Players to Target & Avoid by Round (2018 Fantasy Football)
There’s nothing worse than seeing the clock tick down on your draft timer and having no idea who you’re going to select. No matter how much research and how much draft prep I do, I find myself doing it multiple times in a draft. It’s inevitable.
One way to try and combat this is having a clear target each round to where I know if they’re there I’m going to take them, assuming of course that nobody falls to me for a great value pick. Like I said, it doesn’t always work. I still am left scrambling often.
The first couple of rounds, and maybe even into the third, your draft slot largely dictates who you will take. Once you get into the meat of the draft, however, the tiers get larger and reaches happen more frequently.
Today, we’ll look at a list of players I’m targeting and avoiding by round. All ADPs and picks are assuming a half PPR setting.
Since 2014, Hilton has played in 37 games with Andrew Luck and 26 without him. His full-season pace with Luck: 150 targets, 87 catches, 1,421 yards, and seven touchdowns. Without Luck: 113 targets, 60 receptions, 982 yards and four touchdowns. I don’t expect Luck to come back and regain his MVP form right away after being injured all of 2017, but there’s no reason Hilton won’t see a huge increase in production. He’s a solid “buy” for me in the third round.
Fitzgerald gets a lot of love, and he’s certainly one of the best (and most underrated) receivers we’ve ever seen. He’s been a solid contributor, especially in PPR formats, over the past three years, but he’ll turn 35 next week. I know he’s been ageless but the saying “father time is undefeated” is a thing for a reason. There is a drop off coming for Fitzgerald. It’s guaranteed. I’m not looking to pay up for a limited ceiling while the floor is that of every other 35-year-old receiver. As Scott Pianowski of Yahoo frequently says, “I’d rather be a year early than a year late giving up on a guy.”
Even if you disagree with the Fitzgerald criticism above, why not just take Thomas a round later? Over the last three seasons Thomas has averaged 154/93/1,112/5 to Fitzgerald’s 152/108/1,131/7 targets/receptions/yards/touchdown line. This is despite playing with the ghost of Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch while Fitzgerald got 80% of his games with Carson Palmer. As a Rams fan (my entire life before NFL allowed Stan Kroenke to act out the literal plot of the movie “Major League” on the people and city of St. Louis), I’ve seen Case Keenum play and I’m not super convinced he can repeat what he did in Minnesota, but even if he can’t he’s certainly still an upgrade. I’m buying Thomas with confidence.
Watson is an easy player to avoid. Not only are there plenty of reasons to wait to draft a quarterback, but we’re not even sure Watson is good. He set the world on fire last season for a seven-game stretch but in a wholly unsustainable way. To repeat what I’ve been saying for the last eight months, Watson’s 9.3% TD rate is insane. If we give him even Tom Brady‘s career rate of 5.5% he gets knocked down from 19 touchdowns to 11. And that’s assuming he can be as good as who many consider to be the greatest quarterback of all time, which I’m certainly not buying. Watson is fool’s gold for drafters at his price.
Over his healthy seven-game stretch last season Hogan put up a 16-game pace of 112/73/983/11. This even includes a one-catch, 19-yard performance in Week 6. With Edelman suspended the first four games, who is going to even remotely see targets other than Rob Gronkowski and the running backs? The rest of the depth chart is Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, and some young depth guys. Chris Hogan is going to see a ton of volume from a great quarterback in a great offense. He’s a rock-solid WR2.
Jeffrey is on the PUP list and is only doing individual workouts so far. His 120/57/789/9 line last season was horribly inefficient, with the touchdowns masking a lot of the stench. Add on that his quarterback might not be ready for Week 1 even if he is and what’s the appeal here? There’s way too much risk and not enough upside to justify him at this point in the draft.
Even with Mike Gillislee starting the year in the goal-line back role, Burkhead was 12th in the league in goal-line carries with seven in only 10 games played in 2017. Gillislee picked up another eight when it was his turn and between the two of them they had 13 touchdowns. The goal-line back for the 2016 Patriots, LeGarrette Blount, notched 18 touchdowns. Patriots running backs are notoriously tricky, but with Sony Michel‘s status a complete question mark due to a knee operation at the start of camp and James White the only other back worth mentioning on the roster, Burkhead offers massive upside.
Engram had the best rookie season for a tight end we’ve ever seen but it really was a perfect storm that led him there. Injuries to every notable person in the receiving game spiked the tight end’s target share to 26.4%, well above the 18.9% the Giants threw to them in 2016 and well above the 20.9% league average. With Odell Beckham Jr. healthy and Saquon Barkley drafted second overall, Engram is the prime “bust” candidate for tight ends.
My general rule for quarterbacks is “take one when I don’t like anyone else,” and I don’t really like anyone else in this round. Here’s what I wrote last month about Brees:
“[He] threw the ball only 536 times last season, his lowest 16 game mark in his 12 years in New Orleans (he had 514 in 15 games in 2009, which comes out to 548 over 16 games). His next lowest was his first season, 2006, in which he threw 554. After that? A whopping 627. His two-season average after he failed to crack 560 passing attempts he averaged 655 attempts. Over 12 seasons in New Orleans, he’s averaged 630 attempts per 16 games. Brees is 39 and coming off the lowest passing total in a decade but he was as efficient as ever in 2017, pacing the league with 8.1 yards per attempt and posting the lowest interception rate of his career. Basically, I’m refusing to believe the 2017 Saints is the new normal for Brees. He’s simply too good of a quarterback to not put the ball in his hands. I’m sure I’ll hear “but the defense is so much better now!” and I’ll stop you right there – the 2010 Saints had a better defense than the 2017 Saints and he still threw the ball 658 times. I’m expecting, on the low end, 70 more pass attempts out of the Saints next season.”
If you buy into the idea that his touchdown rate will regress to his career mean (I do) and that he’ll throw at least 600 times (I do), then we’d put him around 33 touchdowns, 10 more than he had last year when he was considered a bust. He’s far from washed up and should be back in the top five at his position this season.
As for Fuller? See: Watson, Deshaun from above. What a four-game stretch he had: 13 catches, 279 yards, and seven touchdowns. Insane! Unfortunately, so is drafting him with any sort of confidence here. His six games after that he had 15 catches for 144 yards and no touchdowns. Never, ever, ever bet on a guy to score a touchdown on a quarter of his catches. And if you read that and say “But!” just stop yourself and ask why you want to bet on lightning striking the same spot twice. It could happen, sure, but it’s extremely unlikely and ultimately a -EV play.
We all know Reed is injury prone. We also all know that he can be a top-three player at the tight end position when he’s on the field. There’s not much to say about him other than the general philosophy of the pick. If you’ve waited this long on a tight end, you’re likely planning on streaming often anyway. Why not get a high-end TE1 until he gets hurt? If he can play even eight games at the level we know he can he’s better than the vast majority of picks here.
Crowell has made a career of being so mediocre that the 0-16 Browns decided he wasn’t good enough to keep. Okay, that might be a little unfair as Carlos Hyde is good and Nick Chubb was a highly-drafted rookie. But the fact remains that Crowell is extremely unexciting, has Powell that has shown the ability to play three downs behind him, and is already dealing with a concussion with no clear timetable on his return. Don’t draft into injuries, especially injured players that offer limited upside.
Williams is the guy I get in every draft. He wasn’t the most efficient player last season, but once he got the job in Week 9 he finished as the RB12 in points per game through the end of the season despite playing on a poor offense led by Brett Hundley. Aaron Rodgers is back and the offense should be back with it. He has some competition in Aaron Jones behind him, but with Jones dealing with a hamstring injury and being suspended for the first two weeks Williams has a huge head start. If he plays well he’s a league winner this late.
When Odell Beckham Jr. plays, Shepard has a 101/64/722/7 16-game pace. When he doesn’t, Shepard has a 144/101/1,170/2 pace. With Beckham and newcomer Saquon Barkley back in the mix, Shepard’s value is a mediocre flex play unless there’s an injury. I’d rather take my chances on someone else.
Target: Aaron Jones (112)
Avoid: Jacksonville D/ST (110)
Jones just basically echoes my Williams point from Round 9. I find myself taking both of them almost every draft because I want to be attached to Rodgers. Jones showed better skill last season before getting hurt, it’s just a matter of taking the job back once he comes back from suspension.
Don’t *clapping emoji* take *clapping emoji*. Ok enough of that. But seriously, don’t take defenses early. Here’s what I wrote in a recent collaboration piece with a lot of our writers:
According to FantasyFootballCalculator Jacksonville’s defense wasn’t even being drafted in the top 13 (which is all they had data for). I looked back over the last five years and defenses are wholly unreliable. Over that time frame, of the 25 defenses drafted top five only six of them returned top-five value. To put that in perspective, another six of them finished outside the top 20 at the position. I’m not even sure if DEF1 is an actual designation, but 12 of those 25 finished outside the top 12 of the position. Of those top 5 teams, we’ve seen more of them finish dead last at the defensive position (one) than we’ve seen finish first (zero).
The full breakdown is in this tweet. You’ll see that nobody is any good at predicting what defense is good. Three of the five top-ranked defenses weren’t even drafted! Don’t take a defense early, please.
Meredith is coming off an ACL tear, but he will be an entire year removed from the surgery come Week 1. In 2016, Meredith played 12 full games and accumulated 137.6 points in those. That would have been good for WR32 last season. And this is with Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, and Jay Cutler. Are you going to tell me he can’t do better with Drew Brees? He’s one of my favorite late-round targets.
Based on research I’ve done, rookie receivers are actually less likely to “boom” than their veteran counterparts, even when adjusting for their ADPs. Ridley won’t be the outlier. With Mohamed Sanu firmly ahead of him on the depth chart, a young tight end in Austin Hooper, and two capable pass-catching backs, not to mention some guy named Julio, there isn’t a clear path to relevancy for Ridley
With Ronald Jones suddenly looking like he’s never played football before Peyton Barber’s ADP is surely going to rise. I don’t think he’s anything special as a player and Jones will always be breathing down his neck, but he did average 18 touches per week over the final five games of the season. That sort of volume is nearly impossible to find here and something that needs to be grabbed.
Booker is basically in the same situation as Barber: not very good with a second-round running back behind him. Unfortunately for Booker, Royce Freeman seems to be the anti-Ronald Jones and doing everything right. Even when he plays and sees volume Booker doesn’t produce. He’s entirely off my draft board.
Lockett’s long-awaited breakout could finally be here. With turmoil on defense, a shaky running game, and Doug Baldwin‘s knee problem Lockett could be thrust into a prominent role by default. Being attached to an MVP-caliber quarterback can only help him get there. He hasn’t done much to this point in his career, but he offers great upside this late.
Hines also offers upside and was a popular best ball pick all offseason. Unfortunately, he’s fallen behind even Christine Michael on the depth chart due to an amazing four fumbles so far. Climbing over five people to become the starter just isn’t going to happen.
I’ve always liked Powell but it seems the Jets really do not believe in him. They might not have a choice with Crowell and Elijah McGuire out. Powell’s efficiency took a nose dive when put into a workhorse role late last season, but if you need a running back fill in you won’t find a better option here.
To be blunt, take someone with actual upside here. Sanu has never gone over 800 yards or scored more than five touchdowns in a season. He’s a fine real-life player but offers very little in fantasy.
Target: A kicker on a good team
Avoid: A kicker on a bad team
Pretty simple, more scoring leads to more opportunity for kicker points. Most people will take a defense here and a kicker last, but I’m planning on streaming every week anyway, so I’m happy to get a “value” in a kicker in Round 15. Here are a few kickers to target.
Target: A defense with a good week one matchup
Avoid: A defense with a bad week one matchup
With people sub-optimally taking defense early it’s not likely you’ll get an every-week starter here. Live the stream life and just take a defense with a good week one matchup. You can find more on that here.
You won’t get all of these players. Reaches happen, you’ll get sniped, and you might not even agree with me (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t). Doing an exercise like this on your own would be a helpful tool to think about who you want to target. The point is to try and come into the draft with a plan and know when you can realistically see people come off the board.