By TJ Horgan
Average Draft Position is something you, as a fantasy player, can use to your advantage when drafting a team. Pay attention to where players are going, because maybe you can wait an extra round or two on that sleeper you are higher on than everyone else. I will now share with you seven players being drafted outside of the top 70 in standard-scoring ESPN drafts, who WILL finish inside the top 70, and help you win your league.
1) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 72.5)
Maclin suffered a torn ACL last training camp and did not play a snap in 2013, so he is taking a hit in drafting position, rightfully so. However, from 2009-2012, Maclin averaged 107 targets per year, which was the most on the Eagles in that time span. The Eagle right behind him? DeSean Jackson, who is now a Redskin. Also, Maclin will be the biggest red zone threat for Eagles’ receivers. Sure, Riley Cooper is 6’3, but he only managed to accrue 12 red zone targets in 2013. Between Cooper and Jackson, the Eagles had no choice but to air it out last year. Maclin will provide security on short passes, and will catch plenty of them, especially in the red zone.
2) Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 81.8)
If you still have faith in Shonn Greene then you need to sit in what we call the New York Jets Corner and think about your actions and why they are wrong. Assuming my rather light-hearted dismissal of Greene is not totally false, Sankey will begin the season in the 15-carry range and a platoon, but when Shonn Greene shows he is Shonn Greene (it won’t take long, my friends) Sankey will move up to the 20-carry range. The Titans picked up Michael Oher and Andy Levitre this offseason, adding to the power in their offensive line. With a shallow running back pool, a good offensive line, a bad veteran ahead of him, and a 327-carry, 5.7 yards per carry 2013 in Washington under his belt, why not take the upside with Sankey?
3) Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 81.9)
Last year was a fluke, ok? From 2008-2012 the Falcons were the only NFC team to finish above .500 every year. Their whole team was injured in 2013 (well, basically). We can bet with unwavering confidence that 4-12 will not be the final record of the Atlanta Falcons this year. That said, Matt Ryan will have a healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones to start the season. In addition to that, Atlanta will be running more three-wide receiver sets in 2014, which means double coverage will be exceedingly more difficult to pull off against the Falcons. Also, the Falcons have reinforced their offensive line with rookie left tackle Jake Mathews and former Chiefs’ guard Jon Asamoah. A protected Matt Ryan is a top-70 Matt Ryan.
4) Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 83.1)
Olsen was targeted 23.7 percent of the time in the Panthers’ offense last year, which was more than any other tight end. Now, every receiver who caught a pass from Cam Newton last year has left. However, Newton’s target-eater Olsen is still there. I’m not sure there has ever been a tight end better poised for a breakout year. The upside is limited because fullback Mike Tolbert, along with Cam Newton do most of the touchdown scoring with their feet, however, Olsen will keep receiving targets, and the workload is there. With his current ADP, you can draft seven running backs or wide receivers, snag a quarterback, and chances are, Olsen will still be available. That is not a bad team. I would even argue that is a good team. A very good team.
5) Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets (ADP: 85.4)
Who ended 2013 12th among wide receivers in yards, fourth in touchdowns, is still 27, and is far and away the best receiving option on his new team (that uses a west coast offense)? Well, if you didn’t read the heading for this one, it’s Eric Decker. He is simply being underdrafted. Sure, Peyton Manning makes every player look good, but even when Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow were the players under center in 2011, Decker finished fifth in receiving touchdowns with eight. At this point, I wouldn’t even classify Decker as a high-upside flier. He is a WR3 for me, and has a realistic shot at finishing the year as a top-20 wide receiver.
6) Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 87.7)
Tight end this year is a fairly deep position. After the top 12 tight ends, however, the pool is riddled with sleepers. Pitta is certainly in the top 12, but, depending on the person, his position there varies. Gary Kubiak is in Baltimore now, and Tristan H. Cockroft of ESPN wrote a column about how Kubiak’s arrival will impact Pitta positively. In short, a tight end on a Kubiak-coached team has almost always been in the top two or three in the team for targets, yards, and touchdowns. Pitta was a prime breakout candidate for 2013, but sustained a hip injury which landed him on the IR for the first 13 games. However, when Pitta returned in week 14, having not played a game all season, he averaged 8.25 targets per game for the next four games. The targets will be there for Pitta, as Torrey Smith is merely siphoning deep receptions, which do not apply to Pitta because of his presence in short to medium-yardage catches and red zone targets. If you can’t get Jimmy Graham, why waste a pick on Jason Witten or Jordan Cameron over a high-end flex? Wait on tight ends, and Pitta may fall right into your hands.
7) Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 90.6)
Upside, upside, upside. Remember the 1,300 yard, 10 touchdown in a year receiver in Pittsburgh? I swear, he did that. Sure, Ryan Tannehill doesn’t have the arm of Ben Roethlisberger, but let’s face it, Miami might have the worst run game in the AFC right now. The Dolphins revamped their offensive line, most notably with veteran left tackle Branden Albert (former Chief), and trust me, he is not there to run block. That’s protection for Tannehill. The talent is there with Wallace, and we saw bursts of it last year. Among wide receivers who played 16 games last season, the average targets per game was 7.4. Wallace had 8 or more targets in 11 of 16 games played. In 7 of those 11 games he received double-digit targets. Sure, his touchdown numbers fell a bit flat, but in a new offense and with a new quarterback it is most important to look at the end of the season. Wallace had a touchdown in four of the last six games of 2013. As for icing on the cake, Bill Lazor is the offensive coordinator in Miami now, and Lazor OC’d Philadelphia during the DeSean Jackson era. Lazor loves his deep threats, and who better than Mike Wallace to fit that role? OK, maybe a couple of guys better than Mike Wallace, but you get my point.