Using CBS Average Draft Position (ADP) on Draft Day, here's a look at five players to target who will outplay their current ADP and five players who are currently being taken too early and therefore represent an unnecessary risk.
Undervalued on Draft Day
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Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers
Current ADP: 19th quarterback (130th overall)
My rank: 16th quarterback
Given that Freeman was the 16th-ranked quarterback in his horrendous 2011 season, you have to like his value for 2012 as the 19th quarterback off of the board. His physical shape, offensive scheme and most importantly, supporting cast, have all been upgraded in major ways headed into this season, so you know his totals will improve as well. The team added a legit No. 1 receiver in Vincent Jackson, a good pass catching running back in Doug Martin, a reliable tight end in Dallas Clark and a Pro Bowl guard in Carl Nicks. Having a legit deep threat like Jackson -- who has averaged over 10 yards per target and 17 yards per catch for his career -- will be huge for Freeman, because he has struggled to get the ball down the field. Jackson will also open things up for Mike Williams as the second receiver and increase the efficiency of the short passing game. New offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was the quarterbacks coach for Eli Manning, so he knows how to orchestrate an excellent passing game. Freeman has also lost some weight (at Sullivan's request) and the team wants to utilize his mobility more this season, which could give him a bump to 400 yards rushing (same as 1,000 yards passing) and four touchdowns on the ground. With Jackson and Martin in the mix, along with Nicks providing superior protection, I think Freeman will see his yards per attempt climb back over 7.0 and he will improve his TD-INT ratio back into a positive one. Given that Freeman has definite Top 10 upside, I love where you can steal him as your second quarterback late on Draft Day.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions
Current ADP: 41st running back (110th)
My rank: 31st running back
All of the attention in Detroit is on Kevin Smith right now and as a result, he has been one of the fastest risers on draft boards in recent weeks. Leshoure was a very hot sleeper early in the preseason but has lost considerable steam of late due to a now healed hamstring injury, which is great news for you bargain hunters out there. Jahvid Best will open the 2012 season on the PUP list and let's be honest; Kevin Smith is no model of health himself. In fact, Smith couldn't even stay healthy during his brief stint as the starter in Detroit at the end of 2011. Leshoure will be 100 percent healthy when he makes his 2012 debut in Week 3 and will be very involved for one of the best offenses in the NFL. He will be the goal line back, main between-the-tackles runner and should be utilized as a fourth quarter closer. He will not be a big factor in the passing game, but Leshoure has 10-touchdown potential in this offense and there is a good chance he will start four or more games as the only show in town given the injury histories of his backfield mates. Don't forget that Leshoure accounted for nearly 1,900 yards and scored 20 touchdowns without fumbling in 2010 for the Fighting Illini, so he knows how to produce and take care of the football. He has BenJarvus Green-Ellis upside (BGE as a Patriot) to me and considering that he has very little risk as a fourth running back in the 10th round you should make him "your 'Kel" and reap the rewards.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams
Current ADP: 10th running back (22nd overall)
My rank: Eighth running back (he is worthy of 12th overall pick to me)
Jackson is still among the Top 10 backs in terms of ADP, but I think he is being extremely undervalued considering that he can be had as the second to last pick of the second round. Jackson is a bell cow running back who has produced at least 1,420 total yards in four straight seasons and is expected to be extremely busy under new head coach Jeff Fisher. A lack of scoring has kept Jackson from Top 5 status in recent years, but there is hope that he can get back to the 8-10 touchdown level in 2012. Last year, Jackson's 25 percent red zone scoring rate ranked fifth among all runners, as did his 60 percent scoring rate, at the goal line. He did not get enough opportunities to score, because last year the Rams decided to throw the ball nearly 66 percent of the time in red zone and 50 percent of the time at the goal line for some unknown reason. That will change under Fisher, which is why Jackson represents an incredible value as your first running back when paired with a Top 3 quarterback or receiver Calvin Johnson. Jackson is an absolute steal as your second runner should you start with a McCoy, Rice, Johnson or McFadden in the first round and come back with the reliable veteran in the second round. He is a true workhorse in a running back friendly offense, so I fully expect Jackson to outplay his Draft Day position. Even though he has only missed two games in the last three years, be sure to grab Isaiah Pead later in your draft as a handcuff.
Eric Decker, WR, Broncos
Current ADP: 27th wide receiver (68th overall)
My rank: 21st wide receiver
Given Decker's current ADP, you could start your draft with an elite quarterback and two running backs before snagging receivers in Rounds 4-6 and still end up with him as your third receiver. Decker is exactly the kind of receiver that Peyton Manning loves and all reports out of Denver indicate that he will be Manning's top target and go-to guy based on the awesome chemistry they already display. Sure, he lacks the explosiveness and raw physical talents of Demaryius Thomas, but he is a better route runner and is certainly more likely than Thomas to be in precisely the right spot at the right time, which is something that Manning will value above all else. So in my mind, Decker is a steal as your third receiver and it is crazy to me that he is going 13 receivers and two full rounds after Thomas. Keep in mind that Decker was excellent with Kyle Orton under center in 2011, catching 20 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns in just four full games. I think we can all agree that Manning represents and upgrade from Orton in the pantheon of pocket passers, which is why I am shocked that Decker continues to take distant second billing to Thomas and frankly numerous other receivers. Steal him as your third receiver and you will be very, very happy.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers
Current ADP: 15th tight end (146th overall)
My rank: 12th tight end
Olsen was a popular sleeper in 2011 but failed to wake up, finishing with 45 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns, finishing the year as the 17th-ranked Fantasy tight end. He caught just 50 percent of his targets, third-worst among the 30 most targeted tight ends and averaged just 6.0 yards per target, sixth worst. The good news for Olsen is that Jeremy Shockey is gone and the Panthers are talking about using more one tight end sets. Considering that Shockey caught 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns last year, you have to think Olsen will get a bump from his departure. Don't forget that Olsen was on a new team, in a new offense and had a new quarterback with no real offseason to get acclimated. This year he will have more familiarity and I expect his production to see a boost as a result. After all, prior to 2011, Olsen had caught 60.4 percent of his targets and averaged 6.2 yards per target in Chicago, despite never topping 10.5 yards per catch in a season. If he maintains his career high 12.0 yards per catch this year and catches 60.4 percent of his targets, Olsen will bump up to 7.25 yards per target, which is a vast improvement. If Olsen picks up half of Shockey’s 62 targets, he could set career highs in both catches and yards, easily topping 60 catches and 700 yards with six touchdowns in a best case scenario. To put that in perspective, 700 yards and six scores would have placed ninth at the tight end position in 2011. Olsen was a Top 10 tight end twice in Chicago and has that kind of potential again in 2012, but you can easily snag him as a backup tight end, which means he has little or no risk.
Overvalued on Draft Day
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
Current ADP: Eighth running back (14th overall)
My rank: 11th running back
Let me start off by saying that I like Matt Forte a lot (especially in PPR leagues) and know that he is one of the best total-yardage producers in the league. That being said, I do not like him as the eighth running back taken, because he has not been a Top 8 runner since his rookie year and has been 15th or higher in two of the last three seasons. Forte pays the bills with his yardage, because he has just 17 scores in his last 44 games (four total scores in two of the last three seasons) and absolutely stinks in scoring situations. In 2009, he had the worst red zone and goal line scoring rates of the top 32 busiest running backs in scoring situations. In 2010, he was 10th worst in the red zone (12.8 percent) and third worst at the goal line (20 percent). Last year, Forte had just two scores on 33 red zone chances (6.1 percent), which was third worst among the 28 backs with at least 25 attempts. He failed to score on seven goal line chances, obviously the worst rate in the league. With Michael Bush in town, look for Forte to be pulled at the goal line, which limits his upside. Yes, I know Marion Barber filled that role last year, but the difference between Barber and Bush is that Bush will also cut into Forte's overall touches and total yardage. Bush is arguably the best backup running back in the NFL and he will be utilized to help keep Forte fresh and healthy, so I do not think we will see 20-25 touches for Forte week in and week out. Any kind of downward movement on his total yardage numbers (he was at 124 per game last year) will have a bigger impact on his Fantasy totals than it will on other backs. I still have Forte in my Top 12 at running back, but I would not rush out to grab him in a standard league ahead of full time backs who also score touchdowns (or at least get the chance to score touchdowns) like Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson and Trent Richardson, to name a few. A bad offensive line coupled with the arrival of a very competent and productive Bush leaves me a little more concerned about Forte than many still drafting.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins
Current ADP: 22nd running back (55th overall)
My rank: 28th running back
I am not comfortable with the idea of Reggie Bush as a weekly starter for my Fantasy teams, so I don't like his current ADP as the 22nd runner taken. Yes, Bush is coming off of a career year and his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2011, but a lot has changed in Miami for the talented runner. Gone is coach Tony Sparano, who had the 'Fins run the ball over 29 times per game, sixth most in the NFL. Also gone is Brandon Marshall, leaving the team without a credible receiver to occupy opposing defenses. The new coaching staff in Miami reportedly views Bush more as a pass catcher than a full time featured back, so I expect his rushing totals to fizzle like his romance with Kim Kardashian. When you consider that Bush has never played more than 12 games in a year following a 200-touch season (he had a career high 259 last year) and that the 'Fins have a very crowded backfield with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, I just do not see the upside for Bush this year. That's why I am fine with him as a third runner, but not at his current Draft Day value.
Roy Helu, RB, Redskins
Current ADP: 35th running back (98th overall)
My rank: 46th running back
If any of you read my stuff from last year, you know Helu is one of my absolute favorites and I think he is extremely talented. In five games as the main man last year, Helu touched the ball 136 times and picked up 651 total yards (428 rushing and 223 receiving) with two scores. He averaged 130.2 total yards and 15.4 points per game in that run, which was a Top 5 pace for the season. The problem is that Helu broke down from the workload and as a result, Mike Shanahan does not think Helu is cut out to be a full time back. Helu's preseason Achilles' injury is doing nothing to dispel that notion and he is falling down the depth chart as a result. Shanahan is a very fickle Fantasy hater, so this could all change by the time you read it, but all reports out of Washington seem to indicate that Helu is behind Evan Royster, Tim Hightower and Alfred Morris for the job of primary rusher. That being said, Helu is the best pass catcher of the bunch and will have a role, but he may not get the chance to have a big run like he did in 2011. He was bottom three in both red zone (2.3 percent) and goal line (14.3 percent) scoring rates last year, so he will likely need to be heavily involved from a yardage standpoint to produce big Fantasy points. I am fine taking that gamble with Helu as my fourth or, even better, as my fifth runner, but I will not take on all of that risk with no guaranteed payoff as my third running back. Shanahan has not coached a Top 24 running back since 2005, so I am not snagging a 'Skins running back unless I can do it much later in my draft.
Honorable mention at running back: Maurice Jones-Drew, Beanie Wells, C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson (because they both can't live up to their current ADP ... my money is on Spiller there if Jackson stays healthy)
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots
Current ADP: Fifth wide receiver (28th overall)
My rank: 11th wide receiver
I am sure many of you are gasping at this, but let me explain myself. I actually don't have a problem with Welker being drafted in the third round, but I do think he is overvalued in non-PPR leagues as fifth receiver taken. As good as Welker has been in New England, last year was his first foray into the Top 10 in standard scoring leagues. In fact, from 2007 to 2010, Welker averaged finishing as the 16th-ranked receiver in standard leagues. Last year, Welker's 173 targets, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns and 1.2 points per target were all career highs. With Brandon Lloyd in town, I don't think there is any way that Welker has another season of 173 or more targets and is likely to fall back under 180 Fantasy points, where he had been every year of his career prior to 2011. If Welker sees 150 targets and loses any efficiency off of his career number last year, he will have a tough time finishing in the Top 10. In 2008 for example, with Randy Moss still in town, Welker saw 150 targets and was the 20th-ranked receiver. With Gronkowski, Hernandez, Lloyd and Welker to all feed on a consistent basis and only one ball to go around, I just can't see taking Welker as the fifth receiver in non-PPR leagues right now. In PPR leagues he is a definite Top 5 receiver, but in standard leagues I'd rather have A.J. Green, Hakeem Nicks, Roddy White and Greg Jennings instead of Welker.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens
Current ADP: 33rd wide receiver (96th overall)
My rank: 40th wide receiver
Since joining the Ravens, Boldin has never topped 900 yards receiving in a season nor has he finished in the Top 24 at the receiver position. Last year was a bad year for Boldin, who set full-season career lows in touchdowns (three), touchdown rate (2.8 percent), target conversion rate (53.8 percent), Fantasy points (106) and Fantasy rank (37th). Torrey Smith is the star in the Baltimore receiving corps and I expect Boldin to continue to take a back seat to Smith in 2012 as he did in the second half of 2011. Boldin is averaging just five touchdowns per season over the last three and with very little yardage upside; it is tough to get too excited about his prospects for 2012. As a steady backup, I guess he is fine (especially in PPR formats), but I want more upside from my backups, let alone my starters. At his current ADP, I would not touch Boldin this year and would instead want the upside of Titus Young, Robert Meachem, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Greg Little, Nate Washington and Malcom Floyd. All four of those receivers can be had within two picks of Boldin or are being drafted well after him.
Have a great Labor Day (or should I say Fantasy draft) Weekend everybody and remember to snag the great values and avoid overhyped players in your drafts.