Overdrafted Players: Christian McCaffrey, Brandin Cooks, Marshawn Lynch
We are all guilty. We have all found ourselves, at times, wanting to be the smartest guy in the room come fantasy draft day, going off-board or reaching for a player who was drafted into a favorable situation or a name that caught fire during training camp. And that’s okay. Going and getting your guy, even if you have to do so earlier than expected, is encouraged. The problem in this information age lies not only in how far you reach, but also in how many owners in your league feel the same. More and more noticeably every year, this causes players in better situations, rookies with assumedly defined roles, and training camp all-stars to fly up summer draft boards. The allure of the “unknown ceiling” is a factor that has long tempted even the most stubborn and conservative of fantasy owners. The trick, as is always the case in our great game, is to hit more than you miss and avoid dismantling value by overdrafting a player at a point where he is unlikely to return positive value for you. Here, we’ll take a look at three players who are currently being drafted too high and may quickly lose value if their Average Draft Position continues to rise in the coming weeks.
The speculative drum that everyone loves to beat in those months between the NFL Draft and Week 1 sounds something like “You don’t move up to draft a guy that you aren’t planning to use.” Alright, fair. But how much use, how effective the usage is, and how quickly the player takes advantage is all yet to be determined. Christian McCaffrey may be a future playmaker for the Panthers, but it is certainly not a lock that he pays immediate dividends for fantasy owners. With an ADP currently in the early thirties in both standard and PPR drafts, you essentially trust him as an RB1 or high-end RB2 depending on the first couple rounds of your draft. The issue with McCaffrey is not his skillset but his opportunity. The Panthers brought Jonathan Stewart, who carried the ball over 200 times in 13 games and scored nine touchdowns in 2016, back for another season. They also drafted Curtis Samuel a round after taking McCaffrey, who will serve as a slash back but will certainly receive some share of the carries.
It was addressed in a previous article that the Panthers need to run the ball more to keep Cam Newton on the field. They will surely look to get the ball to their running backs through the air as well, a strength of McCaffrey’s. While that may seem to benefit McCaffrey and make up for his potential lack of rushing yardage or touchdown numbers, it’s a role that is virtually uncharted in Cam Newton’s offense. Over the last three seasons, no Panthers running back has caught more than 25 passes in a season. Fozzy Whittaker reached that plateau in 2016, while Stewart did so in 2014. While McCaffrey should surpass that number, Newton would need to completely remodel his game for McCaffrey’s receiving numbers to make him worthy of a high third-round pick in the RB15 price range.
When Brandin Cooks was traded to the New England Patriots, fantasy owners understandably salivated. Visions of Randy Moss danced in their heads. Cooks is an elite playmaker and should continue to be in an offense similarly dominant to the one he left. But he’s not likely to land on any of my rosters this year. Consider that, in 2016, Cooks caught 78 passes on 117 targets and finished with less that 50 yards receiving in five games. He finished 10 games with fewer than 75 receiving yards. The rise of Michael Thomas and the target roulette for which Drew Brees and Sean Payton are notorious led to a slight regression in both receptions and touchdowns for Cooks a season ago. He will be an explosive deep threat in New England, but he won’t be a Top-10 fantasy WR in 2017.
Cooks will very likely have a good year. His big games tend to offset his disappearing acts. If the Patriots receiving corps depletes, as it tends to do from time to time, Cooks can see similar numbers to those of the last two seasons. The obstacle in New England will again be opportunity. If Michael Thomas and company managed to prevent Cooks from taking the next step in 2016, it is certainly fair to speculate what Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Dwayne Allen and a handful of pass-catching running backs might do. Deciding which team spreads the ball around more is an exercise in futility. Edelman alone, a reasonable physical comparable to Cooks, commanded 29.2% of the Patriots’ target share in 2016, good for second-highest among receivers. To project and draft Cooks as though he will absorb Edelman’s target numbers is woefully misguided, and may cause owners to lose value on his mid-second round price tag.
Perhaps we just missed being able to tweet #BeastMode on Sundays. Or perhaps we think the “Marshawn Lynch Coming Home” headline immediately translates to a return to fantasy football glory. I get it. It’s a great story. Good for you, Oakland. Good for you, Marshawn. Bad for you, fantasy football owner. The scheme fit, the hometown location, and the larger-than-life, Skittle-devouring character play into a fun “coming out of retirement” storyline, but it has also caused short-term memory loss for some. The 31-year-old played just seven games in 2015 before taking a season off, averaging just 3.8 yards on his 111 carries, scoring just three times. We are now expected to assume he has gotten off the couch and will jump into a new jersey to put up Top-15 numbers. I don’t buy it.
The popular consensus among those who believe in Lynch’s return is that a double-digit touchdown season is not out of reach for the former workhorse. Oakland has a strong offensive line and a passing attack that continues to improve under quarterback Derek Carr. Lynch’s last notable action, however, cannot be overlooked, as his yards per carry declined by a full yard from 2014 to 2015. He is also sharing the backfield with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The latter was a popular value pick in fantasy drafts heading into 2016, and performed well when given the opportunity. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on just 87 rushing attempts, and could be in line for a larger role should Lynch break down during his improbable return season. Similarly, Richard averaged 5.9 yards per carry on his 83 attempts in 2016. It is highly unlikely the Raiders ride Lynch until the wheels come off, but with two young, serviceable backs to spell him, the player fantasy owners once knew could very well be left in 2014. Lynch is currently being drafted as the RB15 in the third round, and could be the likeliest veteran running back to fall short of his ADP.