One of our RADIO.COM Sports resident fantasy football experts, Stephen Andress, claims that fantasy drafts are won in the middle rounds. If you’re in agreement with Stephen, then you’re in the right place.
Several top-10 finishers at crucial positions can be found between rounds five and nine of the draft. For instance, Rashaad Penny and Sony Michel were drafted right next to each other in your average 2018 draft. Sony Michel, as you are probably well aware, finished with over 17 fantasy points five teams last year. Penny, on the other hand, never broke that barrier at all, and finished well-below the line of fantasy relevance at season’s end.
This is just one of the many ADP battles that occurred in last year’s draft that resulted in a much larger gap in performance. Follow this guide, and make sure you don’t end up taking the wrong guy in tough decisions.
Click here for early round (1-4) ADP battles.
Round 5: Tyler Boyd (Round 5, Pick 4) vs. Calvin Ridley (Round 5, Pick 6)
The Pick: Boyd
All of these are tough calls, but this one is an especially tough call. Both of them are somewhat limited in their ceiling but for different reasons. Ridley is in an established passing offense led by a quarterback who has averaged over 4,500 yards and over 28 touchdowns the past eight seasons. But he also has to deal with the presence of Julio Jones, who will likely receive the largest share of the targets by a healthy margin and is unchallenged as the number one option in the offense.
Boyd would usually have the same problem in AJ Green, but Green is injured and expected to miss at least a few weeks to start the season. There is also the question of whether or not Green will be the same receiver that he’s been over the past ten years once he comes back. He’s put a lot of mileage on his lower body, and there have been continual problems with various areas as of late. Thus, when Green returns, it remains to be seen if he’ll even be the number one target for Andy Dalton or if Boyd has supplanted him in that role. Boyd had only ten less targets than Green through Week 8 of last season, and Boyd has done much to establish himself further since that time.
What might limit Boyd is the overall talent that surrounds him ,especially regarding the quarterback position. The Bengals will likely be held to a low score often, and their win total is currently at 6 (via Action Network). Boyd does have one big advantage to Ridley, though: consistency. Boyd will be a predominant feature in the Bengals’ offense week in and week out, and his stats show that. Boyd finished with under five fantasy points only three times last year, and once was before he was a starting wide receiver. Ridley, on the other hand, had eight such weeks. Weeks like these severely drag your entire lineup down.
While the total output may be similar, the weekly double-digit fantasy point consistency that you’ll get from Boyd makes him more valuable to your team at the wide receiver position than the boom-or-bust prone Ridley.
Sixth Round: Latavius Murray (Round 6, Pick 8) vs. Derrius Guice (Round 6, Pick 9)
The Pick: Guice
In all honesty, I’m not too high on either of these guys. But if you get to the point where you took receivers and a tight end early, you may have to spend several middle-round draft picks on running backs. And in this scenario, Guice is exactly the guy you should go with.
It’s not that Latavius Murray will be bad this year. In fact, he’s a pretty safe candidate to put up a consistent stat line as long as he fills a role that’s somewhat similar to Mark Ingram’s. But his ceiling is extremely limited, and he’s just not as talented a runner as Ingram going into the same scheme. He might get some goal line work, but so will Alvin Kamara, and his big play ability doesn’t leap out as a valuable part of his game. If you want someone to give you around six to eight points per game, then maybe Murray is the guy for you. Unlike receivers, where there are a number of consistent producers at high levels, the consistent running backs in lower tiers deliver points at a much lower and less-exciting rate.
Whether you got running backs early and want an interesting backup or waited on running backs and need someone to potentially lead the charge, you should go with Guice. In the middle rounds, it’s all about going for breakout candidates because running back is such a shallow position. The Redskins won’t be a great team this year, but their tough defense and talented offensive line (even without Trent Williams) should make it a good system for Guice. He looked explosive, elusive, and full of energy in his first preseason appearance against the Falcons, and his fantasy prospects are getting more exciting now that we’ve seen him play over his injury woes.
Young running backs have been the story in fantasy football, too. Eight of the nine 1,000 yard runners in 2018 were under 25 years old, and the other was Adrian Peterson. With Peterson still in the picture, it may take a little while for Guice to become the main event in Washington. But when he does, the opportunity for a breakout is there, and it’s worth the gamble at this point in the draft.
Round 7: Jared Cook (Round 7, Pick 4) vs. Vance McDonald (Round 7, Pick 7)
The Pick: McDonald
One month ago, McDonald was being drafted seven spots ahead of Cook. Just a week ago, the two were knotted in their ADPs. And now, the newly-added Saints TE has taken the lead in the race.
While Cook joins an offense that has a much better quarterback than his old team, it will be tough to trust the 11-year veteran. He reset his career highs in both receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (6) with the Raiders in 2018, but that came on a team where he was the only receiving option to top 100 targets. In New Orleans, there will be two practical locks for 100 targets (Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara), and Drew Brees has been throwing the ball less and less every season as the approach turns to lower-volume, higher-efficiency passing. Brees has also been on-and-off with his tight ends based on the year. Though he created some of the best fantasy tight end seasons ever while Jimmy Graham was in town, he’s done much less with other talent like Josh Hill, Benjamin Watson, and Coby Fleener. Vance McDonald is dropping down draft boards recently as a result of talk that his role will not increase this year and that he will never play 100% of the snaps, and the fantasy football community has taken note. But this is no reason to change your tight end draft order.
McDonald didn’t play a massive chunk of the snaps last season - in fact, he only played two more snaps than his counterpart, Jesse James, who’s now a Detroit Lion - and he still finished as a top-10 fantasy tight end. His stat line was respectable, as he caught 50 balls for 610 yards. But even if his role doesn’t change, there’s another massive change in the Pittsburgh offense: Antonio Brown is gone. With both Brown and James out of the picture, McDonald doesn’t have too much competition in the offense. Yes, the Steelers brought in Donte Moncrief and James Washington, but the sixth-year tight end has built up good chemistry with Roethlisberger. Big Ben has also hit his tight ends for 600+ yards in all but one season since 2010, and there is next to no competition at the position for McDonald.
The Steeler has the edge here.
Round 8: Royce Freeman (Round 8, Pick 8) vs. Jordan Howard (Round 8, Pick 9)
The Pick: Freeman
The Eagles didn’t go out and acquire Howard for no reason. The former Bears running back has rushed for at least 900 yards and six touchdowns in each of his first three seasons, and has finished as a top-20 fantasy running back every year as well (No. 10 in 2016, No. 12 in 2017, and No. 20 in 2018).
However, things seem to be trending downwards for the 25-year old. His yards-per-carry, which was an impressive 5.2 his rookie season, fell to an underwhelming 3.7 in his last campaign in Chicago. He wasn’t much of a factor in the receiving game, recording only 145 yards on the season. And in Philly, the hype around rookie Miles Sanders has demoted Howard to the No. 2 back in Philadelphia, at least in the minds of many fantasy football players. Though it may be hasty to assume that Howard has completely lost his job to Sanders, a primary takeaway from the Eagles’ preseason is that Sanders is miles ahead (no pun intended) of the other guys in the backfield. This puts a definite cap on Howard’s ceiling and makes him an unexciting pick overall.
Meanwhile, the Broncos backfield is up-for-grabs, and it may very well become a by-committee approach. This usually screams stay away in fantasy terms, but the hype for Freeman has neared the level of Miles Sanders. Even with Philip Lindsay in the backfield, who broke out in a huge way last season, the Broncos seem committed to their third-round draft pick and are telling reporters and writers that both Freeman and Lindsay will contribute to the offense. This approach may limit both of their ceilings, but it also may promise Freeman a good amount of carries that Jordan Howard may very well lose if Sanders goes off. The Broncos have run the ball effectively in recent years, too, no matter who is manning the quarterback position, and this year’s signal-caller situation likely means the team will once again lean on the ground game.
Neither of these guys should be in your starting lineup to start the season, but Freeman seems like a better candidate to put up meaningful fantasy value at this point in the draft.
Round 9: THREE-WAY TIE (Round 9, Pick 3): Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. Kareem Hunt vs. Sterling Shepard
The Pick: Shepard
These three players (two wide receivers, one running back) are all being drafted at the same exact draft slot when the data is combined from a large sample of drafts. A pick at this point in the draft will likely be a top bye-week fill-in, a flex player, or a guy to stash and hope for a breakout.
Let’s start with the running back Kareem Hunt. We all know what Hunt is capable of on the football field. He recorded some insane stat lines last season -- 175 yards and a touchdown in week 4, 141 yards and three touchdowns in week 7, 141 touchdowns and three touchdowns again in week 9 -- but he will miss the first nine weeks of the 2019 season after an off-field incident. When he returns, he’ll take part in an explosive Browns offense. A player of his caliber should be able to find playing time, but Nick Chubb is the guy in the Browns backfield, and he only has time to reinforce that stance as the season rolls around. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Chubb took the fantasy football world by storm in the first half of this season and diminished Hunt’s role even further. It’s worth taking Hunt if you have Chubb in case of any injuries, but it’s tough to stash him for a couple of months with no guarantee that he will even be a primary contributor upon return.
On to the receivers. The Packers have, in my opinion, the best quarterback in the league. The Packers also have one of the best receivers in football in Davante Adams, who was targeted 169 times last season (second in the NFL to Julio Jones). There’s a lot of football to go around in Green Bay, though, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison are in a good position to assume a good portion of those targets. MVS finished third on the team last year behind Adams and Jimmy Graham, and could figure to see an uptick in targets with Randall Cobb out of town. But while MVS was the usual WR2 option last year, it’s been Allison who is getting a lot of hype in the preseason and is actually being drafted ahead of MVS in most leagues (ADP of Round 8, Pick 8). Valdes-Scantling hasn’t established himself enough to be considered a primary threat in the Green Bay offense, and with two capable pass-catchers in the backfield as well, I’d prefer to go with someone who has a guaranteed role in the offense.
This is exactly why Sterling Shepard is my pick here. Odell Beckham is gone, and his 124 targets (in only 12 games) are up for grabs. Golden Tate is in, but he’s missing the first four games of the year due to suspension. The Giants will likely be down a lot this season, meaning that the passing game will be a primary force in their offensive attack. And even though Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram are both more-than-capable targets, it should be Shepard who sees the most opportunity in the passing game. It’s looking more and more likely that Eli Manning will start the regular season -- whether or not it stays that way remains to be seen -- and Shepard has been a solid receiver in New York the past three seasons with Eli running the offense. Now that OBJ is out, Shepard could see upwards of 120 targets, and his first 1,000 yard season is not unrealistic.