Fantasy Football: 8 Mid-Round Players You Need To Target

Eric Decker

Late Round Everything, that growing school of value-obsessed fantasy footballers bent on amassing equity in this summer’s drafts, should consider moving to the mountainside and studying the prospects of players going in the middle rounds of drafts.

That’s right: Isolate yourself with a spreadsheet, an Internet connection, and tools to analyze guys going in rounds 6-9. Your family will understand. They know you’re sick.

Draft day equity, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum at XN Sports over the past six months, is the key to securing early edges on your league mates and claiming bench guys who become every-week starters. Some equity is available among the first couple dozen players off the board, but real deals — championship winning deals — can’t be found until the middle rounds.

Check out more equity score analysis on XN Sports…

The Equity Score Red Flag Team

The (Very) Late Round Quarterbacks To Target

Leveraging volatility is very often the key to this approach as we stock our benches with players who could become plug-and-play fantasy studs with a little luck (or bad luck for other players and their fantasy owners). Committing to a decidedly unbalanced approach can net us serious value, though it may draw the scorn (and panic) of our much more traditional league mates.

It was just one year ago that receivers like DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown — both top-12 options in 2013 — were had in the fifth round of drafts.

Eric Decker, a sixth round pick, finished as a top-10 fantasy wideout for the second straight year. Le’Veon Bell was drafted at the end of the seventh round and posted top-10 running back numbers during his 14 games. Anquan Boldin put up top-15 stats after being drafted at the end of the seventh while Alshon Jeffery turned his ADP of 10.10 into a top-10 campaign.

Value, equity — whatever you call it — is there, screaming in your face during those oh-so-critical middle rounds. You just have to spot where, exactly, the screaming is coming from. Here are a few places I hear the yelp of a screaming fantasy value. The average draft positions are courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

Round 6

Torrey Smith: Fellow XN Sports writer Rich Hribar has written all that needs to be penned about why Smith could — and should — emerge as a top-12 receiver in his fourth season in the NFL. A target to Torrey in 2013 was worth an average of 47 percent more than a target to any other Baltimore pass catching option, according to Hribar’s target multiplier.

Smith’s market share of the Ravens’ targets is set to spike under Gary Kubiak, making it more than a little possible that you could buy Smith at a WR3 price and secure WR1 numbers in 2014. He’s a preeminent target for anyone, and especially those who stockpile running backs in the first few rounds.

Steven Jackson: SJax’s 2013 ADP simply didn’t reflect the risk inherent in drafting an old runner with 3 million miles on his tires. He was taken at the start of the second round last season — an ADP that has dropped by four full rounds this season. Jackson’s per-touch production was almost identical in 2013 as it has been throughout his NFL career, as he notched .60 fantasy points per touch last year compared to .61 during his 10 seasons in the league. He won’t see 300 touches in Atlanta’s offense, but at his 6.10 ADP, he doesn’t need to.

Jackson, with the benefit of an offensive line expected to improve after a disastrous 2013, could very well be a top-15 runner after being drafted as a top-30 option.

Round 7

Lamar Miller: Miami’s starter by default after Knowshon Moreno underwent surgery this summer, Miller is still being drafted like a backup to your fantasy starters. Miller, a speed score freak who crapped out behind a horrid Dolphins offensive line in 2013, is the 32nd runner off the draft board.

Miami beat writers and coaches alike have said Miller is a much better fit in new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense than he was in Mike Sherman’s debacle of a scheme. I don’t think Miller got a fair shake in Sherman’s offense, carrying the ball fewer than 10 times in seven games as the Dolphins took to the air. Miller posted .61 fantasy points every time he touched the ball in 2013 — a number that I’d describe as odious if it weren’t for the incredibly unfavorable conditions in which he played.

I’m targeting Miller whenever I spend most of my first three or four draft picks on wide receivers.

Greg Olsen: I’m not head over heels for Olsen’s current ADP, and if it rises in August, I’m out. Right now, he seems a lock for well over 100 targets in a Panthers’ offense devoid of targets outside of potential red zone beast Kelvin Benjamin. I have Olsen’s high projection in the TE4 range, meaning he could be a steal for those who bypass Jordan Cameron and Jordan Reed and bank on the wily veteran.

Round 8

Eric Decker: Everyone hates the guy who has posted top-10 fantasy numbers for two years straight, and the hate floweth more furiously than ever as he prepares for his first season in New York. The case for Decker is a simple one: His worst case scenario, in my estimation, is reflected in his ADP. If that comes to pass, so be it. If he performs like the No. 1 target in an offense that could very well see vast improvement in 2014, then he becomes a fantastic value play.

Geno Smith might be much better than we think and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a history of pass-heavy schemes that could emerge in Smith’s second year under center. Decker is the 36th receiver off the draft board. I have him locked in as a top-20 fantasy option. If he’s there in the middle of the eighth round, grab him.

Bernard Pierce: A quick disclaimer on Pierce: I likely wouldn’t look to draft him in the eighth round if I burned a couple of my first four picks on runners. He’s set to compete for starter’s snaps during Ray Rice‘s coming suspension, and he could reap the enormous benefits of Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme that has created an army of fantasy-relevant backs.

Pierce, who was hobbled by various injuries throughout 2013, posted eye-popping numbers, including .70 fantasy points per touch on 108 carries and seven receptions. The Baltimore backfield is a tough fantasy nut to crack, but I think a fully healthy Pierce has a chance to prove an every-week fantasy play.

Round 9

Dwayne Bowe: Kansas City’s No. 1 receiver is reportedly a little less fat headed into the 2014 season, the Chiefs are likely not going to be able to sit on 20-point leagues this year like they did in 2013, and even in last year’s disaster of a season, Bowe posted top-20 numbers five times.

The conditioning part is impossible to quantify, but Bowe’s slow and steady weight gain impacted what he could do on the field, according to film watching guru Greg Cosell, who “really thought Dwayne Bowe lost something [in 2013]. You know he was never a burner … but he wasn’t slow either. He wasn’t a plodder. There were times last year I thought he kinda looked that way. So this is a very interesting year for Dwayne Bowe.”

On Bowe’s opportunity: Nate Washington saw more footballs come his way than Bowe did in 2013. That amazes me. An uptick in targets won’t catapult Bowe into WR1 territory, though that’s not what we should expect from the 40th wideout off the draft board. Bowe showed what he could do during the Chiefs’ playoff game against the Colts, reeling in eight catches for 150 yards and a score as KC shifted out of ultra-conservative mode.

Jeremy Hill: The rookie runner isn’t going to post big-time yardage in a Bengals offense that is fully expected to take a much more conservative approach in 2014, but he could see significant short yardage and goal line work. That’s what should matter to those taking Hill as the 42nd runner off the draft board.

Draft Hill — who compares favorably to Carlos Hyde — at his late-9th round ADP while you can, because as soon as he claims the No. 2 running back spot in Cincy’s backfield (and he will), his ADP could climb into the early eighth round. BenJarvis Green-Ellis, who could be cut this summer, saw 220 carries in 2013. He plodded for a meager 756 yards at a 3.4 yard-per-carry clip. Give Hill 220 totes and I think you’re looking at a top-24 runner at worst, and a top-15 guy at best.

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C.D. Carter
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');