Fantasy football, like anything in life, is about opportunities. One area that many fantasy football owners don’t take into account when making roster decisions is the path to opportunities (PTO). Whether you are in a Dynasty league, redraft league, PPR scoring, .5 point PPR, or non-PPR, your players only get points when they accumulate statistics. While this is a very simplistic way of looking at things it is the way you have to look at things. We all have a tendency to migrate to the best players on the best teams by thinking that that is where the fantasy points will come from. However, this is not always the case.
OJ Howard vs. David Njoku
Take for example the top two rookie TEs in fantasy football this year, O.J. Howard of the Bucs and David Njoku of the Browns. At this moment, according to MyFantasyLeague, Howard’s average draft position (ADP) is 100 and Njoku is 116. Howard going before Njoku is a big mistake based on PTO. Tampa certainly has a better offense and QB than Cleveland. So why would drafting Howard first be a mistake? In Tampa, Howard is competing with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Charles Sims, Doug Martin and the team’s other TE Cameron Brate for targets. In Cleveland, Njoku is competing with Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson and Isiah Crowell for targets. The point is that in Cleveland Njoku is not competing against another TE like Howard is with Brate. Last year Brate caught 57 passes for 660 yards and 8 TDs which is a solid season, and that was before DeSean Jackson and Godwin arrived along with Howard. This means that Howard is likely to see way less targets in Tampa than Njoku is in Cleveland. The result is that Njoku’s path to opportunity is much clearer than Howard’s.
Here is another example. Last year Kenny Britt was a fantasy afterthought even after his good start for the Rams. While Britt’s track record wasn’t great the real reason is that the Rams offense stunk. The reality was as the team’s #1 WR (I am not counting Tavon Austin as a WR he is more of a hybrid RB/WR) Britt got a lot of opportunity. The result was Britt had more catches than A.J. Green, Jordan Reed, Kelvin Benjamin, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson and Marvis Jones. He had more yards than A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Kelvin Benjamin, Stefon Diggs, Willie Snead, Allen Robinson and Alshon Jeffery. If you had given the majority of fantasy players the choice last season between having Jamison Crowder and Kenny Britt almost all would have taken Crowder. However, Britt had the much easier path to opportunities. In Washington, Crowder was competing with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and their RBs. For the Rams, beyond Britt, the only real receiving threat was Tavon Austin and he was more of a hybrid RB/WR whose 8.8 yards per catch and he only had 6 catches over 20 yards.
It is imperative when you go into your fantasy draft that you take into account the player’s PTO, especially with your early round picks. Evaluate what other players on that team might catch passes or get carries and figure out where the player you are considering fits in the hierarchy. If given the choice I would almost always take a team’s #1 WR over another teams #2 no matter how bad the offense is for team 1.
Undervalued based on PTO
Below are some example of players that I think are undervalued based on their paths to opportunities.
Pierre Garcon, 49ers
This is a classic case of a player on a bad team who is likely to garner a high target share. The other WRs on the team are Jeremy Kerley, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. None of these scare me as guys who are going to challenge Garcon to be the #1 WR. In addition, Garcon has played in Kyle Shanahan’s system before and has a decent QB in Brian Hoyer. Remember Hoyer was the QB in Houston when DeAndre Hopkins had his big 2015.
David Njoku, Browns
I know I touched on this earlier but I really think he is in a position to have a big rookie year. The team cut their #1 TE from last year, Gary Barnidge, who had 55 catches for over 600 yards last year. If Njoku can come in and replicate those numbers that would be a very good rookie year for a TE.
Chris Conley, Chiefs
With Jeremy Maclin gone the targets have to go somewhere. One would have to think that teams would key in on Travis Kelce making Conley’s ability to be a good possession WR even more valuable. Conley isn’t a game breaker but he could very well be a 70-catch player this season.
Ben Watson, Ravens
Last season Dennis Pitta caught 86 balls as the #1 TE in Baltimore. Joe Flacco loves throwing the ball to his TEs and RBs, and with Pitta no longer in the picture Watson should be in line to get most of the 119 targets Pitta got last season.
Overvalued based on PTO
Below are some players who I would avoid in drafts based on their ADP because of a muddled path to opportunity.
Martvais Bryant, Steelers
This is not even taking into consideration his off the field problems. Bryant has a very low ceiling because of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Those two players are going to get the vast majority of the targets no matter how good Bryant is. In addition, Bryant will be competing with Eli Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey for the targets that don’t go to Brown and Bell. Combine that with an ADP of 62 and I am staying away.
Brandin Cooks, Patriots
I think Cooks is going to have a good year, but the competition for targets in New England is fierce. Along with Cooks, the Patriots have Julian Edelman, James White, Chris Hogan, Malcom Mitchell and Rob Gronkowski amongst others. Cooks is going to get his targets and receptions but an ADP of 31 seems a bit high especially considering some of the guys being picked after him like Doug Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery have much clearer paths to opportunity.
Corey Davis, Titans
I have no doubt that Davis is going to be a really good NFL WR, but I don’t see any way he lives up to his ADP of 61. Davis, as a rookie, will be competing with Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas and Eric Decker for targets. This is not even taking into consideration that the Titans are really a run first team with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. I don’t see how Davis outperforms some of the guys being drafted after him like Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, Jamison Crowder, Willie Snead and Julian Edelman.
One of the most important things for a fantasy team is weekly consistency. Building a consistent team starts with rostering guys who get consistent opportunities. As you go to build your team you need to take this into consideration and realistically evaluate guys based on how much opportunity they are going to get. If you can do this successfully you will have a step up on your competition and will see much better results.