As ADP data comes rolling in and training camps and preseason games progress, we start to get a sense of some drastically undervalued fantasy picks. Undervalued means that they will outperform their current ADP and projections, but only cost you a small portion of what they are actually worth during drafts. I’ve tried not to be redundant with some players I’ve heard numerous times and agree with, but instead chose the fantasy players that I really want you to consider before your draft. For emphasis, I cut it to five. Here we go.
Eric Decker, Jets
I included this guy because I couldn’t NOT include him, even though we’ve talked about him on Twitter and the TFA Podcast pretty extensively. Decker’s ADP rose a bit over the past few weeks (from 6th round into the middle of the 5th), but this is still dramatically undervaluing him as a fantasy player. He finished last season as the #11 fantasy WR and put up 1027 yards on 80 receptions and snagged 12 TDs. Decker represents one of the most consistent WRs in the NFL today, hitting 1000 yards in his last 3 out of 4 seasons–and that was even with a team change!
In 2014, he finished #28 fantasy WR after a “down” year as he adjusted to the Jets, but let’s stretch our view further back to really highlight his consistency and upside. In 2013 and 2012, Decker ended as the #8 and #7 fantasy WR, respectively. I repeat, this is a guy with WR1 upside going in the FIFTH round of drafts. To boot, he’s only missed two games in the past four seasons. You go ahead and pass on a guy that’s getting 22% of overall targets on his offense and a league-leading 28 targets in the red-zone (2015, #1 in NFL according to ProFootballReference.com). I’ll be waiting to grab him and do a happy dance.
Frank Gore, Colts
I wrote more for Gore than anyone else because I know I have my work cut out for me. I know he is 33 years old, so if that’s your only argument, you’re the perfect reader for this piece. It’s a challenge, but let me try to convince you of Gore’s value in 2016. It’s better to be one year early than one year late, right? Well, I don’t think Gore is done. You’re not going to find another RB that averaged 264 carries per season over the past three years in the SIXTH ROUND. We all know a bell-cow back with no one (just rookie Josh Ferguson) behind him on the depth chart is pretty difficult to find. The majority of RBs leading their backfields cost HIGH draft capital (e.g. AP, Gurley, Miller, D Johnson), but you get a bargain with Gore. Keep an open mind as we take a look at this undervalued NFL veteran.
Critics say his production decreased every year. Untrue. It went down LAST SEASON but remained around the same for the past 3 years prior. His YPC went down last season, to 3.7, but if you look back over the past few years, he has fluctuated usually between 4.7-4.1 YPC which is equal to a top 30 fantasy back if not better (4.7 YPC represented #10 fantasy RB in 2015, just to give you a reference). Last season’s YPC represents Gore’s career low and I believe to be an outlier, not an indication that his production declines again this season.
Gore’s TDs have decreased the past 2 years, but with the offense running smoothly again and Luck under center, Gore is in line for 7-9 TDs this season. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is for players to adjust to a new team, offense, and playbook and then have the star QB out for 9 games. Doesn’t it make a little sense that this could have more to do with Gore’s decline in production than assuming it is the end of his career and his age is the only factor?
Gore finished fantasy RB #11 in 2015, #16 in 2014, and #13 in 2013. Yes, that is correct. I concede the point that he can be inconsistent in his fantasy production on a weekly basis, making him TD-dependent. However, the offensive line (and the Colts offense in general) stunk last season and 2014 represented Gore’s lowest TD total since 2010. If these two things bounce back (which is completely realistic), he will hit 1000+ yards and make you happy you took a chance. Gore is only 2 seasons out from having 10+ fantasy points per game in 12 out of 16 games. Per Matthew Berry, in the final five games Andrew Luck played in, Frank Gore had more than 90 total yards in four of them and averaged 11.54 fantasy points. Luck has an impact on that offense and if he stays healthy, then Gore is a steal.
Concerning the weaknesses at offensive line that plagued the team in 2015, the Colts spent major draft capital on improving their o-line (4 offensive linemen selected, including Ryan Kelly) to protect Andrew Luck as well as improve their run game. After finishing at the 29th rushing offense in 2015 by ProFootballReference.com, we have reason to believe they improve this year. Side note: San Francisco finished as the #3 and #4 rushing offense with Gore leading the backfield in 2013 and 2014. Essentially, we are looking at a guy with RB1 upside that you can get in round 6. Gore is a sale item at a reduced price. Might there be reasons for the sale? Sure, but that doesn’t mean the sale item doesn’t work…and work well.
On to my last point (one more, hang in there!). Comparing Gore to others available around the same ADP gives us a larger perspective. Let’s take Jeremy Hill for example. One could argue that even Hill is being undervalued with a 4th round ADP, but I digress. Fantasy players are drafting Gore a full two rounds after Hill, who is competing for touches with Gio Bernard. (Hill also had his own performance issues last season). If you look elsewhere, there are question marks with sophomore Matt Jones as well as durability issues with Arian Foster and Ryan Mathews. Even DeAngelo Williams, a guy who at this point is only going to start 4 games, is being drafted before Frank Gore (according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com). The closest comparison with workload and backfield situation might be Jonathan Stewart, yet he is still going before Gore even with his chronic injury issues and Cam Newton stealing his TDs. Gore played in all 16 regular-season games for the past FIVE seasons, by the way.
This begs the question: what keeps you from drafting him? How could he let you down and not live up to a 6th ROUND pick? Come on. His age? That they might “limit” his carries? If he does well, behind an improved o-line with a healthy Luck…they will feed him the rock. Give me Gore as my RB2-3 in the 6th, and I’ll be just fine.
Chris Ivory, Jaguars
Preseason is preseason, I know. But, did any of you get to see the 1-2 punch of Ivory and Yeldon against the Jets? They both looked solid and driven. As an Ivory lover, there was a part of me that wanted Yeldon to struggle and make this backfield clearer. However, to see the Jags committed to the run and using their quality backs in tandem didn’t make me any less excited about Ivory this season. He looked fast and ran like a freight train at the same time, which is hard to do. Ivory came away with 26 yards on 6 carries, 1 TD, and 1 reception for 4 yards. Distribution was pretty even, with Yeldon gaining 24 yards on 4 carries and 1 reception for 8 yards.
I’m hoping the glaring difference jumps out at you too; yes, Ivory, got all the goal line work and snagged the TD. This confirms (for now) my hypothesis that Ivory will be the goal-line back which gives him much more upside than Yeldon (who notoriously struggled to convert in the red zone last season, on the limited chances he received). I wish Ivory could have the backfield to himself, but this is a great sign of confidence in Ivory by the Jags coaching staff. Also, it reinforces that they are using Ivory in a way that suits his strengths.
Ivory’s ADP dropped a bit over the past few weeks, landing him squarely at the end of the 6th round. Even after losing some steam last season and sharing touches with Bilal Powell, Ivory finished 2015 season with 1070 yards and 7 TDs as well as 30 receptions for 217 yards and a TD. He finished as the #7 fantasy RB in standard scoring in 2015 and #19 in 2014. Ivory is a downhill runner who runs through defenders, which is why he is such a strong short yardage and goal line back. He runs with energy and looks (and is reported to be) 100% healthy. His upside is significant and the Jags have a stronger offense (and defense) this season, giving Ivory an edge over players at similar ADP like Jeremy Langford, J-Stew, Duke Johnson, and Gio Bernard.
The split in carries with Yeldon most likely is contributing to Ivory’s lower ADP, but a time share isn’t something new. The Hill/Gio duo has proven that an offense can carry two RBs. Though Yeldon looked improved, I think the Jags will go with the “hot hand” during game situations. Ivory is a threat as a receiver, a great north/south runner, and an ideal goal line back. I think he out-touches Yeldon on a consistent basis. If I had to choose an RB to roster, I’d pick Ivory hands-down and so should you.
Matt Ryan, Falcons
There is so much depth at QB this season, I can understand why so many quality QBs are going late. However, Ryan proves to be consistently overlooked, so I decided to put that to rest today. Don’t think he’s undervalued? How else do you explain a quarterback being drafted in the 12th round (and lower than Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor) when he has been a top-ten fantasy QB every year since 2010 (besides last season)? Ranging from #5 to #9, Ryan consistently proved himself fantasy roster worthy, yet everyone is sleeping on him due to his #16 finish in 2015. He is an absolute steal at his current ADP, and the fact that he is currently being drafted as a backup QB or very late round target is surprising.
Ryan seemed to have difficulty adjusting to OC Kyle Shanahan’s system in 2015 and threw 16 interceptions (2nd highest in career) versus only 21 TDs. This TD total was worse than any of his past 6 seasons. The only other year he threw fewer touchdowns before 2015 was his rookie year. His completion percentage remained consistent (66.3%) and he has one of the most dangerous wideouts in the game, so he should be good to go with some minor tweaks. For example, reports state that he has worked on his footwork during off-season, and Ryan also vocalized a need to settle into the offense over time.
Looking at Ryan’s weapons: Julio is Julio, but he can’t do everything. Roddy White clearly didn’t help Ryan’s play in 2015, but Atlanta hopes that the addition of Mohammed Sanu will help more. I think Sanu will be better than the 2015 version of White, and having a decent (emphasis on decent, not good) WR2 to help reduce double coverage on Julio Jones can only help the offense. Add in the successful running tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and I think Ryan returns to form and ends the season just outside the top-10 but still has that top 10 upside.
As a final note to any remaining skeptics, Ryan throws the ball a ton and ranked within the top 5 across the NFL in pass attempts the past three seasons. Even with a successful running game, Ryan will throw the ball (a lot), and he will throw it to all-star Julio Jones. 12th round? Undervalued to a T.
Antonio Gates, Chargers
I know what you’re thinking. ANOTHER old guy? Yes. The TFA guys call me “conservative”. That’s not completely true. I’m conservative when it’s smart to be (in my eyes) and when it means balancing my team. Choosing Gates actually isn’t conservative, it’s pretty damn risky. I’m just surprised that people are more willing to take a chance on Josh Gordon, Arian Foster, and Ryan Mathews rather than a possible future Hall-of-Famer who is being drafted in the 10th round. Gates finished as the #11 TE in 2015 despite that fact that he missed FIVE games (4 due to suspension, no injury). If a TE can give me those numbers in less than 16 games? I’m OK with it. Aren’t you?
Historically, Gates contributes as a fantasy TE and finished #2 fantasy TE in 2014 and #9 in 2013. In addition, Rivers spoke out about his intentions to target Gates this season in order to help him beat Tony Gonzalez’s TE touchdown record. He needs 8 touchdowns to accomplish this task and who else to do it, but the man that met that goal eight times over his career (scored 8 or more TDs in 8/13 seasons)? Gates received 13% of target share and 20% of red zone targets in 2015 even though he only played in 11 games. In 2014, Gates saw 18% of target share and 23% of red zone targets. Contrary to the common belief that he is an injury risk, he missed only four games over the 2011-2014 seasons and toughed out most of the 2015 season. If this guy is healthy, his upside is huge. 10th round ADP? Yes, please.