Best and Worst of the 3rd Round
Allow me to set the scene: It’s late August, maybe early September. The excruciating wait is finally almost over. The preseason has been fine, but it’s really only been an appetizer. You’re still hungry. Real football is so close you can almost taste it. Taste what exactly? Well, all the food provided at your fantasy football draft party of course! You’re enjoying a nice, cold adult beverage while catching up with buddies you haven’t seen in some time. Insults and jokes start to flow as you realize you’re quickly shaking the rust off of that old smack-talk game of yours. You’re feeling really good, as you just nailed your first two draft picks, landing two total studs. It’s been awhile since you’ve been able to taste sweet fantasy football victory, but something feels different this year. This is the year. You just know it.
Look, I’m a huge fan of good vibes. I want to help keep this party train rolling. So without further ado, let’s take a look at seven players with ADPs currently in or around the 3rd Round. Some of these players scream value while others just might be fool’s gold. We’re obviously splitting hairs here since all seven of these players have given us reasons in the past to value them so highly. Yet, the only fantasy points we ultimately care about are the ones they will score for us in 2016. Tough decisions must be made. You’ve already landed two studs, now let’s make it three, alright? Don’t mess this up, your bragging rights depend on it.
3rd Round Values
WR T.Y. Hilton
Currently being drafted as WR18 at 3.05 overall, fantasy owners are being prisoners of the moment. With Andrew Luck only playing in seven games last season, the Colts offense was essentially a dumpster fire ranking 24th in points scored, 22nd in passing yards, and tied for 16th in passing TDs. Despite all of that, T.Y. Hilton still posted 1,124 receiving yards, which ranked 15th best in the NFL and finished as the WR23 overall according to My Fantasy League. He did that while playing more than half the year with the likes of Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Freeman, and Ryan Lindley throwing him the ball. T.Y. Hilton is a flat out stud. Even with Andrew Luck, the newly inked highest-paid player in NFL history, returning, Hilton’s current ADP suggests fantasy owners don’t expect to see much improvement in 2016. The last time Luck played in all 16 games, back in 2014, Hilton was a WR1 and more specifically the WR10 overall. This despite missing Week 16 due to a hamstring injury, and posting a zero in Week 17 as the Colts had already locked up a playoff spot. Looking ahead, 187 targets from 2015 are up for grabs with Coby Fleener, Andre Johnson, and Griff Whalen no longer on the team. The Colts didn’t bring in any significant pass catchers in free agency or the NFL draft, and while Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and Dwayne Allen will soak up some of those targets, look for Hilton to see a boost in his usage as well. Dorsett has yet to prove he can be productive on an NFL field and Allen has dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout his NFL career to date. T.Y. Hilton is a screaming value in the 3rd Round of drafts. Add a WR1 to your team and don’t think twice about it.
WR Demaryius Thomas
It seems very strange to see Demaryius Thomas currently going off the board as WR15 at 3.03 overall. A combination of Peyton Manning retiring and fantasy owners not being able to erase those late-season drops from their memories have gotten us to this point. While those certainly seem like red flags on the surface, let’s dig a little deeper. Even with Thomas having a “down year” in 2015, he still finished as a WR1 and more specifically the WR10 overall after posting 105 catches, 1,304 receiving yards, and 6 TDs. He did all of that despite Peyton Manning only throwing 9 TDs all year. While Manning didn’t play the whole season, his poor 2015 statistics still do a good job of addressing the narrative that Thomas’ numbers will decrease with Manning off the team. In fact, despite starting fewer games than Manning last year, Brock Osweiler still managed to throw more TDs. Mark Sanchez, the likely starter to begin the season and quite possibly for the entire year, isn’t going to be breaking any passing records like Manning did in 2013, but he can still get the ball to his pass catchers.
Another factor working in Thomas’ favor is the Broncos don’t have very many pass catchers. Thomas’ wingman, Emmanuel Sanders, is a stud in his own right. Yet, the depth chart gets extremely thin after that. WRs Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, and Jordan Norwood only combined for a total of 68 targets last season. As for the projected top two atop the TE depth chart, Jeff Heuerman has never caught a pass in the NFL, and Virgil Green only saw 15 targets in 2015. Opportunity is key in fantasy football and there aren’t many WRs in situations better than what Thomas has going for him in Denver. Thomas finished 2014 as the most targeted player in all of football, and 2015 as the fourth most targeted, receiving 184 and 177 targets respectively. Don’t expect much to change this season, as Thomas will remain a focal point of the Broncos’ offense.
WR Golden Tate
Currently going off the board as WR22 at 4.01, Golden Tate is the only player in this article with an ADP technically outside of the 3rd Round. Earlier in the offseason, I wrote up all the reasons why I’m driving the Golden Tate bandwagon in 2016. He’s a guy I feel very strongly about and will have no problem whatsoever “reaching” a bit just to make sure he’s on my team this year. You can read the detailed reasons why within that article. In short, now that Calvin Johnson has retired, Tate is the new #1 WR on a high volume passing offense with little competition around him for targets. Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, and even Theo Riddick will also get theirs, but I expect Tate to take advantage of his increased volume by turning it into a 100+ catch season in 2016. Tate is the rare case of a high floor, high ceiling option, especially in PPR, who can be counted on week in and week out, but also possesses week winning and potentially league winning upside.
WR Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks won’t turn 23 years old until a few weeks after the 2016 season has already started. Despite his young age, in 2015 Cooks posted a stat line of 84 catches, 1,138 yards, and 9 TDs while finishing as the WR13 overall during his first full season in the NFL. Fantasy football is about opportunity, but it’s about situation as well. Cooks checks off both boxes. The Saints attempted the 2nd most pass attempts in the entire league last season. Their high volume passing attack likely isn’t going anywhere as the Saints’ defense projects to struggle again in 2016. Cooks also has the added benefit of playing with one of the NFL’s best QBs in Drew Brees, on a team without a prototypical #1 WR. Because of this, Cooks essentially is Brees’ #1 target. Unlike Golden Tate, Cooks will likely have more variation from week to week like he did last season. Safe drafters may not love that since they may struggle to know which weeks Cooks can be counted on. That’s understandable, but his big games will more than makeup for it. With a chance to go nuclear in any given week, Cooks has huge upside that is too enticing to pass up in the 3rd Round.
3rd Round Landmines
WR Kelvin Benjamin
Before an ACL tear sidelined Kelvin Benjamin for the entire 2015 season, he feasted during his rookie year in part due to a lack of competition around him. Other than Greg Olsen, Benjamin’s biggest competition for targets back in 2014 was Jerricho Cotchery. The pass catching landscape in Carolina has certainly changed a bit since Benjamin last saw a meaningful NFL snap. Ted Ginn Jr. returned to the Panthers before last season and took advantage of his increased playing time with Benjamin sidelined, seeing 97 targets and turning them into 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 TDs. Even though Benjamin owners may have conveniently forgotten about Ginn, he likely isn’t going away. Ginn should yet again play the role as the field stretcher this season, an option that Cam Newton didn’t have available to him back in 2014. While Ginn’s production will likely continue to be sporadic, there’s a chance another former high draft pick could eat into Benjamin’s opportunities on a more consistent basis.
Last year’s early second round pick in the NFL Draft, Devin Funchess, seemed like he started to figure things out during the second half of last season. All 5 of his TD catches came during the final 9 games of 2015. Essentially a Kelvin Benjamin clone in terms of height and weight, Funchess’ 13th Round ADP compared to Benjamin’s 3rd Round ADP just doesn’t make all that much sense to me. We’ve never seen Benjamin, Ginn Jr., and Funchess on the field together, and there is a greater than zero percent chance that Benjamin could actually end up blending in rather than standing out this year. Benjamin’s current 3rd Round ADP essentially leaves no room for error. With stud TE Greg Olsen likely continuing to be a focal point of the offense and Benjamin being largely inefficient in 2014 catching only 50.3% of the targets that came his way, I’ll look elsewhere in the 3rd, and target Funchess in the 13th.
RB Thomas Rawls
Rawls was amazing last season when he was given the opportunity to handle lead back duties for Seattle. He seemed to be on course to winning many people their #FootClanTitles before a fractured ankle in Week 13 unfortunately cut his season short. While many fantasy owners will likely expect Rawls’ production to pick up right where it left off in 2015, I don’t expect it to be that easy. With few positive reports about Rawls’ recovery currently available, there’s a very real chance that his fractured ankle was a more severe injury than many would like to believe. Further adding to the speculation, Seattle brought back fantasy enigma, Christine Michael, while also selecting three RBs in the NFL Draft this offseason. You don’t often see an NFL team spend three draft picks on RBs in the same year. Reading between the lines, this could potentially mean Seattle is more worried about Rawls’ recovery than they are publicly letting on. We won’t know for sure until we see Rawls back on an NFL field, which might not be until the regular season. In fact, there’s no guarantee at this time that Rawls will even be healthy enough to suit up for Week 1.
When healthy, Rawls was a beneficiary of volume in the games that Marshawn Lynch missed last season due to the Seahawks’ depleted RB depth chart. That same volume likely won’t be available to Rawls in 2016 on a consistent basis due to the moves Seattle made this offseason. All four of the running backs Seattle either retained or brought in through the draft have higher draft capitals than Rawls, who went undrafted in 2015. Two dimensional running backs can be extremely valuable in fantasy football, but despite all of Rawls’ 2015 success, he only saw 11 targets in the passing game. Don’t expect that number to increase dramatically in 2016 as the Seahawks spent a 3rd Round pick in April’s NFL draft on converted wide receiver and pass catching specialist, C.J. Prosise. Prosise should immediately be more dynamic in the passing game for Seattle than 34 year old Fred Jackson ever was last season. Russell Wilson’s pass attempts have increased every year he’s been in the NFL, and with the Seahawks undoubtedly being his team moving forward, look for that trend to continue in 2016. More pass attempts and passing situations likely mean more opportunities for Prosise to see the field. All of these variables currently make Thomas Rawls a very risky 3rd Round selection. I wouldn’t hate drafting him a few rounds later, but at his current cost, I’d rather invest in a more stable option heading into 2016. Draft Rawls at your own risk.
RB Doug Martin
Doug Martin had an amazing year in 2015, finishing as the overall RB3. Many owners will invest in Martin early in their drafts expecting similar results this year. I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Martin’s high overall finish at the RB position was aided by his availability in all 16 games, while numerous star RBs either suffered season-ending injuries, missed time, or played hurt during the season. The RB landscape will likely look much different in 2016, and I expect that to hurt Martin’s value. Another top five RB finish seems very unlikely, as Martin remains in a timeshare in the Buccaneers’ backfield that not many seem to be talking about. With Charles Sims serving as Tampa Bay’s passing down back in 2015, Martin never once saw 70% or more of the snaps in any game. Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy, who is currently being drafted after Martin, only played in twelve games last year, but saw his snap count above 70% twice and above 80% an additional six times. Despite finishing as the overall RB3 last season, Martin still only outscored Sims by 67 fantasy points. With Charles Sims’ ADP currently five rounds later than Martin’s 3rd Round price tag, I’d much rather take the value by investing in Sims. Martin was a great buy low at his reduced cost in drafts last year, but I’m letting someone else gamble on him in the 3rd Round in 2016.