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Five Fantasy Veterans to Target Early

Fantasy Football

As draft day draws ever closer, fantasy owners start to get wrapped up in trying to find that next hidden gem. Sometimes it’s a rookie. Sometimes it’s that guy who’s “guaranteed” to break out in his third year. My question is, what about the guys who are already here?

Five Veterans to Take Early

As draft day draws ever closer, fantasy owners start to get wrapped up in trying to find that next hidden gem. Sometimes it’s a rookie. Sometimes it’s that guy who’s “guaranteed” to break out in his third year. My question is, what about the guys who are already here?

Plenty of talent is slipping down the draft board for a variety of reasons – an injury last season, the perception of an unfavorable situation in 2014, etc. Your duty as the watchful fantasy owner is to identify the market inefficiency and take advantage of it before your league-mates do.

With that said, let’s take a look at five guys I feel will outperform their current ADPs in 2014. Keep in mind that these ADPs are from Fantasy Football Calculator for 12-man leagues, and will change once the preseason games get underway.

Reggie Wayne (Current ADP: 8.02)

Reggie Wayne FantasyIf you’ve been paying attention to the Colts’ camp, it’s been nothing but good news for the stalwart Wayne coming off an ACL tear he suffered against the Broncos in Week 7. Reports say he’s running, cutting, and generally looking like the guy who was Andrew Luck’s favorite target before the bye week.

Until last season, Wayne had not missed a game since his 2001 rookie campaign, so it’s safe to assume he hasn’t suddenly become an injury liability. Barring another freak accident, Wayne is not only a safe fantasy wide receiver, he’s a value pick in the 8th round.

Looking at his stats, you’ll notice that Wayne has only had two seasons under 1,000 yards in 10 years: last year’s injury-derailed season, when Wayne was on track to break 1,000 yards yet again, and the 2011 debacle when the Colts went 2-14 behind a QB carousel featuring the uninspiring Curtis Painter. Despite abysmal QB play that season, Wayne still managed to put up 960 yards.

Some people will point to Wayne’s earlier years when he was averaging over 14 yards per reception and tell you that he doesn’t have the physical tools to keep up with the game anymore. While it’s true he doesn’t have the speed he used to, his route running, hands, and body control are superb. Before his injury, he was averaging a healthy 13.2 YPR last year, his best mark since 2008.

Wayne is currently going off the board in the early eighth round as the 35th wide receiver taken. He is going after guys like Kendall Wright, Julian Edelman, Marques Colston and Sammy Watkins. Take Wayne a round earlier and be happy you found a quality, dependable WR2 in the seventh.

Roddy White (Current ADP: 4.10)

Roddy WhiteRoddy White has been getting more attention than most other veterans, and the general consensus is that we should be expecting a bounce-back year from him. What you need to understand, though, is that this “what have you done for me lately” mindset has forgotten just how good White is.

Take a look at 2010-2012, when White averaged 1,345 yards and just over eight touchdowns per season. Those numbers translate into 184.5 points, which would have made White the 10th highest-scoring wideout last season if he had been healthy. White’s numbers only dropped so dramatically last year because he was determined not to lose his consecutive games started streak. When he finally conceded that he was too injured to play, we began to see the old Roddy again upon his return. Over the last five games of the season, White accumulated 502 yards and two touchdowns.

Much has changed since 2013 in White’s world, and a lot of it is for the better. For starters, Julio Jones and Steven Jackson will both enter the season healthy, which should take some heat off White and allow him to take advantage of more one-on-one matchups than he would usually expect to see. The loss of Tony Gonzalez should be a wash – on one hand, there’s one more guy not taking attention away from White, but on the other hand, there are 83 receptions from 2013 to be distributed among the receivers and tight ends who are still in Atlanta. Finally, the Falcons are hoping that rookie tackle Jake Matthews will help shore up their pass-blocking problems on the offensive line and give QB Matt Ryan some more time to find the open man.

White’s current draft position puts him right around the turn between the fourth and fifth rounds. I would take White above Johnson, Welker, Fitz, and Cruz, and possibly Pierre Garçon, which would make him about the 13th receiver taken and put him near the beginning of the fourth round.

Cam Newton (Current ADP: 7.10)

Cam NewtonIt seems kind of strange to call Cam Newton a veteran at this point, but he is entering his fourth season and is significantly better now at playing the quarterback position than he was in his impressive rookie season.

There are three things to discuss when talking about how Newton will perform in 2014: the receiving corps, the offensive line, and his health. Let’s start with the receivers.

In short, Newton will have about the same amount of help from his wide receivers as he did last season. Obviously, the Panthers failed to add any of the big name free agents, but they brought in role players in Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery, and a hopeful speedster in Tiquan Underwood. Greg Olsen is Greg Olsen and will likely be the leading receiver for this team once again. Kelvin Benjamin will show flashes of excellence with some flaws and start to find more consistency as the season goes on.

Although the Panthers did lose Steve Smith, who was past his prime but still effective, and Brandon LaFell, who never reached his potential, the new group of receivers should not hold Newton back from putting up similar or slightly better passing numbers than last season simply because there is not a great disparity of talent from last season’s squad and next season’s.

Unlike the receiving group, which looks at least as good as last year, the offensive line looks troubling – specifically at left tackle, where longtime starter Jordan Gross leaves in his retired absence a confusing jumble of hopeful starters. Rather than look at who I believe will win the individual spots on the offensive line, I will restate the importance of unity and cohesion up front. If the starters can mesh well and avoid injuries, this line will end up somewhere in the 10th-20th ranks. That’s where a well-coached line without top-level talent should be. If the linemen cannot play well together, Carolina could have trouble keeping Newton protected and opening running lanes. Keep an eye on how the line performs in the preseason, as it could be an indicator of whether concerns are overblown or justified.

Finally, his health. Newton had offseason surgery on his ankle in May to repair damage that was causing him pain for much of 2013. The injury likely explains why his rushing numbers took a tumble, down to 585 yards last year from 741 in 2012. No reports of complications have come out of Carolina, so unless Newton doesn’t look like himself in the preseason, assume he’s moving into the 2014 season at full throttle.

Newton finished as the third highest-scoring fantasy quarterback last season, behind only Manning and Brees. He’s currently being drafted at the end of the seventh round as the 10th overall quarterback. Even with the question marks, that seems too far. Newton’s rushing numbers should boost him into the top five again next season, so sneak him onto your roster a round earlier and enjoy.

Stevan Ridley (Current ADP: 6.05)

Stevan Ridley FantasyOh, Stevan. The much-maligned running back for the New England Patriots saw the bench quite a bit in 2013 for a few bad fumbles, and watched LeGarrette Blount take his carries away as the season rolled on. Blount is in Pittsburgh now, though, and Ridley has the inside track to relive his 2012 glory days when he put up 1,263 yards on 290 carries.

The first concern with Ridley is, of course, those fumbles. He’s working on fixing the issue, but the reality is that he was not much worse with the ball in 2013. He fumbled four times in 2012, losing two, whereas he fumbled three times in 2013 and lost all of them. Now, you could blame that on luck, bad technique, or something else, but the reality is the fumbles happened and Belichick benched Ridley.

Some owners have already crossed Ridley off their boards, saying they don’t want to bother with the headache this season. While that’s understandable, Ridley still has the potential to become the draft steal of the season. He averages well over four yards per carry and runs between the tackles better than anyone else on the Patriots’ roster.

Ridley can (and, I believe, will) flourish in 2014 because he has both the talent and the opportunity. Shane Vereen plays the pass-catching back role and will not be a long-term threat to Ridley’s workload. James White, who has been a popular sleeper at some points this summer, is an inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Ridley, and is more likely to cut into Vereen’s workload.

Ridley’s current draft position as the 29th runner off the board offers too much reward not to take the risk. Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson, and Ben Tate are all going a full round before Ridley. Whether you like those guys or not, their risks are just as great as Ridley’s, and none of them are on teams as good as New England that will want to rely on the run to close out games in the fourth quarter. Ridley should go in the fifth round with the rest of the talented risks. The only thing that can stop Ridley from putting up 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season is Ridley.

Danny Woodhead (Current ADP: 8.10)

Danny WoodheadWoodhead is perhaps the most interesting case of these five players. Yes, the Chargers went out and signed Donald Brown this offseason, which caused some to wonder if Woodhead might be demoted to third string. However, the Chargers recently gave Woodhead a nice two-year extension to keep the fan favorite around through 2016, so it looks more like we will be seeing a committee approach in San Diego. While that’s normally a fantasy deathtrap, let’s look a little closer at this situation.

What’s interesting about Woodhead for our purposes is his perceived value. Woodhead finished the 2013 season as the 20th RB, yet he is currently being drafted at the end of the eighth round as the 38th RB taken. That is lunacy, even with the Donald Brown signing.

Ryan Mathews was healthy and effective last season, but hasn’t been known for his durability. Brown was effective in limited snaps with the Colts, but will likely serve as a dual-purpose backup to both Mathews and Woodhead moving forward. Woodhead will continue to catch and get a few runs a game, Mathews will continue to get most of the carries, as long as he’s healthy, and Brown will get slightly more work than a standard third RB and provide quality insurance should Woodhead or Mathews go down. It’s as simple as that.

While Brown was effective in the passing game last season, Woodhead was excellent, catching 76 of his 86 targets and scoring six times through the air. He also scored twice on his 106 rushing attempts while posting 4.0 yards per carry. With the production that he’s put up so far, Woodhead will not be relegated to the bench just because the Chargers signed another running back. If Mathews is injured, Woodhead’s carries will go up; if not, they’ll go down. Regardless of the health of the other backs on the team, though, Woodhead will hover around 80 receptions again in 2014.

This is where the value aspect really comes into play. Am I suggesting you take Woodhead as the 20th RB based on his past production? Of course not; no one is taking Woodhead over his teammate, Mathews, or rookie Bishop Sankey. The upside on those guys is too high. I am suggesting, however, that you look at Woodhead at the end of the seventh instead of the end of the eighth. At worst, he will be a gamble flex play. At best, he will become an injury substitute and put up RB2 numbers again. Woodhead is one of the only handcuff backs in the league who can still be plugged into a lineup when the starter is healthy. All for the price of a late seventh? Count me in.

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