2013 Fantasy Football: Projecting the Best Value Picks at Each Position
It's the magic word in fantasy football—five little letters that can mean the difference between a championship and missing the playoffs altogether:
Success in fantasy is all about getting value with your picks, whether it's the first round, the fifth or 15th. That's where this article comes in. Here's a look at a dozen value picks this year, from high-end starters to late-round sleepers.
If you've already drafted, hopefully at least some of these players are on your team. If not, get these guys on your draft-day radar.
Average draft position data courtesy of Fantasy Pros.
High-End QB: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Average Draft Position: Round 4 (No. 39)
Frankly, this isn't a good year to take a quarterback early. The position is deep and you can get value much later in drafts. However, for some unexplainable reason, many people still feel the urge to reach for a signal-caller, believing (incorrectly) that their value in the NFL and fantasy is the same.
If you're the type who's just bound and determined to go quarterback early, at least have the sense to be patient enough to wait until the fourth round for Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan was fantasy's fifth-ranked quarterback last year on the heels of a career-high 4,719 yards. The 28-year-old is in the prime of his career and has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in the Atlanta passing game.
If you can't live without an "elite" fantasy quarterback, Ryan will give you the most bang for your buck.
Mid-Round QB: Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Average Draft Position: Round 6 (No. 72)
Tony Romo is the poster boy for the wisdom of waiting to draft a quarterback this year.
Despite top-10 fantasy finishes in three of the past four years and a career-best 4,903 passing yards in 2012, Romo is the 12th passer being taken off the board this year, according to Fantasy Pros.
The 33-year-old is an established fantasy option with two solid wideouts (Dez Bryant and Miles Austin) and an elite tight end in Jason Witten to throw to.
Load up on running backs and receivers, grab Romo a little later, and reap the rewards.
Late-Round QB: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Average Draft Position: Round 12 (No. 136)
Once you've hit the double-digit rounds, it's not about finding a weekly starter under center. However, you still need to account for your starter's bye and have a viable backup at the ready in case of injury.
To fill those requirements, look to Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals.
Granted, Palmer hasn't been lights out in the preseason, but we're talking about a QB in Palmer who topped 4,000 passing yards last year for the Oakland Raiders. That was with tight end Brandon Myers as his leading receiver.
Now guiding an offense that is designed to challenge defenses vertically, he has Larry Fitzgerald.
High-End RB: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Average Draft Position: Round 1 (No. 10)
It isn't very often that teams drafting toward the back end of the first round have a chance to draft a player with a legitimate shot at being this year's top fantasy back.
That's exactly what's happening this year with LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
McCoy's concussion-marred 2012 season has apparently turned off many fantasy owners, but it wasn't that long ago (2011) that McCoy was fantasy's second-ranked ball-carrier on the heels of 20 total touchdowns.
Throw in a dynamic Chip Kelly-led offense that ran the ball a ton at Oregon, and there's top-five upside here that can be had late in Round 1.
Mid-Round RB: Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Average Draft Position: Round 6 (No. 67)
Of all the rookie running backs with a shot at significant carries, Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals has probably gotten the least publicity. Things aren't going to stay that way for long.
Bernard has shined for the Bengals in the preseason, averaging 4.5 yards a carry, scoring two touchdowns and chipping in 55 yards on six catches.
If Bernard can carry that momentum over into the regular season, then the RB committee that many expect between Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to feature a lot more of the former than the latter.
Late-Round RB: Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Average Draft Position: Round 13 (No. 151)
Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints is the Rodney Dangerfield of running backs. He just can't get any respect.
The seventh-year veteran is being drafted over four rounds after Mark Ingram, despite the fact that it was Thomas, and not Ingram, who played with the first team in New Orleans' all-important Week 3 preseason game against the Houston Texans.
Thomas touched the ball five times in the game, picking up 70 yards. That included a 51-yard touchdown on the receiving front.
His value is higher in PPR scoring systems, but Thomas is a great addition late in fantasy drafts as depth in the backfield.
High-End WR: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Average Draft Position: Round 3 (No. 29)
In 2012, Andre Johnson caught 112 passes and finished second in the NFL with 1,598 receiving yards.
However, the star Houston Texans wideout managed only four touchdown grabs, and that low scoring total combined with Johnson's age (32) has dropped him into low-end fantasy WR1 territory.
If Sunday's game with the Saints was any indication, that slot is low. The knock on Johnson was that 2013 could be the year he loses a step, especially after only six scores over the past two years.
Someone forgot to tell Johnson, who tallied seven grabs for 131 yards against New Orleans...in about two quarters of action. Oh yeah, he's toast.
Mid-Round WR: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Average Draft Position: Round 9 (No. 99)
The 2013 season won't be getting off to the best of starts for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who will miss the first two games as the result of a drug suspension.
That suspension has knocked Gordon into fantasy WR4 territory, and savvy drafters should be ready to pounce on that bargain. Yes, Gordon will miss those first couple games, but at his current ADP, Gordon isn't being drafted as a starter anyway.
When he returns, fantasy owners will have secured the services of the top wideout for a team that's going to air it out this year, as well as a youngster who averaged over 16 yards a catch on his 50 grabs last year in his rookie campaign.
WR3 numbers from Gordon would actually be something of a disappointment, and that would still make the second-year pro a solid value at his current going price.
If Gordon hits his WR2 ceiling, he'll be an absolute steal.
Late-Round WR: Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
Average Draft Position: 11th round (pick 122)
It's been a long road back into action for San Diego Chargers wideout Vincent Brown, who fractured his ankle in the 2012 preseason.
However, not only is the third-year pro back on the field, but with Danario Alexander out for the year with a torn ACL, Brown is also the top candidate to lead the Chargers in receiving yards this year.
The reason is simple: Malcom Floyd may be the more accomplished veteran, but Floyd is much more the vertical threat than crisp route-runner. Behind a leaky offensive line in San Diego, Philip Rivers is going to be throwing a lot more quick passes to Brown than bombs to Floyd.
Granted, durability is a concern, but Brown's a quality depth selection at the wide receiver spot.
High-End TE: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Average Draft Position: Round 4 (No. 43)
It wasn't that long ago that I was advising fantasy owners to stay away from New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in drafts this year.
Not much has changed in regard to his playing status. Gronkowski is still out indefinitely, although the fourth-year pro is at least doing some individual work in practice, according to Field Yates of ESPN.
However, Mike Reiss and ESPN Boston report that Gronkowski likely will not open the season on the PUP list, and the general thought is that hei will probably miss around two to four games to open the season. If that proves to be the case, then the Gronk is very much worth a look given where his fantasy stock has slipped to.
Bear in mind, not only is Gronkowski fantasy's top tight end in points per game over the past two years, but the gap between Gronkowski and the next-closest player (Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints) is nearly three points per week.
Mid-Round TE: Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
Average Draft Position: Round 9 (No. 98)
St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook was a trendy pick by many fantasy experts heading into the summer after joining the team in free agency. It turns out they may have been on to something.
Nick Wagoner of the team's official website reports that Cook, who had 44 catches for 523 yards and four TDs for the Tennessee Titans last year, has emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Sam Bradford.
Cook, whom Wagoner called a "walking mismatch," also had a solid showing in the Rams' third preseason game, reeling in four passes for 50 yards and a score against the Denver Broncos.
If you miss on one of the higher-end tight ends early in drafts, the fifth-year pro is a solid consolation prize.
Late-Round TE: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Average Draft Position: Round 19 (No. 232)
By the 19th round of drafts, it's truly lottery ticket time. Yes, you can add low-end depth players, but why not gamble a bit on an upside play?
Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is just such a gamble.
The third-year pro has been one of the bigger stories of the summer in the Mile High City, starring in training camp. That performance has carried over to the preseason, with Thomas making 14 catches for 123 yards through three games.
Thomas has gone from complete unknown to the best fantasy bet among Denver tight ends. And while the former basketball player from Portland State is no sure thing, he's absolutely worth a late look in drafts.