4 Underrated Targets by Position
Josh Shepardson highlights his favorite underrated players in standard scoring leagues.
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Matthew Stafford (Lions)
Consensus Rank: QB #12
Think what you will of Stafford as a real life signal caller, but in the world of fake pigskin, he’s a stud. Volume is the name of the game, and Stafford provides it. Over the last four years, he’s attempted no less than 602 passes in a single season. His single-season low for passing yardage is 4,257 yards posted last year, and he’s tossed 20 touchdown passes or more in each of the last four years. His 41 touchdown passes in 2011 looks like an outlier, but he could eclipse 30 touchdown passes for the second time in his career in 2015. Calvin Johnson missed three games last season and two games in 2013, a fully healthy season from Megatron would be huge for Stafford’s production. Golden Tate was a stud in year one with the Lions, and Eric Ebron could make strides in year two at tight end. The weapons are all in place for Stafford to have a big year.
Getting back to volume, with Jim Caldwell serving as the club’s head coach last year, they remained a pass-happy squad. The Lions ranked 11th in pass attempts, and they play at a solid pace ranking 11th in total plays run last year. Volume is huge for production, and Stafford’s volume is about as consistent as it gets. He also stays healthy, which is huge. Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010. His yardage and touchdowns were down a bit last year, but so was his interception total. Stafford threw just 12 interceptions last year, the lowest of his career, save for a three-game 2010 season. The University of Georgia product isn’t the greatest real life quarterback, and it seems as if that seeps into his fantasy ranking, as he should rank within the top 10 quarterbacks, yet he checks in ranked 12th. Stafford is exhibit A for the argument of waiting on selecting a quarterback.
Consensus Rank: RB #19
Sticking with the theme of the article, volume is a big deal. Stewart has never been awarded a high volume of carries due to sharing a backfield with DeAngelo Williams. Williams is in Pittsburgh now with the Steelers, and Stewart takes over lead back duties in Carolina. Stewart has carried the ball more than 200 times just once in his career, and not coincidentally, it was his most productive season. That season, 2009, he had 221 carries for 1,133 yards rushing with 10 rushing touchdowns. It’s the only season in which he’s bested 1,000 yards rushing, but I like his odds of making this season year two of doing so. He’s not your typical 28-year-old running back as he has a ton of tread left on the tire. He’s barely bested 1,000 career carries (1,041 carries), and he looked like a fresh and talented runner last year totaling 809 yards rushing on 175 carries. He did rush for just three touchdowns, and that’s the biggest knock on Stewart this season. He’ll have to share goal-line work with quarterback Cam Newton and fullback Mike Tolbert, in all likelihood.
As I noted, though, Stewart was spry last year and was a handful for opposing defenses. Among backs that played 25% of their teams snaps, Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded him out as the seventh best back overall. He was a terror to bring down, ranking tied for eighth in forcing missed tackles (40), and he ranked tied for 11th in yards after contact per attempt (YCo/Att) at 2.6. His running numbers last year look a great deal like those of DeMarco Murray on a lower volume of touches. Stewart also checked in second in PFF’s elusive rating among backs who totaled 25% or more of their team’s rushing attempts. Stewart is capable of being one of the most talented running backs in the league, and he should rank at least a half-dozen places higher than his current rank of 19 in standard leagues.
Consensus Rank: WR #19
Gamers and rankers sure seem to have a short memory. Allen suffered through a sophomore slump last season tallying 77 receptions for 783 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He battled injuries last year and missed two games. A once again healthy Allen should turn the clock back to his rookie season production; the type of production that earned him the second most votes for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. The Cal product caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards receiving and eight touchdown grabs. He’s a big wideout at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, and the emergence of an otherworldly rookie class of wide receivers last season has Allen feeling a lot like a forgotten man.
Allen is young. He’s just six months older than Odell Beckham Jr. and almost a full year younger than second-year wide out Kelvin Benjamin. If last year represented his rookie season, it’s likely Allen would be considered a breakout candidate. Instead, Allen is a guy who is one year removed from a monster season and makes for a great get at a discount. In 2013, Allen ranked seventh in PFF WR Rating and 15th in YPRR among wide receivers who received 25% or more of their team’s targets. He’s the unquestioned number-one receiver with the Chargers and plays with an excellent quarterback, Philip Rivers. Allen plays with a better quarterback than DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews, all of whom rank in front of him, and he’s not the second fiddle like Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Johnson, both of whom also rank in front of him. Allen is a fringe WR1 who is being drafted like a middle-tier to low-end WR2.
Consensus Rank: TE #21
The fall from grace for Allen pales in comparison to that of Davis. The freakishly athletic tight end would barely start in 12-team leagues if two tight ends were started at his current rank. There’s no flowery way to describe Davis’ 26 receptions for 245 yards receiving and two touchdown grab 2014 campaign. It was a bad year. A couple of the pass catchers who ranked in front of him, Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson, are out of town, and while the club has added Torrey Smith, Davis should be a more integral part of the passing attack this season. Davis was easily a top-10 tight end for four of the five seasons prior to his face plant in 2014. From 2009-2013, he bested 750 yards receiving four times and caught at least six touchdown passes in each of those four years. His down season in that five year stretch was a still respectable 41 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdown grabs. Davis has surpassed 10 touchdown grabs twice in his career. His ceiling is incredibly high. After a messy 2014, it’s completely understandable that he’s not being drafted as a starting tight end, but he should be drafted as a fringe starter in the 12-to-15 range based on his upside.