🔮 2 Teams Who Will Define 2024

Sleeper offenses...

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I think Aiyuk and the Niners need to have a ‘DTR’…

In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Underdog Fantasy:

  • This year’s Texans??

  • Watercooler: An update on the Brandon Aiyuk situation

  • Team Preview: Denver Broncos

  • It’s 7/1. Take it away, Peter Overzet

Everyone wants to find this year’s Kyren Williams or Tank Dell, but a much more realistic goal is finding this year’s Rams or Texans—the offenses who are undervalued and then wildly outperform expectations.

It’s very hard to throw darts and nail a one-off league winner. We can make things much easier on ourselves by making a bigger bet (2+ players) on an individual team and reaping the benefits when we are directionally accurate.

This is the concept of correlation in a nutshell, and it’s something that should be front of mind for fantasy players regardless of the format. Correlation reduces the number of things we need to get right when drafting a team.

Drafters who took the plunge on Nico Collins last year would have been naturally funneled to building out a bet on the Texans (i.e. if Nico crushes, what does it mean for the rest of the offense?) and therefore more likely to select C.J. Stroud and Dell as part of that team-level bet.

Same thing for the Rams. Savvy drafters who selected Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford were more likely to stumble upon Williams and Puka Nacua as cheap ways to expand their bet on the Rams.

This year presents us with a handful of undervalued offenses to target, but the cheapest two are the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.

Both teams will be rolling out rookie QBs and a ton of new personnel on offense, which gives us a wide range of outcomes to embrace at bargain-bin prices.

I won’t claim to be able to tell you which Patriots pass catcher is going to outperform their ADP, but, likely, one or two of Ja’Lynn Polk, Javon Baker, Pop Douglas, Kendrick Bourne, and K.J. Osborn smash their ADP if Drake Maye is legit.

The same thing goes for the Broncos offense and Bo Nix, which Ian breaks down below.

If you take a flier on Rhamondre Stevenson or Javonte Williams in the mid-rounds or need a cheap backdoor stack, consider building a bet on the rest of the team.

If Stevenson or Williams return second or third-round value, there’s a very good chance their entire offense has defied expectations and you might just unearth this year’s Kyren or Tank simply by continuing to bet on an undervalued offense.

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Around the Watercooler (August 2022)

📈 The early bird gets the worm? These early ESPN ADPs jump off the page.

🐬 Draft or pass on De’Von Achane at ADP? Dwain and Ian have your answers.

🤔 Three ambiguous backfields for 2024. How you can take advantage.

🦬 A fresh cast of wide receivers in Buffalo. Which one should you draft this year?

📝 An update on Brandon Aiyuk. Will he remain a Niner?

🏇 2024 MVP dark horses. Fun list here.

🤫 Everyone loves this sleeper WR. Is it too good to be true?

🍔 Fantasy punishment or dream come true? Your mileage will vary.

🥬 The craziest draft of Ian Hartitz’s life. It involved leafy greens and Tim Tebow.

Broncos Team Preview

The Broncos have a crowded running back room. Today, Ian Hartitz breaks it all down, along with his prediction for their entire offense in 2024.

🤷 Running Back

  • RB1: Javonte Williams (Fantasy Life’s consensus RB30)

  • RB2: Jaleel McLaughlin (RB55)

  • RB3: Audric Estime (RB69)

  • RB4: Samaje Perine

  • RB5: Blake Watson

If Sean Payton's first year back in the NFL showed anything, it was that his desire to feature RBs in the passing game hasn't gone anywhere. Overall, the Broncos' league-high 144 RB targets were 30-plus more opportunities than all but three other backfields. Accordingly, the Broncos ranked fourth in expected RB PPR points per game behind only the Dolphins, 49ers and Lions.

While part of this can be attributed to Russell Wilson's late-career check-down habits (Denver ranked third in expected RB PPR points per game in 2022 after all), Nix's aforementioned low-aDOT tendencies bode well for the idea that this will again be more one of the league's more fantasy-friendly backfields.

Now for the key question: Who exactly is poised to work as this group's primary receiving back? Last year the answer wasn't exactly one person, as each of Javonte Williams (58 targets), Samaje Perine (56) and Jaleel McLaughlin (36) saw plenty of work in the passing game throughout the season.

That said: Offseason hype has almost solely centered around McLaughlin, who worked as the star of OTAs and minicamp. Still, this sort of non-contact environment greatly benefits an undersized – yet explosive – RB like McLaughlin; it remains to be seen if the Broncos really trust him to hold up in obvious pass-down situations because they sure didn't in 2023.

Pass-blocking snaps in 2023:

  • Samaje Perine (52)

  • Javonte Williams (43)

  • Jaleel McLaughlin (5)

Note that in New Orleans we saw Alvin Kamara work as the offense's clear-cut No. 1 receiving back without leading the way as a pass-blocker; guys like Mark Ingram and Latavius Murray typically led the way there – but the discrepancies in pass-blocking snaps (32 vs. 35, 29 vs. 41, 23 vs. 45 from 2019 to 2021) weren't as wide as what we saw in Denver last season.

There's also the whole "none of these RBs were overly good in 2023" part of the equation:

  • Williams' -0.38 rushing yards below expectation was the eighth-lowest mark in the NFL and right alongside plodding veterans like A.J. Dillon (-0.36) and Ezekiel Elliott (-0.39).

  • Perine's rate of 0.11 missed tackles forced per rush attempt was the fourth-lowest mark among 68 RBs with at least 50 carries last season.

  • McLaughlin might have been the most explosive RB on the ground, but his average of 5.2 yards per reception ranked 45th among 47 qualified RBs.

Now, each of these RBs has had some good as well. Javonte is only two seasons removed from leading the NFL in total missed tackles forced; it'd make sense if he's more explosive in 2024 a full season removed from 2022's devastating knee injury. Perine actually led the position in yards per route run last season and offers the most proven ability in pass pro. McLaughlin trailed only Jaylen Warren and Tyaje Spears in missed tackle rate in 2023 and seemingly got better this offseason.

Oh yeah, there's also the matter of the Broncos drafting Notre Dame RB Audric Estime in the fifth round. Day-three RBs typically don't amount to all that much in the NFL, but the draft capital is certainly less important here relative to other positions, and the size (5'11", 221 pounds) makes Estime an immediate threat to the offense's short-yardage/goal-line roles. This is most concerning to Williams, who ranks dead last in TD rate (18%) inside the five-yard line over the past three seasons.

Hell, undrafted free agent Blake Watson has even earned a slight Alvin Kamara comp out of Sean Payton. This group might offer a solid overall pie of fantasy upside, but the split nature and reluctance to lean on one workhorse could wind up rendering all parties involved as mediocre producers inside of a multi-back committee.

✍️ Bottom Line

A trade or surprising cut could help clear things up here in a hurry; just realize initial Fantasy Life Projections paint a worrisome picture for anyone expecting there to be a clear fantasy star here.

One of very few backfields without a single RB priced inside of fantasy's top-100 picks, the affordable nature of Williams (RB32, pick 110 ADP), McLaughlin (RB48, 153.2) and even Estime (RB65, 211.8) make them reasonable enough darts in zero/hero-RB builds, but don't be surprised if the answer to which Broncos RB you want to start during more weeks than not is simply: No.

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