Fantasy flip (part 2): one team, two players, even more opposing values
Finding players with clear paths to touches and targets is the name of the game in fantasy. Sometimes a team’s pecking order, however, doesn’t guarantee volume. Building on last week’s piece, I highlight two players on the same team and explain why the less popular option is the better overall choice. Welcome to part two of fantasy flip!
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (21.2 ADP, WR9)
Like my colleague, Scott Pianowski, I’m torn on Cooper’s value. I do believe him to be an ascending talent whose production has increased steadily over the past two years. Ranking eighth among WRs in yards and excelling after the catch with an average of 3.6 yards per target last year, Cooper’s evolution could very well continue into 2017.
Except for those touchdowns…
Targeted 13 times in the red area of the field and converting just 5 of those opportunities, Cooper’s 2016 effort fell flat from a fantasy perspective. Additionally, for the second straight year he faded by November, averaging nearly 6 catches per game over the first 10 weeks and barely 3 receptions per outing over the season’s final stretch. The truth is, the Raiders don’t have to force the ball to the 23 year old. Not with boundary specialist Michael Crabtree and goal line gremlin Marshawn Lynch on the roster.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders (46.0 ADP, WR21)
Entering his age 30 season and coming off a year that ended with a concussion, Crabtree has his share of red flags. His consistency, however, is not one of them. Averaging 14 fantasy points per game in back-to-back campaigns, Crabtree has posted nearly identical stat lines (85-922-9and 89-1,003-8 and) in 2015 and 2016.
Since moving to Oakland he’s been a solid WR2 for fantasy purposes, earning over 22 percent of the red zone target share in each effort. A technician with toes that even the most prima of ballerinas envy, Crabby has amassed 17 spikes since entering the Black Hole. A regression wouldn’t surprise me, except it hasn’t happened yet, and in the fourth round there doesn’t seem to be a safer bet.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (53.0 ADP, RB25)
After logging over 300 total touches and crossing the goal line 18 times in 2016, Blount’s lead-up to the fall has been as underwhelming as watching a cloudy sky through a cereal box. With legs that appear to be zapped of all power, the former Patriot totaled just 17 yards on nine carries over the first two weeks of the preseason. While Coach Pederson calls him a “beast” there are plenty of other whispers suggesting his roster spot is far from safe.
With Ryan Mathews released, there is a massive opportunity for Blount, especially on early downs and near the end zone. However, after underwhelming in camp and in an offense that likes to feature pass-catching backs, Blount’s appeal has expired faster than a bottle of over-priced green juice. While some are expecting Wendell Smallwood to earn the lead back job, I’d bank on Darren Sproles seeing the most fantasy friendly touches.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (161.4 ADP, RB67)
The same people who are (finally) pounding the table in favor of Frank Gore’s value were rolling their eyes at Sproles’ potential last year. Yes, he’s old. Yes, he’s small. He’s also one of the league’s most durable backs, having missed just seven games since 2007. Averaging nearly 11 fantasy points per game last year, Sproles closed out 2016 as a top-twenty-five producer in PPR formats. He was also hyper-efficient on the ground, managing 4.9 YPC when facing a base front. Compare that to Blount’s 4.0 YPC when taking on an equivalent number lineman.
Under the tutelage of Frank Reich – who was the architect of the Chargers’ offense the year Danny Woodhead posted an 80 catch season – Sproles saw nearly 5 targets per contest, which was the sixth most among RBs last year. A focal point of the offense, the 34-year-old “satellite back” racked up 13 red zone looks, just behind Nelson Agholor (17) and Zach Ertz (16). Expected to be even more involved in the passing game this year, Sproles is the late-round gift that keeps on giving.
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (36.3 ADP, WR16)
On a recent episode of the X’s and Y’s Podcast, in the midst of a discussion about going RB/RB with back-to-back picks and regarding the hairiness of the third and fourth rounds, I admitted to owning a good number of shares in Allen. Due to roster construction, I wanted to chase upside with my WR1 selection.
From volume potential (he averaged 11 targets per game in 2015) to catch rate (the third best in the league in 2015), Allen has more promise than a gymnasium full of Keepers. Let’s not forget, he announced his NFL arrival with a top-twenty fantasy effort and is just two years removed from a campaign in which he was on pace for over 1,400 yards and eight scores. That’s straight ceiling. As my friend John Evans likes to say, however, his floor is “the subbasement of a cellar.”
Having started just nine games over the past two years, Allen’s durability is a warranted concern. While he’s certainly flashed (keeping optimists like myself hooked), he’s also shown an inability to stay healthy and/or focused (remember when music was his passion back in 2014?), which has prevented him from fulfilling his potential. With Mike Williams unlikely to make a major impact this year, I’m willing to gamble on Allen’s health, but I wouldn’t roll my eyes at the manager fixed on taking a more conservative approach… especially if it means waiting six rounds for Ty the Tyro.
Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (99.5 ADP, WR41)
Gifted with athleticism and opportunity, Williams became one of last season’s hottest waiver wire adds. Philip Rivers’ favorite target in 2016, the Western Oregon alum averaged over 13 fantasy points per game, posting a 69-1,059-7 stat line. Impressing after the catch, Williams burned DBs for 439 yards once the ball was in his hands, ranking among the top-eight WRs in this statistical category.
Even after establishing a solid run game, and with a number of young difference makers on defense, the Chargers are still going to keep the ball in the air. Last year Philip Rivers amassed the tenth most attempts per game, and the team has been among the most pass-happy offenses since 2012. Set to garner less defensive attention with Allen back, and given his stellar catch radius, Williams should conservatively produce high-end WR3 fantasy numbers. FF: 68-963-9
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