Adam Levitan

Draft Analysis

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Favorite Fliers

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The first couple rounds of a fantasy draft are boring to me. We’ve poked and prodded guys like Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy and Dez Bryant so much that even the casual fantasy owner knows their whole life story.

But as each round of the draft passes, our edge over lesser-informed enemies grows wider. And when we get to Rounds 11-14 of a 16-team draft, we really get the chance to flex our muscles.

I like to call this area of the draft the “Flier Range.” Our goal is not to acquire boring, low-upside players who get singles. We want the Pedro Alvarezes and Adam Dunns of the world – when they actually connect, the ball goes a long way.

With this strategy, we’re going to strike out a lot. Last year’s Favorite Fliers column whiffed on Roy Helu, Zach Sudfeld, Rueben Randle and Coby Fleener among others. But we hit big with Jordan Cameron and Joique Bell, and also finished in the black with Michael Floyd and Jay Cutler.

The point is that these are low-risk lottery tickets that can be discarded cheaply if it doesn’t work out. We should be targeting talented, athletic, high-upside players that just need a break or two in order to emerge as a top-40 option.  

For this column, a flier must have an ADP (average draft position) of 115.0 or later, as defined by Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP report. That means guys I like such as Zach Ertz, Devonta Freeman, Jeremy Hill, Christine Michael, Brandin Cooks and Kyle Rudolph are out.

So here we go with the 2013 Favorite Fliers, listed in order of how badly I want them:

1. Ladarius Green, ADP 128.0
We no longer need to establish Ladarius Green’s status as an athletic freak. The cat is already out of the bag on the 24-year-old that goes 6’6/240 and has 4.5 wheels. We also shouldn’t have to establish that 34-year-old Antonio Gates is done – he averaged 3.0 catches for 27.8 yards with one touchdown over the final eight games last year.

All we need to find out now is how the San Diego coaching staff views Green. Last year, they finally began to take the shackles off in Week 13. From that point forward (seven games including playoffs), Green played on 59.7 percent of the Chargers’ offensive snaps. That would be an OK percentage if he was a strict pass-catching tight end, but he only ran pass routes on 39.5 percent of his snaps. So we had a part-time player that was blocking a majority of the time, which led to wildly inconsistent box-score production.

The hope is that Green has improved as a route-runner and the coaches are ready to let him emerge as a No. 2 or 3 option in a thin pass game. This is exactly the kind of situation we look for in an ideal flier.

2. Marvin Jones ADP 126.3
It wasn’t a good start to camp for Marvin Jones, as he missed nearly two weeks due to an ankle injury sustained at a post-minicamp workout. Hopefully that will keep him in the flier range. Former OC Jay Gruden’s questionable talent evaluation skills meant Jones played on just 48.0 percent of the snaps last year as he rotated with Mohamed Sanu, but he still posted a 51-712-10 line. New OC Hue Jackson won’t stand for that usage, as he immediately inserted Jones as his primary bookend to A.J. Green and moved Sanu into the slot. Now Jones will likely be playing 75 percent of the snaps at a minimum. He has a real shot at 70 catches and 1,000 yards even as the Bengals shift to a more run-based approach.

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3. Kenny Britt ADP 158.2
Kenny Britt spent the first the first two years of his NFL career with Jeff Fisher (2009 and 2010), compiling 84 catches for 1,476 yards and 12 touchdowns in 28 games. In the first two games of the 2011 season, he went 5-136-2 and 9-135-1. Showing overpowering physical ability, he was on his way to being a fantasy and real-life star. Then Britt tore his ACL in a Week 3 game against the Broncos, the off-field headaches started to pile up and he eventually bottomed out as one of the worst receivers in the NFL last year.

All is not lost, however. Britt is still just 25 years old, has been reunited with Fisher in St. Louis and reportedly “seems like a changed man” at camp. He’s been getting a ton of work with the first unit in a receiving corps desperate for a true No. 1. Based on raw talent, Britt will run circles around the likes of Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens.

4. Carlos Hyde ADP 115.8
If you’re interested in handcuffs, we have you covered here and here – I don’t include handcuffs in this “Favorite Fliers” list. I have Carlos Hyde here because he’s worth a standalone pick. That would have been the case before the season-ending injury to Kendall Hunter (ACL), LaMichael James’ elbow injury and Marcus Lattimore’s continuing struggles to regain health. Frank Gore, now 31, averaged just 3.65 YPC over the final ten games of last year and is projected to see something around 220 carries this year even if he does stay healthy. The 49ers clearly see the writing on the wall with Gore, having used a fourth-rounder on Hunter in 2011, a second-rounder on James in 2012 and a fourth-rounder on Lattimore in 2013. The difference with second-rounder Hyde is that he’s true feature back material, one that’s capable of capitalizing on a run-first scheme and dominant run-blocking line.

5. James White ADP 152.9
When we talk about early-camp winners among rookies, two names immediately come to mind: James White and Brandin Cooks. White has been referred to as a “phenom” by the Boston Globe, and top beat mean Mike Reiss expects White to both threaten Stevan Ridley for early-down work and be a “significant part” of the attack. Perhaps most importantly, coach Bill Belichick lavished praise on the fourth-round rookie, dispelling notions that he’s a mere passing back by calling him a three-down player. The path to playing time is not that crowded here, as Shane Vereen has been unable to stay healthy and Ridley has fumbled nine times across the last two seasons. White is already ahead of Brandon Bolden and can be penciled in as the backup to both Vereen and Ridley.

6. Markus Wheaton ADP 149.7
These are not your older brother’s Steelers. This Pittsburgh team skews toward the pass under OC Todd Haley, something that allowed Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to combine for 113 receptions and 16 touchdowns last season. Both those guys are gone, leaving coach Mike Tomlin to talk about the “gravity” of the situation for second-year breakout candidate Markus Wheaton.

Wheaton has been handed the starting “X” job opposite “Z” Antonio Brown, leaving newly acquired slot man Lance Moore to merely do some dirty work. Wheaton, whose 4.45 Combine time doesn’t indicate how fast he plays, drew Mike Wallace comparisons coming out of Oregon State – and he may even run better routes. Reports from both national and local media say Wheaton is off to a strong start at camp. “He can be that guy that teams look at in the first four games and are like, ‘Who is that dude running past people?’” said Ike Taylor, who has been going toe-to-toe with Wheaton in practices.

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Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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