Assessing a fantasy assets’ ceiling or floor in any given year is difficult because those marks change throughout careers. Doug Baldwin had never topped 825 yards or five touchdowns in a season before he exploded in 2015, but now both of those totals look like floor or even sub-floor projections for Seattle’s No. 1 receiver. A talented receiver on what appeared to be an ascending offense, Amari Cooper looked almost certain to be a top-15 receiver last season, but he needed a monster game to even touch the top-30. In more philosophical terms, everything has never happened until it does, so assuming a player cannot reach a certain ceiling or fall below a certain floor simply because they have not done so in the past is not the best way to approach upside and downside conversations.
That said, past performance is generally a good indicator of future results, and drafting a player well above their previously demonstrated ceiling without a good reason to expect a breakthrough does not make much sense. On the other hand, a great way to find value is to draft the non-exciting players whose expected opportunity give them a high non-injury floor. Looking at this year’s early ADP, there are plenty of players who fit the bill in both categories.
*All ADP information found at fantasyfootballcalculator.com
Derrick Henry – 27 overall, RB17 – Ceiling
RB17 is certainly not Henry’s ceiling if something were to happen to Dion Lewis, and it is possible he could jump this bar even if Lewis stays healthy. That said, this is much more about his placing in the overall ADP than among running backs. As the 27th player off the board on average, Henry is going ahead of receivers like Doug Baldwin, T.Y. Hilton, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs. That placing means he needs to be more like a top-12 running back to justify going ahead of those receivers, a mark which will be difficult to beat for a committee back with limited involvement in the passing game. All but two of the top-12 backs last season had at least 35 catches, and the two who did not, Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard, had 242 and 276 carries as the RB9 and 10. Unless something happens to Lewis or Henry takes a shockingly large share of the carries, he is being drafted near the top of his range.
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Lamar Miller – 44 overall, RB23 – Floor
Like seemingly every running back, Miller is probably a bit too high in the overall ADP, but he is low enough to call him a floor play despite some warranted concerns. It is true Miller has struggled as a runner his two years in Houston, his offensive line remains a disaster, and he worryingly lost carries to Alfred Blue late last season. That last bullet would seemingly destroy a floor argument, especially since a healthy D’Onta Foreman is a much bigger threat than Blue, but Miller has two things working in his favor. First, Foreman is not a lock for Week 1 after suffering an Achilles injury in November, and his effectiveness will be in serious question even if he makes it back for the start of the season. Second, Miller is easily Houston’s best option in the passing game, which alone should keep him on the field enough to reach the RB2 plateau. With Deshaun Watson back healthy – Miller averaged 12.7 fantasy points per game in his six starts last season – Miller is a good bet to better his ADP.
Carlos Hyde – 71 overall, RB30 – Ceiling
As a long-time Hyde supporter, it is painful to make the case against him. Still, it is difficult to imagine him bettering this draft cost, especially when the receivers he is being drafted ahead of are taken into account. Even if Cleveland’s backfield is more productive this season – Browns runners scored the 10th fewest fantasy points last season despite the fourth-most catches in the league – Hyde’s share of that production is going to be limited. Easily the best option in the passing game, Duke Johnson should handle the majority of the receiving work, and second-rounder Nick Chubb is a serious threat on early downs. Even if Hyde “wins” the starting job, it will be tough to project him for more than 40 percent of the total carries, a number which will make it difficult for him to be a consistent producer without a large target share. Perhaps that is a low-ball estimate and perhaps Hyde is more involved in the passing game than expected following a 59-catch season, but there are better, higher-upside options coming off the board after him.
Isaiah Crowell – 88 overall, RB37 – Floor
Even operating under the assumption Bilal Powell retains his passing-down role and Elijah McGuire takes a step forward, it seems very likely Crowell is able to jump this very low bar. Despite never having more than 240 touches in Cleveland, Crowell finished as the RB31, RB15, RB29, and RB27 each of the last four years. The offensive situation in New York is not great, but it is not markedly worse than what he faced with the Browns. Most importantly, there is reason to believe he will significantly outpace this draft cost. Beat writers seem to think Crowell was signed to be the lead back, and the New York Post expects Powell’s role to shrink “dramatically” this season. Crowell is not an exciting pick, especially after he burned fantasy players who drafted him much earlier than 88th overall last season, but he should be at worst solid at this draft cost and has underappreciated opportunity upside.
Larry Fitzgerald – 54 overall, WR22 – Floor
Running backs are dominating the early rounds this season — there are 15 running backs drafted on average in the first 24 picks, the most since 2013 (18) and three higher than the 2014-2017 average – creating essentially nothing but value at receiver. Julio Jones could easily be on this list as the 14th player off the board on average, but digging deeper seemed more helpful. Shockingly, one has to dig pretty deep down the draft board to find Fitzgerald, a player who has been at least a top-16 receiver in standard formats each of the last three years and top-10 in PPR. He does face a different situation this season with Bruce Arians no longer calling the shots, but the state of the pass-catching group and new OC Mike McCoy’s history makes it highly unlikely Fitzgerald take a big step back from the 152 targets he has averaged over the last three seasons. Especially with what looks like a better quarterback situation, that volume should allow him to jump this low bar even if the team struggles.
~Randall Cobb – 98 overall, WR37 – Floor
Cobb’s recent history is not impressive, and a recently discovered foot injury does not engender confidence. He is, however, Aaron Rodgers’ No. 2 wide receiver, a spot which has consistently created fantasy value. In the eight seasons in which he has played at least 15 games, Rodgers’ No. 2 receiver has been a top-24 option in all but two of them including Cobb’s WR31 finish in 2015. It is worth noting Green Bay’s No. 1 that year, James Jones, did not have the season Davante Adams is projected for, and while Richard Rodgers did finish as the TE9 with eight touchdowns, Jimmy Graham should command a bigger role. Even so, that WR31 finish is still six spots higher than Cobb is being drafted now, and his spot in the offense has demonstrated WR1 upside – Cobb himself finished as the WR6 in 2014. Cobb is a good bet to return his current ADP, and he has the upside for much more.
Pierre Garcon – 102 overall, WR39 – Floor
Garcon’s ADP is deeply confusing. Sure Marquise Goodwin blew up down the stretch and has likely earned a larger target share, but Goodwin was not a wallflower while Garcon was healthy last year. Even with Goodwin commanding 6.1 targets per game over the first seven weeks – he averaged 6.9 per game the rest of the season – Garcon was on pace for 144 targets, 87 catches, and 1,104 yards, all with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard at quarterback. Perhaps his target share dips down to around 20 percent following Goodwin’s explosion, but that still should be enough for him to return at least WR39 value, especially with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
Rishard Matthews – 147 overall, WR55 – Floor
Matthews has been underappreciated so long it is barely worth making his case, but here it is. While it is possible if not likely Corey Davis takes over as the No. 1 receiver this season, Matthews is a hyper-efficient receiver – he has averaged 14.7 yards per catch while hauling in 60.5 percent of his targets his two seasons in Tennessee – in a passing game which would have been primed for a bounce back even without a big coaching upgrade. The WR36 last year in just 14 games playing in a passing offense which threw only 14 touchdowns, Matthews would have to fall off a cliff to drop out of the top-50.
Jared Goff – 108 overall, QB13 – Ceiling
The case for QB13 being right around Goff’s ceiling is not difficult. He had the fourth-highest touchdown percentage in the league last season (5.9) after throwing for a score on just 2.4 percent of his passes as a rookie, and he had the second-highest yards-per-attempt average (8) following a 5.3 YPA in 2016. Of course, a dramatic coaching upgrade could help explain that jump, but there are reasons to believe those numbers are at least a bit inflated. Goff had five touchdowns of 50-yards or more last season, second-most in the league behind Alex Smith, and eight of his touchdowns came on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. His YPA also looks inflated based on his pedestrian average depth of target and the Rams finishing with the fourth-most yards after catch last season. Goff could make up for some regression with more volume – he averaged just 31.8 attempts per game last season – but a star-studded defense should allow the Rams to be just as dominant this year, making it unlikely Goff tops even 550 attempts. Perhaps he can recreate his QB12 finish from last season, but it is tough to imagine him soaring much higher than that.
Dak Prescott – 144 overall, QB19 – Floor
The Prescott hate has gotten out of control. Sure he was dreadful over the second half of the season – he averaged 6.5 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and nine interceptions over his final eight games – but the majority of those performances came without Ezekiel Elliott while several others came with a compromised offensive line. His inability to overcome those obstacles says something about Prescott as a real-life player, but that does not matter from a fantasy perspective. What does matter is Prescott was on pace for a 3,636/32/8 passing line as well as 390 rushing yards and eight rushing scores before Zeke was suspended last season and was the QB4 after nine weeks. That is not to say he is going to be a top-five quarterback this year, and it remains possible everything goes wrong again, especially with the questions at receiver. Even if it does, however, Prescott was still the QB20 over the second half of last season, and he has the demonstrated upside to obliterate his draft cost. He is a fantastic late-round target.
Delanie Walker – 76 overall, TE8 – Floor
As with Matthews, the likelihood Tennessee’s passing attack bounces back makes Walker an easy floor candidate, but it is also important to note Walker was already the TE6 last year despite playing for a team which threw just 14 touchdown passes. Tight end was a bit watered down last year, and Walker’s performance would have been more in the TE9 range in a normal season. Even so, that is basically where he is being drafted right now, and there is little reason to believe his target share is suddenly going to nosedive under a new coaching staff. Walker is a safe pick with the upside to considerably outplay his draft cost.
Jack Doyle – 140 overall, TE12 – Ceiling
It is nonsensical to rail against a 12th-round tight end because, ultimately, who cares? That said, it is worth noting Doyle might not be the reliable back-end TE1 he was last season, even with Andrew Luck expected back. The owner of a career 6.6 yards-per-target average, Doyle is fairly reliant on volume, and it is fair to wonder if another 100-target season is in his range of possibilities with Eric Ebron both on the team and earning nothing but praise from new coach Frank Reich. Ebron’s penchant to disappoint and the Colts’ lack of proven pass catchers probably means it is still on the high-end of his possible outcomes. Still, Doyle is not a great bet to climb into the upper echelons of the tight end group even if he sees that kind of volume, and the nature of tight end makes an upside shot much more appealing where Doyle is going in drafts.
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