2018 Fantasy Football Exploders!
My definition of an Exploder is a player who is drafted in the fifth round or later who could greatly exceed their ADP value i.e. Robert Woods of 2017. These players are always a key to your success in the draft process and can win your leagues. Finding the diamond in the rough is always a fun process and a lot of it comes down to personal beliefs and takes on players and teams. These are my opinions on who I believe will be the Exploders of 2018, in no particular order.
ADP:136, QB 18
My dark horse pick for NFL MVP in 2018, Mariota looks to be a perfect “post hype” sleeper. Many analysts projected both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota to make the jump into elite QB1 options in fantasy but both players disappointed in 2017. The hiring of Matt Lafleur from the Rams is one of the reasons I am high on Mariota this season. Last year we saw “exotic smash mouth” which didn’t really fit with Marcus Mariota’s skill set and he struggled. Mariota saw a career low TD percentage and a career high 15 interceptions as he finished as the QB17 on the season. I believe Lafleur will design the offense around the things that Mariota does well much like he did with Jared Goff in 2017. With the addition of Dion Lewis to an already talented offense that includes Derrick Henry, Delanie Walker, Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews and Taywan Taylor as well as a top ten offensive line, the stars are aligning for Mariota to be that late round steal that we have seen over the last few seasons with the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz.
ADP:144, QB 19
A change of scenery for veteran Alex Smith seems to have made him a forgotten man in redraft formats. Smith was the number three QB in fantasy last year and many naysayers have called him a “one year wonder”. All he did in 2017 was set career highs in passing yards (4,042), passing TD’s (26), and Interception percentage (1%) which led the league along with his 104.7 QB rating. Smith joins a group that much like the aforementioned Marcus Mariota includes some very talented players including Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson, Chris Thompson and rookie Derrius Guice as well as a strong offensive line that was decimated by injury much of last year. Kirk Cousins may be a better quarterback but Alex Smith isn’t that much of a downgrade for a Redskins team that I think will surprise people in 2018. Cousins finished 7th overall last season and I believe the Redskins offense is more talented this year so there is no reason to be afraid of drafting Alex Smith as your QB1 if you choose to go “late round QB” this year.
ADP:83, RB 34
I’m gonna be honest here, I love Rex Burkhead. He helped me win a fantasy championship in week 17 of 2016 and ever since he joined my favorite team I’ve been a Burkhead Stan. The Patriots backfield continues to be a puzzle that not many can figure out, but you want at least one or two pieces of it in every league you are in. All the Patriots backfield does is score points year in and year out. Rex Burkhead looks to be the player that will receive the bulk of the goal line carries and because of his versatility he will be on the field more than the James White and Jeremy Hill’s of the world. The drafting of Sony Michel in the first round of this years draft obviously muddies the water for everyone involved but Burkhead did just sign a three year, ten million dollar deal to remain a Patriot so I believe he will still see 10-15 touches per game and exceed his current eighth round ADP. In just ten games last year, sexy Rexy scored eight touchdowns. I want that kind of upside late in drafts at the running back position.
ADP:87, RB 35
Those of you who follow me on twitter or listen to the podcasts I host know I’m a huge Aaron Jones fan. He is a player that I will draft a round or two earlier than most this season. On July 3rd Jones was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season and, while this news isn’t ideal, I love the fact that I can draft Jones later than I could before. Much like the Patriots back field, the Packers backfield is a bit of a fantasy mess. Jamaal Williams looks to start the season as the two down banger with some Ty Montgomery mixed in here and there for the first couple of weeks until Jones comes back and adds the spark the running game needs. In 2017 Jones gained 448 yards on just 81 carries while playing in twelve games and starting just four. He didn’t do much in the passing game with only 9 receptions for 22 yards but he showed he had pass catching chops at Utep where he twice caught over 25 balls with 6 receiving TD’s. Reports have stated that Jones has bulked up in the off season to help become a better pass protector for Aaron Rodgers, who seems to like Jones quite a bit by saying this after a game against the Chicgao Bears last season:
“I’ve been a big fan of his since the beginning,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s a very natural runner with the football. He knows what he’s doing. There wasn’t any hesitation. He asked me one time to repeat which side he was motioning to.
“But other than that, I think he did a great job. Like I said, he’s a natural runner. He had some good runs for us, and I’m very confident with him.”
Take that with a grain of salt perhaps but any rookie on the right side of Aaron Rodgers makes me perk up just a little bit. I’m more than willing to stash Jones for two weeks and then reap the rewards of an RB2 with possible RB1 upside.
ADP:161, RB 54
What I look for when I draft a RB late in drafts is if that player can catch passes, does he have a shot at being “the guy” if the player in front of him went down with injury etc and last but not least, is he talented? The answer is “YES” on all three when it comes to Gio Bernard this season. Remember last year when Chris Thompson was late round/waiver wire gold? I think Gio could be that player in 2018. I really like Joe Mixon this year despite some of his struggles as a rookie but Bernard’s presence can’t be ignored. Bernard tallied 847 yards from scrimmage on the season with just two starts while Mixon was out with an injury. This means that Gio is still going to be very involved even with Mixon as the starter. The Bengals are an offense that will positively regress in OC Bill Lazor’s second year calling plays and especially after addressing the teams biggest need, offensive line, in the off season. To be able to draft Bernard in round thirteen is criminal! Take advantage of the variance, especially in PPR formats.
ADP: 70, WR 28
Sammy Watkins might be the biggest dick tease at WR in all of fantasy football. We all love the talent, the measurables, the athleticism and more importantly, the hair. Seriously though, it seems like every year is the year for Watkins and then we cry into our cup of coffee as he under performs on our rosters and we whisper under our breath “never again”. Well guess what? I don’t drink coffee and I’m no whisperer! Watkins signed the largest free agent deal at the receiver position this off season and joined a Chiefs team that will now be lead by second year QB Patrick Mahomes who as some in the industry might say has “arm talent”. Watkins main problem last year wasn’t getting open, it was Jared Goff’s inability to accurately target him down field. This is why I love the fit with Mahomes, he’s a much more talented passer down the field and unlike last season Watkins has a full off season to learn a new playbook! The early word out of camp is Sammy is “lining up all over the place” for Andy Reid. I think this is the year Sammy finally steps up and is a WR1 in fantasy and is no longer just a deep threat, he can do it all. 1,200 yard and 10 TD upside in the sixth round? Yes please!
ADP:112, WR 43
I wrote about Crowder’s new QB earlier and how much I love him at his ADP so it makes sense that the player I think will be positively impacted the most makes the list as well! Crowder has the chance to be PPR gold this season because Alex Smith fits his skill set perfectly. Alex is accurate and is a surgeon in the short passing game where Crowder makes his hay. Over the last five seasons Smith has a 102.8 QB rating when targeting his slot receivers which is third best amongst QB’s with thirty plus starts. Crowder started off slow last season but after week seven last year he was the WR17 the rest of the season. He’s a must target for me at his current tenth round ADP.
ADP:167 , WR 60
Matthews was a sneaky signing by the reigning AFC champions this off season and with the news of Julian Edelman’s four game suspension, Brandin Cooks departure to the Rams and Malcolm Mitchell’s chronic knee issue there is suddenly a bunch of vacated targets in the Patriots high powered offense for the taking. Matthews has been “first one in, last one out” in the clubhouse all off season and is looking to maximize his future earning potential after signing a veteran minimum deal. Last year Matthews dealt with injuries and only started seven games for the Buffalo Bills, who struggled on offense most of the season. Matthews is a player that averaged 75 receptions, 891 yards and 6.3 Td’s in his first three seasons in Philadelphia and I think many owners forget what he achieved because he was hurt and in the frozen tundra of Buffalo in 2017. I would not be surprised if he reached those numbers this year in New England making him a rock solid WR3 with WR2 upside which is why he’s an exploder as his WR60 ADP slots him in as a WR5. Make sure not to forget about Matthews come draft day!
ADP: 147, TE 13
I’m team draft a TE late if you miss out on Gronk, Kelce and Ertz so if you choose to wait on the position George Kittle is the player I’m targeting. Jimmy Garoppollo was clearly building a solid rapport with Kittle on the field and I loved what I saw from the two of them. Courtesy of Graham Barfield’s twitter account: George Kittle’s 11.78 yards per target in Jimmy Garoppolo’s five starts is the best clip for any rookie TE since target-tracking began (in 1992) and in his last 3 games he scored 9.2, 13.2, and 14 ppr points ending 2017 on a strong note. Kittle seems to be the forgotten man in the uber athletic 2017 TE draft class and will be drafted after the likes of Evan Engram, David Njoku and O.J. Howard but my bold prediction is that Kittle leads the NFL in receiving Td’s at the position.
ADP:196 , TE 24
Not often will I recommend a player that has 12 total career receptions but bare with me. Seals-Jones finds himself at the top of the depth chart and the TE hating coach Bruce Arians is now out of the picture. Pair that with the fact the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford, who is known for targeting his TE’s and we now have some reasons to Like Pretty Ricky in 2018. Seals-Jones came into the league as a WR but converted to TE partly due to his sub optimal 4.69 forty yard dash time. His hands and route running really set him apart from any of the other late round TE’s that are available in the sixteenth round of your drafts. The tight end position is a bit of a messy one and I would not be surprised to see Seals-Jones grab 50 passes for 600 yards and 6 TD’s making him a fringe TE1 at a Low end TE2 price. I’m not overly concerned with Jones’s recent arrest for being denied access to a public bathroom and don’t see a suspension in his future. Draft with confidence late in the draft and see if I’m right. If I’m not, it didn’t cost you much so we can still be cool!
ADP data courtesy of www.fantasyfootballcalculator.com
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my take on players who I think will pay greatly exceed their ADP this season! At the end of the season I will be recapping both Exploders and Imploders with a scorecard of how my predictions panned out as I like to be accountable for my work.
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