Hello Rotoworld faithful! I’m Nicole – corporate attorney by trade, fantasy football enthusiast by choice. I hail from the Upstate NY region, studied at Syracuse University (go ‘Cuse!) and am now based in sunny Austin, TX. Last year, I was invited to participate in Rotoworld’s “Beat the Experts” mock draft where I, in fact, managed to beat the experts (although I’d argue that they all lost it for themselves). Nevertheless, due to my unprecedented achievement in winning a completely subjective contest, I’ve been invited to write a column for Rotoworld, and I chose to cover trade targets, as I think aggressive ownership is one of the keys to fantasy success. I hope you enjoy it!
In the words of the great Ricky Bobby, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”
While not necessarily relevant in any aspect of life, there’s some truth to this statement as it applies to fantasy football – there’s no glory in 2nd or 3rd place. We play fantasy to win it all. It is, of course, much easier said than done, as fantasy successes (and failures) involve an element of variance that can’t be avoided. That said, I believe learning to exploit that variability, recency bias and public perception can give you an advantage down the stretch.
Admittedly, early season trades are often challenging because we aren’t far enough removed from the draft for owners to disassociate production with draft cost. There also isn’t a large sample size to draw conclusions from. On the flip side, there are players that are currently flying below the radar for various reasons that you can, and should, target via trade. The purpose of this article is to identify players whose production I expect to remain consistently good or improve, and to also identify players who I think have overachieved to date. A common theme in this article will be looking at touchdowns, which drastically swing weekly point totals, especially in non-ppr leagues.
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Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals: At this point, it’s difficult to label Tyler Boyd as a “buy low,” but I think you can take advantage of the fact that he isn’t a household name (yet). In his first three weeks, Tyler Boyd saw a respectable 5, 9 and 7 targets, but jumped to a whopping 15 targets in Week 4. He’s gained 323 total yards in the past three weeks. Andy Dalton appears to trust Boyd in crucial moments, and he seems to be way ahead of John Ross, who only saw 2 targets in Week 4 and was battling injuries throughout the game. With Tyler Eifert suffering a likely season-ending injury, this can only increase Boyd’s target share. He'll obviously be in the shadow of AJ Green but should remain efficient with less defensive attention. And of course, WR production is tied to QB play, and there’s always the risk of Andy Dalton going “Full Dalton” in any given week, but he’s played respectably so far this season.
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: The time to pounce on Mixon is now, as he is likely to return this week and should assume his workhorse status immediately, if healthy. We heard over the summer that Mixon dropped weight, and through Weeks 1 and 2, he definitely looked more explosive on the ground, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Mixon has quietly been active in the passing game as well, earning 7 targets in Week 1. His carry totals in Weeks 1 and 2 were 17 and 21, respectively, so he was getting plenty of work. Mixon owners may be wary that, due to Giovani Bernard’s success in his absence, Gio may cut into Mixon’s playing time (and you can certainly play into that narrative when proposing the trade), but Mixon is a superior talent that should be locked in as the Bengals’ lead back upon return.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Gronk has put up underwhelming numbers the past three weeks. But fear not and stay the course – there’s little reason to believe he won’t bounce back. Gronk has been facing constant double coverage, so the return of Julian Edelman and (ideally) the addition of Josh Gordon, should help take some of the attention off of Gronk. Keep an eye on the Week 4 injury – as long as it’s not serious, he’s a premier bounce-back candidate.
Other “buys” to consider
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints: Michael Thomas may be hard to buy, even after a relatively quiet Week 4. But if you’re going to jump, the time is now. He has an absurd 42 catches on 44 targets this season. Get him while you still can. Sell the farm. Do it.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: It seems like we’re always complaining about Julio’s lack of touchdowns, and for good reason – Atlanta’s “commitment” to ignoring Julio in the red zone is absolutely criminal. Based on his career touchdown rate, he should have already caught two touchdowns (he has 0 so far) – which would make his already impressive start look even more dominant. The Atlanta passing game has great matchups the next two weeks against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, so this may be your last chance to snag Julio.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: T.Y. is coming off two (relatively) quiet weeks. He’s likely to miss the Week 5 matchup vs. the Patriots, and struggling owners may not be able to afford having him sit, which you can use to your advantage. T.Y. remains, by far, the best receiving option in the Colts offense, which has no semblance of a running game.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins: Based on his skillset, AP is very game script-dependent. It's all about predictability, and while AP, at this rate, might have fine numbers by end of season, he has a very low weekly floor in games that Washington falls behind. Week 2 is a good example, where AP had 11 carries for 20 yards, playing only 34% of the snaps. Sure, you can try to predict those weeks by targeting games where Washington is favored, but as we learned in Week 3 (cough, cough, Minnesota-Buffalo), that can sometimes be difficult to predict. The Redskins shouldn’t be a team that plays from ahead week in and week out, so your best bet is to ship AP while his numbers still look attractive and rid your team of his weekly unpredictability. You can also try to use the fact that Peterson's bye has now passed as a "bonus" selling point.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons: Unlike with Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley seem to have real chemistry in the red zone, hooking up for six touchdowns the past three weeks, but Ridley only has 15 total receptions on 19 targets. He won’t continue to score on over a third of his receptions, so if (when) touchdown regression hits, he might have a low weekly floor. You’d have to imagine defensive coordinators start noticing Ridley’s red zone usage and start planning accordingly. Right now, you can probably get a nice haul for Ridley, a 1st round rookie whose touchdown highlights should be all over TV for the second week in a row. However, it might be wise to hold on to Ridley for another week or two and reap the benefits of likely shootouts with Pittsburgh in Week 5 and Tampa Bay in Week 6.
Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: The offense for the 1-3 Texans is running through Deshaun Watson and the passing game, especially with their defense not being as strong as most expected. Miller is getting decent usage, but his 3.8 yards per carry is right in line with his past two years in Houston. Alfred Blue is siphoning off just enough usage, especially in the red zone, where Miller can’t quite offset that lack of efficiency with volume. The sub-par (to be kind) offensive line is not opening up any holes, and Miller is not making anybody miss – it seems he has lost the explosiveness he showed years ago in Miami. See if you can find another owner that thinks they can “buy low” on Miller, although that might be easier said than done. Otherwise, pray he can finagle a touchdown during the next two home games vs. Dallas and Buffalo, before having to travel to Jacksonville and Denver in Weeks 7 and 9, respectively.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks: The production has been strong, but with Doug Baldwin’s recent return, Lockett is at risk of losing the consistency he’s shown these past few weeks. He’s caught 1 TD in 3 out of the last 4 games, which is a trend that is unlikely to continue with a healthy Baldwin in the mix.