Top 10 Underdog Best Ball values in the first 9 rounds
QB Justin Herbert, QB 7, ADP 54
Herbert had a disappointing year finishing as QB 11, after being typically drafted as the 3rd or 4th QB, seeing his ppg game drop to 17, down from 2021 when he was QB 2 with 23.3 ppg. The good news is Herbert’s production drop is actually pretty easy to explain, and there is little reason to believe it won’t be fixed.
Last season the Chargers dealt with a host of injuries, on offense that really impacted their offensive line, with Rashawn Slater missing much of the year, and at wide receiver. Herbert’s top two weapons Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both missed significant time. Allen played in only 10 games, but two of those he left early due to injury. Williams fared slightly better playing in 13 games, with also having to leave 2 games early. As a result Herbert had his top two receivers on the field for at least 50% of the snaps just 4 times in 17 games. Add in the OL issues, and it’s not surprising to see Herbert’s TD rate and yards per attempt drop sharply.
This year everyone is back healthy, and the team added 1st round WR Quentin Johnston, to give Herbert another high-upside weapon. The biggest addition to the team might be new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who helped Dallas be one of the top offenses over the past 4 seasons. Moore will likely let Herbert get back to utilizing his big arm, and take more deep shots, while maintaining a high pass rate. As QB7 Herbert is being undervalued, as he has a shot to be QB1 and at the very least in the top 3.
RB Najee Harris, RB 13, ADP 38.4
Harris is all but forgotten by a lot of the fantasy industry. This is despite finishing as RB4 in total points, and RB 8 in ppg in 2021 and RB 14 in total points and 18 in ppg. People seem to feel that last year’s dip is the new norm and that he will be overtaken by former UDFA Jaylen Warren. While Warren was impressive for a UDFA, the odds that he unseats a former 1st round pick who is only in his 3rd season is very unlikely.
It’s not surprising that Harris’ production was down last year as the Steelers offense struggled to transition from Ben Roethlisberger to Mitch Trubisky/Kenny Pickett. In addition, Harris played through a Lisfranc injury early in the season and saw his production increase in the 2nd half of the year. Prior to the Steelers bye week, Harris averaged just 9.4 fantasy points per game, over the first 8 games. After the bye, he averaged 14.2 fantasy points, which was 7th best in the league in that 9-week window. Harris averaged just 13.5 carries and 3.3 ypc in the first 8 weeks, those numbers rose to 18.2 carries and 4.1 ypc over the final 9 games.
While detractors will point to his drop of 3.5 targets per game in the first 8 games to 2.8 in the final 9 as a sign that Warren will take over the passing role. That really isn’t true. Harris left a game early due to injury in that 9-game window, and the Steelers dropped their pass attempts per game from 36.9 to 30.7.
Harris is still clearly the Steelers feature back, who will have a massive carry workload, almost all the red zone work, and a decent passing share. With Pittsburgh improving their offensive line, and the offensive efficiency likely to improve, Harris could get back to being a top 10 fantasy back, with the upside of being top 5.
RB Joe Mixon, RB 15, ADP 45.1
Mixon is another player who is simply being forgotten about in drafts. He finished as RB3 in total points and RB4 in ppg in 2021. His numbers dipped to RB12 in total points (missing 3 games) and RB9 in ppg last year, but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about a bounceback.
Mixon actually saw a big increase in passing work last season with 75 targets, (5.4 targets per game), which was considerably up from 2021 when he had 48 targets in 16 games (3 targets per game). That typically goes a long way to make up for his drop from 18 rushing attempts in 2021 to 15.3 last season, as historically targets are worth more in fantasy. Now his main competition in the backfield Samaje Perine has left in free agency, leaving rookie Chase Brown and a pair of unproven options in Traeyon Williams and Chris Evans to pick up that slack. Mixon could end up seeing his highest usage yet, in both carries and targets as part of one of the top offenses in the league. Even with just average efficiency Mixon has top 5 RB upside.
While the typical pushback is that Mixon had a clear outlier 53 point fantasy game that skewed his numbers. That’s absolutely true, but spike weeks are a big part of best ball. Having that kind of potential for 30+ point games is what we want. He also had 6 other games with 14+ points, so he did have value in roughly half of his weeks. He had 7 games of 20+ points in 2021, so he has shown to have more than just a singular spike week potential.
RB James Conner, RB 26, ADP 82.3
While I think there is no question that the Cardinals’ offense is potentially one of the weakest in the league, that shouldn’t stop you from ignoring Conner. Conner finished as RB5 in total points (missing 2 games) and PPG in 2021, and followed it up with an RB 20 (missing 4 games) in total points, and RB 10 in PPG. So to get him at RB26, when he has no real competition and is expected a true bell cow role, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t good last year, and Conner did just fine. In fact Conner played much better in the 2nd half of the season, when he came back from his injury. In the Cardinals 8 games in between weeks 9-17, Conner averaged 16.7 fantasy points, which would have been 5th best over the course of the full season. That was also a time when Kyler Murray missed 6 of those 8 games, and the team was lead by Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley and David Blough. The offensive line was dealing with multiple injuries, and the team as a whole struggled. Despite that, Conner was consistently producing quality fantasy games.
Conner is just an absolutely massive value this late in drafts, as he can be an RB1, and should easily outplay his RB ranking, even if he misses a few games. Even with as bad as this offense is, Conner can still deliver multiple 20-25 point games, and is a great option to have as your 3rd RB.
WR Davante Adams, WR 10, ADP 14.3
Adams is currently going as WR 10, and in the early 2nd round, despite finishing as WR1 in 2020, WR3 in 2021, and WR2 in 2022. The concerns people had of Adams losing value without Aaron Rodgers were massively overblown last season, yet once again the same arguments continue to rise. Adams saw 180 targets last year, 2nd in the NFL behind Jefferson, and he’s likely to be just as featured this year in the Raiders offense as well. The 14 TDs seem unsustainable, but he’s had 10+ TDs in 6 of the last 7 years, and that includes a year where Brett Hundley started 9 games for the Packers.
Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo probably won’t throw the ball deep to Adams as often, but that could be balanced by just completing more total passes to Adams. Adams saw his lowest catch percentage in the last 7 years at 55.6%, if Garoppolo can raise that to his typically 65% range, we could see the yards stay relatively flat and catches increase. As long as the TDs stay above 10, he has a great chance to finish as a top 5 WR. Adams also is probably the last receiver you can say has a reasonable chance to finish as WR1. The fact that you can get him this late is a major steal.
WR Calvin Ridley, WR 16, ADP 30.7
Last season as the Jaguars’ top WR Christian Kirk finished the year 11th in total points, and 18th in ppg in .5 ppr. Ridley coming off his suspension season is expected to take the role as the top weapon on this team. While Kirk is a good receiver, Ridley has a higher upside and the ability to be a true alpha receiver. He was WR4 in 2020 when he was healthy, and can have that kind of top-10 value in this offense.
The Jaguars passing offense finished 10th in attempts and yards, and 14th in TDs, but it could actually be even better than that. Lawrence was much better in the 2nd half of the season vs the first last year, as he was still getting used to the new offense. In the first 8 games, Lawrence was 177 of 277 (62.4%), for 1,840 yards (6.64 ypa) and 10 TDs (3.6%) and 6 INTs (2.2%). In the last 9 games of the season, Lawrence was 214 of 307 (69.7%), for 2,273 yards (7.40 ypa), and 15 TDs (4.9%) and 2 INTs (0.6%). Those are all very big improvements, and now this team is adding a top WR to the mix. This could end up a top 5 passing offense, leaving Ridley in a great place to finish well inside the top 10, and potentially top 5 among WRs.
WR Diontae Johnson, WR 29, ADP 56.3
Johnson finished a disappointing season last year as WR39, well behind his 9th and 23rd finishes the previous two seasons. So why should we be excited to grab him as WR 29 this season? Well, it almost has to get better. Despite again having a massive target number with 147 (7th overall in the league), he only was able to catch 86 balls, or 58.5% of his targets. That is below his previous seasons which were all over 61%. The biggest reason for his lower ranking was the lack of TDs, as he had zero on the season. He is due clear positive TD regression, as he should have had at least 5 if not more TDs given his usage, and career history. Some of this was due to bad luck, but a lot was the Steelers breaking in a rookie QB, and only throwing for 12 total TDs as a team.
With the expectation that the Steeler’s offense will improve this season, Johnson should be able to get back to 90+ catches, 1,000 yards and 6-8 TDs. Those are all very attainable numbers, and would put him in the top 15 likely for receivers.
WR Mike Evans, WR 35, ADP 68.1
Evans has been one of the most productive and consistent WRs in the league since 2014, with 9 straight 1,000 yard seasons, and he has never finished worse than WR 24th in .5 ppr. Most years he’s easily in the top 15, yet he’s going in the mid-30s, and his ranking really hasn’t moved much.
Yes the Buccaneers will throw less this season, but the idea that this offense will be able to be a ground-control team with this backfield/offensive line seems like a stretch. I’d still expect them to be in the top 15 in passing attempts, leaving plenty of opportunities for Evans and Chris Godwin. While Godwin should lead the team in targets and catches, Evans due to his size and deep ball ability is the better bet to lead in yards and TDs, which are most important in .5 ppr. Bad QB play may keep Evans out of the top 15 discussion, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he ends up as a top 25 receiver, in that 18-25 range. That is big potential value here in the later 6th round.
WR Brandin Cooks, WR 43, ADP 84.9
Simply put Cooks is massively undervalued as the Cowboys’ number 2 WR. This has been a top 5 offense the last four years when Dak Prescott is healthy, and concerns about the loss of OC Kellen Moore are vastly overblown. Cooks finished as WR 49 last season, despite missing four games and playing in one of the worst passing offenses in the league. He now gets to go to the Cowboys, who are one of the most efficient passing offenses. Yes, Cooks will be clearly behind CeeDee Lamb, but this offense has supported 2-3 receivers in the past. Also, the team is moving on from Dalton Schultz, who had been a significant weapon in the offense. It’s likely some of his target share will filter to the receivers. Cooks isn’t just likely to finish above his ranking, but he could be a top 20-24 receiver.
TE Dallas Goedert, TE 6, ADP 74.5
Though Travis Kelce is probably the best all-around TE value, since he has the ability to outperform the field massively, Goedert might be the best value vs draft capital. Last season Goedert finished as TE12 in .5 PPR, despite missing 5 games. His ppg of 9.5, was good for 5th in the league. His yards per target were T-3rd in the league among all pass catchers. Only Jaylen Waddle and A.J. Brown were ahead of him. His 58.5 yards per game had him on a pace for 995 yards, which was 2nd in the league among TEs and 29th among all pass catchers. His targets were way behind Brown and DeVonta Smith on his team, but part of that was due to the games he missed. His targets per game (5.75), were definitely behind some of the top-tier guys, but it’s still a good number, and was on par with guys like Kittle and Pitts who are both going ahead of him.
The Eagles last year were blowing teams out, and rarely threw the ball later in the game. This is part of the reason why they finished 23rd in passing attempts, this season they have a more difficult schedule, and will likely need to throw more to fight for wins. This should lead to Goedert being more involved naturally, and it also wouldn’t be surprising if the target share of Brown/Smith ends up being less concentrated, and spread out more. The other change that we could see with the Eagles is more passing TD volume. Last season they ran for 32 TDs, They had so many inside the 5 yard TDs, that some of those RZ trips could end up being passing TDs this season. Goedert could be a big beneficiary in this situation, which could really vault his fantasy points. If he caught just 2 more TDs in his 12 games last season, he would have been TE 3 in ppg (7th overall).
So the big play ability is there, and the production is definitely in the realm of being TE2 or TE3, so why is he being drafted as TE6? He has shown to be a playmaking TE, who has zero snap competition and is attached to a top offense and QB. Just a slight increase to this team’s passing volume and TD% could lead to him easily being a top 3 TE. Despite that, he’s going early round 7, well behind guys like Andrews, Hockenson, and Kittle. Andrews is going early 3rd round, and Hockenson in the early 5th round. Those are ranges with generally higher upside RBs and WRs, so even if they finish as TE2 and TE3, most other skill guys drafted around them are going to be better point producers. Where Goedert is going, he could end up being a massive value if he is a top 3 TE, as his points per game production will likely be higher than most of the RBs and WRs in that range. If he just ends up producing like he did a year ago, then he won’t hurt you as that is roughly the production level you should expect from the backs/WRs in that area.