After a long offseason, the 2018 NFL season is finally upon us! The preseason begins in earnest this week, and the first episode of Hard Knocks has aired. Ladies and gentlemen, football is back.
Many startup drafts have already taken place, but there are plenty that have yet to commence. In this article, I will highlight the players that represent the best value in each of the first five rounds of a dynasty start-up draft based on July 2018 ADP.
Round 1 – Antonio Brown 30 years old
Brown’s current ADP is 1.08, which is just unbelievable. I prefer to build my rosters around the WR position due to their longevity and durability so securing arguably the best WR in the NFL with the 8th overall pick is highway robbery. Brown is being drafted as the WR3 behind Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, which is reasonable due to a wide gap in their age and comparable production over the past three years. However, of the running backs being selected ahead of Brown, there are only two I would draft ahead of him: Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. Both are under 24 years old, and both have proven NFL production.
Le’Veon Bell is almost certainly in his last season with the Steelers, and if he plays this season is expected to see another high volume season. By the time he signs with another team, he could very well have 2,000 touches. To put that number into perspective, DeMarco Murray who was considered to be a workhorse back, just retired with 1,913 total touches.
Saquon Barkley is unproven at the NFL level. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Saquon fan and there is every chance that he becomes one of, if not the best running back in the NFL. But, there is also a chance, even a slight one that he doesn’t live up to his sky-high expectations. However, if you do want Barkley on your dynasty team, you have to draft him in a start-up. The price is just too high to trade for him in most leagues now.
Finally, I would still prefer to have Brown over David Johnson. Whilst Johnson doesn’t have the career touches that Bell has, he will still turn 27 years old this season bringing him closer to 28 years old. The age, as concluded by Mike Tagliere of Fantasy Pros, that RBs hit the fantasy football age cliff. You can find his work here. The probability that DJ produces RB1 numbers for the next three seasons is much lower than AB continuing to finish as a top 12 WR.
Brown’s dominance at the position is simply absurd, three straight years of finishing as the WR1, and in 2017 missed out on the top spot to Hopkins by only 1.5 points, despite playing 1 less game. Brown has finished in the top 3 at the position for five, yes you read that correctly, FIVE consecutive seasons.
Some of you might raise your eyebrows at drafting a 30-year-old WR in the first round, but I would happily draft him at 1.05. We play this game to win, and having Brown on your roster in 2018 will go a long way to helping you do that this year, and beyond.
Round 2 – Melvin Gordon (25 years old)
I should start out by saying that I am not the biggest Melvin Gordon fan. He’s inefficient, and too often has no or minimal gain plays, highlighted by his career YPC of 3.8. But for fantasy football purposes volume is our primary concern. 2017 was his most productive season as a pro, and his attempts and targets in the passing game have increased each season.
With the increased volume has come an improved fantasy football finish from RB47 in his rookie season, RB7 in 2016, and RB5 in 2017.
Gordon is penciled in for another large workload, and there is every chance that his efficiency increases in 2018 as well. The Chargers’ offensive line should be significantly upgraded from 2017 with the free agent addition of Mike Pouncey at Center, and the return of their 2nd Round draft selection in 2017, Forrest Lamp. This is especially important when we analyze Gordon’s heat map from FF Statistics.
The majority of Gordon’s runs are up the middle. Here he has a poor YPC of 3.35, and with Lamp expected to start at Right Guard the least efficient lane for Gordon, we can be optimistic about his fantasy outlook in 2018.
He is currently being drafted in the middle of the 2nd round, as the RB10. I would feel very comfortable with Gordon as my RB1 and his chances of finishing inside the top 8 at the position.
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Round 3 – TY Hilton (28 years old)
Andrew Luck is back and healthy, and his connection with TY Hilton should be back too. In 2016, Hilton led the league in receiving yards and finished as the WR5. 2017 was a down year as he struggled with Brissett at QB, finishing as the WR27. Brissett was not a good QB for the Colts, so it’s not surprising that using the Rotoviz Game Splits app reveals a significant difference in fantasy production for Hilton when he plays with Andrew Luck – nearly 4 ppg.
If Hilton scored at 15.14 ppg in 2017, he would have finished as the WR8 with approximately 242 total points. He might be turning 29 years old this season, but he still has the speed to burn and with the Colts lacking anyone else in the WR department, Hilton should see a similar number of targets as he did in 2016 (155). Deon Cain, the Colts’ 6th round rookie pick, unfortunately, tore his ACL in their preseason opener, further thinning an already bare WR corps.
Hilton is being drafted at the WR18 at the end of the third round. If you open your draft with two running backs, you could do far worse than taking Hilton as your first WR in the 3rd round.
Round 4 – Jarvis Landry (26 years old)
Jarvis Landry has been consistently underrated in his NFL career, despite consistently producing. Each season in the NFL, he has outperformed his positional ADP and now being drafted as the WR22 and 45 overall, I firmly expect him to do it again in 2018.
I firmly believe that Landry remains an elite fantasy WR following his move to the Browns. His 400 catches over his first 4 seasons is an NFL record, but even a slight decrease in targets should be offset by an anticipated expanded role, given that Landry is being paid the second most cash for a WR in 2018 ($21.5 million per Spotrac). The Browns have just traded away Corey Coleman, and with Josh Gordon’s status up in the air, expect Landry to be Tyrod Taylor’s go to pass catcher. Even if he sees fewer targets than in Miami, he should have the opportunity to improve his efficiency and career average depth of target (aDOT) of 6.6 yards. He is clearly the leader of the Cleveland WR room too… if you haven’t seen his rousing speech from Episode 1 of Hard Knocks, you need to check it out.
I am not the only person about the Landry express, PFF’s Curtis Patrick is also in agreement that Landry is undervalued:
Round 5 – Alex Collins (24 years old)
The last player on this list and perhaps the least glamorous is Baltimore RB Alex Collins. A 5th Round selection by Seattle in 2016, Collins was unable to win a starting job, and in 2017 was waived at the start of the 2017 NFL season. Now with Baltimore, Collins made the most of his starting opportunities until his breakout game in Week 8. From then until the end of the season, Collins was the RB8. He wasn’t just effective from a fantasy perspective, he was graded by PFF as the #1 running back in 2017.
Collins is the clear starter in Baltimore. The Ravens signaled their confidence in him, failing to draft a running back or sign any high profile free agents. Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon are his backups, but project more as change of pace backs, especially since Dixon hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy. Whilst their proficiency as pass catchers may take some work from Collins, I still anticipate that Collins will be an effective fantasy performer in 2018 – especially given that Baltimore has the 12th best strength of schedule for running backs per FantasyPros.
The return of Marshal Yanda, PFF’s #1 graded offensive lineman in 2016, and Left Guard Alex Lewis should improve the Baltimore run game. A run game that should be supported by a positive game script. The Ravens ranked 6th in points allowed in 2017, and have several defensive players returning from injury including Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith to aid their pass defense. Their run defense is also graded 6th in the NFL by PFF entering preseason.
Alex Collins is in a similar situation to Jordan Howard. A running back projected to have a least a two-down role who might be hurt by a negative game script, and capable receiving backs behind them on the depth chart. The difference is that Howard is being drafted in the early 4th Round, whilst Collins is being drafted at the back end of the 5th Round of start-up drafts.
As always, credit to @_amazehayes for his awesome website ffstatistics.com. You can find me on Twitter @FF_DownUnder. I would love to hear who you think are the best value picks in start-up drafts right now!