After joining the San Francisco 49ers midway through last season in a trade with the Carolina Panthers, Christian McCaffrey led all running backs in PPR scoring.
In his first full game with the 49ers in Week 8, McCaffrey torched the Los Angeles Rams with a touchdown trifecta – one rushing, one receiving and one passing. In short, he made an immediate impact.
But this is all about finding players that our model deems the industry to be too high or too low on. So McCaffrey, who’s our model’s RB1 ahead of Josh Jacobs, isn’t on this fantasy football draft list because he’s also the top running back in the industry. It’s the same reason you won’t find players like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes or Travis Kelce, or Lamar Jackson, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson.
Instead, let’s highlight some players that our projections indicate will either outperform or underperform their industry-wide ADPs.
Note: The ADPs (average draft position) for these players are coming from the consensus fantasy football rankings at Fantasy Pros as of Aug. 31. For our purposes, we will be assuming a full PPR (one point per reception) league format.
QB to Draft Ahead of Current ADP
Daniel Jones, New York Giants (ADP: 112, Our Rank: QB9)
Jones had somewhat of a breakout season as the QB9 in 2022, with more total points than quarterbacks like Justin Herbert and Aaron Rodgers, and more PPR points per game than Trevor Lawrence and Kirk Cousins. Therefore, entering this year, he’s currently being drafted as… the 14th QB off the board?
Jones had a top-10 season and led the Giants to the playoffs all while having one of the worst groups of pass catchers in the NFL. So, despite having the third-highest well-thrown percentage (84.5%) among QBs with at least 500 attempts, Jones only produced average numbers through the air.
With new tight end Darren Waller in tow, there are signs that he’ll improve those numbers. But that’s not necessary for his fantasy success. Here’s where Jones ranked in rushing yards by a quarterback in 2022.
He finished as a top-10 quarterback last year, his weapons got better, and it’s his second year in this new offensive system.
Jones is worthy of being one of the first 10 quarterbacks off the board and is just barely behind Dak Prescott in our projections. Why take a gamble on Anthony Richardson as your mobile QB when you can get Jones late in the draft?
QB to Avoid at Current ADP
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 93, Our Rank: QB20)
Forget about the injuries for a second. Yes, it’s a massive part of the equation when attempting to decide whether or not to draft Tua, but there are football-related reasons why he’s a risky investment.
Here’s just a sampling of players who had more rushing yards than Tagovailoa last season: Ray-Ray McCloud, Jeff Driskel and Travis Homer. For those keeping track, that’s a wide receiver with four carries on the season, last season’s backup quarterback for the Houston Texans, and a running back who had more than 10 rushing yards in only one game last season.
Of our model’s top 25 quarterbacks, only Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff are projected to have fewer rushing yards. Tua is so dependent on passing that not even the lethal wide receiver combination of Hill and Jaylen Waddle is enough to overcome his lack of rushing.
Add on the fact that six of his games are projected to come against elite pass defenses in the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, and the model is lower on his prospects for this season.
RBs to Draft Ahead of Current ADP
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: 63, Our Rank: RB10)
Rhamondre Stevenson finished last year’s campaign as the RB7, sandwiched between Nick Chubb and Tony Pollard. Why is that relevant? In 12 games, Conner averaged more PPR points per game than Stevenson. Chubb, Pollard and Stevenson are all being taken within the first 30 picks of fantasy drafts, while Conner is remaining on the board for nearly three more rounds.
If past success isn’t enough to tempt you, how about trying to name Conner’s competition for touches in the Cardinals backfield? Well, let’s just say this, other than Conner, there’s not a single running back on the Cardinals roster that notched 100 rushing yards last season.
And that’s exactly what our model sees. Only six running backs are projected to have more carries and despite playing on a team that’s projected to struggle mightily this season, Conner has averaged more than eight touchdowns per season since 2018.
You might be surprised to hear he’s ranked ahead of RBs like Najee Harris, Kenneth Walker III and Travis Etienne Jr. At his ADP, he’s looking like a steal for fantasy managers.
David Montgomery, Detroit Lions (ADP: 84, Our Rank: RB11)
We mentioned the Detroit backfield situation earlier this week when we floated around the idea of selecting both Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs (RB8) in a unique stacking situation.
Because of that, we won’t go into too much depth on Montgomery here, other than to say that among all running backs with at least 100 rushes, Montgomery finished second in forced missed and broken tackles per touch, behind only Dameon Pierce.
On a team with a great offensive line and a dedicated rushing attack, Montgomery is going significantly later in fantasy drafts than he should.
Brian Robinson Jr, Washington Commanders (ADP: 104, Our Rank: RB23)
Bijan Robinson has become a first-round fantasy draft darling, but don’t forget about Brian Robinson Jr. Running backs who are projected to receive a starter’s workload can’t usually be found still on the board in the hundreds. However, Robinson has been just waiting there to be taken.
Robinson was one of the least efficient running backs in his rookie season, but don’t forget the circumstances that caused him to miss the first four games. He started to show his promise later in the season, recording at least 85 scrimmage yards in five of his last seven games.
At some point, the sheer projection of volume should catch your eye. For our model, that’s in the late RB2 range, which is significantly ahead of his current ADP. He’s a sleeper ranked ahead of bigger names like Alexander Mattison, Ezekiel Elliott, D’Andre Swift and Joe Mixon and just behind Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones and Breece Hall.
RBs to Avoid at Current ADP
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: 24, Our Rank: RB49)
The key here is to forget about that RB49 projection. If he’s healthy enough to come off the PUP list after four weeks, and if he’s willing to play without a new contract, Taylor will almost certainly outperform that RB49 projection.
Here’s the thing though, that’s a couple of critical “ifs”. And when you are pulling the trigger on selecting a player in the second or third round, you want a player that ideally has a high floor and a high ceiling. Taylor’s ceiling is high, but his floor is too low for comfort.
For the model, the risk that he doesn’t come close to receiving a reasonable volume for a high draft pick drops him significantly. You’re better off with RBs like Miles Sanders (36th), James Cook (34th), Dalvin Cook (35th) or even Isiah Pacheco (45th).
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 33, Our Rank: RB28)
This one requires a little bit more nuance. In the four years of his career in which Mixon has started at least eight games in a season, he’s never finished the season worse than RB13. Last season was no different as he finished the year as RB10.
But dig into his numbers a little bit, and they’ll tell you an alarming story. For starters, over 20% of his points came in his five-touchdown, 55-point performance in Week 9 versus the Carolina Panthers. Furthermore, outside of that Week 9 explosion, Mixon only scored more than 18 fantasy points once after Week 1.
Since the beginning of 2020, Mixon has been averaging a measly 3.94 yards per carry – only Najee Harris, Myles Gaskin and Mike Davis have a worse average. Mixon reached his RB10 status last season by destroying his previous career high in receptions, mostly on checkdowns from Joe Burrow.
The model expects that number to regress to the mean, and Mixon is more of a high-end Flex than a set-it-and-forget-it running back like he’s being drafted as.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 59, Our Rank: RB32)
What rushing yards are to quarterbacks, receiving yards are to running backs. And really, no more needs to be said then about Dobbins, who despite continuously sporting prolific rushing numbers, has yet to make an impact in the passing game.
Get this… in his entire NFL career (23 games), Dobbins has accumulated a grand total of 162 receiving yards. Since his freshman year at Ohio State, Dobbins has 807 receiving yards, which is to say, it’s never been a part of his game. This is bad because Dobbins has also only had one game in his career in which he rushed the ball more than 15 times.
Low volume and no pass volume is a recipe for disaster. Our model sees him more as a flyer with upside than a worthy top-60 pick.
WRs to Draft Ahead of Current ADP
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 42, Our Rank: WR9)
Along with Montgomery, Allen is the other player we mentioned in our mock draft exercise earlier this week. Simply put, he was excellent at the end of last season.
Now, the Chargers are getting their star left tackle back and hired an offensive coordinator who just oversaw an offense in which CeeDee Lamb led the NFL in catches out of the slot. Hello Keenan Allen.
He’s more than worthy of being a third-round pick, and he’s currently going in the fourth or fifth round. We have him ranked just behind Cooper Kupp and ahead of Amon-Ra St. Brown, DK Metcalf, Garrett Wilson, Deebo Samuel, Tee Higgins and Chris Olave.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 78, Our Rank: WR16)
Johnson scored as many touchdowns as you and I did last season. This is a player, mind you, who had 20 targets in the red zone. And he never scored once. Can you say positive regression?
Johnson finished last season as WR28. Add six touchdowns to his total, which was his career average entering 2022, and he would have finished as WR20. Add a much-improved Kenny Pickett to the mix, and Johnson is comfortably within WR2 range for our model.
And if all that fails, well, he finished seventh in the NFL in targets in 2021, second in targets in 2020, and he’s caught at least 86 passes in three straight seasons.
The floor is there because of the volume. The ceiling is high because this could be an improved offense and again, he scored zero touchdowns last season. Johnson is an ideal second or third wide receiver to consider, ahead of Terry McLaurin (WR17), Amari Cooper (WR18) and DeAndre Hopkins (WR19).
Gabe Davis, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 103, Our Rank: WR27)
Allen and Johnson are here because they’re ball hogs – they get tons of volume. Davis is here for the exact opposite reason. He doesn’t need the ball but two or three times per game to provide real value.
His 16.7 yards per reception since the start of 2021 leads the NFL, as does his mark of 13.7 yards at the catch point.
Paired with Josh Allen, who led all quarterbacks in air yards per throw, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.
How does that player archetype look in our model? Well, Davis ranks 51st among wide receivers in projected receptions, but he also ranks 19th in projected receiving yards. Lining up alongside Stefon Diggs, Davis will be the recipient of numerous 1-on-1 opportunities.
He is very much worth a late-round gamble due to his considerable upside.
WRs to Avoid at Current ADP
A.J. Brown (ADP: 14, Our Rank: WR20)/DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 26, Our Rank: WR23)
Of all the players on this list, these two are among the most surprising. Both finished as top-10 receivers last year and our No. 1 quarterback entering this season is Jalen Hurts. However, what the model can’t quite reconcile is that these two are so good that any given game can belong to either player.
Throw in Dallas Goedert and an offense that ran the ball at the sixth-highest rate in football last year, and there might just be too many weapons to go around in this offense. And in case you’re wondering what’s the difference between this wide receiver duo and the one in Cincinnati or Miami, it’s just that. The Bengals attempted 74 more passes than the Eagles last season.
As a result, the model is projecting great, but not excellent seasons for both. Brown and Smith are both projected for over 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – marks that only 13 players reached all of last season.
The upside for both is massive, but there’s a little bit too much unpredictability from game to game, so the model views both as WR2-type players.
D.J. Moore, Chicago Bears (ADP: 50, Our Rank: WR33)
Here’s what we wrote about Moore when we included him as a Nay in our 2022 season projection piece:
Moore is here for one main reason. Baker Mayfield is now his quarterback, and he might just be better at acting than he is at playing the quarterback position. Mayfield only threw 17 touchdown passes in 14 games last season to go along with 13 interceptions. And the Browns’ leading wide receiver ended with 570 receiving yards.
Let’s try this again…
Moore is here for one main reason. Justin Fields is now his quarterback, and he’s significantly better at running the football than he is throwing the football. Fields only threw 17 touchdown passes in 15 games last season to go along with 11 interceptions. And the Bears’ leading wide receiver ended with 493 receiving yards.
He’s in a nearly identical situation as a season ago when we cautioned selecting him with a fifth-round pick. He was our WR25 entering the season, and he finished as WR24. Well, once again, there are too many risks and unknowns involved, meaning that drafting him in the fifth or sixth round is a risky proposition.
TE to Draft Ahead of Current ADP
Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos (ADP: 164, Our Rank: TE7)
From Weeks 6-16, the games Dulcich played in his rookie season, he was TE10. Only Waller and Kyle Pitts had a larger depth of target and among all tight ends with 200 routes run, only Waller and George Kittle had a higher mark than Dulcich’s 11.07 burn yards per route.
And if all that’s not enough, Albert Okwuegbunam caught seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos final preseason game. Then they traded him. That’s the type of belief they have in Dulcich.
He’s currently free in drafts. The model is optimistic he can be a top-10 tight end, especially if Russell Wilson can have a bounce-back year.
TE to Avoid at Current ADP
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: 48, Our Rank: TE10)
Speaking of offenses with almost too much firepower from a fantasy perspective, Kittle might be the epitome of this conundrum. The good news with his production, once Brock Purdy stepped into the lineup, is that he couldn’t stop catching touchdown passes – to the tune of seven in six games.
The flip side of that is, he also hardly caught any passes – just 24 in six games. And if that’s not enough, he had less than 30 receiving yards in four of the 49ers’ final six regular season games.
Kittle is a brilliant player, among the most well-rounded tight ends of the last 25 years, but with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk on the outside and McCaffrey leading the backfield, there’s too much variance week to week to feel comfortable taking Kittle with a fourth or fifth-round pick.