There is a common adage in the fantasy football industry that league titles are not won at the draft, but rather by making solid waiver wire moves and trades during the regular season. I find this logic to be correct. However, I do believe that the foundation for a league-winning team is set during the draft by capitalizing on mistakes made by competitors and identifying value picks that others miss.
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The Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) on FantasyPros is one of the best ways to study how the fantasy industry views individual players while giving an excellent starting point on which to build your own rankings. I use the ECR to identify possible sleepers, busts, breakouts, and what I affectionately call, my “I don’t get it” players.
“I don’t get it” players are great real-life football stars who are ranked by the fantasy industry based on what they mean to their team instead of what they produce for fantasy owners. I don’t get it players are often physical beasts at their respective positions and have that “look” that makes us as a fantasy community think they are better fantasy assets than they indeed are.
In standard formats, where touchdowns are key, Julio Jones has been the poster child for this over the past five seasons. According to historical ADP data provided by MyFantasyLeague.com, Jones has been a top-seven selection in standard leagues in every season dating back to 2015 and a top-five pick twice during that span.
The 6’3, 220-pound freak athlete is arguably the most talented wide receiver with unique physical tools. But in the Atlanta system with noodle-arm Matt Ryan throwing the ball, Jones has only reached double-digit touchdowns once in his NFL career. In fact, Jones failed to reach double-digit touchdowns in the past two seasons combined, yet he was taken in the first five picks of most standard-scoring drafts.
Jones looks like a top-five fantasy asset, he runs top-five fantasy asset routes and plays in an offense that should feature him predominantly in the passing game. But the fact is Jones has not been an elite player in standard formats, and he may never live up to what the industry expects of him.
My 2018 “I don’t get it player” is another tall and physically gifted wide receiver from the NFC South who is currently overvalued by the fantasy community. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Michael Thomas has quickly become a favorite target of Drew Brees, notching 196 catches, 2,382 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns in 31 career games. His 9.3 targets per game ranked six in the league, and he finished sixth overall in receiving yards behind Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Adam Theilen.
On the surface, it would appear that Thomas is exactly the type of player who should be ranked as a first-round pick, as he has two seasons under his belt as a top-12 WR and the Saints’ offense looks once again primed for a big season. However, a closer look at a few negative variables surrounding Thomas in 2018 may convince owners in standard scoring leagues to wait until the second round.
Although Thomas is the No. 1 wide receiving option in New Orleans, wide receivers playing with Drew Brees and in a Sean Payton offense typically do not produce elite touchdown scoring numbers. Since 2006, only Marques Colston (twice) and Lance Moore reached double-digit touchdowns as wide receivers in the Saints offense, despite the fact that Brees threw 843 more passes than any other quarterback during that span.
The 2018 Saints boast the league’s best rushing attack and a defensive unit filled with impressive young talent. Gone are the days in which Brees was forced to throw the ball 700 times a season, as the defense is doing a better job of limiting opposing offenses and the two-headed monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram helps Brees control the ball and impose their will on their foes. The evolution of the Saints offense is reflected in the fact that Brees finished as the 15th-ranked QB in points per game last season, behind fantasy stalwarts Jared Goff and Jameis Winston.
When you take into consideration the fact that Brees historically does not produce touchdowns to wide receivers, the Saints improved on defense. The ground game is now the primary focus of the offense; it is difficult to find a scenario in which Thomas will deliver on his current ADP of 11th overall in standard scoring formats. A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, and Davante Adams are all going in the second round behind Thomas, and all four players, especially Adams as the No. 1 option for Aaron Rodgers, all have a clearer path at double-digit touchdowns in 2018. Do yourself a favor and add Michael Thomas to your own personal “I don’t get it” list, and don’t make the mistake of taking Thomas in the first round of standard scoring leagues.
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Andrew Swanson is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive or follow him @FFtoday_Andy.