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Best Ball Early-Round Targets (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
May 28, 2020

Kenyan Drake was a true workhorse back for the Cardinals.

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Last week, I put a couple of my favorite mid-round best-ball targets under the microscope. This week, I’ve turned my attention to my favorite early-round targets. It doesn’t make much sense for me to discuss players with an early to middle-first round average draft position (ADP) in this particular piece since the availability of them to you will be entirely driven by luck of the draw for draft slot. Instead, this piece is focused on players with ADPs outside the top-15 selections.

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Kenyan Drake (RB – ARI): ADP — 16.0, RB13
Drake took like a fish to water with his new club after the Cardinals made an in-season trade to acquire him from the Dolphins. Without even a full week of getting acclimated to his new home, Drake ripped off 110 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and hauled in all four of his targets for 52 yards in a Thursday Night Football contest against the 49ers in Week 9. It was his first of three games rushing for 110-plus yards for the Cardinals, and he was wildly successful overall with them last year.

Among running backs from Week 9 through Week 17 last year, Drake ranked 11th in rushing attempts (123), sixth in rushing yards (643), and tied for second in rushing touchdowns (eight), per Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index Tool. In addition to his rushing exploits, Drake added 28 receptions for 171 receiving yards on 35 targets in his eight games played from Week 9 through Week 17. His well-rounded contributions resulted in Drake scoring the fourth-most fantasy points and third-most fantasy points per game among backs in point-per-reception (PPR) formats during that nine-week stretch, according to our Fantasy Football Leaders landing page.

Drake was a true workhorse back for the Cardinals. His single-week low for the percentage of snaps played for Arizona was 64% in Week 10, and his 65% snap percentage played in Week 14 was his only other week under 75% of snaps played for the Cardinals, as you can see on our NFL Snap Count Leaders page. This offseason, the Cardinals have traded away David Johnson. Further, their only additions at the position are Eno Benjamin in the seventh round of the draft and undrafted rookie free agent addition Jonathan Ward. Chase Edmonds is back, but he didn’t pose a threat to Drake’s playing time when he returned from injury in Week 13 and remained healthy for the rest of the year.

Drake ranks as my RB8 in best-ball formats, and I’d select him as early as pick nine overall after my top-eight running backs and Michael Thomas have gone off the board. Even though I’d select Drake that early, his ADP indicates he’s usually available in the early portion of the second round. Although, he’s slid further than that. According to ADP data for 12-team non-auction BestBall10’s drafts for May, Drake’s fallen as far as pick 32.

Travis Kelce (TE – KC): ADP — 19.0, TE1 and George Kittle (TE – SF): ADP — 23.5, TE2
Kelce and Kittle are in their own class of tight end. Among running backs, receivers, and tight ends since 2018, Kelce ranks 18th and Kittle ranks 25th in PPR points per game averages, per Pro-Football-Reference. Zach Ertz is tied for 26th during that two-year stretch, but he’s nowhere near as efficient as Kelce and Kittle are. Ertz’s production is largely driven by massive volume, and he’ll face stiffer competition for targets this year. He’s an easy fade for me.

Circling back to the elite efficiency of Kelce and Kittle I teased, among players targeted at least 100 times over the last two years combined, Kelce’s 8.97 yards per target ranks 23rd and Kittle’s 10.00 yards per target ranks eighth, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Comparatively, Ertz ranks tied for 73rd with 7.14 yards per target. Making matters worse for Ertz, teammate and fellow tight end Dallas Goedert ranks one spot ahead of him in 72nd with 7.18 yards per target.

Last season, Kelce and Kittle tied at the top of the position in per-game PPR scoring at 15.9 points. To put their per-game scoring in perspective, after pitching Antonio Brown’s single game with the Patriots from inclusion, they would have ranked tied for 10th among receivers. Adding yet more context to their scoring, only two other tight ends cleared 14.0 PPR points per game last year, and just 11 tight ends reached double-digit per-game scoring.

Kelce and Kittle have been easy second-round targets for me to feel good about drafting when holding a first-round draft slot that allows me to pick one of the top-five backs — in order of ADP, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara. When selecting one of the top-five backs, I’m counting on them producing RB1 numbers weekly, thus, lessening my need to double up at the position with my first two picks. Typically if I’m positioned to select Michael Thomas with my first pick or one of the backs outside the top-five in ADP, I’m selecting a running back in the second round. In that case, if either Kelce or Kittle falls to the third, they’re no-brainer selections at that point. This month, Kelce’s max pick in BestBall10’s is pick 29, and Kittle’s is pick 41.

Also, when selecting one of these two supremely talented tight ends, I’m drafting only one more. Spending a premium pick on Kelce or Kittle means banking on weekly starting fantasy point totals from them. As a result, instead of taking three cracks at the riskier players at tight end — something I’ve done on seven of 22 best ball teams drafted to date — I’m drafting an extra receiver or running back to compensate for bypassing on those positions in the second or third round.

Kenny Golladay (WR – DET): ADP — 25.5, WR8
Last season Golladay eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the second straight season in his three-year career. No matter how you slice it, he was very good. He ranked 15th in receiving yards per game (74.3), tied for 55th in receptions per game (4.2), first in touchdown receptions (11), and sixth in yards per target (10.3) among qualified pass-catchers. In total, his work resulted in the ninth-most PPR fantasy points among receivers and, after excluding Antonio Brown again, the 12th-most PPR points per game.

Football Outsiders (FO) graded his work out favorably, too. Out of 81 receivers targeted a minimum of 50 times, Golladay ranked ninth in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and 13th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). He was often used as a field stretcher. Golladay’s average depth of target of 15.0 yards downfield was sixth deepest out of receivers and tight ends targeted at least 60 times, according to Sports Info Solutions (SIS). He wasn’t just a shot-play option, though. Golladay’s target share of 21.0% coupled with his average depth of target resulted in him joining Mike Evans as the only other player to sport an average depth of target of 15.0 yards or deeper and a target share of 21.0% or greater.

While Golladay’s full-season totals last year were spectacular, they also don’t tell the whole story. Matthew Stafford was healthy for only the Lions’ first eight games. His injury resulted in the bad duo of David Blough and Jeff Driskel quarterbacking the Lions for their other eight games to close out the 2019 campaign. You can see in the forthcoming table Golladay’s splits with and without Stafford last year.

Split Receptions/Game Receiving Yards/Game Yards per Target Touchdowns PPR Fantasy Points/Game
With Stafford 4.375 80.0 10.32 7 17.4
Without Stafford 3.75 68.75 10.19 4 13.6

 

Golladay remained productive despite the lackluster quarterbacking options the Lions were forced to turn to, but his fantasy points per game dropped nearly four points after Stafford’s injury shelved him for the last eight games. Even with Stafford playing, Golladay’s vertical usage led to a couple of dud weeks with WR87 and tying for WR83 finishes in scoring in Week 3 and Week 7, respectively. However, it also led to four top-10 receiving efforts including WR6 in Week 2, WR8 in Week 4, WR3 in Week 8, and WR9 in Week 9. The best ball scoring format fits Golladay like a glove, and he ranks as my WR7 in that scoring format.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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