NFL Offseason – Each year, the offseason NFL coverage and fantasy football industrial complex begin earlier and earlier. Yes, the biggest time for everyone to wrap their heads around the sport over the proverbial water cooler remains July and August—the time of year where training camps spill over with Super Bowl dreams and players with The Athletic articles fawning over their upside.
But with the rise of best ball fantasy football—including pre-NFL draft best ball tournaments with $1 million in total prizes, like Underdog Fantasy’s Big Board, which is currently filling up—you can start to wager real money on the advantage that comes from your 365-day-per-year knowledge of football. Is it teetering on degeneracy to draft teams when you don’t know where the rookies will end up, let alone who survives sweltering training camp heats and tensed up ligaments? Perhaps! Is it fun and potentially as profitable as anything you else you might tackle in fantasy football and betting? A stronger perhaps!
Today I’ll reveal some players I find currently overvalued to varying extents in 2023 fantasy football drafts for equally varied reasons. I’ll also share some I find to be current late-round gems relative to Underdog’s ADPs. (In short: market-derived average draft positions are the best tool you can use as a North Star to determine a player’s most likely value, same as consensus betting odds for sports betting. Each day, there are thousands of fantasy football monkeys at typewriters creating Shakespeare that you can use to your advantage.) You can skip below to see that.
Why should you listen to me? Some helpful context is that I came to Football Outsiders’ parent company from fantasy football/sports betting leader Stokastic back in 2021 after working with their founding team as an editorial lead and host (while honing my skills and best practices in fantasy and betting) since the company’s inception. In addition to being a lifelong fan of Aaron and the team’s work at Football Outsiders—it is genuinely what got me into analytics back in college—I have worked behind the scenes to help FO’s efforts as a VP of content and, as of May last year, managing the whole team as an SVP of Content and Strategy. I also host the prolific Football Outsiders-affiliated show Splash Play with my pal Pete Overzet, a place where we cover fantasy football year-round, stream live drafts, and hem and haw over every bet and DraftKings daily fantasy play. I bathe in the merger of analytics and film like all of our great staff here, but all through the prism of spending WAY too much time talking about, and participating in, fantasy football and betting. I have won over six figures doing this stuff in the course of my career and, rest assured, every piece of content you’ll ever see from me seeks to present the picture as I see it in the hopes it helps you decide accordingly.
Now that we’re friends, I can safely share these takes with you. If you want to see more, check out FO’s brand spanking new SPAGS Best Ball Rankings. Because I’m an aspiring egotist, it does in fact share my name. But it also stands for Superior Players And Great Spots, which I think sums up the key things you should seek when targeting or ranking any player in fantasy football. There’s also data points from our friends at Sports Info Solutions, player DVOA numbers, KUBIAK projections, and obsessively updated blurbs from me about how I perceive a player’s value or upside alongside their current Underdog ADP, based off of half-point PPR scoring. Give it a shot (and don’t be afraid to double your deposit up to $100 on Underdog with promo code OUTSIDERS).
(14.3 ADP on Underdog Fantasy, 27th ranked in SPAGS Rankings)
People love Saquon Barkley. I get it. Even after he hurtfully strafed my beloved USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl (this year is our year, says the alum who has been disappointed since seeing Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush rock the Coliseum), I came in with hopes for him as high as for any rookie running back. But it’s time to acknowledge reality: Saquon Barkley is, as Gen Z says, very mid. His ability to get volume is noteworthy, one of six backs with 20 or more intended touches per game last year alongside Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon. But this is a back with a -0.05 EPA per rush and =0.25 EPA per target per Sports Info Solutions, a flat 0.2% DVOA on rushes, and a -22.5% DVOA on receptions.
That shakability Barkley is known for? That’s also gone with just a 13.6% avoided tackle rate in 2022. If you saw these numbers without the name brand, you’d go “It feels like this guy could lose touches any day now.” The Giants seemingly recognized that with their willingness to let Saquon go if they couldn’t reach a long-term deal and needed to tag Daniel Jones. Instead, Barkley back on a team that should theoretically be improved after Brian Daboll worked magic last year to get the results they did. But there is no reason he should go ahead of Jacobs and Henry with the outlier efforts they have produced or even the raw potential of a Breece Hall on a team with heavy Super Bowl odds in the assumption that the Jets acquire Aaron Rodgers. Don’t lock guys in solely because they’re a Name Brand type of player. It’s the equivalent of a Packers or Cowboys bet: You’re often paying a premium because of how publicly favored they are.
(97.4 ADP on Underdog Fantasy, 107th ranked in SPAGS Rankings)
You know that popular late 2010s buzzword FOMO? People don’t talk about their Fear Of Missing Out much these days, but the sensation is alive and well in fantasy football. People, myself included, really wanted to see Khalil Herbert take some of David Montgomery’s workload last year. And he did for stretches before injury put him safely behind Montgomery in every usage statistic towards the end of the season.
Now Montgomery is headed to Detroit on one of the most generous free-agent contracts of the offseason and people see it as Herbert’s time to shine. But there’s bad news for Khalil on two fronts: 1) The D’Onta Foreman signing could see, at the very least, goal-line touches go away. Short yardage and end-of-game touches are also very much in Foreman’s wheelhouse. 2) Chicago’s Travis Homer signing isn’t a big deal, but he is a trusted pass protector and third-down back who could siphon away theoretical PPR points away from Herbert.
Herbert was a strong rusher in 2022 with a 17.2% DVOA, so it’s certainly possible he can keep this all at bay. Despite that, it feels like you will pay a premium price tag for a player who’s steamed up solely because people remember his buzz last year. Relative to game theory in a best ball draft, it’s likely a better move to take the cheaper Foreman in the hope he siphons enough of a role for himself that he leaps you ahead of these Herbert teams.
(18.7, 18.9, and 20.6 ADPs on Underdog Fantasy; 18th, 19th, and 17th in SPAGS Rankings)
Listen, I’m not going to die on the hill of telling you not to draft arguably the three best quarterbacks in the league. They are all in the hunt to lead the NFL in touchdowns, points scored, and every metric that relates to fantasy football. You should have some exposure to these guys, and if you want to draft them, you’ll have to do it in this range currently. The issue I have is with this seismic shift to drafting quarterbacks this highly overall.
The great Pat Kerrane, formerly of NBC Sports Edge and now of Legendary Upside, won Underdog’s Best Ball Mania 3 tournament last year with $2 million to first place. You know what won it all for his team? Tom Brady’s outlier Week 17, which barely eked past Daniel Jones’ Week 17 score. Let’s just say neither of those guys were going at the top of drafts last year.
You gain the most value in best ball from a mid-tier quarterback’s ceiling being raised alongside their pass-catchers in a stack. This way, when your quarterback goes off, you’re not only exceeding his expected output, you’re also theoretically able to cut the parlay that is the rest of your lineup by having some of his pass-catchers rise with the tide your quarterback has created. If you take a Josh Allen, you likely want a Stefon Diggs. Same for a Mahomes and Travis Kelce or a Hurts and A.J. Brown (with DeVonta Smith as a reasonable consolation prize). For season long? Go for it! But in other formats, if these guys go off, congrats: you are now holding hands with some of the most popular constructions in a large-field best ball tournament. You’re better off hoping to see an outlier Jared Goff day in Week 17 that feeds Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams or a Geno Smith creating value for a low-owned DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
My point is this: when you spend lofty draft capital at quarterback in a best ball format, you’re likely missing out on other high-upside players to lock down floor production from a position that can create the most correlated ceiling scoring potential for your team. That may be enough to help you advance to the playoffs of these tournaments with 500,000 people, but it’s likely not the wisest move to win the largest cash prizes that come at the end of it all.
(34 ADP on Underdog Fantasy. 46th ranked in SPAGS Rankings)
I fully admit that I am biased against older players at non-quarterback positions. After being left holding a few too many bags with aging players in seasons gone by, I have fully come to subscribe to the idea that any player pushing 30 tends to be better served going to other people in a fantasy football draft unless they’re at a relative value.
Hopkins is an extreme case where he is being treated like an elite wideout even though he has a ton of uncertainty around his role and ability to continue to command volume at his age. Uncertainty this time of year usually results in discounts; free agents such as Rashaad Penny and Miles Sanders went for tens of picks cheaper than where they are now because people didn’t know they’d land in Philly and Carolina, respectively. Current free agent Ezekiel Elliott has a 146.2 ADP right now which would soar to the 80s if Joe Mixon were cut from Cincinnati and Zeke came in as the replacement.
Yet for Hopkins, his ADP is higher than where it was with his PED suspension-addled 2022 despite another year of age and absolute uncertainty. Both Hopkins and the Cardinals seemingly want to move on, but no team has yet to bite on trading for his lofty contract. There’s a theoretical chance he could end up on a Kansas City or Buffalo, but that would likely require a release from Arizona. And if he does land somewhere like a New England, can you guarantee the 10 targets per game he saw in Arizona with his -11.2% receiving DVOA and barely positive 0.06 EPA per target?
That’s a lot of questions for a guy going 60 spots ahead of a comparably aged peer in Michael Thomas with a new vertically minded quarterback, and 15 spots ahead of also-old Keenan Allen in a much better offense with a much better quarterback. For a wide receiver who’s getting older and whose primary skill set has been contested catches with little to no separation. There are a million directions I’d rather go at wideout that don’t involve a ceiling price tag for an aging receiver with no definitive landing spot.
(83.3 ADP on Underdog Fantasy. 98th ranked in SPAGS Rankings)
This is another microcosm of fantasy football: The enthusiasm for a formerly great player in a new spot. Darren Waller was down to a 17% target per route run rate in 2022 with a decent .08 EPA per target and 5.8% receiving DVOA. He’s now moving to an even less pass-friendly New York Giants offense that also, by my estimates, has signed upwards of 58 slot receivers this offseason. And yet the expectation is that Waller should begin soaring up drafts after going around the 100 range simply because we know where he’ll play in 2023?
This isn’t going to suddenly be an Air Raid offense for Daniel Jones and Co., even if Jones improves on his 1.1% passing DVOA last season. You can draft Waller because he certainly can score you 20 fantasy points if the stars align come Week 17. But players like him are deeply overvalued, particularly with a stellar rookie tight end class coming in and a lot of younger guys such as Greg Dulcich or even Jake Ferguson in high-upside situations going much later if we assume Dallas doesn’t draft one of the aforementioned rookie studs. I’d personally prefer taking an Evan Engram in this range; waiting for a Dulcich or Ferguson or even a Hayden Hurst in a potentially pass-happy C.J. Stroud offense; or casting my luck with incoming stars such as Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, or Darnell Washington (Luke Musgrave and Sam LaPorta if you’re adventurous). We are closer to the end of Darren Waller’s days of usefulness than his peak.
That feels like enough fantasy football conversation for an introductory column on Football Outsiders. I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on the most undervalued side of the coin but in the meantime, check out those brand new SPAGS Fantasy Football Rankings to see blurbs on pretty much every draftable player with more updates to come throughout free agency, the NFL draft, and beyond!
And don’t be afraid to check out our fantasy football show Splash Play or get that sweet, sweet deposit bonus on Underdog with the promo code OUTSIDERS! With up to a $100 deposit match, there’s no better way to get ready for the season than to hit these draft rooms alongside us (and maybe even win some money in like … 10 months).
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