens the season as part of a committee, I think he owns 80% of the work by midseason. He is, by far, the most talented runner/receiver in the Philadelphia backfield. Cream rises.
Damien Harris (RB41 – ADP 107.9) – I continue to draft the cheapest of the NE RBs when possible. Rex Burkhead is still available in the 18th round, but I’m not 100% sure he makes the final roster. New England went out and drafted Harris in the third round this April, and his Swiss Army knife skillset makes him the right piece to acquire in the Patriots backfield.
LeSean McCoy (RB43 – ADP 116.6) – He will be playing somewhere in 2019. If he’s not starting for Buffalo, then perhaps Tampa Bay or Kansas City bring him in to provide needed punch at running back. Best case scenario is that he’s with another team to open the season, and commanding three-down work by the quarter pole.
Kalen Ballage (RB54 – ADP 157.1) – Miami might be bad this year. Just kidding, they are definitely going to be bad this year. Bad teams still run the ball, however, and I’m not sold on Kenyan Drake owning a three-down role. There will be plenty of room for Ballage to operate in this offense, and that he showed signs of greatness last season. If he earns 150 touches in 2019, this pick is a win.
Matt Breida (RB55 – ADP 159.0) – The Black Knight returns in 2019 as part of a murky backfield in San Francisco. Breida has the single most desirable trait for NFL running backs – availability. He apparently can play through any injury. I like him to siphon off 120-180 touches in this backfield throughout the season, and while I don’t necessarily advocate him in managed leagues, he is ideal for best ball.
Chase Edmonds (RB58 – ADP 165.7) – You’re drafting Edmonds in the 14th based on the opportunity he should receive as it stands. In the event David Johnson misses time with injury, Edmonds steps into a massive opportunity in what most expect will be a wide-open offense that will move the ball frequently.
Mike Davis (RB64 – ADP 191.9) – I’ve been able to draft Davis in the last round of Best Ball Championship drafts over the last few weeks, and I love him at that point. In drafting Davis, you are betting against David Montgomery taking over as the lead running back in Chicago. I think Davis’s floor is 90 touches over the course of the 2019 season, with potential to swell to 240 touches under the right circumstances.
In wide receivers, I define value as a player that can outperform his ADP by at least a round (in the first six rounds), and by at least 2-3 rounds afterward. Some of the players in the list below are extremely volatile, in that it’s possible a few don’t play at all this season. Keep that in mind when mixing them into your best ball portfolio.
Keenan Allen (WR12 – ADP 32.1) – The Chargers lead receiver is perennially underpriced, and I’m not sure I understand why. The target tree in LA is relatively tight, spanning Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and a combination of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Allen is a great bet to command 160+ targets and fight for a spot among the top six wideouts by the end of the season.
Julian Edelman (WR16 – ADP 38.6) – Edelman should see in the neighborhood of 180 targets as the primary option for Tom Brady. While his aDOT isn’t incredibly high, his catch rate and production after the catch make up for it.
D.J. Moore (WR24 – ADP 54.5) – I like Moore to lead the Panthers in target volume this season, and also touchdowns. His improvement throughout last season, plus his ability to take over as the WR1 in the offense in December, solidifies Moore as a buy-low player in an offense I expect to produce very well.
Allen Robinson (WR28 – ADP 63.9) – When healthy in 2018, Robinson averaged roughly nine targets per game as Mitchell Trubisky’s first (and only) read on most passing plays. His price is depressed because he only scored four touchdowns on that heavy volume. I expect those numbers to regress higher as Chicago is forced to score more points in 2019.
Alshon Jeffery (WR32 – ADP 72.2) – This is pretty clear cut, in my opinion: Philadelphia will have one of the best offenses in the NFL this season, and Jeffery is playing for a new contract.
Corey Davis (WR37 – ADP 89.0) – Davis was a fourth/fifth round pick in 2018. Now, he can by had in the eighth/ninth round with relative ease. What’s changed? The Titans, thought to be an offense on the rise under former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, sputtered mightily with a conservative approach and multiple injuries to Marcus Mariota. Simply put, Davis should command 140-ish targets and plenty of red zone work. He’s Tyler Lockett with a four-round discount.
Curtis Samuel (WR38 – ADP 92.2) – Everything I said about D.J. Moore applies here. Samuel is on the rise, and I believe he produces well on around 120 targets in 2019. Carolina has a narrow target tree with Moore, Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, and Greg Olsen.
DeSean Jackson (WR45 – ADP 107.1) – What I said about Alshon Jeffery also applies here, with respect to the Philadelphia offense. Jackson returns “home” to provide lid-lifting magic once again, and I’m targeting him as a player that can return WR2 numbers in 2019.
Donte Moncrief (WR49 – ADP 117.7) – Any time we can draft the WR2 in Pittsburgh in the 11th round, we’re happy to do so.
Devin Funchess (WR52 – ADP 130.0) – Another simple logic puzzle: Indianapolis seeks out and signs Funchess immediately when free agency opens, on a one-year “prove it” contract that allows him to parlay it into a much better payday in 2020. It’s that cut and dry.
Michael Gallup (WR57 – ADP 141.6) – The Dallas passing offense burst to life across the last two months of 2018 after trading for Amari Cooper. Gallup was a huge cog in this machine, operating as the deep threat opposite Cooper, and just missed massive games on multiple occasions when he and Dak Prescott couldn’t connect on wide-open deep targets. Regression will come for Gallup.
Kenny Stills (WR62 – ADP 157.4) – Another clear-cut situation for me. Miami is going to be a bad team that throws the ball frequently. Stills is an excellent receiver that will operate from the slot much of the time, and even more if WR Albert Wilson starts the season on the PUP list.
Robert Foster (WR67 – ADP 176.0) – Foster is another second-year receiver that I believe is on the rise given his late-season performance in Buffalo. The additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley don’t scare me away from a talented player like Foster, who can operate in his own right outside of their strengths.
Josh Gordon (WR71 – ADP 184.4) – It’s incredibly risky to draft a player that is suspended indefinitely, that goes without saying. What I’m optimistic about for Gordon is that he is still working out with Tom Brady this offseason, which indicates to me that he is engaged and attempting to play in 2019. During his brief active stint with New England in 2018, Gordon was arguably the team’s WR1 and received just over seven targets per game. The upside is clear if you’re willing to endure the risk.
Antonio Callaway (WR76 – ADP 196.3) – Like Moore, Samuel, Gallup, and Foster, I view Callaway is an ascending second-year wide receiver. In Callaway’s case, he plays alongside elite talent in Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield. That bodes well for his outlook in 2019. While he may not see more than 80 targets, Callaway’s role in the offense opens him up for massive games as the third receiving option in a high-volume, high-aDOT situation.
Ted Ginn (WR79 – ADP 201.4) – Injury robbed Ginn of the bulk of 2018, but he’s still an excellent boom-bust option late in your drafts, typically available in the last round. If he provides four weeks of WR1 production, this pick is a winner.
Here are tight ends that you can likely get at a discount.
Vance McDonald (TE9 – ADP 82.7) – There is an abundance of target volume available in Pittsburgh, and JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t take it all for himself. For that reason, I like McDonald to step into a higher-volume receiving role than 2018. I prefer him to TEs drafted ahead of him (Eric Ebron, Jared Cook, Evan Engram) by a good margin.
Austin Hooper (TE11 – ADP 106.7) – The team has stated on multiple occasions this offseason that it expects Hooper to fill a larger passing-game role in 2019 than the previous two seasons. Atlanta added multiple pieces along the offensive line as well, which should free Hooper up to run more routes rather than pass block. If you’re implementing a Late TE strategy, I like Hooper as a TE1 on the roster.
Mark Andrews (TE12 – ADP 118.9) – Greg Roman steps into the offensive coordinator role in Baltimore, which couldn’t be better news for Andrews. Roman’s tight ends are the most-utilized option in his passing schemes, often exceeding 100 targets on the season. That volume is difficult to find this late in drafts.
Chris Herndon (TE16 – ADP 138.6) – Prior to his four-game suspension, Herndon would frequently go ahead of Hooper in drafts. Since that suspension, Herndon is TE16 and falling fast. Even limited to a 12-game season, I like him to perform at solid TE1 marks. If you can grab him as your TE3, go for it.
Jack Doyle (TE19 – ADP 153.9) – Doyle was the preferred tight end in Indianapolis prior to injury last season. I expect this is still the case, and at TE19, this makes him a massive value, especially when compared against teammate Eric Ebron (TE8). Doyle will be very boom-or-bust, but as your TE2, this is exactly what you want.
Greg Olsen (TE22 – ADP 159.9) – We thought 2018 would be Olsen’s last season, but he is plugged in and ready for 2019. In this case, I love Olsen as a TE2 in a three tight end build, as he’s part of the narrow target tree I mentioned earlier for Carolina.
Gerald Everett (TE28 – ADP 203.1) – Rumors have swirled that the Rams are looking to include Everett more as a receiving option in 2019. As it stood in 2018, he provided excellent boom games as a late-round TE. When I build three tight end rosters, I look for him in the last round of drafts.
Ben Watson (TE32 – ADP 212.5) – If you want to go really deep at the position, Watson is your guy. Despite facing a four-game PED suspension, I like Watson’s chances of providing value in only 12 games as part of an offense that can put up big numbers frequently.
Training camps are roughly two weeks away. Unless any significant events (injuries, arrests, etc.) occur within that time frame, I expect these values to remain relatively steady. There will be natural fluctuations within position tiers as coachspeak propagates from mini-camps and distorts reality within the community. Remain true to your valuations until you have enough solid information to change course.
Good luck! I hope to see you in my draft rooms.