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Jeremy’s Fantasy Football Draft Steals, Part 1

Where there is water, there must also be fire.  Where there is good, there must also be evil.  And where there is fantasy football hate, there must also be love.  That is the purpose of today’s article.  Last week I gave you a list of some players I am avoiding in my fantasy draft this year.  I will now give you a list of players I am targeting as potential picks in the draft.  These are guys I expect to have very good seasons, and at the vert least outperform their ADP.  I’m not gonna say obvious shit like “you should draft Derrick Henry!”  No, these draft steals will be players that are being underrated, and you can take advantage of it.

Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings (ADP: 21st)

I have to confess something.  After week one last year my Dad asked me who from his roster he should drop so he could pick up some scrub I don’t remember.  I said to drop Jefferson.  He did it, and then had to watch him go off on someone else’s team.  Not my proudest moment but I am making up for it now.  Jefferson finished last season as WR6 in fantasy scoring and his 2021 ADP has him as WR7.  People are essentially expecting Jefferson to have a near-repeat season.  I honestly think this ADP is solid, but I have a ton of confidence in him and would feel great having him as WR1 on my roster. 

Despite ranking 13th in receptions last season (88), he racked up the 3rd most receiving yards (1,400) among receivers.  His skillset makes him an elite yards/reception receiver who can bust off a big play at any given moment.  He has the efficiency of someone like Tyreek Hill or A.J. Brown, but he will also have the opportunity/targets of someone like DeAndre Hopkins.  That combination could easily produce a top-5 season for JJ.

His 25.7% target share in 2020 ranked 9th best in the league.  However, 36.4% of the team air yards belonged to JJ, the 5th most of any receiver.  Not only is he getting a large share of targets, but he’s getting targets deep down the field.  The knock on Jefferson is his lack of red zone targets.  He had only 10 in 2020, while Adam Thielen got 19.  After a full offseason of working together though, I expect Kirk Cousins to be much more comfortable with JJ, and I think his red zone targets, and touchdowns, will increase. 

Minnesota is a run-first kind of team, but JJ has taken the top receiver spot on the roster, and outside of Adam Thielen, there really aren’t any other strong receiving threats.  As a result, I think Jefferson will get a massive target share and will also be a consistent big-play threat.  I would not be surprised if he led the league in receiving yards. Could be a major draft steal.

Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals (ADP: 23rd)

Joe Mixon has been on my fantasy football draft love list every single year of his NFL career.  An injury cut his season short after only 6 games last season, but there were some promising trends developing before he got hurt.  The first was his 81.5% opportunity share.  That means 81.5% of the carries/targets that went to RBs on the Bengals went to Mixon.  He was almost always on the field and got almost all of the touches going to RBs.  That’s a true workhorse-level workload.  The backfield is his, and his alone, especially now that Gio Bernard has left the team.

Mixon averaged 20 carries per game in 2020.  Across a 16 game season, that would have equaled 320 carries, which would have been 2nd most only to Derrick Henry.  He also averaged 4.3 targets/game, which extended across a full season would have equaled 69 total targets.  That would have been 6th most in the league.  My point is that the Bengals are going to give Mixon a crazy amount of work. He will very likely rank in the top-5 in terms of total touches for RBs.

In addition to a monstrous workload, Mixon will also enjoy the best supporting cast of his career this season.  PFF gives the Bengals the 24th best offensive line this season, but given the youth of the unit it’s very possible they outperform this ranking.  Joe Burrow is surrounded by his favorite receiver in the world Ja’Marr Chase, as well as Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins (both great receivers).  Defenses will be much more focused on Burrow and the passing game than Mixon and the ground game. 

All of these factors should allow Mixon to outperform his career average 4.1 yards per carry and 7.8 yards per reception.  It should also give him more opportunities to score touchdowns, and I predict he will have 10+ total TDs for the first time in his career.  As the 14th RB coming off the board in drafts, Mixon is a steal.  He has the upside of potentially being a top-5 RB, and his floor is a solid RB2 due to his guaranteed workload.  I would take him end of round 1/early round 2 in my draft and not think twice about it, but luckily you can get him later than that.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints (ADP: 26th)

I honestly feel kind of bad talking about Thomas because he is such an obvious steal in a fantasy draft.  Since his rookie year in 2016, Michael Thomas has finished 7th (2016), 6th (2017-2018), and 1st (2019) in wide receiver scoring.  2020 was an outlier.  Thomas was plagued by injuries all season as well as Drew Brees’s arm, which had a maximum throwing distance of 10 yards.

My point is this: outside of last season, Michael Thomas has been a strong WR1 every season of his career.  Not only that, but he literally set the single season receptions record in 2019 and scored the most WR fantasy points since Antonio Brown’s 2015 season.  But because of 2020 (a season I’m comfortable labeling an anomaly), he is currently being drafted as WR9.  Obviously the upside is massive, as its entirely possible he returns to his 2019 form.  His floor is also very high.  Based on historical data, the worst-case scenario for Thomas is still a top-10 finish.

Now I know Drew Brees is no longer the QB of the Saints, which is something to think about.  But here’s the good news, Jameis Winston is taking over.  Don’t you dare try and tell me Taysom Hill is going to start.  If he does, Sean Payton should be fired and all records of him coaching the Saints should be erased.  It has to be Winston, and he is currently listed as QB1 on the depth chart.

In 2019, Winston led the league in passing yards with over 5,000 and was 2nd in the league in touchdowns with 33.  His top target, Chris Godwin, finished as WR2 in fantasy scoring despite only playing 14 games.  Thomas will certainly be Winston’s favorite target in NO, as he remains the only strong receiving threat in that offense (outside of Kamara). 

Thomas is a great player, and I expect his massive target share to remain in tact with Winston under center.  I also expect the Saints to be playing catch-up more often than usual, resulting in more passing plays.  Finally, Winston’s style of play will likely result in more deep targets and big plays for Thomas.  Outside of injury, I can’t imagine a scenario where Thomas isn’t a top-10 receiver, and he could easily be #1 overall.  He could be a massive steal in your draft this year.

Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles (ADP: 32nd)

I understand the concerns surrounding Miles Sanders.  The Eagles signed Kerryon Johnson in the offseason and have a history of utilizing the RB committee system (barf).  Sanders also relied on an insanely efficient 5.3 yards per carry in 2020, which was largely a result of a few big plays.  He was RB23 in fantasy scoring last year, but is currently being drafted as RB16.  I don’t care about any of that, and I think Sanders is going to live up to the potential people expected last year.

Let’s talk about the offensive line.  It sucked last year, and Carson Wentz paid the price.  But it won’t suck this year.  2020 was an injury ridden season for Philly and the O-line felt the force of that.  This year, PFF gives them the 17th best line in the NFL now that those missing players have returned.  It’s not amazing, but it’s good enough to let Sanders cook.  Not only will the line be better, but so will the quarterback.  I genuinely believe in Jalen Hurts. I think he will have a great season this year and create a lot of scoring opportunities.  If nothing else, he’s a great runner, and running QBs take the pressure off RBs, making it easier for them to get space in the open field.

Despite the fact that I like Hurts, I still don’t like this receiving corp.  DeVonta Smith will help, but the passing game will still be the weaker part of the offense.  I expect Philly to lean on Sanders pretty heavily.  Last season Sanders had a 77% snap share (3rd) and 76% opportunity share (6th) when healthy.  He was a workhorse when he was on the field, and everyone behind him on the depth chart barely saw the field, and almost never saw the ball.

Finally, Sanders has obvious upside in the passing game.  He got 4.3 targets per game last season, a number I fully expect him to repeat or increase.  While his carry numbers in 2020 were low, that was a result of the Eagles barely running the ball as a team, not because some other guy vultured touches.  If they run the ball more this season (which I expect them to), then I think Sanders easily gets 20+ total touches per game.  With his skillset and the improved Eagles offense, that could translate to a top-10 fantasy season.  At the very least, he’s a starting running back with a large workload, which guarantees him a top-20 finish (if healthy).