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15 Lessons From 2019 Draft Season: Part 2

Nerds writer @ekballer continues his “15 Lessons” article
Catch the gripping conclusion here!

Hello again, fantasy peoples! I’m back with the second half of my “15 Lessons” article; if you missed the first part, you can find it here

This article is all about improving our process. It’s easy to look back and say, “I should have drafted Dalvin Cook,” or “Man, if I’d drafted D.J. Chark, I’d be killing it.” But those are just names. We want to learn to identify roles and opportunity.  

Improving as a fantasy manager is about digging into the context. We want to figure out what signs were there- that we might have seen or missed- that these players were likely to blow up. That’s what this piece is about; we’re digging deep into changes of circumstance, scheme, and other cues that might let us identify breakouts and busts for 2020 and beyond.  

Part 2

8. Draft capital speaks loudly

9. Scheme fit is all 

10. Don’t count out the vets

11. Rookies break out, too

12. There’s always late-round TEs

13. Look for the gems that fall in NFL draft 

14. Take shots on 2nd-year WRs with draft capital

15. Take shots at murky situations 

8. Draft capital speaks loudly

Following the draft capital trail is always a good process for fantasy managers. It works for a few different reasons, all of them worth discussing.

First, while we love bashing underperforming GMs, NFL front offices have teams of guys whose whole careers are football evaluating prospects. Oftentimes they have information that you or I or the talking heads on TV don’t. Don’t get me wrong- there’s plenty of misses and boneheaded moves- but when a team swings around big draft capital, we need to take a hard look at that player. 

The prime example of this from 2019 was Daniel Jones. When Dave Gettleman took him at #6 overall, he was literally booed by Giants fans. For many, it cemented his legacy as a joke of a GM who continued the implosion of the New York Giants by trading away talent and wasting picks.  

Well, through six games, Gettleman’s starting to look more like a mad genius and less like a crazy person. Daniel Jones put up one of the best debuts we’ve ever seen from a rookie quarterback. Although he came back to Earth a little bit the following week, and took a hard fall against the elite Patriots D in week 6, he has made many good decisions and often looked like a competent NFL quarterback.  

While a few analysts were out there beating the Daniel Jones drum, most of us were completely asleep on him. 

I’m in dynasty leagues with a lot of smart people, and here’s where I saw Jones go: 

12 team SF Rookie 2.7

12 team SF Rookie 1.11 (to me)

10 team SF startup 17.4 (to me)

Even factoring in more recent data, his 1QB dynasty ADP is the QB26. 

This is a kid that ran in 2TDs in his first game. 

He was the #6 overall pick. 

Draft capital reflects a team’s assessment of and plans for a rookie. 

The other big example of a highly-drafted rookie managers slept on is Marquise Brown. By September- largely due to his foot injury keeping him out of the preseason- Brown had started to slide well into the second round of SF rookie drafts, behind players such as Darrel Henderson and Deebo Samuel. Both those players might have great careers still, but why were they going ahead of the kid who was the first receiver off the board in the NFL draft? Who slotted in immediately as his team’s #1 option? We didn’t expect the explosive pass game that the Ravens have shown us this year, but, regardless, that pick speaks volumes as to Baltimore’s intention for Brown. You don’t draft WRs with two of your top picks unless you want to throw the ball. 

Another guy that has draft capital on his side with a very similar situation is Andy Isabella. The Cards picked him in the second round; he missed the preseason with an injury; he has an elite prospect profile. I’ll leave the link here for you: https://www.playerprofiler.com/nfl/andy-isabella/

Draft capital tells us the intentions of a team. As I said above, when Baltimore drafts two wide receivers, we should understand that they want to throw the ball. We should have taken that information and looked at Lamar Jackson in a new light.

When the Patriots drafted Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 draft, we should have understood they wanted to run the ball. Smart players knew to fade Brady. 

When Green Bay drafts zero wide receivers in the 2019 draft and instead takes a TE, we know they are going to run more. We should have given Aaron Jones a bump up. We also know they’re comfortable with their WR core, and those players should get a boost to their stock. 

The draft can also tell us where teams aren’t comfortable. When Carolina took a QB in the 3rd round, we should have suspected they weren’t comfortable with Cam’s health. When the Pats take another RB high, we should be suspicious of Sony Michel- and the same with the Rams and Todd Gurley. 

9 Scheme fit is all

This is a quick one (schemes are best left for in-depth discussion for better football minds than mine). But scheme fit matters, in many ways. The big fit and miss-fits that stood out to me this year were Dalvin Cook and Darrell Henderson.

Cook is an excellent zone runner. The Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak- one of the fathers of the modern zone-blocking scheme in the NFL- in part to help implement that scheme. 

Cook is destroying defenses.  

Darrell Henderson isn’t an excellent zone runner- his college offense at Memphis emphasized gap blocking, which requires different skills from backs than do the wide zone plays and duo runs that the Rams feature heavily. J. Moyer explains it here better than I could: 

Until Gurley’s injury, Darrell Henderson wasn’t dressing for games, despite his historic college Y/A. 

Scheme fit is all. 

10. Don’t count out the vets

Some dynasty players hate drafting veterans. They avoid players over 25 as if they were gonorrhea. 

Other players take the dynasty discount on vets and ride them to the ‘ship. 

Here are some great examples of vets that fell in drafts that have been great so far: 

Credit: Arizona Cardinals
  • -LeSean McCoy, RB25
  • -Larry Fitzgerald, WR16
  • -Emmanuel Sanders, WR31
  • -Tom Brady, QB8
  • -Matthew Stafford, QB16
  • -Frank Gore, RB30
  • -Mark Ingram, RB10
  • -Jordan Howard, RB20
  • -Chris Thompson, RB27

Most of these guys were coming off a down year, an injury, or both. All of them were had in drafts at an extreme value relative to their production. 

Yes, you might only have them for a year or two. But, even in dynasty, you shouldn’t look much further out than that anyway. Just look at Andrew Luck or Alex Smith; things change quickly in the NFL. 

Take the discount on vets and ride them to victory!

11. Rookies break out, too

It’s not often that we see rookie WRs come out and dominate immediately. Calvin Ridley had himself an excellent rookie season last year; Juju did similar things in 2017. But usually, rookie WR breakouts are few and far between. 

This year, in the first four weeks, we saw two rookies force their way into the top-24, Marquise Brown and Terry McLaurin (Brown missed week 6 and has fallen to WR28).

Both fell into objectively excellent situations where they had the opportunity to seize the starting job from week 1. 

Both were highly drafted; both had excellent athletic profiles; both were highly productive in college; both were highly developed route-runners, which is key for an early WR breakout.

But, ultimately, it was the conjunction of opportunity and talent that rocketed these young men to the forefront of the NFL. They had an immediate role on their teams and they had the skill set needed to take advantage of the opportunity given.  

Look for NFL-ready rookie WRs landing on teams with weak competition at the position. Draft, and watch your asset’s value skyrocket. 

12. There’s always late-round TEs / breakouts 

I’m not saying to not draft the “big 3.” As of Week 6, Kelce and Ertz are both top-20 in receptions amongst all players. They’re essentially WR1s you get to play in the TE spot. 

I’m saying that every year, there’s value to be had at the TE position. This is more of a redraft take than dynasty, but, if you took a late flyer on Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, or Austin Hooper in a startup this summer, you’re feeling pretty good about your team.  

Every year there are a few breakout players at the position. On my redraft teams I took a lot of O.J. Howard; he’s been long since cut in every league for Waller and Will Dissly.  

Dissly was a late-round startup pick for me as well in my single-TE leagues; he started in my flex in several until his unfortunate season-ending injury. 

The clearest case-in-point is Austin Hooper, the overall TE. His redraft ADP was 145. He was barely even drafted, and he’s dominated the position through a third of the fantasy season. 

In a league where you only start one player at a position, there’s always going to be value to be found. Find the value, spend your mid-round picks on more valuable positions. 

13. Look for gems that fall in the NFL draft

Every year there are a few guys that are overlooked by scouts and fantasy players alike, or that fall in the NFL draft due to off-field concerns. 

Last year Phillip Lindsay was that player; though highly productive in college, he went undrafted due to size concerns and small-school competition. 

This year Preston Williams has been one of the best examples of this. With a great college dominator, a 1,345-yard senior year, and some great tape, he was a solid prospect that went undrafted due to character/legal concerns. But he landed on a rebuilding team with little competition at his position group and he’s made a splash already, showing rapport with Josh Rosen. If you took Williams in the third or fourth round of your rookie draft, you’ve caught a diamond in the rough. 

Jakobi Meyers is my other undrafted guy this year. I picked him up off the wire in nearly every dynasty league based on his prospect profile and a perceived opportunity in NE. The immediate opportunity faded with the Patriots getting back Josh Gordon, but they liked the young pass-catchers preseason performance well enough to keep him on the active roster while they mothballed fellow rookie N’Keal Harry off to the IR. 

He’s unlikely to factor in much this year, but there’s a decent chance that Meyers and his slot skills are the successor to nearly 34-year-old, oft-injured Julian Edelman. 

If you had the foresight to stash Edelman when he started to see playing time for New England, you landed yourself a high-end WR2 for free.  

Seek out and stash talented rookies that fell in the draft but found themselves landing spots with opportunity. It’s worth the taxi spot for a chance at a future starter. 

14. Look for second-year WRs with draft capital

In start-ups or as trade targets, some of the best values to be round are young wide receivers who have underperformed to start their careers, but who were highly drafted. 

Often, they can be drafted late or acquired on the cheap. It’s a well-known principle that many WRs don’t hit their stride until their second or third years in the league, but some managers will get impatient and trade them away or will shy away from the perceived risk of these assets in a draft. 

Two of the best examples from this year have been sophomore pass-catchers Courtland Sutton and DJ Chark, both second-round picks in the 2018 NFL draft. 

Sutton wasn’t bad with his opportunities last year, but he wasn’t great, either, finishing as the WR48 despite both the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart going down with Achilles injuries. 

Credit: Mile High Report

Sutton went in SF startup drafts this summer around the 9th round, in the same range as players such as Jarvis Landry and Robby Anderson. Through the first third of 2019, Sutton is the WR11. Hopefully, you read the tea leaves of his high target share in the first few games and bought him before his 24 point outburst in week 4. His acquisition cost will never be that low again.

Chark was an even better value, driven largely by his utter irrelevance in his rookie season. In the flaccid Bortles-led passing attack of the 2018 Jags, Chark caught a whopping 14 passes.  

He could be acquired this summer in the 16th round of startups. He currently sits as the WR2 on the season. 

Both these players have been helped by new signal-callers and new QBs; changing circumstances like these are great flags to target when looking for breakouts.  

Target underperforming young WRs with draft capital for flyers or trade targets, reap the rewards of being early to the breakout.

15. Target murky situations

Murky situations offer fantasy value to shrewd investors, particularly with changing/improving circumstances. This was a topic in several of my offseason articles, and other writers have covered this well. Check out episode 257 of the Late-Round Podcast to hear JJ Zachariason’s take on identifying breakouts; he’s heavy on this idea.

A guy from the previous bullet point was a great example of this. It was clear during the off-season that the Jags wanted to throw the ball (new OC, new QB) and I wasn’t super high on Dede Westbrook, so it made sense to take late-round shots at that pass-catching-core. I wish I was smart enough to have taken Chark everywhere, but I wound up with some shares of Marqise Lee and even Keelan Cole. But, no harm comes from missing on a 17th or 18th round startup pick; cut them and move on. 

The lesson I learned from my prospecting this summer was this: when you’re targeting a murky situation with late-round shots, take the younger, higher upside players over the mediocre vets. We already knew what Marquise Lee’s ceiling looks like; we haven’t seen Chark’s yet. 

Another example would be Pittsburgh’s pass-catchers- the smart picks were Dionte Johnson or James Washington over Dante Montcrief. Take the upside. 

One of my other favorite situations to target this summer was the SF backfield. With too many viable players and not enough targets, all the pieces of this backfield fell well below their value. When it became clear that Jerrick McKinnon might not be healthy, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman became must-haves for me. I wound up with a much higher amount of Breida shares, for a few reasons: 1) lower cost 2) offseason hype 3) he’s a better runner. 

That’s worked out fairly well, though I did make sure to grab Mostert as well. In a situation such as that- particularly with running backs, who are likely to miss time- I want to pick up as many low-cost, high-upside pieces as is possible. 

Murky situations are great avenues to find value and pick up breakout players for your team. Seek out upside. 

Well, that’s it for this one! Hope you enjoyed it and took something useful away. As always, hit me up with any questions, comments, or ideas for next time.  

Good luck out there! I hope your receivers all have hands like glue, your backs bounce like rubber, and your opponents start all of their duds!

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