5 Underrated Players Who Could Help You Win in Fantasy Football
If the production were similar, would you rather spend your first-round pick on a running back or a fourth-round pick on a running back?
Easy question, right?
Of course you'd rather spend your fourth-round pick on a running back if his production will be similar to the first-round running back. Then you could spend your first-round pick on someone else.
If only fantasy football made your choices that obvious for you.
Well, I'm going to help give you five such scenarios just like that to help you win in fantasy football.
Please keep in mind that, with these scenarios, I'm not saying to avoid the "lesser value" option (such as the first-round running back in the above example). You can certainly take both options (such as the first-round running back AND the fourth-round running back).
The point of these scenarios is to point out five underrated players who are very likely to perform as well as higher-ranked players.
QB Jay Cutler
Assuming similar production, would you rather take a third-round (or fifth-round) quarterback or an eighth-round quarterback?
The eighth-rounder is Jay Cutler.
In Vick's sensational 2010 season, he had a 22.0 FPPG average.
In Vick's disappointing 2011 season, he had a—wait for it—20.1 FPPG average.
To Vick's credit, he did finish strong in Weeks 15 and 16 as he re-discovered tight end Brent Celek. But Vick is a health risk, not playing all 16 games for the Eagles in any of his three seasons with the team so far.
Furthermore, the Eagles return essentially the same offense as 2011. The only significant addition is sixth-round rookie receiver Marvin McNutt, who shows both potential and questions. And who knows which DeSean Jackson will show up.
Romo likewise lost a very valuable piece of the offense when receiver Laurent Robinson signed with Jacksonville. Recall Week 14, when Robinson outshined fellow receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Last season, Romo averaged 21.2 FPPG with three talented receivers. This season, he is down to two.
Meanwhile, Cutler averaged 16.2 FPPG in 2011 with skank at receiver (the one-trick pony Johnny Knox and overrated Devin Hester). His best weapon was possession receiver Earl Bennett.
This year, Cutler has Pro Bowl receiver (and former teammate) Brandon Marshall along with a couple new talents in second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery and fourth-round tight end Evan Rodriguez.
In addition, offensive coordinator Mike Tice will be calling plays. As the former offensive line coach, he will know how to minimize the offensive line's weaknesses and has led productive offenses with the Vikings.
What's more, Tice will have input from quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who called the plays when Cutler and Marshall led the league's second-most productive offense in 2008.
Expect Cutler to hit above 20 FPPG this season, which means if you miss out on the top-five quarterbacks, you can hold off until around the eighth round and still get solid QB1 production.
RB Doug Martin
According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, rookie Trent Richardson is the 12th player off fantasy draft boards right now. He's also the ninth running back taken overall.
In a 12-team league, that means Richardson is a first-round pick.
Meanwhile, rookie Doug Martin is the 40th player off fantasy draft boards right now. He's also the 20th running back taken overall.
In a 12-team league, that means Martin is a fourth-round pick.
If you've been following me, you know I've been sounding the horn about this ever since the NFL draft: Doug Martin will match, if not exceed, Trent Richardson's production this year.
I'm as sure about it as I was about Arian Foster before the 2010 season. I took the undrafted Texans free agent with my fifth-round pick. And while some say he "came out of nowhere" to lead me to a fantasy title, I was not surprised in the least with Foster's explosion.
Martin will finish the season as a top-ten fantasy running back and will be a first-round fantasy pick in 2013 drafts.
This, then, is the hypothetical question I asked at the beginning of this article: Would you rather take a first-round RB or a fourth-round RB if the production were similar?
Easy: The fourth-round RB is a much better value.
Of course, if your position is towards the end of your draft, you could take both, knowing that you wouldn't have to take an RB2 with your second-round or third-round picks since Martin will be your second RB1 as your fourth-round pick.
But keep this info to yourself so that Martin's ADP doesn't continue to climb.
RB Mark Ingram
Assuming similar production, would you rather spend a first-round pick on a running back or an eighth-round pick on a running back?
The first-rounder is Marshawn Lynch, according to current ADP calculations.
The eighth-rounder is Mark Ingram.
Yes, Ingram was a bust in his rookie season (2011).
Yet "bust" is a word I expect to hear about Lynch, not Ingram, in 2012.
Ingram, the former first-round pick the Saints traded up to take, was the 44th-best fantasy back with a meager 5.3 FPPG in 2011.
This year, in his sophomore year, he's still the most talented running back on his team.
(No, I don't consider Darren Sproles a true running back.)
Remember Ryan Mathews?
Mathews was a bust in his rookie season (2010).
In Mathews' rookie season, he was the 40th-best fantasy back with a meager 5.7 FPPG.
In his sophomore year, he was still the most talented running back on his team.
Mathews finished his sophomore year as the 11th-best fantasy back with a stout 13.3 FPPG.
Cream rises to the top eventually.
Expect something similar from Ingram—excellent value in the eighth round.
WR Kenny Britt
Assuming similar production, would you rather have a second-round receiver or a fifth-round receiver?
The second-rounder is Andre Johnson.
The fifth-rounder is Kenny Britt.
Britt was lost for the season in Week 3 and thus off the radar of most fantasy owners.
But Britt averaged 15.0 FPPG before getting injured—good for second-best among fantasy wideouts in 2011.
In case you glossed over it, let me repeat for emphasis: second best.
Granted, it was a small sample size, but one thing you'll hear from me often is the cream rises to the top.
In other words, Britt's talent does not make his production a fluke.
What's more, Britt performed at a high level with aging quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is projected to be the starter for the Titans this year. So Britt already has proven he can produce with Hasselbeck.
And if Jake Locker takes over for Hasselbeck during the season, Britt could perform even higher.
More good news: Having rookie playmaker Kendall Wright on the opposite side should help keep secondaries honest when covering Britt. And the team still has Nate Washington, who stepped up with a 9.0 FPPG average in Britt's absence last year, to further keep secondaries honest with Britt.
If your league has several astute owners, you probably will have to take Britt a bit earlier than the fifth if you want him. Otherwise, Britt is an outstanding value in the fifth round.
TE Tony Gonzalez
Assuming similar production, would you rather have a fourth-round tight end or a tenth-round tight end?
The fourth-rounder, according to current projections, is Antonio Gates.
The tenth-rounder is Tony Gonzalez.
I know, I know—Gonzalez is not a sexy pick (unless you're a female).
And fantasy experts project big things from Gates this year.
Presumably healthy going into training camp and without receiver Vincent Jackson around to compete for quarterback Philip Rivers' attention, Gates is expected to have a big season, after a lackluster 6.9 FPPG in 2011.
Perhaps production similar to 2010, when Gates had a dominant 9.2 FPPG, second-best among tight ends that year.
Gonzalez, you ask?
Last year, he quietly had a strong 8.6 FPPG, third-best among tight ends—just behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Does his situation change this year? Will second-year receiver Julio Jones eat into Gonzalez's production?
Receivers typically affect other receivers' production. So if Jones blows up, as many predict (myself included), the skill player most likely to be affected will be fellow receiver Roddy White, not Gonzalez.
The Falcons' offense otherwise remains fairly similar. Mileage-heavy running back Michael Turner may see fewer touches, but that may actually benefit Gonzalez in short-yardage and red-zone situations.
So the ageless Gonzalez is likely to produce similar to his 2011 numbers—which means that if you miss out on the Gronkowski or Graham sweepstakes, you can confidently wait until around the tenth round to get a solid TE1.
Follow me on Twitter: @robtong21.