Every year, the next generation of stars pushes against the old guard as they battle to earn the right to be a first-round selection the following year. Draft the one player poised to crush ADP in every round, and you’ll wish you could turn your redraft squad into a dynasty roster.
Want some evidence-based picks to destroy ADP? We use the advanced stats and excellent FFDraftPrep tools to locate this year’s league-winners.
First, a quick reminder of why we draft young players in fantasy. Rookie RBs are the key to winning in fantasy, and second-year players are the most likely to improve on their previous year’s performances. Blair Andrews and the Wrong Read help demonstrate why.
Outside of players entering their second seasons, you’re mostly hoping that a veteran doesn’t lose too much value. Of course, this doesn’t mean there won’t be individually exploitable ADPs – Mike Wallace is poised to absolutely destroy his cost – or that veterans can’t break out. I offered my list of fifth-year WR breakout candidates yesterday. But we want a lot of exposure to players who fit the breakout profile, and we want that exposure to come from the pool of players who aren’t going off the board at their breakout ceilings.
Not all of these players are young. My second- and third-round selections are values every year, and those bargains are even more exaggerated in 2018. But employ cautious optimism on younger players, and you’ll build a strong playoff contender.
I use ADP and the picks from the recent Apex Experts draft to get a sense of where players are likely to go in competitive formats.
Round 1 – Kareem Hunt
Outperforming ADP even at the Round 1 turn is a daunting task, but Mark Wemken is reaching for Kareem Hunt in the first stanza, and I mean, really reaching. He’s got this topic covered, so I won’t waste extra words.
Round 2 – Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski has averaged 17 or more fantasy points six different times. That’s more than Julio Jones, more than A.J. Green. It’s one less than the top two WRs – Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins – combined. Only five WRs have a better high projection than Gronk according to the Sim Scores. Over the last five years he’s scored a TD every 13 targets.1
With the New England WR depth chart already decimated and the season not even begun, he’s poised to make a run at the records and finish as a top-five value.
Round 3 – Jarvis Landry
No player in NFL history has caught more passes through four seasons than Landry, but it’s the margin of that lead that’s truly astonishing. His 400 catches give him a 58-catch lead over Anquan Boldin in second place. Moreover, every player with 300-plus catches in their first four seasons is/was a big-time star.2
Okay, but Landry doesn’t gain yards or score TDs. Except in that 15-player cohort, he’s scored more often than Boldin and Andre Johnson. He trails Torry Holt and DeAndre Hopkins by a single score.
Landry finished as WR4 last season in a horrible situation and now moves to a similarly awful franchise that’s also similarly devoid of WR talent. You can worry about upside, but Landry is tied with Hopkins, Davante Adams and Odell Beckham for the second-best ceiling according to the Sims.
Landry’s depth of target tends to be overblown as he’s gained more than 400 yards after the catch in every one of his NFL seasons.
Round 4 – JuJu Smith-Schuster
Want a fourth-round pick who will go in Round 1 of 2019 drafts? Smith-Schuster is your man.
Possessing the 10th-best result in rookie PPG since the turn of the century, the Steelers phenom slid in just ahead of A.J. Green in that category (14.7 to 14.5.)
Smith-Schuster brought a wildly undervalued profile to the NFL and then immediately emerged. We know young prospects outperform their older brethren, and we know rookie breakouts destroy the competition in subsequent year points and multiple-season scoring.
With plus size, an elite teammate to draw coverage, strong QB play, and little competition from the third and fourth targets at WR3 and TE, Smith-Schuster should dramatically build volume in Year 2 after posting unsustainable efficiency stats as a rookie.
Round 5 – Royce Freeman
A big, agile, tackle-breaker with a three-down skill set5 and early college breakout,6 Freeman enters the NFL below the radar. I don’t like him anywhere close to Saquon Barkley, but there shouldn’t be much separation between Freeman and the rest of the rookie runners. It’s stunning to remember that drafters preferred Giovani Bernard and Montee Ball to Bell, or that they preferred a lot of guys, including T.J. Yeldon, to Johnson.
Freeman faces little legitimate threat from Devontae Booker, but impressive peer Phillip Lindsay could steal important receiving touches.
Round 6 – Will Fuller
Fuller has his True Believers, but he’s not generating a lot of buzz for a player poised to torch the NFL in his third season.
Despite a tremendous collegiate profile, Fuller was largely derided by fantasy owners even as he was a first-round selection in the NFL draft. He immediately put the blazing speed to use with 1,428 air yards as a rookie. He backed that up with 15.9 air yards per target a season ago, fourth-most in the NFL.
Of course, the gaudiest numbers were in the touchdown category where he scored once every seven targets.
While we tend to focus on the unsustainability here, it’s a mistake to not recognize the other side of the coin. The Texans plan to get him much more involved. When you possess an elite resume,7 the attempt to increase volume should be a given.
We can also see from the Stat Explorer that Fuller authored seven plays of 20-plus yards in 2017, on only 48 targets. During Deshaun Watson’s four-game onslaught from Week 4 to Week 8, his No. 2 WR scored multiple TDs on three different occasions.
It’s true that Watson and Fuller will be less efficient in 2018, but it’s also true that more realistic efficiency levels will often create more volume opportunities as any game-script enthusiast will tell you. With all the evidence Fuller has going for him, you don’t even need to buy the training camp fluff about how he’s gained 10 pounds to better hold up to NFL rigors or the staff’s assertion that he’s a vastly undervalued route runner.
Round 7 – Robby Anderson
Last year’s WR18 shouldn’t be going in this range. Not when he’s recorded over 2,800 air yards in two seasons and stayed well ahead of expectation in experience-adjusted production.
Just last season, the speed demon and vertical threat caught six passes more than 30 yards down the field and torched secondaries for 17 plays of 20-plus yards. He’s uncoverable deep, and the plus-plus arm of Sam Darnold looks like the perfect fit. Aggressively target this duo in dynasty as well.
For more on Anderson, check out the Overtime pod.
Round 8 – Jamaal Williams
Williams goes early in Round 8 and may come off the board even earlier in formats where everyone abstains at QB, but the Green Bay starter is a good value anywhere in that area. While I’m still partial to Aaron Jones, the second-year back from BYU reminds me of a couple of recent home runs. I discuss that and more in the Zero RB Countdown: No. 10 to No. 6.
Round 9 – D.J. Moore
Rookie WRs aren’t the tremendous values we see at the RB position, but occasionally we have the combination of prospect and draft slot that screams bargain. Six rookie WRs have scored 16 or more PPG since 2000. Odell Beckham was one of the most obvious league-winners of recent vintage at 24.8, but the others were also interesting.
Exactly half (Anquan Boldin, Michael Thomas, Marques Colston) were drafted after Moore, and while two-thirds of those were fueled by Drew Brees – hello, Tre’Quan Smith – we also have proof that Cam Newton can produce a rookie breakout, even to a player he would grow to hate. Kelvin Benjamin scored 228 points in 2014 and finished as WR14.
That’s just a little context for a player we’ve raved about all summer. To get the full argument, check out why Moore is not only a value at his ADP, you should consider selecting him ahead of Corey Davis.
Round 10 – Chris Godwin
Godwin is the archetypal breakout candidate. He checks so many boxes as a young prospect with an undervalued collegiate career who produced under-the-radar numbers down the stretch of his rookie season. Now that he’s earned a starting job and pushed Desean Jackson into a more peripheral role, he shouldn’t be going so late, even on a team with real questions about their offense.
He’s also a good reminder of Blair’s central tenet from our journey’s start. Looking at age and experience from a slightly different angle we see that, “League-wide, 21-year-old WRs saw their fantasy scoring increase by almost two points per game the next season.”
When you’re about to pull the trigger on Kenny Golladay, consider waiting a round or two for Godwin instead.
I mentioned Mike Wallace in the intro. Check back for the upcoming Late-Round Picks To Own Everywhere.
- In fantasy-eligible games. (back)
- Arguably one of the least decorated, Andre ‘Bad Moon’ Rison went off for 1,252 yards and 15 TDs in Year 5. (back)
- Author’s Update/Note: This is what you get when you bet against other young players. James Washington was a red flag candidate as a WR prospect this season and had been having a slow camp until the last couple of days. Then he exploded on Thursday night for a 114 yards and a couple of TDs against the Packers. (back)
- You can go decades trying to find the next Randy Moss or Odell Beckham, for example. (back)
- 79 receptions at Oregon (back)
- 1,523 yards and 19 TDs as a freshman, 2,184 and 19 as a sophomore (back)
- In this case stretching back to college, including his pre-draft athletic marks and draft slot, and now continuing through the healthy portions of his first two seasons (back)