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Nailed It! Our Best Calls of 2017

At our annual spring meeting, we reviewed our 2017 performance. We’ve already admitted our worst calls. Here are the best.

Fade Dez Bryant

Anthony Amico

My call to fade Bryant was met with some criticism, but ultimately I prevailed. He was drafted as the WR9 in drafts starting August or later, but finished as the WR23 in total points and WR30 in points per game. Bryant finished 16th in targets per game and dealt with some nagging injuries yet again.

Mark Ingram is better than C.J. Anderson

Jeff Matson

At the start of the year, our Fantasy Faceoff series debated two players with similar ADP. The funny thing is that when I argued for Mark Ingram over C.J. Anderson much of the debate centered around who would lose the most carries to veterans Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson. In the end, Ingram split carries with Alvin Kamara and Anderson lost volume to Devontae Booker and extremely poor QB play.  Still, Ingram finished RB6 with 220 fantasy points, which is a big jump over Anderson who finished as a back-end RB2.

Stash Jaron Brown in Dynasty

Sean Slavin

We ran a pre-season compilation article highlighting our favorite sleepers who were currently backups at their position. I suggested stashing Jaron Brown in dynasty, as he was a small-sample standout in metrics like RACR and air yards per route run the previous year. While Brown didn’t quite have a breakout season, he was talked up by Bruce Arians and flashed early in the season, opening a sell-high window. Players who fit a similar bill this year are Taywan Taylor, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Deonte Thompson.

Don’t Leave Your Draft Without Alvin Kamara

Brian Malone

In August, I highlighted four middle-to-late round players I wanted in every draft. They didn’t all hit, but Kamara did. And with a 12th-round August ADP, he was the single best draft pick you could have made in 2018. This wasn’t a brilliant prospect evaluation on my part–just a little common sense. Kamara was a pass-catching back on the Saints who stood to get an RB1-level workload if either Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson missed time. Instead, Kamara forced his way onto the field, pushing Peterson one step closer to retirement.

Pay Attention to Keelan Cole

Ryan Bobbitt

I noticed Cole getting lots of reps with the starters in the preseason and needed to know more. His college numbers as a receiver and kick returner were outstanding, regardless of it being on the D2 level. I advocated keeping his name handy if he got an opportunity, and he didn’t disappoint. With Allen Hurns and Dede Westbrook banged up throughout the season, Cole was a startable WR3/4. He capped Week 15 with seven catches for 186 yards and a touchdown, finishing as the WR1 overall for the week.

As always, college production is important. Cole went under our radar until August, but the signs were there. Injuries helped him get more snaps, but hopefully you grabbed him early. Keep tabs on training camp and preseason battles. Maybe that guy you’ve never heard of is more than just a camp body.

Fade Martavis Bryant

Hasan Rahim

After a trying offseason, Martavis Bryant was reinstated by the NFL and played a full season. Bryant bucked the historical precedent set by players who had previously been suspended for substance abuse and should be commended. That said, the irrational exuberance surrounding a player who had not played a single snap since 2015 was difficult to justify. In early August, owners were comfortable drafting Bryant as the 25th WR in MFL10s, ahead of Larry Fitzgerald, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder.

I noted that Bryant would face increased target competition from Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Additionally, Ben Roethlisberger has not supported a second top-24 WR since 2009.1 Although neither Rogers nor Coates did much, Smith-Schuster had a breakout season and emerged as the WR2 for the Steelers. Bryant ended the fantasy season as WR51 and may represent sneaky value in 2018.

Take Todd Gurley Over Leonard Fournette

John Lapinski

As part of our Fantasy Face-Off series, I jumped at the chance to stump for Todd Gurley. With perhaps the most uninspiring stable of backups in the league, I considered massive volume to be locked in, with only a small increase in efficiency needed to produce a strong season. By jettisoning the losingest coach in NFL history and bolstering their offensive line, there was certainly reason to believe Gurley should be at least a little more efficient. Of course, I wasn’t expecting him to be the RB1 for the season, but he was one of the few RBs with the volume to put such a season within his range of outcomes.

I’m not breaking any new ground around these parts when I say to buy volume for RBs and fade the efficiency, but it’s something to remember going forward. The RotoViz crew is somewhat split on the prospects of Joe Mixon this year, but he’s been available in the fourth round of early best-ball drafts and I’m buying at that price. On a per-touch basis, his 2017 was better than Gurley’s 2016, so I’ll stick to my guns here, hoping the volume stays locked in and the efficiency improves.2

Golden Tate Discount Doppelganger

Jeremy Marin

By far my best call was Robert Woods being the cheaper version of Golden Tate. Despite the trade for Sammy Watkins and my subsequent adjustment of Woods’ possible production, Woods was able to produce a WR3 season despite only playing 12 games. After a relatively slow start the first four weeks, Woods had double-digit fantasy points each of the next six games, averaging 14.05 PPR points before succumbing to injury. Despite that, Woods still finished the season as WR18 in PPR points per game, and, with a super late ADP, he was one of the bargains that helped put teams over the top.

Michael Thomas over Jordy Nelson

Devin McIntyre

I’m not about to take a victory lap on Jordy Nelson’s lost season, but I identified Thomas as a player who was being discounted due to two misperceptions. First, that the Saints leading receiver doesn’t dominate targets like Nelson. In fact, Drew Brees’ top target has averaged more targets than Aaron Rodgers’ top target over their careers. Second, that Thomas couldn’t maintain his efficient catch rate from his rookie year. I explained that Drew Brees has supported hugely efficient catch rates for WRs throughout his career and that a 70 percent or higher catch rate was easily achievable if Thomas did not increase his depth of target. In fact, Thomas increased his aDOT by more than a yard in 2017 and still turned in an excellent 69.8 percent catch rate.

My conclusion was that Thomas’ major threats were an improved defense or a QB injury but that these risks applied equally to both WRs. And I suggested that if any of Thomas’ teammates faltered, he could be the first Saints WR to catch 100 passes. This came to pass with Willie Snead getting slapped with a suspension and falling out of the rotation. Thomas dominated to the tune of 104 receptions on 149 targets.

Duke Johnson is criminally undervalued

Eric Moody

Can you guess the two running backs who had more receiving yards than Duke Johnson (693) last season? The answer: Todd Gurley (788) and Alvin Kamara (826). Johnson thrived in his role as the Browns receiving and change-of-pace back. He was a player I covered as part of last summer’s RB Countdown, and I viewed him as an RB3 with tremendous upside heading into the season. Johnson only played 53 percent of the Browns offensive snaps but touched the football or was targeted on 31 percent of them. He finished as the RB11 in PPR formats with a positive rushing and receiving fantasy points over expectation.  

Are You Thielen Lucky, Punk?

Charles Kleinheksel

In both my Minnesota Vikings review, and in a study of undervalued wide receiversAdam Thielen stood out as a screaming value. Can you believe he was the WR57 in dynasty startups last year? He finished 2017 as the PPR WR10. The payoff was huge, but the opportunity to benefit was fairly straightforward. Thielen had a promising 2016 and a similar or better opportunity heading into 2017. Those are easy scenarios to exploit, since the opportunity cost is so low.

  1. Smith-Schuster was WR30 when the fantasy season concluded in Week 16.  (back)
  2. Note that he has much tougher backfield competition than Gurley in Giovani Bernard, and also, unfortunately, has another year of Marvin Lewis. A lot more would need to go right for Mixon to truly explode, but there’s no reason he can’t be a big value in the fourth like Melvin Gordon was in 2016.  (back)

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