Over the first two days of the draft, I kept a running tally on veterans that were impacted by the selections their organizations made. Today, I want to acknowledge a few players that were impacted positively for fantasy football by what their respective teams declined to do in the draft.
The Panthers elected to bypass selecting an early down back in this year’s draft despite being linked to several prospects. Jonathan Stewart has moved on via free agency, leaving only Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker on the roster to threaten for backfield touches outside McCaffrey. To Artis-Payne’s credit, he has been useful for fantasy purposes when he’s actually played, finishing as the RB9, RB14, RB24 and RB43 in the four career games in which he’s had double-digit touches – which may also make him an undercover winner here considering his draft cost- but his 2018 use is still very likely to be a complimentary piece in this offense as none of those four games came with McCaffrey on the roster while McCaffrey has a lock on receiving work (Artis-Payne has seven career targets). Tack on that Cam Newton is still the most efficient goal-line rusher in the league since he was drafted -converting 35-of-51 (68.6 percent) rushing attempts inside of the 5-yard line for touchdowns – and it’s hard to push for Artis-Payne being a huge benefactor, even if useful.
McCaffrey hardly lit it up on the ground as a rookie, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, but as Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus has shown, McCaffrey was much better in his rushing climate than originally presumed and was comparable to Leonard Fournette in rushing efficiency. While McCaffrey’s frame (5’11”, 202 pounds) likely leaves the door open for a back like Artis-Payne to stay involved and keep McCaffrey upright, McCaffrey doesn’t need a lot more work in the rushing department to greatly enhance his fantasy value. In comparison, McCaffrey had 117 rushes and 80 receptions over his rookie campaign while Alvin Kamara totaled 120 rushes and 81 receptions over his. While Kamara was greatly more efficient, his type of efficiency as a rookie will be hard to replicate, as well as all of long-distance scoring. Eight of his 13 offensive touchdowns in the regualr season came from outside of the 10-yard line. Any swing of variance within efficiency on their touches can tighten the gap while one of these backs is a top-7 selection in drafts while the other is selected at the 2-3 turn.
This offseason has played out as a best-case scenario for Drake. Instead of opting to trade for a viable veteran in C.J. Anderson or sink high draft capital into this strong group of rookie rushers, the Dolphins added just Frank Gore via free agency and Kalen Ballage in this year’s draft. Granted, Gore has been the NFL version of Shang-Tsung, claiming several potential breakout souls at the running position, but he will also be turning 35-years old in two weeks. There have only been nine backs in league history to have 100 or touches in a season at age 35 or older with the last one being Emmitt Smith in 2004. Ballage is an intriguing back from a measurable (6”1”, 228 pounds) and athletic stance, but never controlled his own backfield at Arizona State, failing to keep a pedestrian back such as Demario Richard off the field, who was not selected in this class. Over the final six weeks of the 2017 season, Drake was the RB9 in PPR scoring, averaging 106.8 yards from scrimmage over those weeks on 20 touches. While the touches will be shaved down, he has a projectable touch count in the ballpark of a back like Jerick McKinnon, who goes a full round ahead of him in drafts.
The Ravens took their time committing to Collins last year as he failed to play even half of the team snaps in any of their nine games prior to their Week 10 bye despite rushing for 521 yards on 93 carries over that span. Coming out of the bye, however, they were all in as Collins averaged 19.8 touches per game and was the RB10 for fantasy purposes over that span with five games as the RB14 or higher in weekly PPR scoring. The Ravens didn’t add a back in free agency or the draft but do have Kenneth Dixon returning from a torn ACL. Dixon stands to immediately push for the role that Javorious Allen had, but Collins should hold off Dixon on early downs and at the goal line. Collin’s six rushing touchdowns also matched Todd Gurley and Latavius Murray for the most in the league over that end of the season stretch. Post draft, Collins still goes in the 5th-round, which is more than a palatable spot to hedge on him losing any reps to a receiving back.
Cobb’s role was never in question entering the draft, but it was known that the Packers were looking to add talent to the Z position and could’ve added a number of early options such as a D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley or a James Washington that could’ve hedged Cobb’s target share. Instead, Green Bay opted to go for a strength in numbers approach in filling that position, using picks on J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown all in the fourth round and later and all within 74 picks of each other. Since Aaron Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback in 2008, the Packers have never had a rookie wideout catch more than 38 passes in a season to begin with, and we’re talking players that were immensely more talented and required more of a team investment than this current group. Cobb’s 2014 season appears to be a career outlier at this point, but with an unsettled position on the perimeter and a Jimmy Graham – who struggled outside of the red zone in his age 31 season a year ago- Cobb should regain some traction as a very cheap fantasy path to some of the production Rodgers put out. In his five full games with Rodgers a year ago, Cobb quietly tallied 30 receptions for 302 yards and two touchdowns on 45 targets while being the WR27 or higher in four of those weeks. Currently the WR50 in ADP over in DRAFT leagues, the 28-year old Cobb is a low-risk proposition.
I don’t want to lay this out as much as I’m sure that no one wants to hear it, but Benjamin stands to be a glaring value considering his price point and opportunity share entering 2018. The Bills did select two wideouts in this draft but did so in taking two slot receivers – Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl – at picks 187 and 255 overall, hardly of any relevance for immediate opportunity if they even stand to remain on the roster come September. McCloud and Proehl joins a rogue’s gallery of Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, Kaelin Clay, Malachi Dupre, Quan Bray, Brandon Reilly and Rod Streater on the Buffalo roster surrounding Benjamin. Even if you anticipate the addition of Josh Allen being a negative for Benjamin, he’s more than capable of putting up an inefficient fantasy season carried for tremendous volume from an inaccurate passer. In his rookie season, Benjamin was the WR15 overall, catching just 50.8 percent of his targets, but amassed a gaudy 145 looks from Cam Newton that season in route to a 26.6 percent share of his team’s targets. I’m not endorsing Benjamin as someone you want to ride a week to week wave with, but with an ADP of 128.9 overall in leagues, I’d much rather take on his opportunity and scoring ability than the likes of a Martavis Bryant or a Calvin Ridley, who are being selected ahead of him at the receiver position.
There’s a case that both Jay Ajayi and Marlon Mack belong here, but there’s still some ambiguity for each moving forward. On Ajayi’s front, I believe his current 5th-round draft price is just fine, but I’m not entirely certain how much it is elevated. We know the Eagles like to use their entire backfield weekly, and since Doug Pederson joined the team, the Eagles have had just seven regular season games in which an individual back had more than 15 carries in a game and just nine games in which an individual back reached 17 touches in a game. The team also retained niche back Darren Sproles to go along with Corey Clement, who both cut into the receptions promise for Ajayi. The club also liked using Clement inside of the 10-yard line, where he out-touched Ajayi seven to four after Philadelphia acquired Ajayi, which includes the postseason.
As a rookie, Mack was exactly the boom or bust runner he was in college. Mack was above league average in rate of runs to go for 10 or more yards (11.8 percent), but 32.6 percent of his carries failed to gain any yardage, the highest rate of running backs with 75 or more carries on the season. For a teammate comparison, Frank Gore only failed to gain positive yardage on 16.5 percent of his rushing attempts last year. The Colts stayed away from the initial run of bigger named backs from this class despite having ample draft picks over the first three rounds, instead opting to select Nyheim Hines -arguably the best pass catching running back in this draft after Saquon Barkley – at pick 104 and Jordan Wilkins –who outperformed his collegiate rushing opportunity– at pick 169. While those two players weren’t a Derrius Guice or even a Royce Freeman, they both carry similar draft capital to the 143rd overall selection used on Mack a year ago. This will be a backfield battle to monitor all summer long if they fail to add a veteran such as C.J. Anderson or DeMarco Murray as the Colts have built a potentially stout interior offensive line over the past two draft classes.
Amara Darboh: Seattle used a 3rd-round pick on Darboh a year ago and failed to add any wideouts in the draft while adding just Marcus Johnson and Jaron Brown to their roster prior this offseason. Darboh checks out at 6’2”, 214 pounds and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine a year ago. With Seattle missing 176 targets from Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson a year ago, Darboh doesn’t have a daunting list of bodies to contend with on the depth chart. At the very least, he has the size to make up for the loss of Graham and Richardson in the red zone, as those two players accounted for 50 percent of the Seattle targets in that area of the field in 2017, combining for 13 touchdowns.
Michael Roberts: The 4th-round pick from a year ago has an inline to taking a step forward in his second season in the league. First, the Lions rescinded the 5th-year option they had on Eric Ebron, then had Darren Fells leave via free agency. In their absence, Detroit signed career role players in Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo as insurance/competition for Roberts in 2018, but only gave each 1-year contracts. Roberts tallied 16 receiving touchdowns in his final season at Toledo while Ebron accounted for 11 red zone targets a year ago, which were second on the team.
Ben Watson: A lot of mock drafts had the Saints in play for Hayden Hurst or Mike Gesicki, but they failed to add a tight end over the course of last weekend. New Orleans has seemingly all but given up on Coby Fleener as he received just 15 targets over the team’s final 12 games of 2017 and Josh Hill has never had more than 16 receptions in any of his five seasons in the league. I don’t anticipate Watson to channel another TE8 scoring season like the one he had in New Orleans at age 35 in 2015, but I do expect him to lead this New Orleans group of tight ends in 2018. Watson is coming off a year where he still managed 61 receptions and makes a fine Mr. Irrelevant selection early Best Ball formats for those piecemealing the tight end position.
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