Writing a piece on "overvalued" players is always a bit of a chore. You never want to sound too negative on players who are devoting their lives to a physically demanding sport for our entertainment. Yet, at the same time, I'm here to discuss fantasy football, where finding values in fantasy drafts is a key ingredient to winning and taking a player too early in drafts can set your team up for failure.
My contribution to this series will once again be the wide receiver position. Below are my top five most overvalued wideouts in drafts (based on average draft position - ADP - from FantasyFootballCalculator.com). I do honestly think these players are good at what they do, but based on a number of factors (projected target share, quarterback play, age, injuries, etc.) I feel they're currently costing drafters too much. Landing on this list doesn't mean these players are un-draftable. All of them could be significant producers on a fantasy squad this fall. All I'm saying is if you can wait a round or two to take them, do it. The rewards for your squad could be even bigger.
I've long been a fan of Nuk Hopkins, touting him as a sleeper before his breakout sophomore campaign. And while I still think he's a phenomenal wide receiver set to produce solid numbers, taking him as the 12th pass catcher off the board is investing in him at his absolute statistical ceiling.
Hopkins was the WR15 in 2014, WR6 in 2016 and (gulp) WR36 in 2016. What went wrong? For starters, his quarterback play was abysmal. Brock Osweiler ranked dead last in touchdown rate (2.9 percent) and yards per attempt (5.8) among qualified passers. Also exacerbating the issue was Hopkins' decreased target share, as he saw a respectable 26 percent of the team looks in 2016 after notching 31 percent in 2015. That will likely be the case moving forward as well, with the team using the running game to help protect Tom Savage (two career starts) or rookie Deshaun Watson (zero career starts) under center. The Texans finished 28th in scoring a year ago, and anything other than a marginal improvement in that category in 2017 would be an upset. With an elite defense and emphasis on the running game (the team also drafted D'Onta Foreman this spring), scoring opportunities could be harder to come by for Hopkins. So, to add this all up we have a wide receiver with a depressed target total being delivered by an unproven starting quarterback in what figures to be a low-ish scoring offense. See why he might be a tad overvalued?
A reasonable projection for Hopkins would be around 150 targets, 80 catches, 1,100 yards and six touchdowns. On the surface, that's not too bad, but in fantasy that amounts to around 152 fantasy points, which typically would land him in the WR17-20 range. Could Hopkins find a connection with his new quarterback and go on a crazy run as he did in 2015? Sure. That's certainly in his range of outcomes. However, the signs are pointing to a solid but unspectacular 2017 season from Hopkins, which isn't what you want associated with a top-12 wide receiver pick.
Over the last two seasons, Cooks has been a boom-or-bust fantasy player, posting 19 games with fewer than 10 points, but nine with 16-plus. That's not a huge issue, however, if you just ride the roller coaster and start him every week. What could be an issue is the target share he'll command in a crowded New England offense. Cooks received 17.4 and 19.3 percent of the team targets in 2016 and 2015, respectively, but now joins a team that features target hogs Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. As Graham Barfield noted, since Gronk joined the New England in 2010, only two Patriots wide receivers have finished in the top-12 in scoring. Diving in deeper, multiple wide receivers saw 100-plus targets in only two of those years, 2014 (Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell), and 2012 (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd). And neither of those squads boasted the depth the Patriots currently offer in their passing attack, with Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Dwayne Allen, James White and Rex Burkhead all likely to see some work. In the last two years, the Patriots have distributed over 22 percent of their team targets to running backs as well, further cutting into the potential pie left over for Cooks. Lastly, not to pile on here, but Cooks' track record outside the comfy confines of domes is, well, disturbing.
Now, Cooks is an exceptional athlete and could certainly reach his current asking price in fantasy. However, unless the Patriots buck past trends and totally reinvent their offense with Cooks, he isn't likely to see the targets he'll need to return value as the WR13. Those bust weeks could become far more frequent, leading to endless amounts of fantasy frustration. Save yourself the trouble and pass on Cooks in the early rounds.
The Davante Adams breakout season many expected in 2015 happened a year too late, as the former Fresno State star became a fantasy stud in 2016, catching 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards. Attached to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that figures to score points almost at will, why is Adams currently being overvalued? Let's dive in.
Touchdowns can be fickle beasts to predict in the NFL, but red zone targets can help give us a sense as to whether or not a player will at least be given chances to score. Adams commanded 20 percent of the red zone looks in 2016, scoring seven of his 12 touchdowns while close to the painted area. That's not too bad, but reaching that share again could prove difficult. For starters, while Randall Cobb appeared in 13 games last year, that doesn't paint an accurate picture of how injured he was during those games. Many forget that throughout the season Cobb battled ankle, hamstring, back, and neck injuries. Cobb averaged 23.7 percent of Rodgers' red zone targets from 2013-2015, so if he returns to the form we saw late last year in the playoffs he could eat into Adams' high-value targets. Same goes for Martellus Bennett, as the team hopes he can be a more consistent presence than Jared Cook was last year. The only sure thing in the red zone for Rodgers is Jordy Nelson, who averages nearly 30 percent of his quarterback's targets in that space since 2013 (not counting 2015, when Nelson missed the year with an injury). Now, even if Adams' red zone targets sink, we do know he's capable of scoring from distance. But relying on long touchdowns can be a frustrating fantasy gambit -- just ask anyone who's started DeSean Jackson every week the past several years.
Adams did make the leap last year as a player, progressing as a route-runner and showing surer hands than the pair that plagued him in 2015. However, there are real concerns about his market share in the Packers crowded offense. I expect Adams to be fantasy relevant once again, but WR19 feels a bit too rich given the return of a healthy Cobb, acquisition of Bennett, and ascendance of Ty Montgomery. If any quarterback can sustain several top-level pass-catchers in fantasy, it's Aaron Rodgers, but drafters would be wise to insulate themselves from risk a bit and take Adams later than his current ADP.
Manning's season-long numbers were OK last year, but over the last half of the season, it was clear something wasn't quite right with the two-time Super Bowl champion. More passes were one-hopping to receivers, and he was underthrowing deep passes. Case in point, his yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt both fell by over a yard during the final eight games of the year (7.32 to 6.12 and 6.93 to 5.84, respectively). This isn't the end-all, be-all for a fantasy quarterback by any stretch (Manning still threw 14 touchdowns in those games), but it is worrisome if this trend is a sign that Manning's arm strength is waning as he prepares to enter his age 36 season. Speaking of age, Marshall is no spring chicken, suiting up for his 12th NFL season at the age of 33. Plenty of old quarterbacks and receivers have found success in fantasy for countless years, but when you couple these age concerns with Marshall's projected target share in New York, a WR25 asking price starts to get a bit dicey.
Not sure if you've ever heard of him before, but this Odell Beckham Jr. character is pretty darn good at the football -- and at hogging targets in the Giants passing attack. His target share over the last three seasons has been 28.3, 25.4, and 27.8 ( only counting the 12 games he played in 2014). Last year's outstanding rookie Sterling Shepard isn't going anywhere either, and he saw 17.5 percent of the looks last year. Add in rookie Evan Engram, Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, and a few other randos and suddenly Marshall could be looking for targets like Milton was looking for cake in "Office Space." I kid, but in all honesty, without an injury to Beckham or Shepard, Marshall will have a hard time even approaching 20 percent of the targets. Some have argued he could save his fantasy value with red-zone touchdowns, which makes sense. After all, Marshall has only seen fewer than 20 targets in the red zone in a season three times in his career, and 62 of his 82 career scores have come from inside that space. However, OBJ and Shepard combined for 33 of the Giants' 60 targets in that space a year ago. Marshall could once again have an uphill battle trying to come close to his career averages. When you add all of this up, there are simply too many chips stacked against Marshall for me to get in at his current draft cost.
The Dolphins and fantasy fans have had big expectations for DeVante Parker ever since he was the 14th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Since then the combination of Parker adjusting to the NFL game, injuries and the Dolphins' offensive shift have kept the former Louisville star from having a true breakout season. Will it come in 2017? There are those who want to believe, but I feel the need to be the Scully to their Mulder and preach a more rational approach. Banking on Parker's breakout with an eighth-round pick feels too risky.
Parker possesses undeniable talent and the type of athletic build teams covet in a No. 1 wide receiver (6-foot-3, 212 pounds). He's flashed eye-popping playmaking ability at the pro level, but has also struggled with inconsistencies in his game. He's an early frontrunner for "most hyped player in training camp" this summer, but that doesn't mean anything once games start. Last season, the Dolphins underwent an offensive shift which is the biggest reason to avoid Parker at his current price.
From Weeks 1-5, the offense's run-pass split was 37-63, and the team posted a 1-4 record. However, with Jay Ajayi entrenched as the offensive focal point from Week 6 on, the run-pass split shifted to 51-49, and the team posted a 9-2 record. Parker's targets per game dropped from 6.25 to 5.6 during this philosophical change. Making matters worse, the team still has Jarvis Landry (averages 28 percent of the team targets since 2015) and Kenny Stills (signed a four-year, $32 million extension this offseason) eating up plenty of looks. With Tannehill still working his way back from a partially torn ACL late last season and Ajayi expecting even more work, Parker's small workload in a low-volume passing offense will be tough to trust in fantasy at an eighth-round asking price.