Without fail, there will be players in every fantasy draft who go way later than they should. I’m not referring to surprise breakouts (think 2017 Alvin Kamara) or players who, with the benefit of hindsight, seemed more obvious at the end of the season than they did at the beginning (think 2017 Davante Adams). No, the players I’m talking about get overlooked for an entirely different reason. In short, they’re boring.
Every fantasy owner in every draft wants to make the pick that elicits oohs and aahs from their leaguemates. They want to be the one who hits on the next big star. The equal and opposite reaction to that desire is a suppressing of the draft-day prices of non-superstar veterans who may not win fantasy leagues single-handedly, but will almost certainly deliver an easy payoff. They’re boring, but they’re effective. And fantasy owners would be wise to pay them more attention on draft day. Herein, we present the 2018 Boring All-Stars.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, Lions
Quick, guess which quarterback has the most top-10 fantasy finishes since 2011? It’s a tie at six between Drew Brees and Stafford. That’s right, in the seven seasons since 2011, Stafford has been a top-10 quarterback more often than Aaron Rodgers (five), Tom Brady (five), Cam Newton (five), Philip Rivers (five), Russell Wilson (four), Matt Ryan (four), Ben Roethlisberger (four) and Andrew Luck (four). His average draft position makes him the 11th quarterback off the board in typical drafts, and he has a consensus ranking on FantasyPros of ninth at the position. That suggests that the fantasy industry, which is responsible for a large number of early drafts, is driving up his draft-day price higher than it will be when draft season begins in earnest.
Stafford has thrown for at least 4,200 yards in each of the last seven seasons. He has hit at least 7.1 yards per attempt in six of those seasons, and has a total YPA of 7.3 for the full seven-year window. He has racked up at least 29 touchdowns four times, including two of the last three years, and has posted an interception rate south of 2% in each of the last two seasons. His volume is entrenched, his touchdown rate is sustainable and his efficiency is, at worst, league-average. He may be boring on draft day, but Stafford rarely disappoints during the days that matter in the regular season.
Running Backs: C.J. Anderson, Panthers; Lamar Miller, Texans
Last year, on a Denver team that didn’t exactly put its backs in the best position, Anderson ran 245 times for 1,007 yards and three touchdowns, and caught 28 passes for 224 yards and one more score. The Broncos ended the season 17th in total offense and 27th in total scoring, neither of which suggest a positive game script or environment for a running back. And yet there was Anderson, finishing as a top-20 back in standard and PPR scoring.
Anderson signed with the Panthers in the offseason, guaranteeing he’ll be in a much better situation than he was last year. Consider, for example, that Jonathan Stewart scored six touchdowns on the ground last season, despite running for just 3.43 yards per carry. Anderson is a clear upgrade from Stewart, and even with Christian McCaffrey hogging all the pass-catching production out of Carolina’s backfield, Anderson should be more productive in the Stewart role from a year ago.
As for Miller, he’s paying a price for disappointing fantasy owners during his first two seasons in Houston. A look at the facts, however, shows that the price, in form of a draft-day discount, is far too great. Miller is atop the depth chart on an offense that could be among the league’s most explosive and efficient, assuming Deshaun Watson makes a full recovery from last year’s ACL tear. D’Onta Foreman could have pushed Miller, but he’s still rehabbing a ruptured Achilles and is a candidate for the PUP list. Houston’s defense has potential to be among the league’s best, which would help put Miller and the run game in positive game script far more often than it was last year. Add it up, and you get easy RB2 value with true RB1 potential. You don’t have to pay anywhere near that price to secure Miller’s services.
Wide Receivers: Pierre Garcon, 49ers; Michael Crabtree, Ravens; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos; Randall Cobb, Packers
When Jimmy Garoppolo was busy turning the 49ers into a 2018 darling during the team’s five-game winning streak to end last season, Garcon was but a bystander. He suffered a broken bone in his neck at midseason, going on IR after playing eight games. In those eight games, however, he caught 40 of 67 targets for 500 yards, playing with C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer. We already have proof of the upgrade Garoppolo can be. The last time Garcon played with a competent quarterback, he teamed with Kirk Cousins to reel in 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three scores. He can easily match those numbers in his first season with Garoppolo.
There’s a good argument that Crabtree is the prototypical player for this column, sitting right at the nexus of being boring and highly productive. Crabtree scored 25 touchdowns in his three-year Oakland career, never falling short of eight scores in any season. The only receivers with more touchdowns in the previous three years were Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham. On paper, it may not seem that he has the same touchdown upside with Joe Flacco, but it’s not as though he’s leaving behind a superstar quarterback in Derek Carr. In fact, Flacco has had a higher touchdown rate than Carr in two of the last three seasons. Crabtree could be a target hog in Baltimore, as well, putting another eight-touchdown season firmly in his sights.
Case Keenum may be the new man in Denver, but it’s the holdovers who will benefit most from his move west. Despite spending the last three seasons playing with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and a completely done Peyton Manning, Thomas racked up 278 receptions for 3,336 yards and 16 touchdowns. Things reached a nadir last year, but he still pulled down 83 passes for 949 yards and five scores, finishing as the No. 19 receiver in standard leagues, and No. 16 receiver in PPR formats. Pat Shurmur certainly had a great effect on Keenum and the Minnesota offense, and there's reason to worry about the quarterback now that he's without the offensive coordinator. Still, Keenum can do for Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders what he did for Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs last year.
Aaron Rodgers has played at least 15 games eight times in his career. He produced a WR1 and a WR2 in six of those seasons, twice helping two of his teammates to top-10 status at the position in the same year (2014 and 2016). Quite simply, it’s smart to assume that Rodgers is going to get two of his receivers into the top 20. Davante Adams is a lock, and if anyone joins him, it will be Cobb. He got just 84 targets in Rodgers’ last full year, and still put up 60 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Cobb can likely expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 targets this season, making him a huge bargain in all fantasy formats.
Tight End: Jack Doyle, Colts
This, of course, is predicated on Andrew Luck being healthy. If he is, Doyle likely won’t shoot up any draft boards. He’s nowhere near as exciting a player as popular breakout picks George Kittle and Trey Burton, or high-risk, high-reward options Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert. What Doyle is, though, always goes underappreciated. He’s a reliable, supporting player in a potentially strong offense led by, when healthy, a top-tier fantasy quarterback. Luck last played in 2016, and Doyle slowly became one of his favorite targets, catching 59 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns that season. Thing is, Doyle took a back seat to Dwayne Allen that year when both were healthy. It wasn’t until Week 13 that Doyle outsnapped a healthy Allen for good. Doyle will have to share the wealth with Eric Ebron this season, but if Luck’s shoulder is structurally sound then Doyle is set up for a big year.