by Nick Ercolano
July 18, 2018
I think the single reason fantasy football is so difficult when it comes to projections is that people get emotional about certain players, and logic gets thrown out the window. Every fantasy analyst whose rankings you look at, likely has a different system for creating those rankings. Me personally, I go down my list and I say to myself, okay, I'm on the clock, in a vacuum, assuming all of my roster spots are wide open, who is the top player on the board, who do I want here. And that guy is the next slot in my rankings. Other analysts might make statistical projections for every single player, based on coaching changes, opportunity, how many rush attempts the team has had in the past three seasons, % of targets that a WR1 or WR2 has received from a specific QB, a fuckton of different ways to do this, then simply list the players in order for their rankings based on projected number of fantasy points. My way puts a little more emotion into it. Because it factors in things like upside and floor. But, it's always smart to be as objective as possible, and take a look at a range of outcomes when projecting a player's fantasy outlook. Sure, Joe Mixon could go for 1,500 total yards and 8-10 TDs, but he could also end up splitting passing work with Gio Bernard, in a bad offense and go for 1,100 total yards and 6 touchdowns. That's a possible outcome. That first number is upside. The pure upside, and that's what we're talking about today. The key thing I think that should factor into your decision isn't necessarily a player's upside, but HOW likely that upside is to come to fruition. Again, you could say Jay Ajayi's upside is 16 rushing touchdowns, right? It would be surprising, but in this offense it's possible. However, the likeliness of that happening is low. Therefore, the upside isn't factored into the ranking, in my opinion. The range of outcomes is important, but how likely either side of the spectrum of those range of outcomes is going to happen, is equally and probably more important.
Today, we're only looking at the upside of the spectrum. My top three mid-round picks with the highest upside.
Current ADP: 43, RB20
I spoke on Collins in my #InTheMuckMonday video of Collins vs. Ajayi. My end result was that I said I would take Ajayi over Collins. And this is a perfect example of what I mentioned in the intro. Looking at the range of outcomes. I argued that the real argument here was Ajayi's floor, versus Collins' ceiling, because Collins' floor is if we're being honest, very low. But his upside, based on his talent and usage down the stretch last year is enormous. And that's the basis for my argument here, are the eye test and Collins' talent.
I don't want to get too granular on the basics as I did in that previous video, but there are some people that are new to the channel and probably haven't watched that. Collins was a 5th round pick from the University of Arkansas by Seattle, they cut him after just one year, the Ravens picked him up, he was on the practice squad until getting called up after Week 1. So, getting cut, being on the practice squad on a new team, with little-to-no practice, suddenly gets called up and takes over the backfield in 2018. Finishing with over 1,100 total yards and six touchdowns in 15 games, half of them not as the starter. His YPC, yards created, evaded tackles, runs of 15+ yards, YAC, every statistical category, Collins ranked extremely high in.
But why am I so high on Collins as a talent? Well when you watch him run, the eye test is easy to see why. He's like a Marshawn Lynch with more wiggle. Going back to high school, Collins was one of the most highly recruited running backs in the country, before signing with U of Arkansas. Not much changed in college. Per NFL.com "He was the first true freshman to start his career with three 100-yard performances since Adrian Peterson in 2004." He would split work with another NFL running back, Jonathan Williams, during his freshman and SOPH szns at Arkansas, still managed to run for over 1,000 yards in both seasons, including 12 tuddys in his sophomore year. In 2015, his junior season, Williams got hurt and the backfield became Collins'. He racked up 1,577 rushing yards on 271 carries (almost 21 carries/game) and 20 rushing scores. He would finish 2nd Team All-SEC that year, not surprising considering Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette ranked ahead of him, and scored an absurd 28 and 22 rushing scores, respectively.
There's very little that Collins can't do. He's a hell of a runner and even proved that he can be good in the passing game.
Looking at this purely from a receiving standpoint, that 4.43 targets/game over their final 7 is big guys. A 16-game pace would put that at 71 targets, which would have been top-10 numbers among RBs. I think Suck Allen is straight trash. The Ravens used him a lot in the passing game last year, but in that same span, from Weeks 11-17, Allen had just two games where he saw more than a single target and just one game in which he caught more than one ball. Collins became the every-down back here.
Say what you want about Dixon, but he's barely played since coming in the league and is far from guaranteed a big role here. I'm not really scared of Dixon tbh.
This is a team that wants to run the ball more. They have a good defense, and I think they realize they cannot win games with Flacco throwing the ball. In 2016, Baltimore threw the ball on 66% of their plays, the single highest rate in the NFL. In 2017, that number dipped a massive 10%, down to 56% and went from the pass-happiest team to the 12th run-friendliest team. Love that for Collins' outlook in 2018. And since we're talking about upside, if Lamar Jackson takes over that role, I absolutely love that for Collins. We've seen it so many times, a running back prosper with mobile QBs. Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller last year. It could be a beautiful ting.
Per Warren Sharp at SharpFootballStats, the Ravens have the 5th easiest SoS for running backs too. Warren Sharp is a guy, might be the guy I respect the most tbh when it comes to this stuff, and he loves Alex Collins. As does Matt Waldman, another guy who's opinion on RBs I really, really respect.
In terms of upside, Collins has a shit load of it. And, I'd say he has a pretty good chance of coming close to the upside. He's a guy I'm really, really liking more and more, the more research I do. I will absolutely be owning some shares of Collins in 2018. Think he has a real chance to finish as a top-8 or 6 fantasy RB in 2017.
Current ADP: 75, WR30
The Titans shocked a lot of people when they selected Western Michigan with the 5th overall pick. If Davis turns out to be a bust, this draft capital alone, similar to DeVante Parker will string fantasy owners along for years to come. There will always be that glimmer of hope of what SHOULD have been for Davis. But I'm not here to talk about that, I'm here to talk about his upside.
From a statistical perspective, Davis disappointed during his rookie season. He caught 34-of-64 targets for 375 yards and 0 touchdowns. He missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, and if I can get you to come away with anything, it's do not draft guys with pre-szn lower leg injuries guys, ESPECIALLY hamstring injuries, unless you're getting them for a monster discount. It almost always lingers and/or causes a secondary injury. Look at DeMarco Murray last year. Preszn hamstring injury never got healthy. Danny Woodhead, preszn hamstring injury, hurt in the 1st quarter of the first game. OBJ, came into the szn with an ankle injury, cracked that shit four games into his szn.
Corey Davis... missed all of preszn with a hamstring injury. He got on the field for Week 1 and had a great game, caught 6-of-10 targets for 69 yards, a few of those catches being incredible catches on the sideline, I remember, just looked really good. But the following week, re-injures the hamstring. Would go onto miss the rest of that game through Week 8, before making his return in Week 9. And a really quiet rest of season, failing to hit 50 receiving yards in seven straight games when he returned, from Week 9 through 15.
There are some definite positives here heading into 2018, however.
For one, he's a great route runner. Was in college, and faired well in Matt Harmon's reception perception, despite missing the offseason and a lot of the regular season. Volume is great, but you can't always depend on that in an offense like this. They have a lot of solid, proven weapons, so it's not guaranteed Davis is in for a 130-target year. But, when you're a great route runner, that can gain separation, you can usually make up for lost volume through efficiency. And that's where this chart comes into play that I put together.
This is the top-15 fantasy WRs from 2017.
First thing to note, is that he doesn't necessarily need to be a target hog. We see a few guys on here, a third of the least saw just 21% or fewer of their team's targets in 2017 and still finished as a top-15 fantasy WR. Of course, as I mentioned, the fewer targets he sees, the more efficient he'll need to be, which is where that route running comes into play.
Per Mike Clay, Davis saw 63 targets in his 10 healthy games, or 6.3/game, pacing out to about 101 targets. But, before you say to yourself, oh shit, that's not enough to be a top-15 or even top-20 fantasy WR, the better number to look at for his projected success, next year's volume isn't total targets, it's the target share, the % of the team targets he saw in that span and those 63 targets comes out to right below 21% during those 10 weeks. If you include the Titans' two playoff games, his target share goes up over 21%. And as I mentioned, there were five guys on that list with 21% or fewer share of their team's targets.
And on the volume not, I didn't even touch on Matt LaFleur coming and flipping this offense around. They were 28th in pass attempts last year, so that will surely rise in 2018 and give Davis, as well as the overall offense more target opportunity.
A lot of people want to get into the playoffs and talk about how Davis really turned it on there. He really didn't though if we're being honest. He went 4-35 against KC in the Wildcard round. The next game he did have a big one, going 5-63-2 against NE, but they were getting torched and the entire second half was garbage time for Tennessee. 38% of his targets, 40% of his catches and 45% of his yards came on the Titans final drive down 28 points, as well as his 2nd touchdown to put them within 21 points, with under two minutes. So, I'm not buying the "he exploded in the playoffs" narrative, that's an absurd statement by people who strictly just looked at the stat sheet and saw two touchdowns... Lazy ass frauds.
While he only caught an awful 53% of his targets, there's good news. Well, at least something to build on:
You don't expect this to happen again. No other Titan's weapon (Delanie, Shard, Decker saw more than 26% uncatchable targets) and the two WRs saw almost 9% fewer uncatchable targets, so Davis was an outlier here.
Everything we're hearing from camp is super positive about Davis. He's "continued to impress", "looked really smooth, snatching the ball out of the air". It's all gravy out of Tennesse.
A healthy offszn to gain rapport with Mariota, in a new offense, with more volume, a higher target share rate, with more catchable passes, Davis certainly has top-15 upside, or higher in 2018. It's crazy to me that that's he going behind Michael Crabtree and Robert Woods, and just in front of Will Fuller, Devin Funchess and Pierre Garcon.
Current ADP: 89, RB36
It's possible that I'm getting to the point of delusion with Kerryon, but I'm all in on him. Few other things I'm all in on. Mainly phrases or words. 1. big facts only 2. yesteryear 3. Chronicles 4. I'm all in.
Not as much for redraft, but in dynasty. The reason I say "not as much for redraft" again, comes back to the range of outcomes. So, what are Kerryon's range of outcomes?
He was the SEC offensive POY at Auburn in 2017, going for nearly 1,600 total yards and 20 tuds. He caught 24 passes, showing an ability to play on every down. A second-round pick that the Lions traded up for to acquire. His upside is that of a 250-275 touch running back that takes 65-70% of their backfield touches on the 7th highest scoring (25.6) team in the NFL. That's good for top-15 fantasy numbers, top-12 if he's efficient.
The other side of his range of outcomes is that he winds up in a 3-back committee, seeing just early down work between the 20's. LeGarrette Blount assumes GL work and acts as a change of pack on early downs and Theo Riddick, as he's consistently done, remains their top pass-catching option out of the backfield.
It's going to take a lot of work, or a little bit of luck for him to hit his peak in 2018. He's probably the least likely of these three to hit his ceiling, but has arguably the highest of all three. As I explained in my Golden Tate vs. Marvin Jones ITMM video earlier this week, the Lions really want to run the ball. Their pass attempts in the RZ and 10Z dipped 11 and 14%, respectively YoY and their rush attempt rose 20 and 23% in the RZ and 10Z. They're now boasting the 8th best line per PFF, and just drafted stud center Frank Ragnow out of Arkansas with their 1st round pick. They're going to be able to move the ball on the ground.
Johnson is a guy who can certainly handle a workload. In his last season at Auburn, where he won SEC Offensive player of the year, Johnson handled 309 touches, in 12 games. That's nearly 26 touches/game. So, workload, check. He caught 24 passes, which isn't a crazy number, but for one, it was the highest for any running back on the team, so not like he wasn't the most trusted pass-catcher out of the backfield, and that number is higher than almost all the RBs that come out of school where you say, ahh they're not really involved in the passing game.
I wanted to show you a few plays of what Kerryon Johnson is. That should quiet any concerns about him being a 3-down back. These are back to back to back plays, him catching the ball, moving with it in his hands, on the GL, and blocking.
From the Lions RB coach, David Walker - "He’s kind of the type of player that fits with our program because he’s smart, he showed he’s productive and then he has flexibility in terms of first, second, third downs." He will get there guys, the upside is massive. It's hard to tell whether or not it's this year or next. This kid was 20 years old when he was drafted, just turned 21 a few weeks ago. I think if it's not this year, he'll be a top-15 fantasy pick in 2019 drafts.
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