Putting together a fantasy football team is a little bit like building a Lego house. There are a lot of different pieces that will create a house with structural integrity. You don’t need any one piece in particular. You just need to make sure they all fit together to give you (or one of those little Lego people) something in which to live.
In fantasy football, there is no one specific player you absolutely need to win your league this year. All you need is a roster of sound construction where all the pieces make sense together. One of the key steps in laying out a blueprint for your draft is to study average draft position (ADP) numbers to get a feel for exactly when each player is coming off the board in a typical draft. Arming yourself with such information will let you know if you need to chase Wide Receiver X right now, or focus on another position secure in the fact that Wide Receiver Y will be available when your next pick comes around.
ADP can shift dramatically as the summer progresses. Over the next five weeks, we’ll take a look at changes in ADP with some of fantasy’s most intriguing players to help you get the most value out of each and every one of your draft picks. To kick it off this week, we’ll take a look at some players who have already seen their ADP move significantly among early drafters and identify a couple overvalued and undervalued guys. All ADP numbers are courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator as of August 7.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Player before: Doug Martin (25.5)
Player after: Zac Stacy (27.8)
One month ago, Gronkowski had an ADP that made him the ninth pick in the third round of a typical draft. He’s now being selected early in the third round and could continue rising as August wears on. No one questions what Gronkowski can do when healthy. After all, he has outscored Jimmy Graham on a per-game basis over the last three seasons. Last season marked the high point for Graham and low point for Gronk from 2011 though 2013, and Graham outscored him by 1.7 points per game. By contrast, Gronkowski bested Graham by 3.1 points per game in 2012 and 2.8 in 2011. If we knew he were going to play 14 or 15 games this year, Gronkowski would likely be joining Graham in the first round of most drafts. He has not experienced any setbacks with his knee, back or forearm this year, though the Patriots are taking it easy with him early in training camp.
At his current ADP and with his past production in mind, Gronk will turn a profit for fantasy owners if he plays 12 games. The risk is that he misses half the season like last year, but unlike 2013, he's entering the 2014 season with a clean bill of health. Gronk is a steal early in the third round of 12-team drafts. The red flags surrounding Zac Stacy have been well documented here, and all the backs in this neighborhood have their question marks. Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown and Alshon Jeffery could conceivably be available to you, as well, and it would be hard to pass on one of them, especially Nelson or Jeffery for Gronk. However, if those elite receivers are off the board, Gronk is the pick to make.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals
Player before: Arian Foster (17.7)
Player after: Aaron Rodgers (19.2)
Bernard is one of the most interesting players on the board and, perhaps, one of the biggest land mines. His ADP has remained flat most of the summer, pegging him as a late-second-round pick in 12-team leagues. The unstated belief in this ranking is that with a full season under his belt, Bernard will have a greater role in the Cincinnati offense. I’m simply not sure that is the case. Under departed offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis got 220 carries to Bernard’s 170 last year. BJGE is still in Cincinnati, the Bengals used a second-round pick on LSU product Jeremy Hill and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a bigger believer than Gruden in a power running game. That’s not exactly a formula for increased Bernard touches.
What if Bernard remains in the exact same role in the offense he had last year, with Hill wresting away most of Green-Ellis’ carries? There’s belief around Cincinnati that Hill will get 10 to 15 touches per game, which would translate roughly to the 220 carries BJGE racked up last season. Those would, of course, include goal-line carries. Bernard did make a serious impact as a receiver, catching 56 of his 70 targets for 514 yards and three scores. He also had eight receptions of at least 20 yards, which gave him 11 plays that went for 20-plus yards, translating to 4.9 percent of his total touches. As a comparison, Jamaal Charles was also at 4.9 percent, while LeSean McCoy came in at 4.5 percent. However, those guys are also locks to get at least 300 touches, including most of their team’s carries at the goal line. For Bernard to justify his draft day price, he will have to hit on a number of big plays this season. This is not to say that he can’t do it, but rather to make the buyer aware of what they’re getting into by making Bernard a second-round pick.
Matthew Stafford, Lions
Player before: Bishop Sankey (44.9)
Player after: Cordarrelle Patterson (47.1)
There is an important development with the quarterback position in fantasy this year that needs to be discussed. There’s a swelling chorus suggesting that it no longer makes sense to wait on a quarterback, given the preeminence of passing offenses in today’s NFL. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees make up the first tier and deserve to be off the board within the first 20-25 picks of most drafts. After that, though, waiting on a quarterback still makes sense. The rise of dynamic passing offenses has elevated the elite quarterbacks to previously unheard-of levels, while brining the back-end of the fantasy starting class more in line with the glut of options in the middle. That means that, unless you get him at a serious discount, Stafford could arguably be the worst pick in your draft.
Consider the difference between Stafford, the No. 4 quarterback by ADP, and Tony Romo, the No. 12 quarterback, coming off the board nearly 50 picks later in an average draft. First, their production has been eerily similar over the last three years. This same information can be found in our Cowboys preview, but it bears repeating here.
2011 – 5,038 yards, 7.6 yards per attempt, 41 touchdowns, 16 interceptions
2012 – 4,967 yards, 6.83 YPA, 20 TDs, 17 INTs
2013 – 4,650 yards, 7.33 YPA, 29 TDs, 19 INTs
2011 – 4,184 yards, 8.02 YPA, 31 TDs, 10 INTs
2012 – 4,903 yards, 7.57 YPA, 28 TDs, 19 INTs
2013 – 3,828 yards, 7.16 YPA, 31 TDs, 10 INTs
That comes out to a difference of 0.81 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues over the last three seasons. That hardly justifies using a fourth-round pick on Stafford rather than an eighth-round pick on Romo.
Both Stafford and Romo have elite receivers (Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant) and solid second bananas (Golden Tate and Terrance Williams). Romo has the edge at tight end (Jason Witten over Eric Ebron) and we’ll call the running back battle of DeMarco Murray vs. Reggie Bush/Joique Bell a wash. When it comes to weapons, Romo has a slight edge.
Again, this is about finding the right pieces to fit together. Some backs and receivers typically on the board when Stafford’s name is called include Michael Crabtree, Shane Vereen, DeSean Jackson, Trent Richardson and Chris Johnson. Meanwhile, the top backs and receivers available in an average draft when Romo is selected are guys like Rueben Randle, Darren McFadden and DeAngelo Williams. In other words, the opportunity cost of taking Stafford over the last starting quarterback in a 12-team league is dropping down from legitimate RB2s/3s and WR2s to depth backs and receivers. That is prohibitive. Unless the price comes down, pass on Stafford.