It's fantasy football draft season!
My favorite aspect of this delicious preseason activity: Identifying overvalued and undervalued players. Now that we've crossed the halfway point of August -- and most of the notable free-agent skill-position players have signed with teams -- it's time to home in on some players who could make or break your fantasy draft.
To identify value (or lack thereof), I compared my own full-season fantasy projections to the current ADP (average draft position) rankings of players in NFL.com fantasy drafts. Now, admittedly, many fantasy drafts have yet to occur, so ADP is not as stable as it will be in a few more weeks.
Let me be clear: I am a huge Bijan Robinson fan. His Texas film is electric and his all-around game as a three-down back is extremely enticing from a fantasy perspective. However, his current ADP of RB4 (with a No. 9 overall ADP) is a steep price for a rookie. I'm not saying he can't provide that kind of return over the course of the season -- and the Falcons' underrated offensive line should help him in that pursuit. That said, he's currently being drafted ahead of many established backs, including Nick Chubb, my projected NFL rushing champ in 2023. Not to mention, the Falcons' backfield also features 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier and hyper-versatile playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson. I can't wait to see how Arthur Smith creatively utilizes his wealth of backfield riches. But I can wait on forcing Robinson into RB4 territory. He projects as the RB9 in my models.
When it comes to catching off-target passes, no one is better than Hopkins. According to computer vision, he boasts the most such grabs since entering the NFL in 2013. I'm not looking to throw shade at Ryan Tannehill by providing that tidbit. Just love that aspect of Nuk's game. Hopkins' value in terms of win share is massive, but that figure factors in off-ball components like commanding the kind of defensive attention that allows teammates to flourish, so it's not really a pertinent fantasy stat. Hopkins is currently being drafted at WR24, and that's just a bit too rich for my blood.
Ridley is currently being drafted as the WR15, while he ranks as my WR10. Yeah, that's only a five-slot difference, but I'm just so bullish on Ridley this season that I could honestly see him outperforming my models' projection. Like everyone else, I anticipate Trevor Lawrence will take another big step forward in 2023. Meanwhile, Ridley's precise route-running forecasts big things in the type of offense Doug Pederson likes to orchestrate. Lastly, the Jaguars still have plenty of questions on the defensive side of the ball -- for one, can they generate a pass rush? -- so the offense needs to put points on the board.
With White currently being drafted as the RB27, I understand why you might think it's risky to draft the second-year back much higher. Tom Brady isn't walking through that door for the Buccaneers' offense. Tampa Bay also has a first-time offensive coordinator, with Dave Canales replacing Byron Leftwich. And White didn't exactly light the league on fire as a rookie runner, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and scoring one rushing touchdown. All that said, he ranks as the RB19 in my book. It stands to reason that Canales, having spent the past 13 seasons on Pete Carroll's coaching staff in Seattle, will lean pretty heavily on the ground game. And after Leonard Fournette's offseason release, White's in prime position to take over this backfield. Not to mention, he did catch 50 passes in Year 1 -- obviously a promising note for PPR leagues.
Looking for a deep sleeper at the RB position? I got you! Despite Dalvin Cook's departure, Chandler is currently being drafted as the RB92. Alexander Mattison is taking the starting RB reins, and apparently Kene Nwangwu -- who's currently listed as RB2 on the team website's unofficial depth chart -- is the more popular handcuff option in fantasy drafts. But in my models, Chandler's role forecasts to dramatically increase in his second NFL campaign, especially in the passing game. Not that the preseason is a perfect predictor of regular-season production, but Chandler did haul in four passes for 29 yards in Minnesota's opener at Seattle. Slightly more importantly, his burst (speed reached within first 3 yards traveled, per computer vision) ranked in a premium-starter range. He projects to be RB49, with a lot of upside, according to my models.
TWO (SUDDENLY) MUDDLED BACKFIELDS
Earlier this week, two highly accomplished running backs (and longtime fantasy stars) found new homes, as Dalvin Cook signed with the New York Jets and Ezekiel Elliott joined the New England Patriots. While the two backs might be at different points in their respective careers, both figure to impact their new RB rooms. So, in a column examining fantasy value, it feels quite apropos exploring how each backfield is reshaped by its new veteran signee.
Rhamondre Stevenson is trading at RB11 (No. 27 overall) these days. He led the Pats with 1,461 scrimmage yards, earning 5.2 yards per touch (sixth-best among all RBs). He had 69 catches for 421 of those yards, making him one of just three backs to post 1000-plus rushing and 400-plus receiving last season. RB11 made sense in less of a shared backfield, but the Elliott signing changes the equation, especially in the red area. Even if you think Zeke has lost a step, he still scored 22 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons -- third in the NFL, behind only Austin Ekeler and Derrick Henry. So how does his addition to the backfield change my math? I have Elliott projected as the RB39 (with a forecast of six touchdowns), and Stevenson drops to RB15. I think Rhamondre will still receive a heavy workload, but a diminished share of red-zone carries.
Breece Hall's ADP is currently RB10 (No. 25 overall). Even before the Cook signing, that ranking was higher than my models had (which is a compliment to Michael Carter). Now that Cook is a Jet, it is far too rich. Hall's production as a rookie last season was certainly promising: In the first seven games, he led Gang Green backs with 463 rushing yards, adding 19 catches for a healthy 218 yards. Despite New York's suboptimal O-line play, Hall averaged 5.8 yards per carry -- the highest mark among all backs with at least 80 totes in 2022. However, Hall is working his way back from a serious knee injury, having just come off the PUP list this week. As for Cook, he is the only player with more than 1,100 rushing yards in each season since 2019, missed zero games as a Viking last season and is currently trading at RB19 (No. 54 overall), which probably reflects people making early draft assumptions about where he'd sign prior to his joining the Jets. Here's how it shakes out for me: Cook is RB30, Hall is RB26.
Want to follow these storylines and more? NFL+ gives you the freedom to watch live out-of-market preseason games, daily coverage on NFL Network, the best NFL programming on-demand and much more! Plus, NFL RedZone is now part of NFL+ Premium! Learn more about NFL+.