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Reach for the Studs
Paul Sandy
August 27, 2010
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In 2009, I wrote a feature on The Huddle profiling five players I was willing to reach for on draft day. The idea was there were a handful of players that I felt had stud potential and I wasn’t willing to tempt fate by waiting around to get them. Three of the five players identified in the article were Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Thomas. Austin and Jackson were money and Thomas held his own at times. I’ve had several requests to put together a 2010 version of the article, so let’s see if I can deliver a repeat performance.

You should know The Huddle offers an Average Draft worksheet that outlines where players are generally being taken in fantasy drafts. It’s a must-have reference to take with you on draft day. But before you get too carried away and treat ADP as the judge, jury and executioner for your draft strategy, recognize that there are occasions in which it makes sense to reach for a player—to throw the ADP out the window and take a player significantly earlier than he’s going in most drafts.  Here are two criteria for when it’s okay to reach:

  1. Conviction -- By the time my drafts roll around, there are usually a handful of players who I covet. These are players who with every fiber of my being I believe will perform like fantasy studs. When you have this level conviction for a player, by all means identify the earliest spot in the draft in which you feel good about taking the player and take him.
  1. Position – Before making a reach, you’ll want to figure out what the odds are of the player falling to your next pick. For example, let’s say you’re drafting 12th overall in a 12-team league with a snake draft. You absolutely covet Calvin Johnson and are convinced he’s going to be a top 3 WR this season. Guess what? It’s okay to reach for him and take him with your first or second round pick. Odds are he won’t fall to you at the end of the third round. If you want him on your team, you’re going to have to reach for him. 

The bottom line is it’s your team. Build it the way you want to build it and don’t second-guess yourself even if you get heckled. Here are six players I’m willing to reach for in my drafts this year:

Ryan Matthews, RB, Chargers
Average: Round 3
Reach: Round 2
Matthews is the class of the rookie class. We haven’t seen him on the field for a regular season game, but the Chargers will give him 250+ touches this year. Although I’m leery that he’ll give up some third down work to Darren Sproles and a bunch of goal line carries to Mike Tolbert (a favorite late-round sleeper of mine), Matthews’ upside is too great to pass up. The scouting report says he has a terrific combination of speed and elusiveness with the gumption to move the pile when needed. But let’s put the talent aspect aside and talk about that gorgeous, gorgeous schedule. The Chargers open up the season with the Chiefs followed by the Jaguars, Cardinals, Raiders and Rams. Even if Matthews proves to be an average NFL RB in the long term, he should fare well against those opponents. Matthews will be a top RB over the first half of the season. Bank on it.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
Average: Round 5
Reach: Round 4
Last year, I was on the Mario Manningham bandwagon before the season started. The Manningham call worked out well but this year I’m changing my allegiances to second-year wideout Hakeem Nicks. Nicks will lockup the starting job opposite Steve Smith and is poised to make a statistical jump. While Smith is still the guy to own in PPR leagues, Nicks is Eli Manning’s best big play receiver. Look for Nicks to end the year with Plaxico Burress-esqe stats—modest yardage but with double digit TDs (say 1,000/10). I won’t hesitate to grab him before the likes of Chad Ochocinco or Mike Sims-Walker.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans
Average: Round 6-7
Reach: Round 4-5
The secret is out on Foster. This was a guy who a month and a half ago seemed destined to reside on several of my fantasy squads. Getting him now will either require a reach or a bit of luck. I’m not willing to gamble so I’ll snag him a round or a round and a half early. Foster is a legitimate threat to become a top 10 fantasy RB. He has pretty much cemented the lucrative starting job in Houston over 2008 phenom Steve Slaton. Foster closed out last year by posting 242 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in two starts. I’ll gladly pull the trigger on him before guys like Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy regardless of the scoring system.

Johnny Knox, WR, Bears
Average: Round 8
Reach: Round 7
Throughout his career as an offensive coordinator, Mike Martz has helped ordinary wide receivers put up extraordinary fantasy stats. The list includes the likes of Az-Zahir Hakim, Mike Furrey, Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald, and a well-past-his-prime Issac Bruce (in San Francisco). It’s almost a given that one of the wideouts in Chicago is going to step up for fantasy owners and become and high-end WR2 or low-end WR1. But which one? My money is on second-year wideout Johnny Knox, who’s already shown elite speed comparable to that of a young Torry Holt. Will Knox succeed to the degree Holt did? That’s doubtful but Martz will no doubt test defenses down the field. I like Knox to develop into Jay Cutler’s most reliable target with Devin Hester and Devin Armoadashu providing the occasional big game.

Zach Miller, TE, Raiders
Average: Round 9
Reach: Round 8
When I started drilling into the stats this summer, I was surprised to see that Jason Campbell threw for 20 TDs in 2009. I dug a little deeper and was even more amazed to learn that 11 of those 20 TDs landed in the hands of TEs. Campbell’s tendency to target the tight end position points to a potential breakout year for Zach Miller. Miller has always flirted with fantasy relevance—even with the inept JaMarcus Russell under center. In fact, Miller has led the Raiders in receiving for two straight years. I like his chances of keeping pace with the likes of big name TEs like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez, both of whom will be taken in Rounds 5-6. To make sure I secure Miller’s services, I’ll make a modest reach for him and call his name out in Round 8.

Legedu Naanee, WR, Chargers
Average: Round 17
Reach: Round 11
I profiled Naanee in my Late Round Legends feature but his name is worth repeating. There are a few things I believe about the Chargers at this point. First, I believe there’s a good chance Vincent Jackson has played his last game for San Diego. Second, I believe Antonio Gates has lost a step and is past his prime. Third, I believe Malcom Floyd is going to disappoint as a lead receiver because he drops too many passes and will struggle against elite cornerbacks. If I’m right on any two of these predictions, Naanee will be an absolute steal in drafts. And if I’m right on all three? Well, Naanee might just end up being this year’s Miles Austin. I have no reservations about making him my fourth or fifth WR—and will strongly consider starting him in Week 1 against the Chiefs.

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