Fantasy Football is all about identifying values and assessing the situation. We then measure them by trying to project their usage and team outlooks. We like Jonathan Taylor because he is an outstanding player with previous success, runs behind one of the best offensive lines in football, and has an improved quarterback. He is a clear value in an extraordinary situation, and we also have previous success in a very similar situation. In this article, I examine what I call fantasy football arbitrage.
We find many Teflon type players in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. They will receive a high amount of usage and often in advantageous situations. They are easy players to identify, so they are priced where they are.
But what if we could find similar values and situations at a discounted ADP price? Taking players who perform like their counterparts going a round or more earlier can help fantasy gamers win leagues and crush their opposition.
Last season, a perfect example of this was Mark Andrews. Andrews finished as the TE1 overall. He was rostered by a high percentage of fantasy football league winners from home leagues all the way to the highest levels of high stakes fantasy football. Andrews was drafted multiple rounds behind Darren Waller and George Kittle and a round later than T.J. Hockenson and Kyle Pitts. He was projected to be the top receiving option for his team’s offense and had previous fantasy success, but he was still selected significantly later than these other players.
Fantasy gamers would have immediately reaped the benefits by simply choosing Andrews over any of these players and been in a much better position to win their leagues. In poker terms, the discounted situation ended up being the “nuts” for drafters. If you like movie analogies, this was like Captain America being able to pick up Mjolinir. For the older crowd, this was like Dalton breaking out the throat rip in Road House. IYKYK.
The discounted option does not always pay off, but when it does, it can result in league winning production.
This article will be a mental exercise in assessing values and being able to spot potentially mispriced players that can be an integral part of fantasy team builds. Essentially, we will identify a player we like and look down the board to spot a potential arbitrage situation where we can get the same (well sort of the same) player at a discount.
Frequently the discount is there for a reason. The player could be going later for several reasons. It could be the player has more question marks than answers, is coming off of an injury, has less sample size, is playing for a new team, or any number of variables. Often these factors can be overblown or even misidentified. Attempting arbitrage is not a perfect exercise- fantasy football is an inexact science. We become better players and drafters when we analyze positions as a whole and not just “target our guys.”
(Using ADP from FFWC Player Profiler Championship $350 Contests)
Player we are drafting early: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 99 Overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams No. 125 Overall
Last season’s Super Bowl quarterbacks both led offenses with strong receivers and the threat of a running game. The market is clearly much much higher on Burrow. If I had to pick one, I would take Burrow. He is younger, has two returning Alpha wide receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, and his best years are presumably ahead. But what if we saw what the Burrow peak looks like fantasy wise? Last season Stafford was more productive finishing as QB5 to Burrow’s QB8. Passing on Burrow at his ADP range in The FFWC opens you up to high upside players like Garrett Wilson and James Cook or top tight ends like Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz.
Passing on Burrow for a less exciting older option at QB could be the optimal play. It makes you question whether or not Burrow will pay off at a premium quarterback ADP. Also, those looking for stacking/correlation will find it is easier to do with Kupp or Robinson than it is with Chase or Higgins.
Player we are drafting early: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers No. 3 Overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers No. 20 Overall
Christian McCaffrey is one of fantasy football’s greatest weapons. When healthy, he is one of the few players who can AVERAGE 30 fantasy points per game. In 2019, he accomplished the rare feat of gaining 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. Fantasy gamers are back to enthusiastically selecting him as he is a lock in the top four of every draft. But can we arbitrage this sort of potential value? Enter Aaron Jones.
The Green Bay Packers lost Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. A whopping 224 catches accounting for 1,983 yards receiving has disappeared from the Packers’ offense. Adams alone accounted for a 28.5-percent target share. The replacement wideouts are less than encouraging to say the least. Unless fantasy gamers believe we will see Allen Lazard as a potential high-end WR2, Christian Watson as an instant impact rookie, or a player like Amari Rodgers suddenly commanding a high target share, then the offense is going to change, and it could change dramatically.
Jones is suddenly the clear top receiving target in Green Bay. The coaching staff also has the flexibility to use him in a prominent receiving role due to the presence of A.J. Dillon. We do not have to worry about Jones being ground down. The splits for Jones in games without Adams in an Aaron Rodgers led offense are incredible. In seven games, between 2019-2021, Jones had 45 targets which accounted for 36 receptions, 388 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. Jones has never had more than 68 targets which is a mark he has a chance to shatter this season.
Jones will turn 28 this season, but he has less than 1,000 career carries (822). 30 fantasy points per game is out of his range of outcomes, but 20 is doable if it all falls right.
Player we are drafting early: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals No. 14 Overall
Potential Arbirage Pivot: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals No. 38 Overall
Am I picking on Cincinnati Bengals? I am not trying to, but the discount options are right there. Like Burrow, Joe Mixon is an intriguing piece of the Bengals attack. He is a dynamic player with two-way ability and undeniable talent. But at his range of ADP you are passing up an opportunity to draft the potential No. 1 overall tight end in Travis Kelce, CeeDee Lamb, and running backs with undeniable receiving upside in Jones, D’Andre Swift, and Saquon Barkley.
24 picks down in the “dead zone” you can find Conner. Much like Mixon (13 TDs rushing, 3 receiving), Conner ate and ate touchdowns with 18 combined scores (15 on the ground, 3 receiving). Receiving wise, Mixon outgained Conner in terms of yardage, but Conner had 42 receptions to Mixon’s 37. Depth wise, there is a clear advantage to Conner. Samaje Perine and Chris Evans return as backups in Cincinnati while Arizona is still sorting out Eno Benjamin vs Darrel Williams vs Keaontay Ingram.
Are we more excited about the Bengals’ offensive attack? Yes, we are without a doubt and Mixon was the stronger and more efficient runner last season crushing Conner in yardage and YPC. However, the difference is potentially not 24 spots worth of ADP. Even if you believe Mixon has a 60-40 chance to outscore Conner, the difference could be negligible. This is precisely the discount we should aim for with this draft mentality.
Player we are drafting early: D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions No. 14 overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars No. 33 overall
You will never find Swift slander from me. I want to keep this short and sweet. The answer for this one is probably “draft both.” Swift has been one of my favorite players in the top 15 picks of drafts this offseason, but a potential pivot is there two rounds later. This is not a good one for the “need to see it first crowd,” but Travis Etienne has a shot at a smash season.
We have a new coaching staff and every offseason addition has been to add speed (Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram). Underneath routes for Etienne will be readily available from his college teammate Trevor Lawrence. The shower narrative is powerful here. These two linked up for 102 receptions and over 1,100 yards at Clemson.
Swift certainly has the leg up to outrush Etienne, and I am more confident in the Lions offense this season. However, if James Robinson is slow with his return, or the new coaching staff phases him out more for Etienne, there is a chance the scoring here could be closer than a 19 spot difference in ADP.
My advice is to draft both…..I am all in on Swift this year.
Player we are drafting early: Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys No. 84 Overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears No. 141 Overall
This one may get some eye rolls. Dalton Schultz was one of the waiver wire pickups of the year last season. Undrafted in most leagues, Schultz finished at TE4 overall. He was a security blanket for Dak Prescott all season long finishing with 78 receptions on 104 targets and adding eight touchdown catches. Last season’s performance has propelled his ADP to a level where he may be getting drafted at his peak. Even in a wide receiver centric format like the FFWC, Schultz goes right around Chris Olave, Treylon Burks and Kadarius Toney. In TE premium High Stakes formats, Schultz has gone as high as the mid-4th round.
The loss of Amari Cooper and the health issues of Michael Gallup seemingly create additional targets for Schultz. But is this a bet we are willing to make? I am not so sure that he sees additional workload and touchdown regression is possible. We also know he will not be the No. 1 target in the offense with Lamb’s role expected to grow.
A potential high-volume pivot play at tight end can be found 57 spots later in Cole Kmet. Unlike Schultz, Kmet struggled in the touchdown department with a shocking 0 touchdowns despite 93 targets. The passing volume in Chicago should not be as high as in Dallas, and there are concerns about the pace of play. However, there is a good chance that Kmet out targets Schultz, and we could easily see Kmet catch 70 balls or more.
Kmet is drafted at a spot where he can be combined with another tight end option like Irv Smith, Noah Fant or Evan Engram without having to use precious early draft capital.
Player we are drafting early: Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills No. 120
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Albert Okuegbunam, Denver Broncos No. 153
Dawson Knox smashed his ADP last season. In most leagues, he went undrafted, but he finished as TE11 (TE9 in fantasy points per game). If fantasy gamers take a closer look at the stats, one thing stands out: nine touchdowns on only 71 targets. This could happen again, but it’s unwise to bet on it. The Bills also added O.J. Howard who looks like dust, but his presence could hurt Knox’s chances at increased targets.
Why draft Knox when we can draft this year’s Knox 33 spots down the board? Albert Okwuegbunam’s ADP has become exceedingly more affordable since the NFL Draft. The Broncos have a logjam at wide receiver, two pass-catching running backs, and drafted a strong tight end prospect in Greg Dulcich. The market is fearful of a lack of opportunities for Okuegbunam. However, fear is a great way to capitalize in fantasy football.
Okuegbunam is a metrics and profile monster. He posted impressively high marks in targets per route run (24-percent). He is a freak athletically at 6-6 258-pounds with an insane 4.49 40 yard dash time. His situation reminds me of Julius Thomas during the Denver Peyton Manning years. Despite a highly talented wide receiver corps, Thomas had back-to-back 12 touchdown seasons. Take the ADP discount if you are chasing touchdowns at the tight end position.
Player we are drafting early: Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns No. 50 Overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Adam Thielen, Minnesota No. 65 Overall
Amari Cooper has slid down in ADP with the Deshaun Watson situation somewhere between “up in the air,” and “Defcon 5.” But has he slid enough? Last season he showed some regression with his yardage totals and catches decreasing. He did score eight touchdowns to save his season fantasy wise, but he certainly did not return value. We also have to factor in that he had such an incredible opening game against Tampa Bay: 17 targets for 13 catches, 139 yards and two touchdowns. This single game accounted for 16-percent of his yardage for the entire season and 25-percent of his touchdowns. Cooper had very few impactful games the rest of the way.
The market (traded for a 5th and 6th rounder) reflected not only his 20 million dollar salary, but also the questions around his poor effort in the playoff loss to San Francisco that ended the Cowboys season. Signs of regression, a new team and bigtime QB question marks, and Amari Cooper is still being drafted at the end of the 5th round. He is being drafted around players like Jerry Jeudy, George Kittle, and Rashod Bateman. This seems like a tough bet to make on a 28-year-oldd wide receiver.
Fifteen spots later, we find another veteran WR in Adam Thielen. Despite playing only 13 games to Cooper’s 15, Thielen had only one fewer catch and caught two more touchdowns. Unlike Cleveland, the Vikings offense is one we are very excited about. New head coach Kevin O’Connell brings a pass happy attack over from his days under Sean McVay and The Los Angeles Rams. Thielen should be one of the beneficiaries. With alpha WR Justin Jefferson demanding defensive attention, Thielen should have advantageous matchups. Thielen also has the familiarity and comfort of playing with QB Kirk Cousins, and we have seen this on display in the red zone frequently over their time together in Minnesota.
Player we are drafting early: Drake London, Atlanta Falcons No. 72 Overall
Potential Arbitrage Pivot: Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints No. 83 Overall
Drake London is confidently being drafted at the six/seven turn. The eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, London, has undeniable upside and compares favorably to a player like Mike Evans. London has size, athleticism, and plays with some dog in him with a physical style that projects into a red zone monster. Despite the presence of Kyle Pitts, drafters have identified London as the rookie WR to target in drafts. He looks like the best bet to lead Atlanta WRs in all offensive categories.
But if we are looking for a rookie with upside, 11 spots later we find Chris Olave. Olave is in a better offense and also has better QB play with Jameis Winston than London does with Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder. Olave possess electric speed and precise route running that should mesh well with Winston. Michael Thomas‘ return date is unknown, and Jarvis Landry is also new to the Saints. Despite the presence of two other potential WR targets, Olave has a real shot at being the most productive Saints WR this season and no alpha TE like Kyle Pitts to compete with.
Alvin Kamara‘s potential suspension could make the Saints offense wide receiver centric. Olave has a shot at smashing his ADP. If you are aiming for a rookie WR with upside, consider waiting an extra round and taking Olave.