Fantasy Football Overachievers: Can they do it again?
It's easy to get caught up in the hype. But sometimes there is merit to chasing the trendy players up draft boards. Chris Allen explains...
I love the fantasy community. We’re undefeated as a group.
Our collective exhaustion echoes through social media as fantasy season winds down, and, at a conservative minimum, all non-Chiefs fans are happy to step into the 2023 off-season. But yet, gamers fill the “not too early” best ball lobbies, and draft strategies are already the debate topic.
So, I’ll go with the flow.
The market has a recency bias, and last year’s overachievers are this year’s overdrafted. But the hype isn’t entirely without merit. I found three players who outkicked their ‘22 ADP and come at a premium in this year’s drafts.
Your reaction might be to fade noise, but I’m still buying when possible.
- Draft Rank QB15
- EOS Rank QB7
I still can’t figure out last year’s Vikings—specifically, Kirk “Kirko Chainz” Cousins.
At 4,547 passing yards, he had the fourth-most in the league. Minnesota won the NFC North and went to the playoffs a year after ousting Mike Zimmer. The results of their final game (kind of) didn’t matter because the process was correct! A regime change brought out the best in Cousins, and his above-average play compelled the front office to add more around him. At face value, he was (is) a top-12 quarterback.
Of course, PFF passing grades are just a grade. A singular data point. And Cousins sandwiched between Justin Herbert and Geno Smith might be more of an indictment on them than the Viking's signal caller.
Cousins ranked 19th in EPA per play by the end of the regular season. Of his 4,547 passing yards, 21.9% came on throws of 20 air yards or more. Nothing about his results screams “repeatable” or “sticky”, especially after his prime target finished a historic season. But Cousins should be an ideal target for drafters at his current cost.
2023 Positional Rank: QB11
It’s possible we lost sight of the catalyst behind Minnesota’s offensive success in all of the close games and highlight performances. Justin Jefferson certainly kept our attention. But Kevin O’Connell deserves some credit too.
Offseason speculation indicated O’Connell would bring Minnesota’s offense into the 21st century after his time with Sean McVay. And comparisons to the 2021 offense highlight the stark contrast between the two.
The ’22 Vikings passing game was like Kylo Ren firing on Luke Skywalker. More. More passing, aggression, plays run, and easy buttons for Cousins.
Plus, he could make things happen with his legs when throwing lanes weren't there. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, the eleven-year veteran was 12th in EPA per attempt on scrambles. The scheme raises his floor while his, albeit limited, mobility boosts his ceiling.
The latest mock drafts point to Minnesota reworking their offensive line and adding pass-catching talent on Day 2 and beyond. Both moves limit how much regression may hit Cousins during the upcoming season. Regardless, with O’Connell at the helm, the focal point of the aerial attack will be one to target this off-season.
- Draft Rank WR17
- EOS Rank WR7
So, I’ll admit calling out Jaylen Waddle is mildly cheating. He sat at the 3/4 turn in last year’s drafts, technically making him a qualifier. He also has a second-round ADP this year. You don’t need me to tell you to prioritize him in drafts. But it’ll be easy to see why fantasy managers may look to other options when weighing his early-round cost.
Tyreek Hill had the third-highest target share of any wide receiver in 2022. Waddle’s WR2 status, combined with his overlapping slot role with Hill, paints the perception of a lesser option with a lower ceiling. Both Garrett Wilson and Tee Higgins, with lower ADPs, are (qualitatively) in better situations. But Waddle’s peripherals put him in a position to excel even with Hill on the opposite side.
2023 Positional Rank: WR10
Admittedly, the base metrics don’t shine a positive light on Waddle’s opportunity. You’ll find the third-year WR in the middle of most target-based stats, with Hill near the top. However, what Waddle could do with the ball in his hands should give drafters pause before skipping over his name.
Waddle was one of the most efficient receivers in the league. He created after the catch, moved the chains, and generated downfield explosive plays. And, outside of the deep shots, he did them better than his 29-year-old counterpart. So while the fantasy focus may be on the WR we assume will get more targets, Waddle highlighted his 1B role critical to Miami’s success.
The big question surrounds Tua Tagovailoa’s status which remains unclear. However, at least Waddle’s competition for targets may lessen with one pass-catcher potentially out of Miami. Regardless, his underlying metrics put him in line with Hill making him a value in drafts.
- Draft Rank TE14
- EOS Rank TE8
Tight-end draft strategies will push drafters to either extreme. Targeting Travis Kelce has perennially paid dividends, while some hit the lotto on unknown options like Chigoziem Okonkwo. The middle class tends to disappoint, but Pat Freiermuth took a much-needed leap in Year 2.
However, the Steelers ended 2022 19th in pass rate over expected, and Kenny Pickett was 24th in adjusted completion percentage over his 11 healthy starts. The lack of volume and a credible QB has pushed most Pittsburgh pass-catchers down the ranks. And Freiermuth’s 10th-round ADP has the most significant potential to return value.
2023 Positional Rank: TE11
George Pickens’ perceived upside as a contested-catch receiver and Diontae Johnson’s steady flow of targets will draw fantasy managers to them. At their ADPs, they could serve as your third or fourth WR to round out your ideal starters. But when Pickett was under center, Freiermuth battled with both WRs for targets.
Freiermuth led the team in YPRR while ranking second in total and situational targets. He wasn’t the third option behind the WRs. And yet, he’s multiple rounds behind both. At TE11, Freiermuth’s lesser opportunity cost presents an easier option for investing in the Steelers’ offense with the potential for a profit should Pickett improve in his first full year as the starter.