With just one week remaining in August, we're now truly in the thick of draft season. This is when all the studying, all the reading and all the projecting should really start to coalesce into an actionable draft strategy. While we've had average draft position data to work with for about a month or so now, much of the early information is skewed by the uncertainties of July and early August. Put another way, a lot of the ADP data you've seen this summer doesn't mean a whole lot now.
In the great Faces tune "Ooh La La," Ronnie Wood laments, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger." We've all probably felt like that at some point in our lives, but luckily, we don't have to worry about that when it comes to ADP data. The information now at our fingertips reflects the draft stock of players as fantasy players begin to select their teams in earnest. The exact spot a player was in last week or last month may have little meaning, but the overall trends can tell us how he is viewed by the fantasy community and whether owners will have to reach for him, or if you're better off gambling that he'll be available when your next pick rolls around.
All data is courtesy of Mock Draft Central and Fantasy Football Calculator. The two sites perform their ADP calculations in slightly different ways and have separate data sets, but in nearly all cases the overall trends mirror one another.
• Matt Forte, Chicago Bears -- All summer, I've been preaching to anyone who would listen that Forte was one of the most undervalued players in the league. It appears drafters are starting to come to the same conclusion. In the last two weeks, Forte's ADP has risen by 16.6 percent at Mock Draft Central. His performance against the Chargers, in which he showed great burst getting to the edge and turning upfield for a 58-yard run, likely helped, especially given that the game was nationally televised, but if you've paid any attention to what Marc Trestman has said this offseason, you'll know Forte's value to the Bears as a pass catcher is what could make him an elite fantasy back this year.
Perhaps more encouraging, Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer kept him on the field in goal-to-go situations, with Forte scoring from three yards out against the Chargers in the Bears' second preseason game. That has been an issue for him in the past, so it was great to see, even if it was just an exhibition game. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Forte will catch 80 passes this year and push north of 2,000 total yards.
• Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals -- Whether it's his impressive play this preseason (he had 37 yards on seven carries, a touchdown and a 22-yard reception against the Titans), the residue of Hard Knocks, the surprise-contender status of the Bengals, the apathy with which fantasy owners view BenJarvus Green-Ellis, or some combination of all four, Bernard is rocketing up draft boards. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, as recently as Aug. 3, you could reliably grab Bernard with the last pick in the fifth round of a 12-team draft. He's now going a full round sooner on average, and has seen his stock increase by 10.6 percent on Mock Draft Central.
Bernard's case is a bit tricky given that Green-Ellis still tops the depth chart and will have a significant role in the offense. Still, Bernard can do so much that Green-Ellis can't, especially as a receiver. He has tremendous upside, but shouldn't be counted on as anything more than a third or fourth back for now.
• Danny Amendola, New England Patriots -- It's surprising that Amendola began August as low as he did in ADP, given that he's a veritable Wes Welker clone now serving in the exact role that helped turn Welker into a star. Still, a month ago, he was the 58th overall pick in the average draft. Even two weeks ago, you could likely get him at the very end of the fourth round in a 12-team league. Now you'll probably have to be choosing at the end of the third round or beginning of the fourth if you want Amendola without feeling like you're reaching.
His price has increased to the tune of 9.5 percent at Mock Draft Central, making him the 17th receiver off the board on average. This feels like a good price to me. Amendola could very easily match or surpass the numbers Welker regularly posted playing with Tom Brady. He operates in those same spaces that made Welker Brady's favorite target. At the same time, he has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last two seasons, and has played all 16 games just once in his four-year career. The risk is worth the payoff here, even if he misses a handful of games.
• Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts -- Despite a huge bounceback season playing with Andrew Luck, Wayne didn't exactly draw serious attention from early drafters. His ADP for the first week of August peaked at 49 overall. That's when he began a slow and steady ascent, and in the last two weeks his stock has increased by 12.2 percent at Mock Draft Central. You'll likely have to be ready to take Wayne somewhere between picks 40 and 50 if you want him on your squad. Again, this is a fair price. However, I think I'll be staying away.
I've noted earlier this summer that I'm down on Andrew Luck and the Colts in general, and I think more targets will end up going in T.Y. Hilton's direction this season. Wayne had 194 of those a season ago, tied with Brandon Marshall for second most in the league. His 55-percent catch rate, though, was the second-lowest percentage among the top 10 players in receiving yards, ahead of only Vincent Jackson.
• Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers -- This number is just an approximation, but I'd guess Ryan Mathews has burned 87 percent of fantasy players during his short NFL career. That was manifested in the early ADP data. Mathews' draft stock hit its nadir early in the second week of August, when he was going with the 67th overall pick in the average draft. Then he gashed the stout Bears defense in the second week of the preseason, running nine times for 45 yards.
Now he's going off the board 48th overall at Fantasy Football Calculator and 52nd at Mock Draft Central. That means if you're taking him, you're planning on him being your third running back, at worst. That's about where I'm comfortable with him on my roster. The potential for San Diego's offense to be punchless scares me, but it won't keep me away from Mathews at his expected price tag.
• Quarterbacks -- It appears the civilian fantasy owner has paid attention to one line of thinking universally adopted by the experts this year. Nearly all the top quarterbacks have seen their average draft positions tumble over the last two weeks. While Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have simply flipped spots, with Brees moving to the top of the pecking order, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck have all seen their stock fall over the last two weeks.
Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo held flat, while the data on Colin Kaepernick is disparate, but averages out to a steady hold. The only top QB, other than Brees, who has seen his stock rise is Tom Brady, who has jumped 4 percent on Mock Draft Central, and to 45th overall from 52nd overall at Fantasy Football Calculator. Russell Wilson, too, has experienced a significant uptick, jumping 17.7 percent in the last two weeks.
The idea here remains the same. I still endorse targeting the quarterbacks you rank somewhere in the eight through 11 range, but with everyone waiting on QBs, the chances of getting great value for one of the elite guys have improved recently.
• Arian Foster, Houston Texans -- As we inch toward the regular season, Foster continues to drift slowly down the rankings. He's still dealing with back issues, though he was able to get on the field for the first time Thursday. The news remains disconcerting for a guy in whom you'd have to invest your first round pick. Many people considered him the No. 2 pick behind Adrian Peterson, and most everyone had him in the top three. Foster is now outside the top five in a lot of places, and his ADP has fallen to sixth overall at both Mock Draft Central and Fantasy Football Calculator.
He has become one of the hardest players to value because we know he can be the top player in fantasy when he's right, but he presents a significant risk in the first round. With the information currently on hand, I have him ranked fourth -- behind Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Doug Martin.
• Montee Ball, Denver Broncos -- It seems that just seconds after Ball's name been announced by Roger Goodell as the Broncos' second-round pick back in April, he became the entire world's favorite fantasy rookie. The all-time leader in NCAA touchdowns after his four years at Wisconsin, Ball appeared to land in a perfect situation in Denver. We were able to call him a sleeper for all of about two weeks, because once you're on everyone's early sleeper list, you're no longer a sleeper.
However, John Fox started making noise early on that both Ball and Ronnie Hillman would be involved. We all remember how Fox used both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in his days with the Panthers, so it seemed like more than just coach-speak. Then came the worries about his pass protection, which could take him off the field in crucial situations.
He hasn't done much to impress this preseason, resulting in a further slide down draft boards. Early this month, he was flying off the board early in the fourth round. Now he's lasting until the middle of the fifth round in most drafts, his stock declining an additional two percent in just the last week, according to Mock Draft Central.
As we covered in Thursday's roundtable, I find it very hard to believe that Ball won't eventually assert himself as the best back in Denver. He has a patient running style that suits him to their blocking scheme, and he hits holes aggressively, an important skill in an offense run by Peyton Manning, who will often check to the run when the defense presents a favorable matchup. The takeaway here is that you can likely wait on Ball longer than you could have a week or two ago, making him a potential steal in the fifth round.