July and August are the best time of the year for fantasy football. We all start to formulate strategies, plant our flags, and decide who we will yell at on TV for the rest of the year. That’s right, it’s fantasy football draft season! One key to winning your leagues is zeroing in on the right talent who will outperform their draft stock. Avoiding busts is equally, if not more important. With that in mind, and as a quick hitter, we here at Football Absurdity would like to prime you with the players to target, and the players to avoid, in your fantasy football drafts, team-by-team. What’s the difference between a sleeper and a breakout, you ask? I don’t know, why don’t you tell me, tough guy? You seem to have all the answers.
Sleeper – Ted Ginn, Jr., Wide Receiver (Expert Consensus Rank: WR78, 196 overall)
The trendy pick here for the Saints is to have Tre’Quan Smith as the sleeper candidate for the Saints, but the Saints tipped their hands the last two seasons by leaning on Ginn. Ginn hit the IR with a knee injury last season after just three healthy games. Before his injury, Ginn was a quality fantasy football option for his owners. In the eighteen games he’s played with the Saints, his per-sixteen game pace has been 58 catches, 820 yards, and five touchdowns. That’s 8.8 fantasy points per game during his healthy time with the Saints, and those 141 fantasy points over the course of the season come out to WR33 in 2018, and WR29 in 2017. Ginn is free in most drafts and is as worthy of a late-round flier as anybody.
Breakout – Latavius Murray, Running Back (Expert Consensus Rank: RB31, 72 overall)
While the overall is a little rich for my blood, Latavius Murray is a shoo-in to smash his RB31 consensus in New Orleans. First off, the offense is ridiculous for running backs: since 2006, the Saints have been the #1, #2, or #3 running back scoring offense for eleven of the thirteen seasons. That’s an amazing baseline for production that Latavius can just mosey right on into.
Second, Murray’s career pace is a lot better than people want to give him credit for. In his five seasons, he’s been productive overall, even though he’s never truly broke out. He’s averaged 150.6 fantasy points per season over his career, which would have been RB24 last year. This was most in shared roles in Oakland and Minnesota. Now, he steps into a mostly shared role, a situation he is familiar with, but on a great offense, a situation he isn’t familiar with. If he steps right into the role Mark Ingram vacated, he’s going to be a set-and-forget weekly starter for your fantasy football squad.
Bust – Jared Cook, Tight End (Expert Consensus Rank: TE7, 85 overall)
How many seasons in a row are we going to do this with New Orleans tight ends who aren’t Jimmy Graham, and, more importantly, how many years in a row are we going to do this with Jared Cook? Fantasy football prognosticators, as sure as the sun sets in the west, have pegged Jared Cook for something greater than he truly is. Through ten seasons in the NFL, we know what Jared Cook is, but everyone thinks he should be something more than that. He isn’t.
First, the New Orleans tight end situation, non-Jimmy Graham edition. Excepting having one of the best tight ends in the NFL, the average tight end finish under Sean Payton has been TE24. Remember the hype of Jeremy Shockey with Brees? And Coby Fleener? How is this any different? Brees and a TE1 do not mix due to his propensity to mix the ball around to all of his targets. Outside of Jimmy Graham, Brees’s TE1 on the Saints averages just 54.1 targets per season. Remember that 54.1 number.
What, then, of Jared Cook? Did he break out last season, or did he just get a metric boatload of targets? Let’s look at some key rate stats, shall we? First, catch rate. Prior to his 67.3% rate last season, he caught just 58.5% of his passes, so that’s a huge increase, which is a truly amazing (borderline unsustainable) drop. What about his yards per target? 13.2 last season, compared to 12.9 for his career. Not a notable change, to say the least. His touchdown rate almost doubled last season, going from 3.11% touchdown rate to a 5.9% rate. There’s your big kahuna increase, really. He caught a touchdown at nearly twice the rate that he ever has, which led to his big “breakout.”
Let’s do this… 54.1 targets per season. Let’s bump that up 20%, just to be generous: 65 targets. For fun, I’ll throw him his rank-defining 13.2 yards per reception, and career-high catch rate and TD rate from last year. What is his final line, assuming that Cook ranks among one of Drew Brees’s favorite TE targets? 44 catches, 577 yards, and 4 touchdowns. And he’s ranked, on average, as TE7. Sure.