Lists of 5: undervalued players

Last week I looked at current ADP/AAV and observed some overrated players, this week I’m doing the opposite. These players are all being underrated right now. This doesn’t mean you need to take them at twice the price or 20 spots early, but know what points in the draft they’ll likely be available and grab them for value.

Matt Ryan – “You need an elite QB!” screams roughly half of the fantasy world this year. I understand that Rodgers et al are “safer” than Matty Ice but bear with me. As fantasy players, we are in the business of trying to find value where others aren’t looking. If we just go along with mainstream ideas we will put together a team similar to everyone else’s. Matt Ryan has two WRs and a TE ranked inside the top 10 at their position, a ranking which will be unjustified unless Matt puts up numbers similar (or better) to last year. He finished as the 8th QB last year and is now going 10th. His OC wants to throw a lot and Michael Turner isn’t getting any younger. Draft him already and thank me later when he cracks the top 5 for the first time in his career.

Carson Palmer – I already explained in another list what I love about Palmer. Here’s another thing. KC Joyner of ESPN notes (insider access required) that the Raiders O-line was one of the best in the league last year at shielding their QB. Additionally, they face one of the easiest schedules in the league by the metric of total sacks + total QB hits from last season across opponents. What does this mean? Chances are good that last year’s Carson Palmer from the second half of the season is still around but could cut his INTs in half. I’m thinking 4,200 yards 28 TDs and 10 INTs give or take.

Percy Harvin – Again, I’ve mentioned Harvin already. Matthew Berry points out in his recent Love/Hate column that after Ponder took over Percy Harvin had 30% more touches than the next closest WR (100 to Welker’s 74). He will get the rock because he is good, end of story. Currently the 15th WR off the board, he’s a huge value.

Issac Redman – Ok, with Mendenhall on the PUP list (almost definitely) Pittsburgh has to put someone out there for 6 weeks right? And when activated is Mendy coming back at 100%? No. He’s not sexy and probably won’t win you any weeks by himself, but he’s for sure a decent RB2 with RB1 upside being taken outside of the top 25 running backs. Don’t waste your money on Washington and Carolina backs – go get Redman.

**UPDATE** Redman has stunk and played himself into a timeshare with Dwyer, which Dwyer may win outright. I don’t think Mendenhall will be effective any time soon but he’s not on the PUP list so just play it safe and avoid Pittsburgh RB’s unless it’s super late in your draft.

Rashaad Jennings – Players who don’t come to camp start slow. Running backs who don’t come to camp often get injured. Running backs who have tons of usage for several years in a row often get injured. Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t come to camp and has tons of usage over the last few years. Rashaad Jennings is his clear cut backup and isn’t even being drafted in most leagues. I get it: Jax is terrible blah blah blah. That didn’t stop MJD from leading the league in rushing last year, did it? Jennings is not the same player but as a $1 bench guy he will certainly put up flex-worthy numbers if MJD falters (which is more likely now than ever).

5 players going too high at their position

AJ Green – AJ Green could be Megatron-lite this year, I’ll admit. He has size, speed, hands and the “it” factor. He produced well as a rookie (though he finished outside the top 10 at his position). So with all this effusive praise, why am I down on him? I’m not, per se. It’s just that his ADP has him going between 4th and 8th among receivers and that’s too high for my taste. The only WR in the top 10 who doesn’t have an elite QB is Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest WRs of this generation. My concern isn’t with AJ Green, it’s with Andy Dalton. I think a sophomore slump, combined with the attention that Green will get defensively puts him outside of the top `10 WRs for the season, and there are just safer better picks. One of them is NOT…

Wes Welker – Yes he finished highly last year, and in PPR leagues he will be a stud again. But go check his stats from last year, he produced 5 or less points (in non-PPR) in HALF of his games after the bye week last season. This is hardly the model for consistency. Add a healthy Hernandez and new toy Brandon Lloyd to them mix and the handwriting is on the wall for Welker. He will still get yardage and looks but don’t expect him to sniff the top 10 again this season.

Roddy White – Never did anything to me, never said anything about my mom…so why the hate? Because He has lived on volume and I think that volume is about to decrease with the addition of Julio Jones to the ranks of fantasy’s elite. Roddy will still be serviceable, but you must take him in the top 5-8 wideouts right now and I find it unlikely that he finishes there. Yes he has been a model of consistency, but eventually a player falls off. Skill wise it is not Roddy’s time to go, but talent and opportunity wise I believe there will be a changing of the guard.

MJD – This guy is not even in camp! Stop taking him top 5 among RBs. Yes he led the league in rushing last year, his absolute ceiling in that crappy offense. You’re betting on him to do it two years in a row, AFTER missing camp? No thanks. Check out this column by Rotoworld’s Adam Levitan column breaking down holdout players. It’s going to be rough, at least to start. If you’re really an MJD believer: let someone else draft him. Then put together a trade offer after 3 or 4 games of mediocrity!

RG III – Hey, he could be great this year – just like everyone else on this list. But why go fishing at such a loaded position. In a 10 team league, as your second QB? Fine. In a 12 team league, as your starter? No. He isn’t Cam Newton. He’s faster. And smaller. Which matters. Something else matters: his offensive line and the teams he’ll be playing. In this article (insider access required) KC Joyner breaks down every team by their offensive line’s ability to keep a QB from getting hit. Only 6 teams in the league were worse than the ‘Skins who allowed their QB to get hit on 22% of passing plays! Joyner also details the most difficult schedules from a QB hits perspective (adding total QB hits and sacks from all opponents) and the ‘Skins fare dead last in that category. This guy might end up being an all time great, but until then don’t let him spend his rookie season on your fantasy team while he’s staring up at the sky from his backside every Sunday.

Advanced Auction Draft Strategy – Part 4: Causing overspending

Essentially, every dollar your opponent spends equates to an extra dollar for you. Your buying power goes up as theirs goes down. For this reason it’s important to take any opportunity to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of other owners early in the draft.

One strategy, discussed under nominations , suggests nominating bad players or role players (kickers, defenses) early to draw out some bids. I like the D/kicker strategy: make your nomination for $1 and if anyone goes over that they are wasting money and you win. If you read my post however, I think it is more lucrative long term to nominate the best available player who you don’t want.

Instead of focusing on nominations, I want to summarize two strategies to employ during bidding.

Price enforcing

This is a dangerous route to travel, but can be worth your time if you are savvy about it. Price enforcing means coming to the draft prepared with a list of average auction values [AAV](you can find one here ) and a published price list and then bidding when a player is about to be sold for considerably less. The obvious benefit is the extra dollars you force your opponents to spend, while the obvious risk is ending up with a player you don’t want.

Price enforcing is dangerous because there is always a reason that Player X isn’t receiving bids. Perhaps he’s old, injury prone, on a bad team or being challenged by a rookie. Whatever the case may be, there are always players who don’t live up to their projected price. (Note: this is why it’s important to use an updated auction value that is tracking real drafts and not a price list published by a website!) The safest way to price enforce involves comparing AAV and the published price on a relative scale. (For example, if the first 20 players go for less than the published price but this number is right around their AAV then you know the price list skews high for your particular auction). If you see a player going for substantially less than he should (for me this is 30% or more) and there is no obvious reason (recent arrest, etc.) then it is probably safe to bump the price by $1 while everyone looks at their lists and sees that they should probably put in a bid.

NOTE: do not price enforce on a player you can’t stand to have on your team. Last year I was bidding up Stephen Jackson and hear crickets waaay earlier than expected. I got him for about $6 less than his AAV and he produced the 11th best season for an RB.

Procrastination tax

To use this strategy you must be an astute observer of both the remaining players available and the remaining needs of every team in your league. Essentially you will be getting into a bidding war with players who need a position filled and have few options left for starting talent. The same warning applies from above: don’t bid unless you can live with the player.

This strategy only works where there is positional scarcity: it doesn’t mean you get in a bidding war over Brady because Brees, Rodgers and Stafford are gone. The guy can just bow out and get Cam Newton. It does mean however that you squeeze an extra dollar or two out of the guy who has no running backs and the top 10 or so are already gone. He is waiting to get a good deal but now sees that all the elite talent is gone. He will crack and decide to acquire an RB, and when he does, you must tax him.

In 2012 you cannot use this tactic with WRs at all, there is too much depth from WR10-WR30. Similarly, unless your league has 14 or more teams, or employs a 2 QB system I would avoid trying to tax the owner with no QB. Basically you are looking to tax owners who wait on running backs. There are opportunities for this at every tier, so pay attention. After all the good RB3/flex candidates are gone it probably won’t be worth trying to bid someone up, so don’t risk landing dead weight at the end of the draft.

Lists of 5: Deep QBs with upside

One thing that helps separate players at draft time is their expected “ceiling” – the highest output they could achieve under perfect circumstances. Player A who might be more reliable/established could be passed over for Player B who has a higher ceiling. I’m in a 2-QB league and the difference between winning and losing generally rests on your signal caller. The following list of 5 details 5 QBs who have ceilings that could land them in the top 10 at the position and are outside of the top 15 (for now).

1)      Josh Freeman – It’s weird, last season Freeman got hype and ended up going close to the top 10. He then crapped the bed and became fantasy kryptonite. Now he’s being quietly talked up again even though he JUST burned us. Here are a few reasons why: Vincent Jackson is in town and the Bucs have made investments in their O-line. Freeman will get some points running the ball, thus elevating his basement level production to some degree. He just can’t be as bad as he was last year, right? I think Freeman will actually end up in the same place he’s going now: mid teens. That being said, if he plays like rookie Josh he could easily crack the top 10 and he’s going for a bargain.

2)      Carson Palmer – Was top-10 in several important categories over the final 8 games of the season (See facts 13 and 14 here). Give him a full off season, healthy receivers and you know the rest. Or so the argument goes. Don’t forget that Darren McFadden is on this team, and basically vacuums up yardage and TDs when he’s not in street clothes. Thankfully, DMC is also one of the best receiving backs in football and won’t hurt Palmer’s value. I am a true believer. Palmer isn’t mobile and might take some sacks, but he’ll produce numbers and shouldn’t finish any lower than 15th. I suspect he’ll make his way into the top 10 at the position.

3)      Ryan Fitzpatrick – Chan Gaily recently revealed that Fitz played the last 10 games of 2011 with broken ribs. Before that? He was tearing up the league in the 4 WR spread offense. Do I think he’ll challenge Brady, Brees and Rodgers for top dog? No. Do I think he could challenge Romo, Manning and Ryan for a spot in the top 10? Absolutely. His running backs can catch, he has above average wideouts and he plays in a friendly system. I want this guy on my team in our 2 QB league.

4)      Matt Flynn – I understand that he’s unproven. However, he put up historical numbers in his two spot starts last season and not every backup QB can do that. Football Outsiders lists 3 of his WRs as potential breakout candidates in their list of 25; again this doesn’t prove anything but points to opportunity. Of course, Marshawn is still there (pending the DUI investigation) and Seattle isn’t known for its aerial assault – but we’re looking for diamonds in the rough here and Flynn could be just that.

5)      Jake Locker – everyone’s darling sleeper QB happens to be mine as well. The knocks: not even the starter yet (said to be named by Aug 23), suspect accuracy and limited experience. The assets: weapons to work with, legit speed, cannon arm. I’m willing to stash the kid on my bench instead of saving a roster spot for a guy like Brandon Wheeden or Matt Moore, but I’m into possibilities and great expectations.

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