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Fantasy Football: Hogan, Burkhead among best bargains

Pete Davidson
August 10, 2018 - 10:48 am

With the first round of preseason games underway, it’s time to crank up the fantasy football engine.

After today’s little primer on High-Value Targets, I’ll be posting tiered rankings for the four major positions. First up will be the quarterbacks, which you should be seeing early next week, followed by the running backs, receivers and tight ends—probably in that order. If you crave more rankings and you need them now, check out my free site, Rotobahn.com. I have some early rankings posted and there will be a full update to them early next week, just in case you have early drafts.

Today I am looking at the best bargains at each position as we move into August and towards heavy drafting season. This is all based on relatively early ADP (sourced from FantasyPros.com) and there will undoubtedly be some shifting (perhaps major shifting) in the weeks ahead. 

Tomorrow, I will be posting a short article with some quick hits on the fantasy impact from the Week 1 preseason games. On Sunday, Jim Hackett and I will be live with this year’s first installment of the Fantasy Football Hour on WEEI, from 8-9 a.m. If you are not an early riser, look for it right here on WEEI. I will also post a link to the show on Twitter. You can follow me @Rotobahn.

Alright, let’s dig into some values I am liking right now:

QUARTERBACK

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs, QB16

I see some well-known fantasy analysts warning folks away from Mahomes, but I am happy to draft him at his going rate, which is usually in or about the 10th round. Mahomes is young, inexperienced and has a history of throwing first and thinking later - often on the sidelines, after the interception, while staring at one of those little Surface tablets. Yes, the youngster errs on the side of aggression and yes, there are probably a fair amount of interceptions coming in 2018, but hear me out, because the bad news ends there. The Chiefs decided to get rid of a dependable quarterback in Alex Smith, and they did so because they want Mahomes on the field. He’s their guy and he’s not going anywhere unless he melts down, and his makeup is not that of a meltdown guy. This kid is more like Brett Favre than Mark Sanchez - both from a talent perspective and from a mental makeup point of view.

He can make all the throws—far more than the average NFL quarterback. He’ll be playing in a very friendly Andy Reid offense. The same offense that made successes out of guys like Kevin Kolb, A.J. Feeley and yes, Alex Smith. And, to top things off, Mahomes has three fabulous weapons in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Not only are these guys very good, they are great fits for Mahomes, who now puts every single route in play for the Chiefs’ coaching staff. This was clearly not the case with Smith, and that’s a big risk factor for those who are trying to use Smith’s K.C. stats to project what Mahomes will do. This is going to be a different offense, folks. It’s going to feature all of the good things we’ve seen in recent years on the ground, but the route design is basically on the whiteboard - in a good way.

Look for more deep shots - particularly off of play-action. The Chiefs were only running play-action on 22 percent of their plays last year, but I expect that rate to climb going forward. I also expect deeper route concepts in general. This offense worked its tail off to get short area separation for Alex Smith, but the field is going to be wide open now. More mistakes? Sure. More scoring? I think so. And consider this, the interceptions are baked into the price. If Mahomes was projected to be a 10 interception guy in this offense, he’d be around the QB8 price-wise. Draft him at or near his current ADP, and do it with confidence.

Andy Dalton, Bengals, QB25

He may not be a guy you want to go all-in on, but the beauty is that you don’t have to. Dalton is currently being taken as the 25th quarterback, and that’s a joke. If I lose out on the quarterbacks I really want to build around, Dalton is one heck of a consolation prize. He’ll have a lot of talent around him and if Tyler Eifert can play some games, then the offense could really click. The Bengals have talented receivers and talented receiving running backs. If Dalton can just distribute effectively and hit the occasional deep throw, he can post QB1 (top 12) numbers. That’s plain theft at his current price, which I suspect will rise some over the next few weeks, but not enough to make him a non-value. There’s recency bias at work here and some folks are rightfully concerned that the Bengals’ offensive line is weak, and while it is, it’s certainly looking better than it did in 2017. The big move being the addition of Cordy Glenn at left tackle. There’s legitimate upside here at bargain basement cost.

Jameis Winston, Bucs, QB26

Winston’s toughest part of the schedule are the games he’s missing due to suspension. So while his price tag has been lowered considerably, I am not losing much of his real value if I draft him as a matchup starter. The key is to look for a guy with a good early schedule to pair with him. A good cheap option in this regard is Mitch Trubisky, but he’s not the only one. The reason I like Winston so much is all the offensive talent they have assembled around him. That’s a great thing for a talented aggressive passer like Jameis. Mike Evans is still the alpha weapon, but with DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and OJ Howard in the fold, the field will be balanced. They’ve also assembled a solid stable of diverse runners, so the ground game should be there—keeping defenses honest. Winston is well set up for a big final 10 games if he responds well to all the self-created controversy.

RUNNING BACKS

Derrius Guice, Washington, RB19

This rookie has all the things you want in a lead NFL runner. He’s got the size and the speed but he also runs like a pro. Guice wins at the point of contact and will produce yards after it. He also has passing game ability that went largely unseen in LSU’s offense. With Chris Thompson still a ways away from full health, Guice could be asked to do a lot as a rookie. He’s a value as the RB19 and you can usually get him towards the end of round three. For those of us who are stuck with late picks, let’s hope that price holds throughout August. One late note on Guice: After looking very good in last night’s preseason opener, Guice suffered a knee injury that appears to be minor. Still, it’s worth following for now just in case.

Jay Ajayi, Eagles, RB20

Ajayi is one of my favorite values going right now. His knee concerns keep me away in long-term formats like dynasty, but in a seasonal league, I am happy to go after him in the fourth round, especially if I have a need at running back. This is a very talented lead runner who is playing in a dynamic offense that puts loads of pressure on teams downfield. He may need to be a guy who carries a full load like Zeke Elliott, but he could be as productive as any back in football this year on a per touch basis. I see big value.

Rex Burkhead, Patriots, RB33

He’s listed as the lead back on the Patriots’ depth chart, so his ADP is likely to rise in the coming weeks, but as of now, Burkhead remains a value in real football and in fantasy. He’s an underrated goal-line runner, and in a Tom Brady-led attack, that certainly adds value, as does his ability to break formation as a receiver. If he stays healthy, you could be getting Devonta Freeman-like production sometime after round five. Great value.

Nick Chubb, Browns, RB39

Chubb did very little in the preseason opener, but he was running behind Cleveland’s backups for the most part and had very little room to run. When you consider how late you can get him, and how much Cleveland gave up to draft him, he’s a nice option for a fantasy team trying to gain upside at the position.

Nyheim Hines, Colts, RB52

Hines is a rookie but he’s the kind of prospect who shows up and plays like a veteran from day one. He’s a smallish back with an always-on motor, and he’s got the ability to play in the slot—giving the Colts a new element to their offense. He profiles like Duke Johnson, but with more opportunity to own the backfield because of Frank Gore’s departure. Hines’ primary competition for snaps is second-year RB, Marlon Mack, who had some limited success playing behind Gore last year. I suspect this backfield will be a committee—with rookie Jordan Wilkins also in the mix. Any of these players can be good value propositions on draft day, but my favorite right now is Hines.

Peyton Barber, Bucs, RB64

While I expect that the Bucs will give rookie Ronal Jones plenty of chances to win the starting job, it would not surprise me one bit if Barber hung onto it for a while. In redraft leagues, this could make Barber a big value with multiple applications. He has stand-alone value because he could start some games, and maybe a lot if he plays well enough. Barber also has value as an affordable hedge pick for those who go in early to get Jones. It’s all about value. Jones will probably have more fantasy value over the full season, but the huge disparity in cost makes Barber the more compelling value if you can only choose one. Both players scored in the preseason opener, but Barber looked like the more game-ready player. It makes sense, in that he has two years of NFL experience.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Chris Hogan, Patriots, WR28

I am getting him as late as the 8th round and most often in rounds 6-7, and I am not entirely sure why. Hogan, to me, is a clear WR2 for fantasy this year. Just look at his production when healthy in 2017. If you combine his pre-injury run with his playoff output, there’s reason to think he could be a top 20 option at the position. His current pricing, in my view, represents his floor unless he gets hurt. Hogan will get plenty of inside work early in the season, and that should help him find his rhythm with Tom Brady. He’s also a viable deep threat and a strong red-zone presence. He’s entering his third year in the Patriots’ system, so he’s got a great chance at peak performance on a team in need of receiving talent. If he scores ten times in 2018, I would not be surprised, and while he may cost a bit more in Boston-area drafts, he’s a good bet to help your fantasy team.

Sammy Watkins, Chiefs, WR30

He’s the ultimate fantasy tease, giving his teams plenty of big games but even more missed games, with a bit of mediocrity mixed in. Watkins is sitting there in the sixth round of drafts, just waiting to help your team. This is a guy who was drafted ahead of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham. He’s a very serious talent. He crushed the combine after a stellar career at Clemson. So why hasn’t he broken out yet? There are two primary reasons. The big one is injury. Watkins foot injury derailed his career in Buffalo, but he stayed healthy last season and played relatively well for the Rams. That earned him his big payday with the Chiefs. The other thing that held Watkins’ numbers down was the Bills’ offense. For further evidence, just look at what Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin have done since leaving Buffalo. Watkins is currently going at WR3 rates, but to me, he has top 15 upside and I love getting a guy like that at floor pricing. I’m all over Watkins right now.

Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos, WR35

Fantasy GMs have short memories sometimes. It seems that folks have forgotten how good Sanders can be when healthy, and he looks to be just that as we head into 2018. So don’t get too caught up in a lost 2017 campaign. Instead, focus on his depressed price tag and his new quarterback. Case Keenum throws Sanders’ oft run routes well and likes to target his slot receivers. I fully expect Sanders to play a ton of inside snaps because rookie Courtland Sutton will be playing a lot and he’s an outside threat. In full PPR scoring, Sanders is a pretty solid value. I drafted him in a Football Guys expert league a few days ago, in the eighth round at 89 overall. I was thrilled.

Marquise Goodwin, 49ers, WR40

Goodwin, the aforementioned ex Buffalo Bill, is a world class speed threat who is also good at football. He’s also been able to find sustained health over the last two seasons. If that run of health continues, I expect him to be a huge value in 2018—perhaps the biggest value at the position when all is said and done. There is a threat to his number one status with Pierre Garcon returning, but my cash in being placed on the younger more dynamic receiver. Garcon is being drafted a few rounds earlier right now, but to me, Goodwin is a better option if you are trying to win your league. Jimmy Garoppolo has sweet timing on his deep ball, and I see plenty of connections with Goodwin in the season ahead. He’s a good pick anytime in round seven and later.

Tyler Lockett, Seahawks, WR63

He’s incredibly cheap though he will probably rise a bit as folks begin to do their fantasy math. Folks will also start to go away from Doug Baldwin with news of his knee situation. Baldwin is most likely going to be fine, but Lockett is a threat to breakout either way. He’s finally all the way back from the broken leg he suffered at the end of 2016. While he was healthy enough to play last season, he was not his usual self—his speed clearly less than normal. Lockett should be the second most targeted receiver on a team that will play from behind a lot more than they normally do. He has a fine quarterback in Russell Wilson. His health is trending up. Still, you can draft him as your WR5 and end up making a big profit. He has top 30 upside in PPR scoring

TIGHT ENDS

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots, TE1

While it may sound hard to be a value when you are being drafted as the TE1, Gronk is indeed a value in most formats. While no tight ends are being drafted ahead of him, 22 other players are, and that’s a few too many in my view. I won’t bother you much with explanations as to how good he is. I’m thinking you are pretty well sold. I’ll only point out that he’s healthy and in very good position to be heavily targeted, relative to the last few seasons. I see him getting back to that 120 target area and I see him returning to the land of ten plus touchdowns. He can post offensive stats commensurate with the wide receivers being drafted around him, yet he will compete against the likes of Greg Olsen and Kyle Rudolph in fantasy football. For my money, Gronk’s value is more in line with the 15th overall selection than it is the 23rd, which is where he’s been going. He and Travis Kelce both make solid second round picks, especially in bigger formats.

Evan Engram, Giants, TE6

As I said last year when we did our pre-combine rankings, Engram is basically a receiver with a tight end designation. He’s also very good, and a total matchup nightmare. He’s in a situation that will turn some folks off, but not me. Yes, Odell Beckham will get his targets ... many of them. And rookie RB Saquon Barkley is going to get a lot of action both as a runner and in the passing game, but both of these truths figure to make Engram incredibly efficient. This is a very tough cover if you only have a single defender and teams won’t have any way to give help when defending Engram, who profiles as a faster, more athletic version of Aaron Hernandez. He’s that good. He may only see 6-7 targets a game, but he’ll convert a high percentage of them, and he’ll also make a 
high percentage of big plays. Engram is also a strong red zone weapon at six foot three. He’s being drafted as the TE6, but for my money, he is the TE4 and has enough upside to be the TE1. He’s well worthy of a pick in round five or six.

David Njoku, Browns, TE14

He’s an upside play who can be had in the later rounds—after you’ve constructed a solid core. I’ve landed him in 12th round several times as a matchup option. Njoku is a fantastic athlete and he has better quarterback play than he did last year as a rookie. He’s also got some redundancy with both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield at the position. Cleveland has improved its offense across the board but there are still plenty of targets up for grabs. One late note, Njoku scored twice against the Giants in the preseason opener, so that ADP could be rising soon. Definitely, something to monitor in the coming weeks. A big plus is that he caught a score from each of the Browns top two quarterbacks, the first from Taylor and the second from Mayfield.

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