Everyone has a specialty. Two years ago, in January, I was sitting next to a wildly successful high-stakes daily fantasy player watching an AFC playoff game and trying my best to be polite. His specialty was the game of daily fantasy, and he has won millions of dollars from learning the ins and outs of that game.
His specialty earns him a lot more money from football than mine. I admire his achievements in that realm.
He's skilled at gaming a system to earn money. This isn't a derogatory characterization. It's just a fact about what he does.
It's also a fact that when you compare his specialty with mine, he doesn't understand football.
He makes a living off a subset of fantasy football using mathematics. I've been making a living identifying talent, especially talents that most doubt.
So, as we're watching the Ravens and the Chargers, this millionaire tells me that Lamar Jackson isn't a good quarterback and will likely never be one, and I'm doing everything I can to suppress hysterical laughter. After all, Jackson hadn't proven to the average schmoe—especially the average millionaire schmoe—that he was a capable NFL passer.
For me, Jackson had already proven that capability at Louisville just as Russell Wilson did at NC State and Wisconsin, Patrick Mahomes II at Texas Tech, Nick Chubb and Georgia, and A.J. Brown at Ole Miss. I've earned my living seeing what others don't.
I can't expect others to see what I see—even a millionaire daily fantasy expert who many would make the mistake of drawing a false equivalency with our football knowledge. We're in different silos.
And regardless of the nonsense he was sharing about Jackson on that day, there was no doubt that once Jackson emerged, Big Money would be making stacks of cash off the Ravens quarterback in 2019. After all, being right about player development has nothing to do with his job.
Fortunately for you, it's a bigger part of my gig. While I'm far from perfect, I've become pretty good at it for the past 18 years. I'm confident that those in the industry will corroborate my claim.
The customer testimonials I receive regularly do. If I created an amalgamation of these emails they would go something like this: "Matt, thanks to you I drafted ______ _______. While everyone at my draft snickered, that pick led me to a championship in my league, and that pick is now the stuff of legend."
Just as it's a personal goal for a quarterback to never throw an interception, my personal goal is to achieve Nostradamus status with identifying underrated, overlooked, and unsung options who will have a fantasy impact. The goal may be realistically unachievable, but it pushes you to work harder at the craft of evaluating talent.
With this in mind, here's my 2020 All-Nostradamus Squad, players who I expect to emerge as fantasy values. Some are early-round picks that are worth a moderate reach. Others are mid- and late-round options that most have doubts about their value.
And some aren't even draftable, but you better have them on your waiver-wire shortlist because their skills can help your starting lineup and shock your league mates. Regardless of their draft-day value, these are players I believe have the talent and opportunity to out-perform their current value.
The was also a 43-point difference between the No.8 and No.4 tight ends and a 45-point difference between the No.8 and No.4 running backs. In contrast, there was only a 10-point difference between the No.4 and No.8 receivers.
This isn't an argument for taking a quarterback early as much as it is a point about taking the right player. Tom Brady is often the eighth quarterback off the board in fantasy drafts. I have his projected production as the fourth-highest at the position.
However, his value isn't the only factor that places Brady on this list. It's clear that fantasy players think Brady has diminished skills.
If you paired Patrick Mahomes II, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, or Russell Wilson with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard, only Mahomes would have a legitimate right to say that his overall surrounding talent declined in some respect. Add Rob Gronkowski to that equation, and Mahomes may still have pangs of regret but you wouldn't be dropping any of these quarterbacks down your draft boards.
This is the best talent Brady has ever worked with. The past two years in New England has included some of the worst talent Brady has worked with. Every year, fantasy players demonstrate that they cannot separate the skill of the player from the box score.
Not only should you be drafting Brady because his baseline value will likely land him inside the top-5, his upside puts him in the realm of top-two production at the position. The average difference between the No.2 and No.4 quarterback in fantasy football for the past five years is 22.8 points and the No.1 and No.4 quarterback is 59.8 points.
Guess who was the No.2 quarterback during two of those seasons?
Guess who has more surrounding skill talent of note than any team in the league?
Guess which quarterback has worked with his talent during the summer more than any team in the league?
And guess which team is letting its quarterback play in a multiple offense that creates potential pre-snap mismatches?
Your fantasy quarterback rating is currently through the roof.
Gardner Minshew: The No.9 fantasy quarterback in 2019 after the first nine weeks of the season, the Jaguars' late-round rookie was sporting a 61.2 percent completion rate, a healthy 7.44 yards per attempt, and had 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson threw fewer picks at that point.
You could argue that Minshew faced subpar competition. In hindsight, the Broncos were beaten up, the Panthers and Jets were awful, and the Chiefs gave Minshew garbage-time opportunities during the opener.
Ah, garbage time. Why aren't we expecting additional garbage time for Minshew this year considering the state of its defense? Jalen Ramsey is gone, Telvin Smith Sr needed a break from football, Calais Campbell is a Raven, and Yannick Ngakoue doesn't want to be there.
Minshew, displayed tremendous skill in the pocket no just as a rookie, but for an NFL quarterback, period. He was also aggressive downfield. Kyler Murray averaged 7.05 yards per attempt and Daniel Jones earned 6.52 during this nine-week span. For the year, Minshew earned 6.96 where has Jones delivered 6.96 and Murray 6.87.
This year, Minshew doesn't have to be in the middle of a team-versus-coach quarterback soap opera because the Jaguars sold the magic beans-bill of goods known as Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears. Jacksonville's addition of Laviska Shenault Jr, Tyler Eifert, and the rebound of Keelan Cole give the offense four viable playmakers who can take some of the pressure off the second-year quarterback to do as much on his own.
Even with the poor ending to his rookie year, Minshew's per-game average extrapolates to No.16 among quarterbacks instead of 21st. While I don't expect Eifert to stay healthy or Shenault and Cole to deliver consistent fantasy starter production, I am expecting enough from them that Minshew should be the No.15 quarterback this year.
This is a conservative estimate. Give Minshew consistent garbage-time game scripts and you're looking at a better version of 2016 Blake Bortles who earned top-10 production as the NFL's resident sanitation engineer.
There are a lot of backs whose talents I like, but these are the best combination of value and upside for this year.
James Conner: I've made this an every-week mantra this summer. If this is the first-time you've seen this from me, you bought a subscription in late August and you're looking for answers to the test. J-A-M-E-S C-O-N-N-E-R.
Chris Carson: Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Le'Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon III, and David Johnson are all big-time names thanks to their past heroics in college and/or their early pro careers. None of them offer the recent consistency or have the quality of surrounding talent modeled for a ground game like Carson.
He's the best value of these backs who are all in the same range. Many of you can get Conner in the early third and follow up with Carson in the fourth. If you do, you'll have a pair of top-15 backs who are likely to earn production closer to the top-5 at the position.
Zack Moss: I compared Moss to former Bills Travis Henry before Buffalo drafted him. I wrote that if we were to characterize the relationship between an offensive line and a running back as a marriage, that Singletary's rookie year looked like a housewife or househusband who didn't have to work, didn't have kids, and had a healthy amount of disposable income to do whatever they wanted. I told you that if Singletary was this pampered, you're going to love what Moss can do with the Bills' offensive line.
Now, beat writers are telling you that Singeltary can't get past the line of scrimmage nearly as often as Moss is busting through.
I also shared that Moss would have a true shot at flip-flopping the projected roles slated for him and Devin Singletary by this fall and before beat writers have begun musing the same thing last week.
I hope you got Moss in early drafts because his ADP in the mid-ninth is likely rising. If it doesn't rise above the eighth round, he's still a value. He'll lead the team in rushing scores this year and at least split the rushing yardage in half with the more pampered husband of this Bills running back concubine.
A.J. Dillon: Adrian Peterson offers more weekly consistency for similar draft-day value on the surface but the offense has enough question marks that it could be a slog for Washington's running backs in 2020. Relative to his ADP, I'd much rather have the promising Dillon than any quarterback, runner, tight end, or kicker in that range.
Dillon's teammates are already telling the media that they look forward to seeing him as part of a 'one-two punch' with Aaron Jones. I love Jones' skills but as I've said all summer, it doesn't appear the Packers believe in his durability. Dillon could be a second-half monster for fantasy purposes if Jones doesn't stay healthy and he's cheap enough to draft.
Chase Edmonds: An excellent fit in Kliff Kingsbury's offense, Edmonds' can deliver fantasy starter production if Kenyan Drake gets hurt, and he'll likely exceed his draft-day value based on committee production alone. But if Drake gets hurt, Edmonds has a similar upside as Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, and the rookies in-waiting for starting gigs but with a more appealing price tag.
Roster Depth at RB
These are backs likely to earn the third spot on a depth chart. Some, like Joshua Kelley, could contribute early and see their role grow as the season unfolds and are worth a late selection in leagues with more than 15-round drafts. The rest are worth monitoring.
Joshua Kelley: I'm a fan of Justin Jackson and he should also be on your watch list as the current No.2 running back. The fact that Austin Ekeler repeatedly cites Jackson as a back he learns from, including copying some of Jackson's style, is worth remembering when Jackson becomes a free agent next year. Still, Anthony Lynn has praised Kelley as a fast learner, gritty, mature, and physical.
Kelley may have been slow to pick up the offense early, but he's asserting himself as a player who will be in the mix for playing time. I still have a feeling that Kelley could be one of the pleasant values of the season.
Mike Boone: Alexander Mattison is an excellent young back whose skills as a runner and a receiver make him an NFL starter talent. Because of the success of the Vikings ground game in 2019, you'll have to pay a premium for Mattison as a highly regarded backup.
Mattison will be worth the price if called upon. Boone also has the skills to deliver consistent fantasy production if Mattison gets hurt or the Vikings opted for a committee in lieu of an injury to Dalvin Cook.
Qadree Ollison: Todd Gurley may still perform well enough for fantasy RB2 production, but we all know he's on borrowed time. Ito Smith is a scatback who impresses on a superficial level. Brian Hill's game has more substance between the tackles and his teammates thought he earned a shot to start in 2020 before the Gurley signing.
As much as I like Hill's development, he began overthinking his game upon entering the pros. He has improved in the finer points of the third-down game, but he has lost some of the between-the-tackles creativity that he had at Wyoming.
It's why I think Ollison might finish the year as Atlanta's No.2 back and possibly become the starter of Gurley falters. Ollison is a big back and a smooth, efficient, and creative runner with goal-line pop, and the acceleration to turn the corner on a defense.
Like Arian Foster of old, Ollison last top-end speed but his acceleration, vision, and contact balance can get him into the secondary and create massive headaches for defensive backs and chasing linebackers.
Ollison is having a strong camp and showing off his receiving chops. If he continues, Smith and Hill could be a lot less valuable than some realize.
Jacques Patrick: I've been a fan of Patrick's since he was at Florida State. He's one of those running backs who got sandwiched between the hype of Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers and never earned the credit he deserved as an NFL prospect. After a strong XFL campaign this winter, the Bengals signed Patrick to the active roster.
When I first studied Patrick, I saw a big, bad downhill thumper with enough speed to reach the secondary. As I got deeper into his game, I saw that Patrick had mastered the concept that "it's not how fast you run, but how fast you can stop."
My fellow NFL Draft Fiends (and you are fiendish), if there was ever a theme for this running back class it's "Not how fast you run but how fast you can stop."— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) March 10, 2019
FSU Jacques Patrick is one of many who does this well. Excellent feet for the 6'1", 231-lb. RB.
Patrick is a shifty back for his size with excellent receiving chops as a check-down option. So far, he has performed well during Bengals scrimmages. So much so, that multiple outlets have considered Patrick one of the quiet stars of training camp.
Trayveon Williams has the talent to be on many NFL rosters, but he doesn't do it for me. The 6'1, 231-pound Patrick does. The Bengals offensive line has a lot to prove and if they don't do so, we could unfortunately see a need for Cincinnati to turn to its depth at running back. Don't forget about Patrick.
A.J. Brown: Pro Football Reference's Advanced Receiving Stats tell the story about Brown's rookie year and what's in store for 2020. Brown caught 52 balls for 1,051 yards, and 8 scores. Two data points about Brown's rookie year that stand out immediately because they match the film are his Yards After the Catch per Reception and his Average Depth of Target.
Brown's 8.9 yards gained per catch was not only fifth in the league but he was only one of two receivers among the NFL's top-15 players. The other was Deebo Samuel who ranked 14th on the list, and Samuel had the luxury of more quick-hitting, manufactured plays in space that Brown lacked.
You can see this by Average Depth of Target. Most of the running backs on this list have an ADOT that's either negative or under two yards, which indicates most of the targets were near the line of scrimmage.
Samuel's ADOT was 7.6, which is a reflection of a high number of targets near the line of scrimmage. Brown's ADOT was a very receiver-like 13.2 and by far the highest ADOT among the top 36 in the league (Chris Godwin was second with at 10.2)
In other words, Samuel had more targets like a running back than Brown.
The Titans' Brown was 14th in the league with eight broken tackles and the only receivers to break more were Cooper Kupp (this shouldn't surprise you if buy the RSP), Diontae Johnson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Brown averaged a broken tackle every 6.5 catches (tied with Saquon Barkley among the top 20 in this category).
Of the receivers mentioned, only Johnson was close (6.6), and his ADOT of 9.2 also reflects him earning more high-leverage opportunities and still earning 160 fewer yards after the catch despite earning 8 more targets and receptions than Brown. Again, Brown earned more big-boy targets than Samuel or Johnson who are promising players but pretenders to the throne when comparing them to the Rookie King.
By the way, Samuel and Johnson dropped nine and six passes, respectively. Brown dropped two and his drop percentage was good enough to place him 36th among pass catchers and just ahead of Julio Jones.
I can't tell you data-wise whether these are "sticky" stats, but I can tell you that Brown's power, contact balance, and acceleration aren't going away any time soon and his route running will only improve as his career unfolds. Brown's season wasn't a gimmick, but a sign of more to come.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Although Johnson may be a pretender to Brown's throne last year, he's a good young option who creates after the catch and showed enough vertical skill that he should occupy the attention of safeties for the Steelers to leverage Smith-Schuster in ways closer to his years with Antonio Brown as his running mate.
And I'm not expecting Johnson to do this singlehandedly. Look for Eric Ebron to help in this area because his 9.5 ADOT was the sixth-best among tight ends during his 2018 season with the Colts. Ebron can, and will, occupy the attention safeties and leave room for Smith-Schuster.
Sadly, opposing NFL defensive coaches hate putting top cornerbacks inside to cover slot options--even when they should. This is all good news for Smith-Schuster as a value, even as an early-round option in most fantasy drafts.
DeVante Parker: The Dolphins finally got the deep threat they expected when drafting Parker. His 14 ADOT was 21st in the NFL last year and when comparing receivers with at least 110 targets, only Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay, and Brown had a higher figure. Of this quartet, only Brown had a lower drop percentage (4.3) than Parker (4.7).
People are cautious about Parker because of Mark Ingram II Syndrome. They were burned too many times by a player who was supposed to emerge too many years ago. Now that he has, they think it was a fluke season.
Consider that Parker had a breakout season with Ryan Fitzpatrick, a poor ground game, and a scheme that most of the players said was too complicated and got the coordinator fired. This year, Parker gets Chan Gailey, who is known for his player-friendly and versatile schemes, an excellent vertical passer in Tua Tagovailoa who thrives in the play-action game, and a pair of capable running backs to set up the play-action.
Parker took a while to reach expectations, but he's not a fluke. I've been taking Parker in leagues all summer because I'm capitalizing on fear. That's the only explanation that last year's No.6 fantasy receiver is valued outside the top 24 pass catchers in 2020 drafts.
Emmanuel Sanders: When looked at his ADP at face value, Sanders seems to be at an appropriate spot between the rounds 9-11. However, this discounts his hidden upside as a Saints receiver.
The fantasy community examines the box scores of past seasons and concludes that there aren't many receivers who produced at a starter level for fantasy purposes beyond Michael Thomas and a tight end. The fantasy community hasn't considered that those receivers were nowhere in the same ballpark as a route runner and pass catcher as Sanders, who had among the 20 lowest drop rates in the league for the past 2 years.
Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas combined for 238 targets, 150 catches, 2,300 yards, and 17 touchdowns in 2016. Willie Snead IV was on that team and earned 895 yards and even grease-mitted Coby Fleener had 50 grabs for 631 yards. And, the Mark Ingram II earned 1,359 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.
When your quarterback is one of the best in the history of the game, he can support multiple talents. People forget this when looking at spreadsheets. Sanders is a huge factor in opening up this offense and giving Brees the opportunity to flirt with 5,000 yards passing once again.
Dante Pettis: The 49ers Web Zone has detailed Pettis taking blame for his sophomore slump and acknowledging that Kyle Shanahan was holding Pettis to high expectations that he should have met. Shanahan has acknowledged that Pettis has been accountable, worked the way he was supposed to during offseason, and he has looking more like the player they expected heading into 2019.
Pettis will not only make this team, but he'll have a shot to contribute early. If he performs to expectation, he'll have a shot to deliver 1,000 yards and 6-8 scores as the best receiver on this depth chart.
The best? Yes, let's not forget that Shanahan said that Pettis was capable of becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL if he applied himself, and Shanahan said this at the lowest point of Pettis' 2019 training camp.
Brandon Aiyuk knows how to work and he has promise, but he's not as versatile as Pettis. Deebo Samuel is more athlete than route runner. Kendrick Bourne is an overachiever who can produce but lacks the special playmaking skill after the catch or with the ball in the air that Pettis has.
You'll get Pettis after the 15th round because despite the injuries to Samuel, Hurd, and Aiyuk, everyone has written off Pettis.
Laviska Shenault Jr: Colorado practically wore Shenault's game to a nub because they used him as an H-Back and running back so often. While there's still reason to fear that durability will be an issue, I'm confident that none of Shenault's injuries are more than moderate risks for his long-term play in the NFL.
Because the draft community has a tendency to be myopic about what they literally see rather than understanding how skills can translate from one process to another, Shenault's route running has been massively undervalued.
The Jaguars either understood this about Shenault or they drafted him because of his freakish athletic ability and are only beginning to see how good of a route runner he already is. Expect a lot of successful red zone touches this year for Shenault in addition to big plays in the vertical game.
Parris Campbell: How do you not see Keenan Allen when you look at Campbell's pairing with Philip Rivers? You don't have to literally match Campbell's plusses and minuses with Allen's to understand the basic concept that Campbell will earn lots of slot targets in open space and use his YAC skills.
The fantasy community has completely overlooked Campbell. When rookies like Denzel Mims, Bryan Edwards, and Devin Duvernay are within the same range as Campbell, it's indicative of a mindset that an unproven rookie with current highlights in their minds is more interesting than a second-year player who his more acclimated to the game with equally compelling upside based on past highlights.
LeSean McCoy and DeAndre Washington are going ahead of Campbell in drafts. Wake up people. Who would you rather have, backs who will see time in two-minute drills at best, or a starting slot receiver in a Philip Rivers' led offense?
Just, wow. Can I play in these leagues?
Bryan Edwards: I've talked about him enough. If you can't get Campbell, Edwards is a nice consolation prize.
Quintez Cephus: My favorite underrated draft prospect in this class is having a strong training camp and could earn a routine role as a contributor in the starting lineup. He's physical, quick, a skilled route runner, and terrific at the catch point. If Marvin Jones Jr or Kenny Golladay gets hurt, Cephus can thrive outside. He'll be a perennial top-36 fantasy option by 2022.
Eric Ebron: He has burned fantasy players too often but this is a great situation in Pittsburgh. I expect him to rise to the occasion and earn production on par with his career-best in 2018. The idea that he's not even close to the top 15 tight ends drafted is ludicrous.
Greg Olsen: It's even nuttier that Olsen is barely inside the top 250 drafted fantasy options although if Will Dissly is truly back from injury, the low valuation of Olsen makes more sense. However, Olsen and Wilson already have shown great chemistry in practice and you can bet that Olsen will lead Seahawks tight ends in touchdowns. He'll at least make an excellent by-week option, but I'm expecting starter production.
O.J. Howard: This one is a stunner if you didn't realize that fantasy players clutch box scores like it’s their binky. The Patriots thrived with two tight end sets when they have two capable starting options. Both of those tight ends produced at starter rates when on the field together.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are in Tampa and the team is planning to increase its usage of two tight ends in 2020. Howard is having a strong camp as a receiver. I'm often tempted to wait until the final two rounds on my tight ends this year and take Ebron and Howard just to make a point.
Adam Trautman: While I doubt that we'll see a rookie tight end deliver top-12 fantasy production any time soon, if there's a player capable of doing it this year, it's Trautman. The Saints tight end is having an excellent training camp and he's skilled in the conceptual areas of line calls and assignments that most aren't. He's also an excellent athlete with terrific route skills for his experience level. If Jared Cook gets hurt, Trautman could shock the football world.
Good luck in your drafts and may these picks help shock your league.