THE Z REPORT

Lance Zierlein: Value picks for your NFL fantasy drafts

Jimmy Garappolo has some value. San Francisco 49ers

I’ve been a long-time radio host here in Houston, but there are people around the country who know me as an NFL draft writer for NFL.com. What most of those people don’t realize (and many here in Houston if my guess is correct) is that I’ve also been an NFL fantasy football writer for the Houston Chronicle, Rotoworld, and FantasyGuru.com.

I have a feel for how successful NFL general managers draft and for how successful fantasy owners draft. While the methodology may be different, there is an underlying truth that exists in both realms. Drafting well with your earliest picks gives you a good chance to be a playoff team, but excelling in the middle rounds of a draft is often the key to building a championship team.

The word “sleeper” gets thrown around quite a bit and I’ve found that different people have different definitions of what a sleeper really is. Instead, I’m going to give you some “value” picks that you should be keeping your eyes on for your fantasy drafts and auctions.

* The ADP (average draft positioning) of each player is based upon a 12-team, PPR league and was found on FantasyFootballCalculator.com

Quarterbacks

Jimmy Garoppolo, SF, ninth round: Garoppolo generated some heat at the end of last season by going 6-0 to end the year, but his touchdown production was underwhelming during that stretch. However, if you plan on waiting for a quarterback, it might make sense to grab a Kyle Shanahan coached player. Matt Schaub (2009) finished fourth in fantasy scoring at QB, Robert Griffin, III (2012) finished fifth, and Matt Ryan (2016) finished second. The 49ers are an average bunch at best at WR, but Shanahan has a great feel for putting his QBs in position to succeed.

Running Back

Kenyan Drake, MIA, fourth round: While some may not see the fourth round as “value” round, Drake has been coming off the board at around the 20th RB spot. Over his last two games of 2017, Drake wowed head coach Adam Gase with 56 touches for 334 yards. Sure, he’s got Frank Gore, who will be getting some work as well, but Drake is clearly the more explosive player on the ground and through the air and it should show up this season.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Trent Taylor, SF, Late Round/Undrafted: Taylor will be flying under the radar in most leagues, but it was obvious from the 49ers practices against the Texans that Garoppolo is in love with his safety blanket, Taylor, from the slot. Don’t be shocked if Taylor becomes the most targeted receiver on the team and a sneaky effective option in PPR leagues.

Calvin Ridley, ATL, 10th round: While Ridley has been going in the 10th/11th round in many drafts, he could come off the board just a little bit earlier in some leagues due to his name value out of Alabama. To be honest, I think he could be a value pick beyond the eighth round. Ridley has homerun long speed and has game-ready route running skills that should translate into open opportunities. With much attention expected to head Julio Jones’ way from defenses, Ridley could make real noise - even as a rookie.

David Njoku, CLE, ninth round: I will admit that while many owners like to target the top tier tight ends relatively early in the draft, I prefer to search for value with ascending tight end talent in the back half of the draft. Njoku fits that mold. Njoku played in all 16 games, but started just five and yet still managed to finish with 32 catches for 386 yards and 4 TDs. Both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield have shown a willingness to target tight ends in the past which should bode well for Njoku’s rise into the top eight TEs in the fantasy world.

 

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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