Football news is going to be coming fast and furious soon, and I'm going to have opinions on as much of it as possible.
For now I'm just going to talk about fantasy drafts. I've already written about The Marshall Faulk Strategy this year, and I'm going to write more draft strategy pieces soon. I will also release rankings as soon as free agency shakes out. Today I'm going to write about a group of players that are currently being drafted too low. They all just happen to play for the same team...
Why is it that a tight end who was sixth* in points last year and who just turned 28 this year is being drafted as the ninth best tight end behind Marcedes Lewis?
Why is it that a wide receiver who caught eleven touchdowns for nearly a thousand yards last year in his rookie year is getting drafted a pick after Dez Bryant, who produced half as well in his own rookie season last year?
Why is it that a running back who rushed for 1000 yards last year at a 5.0 yards per carry rate that is going to see a workload increase this year is being drafted 18th among running backs?
Why is it that the quarterback with the seventh most points scored among quarterbacks last year who is entering his third season has fallen out of the top ten at his position in mock drafts?
The answer to all four of those questions is the same. All four of these guys play for the Buccaneers and the Buccaneers are still thought of as a joke. People still think they are more like the 3-13 team from 2009. They think that the 10-6 Buccaneers from last year are a mirage. That's great for us, because it means Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, and Kellen Winslow Jr. are all underrated.
The Buccaneers offense was just 20th in scoring and 19th in yards last year, but all four guys still had strong fantasy seasons. This year the Bucs should only get better, because they are the second youngest team in the league. The oldest skill position starter on the team is the 28 year old Winslow. Williams and Blount are 24 this year in their second year in the league and Josh Freeman is entering his third pro season at just 23 years old.
Even if you don't believe that the Bucs are going to be better as a team, you have to expect that group of youngsters to be slightly more productive in 2011. However, they are all being drafted like they are going to regress from last years stats.
Kellen Winslow Jr. has finished among the top seven in catches and receiving yards at tight end in four of the last five years and played 16 games in each of those four seasons. Winslow's draft value is mainly being held back by the perception that he is injury prone after playing just two games his first two years in the league. However, in the five seasons since his motorcycle accident the only games he missed were due to staph infection when there was a rash of infections with the Browns a few years ago. Winslow isn't just not injury prone, he's sturdy. He'll play all sixteen games again this year. When he does, he will definitely earn your team more points than Zach Miller or Marcedes Lewis , two guys going a full round before him.
If you go with Mike Williams, you are also going to be getting solid value a round later. Williams had just under 1000 yards in his rookie season and profiles fairly similarly the Hakeem Nicks of the Giants. Each guy stands at 6'1 and about 215 pounds. Both guys aren't the fastest or biggest recievers, but they play bigger than they are and have great hands. Nicks caught less catches for less yards and touchdown in his rookie season, and jumped up to the seventh best receiver in fantasy in his second last year despite missing three games. Williams should have no problem making a similar jump here. There is no way he should be being drafted after Dwayne Bowe and Dez Bryant and it is fairly easy to make a good argument for taking him ahead of Miles Austin. Williams finished last year at twelve among receivers while Austin finished thirteenth. Austin will be getting back Romo this year, his production fall off was more due to Dez Bryant's rise than Kitna playing quarerback. Williams is going to make a big jump this year and just like Winslow, should be drafted a round before he has been.
LeGarrette Blount was a gigantic surprise last year, and that's probably why many fantasy players are still staying away. Blount went undrafted last year and made the odd choice of signing with the Titans, a team that was already fairly set at running back with Chris Johnson starting and Javon Ringer backing him up. He was placed on waivers right at the start of the year and Tennessee was hoping to stash him on the practice squad if he cleared when the Buccaneers claimed him off waivers. It took another two months for Blount to really work his way into the team and show himself to be the best running back with his breakout performance on Halloween.
There was no fanfare for his "arrival" because well... He played for the Buccaneers. 1007 yards at 5.0 per carry later, Blount is clearly one of he better running back options heading into this year. Taking his stats from last year in 200 carries and projecting him as a full time starter for 300 carries this year, he's a 1500 yard guy with nine touchdowns. That puts him in the Michael Turner statistical range. He projects as a top ten guy, who is being drafted 18th amongst running backs. And that is just with his rushing yards. He should also be more involved with the passing game this year after having a full year in the offense to learn blitz pickups. Blount is being drafted in the end of the fourth round, when he is going to deliver better than second rounder Turner.
Last but certainly not least, Josh Freeman is theft being drafted outside of the top ten quarterbacks. Freeman finished seventh among quarterbacks last year, even though he failed to run the ball into the end zone. His rushing totals at quarterback were second only to Michael Vick last season, but he didn't score a single TD on the ground even though he picked up 29 first downs in his 68 rushing attempts. He's going to grab at least three touchdowns on the ground this year, and that should more than offset any potential increase in his interception totals this year.
Freeman is going to be one of the most consistent performers at the quarterback position again this year. He only had one game last year where he failed to throw for a touchdown and that was the only game he had last year where he didn't score double digit fantasy points. Even if he has bad games through the air, he can still churn out fairly consistent fantasy points for you when you add in his yards on the ground. He won't have the awful single digit performances that lose you games that a guy like Matt Schaub and his five stinker games will. Freeman is currently going in the seventh round, while Schaub is being drafted in the fifth. They are going to end the year with similar point totals, but Freeman isn't going to lose any games for you.
Now, lets be clear, I'm not telling you to go out and draft all of these players the full round or two early. That is horrible fantasy draft logic. Instead I'm identifying for you where there are undervalued players and why they are undervalued. All four of these guys are going to help you win your fantasy league because you will be getting similar production to other players in your league, but you'll be paying less to get that same production.
So shop some sales here on the Buccaneers offense and grab one or two of these guys. They'll go a long way towards carrying your team to the playoffs.
-Fred "Big Derf" Tobin
*All mock draft ADPs, points scored, and rankings are from ESPN Fantasy as of 7/26/11.