Last-Minute Draft Advice
By Matt Schauf
Last-minute drafts are taking place, and although fantasy owners are always looking for sleepers, pretty much any noteworthy player is known to at least some degree by now.
At the same time, most drafts have probably already happened, and fantasy players are already starting to check the waiver wire to see where they might be able to find help among the guys passed over in their draft. For that reason, I tried to lean a bit toward some free-agent fodder this week, including a player or two who aren’t likely to deliver value right away.
(Starting next week, this space will be devoted to waiver-wire values.)
QB sleeper: David Garrard, Jaguars
I already wrote about this guy in this space last month, but people simply aren’t coming around to the idea of Garrard as fantasy-worthy quarterback. I can only assume that’s a product of folks not looking beyond the most obvious numbers.
When picking out your fantasy quarterbacks, you probably prefer a guy with more than 15 touchdown passes in each of his two full seasons as starter. Pay closer attention, though, and you’ll realize that the disparity in rushing yardage between Garrard and pretty much the rest of the position closes the passing gap. Aaron Rodgers’ rushing ability is no secret, and yet Garrard has run for 134 more yards over the past two years. Besides Rodgers and Garrard, Jason Campbell is the only other quarterback to have reached 200 yards rushing each of the past two years. (Matt Cassel barely missed in 2008 with 196 yards.)
With his average of 323 yards in two seasons as starter, Garrard carries at least a 12-point edge in rushing numbers into a comparison with just about any other quarterback. Still, he’s barely being drafted (28th on average at FantasyFootballCalculator.com). Don’t be afraid.
RB: James Davis, Browns
Davis is far more likely to get drafted this week than any one prior in 2010, but he won’t go in every fantasy draft. That’s because Peyton Hillis has drawn more attention for his preseason work in Cleveland, and because we’ve seen Hillis produce at the position before in Denver. Davis, however, appeared on his way to becoming a rushing factor as a rookie last year before a shoulder injury in a questionable practice drill ended his season early.
The second-year runner might not bring elite playmaking ability, but he was good enough at Clemson to garner more carries than C.J. Spiller in each of the three seasons that the two shared the backfield. Davis also finished his college career with 47 touchdown runs, including 10 or more in each of his final three seasons. For what it’s worth, an 81-yard touchdown run in the second exhibition game of 2009 was a big part of what opened eyes to his case that year.
Montario Hardesty’s torn ACL made this backfield even more of a muddle for fantasy owners than it appeared before, and although Jerome Harrison should clearly be the first Browns runner drafted, there will be room for production elsewhere. At the late stage Davis can be drafted, you’re either picking handcuffs for your starting backs or buying lottery-ticket types: cheap investments that can provide huge returns. Davis falls squarely within that second group, especially considering that he’ll probably still go undrafted in most fantasy leagues.
Stash him if you can before matchups with Tampa Bay and Kansas City to open the season. If he is to get significant carries early, we could see quick production. If Davis doesn’t get the call much and you need the spot for someone else, he’ll be easy to drop.
WR: Chris Chambers, Chiefs
I didn’t put a whole lot of thought initially into the sleeper potential of Chris Chambers this season, because I figured the numbers he put up after joining the Chiefs last year kind of spoke for themselves. After looking useless through about half a season in San Diego, Chambers moved to Kansas City and caught 36 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns over the final nine weeks. Those numbers along project to 64 receptions, 1,081 yards and seven scores.
Now, you might be thinking, “Sure, but Dwayne Bowe was hurt and suspended last year.” Taking only the five games in which the two receivers shared the field, though, still leaves one with 19 catches, 358 yards and three touchdowns. That reception total projects to three fewer over a full season, but the touchdown and yards-per-catch rates were higher.
Of course, working with such small samples leaves you far away from numbers that can be converted to reliable full-year expectations. But reliable expectations aren’t necessary at the point Chambers is leaving draft boards (67th receiver in “standard” scoring formats at FF Calculator, 70th in point per reception). Even if you ignore projections and take Chambers’ real 2009 numbers, he was a top 40 wideout across formats.
Bowe appears ready to finally live up to his potential, and Dexter McCluster has created plenty of buzz. A full season with both guys around could certainly cut well into Chambers’ usage, but that gets back to the whole reliable-expectation thing. What are you drafting after Round 12? Backup running backs? Upside rookies? An extra tight end or kicker? In Chambers, at the least, I offer you a veteran receiver with 1,000-yard potential and the kind of leaping ability that makes him an attractive red-zone target. Perhaps that’s why he’s going 34th among receivers on average at RapidDraft.com.
TE: Gary Barnidge, Panthers
First of all, Barnidge is by no means a player you should be considering on draft day unless your league goes very deep. He is, on the other hand, a name to at least be aware of going forward.
Starter Jeff King has been dubbed “clearly the lead dog” at tight end, but King is a limited athlete whom the team has used little outside of the red zone. His “lead dog” status is more a matter of the competitors failing to rise so far than his talent creating separation. The Panthers, however, have Steve Smith and little else in the passing offense. That’s why Barnidge could start to look more attractive as the season wears on.
In this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac, Mike Tanier said Barnidge “could be the first real weapon the team has had at that position since Wesley Walls.” (For anyone who doesn’t remember, Walls averaged 57.5 receptions from 1995 through 1999 and made five total Pro Bowls as a Panther.) Barnidge has a ways to go before being in sight of that level, but he has already shown some big-play ability. Three of his 12 catches last year went for 20 yards or more, with two tallying at least 40 yards. Two-thirds of his receptions went for first downs, and he added another 51-yard catch in this year’s third exhibition game.
Barnidge won’t start for the Panthers right away, which is why he’s not worth draft-day consideration. Much can change after the season begins, though, particularly when a coach and general manager could be feeling some heat in their seats. If Barnidge starts to get more looks, don’t be afraid to stash him. Dynasty leaguers with a spot should go ahead and take a chance.
The big names in Cincinnati are on offense, but there are plenty of reasons to take a shot on the Bengals defense. For starters, the team ranked sixth in points allowed last season. Granted, the schedule gets significantly harder in the wake of a division title, but you’ve at least got something going if you allow less than 20 points through a whole NFL season.
The pass rush wasn’t terribly impressive last year but presents reason for optimism. Antwan Odom – who led the team in sacks in 2009 despite being lost for the season in Week 6 – returns. Also, among the Bengals’ 15 sacks in exhibition games this year were 4.5 for rookie DT Geno Atkins, 3.0 for Michael Johnson and 2.0 for DT Pat Sims. Last year’s Bengals line left room for pass-rush help to step into the middle, and Johnson was a 2009 third-round pick with first-round ability. If even one of those three can carry their impact over to this regular season, it could provide a sack boost.
No boost is needed at corner, where Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph make up one of the league’s best cover tandems. Over the past three years, they have 25 interceptions combined. The real wild card here, though, could be the return game.
The Bengals managed to rank second in punt-return average last year but didn’t get a touchdown there. The kick-return game did find the end zone once but ranked just 22nd in return average. Both areas should be stronger this season with Adam (I ain’t Pacman no more) Jones around, to go with rookie Jordan Shipley, Bernard Scott (who averaged 31.5 yards on 16 kick returns last year and scored the touchdown) and Quan Cosby. More than one of those guys could handle primary return duties for many teams, and a couple more scores in this area could drastically improve Cincinnati’s fantasy total.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are being drafted as a backup unit or fringe starter on average.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com. Challenge him there now in free fantasy football.