Fake Football, Real Questions (July 11th Edition)
July 11, 2013 | Staffy Stafferton
You signed up for a fantasy football draft. This was supposed to be all about drinking beer and enjoying a night with the boys. The problem is you’ve been on the clock so long that your beer’s gone warm, and your buddies can’t stand the sight of you. You’ve been faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of deciding who to pick from a group of players ranked in the same tier, and you’re paralyzed with mental anguish. We get it…and we’re here to help. This week, we’ve given our writers two groups of players who fall right next to each other in positional rank and ADP. Here are the picks they would make and the logic behind them:
Quarterback: Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, Josh Freeman, Ryan Tannehill
All of these guys have great upside. Bradford got back to his normal self late in 2012 and now has a slew of interesting weapons. My only issue with him is he’s never been a great red-zone guy, and you’ll be banking on major improvement there if you want a big year out of him. Considering Freeman is in a contract year and he’s turned the ball over 19+ times in three of his four seasons, I can’t bring myself to trust him either. I’m not drafting any of these guys as my QB1, but if you’re taking a shot in the dark, it’s down to Palmer or Tannehill. If you want the safe pick, go with Palmer who was actually a decent QB1 at times on a bad Raiders team. But if you want upside, I like Tannehill who flashed great potential as a rookie with so-so options. With Mike Wallace added to the mix, his big arm can take more successful shots down the field. That could make for nice borderline QB1 upside in 2013, if not better.
It’s not the sexy pick, but I’m taking Palmer from this group without hesitation. He had over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last season when his top pass catcher in Oakland was Brandon Myers. Now, he’ll be targeting Larry Fitzgerald and a nice complement of young receivers in Arizona. He’ll also be running a Bruce Arians offense that has a track record of success in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. I won’t argue that guys like Bradford and Freeman have a ton of potential this year – I’m still not convinced about Tannehill – but I think Palmer has just as much upside, with considerably less risk.
Heading into this season, I’m dreamin’ of Freeman’s first half from 2012. In his first 8 games last year, Freeman threw for 2047 yards with 16 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. It’s impossible to know exactly what led to his second half collapse (11 TDs, 12 INTs), but the upside Freeman showed in those early 2012 games is enough to put him ahead of Palmer, Bradford, and Tannehill for 2013.
I’ll complicate this and go with Bradford. In the early rounds, the best philosophy is minimizing risk while maximizing upside. But when you get to the later rounds of the draft, I believe in going for guys with huge upside because the risk is so minimal at that point. Bradford showed definite progression after last year’s midseason bye week, going from a 4:2 TD to INT ratio pre-bye to a 9:1 post-bye in the red zone. Here are the plethora of things working in favor of Bradford’s fantasy prospects this year: 2013 is the first season he won’t have changed offensive coordinators, the progress of Givens and Quick, addition of slot dynamo Tavon Austin, improved O-Line (Jake Long), and a question mark in the running game. I’ll take that over stone-footed Palmer behind a disgusting offensive line, a Josh Freeman with little job security, and Tannehill (although I like him) who is going to be “protected” by Jonathan Martin. Bradford has by far the most going for him out of this entire group.
I agree with Asher that you should be targeting upside when picking from this group, but I think it’s Ryan Tannehill who possesses by far the highest statistical ceiling. Tannehill put plenty on tape as a rookie to show he has what it takes to be a solid NFL QB (most notably the ability to hang in the pocket and make accurate throws), but what I really love about him from a fantasy standpoint is that he can get the ball down the field vertically. According to PFF, Tannehill’s completion percentage (including dropped passes) on passing attempts targeted 20 or more yards down the field was 43.1%, good for 7th most accurate in the league. Mike Wallace happens to be the perfect new toy for a QB who can throw down the field with accuracy. On a separate note, did you know Tannehill averaged 34.6 rushing yards per game in weeks 12-16 last year? That number is sustainable if Miami continues to design running plays for him. To that end, CD Carter wants you to know the read option will be a part of Miami’s offense this season. No, I mean it. He really wants you to know Miami is going to run the read option. When you combine Tannehill’s big play potential in the passing game with the outside chance he rushes for 500 yards this season, a top 12 finish at QB may not be as ridiculous as it sounds.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez
I’m not drinking the kool-aid. It’s still Gronk’s world and we’re all just living in it. With that said, let’s break it down a bit: Gonzo is awesome, but do you really expect a 37-year old tight end to pace the Falcons in receptions for a second year in a row? I don’t. His value overall will drop. Davis certainly is talented and Michael Crabtree’s absence hypothetically helps him, but he still hasn’t been an elite fantasy TE since his crazy 13-TD season several years ago. For the value, it’s without a doubt between Gronk and Witten who are going in the 4th and 5th rounds respectively. And since there’s no way Witten tops 100 receptions again or scores a ton of touchdowns, why not go with Gronk’s insane upside at nearly the same ADP? I doubt he hits the PUP and if he can miss two games or less, you’re getting golden value. In the end, I’m either drafting Gronk at his current ADP or waiting until the 10th round or later to grab a sleeper tight end.
With this group of tight ends generally being selected in the fourth to sixth rounds of fantasy drafts, I’m probably not going to own any of them. I think there is enough depth at the position that you can stock up on running backs and receivers first. However, if forced to pick one of the four, it’s probably Gronkowski. He obviously comes with a ton of risk given his litany of surgeries, but his upside potential is rivaled only by Jimmy Graham, who will likely come off your draft boards in the second round. If you elect to spend an early pick on one of these tight ends, I suggest rolling the dice on Gronk and backing him up later in the draft with the likes of Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, or Rob Housler.
Lacking a “none of the above” option, Rob Gronkowski is the easy choice from this group of high-end tight ends. Despite only playing 11 games last season, Gronk finished as the #2 TE in standard scoring leagues. None of the other candidates here sport that sort of points-per-game potential. Is there risk associated with drafting Gronkowski? Of course, but it’s very easy to manage that risk because the tight end position is so deep this year that drafting a quality back-up for Gronk will cost virtually nothing on draft day. You can even pass on a backup TE altogether and try streaming tight ends if Gronk misses time. Ultimately, the risk you assume with Gronk isn’t enough to trump the upside he promises over the other options presented here.
This time, I’m going to join the consensus. I completely agree with everything everyone else has said thus far. In a sport of world-class athletes flying at each other at increasingly high speeds, EVERYONE is an injury risk. It’s all about maximizing upside, and grabbing Gronk in the 4th defines that philosophy. One of two things will happen: 1. Gronk will continue being Gronk, and people who grabbed him in the 4th are going to look like geniuses and take home all the trophies. 2. Gronk is going to struggle or even sit out, and people who took him are going to have to plug in people like Jordan Cameron, Martellus Bennett or Greg Olsen and still be competitive at the TE position. If you draft and trade well otherwise, you have only lost a little bit of value and are still a contender. With the quality of TE handcuffs with late ADP, the risk is definitely worth the reward.
Sweep it. It’s Gronk for me also, and it’s not all that close. Believe it or not, I like Dennis Pitta to outperform the rest of the guys on this list. You can currently acquire his services two rounds later than Witten and a full round after Gonzalez.
Check out previous editions of Fake Football, Real Questions: