Draft Strategy: Avoiding the Busts

David Carey – @87_Carey

We’re in the peak of the NFL off-season sandwiched somewhere between Dynasty and Redraft. The common conversations have started to shift away from Dynasty outlooks and begun to focus on players for the upcoming Redraft season. This is the beginning of the hot/cold takes and the time in which people develop a list of players they are high on. Potentially just as important, should be the lists of players we are lower on than Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and Average Draft Position (ADP).

Making your own set of player rankings and practicing using them during your mock drafts is critical. Doing mock drafts on a variety of platforms also allows you to feel out where players are being suggested to you by ECR and ADP. To expand on that lets use an example, we’ll use David Montgomery and his ADP across 3 different popular platforms:

  • Sleeper: ADP 43
  • Yahoo: 39
  • Fantasy Pros: ADP 32

That’s a variance of almost a full round! Needless to say he’s being suggested as an extreme value in Sleeper drafts. A point which you should look to capitalize on.

A strategy that I’ve used for years has been to avoid certain players in a draft at their current ECR/ADP. Regardless of what I may hear from other analysts or experts I plant my flag on certain players for a variety of reasons. Here are a few of my personal reasons to avoid a player at their current ADP:

  • Platform specific ADP
  • Negative game script impacts
  • Changes in coaching / coordinators with opposing viewpoints to the position
  • Additional competition at the position through the NFL Draft or Free Agency
  • Insignificant contract values
  • Multi-year injury history
  • Strength of Schedule
  • Uncertainty at a position value is tied to:
    • A Wide Receiver with Quarterback concerns
    • Running Backs with a poorly ranked Offensive Line
  • Off-field antics that distract from the sport

After reading those points you might even have some players or situations come to mind. By expanding on those thoughts it’s easy for me to highlight 15-20 of the top 150 ranked players and choose a different option. Without any more build-up, lets get into a few of my options below.

Amari Cooper

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) peddles on the bike after sustaining an injury during the first quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday, October 13, 2019.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Concern: Multi-year Injury History

ADP 40 / WR15 – Sleeper

Cooper comes into the 2021 NFL season again nursing an ankle injury which is currently being reported to likely hold him out of the beginning of training camp. The right ankle in question has been injured 7 different times throughout Cooper’s career. For a player with his skill set and situation its a frustrating set of events to see unfolding. I’m interested in his ceiling but I’m scared of the frustrating narrative of Cooper being listed as “Questionable” leading up to game day week in week out.

At the same area of the draft I’m pivoting to team mate CeeDee Lamb. Lamb finished the season as WR22 in PPR but I am establishing this as his floor for 2020 given that he played in only 5 games with Dak Prescott. During that 5GP stretch, he averaged 17.12PPG. Did I mention those were his first 5GP in the NFL as a Rookie? Lamb is my pick to finish the season as a WR1.

Joe Mixon

Sep 17, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Concerns: Multi-year Injury History, Offensive Line, Negative game scripts

ADP 20 / RB13 – Yahoo

Joe Mixon is coming off a season where he missed 10/16 games after he suffered a sprained ankle. Week 6 was the last time we saw Mixon play and Fantasy Managers were even treated to the painful roller coaster of hope where news emerged that Mixon was potentially nearing a return after the team’s week 9 bye. Theories aside, the season was a complete bust for Mixon who was drafted in the 1st round of most redraft formats in 2020. The outlook of hope generated by the hiring of offensive line coach Frank Pollack isn’t enough to off-set the fact that the Bengals chose to address the WR position over Offensive Line needs in the 2021 NFL Draft. PFF has the Bengals Offensive Line unit ranked 30th in the NFL.

I’d like to recommend you pivot to a player with similar ceiling at the Running Back position in David Montgomery (ADP 39/RB18) or to a high end WR/TE target in the same range. Players like Justin Jefferson, Darren Waller, AJ Brown and George Kittle are all available near to Mixon’s ADP.

If you insist that Mixon is a guy that you believe in him realizing his ceiling for the 2021 season please aim to accept his value as it falls. To me a sweet spot where you’re now getting value, and conceivably seeing Mixon fall to is the back half of the 3rd round as your RB2 or Flex in an RB heavy strategy.

Juju Smith-Schuster

Concerns: Competition at the position, Off-field distractions

ADP 63 / WR25 – Sleeper

Opposite of Antonio Brown Juju Smith-Schuster looked poised to be a breakout WR capable of supplanting some of the biggest names in the game. In 2018 he racked up a 111/1426/7TD stat line on an incredible 166 targets. The following season was muddled by Mason Rudolph coming on in relief but the trajectory for Smith-Schuster didn’t recover.

Fast forward to the 2020 campaign and Juju saw his yards per target fall to a career low 6.49 on the year. The scene in Pittsburgh became less favorable for Juju despite finishing the year as WR17 in PPR formats. Diontae Johnson became the most common target in the Pittsburgh passing game seeing 144 passes in his direction while rookie Chase Claypool broke onto the scene proving he had the talent and build to become one of the NFL’s premiere pass catchers in the years to come. Not to mention the redzone opportunities that went his way. What was once thought to be the Juju Smith-Schuster show on the field digressed and became the Juju Smith-Schuster show on TikTok.

Looking into 2021 and the sunset of Ben Roethlisberger’s career Juju Smith-Schuster is looking like a risk as compared to the options around him at his round 6 ADP. Juju is currently available amidst of pack of younger wideouts such as Tee Higgins, DJ Chark, Courtland Sutton and exciting rookie Ja’Marr Chase. With the other 2 Pittsburgh WR’s being projected to go ahead of Juju Smith-Schuster in 2021 the consensus has shifted away from the once heralded young Pittsburgh target. Your draft strategy would do well to do the same.

James Conner

Concern: Insignificant contract values

ADP 88 / RB34Fantasy Pros

First off – I’ve got an incredible amount of respect for anyone who can beat cancer and go on to play one of the most grueling sports in the world at the highest of levels. James Conner is a walking hero and I take nothing away from him. I am simply saying that this isn’t the time to put your faith in Conner as a target in Redraft. Specifically if he figures to fit into your starting roster for anything more than a bye week.

Conner finished 2020 as RB27 landing him outside of the RB2 conversation. Now changing teams to the Arizona Cardinals and slugging it out for playing time with Chase Edmonds the outlook for Conner in unclear. A disheartening 1-yr $1.75Mil deal keeps Conner playing ball but doesn’t speak well to the expected volume we could see him receive. A parallel to Leonard Fournette and his 1-yr $2.0Mil contract from 2020 exists. Fournette didn’t pay dividends to anyone who draft him at ADP throughout most of the 2020 season.

The range Conner is being drafted at is a dead spot for running backs in 2021 drafts. I’m going to recommend that you set your sights on the receiving targets available at this range such as Deebo Samuel or Michael Pittman Jr. If your dead set on an RB here I’d wait until the ADP 95 range to draft a player like Zack Moss or even further down the list to the ADP 109 where Nyheim Hines, the 2020 RB15 in PPR.

Rob Gronkowski

TAMPA, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 18: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leaves the field after a 38-10 win against the Green Bay Packers at Raymond James Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Concern: Negative game script impacts

ADP 120 / TE14Fantasy Pros

Raise your hand if you love Gronkowski! Yah that’s right – everyone loves Gronkowski. Well keep that in mind in your upcoming drafts. He’s one of the game’s biggest personalities and we just got to watch him and Tom Brady have an absolute party following their 2020 Superbowl Championship. The problem with that is that everyone else did too.

From the perspective of a Coach or Coordinator, playing Gronkowski for 16 games on the season doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’re gunning for 1 thing in 2021 and that’s a repeat Superbowl season. It won’t matter what Gronkowski does from an offensive standpoint in week 8 against New Orleans, the key to the season will be his readiness leading into and through the playoffs.

The TE 14 designation paired with his fan count implies that someone in a standard 12 team league is likely to be rostering Gronkowski as their starting TE, week 1 in 2021. Whether that is a good idea or not Gronkowski is in the same range as Higbee, Tonyan and both wealthy Patriots TE’s Smith/Henry. You will likely find a lot more consistency from those players than you will from Gronkowski.

As always, thanks for checking in with me and my Fantasy Marksmen team for the 2021 season. The views in this article are aimed at creating some amount of thought process going into your drafts. Remember that the difference in ADP which we see from various platforms is significant. You’ll want to be well prepared to draft in each specific league. Check in with us again closer to the 2021 season for some more great draft day advice!

David Carey – @87_Carey

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