Fantasy Football Mailbag: Friday 7/15/16

Golden Tate has a tremendous opportunity with Calvin Johnson retiring. Does that make him a lock to hit value in season-long fantasy football?

Fantasy football research never stops, and offseason news can really complicate things, especially when coaches talk up second- and third-string players. That's why we're starting up a fantasy football mailbag.

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Now, let's answer some questions.

This is a super interesting question mostly because situation is one of the most important parts of the equation when it comes to fantasy football. A player can overcome a lot of warts simply by being in the correct spot, so finding guys who will fall short of expectations is certainly not easy. That said, there are potentially a few reasons to worry about Golden Tate.

There's no denying how great the opportunity is for Tate with Calvin Johnson (hopefully) kicking his feet up on some glorious beach. That's 149 targets up for grabs from last year's team, and given what Tate has done the past few years without Johnson, it's easy to see why he'd garner some fantasy love.

Using the RotoViz game splits app, we can see that Tate averaged 6.8 receptions for 75.8 yards and 1 touchdown per game in five contests in which Johnson received five or fewer targets the past two years. Extrapolate that over the course of an entire season, and you get a dopetastic fantasy asset. The issue there, though, is that this doesn't account for the arrival of Marvin Jones via free agency, and he's a guy who could eat into Tate's market share.

Back in June, numberFire's JJ Zachariason wrote that Jones might be the most undervalued wide receiver in all of fantasy. This was largely predicated on Jones' red-zone prowess and the potential that he -- not Tate -- could end up as the team's top receiver. That'd be huge for Jones, but it would also affect Tate more than it may others.

Among the 48 wide receivers who saw at least 80 targets last year, Tate was 45th in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target, the metric we use to track the efficiency of wide receivers here at numberFire. The only guys worse were Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, and Tavon Austin. Part of that is simply due to the nature of Tate's game in running largely short routes, but it also shows how dependent his game is on volume. If he were to fail to meet his expected volume in the absence of Johnson, it would be hard for him to reach value as a third-round pick in PPR leagues, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.

Finally, the other possible issue here is touchdown potential. Matthew Stafford's efficiency was much higher last year when targeting Johnson than anybody else, and losing his favorite target will have an effect on the offense as a whole. Any third-round pick needs a boatload of scores to hit value, and the Lions may not be able to produce at that level without Megatron.

Again, it's easy to see why Tate's ADP is as high as it is. His situation is nearly perfect with Johnson gone, and that is a significant factor for fantasy. But there are a few warning signs that have me shying away until the price comes down a bit.

If you want to dabble in the "Zero-RB" waters, this isn't a bad year to do so. With wide receivers now going much higher than they have in past drafts, you can get quality running backs later than you could previously. It's tempting to zig when everyone else zags, but there's also increased opportunity cost associated with doing so. That makes a wide-receiver-heavy approach early both more tempting and more viable.

When you're using this type of draft strategy, it's probably best not to have a rigid timeline in your mind of when to transition into targeting running backs. Each draft will fall differently, necessitating changes in your strategy to conform to the specific trends in your league. Based on current running back average draft positions, though, I'd be inclined to hammer away starting around the sixth round.

Because Andrew asked specifically about My Fantasy League best-ball drafts, let's focus on their ADP data. After pick 60, compare the wide receivers there to the running backs in that range. There are reasons to like guys such as Tyler Lockett, Allen Hurns, and Michael Crabtree, but we can all agree that they're not in that top tier of receivers. The running backs going there -- Jay Ajayi, Ryan Mathews, Jeremy Langford, Jeremy Hill, etc -- are all intriguing, for one reason or another. The opportunity cost of going with a running back there (and missing a wide receiver) is much lower than it is earlier in the draft, increasing the incentive to shift gears and plug away.

Around this range is where some of the potential best running-back values of the year sit. Frank Gore performed better than his perception last year and could be the lead-back on a high-powered offense. Ameer Abdullah showed significant improvement the second half of his rookie season, and upgrades on the Lions' offensive line could further that. Shawn Siegele -- the guy who wrote out the best argument in favor of Zero RB -- recently wrote why Melvin Gordon's upside isn't factored into his ADP, and Gordon also wasn't as bad as perception last year. Those are just a few guys you can get right in that same range.

If you're looking for value later, LeGarrette Blount, Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, and Bilal Powell all figure to have stand-alone value this year and could turn into top-tier options should anything happen on the depth chart around them. The takeaway here is that you can afford to wait on running back this year if you so choose. Even though that means you're zigging while the populous is doing the same, that's not as big of a negative as it may seem.

Potentially damning admission: I have never done a draft that includes a board. Is that bad? It seems bad.

That said, the appeal of the concept is pretty overwhelming. Clicking a button next to "Bishop Sankey" in previous years would have been a whole lot easier than the walk of shame involved with picking up his name and sticking it on a board. This type of process could save from some serious stupidity on my end, so it's on tap now for this season. Thank you for opening my eyes to this glaring personal deficiency, Bruno.

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