Hype train or smoke screen: Funchess, Ivory, Adams


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We all know that the long months of the offseason can cause fantasy owners to artificially build up the stock of players' potential. These situations only get crazier the closer we get to the season. With preseason now half over, the national eye's re-focus on football causes concrete fluctuation in ADP data. Sometimes these waves are hype trains that fantasy owners should gleefully board on the way to a league-winning investment in a player. Other times, the buildup is just a smoke screen caused by overblown praise from the team, or a misdiagnosis of the player or their situation. In this edition, we'll look at two receivers suddenly in line for more opportunity in the wake of injuries, and a fast-rising running back.

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers

 

After Kelvin Benjamin went down with an ACL tear, the fantasy world was abuzz wondering who would replace him. Since the Panthers took Devin Funchess (another big receiver) in this year's draft, some believe he is the favorite.

Fantasy drafters sure seem to, and they've taken immediate action. In the week following Benjamin's injury, Funchess' ADP shot up a full four rounds:

This is the perfect example of a hype train careening out of control. One of the sharpest ADP spikes of the summer, based simply on an injury and an assumption.

Kelvin Benjamin posted WR2 numbers in fantasy last season, catching nine touchdowns. Yet, it's rather easy to poke holes in how he amassed that production. Benjamin's unusual statistical success for a rookie was mostly on the back of the massive target share (27 percent) he owned of the team's offense. He only caught 50.3 percent of those 145 targets, and played through lapses of inefficiency. With all of Benjamin's targets now vacated, there's an assumption that Devin Funchess can absorb those looks, and put up similar numbers, even if there's some variance in his play. It's a possibility, but one that the team may not be counting on at this point.

In speaking with Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, he indicated, "People inside the building would tell you his transition has been much slower than Kelvin's last year, mostly because he needs to learn how to play to his size, something Kelvin did immediately." The team took Benjamin in the first round of a historically strong wide receiver class, and Funchess in the second round. Assuming that they view Funchess at a comparable level of player is a stretch, at best. Voth believes that Benjamin's left behind targets are likely to be divided amongst the receiver corps, rather than all going to the new rookie. When pressed for a projection for Fuchess' rookie year, Voth said he'd expect "500 yards and four to five touchdowns," with growth coming at the end of the season.

Something Voth touched on is particularly important in Funchess' evaluation. He has not learned how to play to his size. One of the common misnomers presented in a glance of the Panthers receiving corps is that Funchess (6-4, 225) and Benjamin (6-5, 245) are essentially the same player because they are both big. However, it's an inaccurate assessment based on a surface level observation. Not all big receivers are created equally; not all small receivers are created equally.

Benjamin is a downfield playmaker, who is able to make wild catches in contested situations. He did so against some of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season (refer to the video above). Despite some drops, and inconsistent route running, the 2014 rookie paid off the Panthers faith with tough catches in traffic like that.

On the other hand, Funchess failed to show those skills on a consistent basis in college. Despite being in some of the highest percentiles for height, weight and arm length among draft prospects, Funchess was often bullied by much smaller defenders. A player with his size advantage should thrive in traffic and tight windows. In college Funchess, frankly, just did not. The Vine below provides two examples, one from the 2014 season and another from 2013:

Funchess dwarfs both of these defenders by well over 25 pounds and four inches. The big receiver could not utilize his size advantage to snag difficult catches in traffic. This was Benjamin's strength as a rookie. While it may be a skill Funchess can work on, he's not there yet.

However, Funchess is the more fluid and agile athlete. When he's ready to contribute, he can be a superior asset to Benjamin in the underneath game. The Panthers moved Funchess around the formation in OTAs, and he's the type of nimble giant receiver who could thrive out of the slot. In some ways, the two players' skill sets complement each other's, rather than overlap.

A surface level comparison of these receivers based purely on their size forms a misevaluation of both that leads to conclusions they are the same player. But that's why it's important to actually watch the games.

Let's also not forget that Devin Funchess dealt with a hamstring injury recently and missed several practices. He's not had near the positive offseason Benjamin enjoyed as a rookie. With the latter, there was a steady drumbeat starting from glowing OTA reports, to a deep connection built with Cam Newton, culminating in a dynamic preseason that indicated Benjamin would be a major fantasy value. That hasn't been the case for Funchess. Just assumptions and a four round ADP spike.

Every game, all season

Devin Funchess certainly gets a bump in the wake of the Kelvin Benjamin injury. However, the early reaction in terms of ADP was far too great of a leap. In a low-volume passing offense, taking a rookie receiver who still needs work is a chip best left laid in the late rounds. Not in the ninth or higher, when you can grab proven veterans with more certain outlooks.

Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets

 

At one magical point this offseason, an NFL team's clear-cut starting running back was worth a mere eighth round pick. What a whimsical easier time that was for drafters in MFL10s and other early leagues. Preseason can often be what ruins such values for the sharp year-long observers. That's exactly what happened when Chris Ivory barreled through the Falcons defense on the way to letting the secret out about his ridiculously low ADP.

Back in the early portions of the summer, early drafters could snag Ivory in a range where no starting running backs were found. As the public dialogue centered around bigger named (but ultimately unrealistic) challengers, Ivory fell. Then the Jets running back had to go and remind the world what those who knew this ADP was a steal knew all along; Ivory is a starting NFL running back and a good one at that. He's also coming off a career-best season. With the boost in public opinion, his ADP rose to the fifth-round range.

Just for fun, let's go over where those aforementioned theoretical challengers currently stand:

»Stevan Ridley -- spent all offseason rehabbing a torn ACL from 2014. Remains on the PUP list.

»Zac Stacy -- seen playing into the fourth quarter of preseason games, trying to regain the form from his flash in the pan finish to 2013.

»Bilal Powell -- oddly the best out of this three man grouping, but limited in what he can offer.

It's hard to remember why we worried about any of these players chasing Ivory at all.

Against the Falcons, Ivory showed all the qualities that made the fantasy community desperately cry out for him to be traded from a crowded Saints backfield early in his career. He busted through the line, and ran through defenders on his way to a 7.2 yards-per-carry average and a touchdown. More importantly, Ivory stayed in on third downs, and even caught three passes.

This series has constantly preached not to spend significant draft capital to own two down running backs on bad teams. One of the main reasons was that you could get Ivory three to four rounds after similar players like Carlos Hyde and Latavius Murray. With Ivory's ADP spiking, we have to consider whether he fits in that group cautioned against. Early indications from the preseason point to Ivory being this team's true every-down featured back. With that in mind, don't be surprised if Ivory outscores both Hyde and Murray in PPR leagues.

New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey runs a wide open spread offense. While you may think that does not fit a big power back like Ivory, it's actually quite conducive to his success; much more so than a power-run formation behind a fullback, as Rex Ryan's teams employ. Ivory gained attention in New Orleans running through wide gaps in defenses spread out by Sean Payton's offense. Such a system allows him more space, and chances to take defenders head on. Those opportunities will return in this new iteration of the Jets' offense. When he builds up steam in this fashion, he's a load to tackle. You saw that reminder when he knifed through the Falcons defense on his 33-yard preseason score.

As the hype train begins to build up steam just like Ivory on a big run, you can feel free to buy in. If you play in an extra casual league, you may still be able to obtain Ivory for a discount in the 6th to 7th round range. However, ponying up near his fifth round ADP can work out for you. As long as he stays healthy, he's a three-down running back. Expect RB2 numbers from Chris Ivory.

Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

 

The most hyped player of the last week is Davante Adams. In the wake of Jordy Nelson's season-ending ACL tear, many are advocating an aggressive approach to acquire Green Bay's second year receiver. Fantasy drafters quickly responded, and he now carries a fourth round ADP.

I was vocally against taking Davante Adams in the eighth-round range where his ADP sat before Nelson's injury. Despite wildly positive reports from training camp, there were no available targets for Adams' share of the offense to increase from his first to second season. Of course, recent events change this.

Rising to the starting role, Adams is now a candidate for 120 targets, and that might well be his floor. Volume is the name of the game when looking for sneaky WR2 candidates in the mid-rounds. Adams is certainly no Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb, but he'll see enough of the passing pie to be viable. Being attached to Rodgers doesn't hurt, either.

All that being said, shying away from Adams as high as the fourth-round range is still the best bet. Many remember the fine game he played against the Cowboys in the playoffs, but that performance and a nationally televised game against the Patriots were outliers.

He was the least efficient rookie fantasy receiver last year, scoring .08 fantasy points per snap. Coming from a wide-open Fresno State offense in the Mountain West Conference, his transition to a complex Green Bay offense was slow. Adams had issues separating from man coverage, and was often out of rhythm on the timing based routes Aaron Rodgers executes in that offense. The Packers used three-receiver sets on 91 percent of their plays last season, and by early season it was Adams in that third spot. However, per Mike Clay, even though he ran 80 percent of the Packers' routes, he still finished as the WR75 in fantasy leagues. He was not targeted often, but also was not playing consistent down-to-down football, or presenting an open option for Rodgers to throw to.

Adams failed to show he could master regularly beating third and nickel corners as a rookie. Of course, saying he's incapable of improvement is dangerous, but assuming he will do so without a convincing amount of real evidence is a shaky bet. Especially considering he'll now cost you a fourth-round pick on average.

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Davante Adams' stock is certainly on the rise, and he'll see enough targets to be a great high weekly upside WR3. However, his newly minted fourth-round ADP is just too much. That sticker price completely ignores just how inefficient he was as a rookie. There are several receivers in that range and going just after, that present just as much upside, and are safer (Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson, etc.). Even if Adams finishes the season as the WR18 (where he currently goes in drafts), it's going to be a rocky week-to-week road getting there.

Adams did not prove himself ready to inherit a major share of an NFL-best passing offense as a rookie, but he'll need to now. His newly assumed target volume makes him an intriguing asset, and will couple with being attached to an elite passer to present him a safe floor. However, he may be a frustrating player in 2015, with wide variation in his production. Be careful with being overly optimistic in your projections, even with the Nelson injury dramatically changing the picture.

There's plenty of good reason to be excited about Adams' opportunity and his chances to make a big fantasy impact. Of course, everyone knows that, and his price has subsequently sky-rocketed. Don't rush out to beat your league-mates to the punch in grabbing the hottest new asset on the market. Only take Adams if you can get him at a slighter discount than that new ADP dictates.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB. He's voting for Brian Cushing's biggest scene in the most recent Hard Knocks as one of the greatest moments in the series' history.