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Part III – 15 Players to Target in the Middle Rounds of Your Fantasy Draft

michaelfloyd

If you missed the first two installments of this series you can check them out here, and here.

Mike Wallace (ADP 6.08)

The primary consideration when you think about Mike Wallace is that he is a high variance receiver. He lives on big plays, which means that it’s possible for his results to look very poor just by random chance. If a deep pass is completed he goes for 80 yards and a TD. If it misses – and they missed last year – it goes for zero.

The secondary thing to consider with Wallace is that as of last year, he could still run. Wallace and Ryan Tannehill had a difficult time connecting on those deep passes, but it wasn’t because Wallace couldn’t run by defenders.

Here are Mike Wallace’s targets per game by season. You can see that he was targeted more last year than he ever had been before.

download (55)

Now I’m going to use some slight of hand math to illustrate Wallace’s potential upside. This is what happens if we take Wallace’s 141 targets from last year and multiply by his yards/target from prior years.

Targets Season YPT Yards
141 2013 6.60 930.60
141 2012 7.02 989.82
141 2011 10.46 1,474.86
141 2010 12.70 1,790.70
141 2009 10.50 1,480.50

You might say that Wallace’s Y/T has stunk each of the past two years. You would be right. But if just a few more deep passes hit this year Wallace will easily be up over 1,000 yards. If a number of deep passes hit then the upside is really high.

All of the case that I’ve made for Wallace thus far has been simply based on variance. He’s a high variance receiver and it makes sense to get those guys for cheap, rather than to spend a lot on them.

But it’s also the case that some additional value could be provided by a change in offensive scheme. Bill Lazor will be installing some version of the offense that gave DeSean Jackson a bounce back year. Even if you don’t expect the results that PHI got last year, this offense can’t possibly be worse for Wallace. However, it’s also possible that the offense is magic, in which case you’ll feel very good about paying WR28 prices for a player that has finished in the top 10 before.

As long as we’re dealing in narratives maybe you could also say that after a year of working together Wallace and Tannehill can only be more likely to connect on their deep passes.

The downside for Mike Wallace is probably the season he just had. He finished as WR34 in PPR scoring. When the downside is within a few spots of the price you’re paying, and the upside is potentially in the top 10, that’s the kind of asymmetric bet we’re trying to make.

Here’s a sensitivity table that will illustrate the range of outcomes for Wallace based on various targets and Y/T.

wallace_ypt

It’s always possible that Wallace could finish 2014 where he did last year. But his variance also makes him a great pick for either tournament style leagues (like the FFPC or NFFC) or for best ball formats. With a 6th round ADP, I’ll be owning Mike Wallace a good amount in 2014. I’ll probably also own him in every auction format where I just load up on the receivers typically found in the 4th through 9th rounds of snake drafts.

Michael Floyd (ADP 5.08)

Here is a graph illustrating Michael Floyd’s ADP over the course of 2014:

download (56)

I don’t know if we can blame all of that rise on Pat Thorman, although I feel like it’s fair to lay a good amount of the blame at Thorman’s doorstep. Note the publish date on Thorman’s article along with the corresponding rise in ADP.

Earlier in the offseason I listed Floyd as one of my most undervalued WRs. The problem is that he was going as WR33 when I wrote that. Shawn Siegele has also listed Floyd as his top breakout candidate for 2014.

A fair question to ask is whether the market has fully priced in Floyd’s upside at this point. I always like to create mental yardsticks to answer these kinds of questions. On one hand Floyd is probably one of the last prototypically sized WRs available. After he’s off the board you have Eric Decker, and Marques Colston. So does Floyd make sense as a pick over those two players? He’s probably more healthy than Colston. He’s maybe in a better situation than Decker, although that might be debatable.

The other way to think about Floyd is that in some sense he’s in a similar situation to Alshon Jeffery last year. Except Jeffery went in the 11th round. It’s true that Jeffery didn’t have Floyd’s record of production, but I looked back at my articles from last year and found one from week eight where I said that there was no trade market for Jeffery. So he went half the season before he was really very valuable and I think it’s fair to say that some part of the reason is that fantasy GMs are skeptical of nominal WR2s (on their own team). They’ll always be afraid to acquire Floyd and then see Fitz have a resurgence.

It might sound like I’m talking myself out of Floyd and in some ways I am. But there will still be instances where it makes sense for you to target him. First of all, not all of your drafts will look like the echo chamber that is July ADP. So you’re going to see Floyd slip in the late WR20s sometimes. He makes a ton of sense there. He also makes a ton of sense in auction formats where you won’t ever have to choose to take Floyd over another valuable option in the 4th round.

I’m likely to have Floyd somewhere around WR15 in my final rankings for the summer. So at WR23, he still makes sense. But also the difference between WR23 and WR15 is not where fantasy championships are won. To be a league winner at WR23, he really needs to make his way into the top 10. Is that possible? It’s possible. But I don’t know how likely it is.

Be sure to pound away at Floyd when he’s in the WR25 or better range. Don’t feel like you need to stretch out to get him at WR20. I don’t think he’s a major mistake at WR20, but I’m looking for league-winners.

Jay Cutler (ADP 9.04)

Brandon Marshall is currently being drafted at about 2.05, while Alshon Jeffery is going on about seven picks later. Drafting Marshall or Jeffery this year is like shooting three free throws, down two points at the end of regulation. Drafting them is like having a five foot put when you’re up one stroke on the 18th hole. Drafting Marshall or Jeffery is like going to a bar in college with 11 dollars in your pocket.

Any of these things can be done. But you’re also going to be sweating each of them.

Why make life difficult on yourself?

Drafting Jay Cutler, on the other hand, is like having three free throws at the end of regulation when you’re tied. He’s a five foot put when you have a three stroke lead.

There’s almost no way that drafting Jay Cutler can end badly. I haven’t even mentioned Martellus Bennett, or the pass catching Matt Forte.

The critics of Cutler are right that he didn’t look great last year despite the new scheme and despite his ample receiver resources. But Cutler could be bad and you would be totally screwed if you used 2nd and 3rd round picks on the CHI offense. What are the odds that you’re going to choose the right WR to own between Marshall and Jeffery? Why would you even torture yourself like that. It’s true that they were both good last year, but it took a string of games where the Bears were trailing against bad defenses for Jeffery to really explode. Jeffery’s talent is legitimate, it’s the usage situation that I think is a little more difficult to understand.

Actually, there is a way to be wrong with this target and that’s if Cutler gets hurt. But Aaron Rodgers isn’t the picture of reliability when it comes to appearing in every game and he’s going much earlier than Cutler. So is Tony Romo (back), Peyton Manning (formerly neck), and Matthew Stafford (formerly shoulder).

Most of the outcomes for the CHI offense are probably a huge win when you take Cutler in the 9th round. He’s also in that 11-12-13 “saddle” where it’s realistic to expect that after the 12th QB is chosen you might be able to wait several rounds because other GMs don’t want to use a pick in that range on a backup QB.

I can see a few different QB strategies in 2014 and Cutler is definitely one of them. Here are my QB strategies in order:

1. YOLO – Geno Smith, Jake Locker and Johnny Manziel – draft all three for not very much, or pay attention during training camp and just draft two of them.

2. Jay Cutler – the reasons cited above

3. Cam Newton – take advantage of a receiver-based discount to draft a guy whose receivers might actually be better than they were last year

4. Andrew Luck – reasons mentioned here

Toby Gerhart (ADP 4.01)

Gerhart probably just makes the cut for what I can stretch to call a middle rounder. But I need him here because as I looked over my target list I realized that it was essentially just WRs. Some part of that is by design – I actually spend most of the summer looking for middle rounder WRs to draft so that I can go RB early – but some part of it is also structural. RB is probably a position to draft really early, or really late. James Todd has explained why the small gap RBs that are their team’s 2nd RB offer untapped value.

In Gerhart’s case he’s actually a large gap RB, which is to say that after he’s picked, there are no other JAX RBs being drafted. He’s kind of all they have. The fact that you can get him in the fourth round makes him your minimum viable RB. There are RBs going in front of him and behind him who are in timeshares. Then there’s Gerhart as his team’s only option, available in the 4th round (barely).

I’m sure there are a bunch of narratives to drive a Gerhart selection, like the fact that JAX wants to emulate SEA. But for me it’s super simple and involves only his draft cost and the fact that they have nothing else. Davis Mattek made a great case for Gerhart as your Zero RB candidate here, and while maybe he doesn’t qualify as a Zero RB candidate anymore, he qualifies as something. In fact I could see a draft strategy that goes WRx3, Gerhart, Jordan Cameron, Stevan Ridley, more WRx3, QB, TE, RB, RB, RB.. or something like that. You get the point.

Imagine using a 3rd round draft pick on Doug Martin only to find out that the TB coaches aren’t bullshitting us and they really are intent on a committee. You could probably even argue as to who is more talented between Martin and Gerhart. Imagine using a 2nd round pick on Gio Bernard only to see him get the same touches he did last year, while Jeremy Hill steps right into the Law Firm role.  I’m not saying these things are locks to happen. I’m only saying that Gerhart gives you a hedge against your downside as it relates to usage.

Gerhart isn’t just a bag of free money like he was earlier in the summer. But if you go through the RB options before and after him I think you’ll see that he’s probably still undervalued.

Ben Tate/Terrance West (ADP 5.07/7.12)

This is one where you’ll have to pay attention during training camp, but where I also think there’s opportunity. At their current ADP, I don’t actually like either of these guys based on what we know today. But what we do know is that Kyle Shanahan is one of the last faithful coordinators when it comes to RBs. When I say faithful, I just mean he’s not likely to run a timeshare. He’ll probably pick a RB and then go with that guy.

As a brief aside, the theory that drives my thinking here also involves Mike Shanahan being the real crackhead when it comes to RB usage. At some point 10 years ago, Mike got a severe case of ADD on all matters player personnel and it led to roster decisions that look like they were handed down by random number generator. He didn’t just swap RBs, he also did the same with his QBs (Donovan McNabb, John Beck, Rex Grossman, RGIII, and Kirk Cousins were all trotted our for various reasons over the past three years). I’m absolving Kyle of the mess, which may or may not be a valid assumption.

The CLE RB that emerges during training camp could be Tate, which I would be fine with. It could also be West, which I would  be more than fine with. Actually, even if it ends up being Isaiah Crowell I’ll be fine with that too. But I do think it’s reasonable to expect Shanahan to give one back a lot of touches. In the 5th round or later I think you really can’t miss, assuming you pick the right guy.

It’s also worth mentioning that I think CLE is set up a lot better to run some kind of ball control offense that goes run/run/pass/punt and tries to take as much pressure off Johnny Manziel during his rookie year as possible. I also think that offense has a chance of working because they’ll be able to use Manziel’s legs to pick up first downs and extend drives. There’s an awesome RB situation just waiting in Cleveland, but first we have to figure out which guy to draft.

There’s no situation I can foresee where I’ll own both Tate and West. If we get some clarity during training camp in terms of which guy will carry the load, then I’ll be all in on that player. If we don’t get clarity then I won’t own either.

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