If your publicist isn’t telling people you are getting snaps in the slot, you need a new publicist…
In today’s Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Epic Seats:
3 value pockets of the draft. Take advantage while you can.
A dark horse MVP candidate.
Dwain’s RB Tiers: The bellcows
Team Preview: New England Patriots
It’s 5/18. Take it away, Peter Overzet
I know it’s only May, but if you want to get a head start on your competition, I’ve identified some value pockets on the draft board that you should pay attention to as we cruise into drafting season.
Yesterday, I did a Best Ball Mania IV draft on Underdog Fantasy with Ian Hartitz, and we discussed our favorite draft strategies and player targets.
And while I certainly have guys I like, I’m much more interested in identifying the pockets of value in a draft and targeting a group of players within the same tier.
Here are three ranges that I find particularly juicy right now…
🎯 Round 3 RBs
After Zero RB smashed in 2022, drafters are currently discounting this group of RBs while prioritizing WRs and elite QBs instead. In previous years, RBs coming off a massive season like Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, and Rhamondre Stevenson would be Round 1-2 turn picks (remember that year we took Kenyan Drake there??).
But now, you can get them in the third round.
How to play it: I love prioritizing an elite WR with one of my first two picks, knowing that I can get an Anchor RB with first-round upside in the third round.
Pete’s first three rounds yesterday: Justin Jefferson, Josh Allen, and Stevenson.
🎯 Round 4-6 TEs
Drafters got burned by elite TEs not named Travis Kelce in 2022. So it’s understandable why they are afraid to pull the trigger on them in 2023. But a tournament like Best Ball Mania IV requires you to finish first out of 16 teams in Week 15 and first out of 16 teams again in Week 16 to advance to the finals for a chance to win the $3,000,000 top prize.
Advancement Structure https://t.co/3wQU04CiEo
— Underdog Fantasy (@UnderdogFantasy)
Apr 29, 2023
How to play it: Even though TEs like T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, Kyle Pitts, and Dallas Goedert might be inconsistent throughout the regular season, they still provide the single-week upside to separate from the other TEs and vault your team to the top of the playoff group.
Since 2020, there's been 46 occasions of a TE scoring 20+ half-ppr points in a week. 25 of the 46 (54%) have come from a TE with an ADP in the top 5 rounds. There's been 12 occasions of a TE scoring 25+ half-ppr points. 8 of 12 (67%) have come from the elite TEs.
— Madison Parkhill (@MadisonParkhill)
Sep 3, 2022
Pete’s 4th round pick yesterday: Hockenson
🎯 Double-Digit Round Rookie WRs
In general, I prefer to load up on WRs early and often. But if you prioritize other positions/structures as I did in the draft with Ian (Elite QB and Elite TE), you’ll need to hunt for WR upside in the later rounds. Rookie WRs are one of the few subgroups of WRs that can massively outperform their AD—think Jaylen Waddle two years ago or Garrett Wilson last year.
How to play it: While some of the rookies have already gotten more expensive, I still think there is value in selecting players like Jonathan Mingo, Rashee Rice, Marvin Mims, and Jayden Reed after Round 10.
Pete’s 10th & 11th round picks yesterday: Mingo and Rice.
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🏆 A dark horse MVP candidate? I could see it.
💤 A deep sleeper RB. When it’s a top offense, we need to pay attention.
🚀 The second-year WR poised to break out. He’s in a much better place now.
📈 Why you shouldn’t dismiss the Steelers. A tale of two halves.
🤝 Which backfields can support two top-24 options? Ian shares the data.
⛔ Just say no to Odell Beckham in early drafts. He’s way too pricey.
🤠 What does Brandin Cooks do for the Cowboys? Take it from a good source.
Dwain’s Top 150 rankings for 2023 are live now on FantasyLife.com. BUT today, he’s here to walk us through his tiers at the RB position…
Tier 1 – The Bellcows
🔔 Christian McCaffrey | 49ers
Rushing profile: RB2-worthy pedigree; RB2-worthy performance peripherals
Receiving profile: RB1-worthy target pedigree; RB1-worthy performance peripherals
Size: Just big enough (200 pounds)
Projected role: rotational early-down back with elite route utilization
McCaffrey remained among the best-receiving backs in the NFL in 2022, delivering marks above the three-year average for fantasy RB1s in every critical data category.
Route Participation: 71% (+1)
Targets per route: 25% (+5)
Yards per route: 1.83 (+0.54)
CMC averaged a 46% rush share with the 49ers in the rushing department, which was below his bell-cow status in Carolina. His splits in six games with Elijah Mitchell (including the playoffs) were particularly alarming.
We have 5 data points of Christian McCaffrey with Elijah Mitchell.
CMC averages 58% of the 49ers rushing attempts in games without Mitchell vs. 34% with him.
His fantasy points drop from 25.8 per game to 16.5 -- a 36% reduction.
Still the RB1, this weekend, but not unfadable.
— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland)
Jan 18, 2023
It is worth noting that McCaffrey was the lead option when games were close (within three points), with a 53% rush share versus 26% for Mitchell. However, when leading by four-plus points or more, CMC sagged to 18%. In winning scripts, McCaffrey could be in danger of losing reps.
The 27-year-old RB has some decent mileage on the tires with the 1,468 regular season touches – including 1,025 rushing attempts. So, we could see the 49ers continue to rotate the veteran on early downs.
Ultimately, the 49ers' offense provides the opportunity for high-quality touches that can offset some of the volume loss. If he does find himself in a bell-cow role, he undoubtedly would have league-winning upside despite his high price tag. CMC averaged a whopping 24.9 points per game without Mitchell. However, given his mileage and the 16.7 point average with Mitchell, McCaffrey's profile has more downside than ever.
Those final factors make young stud WRs like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase viable pivots to CMC in the top half of drafts. Additionally, CMC should be priced closer to Austin Ekeler.
🔔 Austin Ekeler | Chargers
Rushing profile: RB2-worthy pedigree; RB2-worthy performance
Receiving profile: RB1-worthy target pedigree; RB1-worthy performance
Size: Just big enough
Projected role: rotational early-down back + inside-five work; elite route utilization
No other RB with at least 250 routes demanded a higher TPRR than Ekeler’s 28% last season. The Chargers' back is an absolute stud in the receiving game on a pass-first offense that should keep the pedal to the metal this season under Kellen Moore.
He isn’t as efficient as the elite RB1s in the rushing department, but he should push for half of the rushing workload again. Most importantly, he has become a high-end rushing TD back thanks to his expanded role inside the five-yard line over the past two seasons. In his first four seasons, he never reached 40% but accounted for 73% and 61% of the attempts.
Ekeler will be 28 this season but has 268 fewer regular-season touches than McCaffrey and less competition in the backfield. The Chargers’ RB is a safer bet for 20-plus points per game but carries slightly less upside than CMC.
Ekeler is a steal in late Round 1 of Underdog drafts.
🔔 Bijan Robinson | Falcons
Rushing profile: RB1-worthy pedigree; RB1-worthy performance
Receiving profile: RB2-worthy pedigree; RB2-worthy performance
Size: Prototype (215 lbs)
Projected role: every-down back
The phrase “generational talent” has taken heat recently. However, don’t let that keep you from attaching that label to Robinson. The former five-star recruit is 100% deserving, given he is the only RB in our Rookie Super Model to earn a 100th-percentile score since 2017.
The list of backs to reach the 90th percentile or higher will make your palms sweat and lips tingle:
Saquon Barkley: 95th
Christian McCaffrey: 91st
Jonathan Taylor: 91st
Dalvin Cook: 91st
Leonard Fournette: 91st
Javonte Williams: 90th
Those backs posted a collective six top-six finishes in their first three seasons. The only back from that crew without a top-12 finish is Williams, who was on the verge of taking over the Broncos backfield last year before his knee injury.
We should see another run-first attack in Atlanta with Arthur Smith at the helm. Smith was willing to ride his superstar RB Derrick Henry when he was in Tennessee. However, there is some slight risk with Bijan as a Round 1 selection because Smith has also shown a willingness to rotate his other star offensive skill players – Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
Tyler Allgeier will battle for touches, and Cordarrelle Patterson is also hanging around, but expect Robinson to push for 65-70% of the work, and he could be the No. 3 option in the passing attack.
Fantasy Life senior analyst Ian Hartitz is breaking down all 32 NFL teams over the next two months. Let’s take a look at the Patriots, who enter the year on shaky ground…
Rhamondre Stevenson (Ian’s RB10)
Pierre Strong (RB55)
James Robinson (RB62)
Stevenson racked up 1,461 total yards and six touchdowns during his breakout 2022 campaign, displaying plenty of skill as both a rusher (13th in PFF rushing grade) and receiver (14th) along the way.
The man made more than a few plays that made his fantasy truthers very proud.
The only potential problem is: History tells us not to get overly comfortable with the Patriots’ backfield.
The Patriots’ No. 1 running back in PPR points per game since 2010 has been as follows (minimum 8 games):
2022: Stevenson (RB10)
2021: Damien Harris (RB20)
2020: Rex Burkhead (RB35)
2019: James White (RB23)
2018: White (RB9)
2017: Burkhead (RB18)
2016: LeGarrette Blount (RB15)
2015: Blount (RB38)
2014: Shane Vereen (RB31)
2013: Vereen (RB8)
2012: Stevan Ridley (RB20)
2011: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RB30)
2010: Green-Ellis (RB20)
Plenty of good, but also lots of turnover. The good news for Stevenson is his expected status as the primary pass-down back puts him with the list’s better company.
Of course, it wasn’t like Stevenson was simply fed a workhorse role from Week 1 last season. The Patriots’ backfield was largely a walking graveyard all year:
James White: Retired in August before the season.
Ty Montgomery: Suffered an ankle injury in the final game of the preseason, played – and out-snapped Stevenson – in Week 1, then was placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury. He missed the rest of the season.
Damien Harris: Suffered separate hamstring and thigh injuries that limited him to just 11 games. Note: Harris had more carries (94) than Stevenson (88) in the eight games that he was healthy enough to play 15-plus snaps.
Credit to Stevenson for holding off the likes of Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris, and J.J. Taylor, but this was far more of a committee backfield with the top dogs healthy than most likely remember.
Of course, Damien Harris is now a member of #BillsMafia, and the Patriots did little to add any sort of real competition to the room. Even former Jaguars and Jets RB James Robinson is on just a two-year, $4 million contract that includes just $150,000 in fully guaranteed money.
New OC Bill O’Brien also showed a decent enough tendency to feature his lead back in Houston, handing the likes of Arian Foster (298 touches), Lamar Miller (299, 274, 235) and Carlos Hyde (255) solid workloads over the years. This even persisted over the last two seasons with Alabama, as Brian Robinson (306 touches) and Jahmyr Gibbs (195 in 12 games) were heavily leaned on as their backfield’s lead option.
Ultimately, Stevenson is tough to keep out of the position’s top-10 options in both half- and full-PPR scoring thanks to his stranglehold on the backfield’s fantasy-friendly pass-down work. His per-game receiving production was up there with the league’s best backs in 2022:
Austin Ekeler (12.3 PPR points per game from purely receiving)
Christian McCaffrey (11.1)
Jerick McKinnon (9.5)
Leonard Fournette (9)
Joe Mixon (8.3)
Alvin Kamara (7.9)
Aaron Jones (7.6)
D’Andre Swift (7.5)
Still, this is about the point in drafts where I’m more willing to start eating up WRs than diving too deep into the RB position. Things get absolutely gross at receiver after the first seven to eight rounds; I haven’t been taking Stevenson in the third *if* already blessed with one of the position’s top dogs in round one or two.
The potential for Strong to seize a good amount of Harris’ early-down work makes him a sneaky-solid late-round dart, although it’s far from a given that guys like Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris, and J.J. Taylor also wouldn’t factor in. Be careful about drafting any amount of Robinson, considering early 52-man roster projections have him on the outside looking in.