by Noah Pires
August 27, 2018
This week is one of the biggest in terms of actual fantasy drafts, so we're back at it like a bad habit, bringing you part 2 of the world-renowned "players you shouldn't forget about" article. Both the RB and WR positions have a ton of valuable options, so many that throughout the year you'll find guys on waivers that can crack your starting lineup. Last year, we saw Alvin Kamara, Dion Lewis, and Alex Collins (to name a few), greatly outperform their ADP and become solid options throughout the year. The WR position is typically harder to find players that have the ability to serve as starters, but despite this, guys like Robby Anderson, JuJu, and Funchess once again showed how deep the position can go. Now, let's take a look at a few guys who are no longer being talked up as "sleepers", making them values at their current ADP.
This year, there seems to be a ton of serviceable RB options going later in drafts. Bilal Powell, for example, is currently going in the RB55 range even though he's been the preszn starter and is guaranteed 3rd down touches. Another RB, Peyton Barber, is ranked 40th, even after solidifying himself as the RB1 in a decent Bucs offense. The more you look, the more you'll find values at the position. Currently, there are 2 guys who I believe to be values due to their ADP and projected opportunity heading into the year, both of which fit the mold of "players people have forgotten." Let's kick it off with a guy who may not have the most talent in the league, but has a clear shot at maintaining the RB1 spot on one of the league's best offenses.
JAMAAL WILLIAMS (RB37) - GREEN BAY PACKERS
Oh boy do I love this one. Let me paint a picture for you: Say there is a runningback with little to no competition in an offense headed by the best QB in the NFL, where they have ranked inside the top 5 in points scored 3 of the last 4 full years that quarterback played a full szn. Now, let's also say this team has a top-10 offensive line. Would you be interested in that RB? What if I told you he is currently being drafted behind 3rd down backs like Chris Thompson and Tarik Cohen?
Yeah, you like that. Well, that's currently what Jamaal's position is. As far as competition, the only other RB that can threaten his job as of now is a converted WR, Ty Montgomery. Sure, he's a better pass-catcher than Williams because he's played as a wideout, but in between the tackles, I'll bet on the guy that's played that position throughout his entire career. Plus, Williams was an elite pass-blocker last szn, so it's likely he'll get 3rd down snaps in attempt to protect one of, if not, the league's best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers. The other competition he faces? Aaron Jones. Now, personally, I actually like Jones more than Williams, but I'm going to be realistic and not let my bias cloud my judgement. JW has a full 2-week head start on Jones, who is suspended to start the year. If Williams shows out in those first two games, and continues his elite level of passblocking, there would be no reason for the Packers to replace him.
Also, Aaron Rodgers is back, which should automatically improve Green Bay's offense. In the past, the Packers' offense supported fatass Eddie Lacy as an elite RB1, and new OC Joe Philbin has done the same with Lamar Miller back in Miami. I'm not saying Williams is, at this point, as good of a runner as Lamar Miller or Lacy was before his Weight Watchers membership expired, but both coaches have shown an affinity to stick to one runner when they've proven their worth. If Williams DOES prove to be a plus in the running game through their first 2 matchups, and continues his elite pass-protection, I believe JW will see the same treatment of runningbacks these coaches have utilized in the past.
Williams is also running behind one of the league's best lines, especially in the running game. In 2017, even with Pro Bowler David Bakhtiari missing 4 games, the Packers ranked 1st in yards before contact per carry at 2.04, according to PFF. With a healthy unit, and hopefully a bounceback szn for center Corey Linsley, we should expect much of the same as far as runblocking goes in 2018.
What is most shocking to me about his current ADP is the fact that he was one of the best backs over the final stretch in 2017. Over the last 9 weeks of the season (weeks 9-17), Williams ranked as fantasy's RB6, captializing on the absence of Aaron Jones. His pace over that span was 284/1,044/6 while adding 42/448/4 (60 targets) through the air. William's isn't a zero in the passing game, and saw opportunities on the goal line (12) while only starting in 7 games. With Rodgers moving the ball down the field more effectively than Brett Hundley, his RZ opportunities should increase, making him even more valuable.
As the RB37, you're drafting him as a low end RB3. He's proven he can produce, seen by his output over the 2nd half of last szn, and should get a similar shot to do the same early in the year. If (and hopefully when) he capitalizes, he'll prove the be an every-week locked and loaded RB2 with top 12 upside due to his volume and elite offense he's playing in. With drafts right around the corner, keep an eye on Williams, who should remind players why he was a coveted asset late last szn.
MARSHAWN LYNCH (RB24) - OAKLAND RAIDERS
Returning from his short-lived retirement last szn, Marshawn began the year fairly slowly. Lynch topped 70 rushing yards ONCE in his first 10 games and, just by looking at the box score, seemed like hanging 'em up was the right decision. Looking deeper into his numbers, though, you'll see he was actually one of the more impressive RBs in 2017, all things considered.
Firstly, he entered the szn as a 31 year old who hadn't played in 16 games since 2014. Because of this, you wouldn't expect him to be the same guy we saw in his prime back in Seattle. Well, those assumptions were wrong to say the least. Lynch was 1 evaded tackle shy of 100, ranking him 2nd in the NFL among all RBs, trailing only Kareem Hunt (137). The difference between the two? Kareem did this on 325 touches, while Lynch did so on only 227, giving him the highest juke rate in the NFL (43.6%). This ability to shake defenders also helped in creating extra yards on the ground, seen by his "yards created per carry" metric, where he ranked 3rd in the NFL (1.99), and total yards created (452, #6 in the league). Lynch showed he still had some gas left in the tank, pulling off 9 runs of 15+ yards (13th best) and even compiling a respectable rushing total (891) despite Oakland's heavy passing attack (61% pass pct, 9th highest last szn). In 2016, they passed on 59% of their plays, running the ball 74 more times. Now, if Jon Gruden is telling the truth, and wants to pound the rock, Oakland will most likely side closer to 2016's totals, decreasing their pass pct for more rushing opportunities. In his time coaching for the Bucs and Raiders, Gruden's teams have averaged 455 attempts/szn, which is just 21 more rushes than they had in 2016. With the coaching change in Oakland, along with Lynch's proven efficiency even at his age, I'd expect his volume to increase.
Along with his volume, the offensive line should improve in the running game, giving him more chances to make big plays. Last szn, the Raiders ranked 7th to last in yards before contact (1.34) according to PFF. Playerprofiler also ranked their line as the 28th most efficient in the NFL. Despite this, he again showed his dominance, ranking 6th in the NFL in YPC vs stacked boxes (4.5). This is one of the most impressive things to me, as the line wasn't particularly good, and even with the defense was preparing for the run, he still showed he could get the job done. Heading into 2018, PFF ranks Oakland as the 7th best line. Last year was a disappointment, as all of their starters ranked lower than they had the previous year, but if they return to form, and first-round rookie Kolton Miller pans out, they could once again find themselves atop the list of best lines, turning their projection into a reality.
Although Lynch disappointed to begin 2017, he was one of the best backs to end the year. From week 8 on, Lynch was a high end RB2 option (RB14), and from weeks 12-17, he was a low end RB1 (RB12). In fact, over his last 8 games, he was on pace for a 270/1250/10 line while adding 32/226/0 (42 targets) through the air, doing so against three top 10 run defenses (Philly, Denver, Dallas). Right now, I just love where Lynch is going. This offense is destined to improve with healthy weapons (Carr, Cooper), meaning more red zone trips. Lynch may not be an elite pass-catcher, but he's gonna get the goal line work, giving him huge TD upside. He has little competition for early down work (F outta here Doug Martin), and has shown he can handle a heavy workload, and most certainly deserves one. With drafts right around the corner, don't be afraid to press the button on Beastmode.
Similar to the RB position, there are an absolute TON of WRs going late who have value. Kenny Stills (WR46) and Michael Gallup (WR54) are 2 guys who I wrote about earlier this summer as winners from the draft, and both still find themselves in offenses in need of a WR1. If you're a real one and wanna check that out, click here. Along with those 2, there's a couple of guys who are true late round steals that have serious potential to break your starting lineup this year. Without further ado, let's begin with my MUST-DRAFT player of 2018, the man by the name of...
KEELAN COLE (WR66) - JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Aight, so Marqise Lee just took a trip to torn ligament town, so if your draft is this week, Cole is a MUST DRAFT player. He's now the WR1 on a team with a QB who isn't afraid to sling the rock wherever he pleases. In 2017, Cole only commanded a 16.1% targets share, less than Dede Westbrook (21.9%), Allen Hurns (17.6%), and Marqise Lee (23.6%) when they were active. Now, with their former #1 likely done and Hurns out of town, he should side closer towards the 20% mark. Even with his limited volume in 2017, Cole still managed 748 yards, 475 of which came over the last 5 weeks. He also showed he is capable of putting up monster numbers, seen by his 7/186/1, 3/99/1, and 6/108/0 statlines over that span, along with his 74/1520/10 (115 targets) pace. Now, this is likely unsustainable, but being drafted where he is, you don't expect WR1 numbers. If he repeats what he did last year, where he finished as the WR45, he's still greatly outperforming his ADP. Outperforming what he did last year is very likely, as he saw a snap share of 70% or more in only 7/16 games, and as was previously stated, with the loss of their former #1, Lee, it's inevitable that Cole will be on the field more often.
With a higher snap share due to becoming the Jags' #1 WR, he should blow his volume from 2017 out of the water. In my previous article about Blake Bortles, I explained in detail why I expect the Jags to pass more in 2018. If you want to read it in depth, you can check it out here. If not, here's a quick synopsis: They ran the ball more than they passed last szn, Fournette's injury history, and their defense was THE BEST in the NFL. Therefore, if they DO pass more, and Cole overtakes WR1 duties, he should atleast match Marqise Lee's volume in 2017, where he saw 96 targets, 8 of which were inside the 20. Now, if they do in fact remain run heavy, Cole will STILL command nearly 100 targets, as he received 83 last szn with his low snap share.
Lastly, what he did at the end of the year was nothing less than spectacular, and should be remembered heading into this year's draft. From weeks 13-17 (5 weeks), he ranked as fantasy's #3 WR, only behind Michael Thomas and Keenan Allen. You know who else was an undrafted WR who put up huge numbers at the end of the szn, got overlooked, then finished as a WR1 the following szn? Adam Thielen. I'm not saying this is a trend that will repeat itself, but it seems as though fantasy players are completely overlooking a guy who could've been a vital part of many people's championship runs in 2017. At WR64, he's one of the safest picks for 2017, and provides major upside heading into the szn due to his increased volume and efficiency we saw over the latter half of 2017.
NELSON AGHOLOR (WR42) - PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
In 2017, Agholor quieted the haters, finally prodocing after 2 awful sznz. The former first round pick put up a respectable 62/768/8 line in only 10 starts, showing he has built chemistry with franchise QB Carson Wentz. After finishing as the WR23 in 2017, he seems to have been forgotten heading into this year, as his ADP is 19 spots lower than positional finish last szn.
What intrigues me about his low ADP is his path to targets in 2018. Playing in one of the best offenses in the league, every target matters. Sure, they have Zach Ertz, one of the better tight ends in the league, but their #1 WR, Alshon Jeffery, is coming off a shoulder surgery and may remain on the PUP list to start the year. Because of this, Agholor's targets are bound to increase from his 2018 total (95). Obviously Agholor and Jeffery don't play the same position (Agholor ran 58.2% of his routes from the slot), so he won't see the same type of targets AJ saw in 2017, but he's likely going to be the team's 2nd best pass catcher to start the year, making him a valuable part of one of the NFL's top offenses.
Not only will the possible loss of AJ increase his volume, the ability he showed in 2017 proves he deserves to see upwards of 100 targets this szn. When QBs targeted Agholor in 2017, their QB rating was 109.5, good enough for 10th best in the league. Along with the QB's efficiency when passing to him, Agholor's effectiveness with the ball in his hands ranks among the best in the league. Last year, he ranked 18th in the league with 3.2 yards after catch per target, totaling 302 yards after the catch. He greatly improved this number from 2016, where he only totaled 109 (1.6/target). Agholor finally started becoming the player many thought he could be coming out of USC, and should continue to grow with the team as he matures.
Now, what is it that fantasy players have forgotten about Agholor? Well, in 2017, he finished as a WR in 7/16 games, and in 4 of those 7, finished as a WR1. He's shown he has the ability to be a top receiver in the league when he's given targets. In games where Agholor saw 5 or more targets, he averaged 4.8/60.8/.8, good enough for a 76.8/972.8/12.8 pace. Sure, 12.8 TDs isn't sustainable, but even if that number is cut in half, he'd still finish well above his ADP. Also, over the last 6 weeks of 2017 (12-17), he was the WR10, again, showing he could be one of the best talents at the position in the league. With Jeffery likely starting on the PUP list, Agholor proves to be a major value going at WR42. He's on one of the best offenses in 2018 with one of the easier schedules for WRs (Philly ranks 3rd for WRs according to fantasypros) and runs valuable routes out of the slot. Snag him while you can before people realize he has a chance to lead the team in targets and outperform his counterpart, Alshon Jeffery, currently going at WR26.
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