By: Rich Maletto
It’s that time of year again! The Super Bowl is just two weeks away. The free-agent silly season has already started, as we have seen Mark Ingram waived and DeWayne Haskins signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. So what does that mean for all of us fantasy football players?
It means it’s time for us to start rostering some undervalued plays as we prepare for next year. There are some obvious targets out there with the likes of JK Dobbins, Cam Akers, and Justin Herbert just to name a few.
The challenge is EVERYONE wants those players. If you are going to try to acquire those players in a dynasty league; you are going to pay a premium. The fact of the matter is, fantasy football is much like the stock market. You want to obtain “assets” below market value or assets that will increase in value.
Let us be clear about something first, players are not assets, they are human beings, not stock shares. That said, the way we play fantasy football is a similar concept. In dynasty leagues, we want to roster players that are going to increase in value, just like stocks.
If you were to trade for Cam Akers, chances are you are going to have to offer a premium player and probably a draft pick. At the very least, an early rookie pick and something else. Akers’ value could go up, but right now he’s being looked at as a potential first or second-round draft pick in a start-up draft in many leagues.
While making a move for Akers might improve your team, it would be wise to target someone that is potentially undervalued. There are two reasons for this.
The first reason, obviously you want to spend as little as you can but still obtain the high value. The second reason, if the player you roster increases in market value, you in turn could trade them for a higher-valued asset. It’s like the guy that started with a paper clip and kept trading until he ended up with a fancy sports car. Just like with stocks, it’s very much the same concept.
I am not going to cover the obvious targets. One, because everyone should already know who those folks are. Two, because I don’t think it’s going to help any team to overpay or pay a premium to add a player they like to their roster.
The first player I would recommend anyone to target is James Robinson. I understand that most undrafted free-agent players only flash for a short period. That said, I am still confused on how James Robinson wasn’t on more draft boards. To be upfront, I didn’t have him on my draft board.
After watching him play this year I ask everyone, why wasn’t Robinson on anyone’s draft board? He had better hands than anyone thought. Robinson was the workhorse all year on a team with a beat-up and underwhelming offensive line. His pass pro was solid, and he just has a knack for falling forward and getting those extra couple of yards.
I thought Robinson looked like Maurice Jones-Drew out there at times and the folks that have concerns about Robinson confuses me. I have yet to meet anyone that has been able to tell me what they didn’t like about Robinson. Every concern I hear is about his situation going in next year and too many unknowns.
The biggest question I hear, concerning James Robinson, is he going to be apart of a running back by committee? We all do our best to predict the future and none of us know. It is a fair question. What I don’t understand is why is this the immediate concern? Has Urban Meyer used some sort of a committee that I am not aware of?
I base a lot of my fantasy football on coaches and schemes, as I believe they are easier to predict. I have gone back and looked at Urban Meyer’s teams and I don’t see huge use of a committee at running back. What I did find were some excellent running backs, like Zeke Elliot and Carlos Hyde.
James Robinson is going to be an RB1 next year, assuming he’s healthy for the year. Before Robinson was injured and missed that last 3 weeks of the season, he was third in the NFL for running back snap share percent at 75% and he only had 2 goal-line carries. The goal-line carries should increase, part of the reason he only saw two, the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t very good at football last year.
Will Robinson’s snap share percentage go down? Most likely, but even a fairly significant reduction would still put him in the top ten of the league. He made up 32% of the Jaguars’ total team yards, before the injury. I just don’t see a free agent back coming to the Jaguars and displacing Robinson.
I understand teams are not loyal to anyone, especially players with low draft capital, and cheap contracts. Robinson has both of these things playing against him, and his forty time is most likely what kept him off of draft boards. But, don’t lose sight of the fact that Robinson wasn’t much slower than what Le’Veon Bell ran. Robinson ran a 4.64 to Bell’s 4.6. Neither time is impressive, but on the field, they both get it done.
Go get James Robinson, but the price to trade for him should be closer to what you would spend on an RB2 or RB3. Not everyone will have the concerns of volume and situation, so don’t overpay. Remember you are trying to add him to your roster with the plan of his value increasing.
Another player I am looking forward to watching next year is Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Buccaneers. Many of you may have seen that catch this weekend against the New Orleans Saints and already took notice. If you happen to watch Minnesota Gopher football this name is certainly familiar.
During his time at Minnesota, he set school records in career receiving yards, number of 100-yard games, and career touchdowns.
I understand the University of Minnesota isn’t known as a football powerhouse, but setting multiple career records at any school is no small feat.
At 6-2 and 205 lbs, he has good size for a wide receiver. He has incredible hands. We didn’t see a lot of Johnson this year, as he only had twelve catches on 18 targets. Two of those catches went for touchdowns.
Throughout the year Johnson had some clutch catches for the Buccaneers, but this past weekend was the biggest catch of the season. In the fourth quarter, it was third and long and Johnson made an amazing catch to keep the drive going. Unbelievable body control.
Johnson’s price may have climbed recently, but I would make a move sooner than later. With Antonio Brown’s injury, Tyler Johnson could be seeing the field more.
Part of the reason I like Johnson so much, we could be seeing a real opportunity for him next season. Brown plays a lot in the slot when he is on the field. Brown may not be back next year. Godwin is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. Tyler Johnson could be the slot receiver next year in a Bruce Arians offense. Yes Please!
Another receiver that is a bit lower on many folks’ radar is Quintez Cephus, with the Detriot Lions. Much like Tyler Johnson, we aren’t sure who is going to be ahead of Cephus next year in Detriot. This is keeping his trade value low, he’s is certainly affordable.
Current teammate and former competitor, Jeff Okudah, thinks very highly of Cephus.
For Okudah to come out and say he was the best wide receiver he covered in college, says a lot in my opinion. Don’t forget Okudah was matched up against Tee Higgins in the Fiesta Bowl.
Quintez Cephus had mixed results at the NFL combine and it’s probably why the Lions were able to grab him in the 5th round last year. He ran a 4.73 forty yard dash, which is incredibly slow for a wide receiver by NFL standards. At the same time, Cephus did lead all wide receivers in reps on the bench press.
He did run much better at his pro day with a 4.56 forty time. His game and size have Cephus poised to be a possession receiver in the NFL. He’s not going to be a blazer. For fantasy purposes I love those volume possession types, they are almost always undervalued by market standards and are crucial to building a balanced roster.
You should be able to get Cephus for a mid to late-round draft pick, the cost to obtain him should be fairly low. There are people emotionally attached to him, because of Okudah’s comments, so again, do not overpay.
There is plenty of risks with Cephus, but there is also a potential opportunity for him to become the second or third receiver in this offense. There are questions with this offense, but use those questions to negotiate a lower price.
You will notice a theme with the next player. Risk-taking is apart of playing fantasy football. You have to be willing to take risks, but they should be calculated risks.
All the players I have mentioned have some risk regarding their playing time and roll. It’s because of these questions that we potentially can find fantasy GMs that are willing to part with players. It’s human nature to prefer known entities than it is unknown.
At the same time, there is excess excitement for some folks, hoping to catch a wonderful surprise. Know the GM you are dealing with and what kind of person they are, this is important.
Why do I bring all of this up? AJ Dillon has a very murky future, as of today. We don’t know what is going to happen with Aaron Jones, whose contract is up at the end of the year. That backfield has also been a bit tough to navigate with two to three backs getting significant touches every week.
AJ Dillon was also draft in the second round, that’s high draft capital to let set on your bench. Dillon was used very sparingly for most of the year, but when he did get significant touches, he performed. In week sixteen against the Tennessee Titans, he had 21 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
AJ Dillon is a big powerful running back and the perfect fit to share the backfield in Green Bay. Dillon needs to work on his passing game, both in pass pro and receiving. That was partly why he didn’t see the field more his rookie year.
Aaron Jones may or may not be back, and that would impact the value of having Dillon on your roster significantly. Jamal Williams could also be gone as he is an unrestricted free agent next year. Currently, only Dillon is on schedule to be under contract next year.
I was big on Dillon going into the draft. I was concerned after about eight to ten weeks, but after seeing him play more, I happen to think Dillon’s time is coming. His value is going to skyrocket once we see either Jones or Williams sign elsewhere.
The last player I am going to talk about is Donavan Peoples-Jones, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. DPJ is 6-2 and 212 lbs and ran a 4.48 forty time. At first glance, it looks like DPJ could be a stud, and as a high school recruit that was the plan.
He was a blue-chip recruit coming out of Detriot’s Cass Tech. He also ran track there and was “All-City” champ in the 100-yard dash.
But it never came together for him at the University of Michigan.
I will be the first to tell you, just because DJP didn’t blossom at Michigan, doesn’t mean he still won’t. This is the same Michigan football team and coaches that haven’t beaten Ohio State in almost ten years. I don’t have much faith in that offense or team at all, so I give DJP a bit of pass.
DJP has the natural tools, but the route running at Michigan was not something to rave about. He started in Cleveland buried on the depth chart. DJP didn’t see the field much outside of being a returner on special teams and he looked good doing it. DJP was electric on the field.
Once the injuries started adding up for Cleveland, DJP started seeing the field more and more. I was so impressed with DJP’s play, that I am willing to pay a bit more for him. The only thing stopping him from exploding is not being given an opportunity next year.
There is always talk of trading Odell Beckham Jr., but I am not seeing it. I expect both Beckham and Jarvis Landry to return to Cleveland. I am not convinced that Rashard Higgins will return. It was a one-year contract and DJP is already under contract as is KharDarel Hodge, who the Browns have been happy with.
Of all the players listed on this list, Donavan People-Jones has the highest ceiling. If DPJ can learn the nuisance of good route running, I feel like the sky is the limit for him. DJP also can probably be added to your roster for the lowest cost relative to the other players on this list. In fact, I think I am going to do that right now. Happy Trading!
- Rich Maletto (@BodaciousBeer)