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Buying Generic to Save on Costs During Your Draft (Part 1)

Fantasy football quarterbacks

In this economy, everybody is looking to cut costs and find deals. Inflation is rampant: buying power is down, and prices are up. A pessimist might say that things are looking bleak. I mean, have you seen the ADP of Mark Andrews? In some places, he'll cost you a first-rounder! Now, the "elite tight end" roster construction has merit, but things have definitely gotten out of hand. You can find overvalued players at every position. However, the key is not just decreasing your exposure to players who are overvalued; successful fantasy managers find those bargain players who can give you the same value as name-brand players but won't cost you the elevated prices.

Think of shopping for cold medicine at the pharmacy. You could buy the name brand and pay the higher cost. Or you can buy generic, which provides essentially the same product at a lower price. As fantasy managers, we should maximize our ADP efficiency by aiming to “buy generic” as often as possible while selectively using those savings to “buy the name brand” for other player targets. This article will be the first in a series examining a selection of similar players from each skill position who are being drafted rounds apart yet could provide similar fantasy points.


Name-Brand: Patrick Mahomes

Generic: Dak Prescott

Patrick Mahomes is only entering his sixth year playing professional football, yet his career trajectory is pointing straight to Canton. Dak Prescott was drafted one year prior and has had great-but-not-historic numbers throughout his career. Mahomes has already experienced an ADP drop compared to last season, when he was the consensus #1 QB (currently #4 in QB ADP), while Dak is outside the top-10 drafted QBs. So can these really be comparable players?

NFC East Ascension

Dak is in the NFC East, which looks to be progressing from “dopey” to “dope” rather quickly. Divisional games could actually be fun and competitive. The Eagles have their improving Konami-code QB Jalen Hurts; they also added All-Pro WR AJ Brown to their receiving corps of Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. The Giants have (perhaps) the largest positive swing in head coach/offensive coordinator competence in NFL history, moving from lackluster Joe Judge/Jason Garrett to creative Brian Daboll/Mike Kafka, with a stable of athletic talent at their disposal.

The Commanders are no offensive slouch, either, with the talents of Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Antonio Gibson, Brian Robinson, and JD McKissic available. Furthermore, the QB situation that is more stable than last season’s sudden departure of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The jury is still out on how well Wentz can play in Washington. But at least the skill position players will have the QB they practiced all summer with throwing them balls come the regular season. Any negative regression from the Dallas defense should increase the probability of more favorable passing game scripts.

Trouble in Paradise?

What about the run game and Ezekiel Elliott? Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants him to be the featured back. However, that doesn't mean he should be the main playmaker for the entire offense. “Zeke is in the best shape of his life!” Yes, that’s the line we have been fed, what seems like every summer. He is a player at the edge of the RB age cliff, who plays a physical game, and with more wear on his tires than any other fantasy-relevant RB (1650 career carries). Head coach Mike McCarthy knows that his job is on the line this year; this is his last chance to please Jerry Jones. If you were in McCarthy’s shoes, which player would you trust most to impress the boss, compete well in the division, and put points on the board and Ws in the win column, Dak or Zeke?

Dak lost Amari Cooper to the Browns but still retains the services of Ceedee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, (eventually) Michael Gallup, and rookie addition Jalen Tolbert. Also, McCarthy has talked up having Dak run the ball more this season, so there appears to be some room between last year's underwhelming rushing numbers and this year’s ceiling. He is one more year removed from his ankle being surgically repaired (“reattached” is more accurate; the visual of his dangling foot is burned into my brain). His mobility/confidence should be much better now. We can expect his yards per carry average to jump back into his historical ~five YPC from last season’s three. Furthermore, touchdown regression only benefits him after scoring only once on the ground in 2021.

The King is Dead?

Turning to the Chiefs: Mahomes is obviously in one of the best divisions in football. Russell Wilson has joined the AFC West as a Bronco, the Chargers are simply electric, and the Raiders now have Davante Adams. But Tyreek Hill - the Chiefs most dynamic playmaker - is now gone, having accounted for nearly a quarter of team targets (24.3%) and over a quarter of team receiving yards (25.6%). That is no small loss. The Chiefs still have aging (yet excellent) TE Travis Kelce, but Hill is being replaced by a committee of WRs who were not retained by their former teams (as well as small-school standout Skyy Moore), none of whom displays the dynamism of Hill’s game. Among all receivers last season, Hill ranked eighth in air yards and 15th in yards after catch.

In 2021, each QB threw for 37 TDs, while Dak tossed three fewer interceptions. The Cowboys also kept pace with the Chiefs’ deep passing propensity; by <1% difference, Dak edged Mahomes in intended air yards on 62 fewer attempts (ranking #6 and #7 in the league). Their only significant separation in terms of fantasy-relevant passing stats was an extra 390 yards from Mahomes. Yet, last season, Dak was a considerably more accurate passer than Mahomes.

Catchable Pass Thrown percentage (among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts)

Dak: 83.3% (2nd)

Mahomes: 76.7% (29th)

Any decrease in passing volume for the Chiefs and moving toward a more “ball-control” offensive strategy could cause Mahomes to experience decreasing totals for passing yards and TDs.

Considering this evidence, fantasy teams could do well to focus on drafting WR/RB in the range that Mahomes is going in and then scoop the similar value in Dak, 37 picks later. Examples of players going around Mahomes’ ADP: Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, DK Metcalf, Rashod Bateman, and Darnell Mooney.

Conversely, here are examples of players being drafted near Dak’s ADP: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kadarius Toney, Brandon Aiyuk, and Damien Harris. The earlier grouping of WR/RBs certainly seems more appealing if Dak can be the “generic” Mahomes by putting up similar numbers at a lower cost. This tradeoff also works well for drafting a definitive QB-WR1 stack. Lamb is “the man” in Dallas, while we are still trying to figure out the Chiefs’ true WR pecking order.

It is well within Dak’s range of outcomes to surpass Mahomes in fantasy points this year.

Other QBs to consider “buying generic” on:

Buy Kirk Cousins instead of Tom Brady (ADP 115 vs. 85)

Buy Daniel Jones instead of Russell Wilson (ADP 159 vs. 78 - very high risk)

(Data courtesy of Sports Info Solutions)