As we approach Fourth of July, it’s time to start thinking about fantasy football drafts. As we approach the draft season, it’s important to devise a strategy and know who you’re drafting when. Since we only get one pick per round, it’s important to know how you feel about various players at their average draft position. So, we start a fifteen-part series (most drafts are fifteen rounds) highlighting some bold predictions on a round-by-round basis. The data comes from FantasyPros.com, who aggregates average draft position (ADP) data from around the web. There’s no better place to start than the top. Below are three bold predictions about players going in the first round.
Bold Prediction 1: Mike Evans (WR4) will end up outside the top-seven at wide receiver
So far in Jameis Winston’s young career, he’s had Mike Evans as his first, second and third option. Only four receivers average more targets per game since Jameis came into the league. The only viable target opposite Evans for Jameis’ career has been Vincent Jackson. Now the Bucs have DeSean Jackson to spread the field and O.J. Howard & Cam Brate to catch passes underneath. The offense has more weapons at its disposal. Over the last two years, Evans is WR9 in standard scoring, WR8 in PPR and 0.5PPR. The issue is that among WRs with at least eight targets per game since 2015, only Allen Robinson has a worse catch rate than Evans’ 53%. Regress his targets down and regress his red zone opportunities down and his efficiency pulls him outside the top seven, and maybe even outside the top ten.
Bold Prediction 2: Melvin Gordon (RB5) will finish outside the top-ten at running back
Here’s the dirty little secret to Melvin Gordon’s 2016 season, it wasn’t that much better than his 2015 season. On average, 20% of runs around the league go for zero yards or fewer. That’s one out of every five carries completely written off. For Gordon in 2015 and 2016, that number was 25%. One-quarter of his carries went nowhere (at best). It didn’t get much better from there. 50% of his runs went for two or fewer yards, compared to the league average of 50% of runs “dying” at three yards. Check out these charts courtesy of Ground Control, a wonderful collection of apps over at GitHub (red is Gordon, blue is league average).
Last year, Gordon had a higher number than average runs go for less than the expected league average, and only a handful of long runs saved his season. He bashed against a wall and achieved fewer yards than expected at every opportunity except he had more 13 through 19-yard runs than expected. That bump kept his rushing average buoyed. He also only marginally outperformed, with very few “surprising” games (above average yardage with a certain number of carries). With tons of passing weapons that aren’t Gordon around the Chargers, expect a decrease in production in 2017. I will not be touching him in the first round of any fantasy football draft.
Bold Prediction 3: The AFC North has the #1 and #2 Wide Receivers
Not everything is doom and gloom in my bold predictions. Antonio Brown, the consensus #1 wide receiver, seems solidified as a top-three pick at worst, especially in PPR leagues. He gets so much volume and is so efficient that it’s hard to see him dropping below third at the position. The real bold prediction comes with A.J. Green. Through the first nine games of the season last year, Green averaged seven catches and 107 yards a game with four touchdowns. In the tenth game of the season, he saw just one target before a torn hamstring cost him the rest of the year. His first nine games of the season tied him with Antonio Brown for #1 at 13.4 fantasy points per game in standard, and in sole possession of #1 with 20.7 points per game in PPR. This year the Bengals have reloaded offensively and John Ross & Joe Mixon will open more offensive opportunities for Green. Should he stay healthy, he could challenge Brown for the #1 spot.