Using Team Projections To Make Sure The Best Ball Streets Aren't Crazy

Jun 18th 2024

Hayden Winks

In most instances, the Underdog Fantasy average draft position (ADP) is pretty good, but with more strategy-based decisions gaining popularity, we are deviating from team and player projections more than ever. That's not a bad thing when done properly!!! It's just not the only thing that matters. Today, we go back in time to look at what draft picks were based on before Week 17 correlation, roster construction, and elite TE semantics were a thing: Season-long projections.

This chart is simple. How many points each team is projected to score in 2024 based on the betting markets (x-axis) and how many projected plays each team will have in 2024 based on ESPN's Mike Clay's analysis (y-axis). The teams in the upper right are the most fantasy friendly, followed by teams in the bottom right, and finally the teams on the upper left and bottom right. It's best to not deviate too much from these projections, but we can find a couple teams we're more bullish on and use that prediction for building fantasy football teams. The underrated teams for me are the:

  • Chiefs: Two upgrades at outside receiver allows Patrick Mahomes to complete more downfield passes, leading to a faster pace and more scoring in general. Their defense could take a slight step back without outside CB1 L'Jarius Sneed, too. I'd project them for similar points to the 49ers but with more play volume.

  • Seahawks: New coaching staff philosophy will help both sides of the ball. OC Ryan Grubb was extremely pass-heavy, particularly using motion and bunched sets to dial up downfield passes. And HC Mike MacDonald comes from analytics-based Baltimore and could oversee a more modern approach in general. Geno Smith is the most underrated passer in the NFL, especially with this 3-WR set. They had the fewest plays in the NFL last year. No way that repeats.

  • Vikings: The coaching staff, offensive line, and weaponry are nice. The QB play is to be determined. I'll take the optimistic angle with either option. Sam Darnold was more effective in Carolina than with the disastrous Jets, held a clipboard in a very similar offense in San Francisco last year, and remains only 27 years old. This is by far his best chance at success. If he can't make it work, JJ McCarthy has a chance to. He's underrated as an athlete, limits mistakes, and hyper efficient in play action. That's a nice pairing with HC Kevin O'Connell.

  • Titans: The new coaching staff couldn't be more of a 180-degree change from the Vrabel era (which was good!). I'm expecting a far faster pace because of how much more throwing they'll do. I'm not expecting Will Levis to turn into anything special, but he will throw deeper than anyone and just needs positive variance on some of these outside shots to go his way for the Titans to dig out of this "Yikes" tier. Fixing the offensive line with stud 1st-rounder JC Latham and elite OL coach Bill Callahan is the key. Their in good hands.

  • Giants: Last year's injury-filled season overshadows what happened in New York in 2022. Brian Daboll can coach when he has some level of talent around him, something Daniel Jones hasn't had much of throughout his career. His ACL rehab sounds like it's going fairly well, and I couldn't have a higher opinion of WR Malik Nabers, who isn't just good but also could elevate a bad team immediately because of how friendly he is in the manufactured-play role. Even Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, and Wan'Dale Robinson are better depth than Jones has had. Hopefully the OL can play healthier. If so, I see the Giants similarly to the Saints, Commanders, and Buccaneers tier.

  • Broncos: Bo Nix is underrated. I wrote about him at length here.

The teams I'm more bearish on:

  • Dolphins: It was maybe my favorite offense to watch last year because everything felt so unique and fresh. That helped them destroy teams early in the year, but they tanked later on. Some blame the weather. I'll partially attribute that to defenses catching on. Can the Dolphins find another way to tinker the offense? I'm not putting it past Mike McDaniel, but it's a tough task with the OL turning over this offseason. In general, Miami feels a bit top heavy and prone to injury downside risk.

  • Falcons: Kirk Cousins didn't have much athleticism and arm strength to lose, so I'm worried about his quick return from a torn achilles this offseason, especially in a new building with a relatively inexperienced play-caller. The Falcons will be far more pass heavy than they were in previous years and they have the upside in their skill group to take a massive leap, but the market does seem to gloss over that their starting QB is coming off a major surgery. Few QBs use their lower half and core to fire in passes more than Cousins. You rarely see him side arm passes.

Yes, the text is small but you don't get to plot 150 datapoints and have everything be big. I promise you can read it still, especially because the point of this chart is the color-coded nature of things. It's best read from left to right, only looking at one color at a time. That will showcase which teams have too many or too few highly-drafted players compared to how many points the offense is expected to score in 2024. Here are some takeaways:

  • The Cowboys' Depth Is Free: The other projected top-12 scoring offenses have their 2nd-projected player at 33rd overall on average, their 3rd projected player at 46th overall, and 4th projected player at 75th overall. That's not anywhere near where Jake Ferguson (86th), Dak Prescott (93rd), and Brandin Cooks (124th) are being drafted. The gap just doesn't make sense, especially when factoring in the contingent upside if CeeDee Lamb were to unexpectedly miss time.

  • The Packers' Top Player Is Cheap: Green Bay is projected for the 10th-most points this season, yet their highest-drafted player is Josh Jacobs at 50th overall. If we take every team's earliest-drafted player in ADP, then sort them, the Packers would be 26th in the NFL, only ahead of the Commanders, Titans, Chargers, Panthers, Patriots, and Broncos. The Packers rotate their young core more than just about anyone, but there is upside if playing time turns more favorable than expected. I'm talking about Jacobs in particular.

  • The Texans' WR Trio Is (Very) Expensive: CJ Stroud will have to play like an MVP for these price tags to be worthwhile. It's possible, just a little unlikely. They currently have the 14th-most expensive WR1, 4th-most expensive WR2, and most-expensive WR3 in ADP. They are all good players, but targets may get a bit too divvied up to justify 3 top-36 overall draft picks. If forced to fade one, it'd be Stefon Diggs as he transitions towards the slot while exits his NFL prime.

  • The Browns Are Free: The entire Deshaun Watson road has been ugly and may continue to be a massive stain on the Browns' organization for years to come. Coach Kevin Stefanski is a good play-caller at least, and he's flipped the script on us recently. The Browns led the NFL in neutral pass rate from Week 8 on after Nick Chubb's injury last year, and their 2024 offseason moves suggest a pass-heavy approach will continue. Amari Cooper goes far later than other WR1s projected for similar amount of team points, and Cooper's competition for targets is far less than the others in his tier. Just look at the drop in ADP behind Cooper on the "CLE" column. He was a monster last year in unideal circumstances. If things magically get better, he has underrated upside.

  • The Chargers Are Free: The counter-argument against the Chargers can no longer be OC Greg Roman and HC Jim Harbaugh want to run the ball. It's fully priced in. The Chargers rank 29th in earliest ADP for their top-ranked player, but it's even funnier split out by position. They're 30th in earliest-drafted RB, 28th in earliest-drafted WR, and 32nd in earliest-drafted TE. Have people forgotten this is a Justin Herbert team? What if Roman's offense were super run heavy because all of his QBs were dual threat types? If so, this is a total smash offense at cost. I like Ladd McConkey, Josh Palmer, Gus Edwards, and Kimani Vidal in particular.

  • Jordan Addison Makes Me Nervous: If we take the bottom-16 teams in projected points and average where their WR2s are going, the number is 127th overall. Addison (very obviously well behind Justin Jefferson in targets and potentially T.J. Hockenson eventually) is being drafted 68th overall. There are regression reasons to fade Addison on top of this.

These are team RB1s based on Underdog Fantasy ADP, and that grey trend line is based on how many points each RB's team is projected to score per game in 2024. The RBs don't always have to be in a perfect line because some will have bigger workloads or half PPR scam their ways into fantasy points with receptions, but it is a solid way at looking for underrated upside (or a canary in the coal mine floor). These are the RBs that stand out to me:

  • Isiah Pacheco: The Chiefs are 3rd in projected points, and we just watched Pacheco enter into a mini bellcow profile during their Super Bowl run late last year. A difference in his role was the absence of pass-catcher Jerick McKinnon, who arguably wasn't filled in for this offseason. It's also worth pointing out that Pacheco has improved since he's entered the NFL on tape too. He's still chaos, but Andy Reid has reigned him in a bit.

  • Zack Moss: The Bengals are 7th in projected points, and Moss is heavily-favored to be the goal line back over inexperienced speed back Chase Brown. Moss was effective in a similar scheme last year and was signed to be the lead back in 2024. He's a one-year wonder, but the upside in this offense is evident. Just look at what Joe Mixon has done in recent years.

  • Ezekiel Elliott: The Cowboys are 1st in projected plays per game and 8th in projected points. Whoever wins the lead back role, even in a likely committee, is being underpriced. Right now, that's Zeke. You know if Jerry was deciding, it'd be 10-14 TDs for his big boy back. It's one of the best bits in the NFL. I'm in.

  • Jonathon Taylor: His snap share could be so large that his doesn't matter, but the threat of Anthony Richardson at the goal line paired with the Colts' middling 24 points per game projection has me a bit nervous at cost (RB5). There are some WR1/2s available at his ADP, so my draft path has typically been saving my RB selections for Round 3-5 where Pacheco, Josh Jacobs, and Joe Mixon are available in slightly better offenses with solidified goal line roles.

  • Most of the RBs from 60th to 110th overall: These guys are cheap, but are they good? These are projected volume backs who play on bottom-half offenses. They can get you some fantasy points. I just don't see much upside with this entire tier, which seems to be a target for many drafters after overloading on WR early on. I'll take this 2 vs. 2: Isiah Pacheco and Courtland Sutton over Terry McLaurin and D'Andre Swift or Zamir White.

The RBs at the very top right corner are looking pretty, pretty good. I'm trying to save one roster spot per draft on Eli Mitchell or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, knowing Braelon Allen, Tank Bigsby, and Dameon Pierce are also attached to solid offenses with the size to handle 15-20 touches if called upon.

Where I'm nervous to dip my toe in is the Ty Chandler, Antonio Gibson, Jaleel McLaughlin, and Bucky Irving tier of team RB2s. They have less value in half PPR and may not profile as a true lead back even if their starter went down with an injury. Even if they do get more playing time, they play on teams projected for bottom-10 points this year. If their were two exceptions to this tier, they'd be Tyrone Tracy (Giants) and Kimani Vidal (Chargers) because they have higher odds of supplanting their starter and come a couple rounds after the fade list from above.

There are a lot of players to hit on here, so let me bucket them into three groups:

  • Early Picks On Bad Teams: Marvin Harrison Jr, Chris Olave, Davante Adams, and Malik Nabers are all gone in Rounds 2-3 on Underdog Fantasy, yet they play on bottom-12 offenses in projected points. They won't be total busts because they are all studs on tape, but if they aren't Super Star talents in 2024 for whatever reason, they could be pretty frustrating for how early they are drafted. Just ask Olave, who was WR9 in my man coverage composite score last year and finished outside the top-50 players in fantasy points over replacement per game.

  • Late Picks On Bad Teams: There's underrated upside with Diontae Johnson, Courtland Sutton, and Ja'Lynn Polk. They are drafted so much later than the WR1s on other low-ranked offenses, but they all profile as fringe top targets. We've seen DJ be very fantasy relevant before, and the Panthers traded for him to be their first-read target at X receiver. The Broncos have little experience behind Sutton, who was on a heater last year and could see more "easy" targets with distributor Bo Nix. Sean Payton has peppered his X receiver before (Michael Thomas). Finally, the Patriots are holding a WR tryout this year, but Polk has the most investment, by far. He also has a versatile skillset, so his path to snaps seems pretty straight-forward.

  • Late Picks On Good Teams: We don't know if Marquise Brown, Jayden Reed, and Keon Coleman are actually their team's top receiver, so they are priced down. I can make the easiest argument for Brown because he's an established outside receiver. I can make a stronger case for other Packers and Bills receivers, which we'll get to now:

This is one of my favorite charts in the column because the WR2s above the trend line have some injury contingency and have some odds of overtaking the presumed top target in the offense. Here is that list in particular:

  • Xavier Worthy: Hollywood goes just picks before as the established deep-threat veteran, but by the time the fantasy football playoffs begin, it's possible Worthy has earned the trust of Mahomes and Reid. Worthy profiled as an efficient WR2 based on his college tape. We'll see just how long Rashee Rice is suspended for. The market seems to be baking in a 4-6 game absence.

  • Curtis Samuel: I can make the case for Samuel as the best WR value on the board. Keon Coleman is young and in-development, yet goes ahead of Samuel for upside reasons. In more median outcomes, Samuel looks like the better candidate to lead in receptions and yards. He has familiarity with the OC and is somehow still 28 years old this next season. He's been more than a slot-only receiver at times throughout his career. The Bills could force him into a big role out of necessity if Coleman isn't ready.

  • Christian Watson: In terms of initial investment and route run when healthy, Watson is the alpha of the Packers' deep receiving group. Jayden Reed is drafted multiple rounds earlier, but he was a half-time player during the Packers' playoff run when healthy. That gap is too much, especially with Dontayvion Wicks having the profile of a high-upside sleeper. Even if Watson isn't a well-rounded player, he is a fit for best ball now that we know Jordan Love is a real player.

I'd also shoutout Brandin Cooks, Adonai Mitchell, Josh Palmer, Darnell Mooney, and Rashod Bateman as clear secondary options, who can win downfield on teams projected to score above-average points.

It's unlikely that a team's WR3 to enter the season is going to be a true difference maker in fantasy, but there could be some options that are being over-drafted. I don't think Tank Dell is a bust at his cost when Stefon Diggs, who may be transitioning to a slot role in 2024, goes ahead of him. It's likely one of the Texans' WRs is being over-drafted as the trio is all off the board by 36th overall. Meanwhile, Khalil Shakir is penciled in as the Bills WR3, but they've added bodies and he's never proven to be an outside or man-beating option. I don't want to play the projectable volume game at cost when players in similar roles go multiple rounds later.

If there were names to highlight late as a potential overlooked WR3, give me Demarcus Robinson (Rams), Adam Thielen (Panthers), Odell Beckham (Dolphins), and Kalif Raymond (Lions). Robinson had spike weeks down the stretch as a near full-time player. Thielen was too effective last year to be presumed demoted by Xavier Legette. Beckham was decent on a per-route basis and has contingent upside in Miami. And Raymond is the current (free) WR3 on a team projected for the 2nd-most points this year.