Every year, players either surpass, meet or fall short of expectations, both on the football field and in the fantasy realm. For fantasy purposes, drafting the players who meet or exceed expectations is absolutely crucial. Once the first couple of rounds have passed, you’re looking for consistency: the guys who may not be the top option on their offense but can be contributors most weeks. Even if you hit big on your top picks, it’s tough to have a successful team without getting good value here. In order to make sure you do this, we’ll be rolling out one overrated player, one underrated player and one safe bet for every ten picks, based on our player rankings. This is part two in our series as we now tackle players ranked in the 21-40 range.
Overrated: Lamar Miller (No. 22 overall, No. 13 running back)
If you were like me last year, you were expecting a really good fantasy year from Miller after two straight good years in Miami. Instead, what you got was a player who finished 17th among running backs in points per game and 18th in total points. Miller didn’t have a bad year per se, but his massive workload — his 307 total touches were over 50 more than he had ever had in a season before — took its toll. His season was cut short two games due to injury, and from Week 8 to Week 14, he averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per rush. Additionally, Miller was very inefficient in the red zone, averaging fewer than two yards per carry per Pro Football Focus. Thus, the team added bruiser D’Onta Foreman in the third round. Miller, who only received about half of the team’s red-zone carries last year, could have even fewer short-range opportunities in 2017.
Underrated: Isaiah Crowell (No. 21 overall, No. 11 running back)
There’s naturally some hesitation when drafting any Browns player high — and Cleveland has given you good reason for said hesitation. Heck, you might be so against drafting players on bad teams that you take all Browns players off your draft board entirely. I’m here to tell you not to do that with Crowell. The Browns’ top back is in line for a bigger workload this year with Duke Johnson set to play some slot wide receiver. But opportunity isn’t the only reason Crowell will have a big year. The Browns added Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to an already-solid offensive line. Crowell is both a big play threat — his 13 runs of 15-plus yards was seventh among running backs — and a goal-line hog. Only nine running backs had a higher percentage of their team’s red-zone carries last year. He did this in spite the Browns being 31st in rushes per game last year. The team should be more competitive and balanced this year, thus giving Crowell even more opportunities.
Safest bet: Demaryius Thomas (No. 27 overall, No. 13 wide receiver)
In the history of football, only three players have had five consecutive seasons of at least 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards, and Thomas (2012-2016) is one of them. The other two are Marvin Harrison (1999-2003) and Torry Holt (2002-2007). That’s some very impressive company for one of the most quietly consistent players in the NFL. During his streak, Thomas has never been outside the top 13 in targets, and only once has he been outside the top dozen in red-zone targets (2013). Even with uncertainty at quarterback the past two seasons, Thomas has produced at a high level. There’s no reason to expect a decline this year.
Overrated: Joe Mixon (No. 32 overall, No. 16 running back)
Mixon has all the skills a pro running back requires, and he could well be the starter in Cincinnati sooner rather than later. But when you’re drafting a guy in the third round, you’re looking for an immediate impact player. Even if Mixon does become the starter before the season begins, he’ll face plenty of competition for third-down snaps (from Gio Bernard) and red-zone snaps (from Jeremy Hill). If Hill vultures away a significant amount of touchdowns — he has 25 red zone rushing scores over the past three seasons — Mixon loses some of his fantasy luster.
Underrated: Ty Montgomery (No. 38 overall, No. 17 running back)
The talented Brad Evans will tell you all the reasons why Montgomery is underrated. But this is the short version: He finished the season averaging 6.7 yards per touch, sixth among backs who qualified. He finished second in breakaway run rate and third in juke rate, per Player Profiler. He finished first in yards after contact per touch. He also had 44 catches for 348 yards, one of only 13 backs to hit those totals. Oh yeah, and did we mention that all this came in his first year as a running back, and that he only started six games? Expect bigger and brighter things for Montgomery in 2017.
Safest bet: Drew Brees (No. 36 overall, No. 3 quarterback)
The first non-running back/wide receiver to hit this poll is Brees, who has been a model of consistent fantasy excellence ever since he arrived in New Orleans. Last year, he led the league in completions, attempts and touchdowns, and even with the arrival of Adrian Peterson, the Saints are going to let Brees air it out again. Simple quantity helps, but so, too does quality. In 2016 Brees was tops in the NFL in deep ball completion percentage and second in red zone completion percentage per Player Profiler. He gets it done all over the field, every week.