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Five Must-Have Targets in the Middle Rounds


If you've been playing fantasy football for long enough, you are well aware of the value of middle-round draft picks. Maybe some of your less-invested league mates mail it in after the big names are off the board, but you know the players taken in the middle rounds have the potential to alter the course of your season. Patrick Mahomes's ADP in a 12-team PPR league in 2018 was in the 10th round, as was that of Calvin Ridley. Both players were drafted, on average, after the Minnesota Vikings defense. Nick Chubb was taken in the 11th round, and George Kittle was taken in the 12th.

Depending on your spot in the draft order and how the rest of your league's picks unfolded, you could theoretically have wound up with all four of these players in a 2018 draft. Imagine being able to pair them with the guys you got in rounds 1-5. Imagine if you swung and missed on your early draft picks, but you had these guys to save the day. Of course, these instances of unproven players skyrocketing to the top of the league are few and far between. So while it's fine to scour the player pool in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft for guys who might break out, the most important objective at this juncture is to build the deepest roster possible. If a couple of the players you get turn out to be superstars, that's just an added bonus.

With this in mind, I'll now discuss five players with middle-round ADPs that I will be targeting in all of my fantasy drafts for 2019. My selections are based on a 12-team PPR league with one starting quarterback and 16-man rosters. For the purposes of this discussion, we will be using rounds 6-12 as the "middle rounds." My thinking here is that rounds 1-5 are almost always going to include five players who start for your fantasy team in Week 1--unless you go rogue with a Zero RB strategy, or something along those lines. Rounds 13-16 are where you grab your last two lottery tickets and (should) wrap things up with a defense and a kicker. Rounds 6-12 are where you win your league by building depth and nabbing players with breakout potential. Let's get to it. Note: All ADP information courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

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D.J. Moore - WR, Carolina Panthers

ADP 57.2

Alright, you got me. His ADP is prior to the sixth round. But I'm including D.J. Moore here because it's at the end of the fifth, and if he makes it to me at any point in the sixth, I'm all in. He's the number-one wide receiver in Carolina's offense, and he didn't have to wait for someone else to leave in order to earn it. He wrestled it from an ineffective Devin Funchess in his rookie season and became Cam Newton's favorite target not named Christian McCaffrey.

Moore led all Panthers wideouts and tight ends in targets (82), receptions (55), and yardage last season (788), with a lack of touchdowns (2) being his only bane. His 9.6 yards per target was the 21st-highest such number in the league in 2018, among all players.

Funchess is gone, along with all 79 of his targets from last year. Even if Moore only gets a quarter of what's leftover from that this year, he is staring at a 100-target season. Based on what he did in 2018 and the expected volume increase in 2019, Moore's ceiling is significantly higher than his WR26 ADP.

 

Vance McDonald - TE, Pittsburgh Steelers

ADP 83.7

I'm not crazy about drafting tight ends this high, but Vance McDonald is the first one with an ADP I can live with. McDonald's 2018 stat line was solid for a mid-tier tight end: 50 receptions on 72 targets for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Even if he only repeats that exact output in 2019, he's not torpedoing your roster at a position where most guys aren't very consistent or reliable to begin with. But he should be in line for more than "solid" this season.

He's now the unchallenged lead dog on Pittsburgh's tight end depth chart with Jesse James having moved on, and Antonio Brown's 168 targets from last season aren't all going to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Not all targets are created equal either. Ben Roethlisberger attempted 94 passes inside the 20-yard-line in 2018, fourth-most in the league.

Of those 94 attempts, 53 of them were shared between Brown and Smith-Schuster, while McDonald had the next-highest target share with 10. Smith-Schuster is the only proven wide receiver in Pittsburgh's offense now, and while some combination of James Washington, Ryan Switzer, and Donte Moncrief may emerge as viable options, McDonald has already earned the trust of his quarterback.

The Steelers tight end could be looking at a 70-catch season with an increased role in scoring position, and we might be kicking ourselves by Week 3 for letting him fall this far in fantasy drafts.

 

Kenyan Drake - RB, Miami Dolphins

ADP 68.4

Of course the minute I begin to write this, reports surface that Kenyan Drake is likely to miss the remainder of the preseason with a foot injury. We know NFL teams play their injury reports pretty close to the vest, but it's worth noting that the Dolphins haven't made a determination one way or the other on Drake's Week 1 availability. In any case, his situation should be monitored very closely as we enter the heart of the draft season.

One indirect consequence of this development is that Drake's ADP is likely to drop in the coming days and weeks, especially if his Week 1 outlook grows grim. That means everything I'm about to discuss will still be true, but there will be more value in his later ADP.

Drake had to share the Miami backfield with ageless wonder Frank Gore last season, receiving just 120 carries to Gore's 156. Drake averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which would've translated into a nice end-of-season total if he had gotten more than 7.5 carries per game.

Where Drake truly shined in 2018, however, was in the passing game. Drake was second on the entire team in targets (73) and receptions (53) behind Danny Amendola and only Kenny Stills had more receiving touchdowns than Drake's five.

Gore is gone, which means Drake will now presumably share the rushing workload with fellow youngster Kalen Ballage. Tack another 70 or so carries (and that's erring on the conservative side) onto his 2018 total in addition to his passing-game work, and Drake could be looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,300 all-purpose yards this season. Sprinkle in a couple of touchdowns here and there, and his RB32 ADP seems a little low.

Keep an eye on his injury situation, especially considering the body part in question is his foot. But at full health, the passing-game work and an increased rushing workload should have Drake outperforming his ADP in 2019, whether it drops significantly or not.

 

Devin Singletary - RB, Buffalo Bills

ADP 118.7

Rookie Devin Singletary sits at third on Buffalo's running back depth chart, according to ESPN.com. In front of him are LeSean McCoy and the aforementioned Gore. Behind him is T.J. Yeldon. Gore probably deserves a little more credit than I'm giving him; despite his age, last season was the first time since 2010 that he didn't play in all 16 of his team's games, and the fact that he can still handle 150-plus carries is impressive. But he is 36 years old.

McCoy averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year and had his worst all-around pass-catching campaign since joining the Bills in 2015. It's not all his fault, of course; the Bills were a mess on offense for most of last season. But like Gore, he isn't getting any younger. If 2018 was the beginning of McCoy's decline--and it very well could've been--it's hard to imagine he'll be very productive this season.

Yeldon is theoretically young enough to conjure up a career year out of nowhere, but to this point he has never thrived as a lead back. Outside of some moderately impressive receiving numbers while Leonard Fournette was absent from Jacksonville's backfield last season, Yeldon has been largely underwhelming.

So by process of elimination, we arrive at Singletary. He has to take down two veterans on the wrong side of 30--neither of whom looked like they could carry an offense when we last saw them--and a career backup whose lifetime high in touches (218) came in his rookie season four years ago. Is it really that far outside the realm of possibility that Singletary takes over this backfield at some point in the season?

The problem is that even if the answer to that question is yes, it might be a while before he does. The counterpoint is that at a 10th-round ADP, you can afford to wait. I'm comfortable taking the gamble on the idea that Singletary's uphill-yet-clear path to regular playing time yields results in 2019--even if it doesn't happen right away.

 

Philip Rivers - QB, Los Angeles Chargers

ADP 120.5

For the wait-on-quarterback crowd, Philip Rivers is the embodiment of why it's perfectly fine to be one of the last people in your league to draft a QB. I continue to be amazed by how undervalued he is from year to year. His "worst" season in the last 10 years was a 2012 campaign in which he threw for 3,606 yards and 26 touchdowns.

In every year since then, he's thrown for at least 4,286 yards and 28 touchdowns, eclipsing the 30-touchdown mark four times in this span including last season. What more do you want from the guy? A Super Bowl ring would be ideal, I guess, but from a fantasy perspective, he is as consistent as they come. And yet he continues to be available in the later rounds of drafts.

Rivers lost underrated wideout Tyrell Williams to his division rival in Oakland this offseason, but he's getting Hunter Henry back, Keenan Allen is still hanging around, and Mike Williams was impressive (though very boom-or-bust) in his rookie season. Even if Melvin Gordon turns out not to be a part of the equation any longer, Austin Ekeler has proven to be a serviceable pass-catching replacement in the Chargers backfield.

I don't have anything against guys like Baker Mayfield (ADP QB5) or Kyler Murray (ADP QB9), and I'm all in on this new, creative direction the NFL is heading in terms of how quarterbacks are utilized. But Rivers isn't even being drafted as a starter in 12-team leagues, while a rookie and a second-year quarterback with 13 career starts are being valued as consensus top-10 picks at the position.

I'd say I'm tired of it, but the fantasy world's refusal to acknowledge the excellence of Philip Rivers has continually allowed me to wait, wait, and wait some more for my quarterback on draft day. So by all means, please keep ignoring the future Hall-of-Famer.

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