As we put Independence Day in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to start thinking about fantasy football drafts. As we approach draft season, it’s important to devise a strategy and know who you’re drafting when. Since we only get one pick a 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. We’ve already investigated the first three rounds, so let’s turn our sights to round four.
Bold Prediction 1: Travis Kelce is the TE1
The best tight end available to you is currently going third at the position, two picks after a player he matches or outperforms on a weekly basis who misses a ton of games (Jordan Reed). Down the stretch last year, Kelce averaged 86 yards per game (and that includes a two-target week 17). If you make that the last eight games of the fantasy football season, then he averaged 92 yards per game, including four-straight above 100 yards. The Chiefs got rid of Jeremy Maclin, and Tyreek Hill isn’t a viable #1 target. The nine targets a game he got in that eight-game stretch last season would be a good place to start. He also had an absurdly low four touchdowns last year, which screams positive regression. Put that all in a bag, shake it up, and you have someone poised to be the only player with the track record of health and production to stick around all year at the top of the tight end ranks.
Bold Prediction 2: Amari Cooper finally outproduces Michael Crabtree
This one is more about Cooper than Crabtree, though the two wideouts are essentially the 1a and 1b in Oakland. Cooper outperformed Crabtree on a per-target basis, catching more balls thrown his way and going for more yards per target. The main issue was opportunity, as Cooper received 132 targets to Crabtree’s 145, and Cooper had just 20 red zone targets to Crabtree’s 20. Within the ten, Crabtree and Cooper were much closer, as Crabtree received just one additional target compared to Cooper. These are your money plays that are usually going towards the end zone, and going for touchdowns. The main difference between Cooper and Crabtree were the TDs, and Amari Cooper failed to register a single red zone touchdown last season.
Cooper not only failed to register a red zone touchdown, he didn’t catch a single ball within the ten. Of everyone who had seven targets within the ten, Cooper was not only the only player without a catch, he was the only one without a touchdown. In fact, players who had a <10-yard target scored a touchdown 71% of the time, which means Cooper left five touchdowns on the field. If he picks up just three of these five he left on the field, he would finally surpass Crabtree in production. These touchdowns are going to come from Crabtree, so the days of Crabtree vastly outperforming his ADP may be over.
Bold Prediction 3: Matt Ryan (QB4) ends up QB10
After being left for dead following the 2015 season, Matt Ryan blew the doors off the hinges and ended up as the #2 quarterback in the 2016 season. Unfortunately for those investing in Ryan at his current ADP, he is unlikely to return on his investment. There are the soft factors right off the top: Ryan is losing Kyle Shanahan, who manufactured his breakout, the Falcons’ receiving corps remains Julio Jones, a flash in the pan (Taylor Gabriel) and Mo Sanu. There’s not much inspiring around Ryan to make you think he can repeat 2016.
The numbers for Ryan also point to an outlier year in several ways. First, his interception rate. Before last year, Ryan threw interceptions 2.4% of the time, and last season he cut that nearly in half. His career average puts him in the Joe Flacco/Ryan Tannehill interception range, and last year he cut it below Aaron Rodgers’ career interception rate (best active INT%). That’s obviously due regression. His touchdown rate is also set to regress. His career touchdown rate was 4.5%, which puts him respectably near Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins territory.
Let’s say Matt Ryan goes back to being standard issue Matt Ryan and doesn’t negatively regress. Here are his finishes between 2010 and 2015: QB8, QB8, QB7, QB12, QB7, QB19. With a new crop of quarterbacks set to take the step forward, Ryan will get left in the dust and those who drafted him in the fourth round will regret it.