There are many ways you can spend your final few picks in a Best Ball draft and with most of them, we are shooting for a player that has a shot at 1 or 2 spike weeks in their current environment. By environment, I am talking about their place on the depth chart and the type of offensive scheme they are a part of. In most cases, we’re looking at how they can quickly ascend to a starting role through attrition or poor play ahead of them. These approaches are perfectly fine, however, if we’re playing tournament-style Best Ball games, then we’re going to want to find some players in the last couple of rounds that can separate our sleepers from the ones everyone else is drafting based on their ADP value. We need to look at more “what if” scenarios that meet the same criteria as the approaches already described but the answers to those “what if” questions move us onto some players that are rarely drafted. Let’s run through a few of those scenarios and see what type of upside we can uncover that you may not find on other rosters.
Let’s start at the top of the QB board here and entertain the idea that Mahomes could get hurt and miss time. Who benefits the most from this? Is it Chad Henne? Maybe. Could it be Darrel Williams? Probably. The thinking here is that Andy Reid will change the offense to limit Chad Henne’s chances of making mistakes and choose to run the ball more. Why? Well, the Chiefs have already remade their Offensive Line this offseason in what appears to be an attempt to run more gap blocking schemes by bringing in some bigger guys than they’ve had recently. These guys were also brought in to give Mahomes an upgrade in pass-protection. Should they not protect Mahomes or he gets injured, then that run scheme will become easier for the OL to execute than dropping back in pass-pro for a majority of the offensive snaps. Darrel Williams has the confidence of the Chiefs’ coaching staff and is already slated to play a significant role splitting carries with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Should Mahomes miss time, CEH and Williams would see a bump in usage giving Darrel Williams a path to some spike weeks. Williams would be clear for full-blown space travel should CEH miss any time, with or without a Mahomes injury. There is more than one way for Williams to pay off handsomely in Best Ball.
Odell Beckham tore his ACL on October 15th of last year and is working his way back from that during training camp. Beckham’s also trying to work on his rapport with QB Baker Mayfield. Meanwhile, Rashard Higgins is also recovering from injury. Donovan Peoples-Jones has entered the chat. Even without an injury ahead of him, Peoples-Jones (or DPJ) appears to be carving out a role as the team’s deep-threat during training camp. In 2020, DPJ recorded 21.7 Yards Per Reception with an aDOT of 36.2 coming on his six Deep Passing targets (per PFF data). He is getting invaluable work with the offense (especially with Mayfield) while OBJ and Higgins rehab. Should Stefanski decide to take more shots downfield to take advantage of teams cheating up to stop the run, Peoples-Jones could have a few spike weeks as the #3 WR. Imagine what he could do if OBJ or Landry miss time and that deep threat is on the field in 2-WR packages.
Here’s a live scenario, since we already know Akers is done for the year. The immediate reaction is to look at Darrell Henderson and move him up your board. This is fine for sit-and-go type leagues where there is no tournament to worry about. But when it comes to the tournaments, your 6th round Darrell Henderson shares are now competing with 13th round Henderson shares (Dive deeper into this ADP concept with Xandamere :: Best Ball Changing ADP’s). This is fine if you think you can build a good enough roster to overcome the loss in ADP value, or if the season happens to break your way with who you’ve selected and that 6th round Henderson is not a killer. However, is Henderson really the sharpest play with Akers out? Instead of going to the direct replacement, what if we consider that the Rams may lighten the workload of the RBs and throw more. After all, they just traded the farm to get a QB that can throw, and he can throw deep! Matthew Stafford’s deep passing numbers slipped last year in Detroit after having a 19% deep passing rate in 2019. 2019 also happens to be the most pass-heavy year the Rams have had under Sean McVay.
Instead of fighting the current and taking Henderson in Round 6, look to the passing game to step up in Akers’ place and target Van Jefferson toward the end of Best Ball drafts. In 2020, the Ram’s top target on the deep ball was Josh Reynolds and he’s now a Titan. In 2019 the top deep threat was Brandin Cooks, he’s a Texan. The common thread? That’s the position Jefferson plays for the Rams and Jefferson’s role will be to go get Stafford’s passes deep down the field and along the sidelines. Targeting deep threats late in Best Ball has been a winning strategy for me. You only need that last-round guy to catch a 70 yard TD along with maybe a couple of other catches for a few more yards to be at or near a 20 point game. These guys can do this more than once if they have a prominent role in their offense. Jefferson takes over a deep threat role that has produced nice games for Cooks and Reynolds. We can probably project him to be on the field for the majority of plays with the Rams likely shifting to more “11” personnel with the loss of Gerald Everett and the lack of need to play in big sets without Akers running the ball. Jefferson has no business going as late as he is in drafts. He’s being completely overlooked by the field.
If Derek Carr were forced to play games without his security blanket, where is he going to go with the ball? My first guess would be to the RBs, which is where Jon Gruden has produced several stud receivers during his time in the league before becoming an announcer. In those years, Gruden RBs ate 28% of the passing target pie. Kenyan Drake (who isn’t really a late-round pick, but deserve the first mention in this what-if) was brought in to not only play on 3rd downs but to help take early-down work from Jacobs so that he can make it through a 17 game schedule as the first and second down thumper. Drake would be a major fantasy asset should Waller miss time.
However, we want to focus on very late-round dart throws in this piece. In this scenario, we might want to consider drafting Bryan Edwards with a deep-late-round pick. Why wouldn’t Henry Ruggs benefit here? Ruggs was mostly used as a decoy to run-off coverage from Waller. Without Waller, Ruggs becomes the guy coverage will roll to. Until he proves he can handle that, which didn’t happen in his first year, then I would look to the “X” WR in a Gruden offense. That was Agholor’s position last year and the player set to benefit most from any missed time from Waller but also could have a great year with him healthy in the offense. With Waller and Ruggs on the field for the entire 2020 season, Agholor saw 82 targets (catching 48 of them) and racked up 896 yards. There were three games where Agholor went over 100 yards receiving and he caught a TD in half of his games. Getting that type of production in the final rounds of Best Ball will get our teams past just winning our divisions, we’ll also be in good shape for our tournament playoffs.
Let’s take these what-if questions and spin one to the positive. What if Sam Darnold isn’t broken and actually thrives in Joe Brady’s scheme? We’d certainly think DJ Moore and Robby Anderson will also thrive. Terrace Marshall (coming from the Brady scheme in college) would also benefit. What if there’s another guy, someone getting drafted even later than all these guys, including Darnold that could break out? Maybe there is.
Terrace Marshall isn’t the only new guy they brought in that is familiar with Joe Brady’s offense. Dan Arnold and Joe Brady were on the Saints together in 2018 when Joe Brady was an offensive assistant and Arnold was a rookie. Halfway through Arnold’s second season, he was traded to Kingsbury’s Cardinals and started to show his potential. In the final game of 2019, Arnold flashed by catching 4 of 6 targets for 76 yards and a TD. His second TD in his three games of being on the field in Arizona. In 2020, with a full offseason to learn Kingsbury’s offense, Arnold flashed again as zone-buster for Arizona. His weekly stats were not eye-popping aside from one big game but he started seeing more consistent looks toward the end of the season. Arnold finished with 9 Deep Passing targets that came with an aDOT of 27.2. For reference, George Kittle only had 6 Deep Passing targets and his aDOT was only 0.1 higher. Robert Tonyan also had 9 Deep Passing targets and was just 0.4 higher in aDOT. Dawson Knox is the only other regular starting TE above these three in Deep Passing targets and he had 5 for a 27.6 aDOT. Arnold figures to be the least of the defense’s concerns with all the other play-makers on that roster but he could easily contribute 2 or 3 spike weeks if you wanted to go with 3 late-round TEs for your roster construction.
Joe Mixon can be a polarizing player in fantasy circles and if you believe in him and what the offense is doing to help him (bringing back Pollack as the OL coach, signing Riley Reiff to play tackle), then you’re probably a big fan of Mixon’s outlook this year and selecting him somewhere in the late-2nd to early-3rd round of drafts. If you’re not a Mixon believer, then you’ve probably been drafting Gio Bernard late in drafts over the past few years. Mixon has talent and can be a dynamic runner but if he gets hurt or is not getting the Bengals into good down and distance on 3rd downs, then we’re going to see more of Chris Evans than some might expect. Chris Evans is already being used as the passing-down back and as a change of pace player to Joe Mixon’s lead-back role. What happens if Mixon gets hurt, benched, or phased out in what is effectively the final year of his deal? Samaje Perine would probably take on the early-down and short-yardage plays. This would also put Evans on the field more and may induce Taylor to continue calling pass plays at the 60% or greater mark he has been at for the two years he’s been in Cincy. The Bengals have had Evans line up as a receiver at the line of scrimmage in training camp and with the threat of the three stud WRs they have (four if you consider Auden Tate – who would benefit from any injury to the top three guys), we could see Evans passing game involvement explode.
Some other deep-late-round picks with significant upside include: Damien Williams, Darrynton Evans, Desean Jackson, D’Wayne Eskridge, Dede Westbrook, Auden Tate, and Tyler Conklin.