What are two things these five players have in common: Christian McCaffrey, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Adam Thielen and Nick Chubb?
1) They were on more ESPN league championship rosters than any other player.
2) None of them were average first round picks based off ESPN ADP last year, with McCaffrey coming in the highest with an ADP of 17.8 and Chubb the lowest with an ADP of 134.2.
Translation: League MVPs don’t need to come in the first round. Surely the first round is your best bet to get the type of difference maker who can carry your team, but once you get into the depths of the draft, rounds 4, 5, 6 and so on, don’t lose sight on the types of players who have the upside to deliver elite fantasy value if things go right for them.
Here are eight names you’ll want on your radar:
The new Lions regime is making an overtly conscious decision to favor a run-first, defensive approach behind coach Matt Patricia. Long gone will be the days of 50 Matthew Stafford throws in a game. Johnson has the look of an every down back and he’s coming off an injury-shortened rookie year where he averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He figures to get a steady 15-20 carries per game as long as he stays healthy and productive, which could very well lead to a top 10 RB season.
The top fantasy quarterback torch has officially been passed to the younger and sexier gunslinger in Kansas City as Rodgers comes off another down year. Because some of Rodgers’ shine is starting to wear off, you can get him cheaper than ever with a current round four ADP. With a new coaching staff in town and a restless fanbase aching for a playoff run, I’m betting Rodgers lets loose this year and carries any fantasy team fortunate to have him.
The Seahawks were first in the NFL in rushing yards in 2018 and second behind only the Ravens in rushing attempts. Carson scoffed at the alluring Rashaad Penny draft pick last year and went on to finish as an RB1 with 1,151 rushing yards and 9 TDs in 14 games. Penny is still a threat, but if you grab Carson in the 4th or 5th, then take Penny a few rounds later, you’ve got a close to sure thing elite starting RB on a weekly basis and at this point there’s no reason to think the hard-running Carson will take his foot off the pedal.
Amidst a dumpster fire of a season in Arizona, Christian Kirk had a quietly steady and efficient rookie campaign, reeling in 43 catches for 590 yards and 3 TDs in 12 games – which translates to about 57 catches for 786 yards and 4 TDs over 16 games. With new coach Kliff Kingsbury in town, the Cardinals aren’t going to be holding anything back offensively. Kingsbury’s offenses at Texas Tech averaged around 550 yards and 40 points per game during his tenure and while the stage is new for Kliff, don’t expect the philosophy to suddenly vanish. The Cardinals will be playing from behind often and that will lead to a lot of airing the ball out and giving their most skilled and versatile receiver (sorry Larry) plenty of opportunities to make plays. I’m expecting somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 yards and around 8 TDs.
Sharing a backfield with Tarik Cohen is both a blessing and a curse. Just take one look at Jordan Howard’s game log from last year and you’ll see what I mean. It was a roller coaster of a year oscillating between 30-yard scoreless efforts and 80 to 100-yard, 1-2 TD games. Do I think Montgomery is more talented than Howard? No. But what I do expect is that the Bears’ opponents in 2019 will be more locked in on stopping Cohen and less prepared to know what exactly to expect from the rookie Montgomery. More attention on Cohen means less attention and more opportunity for Montgomery. Also, despite Howard’s inconsistency last year, he still saw 250 carries and racked up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 9 TDs. That’s a lot of production to replace and Montgomery is very clearly the next man up in the role.
Even amidst an injury-infested 4-12 season last year in San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan was still able to deliver us a high-producing fantasy RB with Matt Breida’s 1,075 yards from scrimmage and 5 TDs in 14 games. Oh, and don’t forget those 27 catches – a Shanahan specialty. Coleman played for Shanahan in Atlanta and now figures to be the lead back for the 49ers while Jerrick McKinnon takes on the change-of-pace role he’s best suited for. Sometimes you target a player because of his skillset and other times you target a player because of the system he’s in. This is one of those instances where both boxes are checked. Coleman’s a highly talented running back entering into a system that regularly produces high end fantasy RBs. 1st round value is certainly the ceiling.
For whatever reason, Drake just couldn’t get the love he very arguably deserved from coach Adam Gase. Drake saw only 120 carries last season, 13 less than in 2017. His 53 receptions on 73 targets were a nice addition, but for a guy with a career average of 4.7 yards per carry who has never missed a game in his three-year NFL career, what reason do we have to believe Drake can’t handle a 250-carry season? If the new regime believes in him more than Gase, the upside is massive for Drake. The closest he’s come to getting a workhorse type load was in late 2017, when he had a 5-game stretch to close the year where he had about 20 touches per game and averaged 118 yards from scrimmage per game.
54 receptions, 904 yards, 8 TDs – That’s the 16-game pace Howard was on during his 10-game 2018 campaign. That includes a catch-less effort against Chicago in which he left in the first half with a knee injury. Howard is currently 24 years old, will turn 25 in November. Before their 25th birthdays, Travis Kelce and Zack Ertz – the undisputed top two TEs going into the 2019 fantasy season – hadn’t come anywhere close to a 904-yard, 8 TD season. Tight end is a position that takes a lot of growing into at the NFL level and it’s extremely rare to see someone produce the type of numbers Howard has the past two years at as young of an age.
By Andrew Ericksen, Contributor
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