Five Unsexy Players Who'll Win Your Fantasy League For You
Everyone's in love with Odell Beckham, Jr., Le'Veon Bell and the rest of the top picks everyone plans on making in this year's season-long fantasy drafts. I get that. They put up big numbers, make flashy plays and are the guys you watch when you're out at the local watering hole.
My personal man-crush on Beckham, Jr. aside (did you know he has his own blog?), chances are unless you have some sort of crazy, circus-like league in which you can make multiple first-round draft picks, you're only going to land one of these headliners, or what I'll call for this article "the sexy ones." You pick one, and watch the rest fall to your league-mates as you sit there, seething in your jealousy.
But, as a guy who's made hay in life by being smart, rather than sexy, I feel I must stand up for the other guys. The ones who show up, day after day, game after game, and just do work. These players won't light up the box score, or make the next morning's "Top 10," but they will absolutely be reliable and successful members of your team; chances are, they're thought so little of that you might be able to snag more than one, if not all of them, and laugh at your league all the way to the championship.
These are the unsexy ones.
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1. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington
Quick, name me the most underrated running back in the NFL since 2012. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Correct, it's Alfred Morris!
Just look at these solid numbers he's put up since entering the league in 2012, and try to pretend you don't want this type of production on your fantasy team.
2012: 351 carries, 1,693 yards, 13 TD
2013: 276 carries, 1,275 yards, 7 TD
2014: 265 carries, 1,078 yards, 8 TD
Over that three-year span, he was second, fourth and ninth in the league in rushing yards; granted, a lot of the decline was due to the performance of his quarterback, Robert Griffin III, but that's neither here nor there. Dude just puts in work. He's as close to a lock for 1,000 yards and eight scores as you can find in this year's drafts, was one of only 15 backs to see at least 60 percent of his team's snaps, and no longer has Roy Helu to deal with coming in on obvious passing downs.
Don't get me wrong, odds are no one is particularly excited to draft Morris. But when it comes time in the fourth or fifth round to fill out your RB2 slot, who do you honestly feel more comfortable with, Morris or someone like C.J. Spiller? Melvin Gordon? Sure, their upsides may be higher, but their floors are a lot (like, a lot) lower. Morris has never missed a game in three seasons, and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay might be able to use Morris' talents more effectively than zone-blocking maniac Kyle Shanahan.
You won't receive any jealous stares from your league when you pick Morris in the middle rounds, but you can take his production to the bank.
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2. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Just look at that face, folks. That is the face of a man who is mad as hell, and he's not gonna take it anymore.
What is "it", you ask?
Why, abysmally embarrassing quarterback play, of course. With not-as-bad-as-everyone-thinks Carson Palmer under center, Fitzgerald caught 80 percent of the passes thrown his way and was on pace for another Hall of Fame-worthy season, as befits a receiver of his talent. With the dumpster fire that was Ryan Lindley, Drew Stanton, and Logan Thomas handling the passing duties, that catch percentage fell to half.
Assuming Palmer is healthy for at least 14 or so games (he is old, after all), how could Fitzgerald's numbers not go up? He's being drafted as late as pick 105 overall in almost every league, which I think is absolutely insane. Sure, he only scored two touchdowns last season. That's a fact. Will he score more than that, and make a solidly reliable WR2 or flex option with great upside? Put it on the board. Apart from, you know, the fact he's only missed two games in the past four seasons. Four. Seasons. Where Fitz is being drafted, you can choose between him, Torrey Smith, Eric Decker, Ryan Mathews, Shane Vereen...and you're telling me you're not taking a future HoFer with a chip on his shoulder?
If you are telling me that, let me know what the owner in your league who drafted Steve Smith, Sr. in the late rounds said to you when he crushed you over the first six weeks of last season.
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3. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
Sensing a pattern here? Folks who picked up Witten last season hoping for his same steady production were surely disappointed, as he only recorded 64 receptions for 703 yards and five scores.
However, let's look at Dallas' pass and run splits from 2013 (when Witten had a very respectable 73-851-8 line) and last season:
Of Witten's 1,071 snaps in 2014, 524 were for run blocking, and 61 were pass blocking, for a pass-eligible percentage of 51.1 percent. He dropped only four passes, but was targeted no more than eight times in any game (and that only happened twice, against the Swiss-cheese Washington, and Philadelphia pass defenses). Long story short, as we all know, the Cowboys were a run-first, pass-to-Dez-later team last season.
However, in 2013, the numbers tell a very different story. Witten played 1,012 snaps, more than any other non-lineman (including Tony Romo). Of those, only 351 were on running plays, leaving Witten free to catch passes on almost 65.4 percent of his time on the field. Those numbers, therefore, led to games where Witten was targeted more than 10 times on four occasions, leading to his TE1-eligible final numbers.
What I'm getting at is this: look at the Cowboys' backfield right now. Yes, Dallas will want to run, but doesn't it feel like they're moving back toward a more balanced, if not pass-heavy, type of game?
If you agree, you can pick up Witten around the 80th overall pick (assuming you don't have Rob Gronkowski) and have him play and produce for you without fail the entire season. Oh, and did I mention he hasn't missed a start since 2006? Reliable, baby.
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4. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Speaking of players who haven't missed a start, check out Flacco. Since entering the league in 2008, Cool Joe has started every one of his team's games. That's 112 in a row, for those of you following along at home.
Flacco also hasn't passed for fewer than 2,971 yards (which occurred during his rookie season), and has actually increased his yardage totals over the past three seasons. Also not coincidentally, he set a career-high for touchdown passes last season with 29.
After a season in which he almost hit 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, why is Flacco being drafted as QB16? So they lost the deep threat of Torrey Smith. Last year's team-leading receiver Steve Smith Sr. is another year older, and& nbsp;heading into his final NFL season. And his favorite tight end, Dennis Pitta, will begin the season on the PUP list. All of these things are bad.
However — and this is a big however — Gary Kubiak and his run-first scheme are out of Baltimore (which, yes, produced good numbers for Flacco), and the guy who made Matt Forte a pass vacuum is in: Marc Trestman. Know who benefited from Trestman's system to the point of almost fantasy-reliability? Smokin' Jay Cutler, that's who.
Flacco is head and shoulders above Cutler in talent, has a better offensive line and now has a coach who isn't adverse to opening up the passing attack. Flacco could be a steal at the end of your draft, if you're patient and pass up the next guy on the list:
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5. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Remember up top where I freely admitted I have a man crush on Odell Beckham, Jr.? Can you imagine being the guy who gets to throw him passes?
Following the trend, care to guess how many games Manning has missed since he became the Giants' starter??
Correct again! Zero. Zero starts missed. In 10 seasons.
Behind both good and terrible offensive lines, those Manning boys are built from something special. Apart from that, Manning topped 4,400 yards last season, hit 30 touchdowns and his 2.3 percent interception rate was the second-lowest of his career. Add a full season of Beckham to an emerging number two receiver in Ruben Randle, a maybe-maybe not Victor Cruz coming off a torn patellar tendon, Larry Donnell and another year in coordinator Ben McAdoo's quick-release offense?
I'm literally salivating, and Manning is going 83rd overall.
The Giants' running game should pick up, and with the addition of Shane Vereen as a valid dump-off option, I think Manning could flirt with 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns with a full season of this very exciting passing attack. All that for that late of a pick?
They might not catch your eye, but I'm buying the unsexy guys every time.