NFL Best Ball: Early Targets & Fades (Fantasy Football)
Is it ever really too early to have way too much fun? No, of course not! There are currently best ball drafts available over on Underdog Fantasy, and with NFL Free Agency winding down, we finally have some information at our disposal. We think there’s an edge in drafting early in the offseason to get ahead of the market and try to get closing-line value on players whose ADPs are sure to change as the summer approaches.
Below are our favorite best ball targets and fades relative to ADP:
- Targets – Players we currently like at their ADP with an opportunity to out-perform and show up as big win rate and advance rate players
- Fades – Players who are at risk of underperforming relative to ADP expectations
**ADPs accurate as of 3/17/23**
- Lamar Jackson (QB6) – Right now, Lamar Jackson is in the headlines for his contract, creating a ton of uncertainty on the former MVP. We’re happy to keep investing in Jackson and his potential ceiling at this ADP. We’re seeing a trend in fantasy scoring where the elite options are out-scoring the pocket passers by a wide margin. The market is getting sharper in terms of when they’re drafting these QBs, as we’re seeing guys like Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts taken in the 2nd round of drafts. Lamar struggled with injury down the stretch last year, but if he returns to form this year, he’s got a big-time ceiling, and the nice thing about it is that you don’t have to draft him in Round 2. Once his contract is resolved, we wouldn’t be surprised to see his ADP climb a round or two.
- Derek Carr (QB20) – We’re not here saying Derek Carr is the greatest thing since… well since anything. But the ADP doesn’t necessarily match a QB who beat this ADP every year of his career. The weapons in New Orleans (Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed, Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Juwan Johnson) are more than adequate to make this offense the best in its division. Carr seems like a worthy QB2/QB3 especially if he goes at or after his current ADP (132) and maintains similar production. He likely will not be asked to throw as much but the efficiency numbers could be there for him to finish with 3500+ yards and 25 TDs… a very Derek Carr-esque season.
- Trevor Lawrence (QB8) – There is context needed here as QB8 isn’t as egregious as the chasm that exists between Lawrence (57.9) and the next QB (Deshaun Watson– 82) in ADP. The former Clemson QBs are going back-to-back but for Lawrence to return his value, we need him to crash into the elite tier of QBs. He was valuable for Best Ball last year simply as a draft value (QB14) and a true advance-rate superstar. For context, last year Joe Burrow was going around this same range… as the QB5. The strategy in drafting QBs this year has changed with them getting pushed up the board. There is optimism in Jacksonville surrounding the arrival of Calvin Ridley, the re-signing of Evan Engram, and all of the other main weapons returning for Year 2 with Doug Pederson. But the sum of these parts doesn’t necessarily equal Lawrence and the Jaguars’ offense taking yet another step forward. Jacksonville plays a “1st place” schedule this year after winning the AFC South, a drastic difference from their “4th place” schedule of a year ago. Keep that in mind.
- Kyler Murray (QB19) – QB19 feels like a great price for a QB who we know has QB1 overall upside in his range of potential outcomes. However, Kyler is coming off a late-season ACL injury, and since he entered the NFL, 31% of his fantasy points have come from running the football (yards + TDs). That facet of his game likely won’t be available for most of 2023 due to the injury, and when you consider this team will be moving on from DeAndre Hopkins, it’s tough to see the path for Kyler being the skeleton key to BestBall championship teams.
- Mac Jones (QB29) – It almost feels mean to include him on the Fades list. At QB29, he’s basically destined for being a last-round desperation pick. But we know what Jones is at this point in his career and the skill position weapons in New England (outside of Rhamondre Stevenson) are not exactly inspiring. The spike games needed just aren’t in his arsenal. Swing for the fences elsewhere at the end of your draft.
- Najee Harris (RB14) – If you bought the UDK last year, you may have noticed Najee Harris‘ name in our ‘Busts’ section. We had a pretty big fade on him given the offensive environment concerns with a rookie QB, a subpar offensive line, and an ADP at RB8. However, Najee really seemed to turn the corner down the stretch last year, finishing as the RB5 from Week 10 on after he was fully recovered from an August Lisfranc sprain. Relative to last season, we’re getting a solid discount here on Harris’ ADP as an RB2.
- JK Dobbins (RB20) – We generally don’t like to target RBs coming off ACL injuries in year one, but in year two, sign us up! There’s plenty of research showing that NFL players, specifically RBs, are much, much better in year two off the injury, so now is the time to buy back in on Dobbins, who will enter the offseason 100% healthy. The Ravens feel like a franchise in flux right now given the Lamar Jackson situation, which is why his ADP is depressed. If Baltimore doesn’t add any notable RBs to the depth chart, we expect Dobbins’ ADP to jump up at least five spots in ADP, so if you’re hoping to get some Dobbins in your best ball portfolio, go get him now.
- Samaje Perine (RB46) – This take is largely tied to Javonte Williams‘ health and 2023 outlook (see below). At RB46, you’re probably drafting Perine as your RB4 or RB5 depending on your build. It’s a low-risk investment in a player who should have a role regardless of Williams’ health throughout the year. Perine showed last season when Mixon was out of the lineup that he’s fully capable of handling a full workload, averaging 24 touches per game sans Mixon. Sean Payton’s backfields have historically been extremely beneficial for fantasy, and we think we’ll get at least a handful of weeks where Perine is the lead back with the potential to maintain a complementary role even when Williams is back later in the year.
- D’Andre Swift (RB17) – We wouldn’t be surprised to see Swift’s ADP take a nosedive over the next few weeks, but as it stands right now, you won’t find us paying RB17 prices for Swift, especially after the team signed David Montgomery to a 3-year contract that includes $11 million in guaranteed money. For reference, that’s the fifth-most guaranteed money for a free-agent RB since 2020. As we saw last year, Swift struggled to take control of the backfield, losing goal-line touches to Jamaal Williams and even splitting work with backup caliber talent in Craig Reynolds and Justin Jackson. Bottom line – this staff does not seem to want to give Swift more than 12-15 touches in any given week and that might feel generous. He’s a current dead-zone RB who’s only worth taking if his ADP falls a few rounds. We expect David Montgomery to take over the goal line role, and in best ball where it’s all about upside, it’s extremely difficult to be a valuable win-rate player if you’re not hitting pay dirt.
- Javonte Williams (RB21) – We mentioned fading RBs coming off ACL in their first season, which is why Javonte Williams is on this list. Just a year ago, we saw J.K. Dobbins fail to return on his ADP as he was recovering from a multi-ligament knee injury. Williams’ injury was more significant, so his chances of beating this ADP are slim. Call us crazy, but we’re fading the “he’s ahead of schedule in his recover” narrative that’s sure to surface multiple times throughout the offseason.
- Chris Olave (WR14) – If you tuned into the Summer of Best Ball on the DFS Pod last year, you’re probably not surprised to see Olave’s name on our list of targets. We love him, and he’s got a good chance to take a huge step forward in year two when we historically see elite WRs make the leap. Say what you will about Derek Carr as a real-life NFL passer, but the numbers show he’s a good downfield passer. Per Warren Sharp, he’s third in EPA per attempt on passes of 20+ yards down the field over the last three seasons. With Michael Thomas back on a one-year deal, he should operate as the possession receiver with Olave providing a ton of spiked weeks. According to J.J. Zachiarison, there’ve been over 110 rookie wide receiver seasons since 2011 when the wideout saw 50+ targets. Chris Olave’s rookie season yards per route run rate (2.42) ranked fifth-best among that group, behind only Odell Beckham, AJ Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. His targets per route run rate were fourth-best.
- Tyler Lockett (WR32) – Death, taxes, and Tyler Lockett as a value in fantasy football. The discount isn’t the same as it was last year when Lockett was buried in drafts after Russell Wilson was traded, but he’s still undervalued as a borderline top-36 WR. He finished as the WR13 last season (his fifth straight year as a top 15 WR) with Geno Smith leading the NFL in completion rate. Even if you factor in a bit of regression for Smith, there’s still plenty of room for Lockett to out-perform this ADP given how condensed the target share is in Seattle between their big two in Metcalf and Lockett.
- Tim Patrick (WR80) – Players going in Round 16 or 17 is why you came to this article in March, isn’t it? Patrick is going super late in drafts, so we like him as a dart throw early in the process. Our rationale here is all about the rumors coming out of Denver. Both Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton are reportedly on the trade block. While it remains to be seen if either of those guys is dealt, the uncertainty in that situation is letting Tim Patrick hang around as a guy who doesn’t even go in every draft. If one or both of those DEN WRs gets traded, Patrick’s ADP will balloon likely to somewhere between Rounds 11-13. He’s a low-risk type of investment at these prices.
- Deebo Samuel (WR16) – Deebo was ultra-efficient in 2021 as a league-winning type of player, then in 2022, he was a bust relative to expectations and ADP. He’s coming off the board as the WR16, which doesn’t seem like a big price tag, but his usage with Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle healthy took a big hit last year. Throw in the fact that Trey Lance straight up might not be very good (he’s only started four games since he was drafted 3rd overall), and there’s just too much downside for us to invest in a WR at this ADP.
- Calvin Ridley (WR19) – Calvin Ridley is due back in the NFL after serving his suspension related to wagering from last season. We like him as a player and think he’s a great WR, but it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Ridley on an NFL field. Now, he’s changing teams and going to an offense where Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram are all going to get targets. It’s not crazy to see a scenario where Ridley outperforms this ADP, but he needs a lot to go right. We’ll bet against that at his current top-20 price.
- Christian Watson (WR22) – Watson was incredible down the stretch last season, and he was a league winner for best ball and redraft players alike. From Weeks 10-18 when he began playing in a full-time role, Watson averaged a healthy 15.2 fantasy points per game, but when you dive deeper, there’s some serious concern about regression. Watson saw 51 targets in that sample, averaging just 3.9 receptions per game. He caught seven TDs in that sample. In other words, 22.5% of his receptions from Week 10 on went for a score. It’s simply unsustainable, and now Aaron Rodgers is off to New York.
- Chig Okonkwo (TE15) – Let’s be real. Any TE going after let’s say TE7 or TE8 has a massive range of outcomes, and the difference between the TE12 and the TE16 in fantasy is negligible. Why not shoot for upside with our TE selections? Tennessee looks like a roster that’s in full rebuild mode after they cut several veterans to save money against the cap, and thus far in free agency, they haven’t signed any relevant pass catchers. Austin Hooper is also an unrestricted free agent, clearing the way for Chig to take on a full-time role. Last season, he led all TEs who saw 25+ targets in yards per route run, which is a predictive stat when it comes to fantasy relevance at the TE position. A dynamic pass catcher who can create after the catch, Chig’s athleticism is worth betting on at this ADP. We think he creeps inside the top-12 by the time the summer comes around. You can watch Kyle give his pro-Chig argument on a recent Top-10 Things to Remember episode on the podcast.
- George Kittle (TE4) – We’ve already mentioned our concerns with Deebo Samuel above, and the same is true for Kittle. There are just a lot of mouths to feed in this offense with a scheme that’s historically been very run-heavy. It’s a small sample size, but George Kittle‘s numbers with Deebo in the lineup are notably much worse. In 10 games where Deebo has missed, Kittle is averaging three more half PPR points per game, and last season, Kittle’s surge in production came with Purdy under center, not Trey Lance. Jimmy G is gone and Purdy is recovering from a serious elbow injury. Count us out on Kittle at this ADP.
- Taysom Hill (TE16) – With Derek Carr‘s new contract, we think there’s a good chance Taysom Hill‘s role will get cut down in 2023 compared to what we’ve seen the last few seasons. Hill didn’t play a single game north of 49% of the snaps last season despite the fact that the Saints had a bottom 10 pass-catching core after Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry went down due to injury. Thomas is back, Juwan Johnson was re-signed and Chris Olave is ready to explode in year two. Throw in the fact that the team paid for Jamaal Williams and his goal-line ability in free agency, and it’s tough to see Taysom getting there without being hyper-efficient with his touches.