Depth Chart Diving for Hidden Fantasy Value: AFC Edition

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After analyzing every team’s post-NFL draft depth chart, many teams have at least one player slated for major playing time, that can be had on the cheap in fantasy drafts. I’m highlighting those players in the AFC today because Aly and Winston’s mom aren’t the only ones that can be DDSes (Deep Discount Shoppers! – Shout out to the “New Girl” fans). These players may not be game-changers, but they still have a chance to make a difference. No matter your league type, keep these players in mind when looking for hidden value.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – TE Vance McDonald
It doesn’t always happen, but I’m big on the possibility of a certain player making a leap in year two with their new team, a la Marvin Jones in 2017. Vance McDonald gets to operate in one of the best offenses in football. Yes, long time Steelers offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, is gone, but the talent in Pittsburgh is not. The Steelers finished sixth in the league in pass attempts and eighth in total points last season.

While he’s never caught more than 30 balls in a season, the Steelers offense is easily the best he’s ever played in. It’s important to provide context to McDonald’s 2017 transition year. Let’s remember, McDonald was traded to the Steelers late in the 2017 offseason process. Thus, likely stunting his growth in year one. McDonald didn’t even register a catch until Week 6. Plus, he missed time due to injury as well, only suiting up in 10 games.

However, starting in Week 6, McDonald had at least one catch in every game he played in. Things started to come together for him at the end of the regular season. In Weeks 14 and 16 (he missed Week 15 due to injury), McDonald saw a total of 11 targets and caught four passes in each game for a total of 104 yards. After his solid performance in Week 16, Todd Haley was quoted as saying, “He’ll be a big piece for us offensively going forward.” Haley wasn’t kidding, because in the Steelers only 2017 playoff game, McDonald saw SIXTEEN targets catching 10 passes for 112 yards.

Vance McDonald is an athletic TE that produced an 80th-percentile College Dominator rating per Player Profiler. He’s capable of putting up monster games in the Steelers offense, and has a full offseason with the Steelers to prepare. The best part is that he’s all reward and no risk. McDonald is barely being drafted in offseason mock drafts. Especially in redraft leagues, opportunity cost absolutely must be factored in at all times. If McDonald finally puts it all together, then you have a starting TE that you acquired for free. That’s all the ammunition you’ll need to heckle your league mate that spent a third-round pick on Gronk. Take a chance and see what happens, especially in DFS GPPs. #GPPLyfe #DoTheNoPantsVanceDance

Cincinnati Bengals – TE Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert’s Average Draft Position according to Fantasy Football Calculator over the past four years:

  • 2015 – 8.12
  • 2016 – 9.12
  • 2017 – 6.10
  • 2018 – 11.03

Yes, Eifert’s injury history is absolutely a concern but he’s not the only fantasy relevant TE to say that about. The injury risk becomes easier to swallow when realizing Eifert is by far the cheapest he’s ever been since his 2015 breakout. Not much has changed in the Bengals receiving corps since 2015. It’s still A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert as the clear-cut top two receiving weapons. Eifert’s affordable ADP, role in the offense, and TD upside make him very palatable in 2018.

Cleveland Browns – TE David Njoku
David Njoku’s profile is absolutely tantalizing. His combination of college production and athleticism is the full package. Njoku, at age 21, posted 32 catches for 386 and 4 TDs in his 2017 rookie season. He projects to see increased playing time in 2018, which should easily help him best last season’s production, especially when factoring in the Browns QB upgrades. Tyrod Taylor is nice but just wait until Baker Mayfield takes over the reigns. The best part is that Njoku is being drafted in the 14th round.

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Baltimore Ravens – WR Willie Snead
No longer a New Orleans Saint, Willie Snead is not a sexy name to talk about. However, after signing to a two-year, $7 million contract this summer to join the Baltimore Ravens, Snead projects to be the Ravens’ starting slot WR. That’s interesting because Baltimore is starving for playmakers and has no reliable option at the TE to speak of. Snead, who caught 141 passes for 1,879 yards and 7 TDs in his first two years in the league is a name to keep in mind.

AFC East

New England Patriots – WR Jordan Matthews and WR Malcolm Mitchell
Two seasons ago it was Michael Thomas. Last year it was Marvin Jones. Take the discount on pass catchers in elite offenses, because the reward significantly outweighs the risk. We all know about Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Chris Hogan, but there’s room for at least one more pass-catcher to make a valuable impact in this offense. This is before even considering the high-upside possibilities if injuries were to occur.

Gronk’s injury history is well known while Edelman is returning from a torn ACL at 32 years of age. Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell have both shown promise early in their careers, especially Matthews who caught at least 67 passes and had at least 804 receiving yards in every season of his career before being castaway to Buffalo last season. If Edelman struggles to regain his pre-injury form or gets injured again, Matthews projects to step into one of the most valuable roles in all of fantasy football – Tom Brady‘s slot WR. He’s currently being drafted in the 14th Round.

Miami Dolphins – WR Kenny Stills and TE Mike Gesicki
In each of the past two seasons in Miami, Kenny Stills has posted at least 42 receptions, 726 receiving yards, and 6 TDs. He has quietly produced over that stretch and that was with Jarvis Landry on the team. With Landry off to Cleveland, his 161 targets are up for grabs. Yes, Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola were signed to help mitigate the loss of Landry. Still, neither is the same caliber player as Landry, which means there should be leftover targets available. And Stills projects to be one of the beneficiaries. Still only 26 years old, Stills is an exciting athlete that is staring a significant 2018 role in the face. The best part is his current ADP is a stupidly-low 14.06.

Mike Gesicki is a freak of nature, and with Julius Thomas out of town, his biggest competition for playing time is A.J. Derby and MarQueis Gray. That’s a fun way of saying he has no competition. And after being drafted in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, he projects to be the starter from day one. Although the Dolphins’ passing offense projects to struggle as a whole behind Ryan Tannehill, Gesicki looks to be in line for a decent amount of volume as a rookie. Plus, at 6’6″ and 247 pounds, he’s a red zone weapon. On Fantasy Football Calculator, his ADP currently sits at 13.11.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – WR Rishard Matthews
Out with the old, in with the new. Former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey played a role in limiting the Titans offense to the fifth fewest pass attempts in each of the past two seasons. With Mularkey gone, the passing volume projects to rise under new coach Mike Vrabel. That’s exciting for Rishard Matthews when realizing the passing weapons remain unchanged from last season. Thus, Rishard still holds a firm grasp on his starting role. Clearly, the masses are not factoring in the potential upside of Marcus Mariota taking a leap in season four under a possibly more progressive coaching staff. Rishard’s ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator currently sits at 13.06. I’m ALLLL over that value. Give me all the Rishard Matthews in 2018.

Indianapolis Colts – RB Marlon Mack and WR Chester Rogers
The Colts did draft two running backs this year – Nyheim Hines in the 4th Round and Jordan Wilkins in the 5th Round. Still, Marlon Mack currently sits atop Colts RB depth chart. That’s significant, especially IF Andrew Luck plays this season. Mack was a favorite of mine during the draft process last offseason, as his versatility (South Florida would routinely motion him out as a receiver and have him run pass routes) really stood out. That versatility could turn into fantasy gold in a Luck-led offense. Mack can currently be had in the 8th Round according to Fantasy Football Calculator.

Once again, IF Luck plays this season, Chester Rogers is another player that is in an intriguing spot because he’s another dirt cheap option that plays with an elite quarterback. Rogers’ 2017 campaign was reportedly limited due to a summer hamstring strain. With Donte Moncrief no longer on the team, an immediate opportunity just opened up for Rogers, who reportedly is the “leading candidate” to be the Colts’ #2 WR at this time.

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Jacksonville Jaguars – TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
With the WR corps in Jacksonville muddier than a field after a country concert in the rain, I’m turning my attention to the new TE in town. Marcedes Lewis provided a steady presence at the TE position in Jacksonville for 12 years, yet that all came to an end when the Jaguars released him earlier this offseason. Enter Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who showed some signs of life in New York last season, seemingly overcoming some of his immaturity issues. Seferian-Jenkins was a very exciting prospect when he entered the league and he’ll still only be 25 years old when the 2018 season kicks off. He’ll be an intriguing player to keep an eye on, especially in DFS GPPs early in the season when literally almost no one will be rostering him.

AFC West

Oakland Raiders – WR Martavis Bryant
The Raiders traded a 2018 third-round pick in order to acquire the services of Martavis Bryant. Thus, showing John Gruden wanted Bryant on his team, especially when factoring in the risks that come with “The Martian”. Bryant’s presence projects to kick Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the slot at times, which would allow him to see the field quite frequently. Bryant’s current 10th Round ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator makes him a palatable high-upside selection.

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