If you’re in a keeper league, you realize the value of identifying undervalued players as quickly as possible. It’s easier to acquire these hidden gems if you’re the only one in your league with the inside track on their 2016 performance. Even if you’re not in a keeper league, getting the biggest return on your draft picks usually involves snagging a good player late in the draft – allowing you to use your earlier picks to select known producers.
I took a few minutes to see if my supercomputer, Mighty Max, could be tweaked to unearth some of those hidden gems. As is usually the case, the results were eye opening and provided some excellent insight.
I decided to use the following criteria for my search parameters:
- A three-year view of the stats (for stability)
- Players whose performance had improved each year (for quality)
- Fantasy scores which exceeded the positional average in 2015 (for significance)
Mighty Max was able to highlight several players likely to continue their upward trends. A few may be familiar, others not; according to Max, all of them will likely improve their performances in 2016.
As with all statistical analysis applied to human actions, it is not enough to just look at the numbers. You need to have an understanding of the situation of each player.
All the linemen listed above are solid, and some are already going high amongst fantasy defensive linemen (Ezekiel Ansah and Fletcher Cox). But the guy I like is Kawann Short, who really outperformed expectations in 2015. Short, despite lining up inside, exploded for 11 sacks while also notching 55 tackles. Throw in the fact that Short is in a contract year (Short and the Carolina Panthers could not agree on an extension) and it seems like an even bigger season is in store for Short in 2016.
Of the three linebackers listed, D’Qwell Jackson is the one least likely to improve, given his age (32). Brian Cushing is a tackling machine ..,. if he can manage to stay healthy again in 2016. When Cushing plays a full season, he’s a lock to record 100-plus tackles. I really like K.J. Wright; he’s a linebacker who is good in coverage and solid against the run, which means he’s on the field all the time. Does he have too much competition for fantasy points on a defense full of stellar players?
- With defensive backs, my first rule of thumb is to ignore the guys whose production was mainly tied to interceptions. Why? Because you can’t count on them grabbing interceptions year in, year out.
- My second rule of thumb is to prefer safeties to corners (with rare exception). Safeties tend to make their money by making tackles, not interceptions; interceptions are gravy for them.
All things being considered, I’d take a look at Corey Graham and Malcolm Jenkins. Savvy readers will remember Graham as a recommendation in this column last season, and he certainly came through! Why get off the Graham bandwagon while the guy is still on the ascent? Jenkins seems to have been around forever, but he’s still only 28 years old; even better, he really responded well to Philadelphia’s defensive scheme last season, effectively being the most productive fantasy safety on the strength of 110 tackles and a defensive touchdown. Will he surpass his totals? Maybe, but he should shine bright again in 2016 for Philadelphia.