DRAFT NFL: Keep the Faith
DRAFT NFL: Keep the Faith

This article is part of our DRAFT NFL series.

My latest round of NFL best ball league entries on DRAFT.com is reaching its conclusion, and after last week's early-round musings I can add some thoughts regarding what I'm seeing in the late rounds.

As a recap, my takes from last week mostly addressed the markets of Derrick Henry and the top wideouts. You can read it here. For this one I'm mostly going to point out late round targets while conducting an extensive breakdown of Sammy Watkins' fit in the Kansas City offense.

First, the bargain targets

The Chiefs stuff will be rather dense, so here's something more bite-size in a listicle form. These are sleeper-type players who I think are clear values at their current prices. They won't carry your team, but they should be useful glue guys or/and have enough upside at their cost to rationalize a selection.

1. Taylor Gabriel, WR, CHI (214.9 ADP)

Cameron Meredith is headed to New Orleans, and with him goes a significant number of projected targets. That potentially opens up a bigger role for Gabriel, who new coach Matt Nagy targeted in free agency for the Bears' new uptempo, aggressive offense. Gabriel will never be a high-volume guy due to his tiny frame, but his speed and playmaking ability both downfield and out of the slot should, along with Tarik Cohen, make him a primary big-play threat for the Bears.

Gabriel's APD on DRAFT as of press time was 214.9. Given that there are 216 selections in a DRAFT 12-team best ball league, Gabriel is basically going undrafted. He's a perfect WR7 selection, though I suspect he's a good bet to hit WR5 or maybe even WR4 utility instead. This offense will be one of the most aggressive in the league, and will be among the league leaders in tempo, and Gabriel is probably Nagy's closest thing to Tyreek Hill.

2. Luke Willson, TE, DET (215.4 ADP)

I've written about Willson consistently since he signed with Detroit, and at that time I was sure his price tag was going to rise substantially. This is a super-athletic tight end on a team without pass catchers at the position, playing for a coach whose previous team reached its greatest heights with the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez offense. And yet, his ADP on DRAFT rests at 215.4.

I'm not sure what I'm missing here. The other Detroit tight ends, Michael Roberts and Levine Toilolo, are blockers. The Lions were rumored to be in on the Trey Burton bidding, in which case Matt Patricia clearly would have envisioned this tight end role as an active one in his offense. Willson appears to have been their plan B. At 6-foot-5, 251 pounds with 4.51 speed, Willson could do some real damage this year and he's currently just about free in drafts.

3. Chris Ivory, RB, BUF (213.7 ADP)

Ivory of course will not be challenging LeSean McCoy for snaps, but at his current nearly-free price tag Ivory strikes me as the perfect RB5-type pick in a 12-team format.

The Bills gave meaningful snaps to Mike Tolbert last year, including in the red zone, to spell McCoy from his otherwise burdensome workload. Ivory's numbers are admittedly bad over the last couple years since his last 229 carries went for just 821 yards (3.6 YPC), and he just turned 30 in March, but for now he appears likely to open the year as McCoy's top backup. This would be one case where any value to materialize would be due to Ivory stumbling into workload volume exceeding that presumption baked into his current ADP. That current ADP – borderline undrafted – apparently presumes Ivory will barely the see the field.

But why would we presume that? Barring the selection of a formidable rookie back – a threat looming over almost any runner you draft right now – Ivory would likely be McCoy's backup. If he's McCoy's backup, he's likely to play. Simple. The backup runner in this offense has a designated part-time role as it is, and then the possibility of injury to McCoy gives further upside potential. McCoy is an aging runner who's had injury issues flare up each of the last two years.

Believe it or not, Sammy Watkins looks like a sound investment

I understand why a lot of people doubt Sammy Watkins at this point. I understand why a lot of people are just sick of giving him chances. I certainly should – I've probably picked him as much as anyone throughout his career. But unlike those people, I'll never be convinced that Watkins isn't a top talent at receiver. I don't know how you could convince someone of such a thing if they're truly familiar with Watkins' history.

We all think DeAndre Hopkins is great, right? We all recall Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown, Adam Humphries, and Charone Peake as NFL prospects too. Fewer people seem to recall the fact that as a true freshman, Watkins outplayed all of these receivers in 2011. Hopkins was a sophomore and Brown was a junior at the time. Watkins finished that season with 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns while Hopkins totaled 72 receptions for 978 yards and five touchdowns. This anecdote doesn't mean Watkins is better than Hopkins, but it does mean he was better at the time, at a younger age. Players who are better than players as good as Hopkins at almost any point are all but proven as elite talents.

When it comes to the volume of his NFL production, Watkins has been an abject disappointment. I can't deny that. But I would aggressively dispute the idea that he hasn't been effective. Surrounding circumstances and foot troubles explain the entirety of the disconnect between Watkins' expectations and results. Particularly when adjusting for age, Watkins has been highly effective in the NFL.

Watkins will turn 25 in June. His 346 career targets yielded 3,052 yards, good for a YPT of 8.8, and his 25 touchdowns give him a career touchdown target percentage of 7.23. Odell Beckham has done 8.9 YPT over the same span, with a touchdown target percentage of 7.63. There is something to be said for volume, of course, but all available information says Watkins would have exploded by now if he just had stayed on the field.

Watkins' one year with the Rams will probably be the primary evidence cited by his critics – "proof" that he is less than Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Anyone who watched the Rams offense knows this is patently absurd. Watkins was open constantly and was clearly the most feared receiver on that team, but Jared Goff was scared to throw to Watkins' part of the field, preferring to lean on Kupp and Woods on shorter routes and against lesser coverage. If someone sincerely would like to posit that Watkins is less than Woods, then the fact that Watkins easily outproduced Woods when the two played together for Buffalo is an inconvenient detail.

With the Chiefs, there is the valid concern that Watkins will once again see a low target volume like he did with the Rams. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are fully established as top-shelf pass catchers, and running back Kareem Hunt sees lots of targets, too. With that said, I think Watkins' ADP is low enough that he's still a clear value after baking in the risks, and I think people are underrating him in the meantime.

Unlike with Goff and the Rams, Watkins will actually see targets when he gets open with the Chiefs. Goff is understandably averse to throwing deep given his weak arm, but Mahomes has an absolute cannon, and an aggressive approach to go with it. A lot of targets that went to Kupp and Woods last year would have instead been long throws to Watkins if Mahomes had been the quarterback, in other words.

I did some by-hand projections of the 2018 offense, and here's what I came up with for Watkins, Hill, and Kelce:

Watkins – 104 targets, 67 receptions, 1,106 yards, seven touchdowns

Hill – 117 targets, 83 receptions, 1,087 yards, six touchdowns (plus 133 yards and a touchdown on the ground)

Kelce – 116 targets, 78 receptions, 1,001 yards, nine touchdowns

That I projected these numbers isn't evidence of anything other than my own intuition, but I think there is enough to go around for all three notable Chiefs pass catchers to produce this year. With a DRAFT ADP of 84.5, which is the turn of the seventh and eighth rounds, Watkins strikes me as a superior value to Hill (27.7 ADP), who costs much more but only projects for a slightly better season for me.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Mario Puig plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: rotwireyasiel, FanDuel: rotowireyasiel, FantasyDraft: rwyasiel, DRAFT: rwyasiel.
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Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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