It’s early in the off season, and these rankings will likely take on a different form as we approach the start of the NFL season, but in an effort to map the journey, we’ll take a few days to give you a look at the top of each position and who we think is rising and who we think is falling. If you’re looking for overall rankings, our initial rankings will be posted at the links in the header this week as well.
- DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – The man they call “Nuke” has one of the most diverse skill sets in the league. He has the kind of speed / size combinations that defenses fear, and his ability to make difficult, timely catches, is second to none. Even double teamed, and with no name backups throwing him the ball, Hopkins is consistently at the top of the wide receiver rankings. He’s the top dog and it’s not even particularly close.
- Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints – Thomas proclaimed that he was uncoverable last year in one of the more memorable moments of the 2019 season, and judging by how often he was open for future hall of famer Drew Brees, it would seem he was correct. The thing that gives Thomas an “elite” label is his consistent production; he seems to put up points nearly every week. While Drew Brees historic career is waning, he and Thomas are still one of the best QB/WR tandems in the entire league.
- Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers – Last year, Adams began to creep into some of the industry experts top 5, but it still felt like his skills were being undersold. He’s be called TD dependent, or feast-or-famine, and any number of other things that would suggest he’s a product of his environment. I’ll tell you that’s just patently wrong. While he certainly gets a boost for being one of the leagues best red zone weapons for a QB who has the ability to find him on any given play, he also benefits from being immensely talented on a pass first team.
- Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – With the whole world seemingly against Jones as an elite fantasy receiver, he quietly went out there and put to bed the idea that he can’t score touchdowns. We discussed it last year how it was incredibly unlikely he continued to be held out of the endzone, and true to form, we expect another excellent season out of Julio. The emergence of Calvin Ridley as a solid #2 only makes things easier for the uber-talented Julio.
- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans quietly produced one of his finest seasons in the NFL, finishing with more than 1,500 receiving yards and 8 TDs. His 17.7 yards per catch mark was the best of his career, and somehow he still feels overlooked on many rankings lists. Now, Tampa has a competent coaching staff and no foreseeable quarterback controversy, and I expect Evans to pick up right where he left off. While the 1,500 yards is his ceiling, expecting double digit touchdowns could produce top 3 season if the planets align.
- Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers – With the departure of Antonio Brown, Juju becomes the top target in a passing attack that seems to churn out elite wideouts year in and year. Of course, there’s always the fear that without insulation, Smith-Schuster may fold a bit, but I’m confident that he’ll step up and partially fill the shoes left behind by Brown. I’m not ready to put him in the elite class yet, but the sheer number of targets he can expect should help overcome any growing pains.
- Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings – I admit that I was wrong in expecting Thielen to regress. Despite a new offense and quarterback, Thielen hardly missed a beat, compiling a career best stat line, aided by a monster target share that led to 158 targets. There has been nothing to suggest he can expect less than the 25% or so target share he saw last year, so even a slight regression in attempted passes shouldn’t impact his ability to produce. With a solid catch rate of between 65-70% there’s a good chance Thielen sees in excess of 100 catches again in 2019, and another top 10 finish on his resume.
- Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders – While I’m certainly concerned about his landing spot, I’m not ready to declare him unsuitable for a WR1 spot. It’s certainly obvious that the Raiders have plenty of dysfunction, and the transformation of Amari Cooper was something to behold, but even that Oakland coaching staff has to recognize Brown’s skill as being tantamount to any success. Expect a top 5 finish in targets, but maybe a bit less of an efficient stat line in the end. Selecting Brown any earlier than this is a crap shoot, and I’ll probably avoid him myself, but I won’t suggest that being in Black and Silver will have any impact on how great a receiver Brown is.
- Odell Beckham, Cleveland Browns – Much like Brown, our concerns over OBJ have little to do with his skills and more to do with his specific situation. He’ll immediately leapfrog the receiving corp to become the top option in that Cleveland offense, but it’s fair to admit that Baker Mayfield plays a very different type of football than Eli Manning did. I don’t expect him to spend as much time forcing the football to Odell, and with an elite slot guy in Jarvis Landry, and an excellent red zone weapon in TE David Njoku, I can see Beckham’s bottom line taking a pretty sizable hit. He’ll still finish as a top 10 WR most weeks, but don’t expect him to challenge for the top spot like he’d done in previous seasons.
- Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings – Much like his battery-mate Adam Thielen, Diggs put up a career year in 2019, and that was in spite of nagging injuries that cost him a game and slowed him down late in the year. While we’re concerned about Diggs ability to stay healthy, the track record shows Diggs can expect nearly 10 targets per game (his career average) and that alone is good enough to include him on this list. Given that he and Thielen have been able to coexist as elite fantasy receivers for years, and that Diggs has managed to score 7-9 TDs a year despite not playing a full 16 games yet, and you see how Diggs deserves the lofty place among the top 10. We fully expect another 100 receptions, 1,100 yards, and a potential 10 TDs to help the Minnesota tandem achieve what very few offenses can; two top ten finishes.
We’re going to try something a little new over here at the Dr’s Office, with a once-a-week mock draft and review. Each week we’ll draft from a different position in the draft and take a look at each major draft strategy to give you an idea of what to expect on draft day.
That moment of excitement when your commissioner pulls your name as the first overall pick is short lived when you realize the pressure to make the right pick starts right then and there. There’s no waiting until the draft starts to begin the selection process; you have weeks and sometimes months to labor over who you’re going to roll with.
Looking at the current ADP data (which we admit isn’t conclusive at this point) we’d argue that going heavy on the RB position may involve the least amount of risk when trying to build a contender. As always, we advocate trying to win at least one position early in the draft, and the lack of depth at this position is overcome using the RB/RB strategy.
Pick 1.1 – Saqoun Barkley, RB – New York Giants
I won’t waste much time here; Saquon is my top pick in both PPR and Standard leagues. He’s a safe bet to pace the league in touches, and will likely finish near the lead in passing targets as well. Zeke Elliott isn’t an awful choice at the top of the first, but doesn’t have the sheer upside Barkley has.
Pick 2.10 – Dalvin Cook, RB – Minnesota Vikings
I’d love if Joe Mixon fell here, but he goes just before this pick in most mock’s that I do. Cook may scare some folks off, but he was fairly good down the stretch after returning from injury, and has less contention for touches with Latavius Murray out of town. I’m not convinced the Alexander pick was anything more than depth. With my concerns surrounding the other available backs Nick Chubb (Kareem Hunt) and Leonard Fournette (injuries and mental miscues) I feel comfortable with Cook here.
Pick 3.1 – Mike Evans, WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While I’m tempted to take Zach Ertz, who hasn’t been falling this far in many of the mocks I’ve done, there are a few wide receiver options that I feel would give me a better core. Keenan Allen and A.J. Green are likely to be available to you, and are fine options if you are comfortable with the obvious injury risks associated with both, but if Mike Evans falls to you like he did to me here, he’s a solid choice to build your WR group around. For a guy who finished 2018 with 1,500 yards on 86 receptions and 8 TDs, it’s mind blowing to me he’s falling toward the end of the WR1 group. A safe bet for 16 games, 130+ targets, and 8-10 TDs makes him an incredible value in the 3rd round.
Pick 4.10 – Adam Thielen, WR – Minnesota Vikings
At first blush, drafting two skill position players from the same offense in the first four rounds may feel like a “too many eggs in one basket” situation, but I’d argue that there’s too much Value at this pick to pass up. There are other options here, most notably Kenny Golladay who is certainly an ascending star, but with Thielen’s floor being the 1,200-1,300 range with 8-10TDs, I feel comfortable grabbing my second Viking. The only other option I’d have here is to snag a top 5 TE while they’re available, but with Kelce, Kittle, and Ertz gone, I’m firmly in the wait in a TE camp in 2019.
Pick 5.1 – Kerryon Johnson, RB – Detroit Lions
My rational with this pick is simple; with 18 picks until my next selection, I wasn’t comfortable with the names I’d expect to be drafting at the RB position in the next three rounds. Players like Derrius Guice, Jerick McKinnon, and Jordan Howard have too many question marks to be relied upon with any degree of certainty, and Kerryon Johnson was electric last season when given the lions share (pun intended). Now with Blount gone, a healthy Johnson is ready to explode into fantasy relevance.
Pick 6.10 – Deshaun Watson, QB – Houston Texans
This is early for me in terms of selecting a QB, but as I continually preach, being flexible is the key to a solid draft. When I look at the landscape at the skill positions, I see large tiers with very little separating the top players (Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, Tyler Lockett, and Tyler Boyd) from the bottom of the tier (Nyheim Hines, Ronald Jones, Anthony Miller, Christian Kirk). Coupled with the fact that I pick back to back, and I’m comfortable flipping the switch and selecting one of the leagues most prolific QB’s over the last two years.
Pick 7.1 – Tyler Boyd, WR – Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned with Kerryon Johnson, selecting him allowed me to avoid committing to the players at the top of the available running backs list. Instead, I’m now facing a decision of who I like best of the available wideouts. I love Mike Williams, but his bye week coincides with the two Minnesota players I selected. While I generally don’t let bye weeks affect my drafting, Tyler Boyd is sitting there as well, and is a player who may not see the endzone as prolifically as Williams but should see a larger share of the targets. There are some concerns about how he faded a bit when A.J. Green went down and defenses could key on him, but another year in the league and he may be even better.
Pick 8.10 – Derrick Henry, RB – Tennessee Titans
I readily admit that Henry is unlikely to fall this far in your draft, but I can’t pretend like he didn’t fall in this mock. Of course, looking at the players available, it’s clear that a run on TE’s and QB’s led to some excellent value here. Of course, the concern is that the four game run to finish the season was a mirage, but we’re really not that far removed from the draft hype that had people clamoring to own shares of the former Alabama running back. I’ll take a flier here on a guy with the skill to be a top 20 running back in the league.
Pick 9.1 – Christian Kirk, WR – Arizona Cardinals
So I ignored the bye week here and took the best player available, being second year pro Christian Kirk. He flashed at times last year, and could certainly find himself having a slow start with rookie QB Kyler Murray joining the team, but talent and opportunity give him a chance to be a quality WR3 if not even a bit better. There were other names there you could have gone with in a similar vein, notably Courtland Sutton in Denver, or Dede Westbrook with the Jaguars. Both have new QB’s to remedy issues both teams had last year, but in both cases, neither has a 100% lock on the number of targets I expect Kirk to see. If you don’t need a WR here, there’s a few interesting backs available. James White is a PPR stud and should not be overlooked as one of the best values of the draft in the 9th round, and I expect Rashaad Penny to surprise some people this year after struggling to find traction in his rookie year.
Pick 10.10 – David Njoku, TE – Cleveland Browns
I’ve had my eye on Njoku for a few rounds now, and with a WR and a RB on the bench and all my starter positions filled, I wasn’t chancing letting him go another round. I don’t hate the idea of adding more depth elsewhere, but when I think about the range of outcomes players like Latavius Murray, Royce Freeman, Michael Gallup and Curtis Samuel (top ranked players at the WR and RB positions) and I’m nervous about wasting a pick on waiver wire fodder. Njoku does have a few obstacles to overcome himself, most notably the addition of Odell Beckham, but he should remain one of Baker Mayfield’s primary red zone targets, and a safety blanket of sorts when plays break down. Working in his favor is Mayfield’s ability to extend the plays, giving him additional chances to acrue points.
Pick 11.1 – Nyheim Hines, RB – Indianapolis Colts
I was critical of Hines size coming into the league last year, and very quickly I saw the errors of my ways. What he brings to the table is exceptional pass catching skills, and very little competition for passing down on a team that’s a lock to throw for nearly 600 passes. While Royce Freeman or Curtis Samuel have the higher ceiling assuming they win a larger role than currently projected, Hines is a pretty safe bet and a perfect bench player for byes and matchups.
Pick 12.10 – DaeSean Hamilton, WR – Denver
I have a feeling I’m going to hate whoever I pick in the 12th round this year, as the options available were all eyes closed dart throws. I don’t really love Hamilton, but most of my options here are of the low-floor high-ceiling variety. What Hamilton does have going for him that John Brown, Tyrell Williams, and Valdes-Scantling is opportunity. Brown gets to play in Buffalo, where receivers go to die, Williams lost target share to Antonio Brown, and Valdes-Scantling is a fun little player but being one of the many receivers in Green Bay means he’ll likely be incredibly inconsistent. Hamilton could prove to be a waste of a pick too, but he’ll likely start the year on the field with solid expectations.
Pick 13.1 – Trey Burton, TE – Chicago Bears
You may ask yourself, “why in the world would he draft a second tight end!?” The answer is he was the best available player on the board. As one of the top three options in that Chicago passing game, Burton may very well outscore the skill position players available in this range outright. Instead of throwing a dart at an Austin Ekeler or Antonio Callaway, I took the safest route and selected a potential top ten player at his position. It’s low risk, of course, considering I already rostered Njoku, but in the event he’s ineffective, Burton becomes a worth while depth piece, and if both players play well, I can flex or play match ups, further providing me weekly flexibility.
Pick 14.10 – Kareem Hunt, RB – Cleveland Browns
Depending on the league you play in, Hunt could very well be gone by now, but the allure of a top 10 RB available in the 14th round is enough to skip drafting other high profile backs like Ronald Jones or Carlos Hyde. Of course, I’m aware that Hunt is going to be sidelined for 8 weeks (and the bye) but with a solid RB duo selected with my first two picks, I have the luxury of sitting on Hunt and absolutely owning the position during the playoff weeks.
Pick 15.1 – Chicago Bears D/ST
Before you remind me that one of my basic tenements of drafting has always been “don’t draft a kicker or D/ST before the last two rounds” but I’ve also explained that being flexible is far more important when faced with these kinds of decisions. With the top ranked defense on the board and only two bench spots left, I looked at the available player pool and realized I wasn’t jazzed about filling my roster with anyone that would go in the next round or two. With Deshaun Watson as my starter, I see no reason to roster a second quarterback given the talent that’s still available and will likely be there as a waiver add. Instead, I committed to providing myself another advantage over my opponents by jumping just a bit early on a defense.
Pick 16.10 – Ronald Jones, RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Normally I’d take a different direction here and add a wide receiver, but between Rojo’s potential and the fact that Hunt is unavailable to me until week 8, I’m okay trying to get more talent at the running back position given how difficult it is in season to bolster the depth. I’m really not in love with top receivers left, as Donte Moncreif, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel really offer very little upside. I’m comfortable taking a look at what Bruce Arians can do with a back that was, only last year, compared to Jamaal Charles during the preseason.
Pick 17.1 – Mecole Hardman, WR – Kansas City Chiefs
When Tyreek Hill was sent home and the league began investigation the child abuse charges anew, I figured Mecole Hardman would suddenly become a household name. With Hunt gone, and the potential for Hill to miss significant time (if not be cut completely) Hardman, who’s got serious speed, looks like the perfect fit to help bring some of that dynamic playmaking Andy Reed loves. With the monster arm of Patrick Mahomes, Hardman could be a day one stud if Hill isn’t on the roster when the season starts. He’s the definition of low risk, high reward flyer.
Pick 18.10 – Michael Badgley, K – Los Angeles Chargers
If your league doesn’t force you to draft a kicker, and you’re not assured one of the top three or four, then skip it. Add one right before the season starts and stream the position. You’re better off grabbing a larger share of skill position players and sticking with the best roster. If your league forces you to draft a kicker, then aim for upside. Badgley was pretty good in his limited exposure last year, but the Chargers have an excellent offense and Badgley should be efficient enough to be a top 10 kicker, and worth a roster spot on most weeks.
QB: Deshaun Watson
RB: Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Kerryon Johnson, Derrick Henry, Nyheim Hines, Ronald Jones, Kareem Hunt (S)
WR: Mike Evans, Adam Thielen, Tyler Boyd, Christian Kirk, DaeSean Hamilton, Mecole Hardman
TE: David Njoku, Trey Burton
It’s important to review your draft, even the mock variety. Understanding trends will be immensely important on draft day, and we want you to have every advantage. Our own review would reinforce the first seven rounds – I wouldn’t change a thing. Where things got dicey was in the 8th round with the selection of Derrick Henry. While I’m still convinced his value is immense there, a birds eye view shows that the wide receiver position falls off pretty heavily across the final 5 rounds. Had I taken a player like Courtland Sutton in conjunction with Christian Kirk, I would have still managed Hines and Ronald Jones to fill out my RB group (not even mentioning Kareem Hunt). In the end, I think we did a solid job creating a really exciting starting group with a few excellent depth pieces as well as a few late round flyers with monster upside and very little risk.
Come back Next Friday when we draft, but from the 5th spot, to provide a slightly different perspective.
Much like our updates to the sleeper list, the Dr. is here to tell you who he’s avoiding in drafts this year. Of course, any time we’re suggesting to NOT draft a player, it’s understood that we’re referencing the current cost to acquire said player. All players have value, we’re just trying to help you maximize the value you receiving with each of your picks.
Tom Brady, QB – NE
As a card carrying member of the Tom Brady fan club, it pains me to include him on this list, but it’s important to remain realistic. His late season struggles in the last few years has been well documented, and much of the blame can be assigned on his offensive line. At 41 years old and behind one of the worst offensive lines he’s had in years, Brady is no safe bet to stay healthy all year, and the late season regression he’s seen for years now is a near guarantee. Sure, he’ll win 12 games for his football team, but he’s not as safe a pick as he has been in the past for your fantasy one.
Carson Wentz, QB – PHI
I’m not suggesting Wentz isn’t a good quarterback by including him on this list; I’m merely drawing attention to the fact that he’s being ranked far to high for my liking. While it’s encouraging that he’s returning from his injury so quickly, it’s important to remember that QB’s returning from knee injuries tend to take time to get up to speed. Head coach Doug Pederson went as far as to describe Wentz’s play as “tentative” further reinforcing the idea that he may not be 100%. Expecting the rushing game to return to the levels it did last year isn’t realistic, and neither is expecting him to remain hyper efficient in the face of NFL defenses. Expecting a low end QB1 finish isn’t outrageous, but drafting him at QB5 is expecting him to play at his ceiling; something I’m not confident a QB returning from injury can do.
Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
When McKinnon was handed a three year contract by San Francisco in the offseason, I was one of the first to declare that McKinnon was set to breakout in a big way. After all, he was playing the lead back role in an up and coming Kyle Shanahan offense. Then, I put the time in to research, and while most of the industry is expecting big things, there’s a well defined group in the community who expect McKinnon to fall flat on his face. While I exist somewhere in between, the truth is that McKinnon has never really shown that he’s got lead back ability. Between losing snaps to Matt Asiata when Adrian Peterson went down, to posting sub 4 yards per carry in limited action over the last two seasons, it appears that we were a bit premature anointing the second coming of Emmett Smith. Expecting him to play all season as a RB1 is a recipe for disaster.
Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
Henry is a back that I personally think has the talent to be a top 10 RB in the league, but Tennessee had the great idea to add elite satellite back Dion Lewis to muddy the waters that had begun to clear when DeMarco Murray left town. Currently being drafted 25th overall, Henry has a steep hill to climb to secure a three down workload, and with a pick in the third round, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend it on a back who’s whole claim to the position was his college production. Henry could prove to be a very useful fantasy asset, but it’ll be only at the expense of Dion Lewis, who’d need to suffer a major injury to open up passing downs for the young Henry.
Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
I’d like to preface this by saying I think Hill is one of the most talented down-the-field receivers in the NFL, but not enough is being made of the situation he’s facing with a first year starter and added weapons suppressing his overall value. Alex Smith may be rightly panned over his career for being a conservative quarterback, but expecting Pat Mahomes to step in and play even close to the season Smith had last year is insane. As an MVP candidate, Smith was one of the most efficient deep ball practitioners last year, and while Mahomes features a monster arm, there are going to be growing pains. While Hill should still be productive, he’s a regression candidate yet he’s being draft as though that’s a fallacy. If he falls a round or two, he’d be worth grabbing, but not as a WR1.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – PIT
I’m amazed at how quickly a player went from being un-drafted to being over drafted, but Juju managed it in record time. While he’s a name that I was hoping to target in drafts this year, I’m not touching him at his current price. Being drafted before Brandin Cooks, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald, and Demaryius Thomas, there’s clearly an unreasonable expectation that the Pittsburgh offense can support both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as top 5 players and elevate Juju to anything more than a back-end WR2. The issue with drafting him at 42nd overall, his current ADP, is that you can’t expect him to outperform that position. We say it all the time, never draft a player at their ceiling, unless you’re prepared to be disappointed.
Jimmy Graham, TE – GB
Sure, it wasn’t long ago that Graham was considered one of the two or three best pass catching tight ends in the league. His time in New Orleans saw him secure no less than 85 catches over a four year period from 2010 to 2014, but the wheels came off in his first year with the Seahawks. While he was much better in 2016, the now 31 year old TE looked his age last year, performing admirably in the end zone but failing to record more than 65 receptions for the third straight year. In Green Bay, he’ll likely be asked to play a similar role, featuring mostly in the red zone, with less target share thanks to a deeper wide receiver corps. Expecting a return to the pre-Seahawks form is asinine, yet he’s being drafted 5th at the position, before Greg Olsen, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Delanie Walker; all candidates I expect to finish ahead of Graham by seasons end.
Adam Theilen has seen his ADP drop a bit, so he’s no longer a focus on these bust lists, but he’s still being drafted a bit too high for me to like his value. Kenyan Drake was impressive in his limited time last year, but he doesn’t have the pedigree or track record to perform as a top 10 RB over a full season, and Miami’s offseason moves seem to say the same thing. DeShaun Watson has had plenty of time to recover from his major knee injury, but the obvious regression coming seems to be ignored when setting expectations. As the 4th QB off the board, I’m out on Watson.
While you may see the word “beginner” in the title and deem this beneath you, but the truth is that we should always be learning; honing our skills and getting better at the game. The PPR format has exploded in years past, and like any non-standard scoring format, it presents fantasy drafters an extra wrinkle in their quest for greatness.
Of course, it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you’re a point per reception veteran, skip this section; we’ll see you down below when we highlight some PPR strategies for the 2018 season. For those of you who aren’t familiar, buckle up and we’ll take you on a crash course.
PPR leagues differ from standard leagues in one very easy to understand facet; they award points to any player who records a reception. Whether it’s one full point, or a half a point, a player who has a higher volume of receptions becomes far more valuable than his standard league counter parts.
The first thing one should do is adjust your rankings. If you’re using a fantasy football magazine, or printing them off the internet, make sure you’re using PPR rankings. We always suggest doing the research and ranking your own players, but if you neither have the time nor the desire, ensure you’re not using rankings that don’t address your format.
A great example would be Duke Johnson as he’s primarily an after thought in standard, non-PPR leagues; and for a good reason. His highest single season rushing attempts total was 104 in his rookie year. Last year his 83 carries was good for 55th in the NFL, which we shouldn’t have to tell you isn’t enough volume to warrant much excitement.
In PPR leagues however, his 74 receptions was the 26th highest total in the NFL, and 4th highest among running backs. When you consider that he finished as the 11th highest scoring running back despite his average draft position of 97th overall in PPR leagues last year (data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.com) then it’s painfully clear that recognizing these pass catching backs can be fantasy gold in the right format.
Of course, that’s not to discount how it affects the wide receiver position either. Most of the elite players (regardless of position) are elite in either format. Volume and opportunity trump much of what you can dredge up in an argument, but in those middle rounds there’s plenty of players who have higher floors thanks to a larger share of targets.
Last year, Jarvis Landry was being ranking as the WR27 and was selected with the 78th pick on average. The value there was undeniable, especially considering that his 260 PPR points finished for 5th most at the WR position and 12th overall among skill position players. While his situation may require re-evaluation of his opportunity, the example rings true nonetheless. These players, who many discount because they build their rankings based off of the wrong data, are the targets that will help you win your league.
Players to Target
As always, we’ll use the ADP data compiled over at Fantasy Football Calculator to make our analysis. Finding these PPR gems isn’t as easy as it seems, though. Simply targeting player A because he led the position in receptions last year doesn’t ensure success this year. There is far more subtly when highlighting players to target in the middle and late rounds.
In the early rounds, you’ll ignore PPR vs. Standard debates; Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon are still elite fantasy commodities even if they don’t catch the ball a ton. It’s in the middle rounds we can start the shopping list.
- Kareem Hunt (ADP 11): Unlike the Gordon/Howard example, Hunt has legitimate regression concerns after a monster rookie season. With Spencer Ware returning and pass catching specialist Charcandarick West still on the roster, there’s going to be fewer opportunities for the game breaker. While he’ll still be valuable, I don’t expect him to factor into the passing game as much this season, damaging his ability to be the top 10 player he’s being projected as.
- Derrick Henry (ADP 36): While Henry has never been the most adept pass catcher, the signing of Dion Lewis pretty much relegates him to a 1st and 2nd down role. Without the benefit of the passing game, Henry’s 200 carries won’t do much to support a RB2 finish, and with his talent, drafters are still betting that he’ll break out. While Lewis certainly is an injury risk, he’s also good enough between the tackles to keep Henry from being elite.
- Jay Ajayi (ADP 45): I really like Ajayi’s talent, but I don’t like his situation in Philly. With Darren Sproles returning, and Corey Clement still on the roster, the idea that he’ll continue to the be the bell cow is a bit misleading. He will likely lead the team in rushes, but his involvement in the passing game will be minimal barring any major injuries.
- Kenyan Drake (ADP 47): There is a lot of buzz after Drake finished 2017 strong, but Frank Gore should eat into his carries, and rookie Kalen Ballage is a far superior pass catching back who should eat targets up early an often. While he’s a safe bet for him to finish at the top of the committee for rushes, like Ajayi, he’ll figure into the scoring far less than his ADP provides for.
- Duke Johnson (ADP 97): Mentioned above, Johnson still figures to make an impact in the passing game, but with Carlos Hyde also a capable pass catcher (88 targets last year were only 5 fewer than Johnson), there’s reason to be concerned that the volume could dip. His ADP is beginning to represent this, but don’t swing early on Johnson and expect 70+ catches again.
- Dion Lewis (ADP 61): I’m not predicting him to completely overtake Henry in the rushing game, but his floor his immensely high. In the 7th round, he’s the kind of back that can secure you 50 receptions and 1,000 total yards without impacting the incumbent start too much. His ceiling is far better than that, creating a wonderful target to return heavily on his investment.
- Chris Thompson (ADP 81): Not to discount the effect that Derrius Guice will have on the Washington Backfield, but Thompson was on pace for 1,200 total yards, 60+ receptions, and 9 TDs last year before missing the final 6 games due to a broken leg. Even given a reasonable amount of regression, he figures to be one of the most valuable 3rd down backs in fantasy.
- Ty Montgomery (ADP 111): He’s not going to impress anyone on the ground, but the converted wide receiver has the pass catching ability to provide plenty of value; especially in the 12th round. Prior to his injury, Montgomery was targeted heavily in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 targets and 6 receptions a game. Expect a return to the third down role for the sure handed Montgomery, and reap the rewards this late in the draft.
- James White (ADP 165): The forgotten man in New England, White continues to fly under the radar despite securing 90 targets and 56 receptions last year in an over crowded backfield. With Sony Michel still a rookie, and Dion Lewis leaving for greener pastures, Tom Brady’s safety blanket is in line for another big year in terms of PPR production. At 165, I’ll take the chance that the 26 year old continues to produce in the passing game for one of the best QB’s of all time.
- Kalen Ballage (ADP 213): I’ll continue beating my drum for Ballage who enters the season firmly behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the depth chart. But the speedy big man possesses the kind of silky smooth mitts that coaches game plan around, and while Drake was effective down the stretch in 2017, the moves made in the off season scream of available opportunity for the guys they brought in. If he carves out a portions of first and second downs, Ballage could be a monster for basically a waiver wire stab.
- Adam Thielen (ADP 29): With an upgrade at QB, you’d think Thielen is in line for the same kind of statline that saw him win leagues in 2017, but think again. History shows that Cousin’s is a bit of a gunslinger, and while Thielen will probably continue to be a contributor, he’s primed for regression yet being drafted as though he’s regression proof.
- Golden Tate (ADP 48): You may look at the bottom line and suggest that he’s a PPR gold mine; after all he’s recorded 90 receptions for 4 straight years. I’d implore you to dig a little deeper. Aside from the emergence of Marvin Jones, it’s important to note that Tate was wildly inconsistent last year. In 6 games last year, Tate failed to record more than 4 receptions, and in four of those games he had less than 6 PPR point. That amounts to nearly 40% of the season that Tate is a bust player.
- Brandin Cooks (ADP 53): Don’t get me wrong, Cooks is a nice little player. The issue is that with the Rams being a run first team, there’s about 10% or more opportunity lost in targets (550 pass attempts in LA to 600 in New England). Cooks is a deep threat that won’t command the kind of target share that other elite PPR receivers will. With Robert Woods returning as the slot man, Cooks is in line for major regression, especially in the PPR format.
- Jarvis Landry (ADP 59): This isn’t a knock on Landry the player, but expecting the kind of volume that he had in Miami is to ignore the fact that he’s not the most talented receiver on his current team. With Josh Gordon figuring to command the highest percentage of targets, Landry’s expectations should be limited, even if his ADP suggests otherwise.
- Julian Edelman (ADP 69): It pains me to include the New England slot receiver, but the reasons for his inclusion here are fairly straight forward. On top of missing 25% of the season due to suspension, he’s 32 years old and coming off a major knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season. With real competition for the slot position, it’ll be very difficult for Edelman to be more than a spot start, and at his current price, there’s a ton of other guys I’d rather have.
- Cooper Kupp (ADP 94): I was wrong about Kupp last year, and while I think Cooks and Woods eat up a lot of targets, it’s important to note that Kupp quietly led the Rams in targets last year with 94. With a floor around 60 catches and 800 yards (tack on around 5 TDs), and you’re looking at fantastic value in the 10th round.
- Marquise Goodwin (ADP 104): Goodwin looked great in the five games that Garoppolo started, averaging nearly 9 targets a game. With Jimmy G as the every day starter, I expect Goodwin to continue to elevate his game, and a WR2 ceiling (65 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 4 TDs) is well within reach.
- Kenny Stills (ADP 148): Many expect Danny Amendola to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry, but I find myself coming back to Stills as the perfect candidate to inherit those targets. Already one of the Dolphins most targeted receivers, his familiarity with the system and quarter back Ryan Tannehill are great catalysts for an increase in production. Perennially Stills has inhabited the 80-100 target mark, so bumping him to 130-150 feels right, and puts him firmly in the break out column on draft day.
- Keelan Cole (ADP 174): I don’t typically get excited about guys with as small a sample size as Cole has, but the 25 year old out of Louisville was impressive when called upon late in the season, and seems to continue to be overlooked with Marqise Lee and Donte Moncreif sitting above him in the depth chart. Neither of those players has done anything over their careers to keep Cole from taking their jobs, and with a solid rapport developing between he and Bortles, he’s a breakout candidate you can have for pennies on the dollar.
- Michael Gallup (ADP 212): I don’t expect Gallup to come out of the gate blazing, but with a mediocre group of receivers ahead of him, he’ll likely carve out a large share of the targets in Dallas. With much of the buzz surrounding him positive, I expect 100+ targets for the rookie, and a floor that most players in the 200’s don’t have.
It’s not always a skill issue, but every year there’s several players that turn into monumental busts. Having one of these guys eating up roster space halfway through the season is demoralizing, but sometimes unavoidable.
Adam Thielen, WR – Minnesotta: It’s funny how fantasy football tends to have fairly predictable ebbs and flows, and after the monster for Thielen (92 catches for 1276 yards) the fantasy community has gone all in on the 27 year old. Currently ranked 11th at his position and 30th overall, I’d argue to exercise caution when selecting Thielen that early.
Between a new quarterback that seemed to favor the long ball (Kirk Cousins) and an OC in John DeFilippo that has shown a commitment to their down field targets (examples; Travis Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Alshon Jeffrey) the expectation should be that regression is coming. Now, I’m not suggesting that Thielen falls completely off the map, but expect a far less consistent stat line. A more reasonable expectation would be roughly 1,000 yards and 5 TDs; similar to his 2016 numbers.
T.Y. Hilton, WR – Indianapolis: This one certainly feels like low hanging fruit, but Hilton continues to see an ADP of around 33, good for 13th among wide receivers. What’s disconcerting is that Hilton seems to have enough monster games each year to hide the fact that he’s more likely to bust than he is to boom.
With 9 weeks of 50 or fewer yards and 7 weeks with 30 or fewer, the reality is that Hilton is no better than a flex start. Regardless of how confident you may be at identifying when Hilton is set to go off, it’s still a waste of a pick in the fourth round when you can only reasonably rely on Hilton 25% of the time.
Aaron Rodgers, QB – Green Bay: I’d like to preface this portion of the article by saying I believe Rodgers, pound for pound, is still the best signal caller in the NFL. Still, at 34, and returning from a near-season ending injury, he’ll have the most difficult fantasy schedule among all QBs with 7 of his first 11 games coming against the top 10 stingiest defenses in terms of QB scoring.
While Jimmy Graham should help, there’s also a possibility that he’ll get off to a slow start and an aging Rodgers may resume running for his life. A healthy Aaron Rodgers is a valuable fantasy asset, no matter how you look at it, but in the 2nd rounds of drafts, there’s little chance he pays off in terms of the return on that investment.
With the NFL season creeping ever closer, we’ll examine current consensus ADP data provided by Fantasypros.com to discuss the players we love and the players we hate based on where they’re being drafted.
- Theo Riddick, RB – DET
- Davante Parker, WR – MIA
- Cameron Meredith, WR – CHI
- Denver Broncos DST
- Matt Forte, RB – NYJ
- Hunter Henry, TE – LAC
- Samaje Perine, RB – WAS
- Stephon Gostkowski, K – NE
- Matt Stafford, QB – DET
- Kansas City Chiefs DST
Player I Love – Samaje Perine: Okay, so count me firmly seated on the Perine bandwagon, especially if his price stays in the 11th round. At this point, he’s far outperformed anyone else in the Washington backfield, and he’s looked pretty good at times. Even if Rob Kelley gets the start in week 1, it won’t be long before Perine is leading this backfield.
Player I Hate – Hunter Henry: I’m not drafting Henry any sooner than the last three or four rounds, and even then, only in dynasty or keeper formats. I know the buzz surrounding him is that he’s ready to break free from Antonio Gates’ shadow, but until Gates retires or leaves the Chargers, I’m not betting against him. It may be a 50/50 split between the 20’s (which leaves both with nominal value) but it will still be Gates in the red zone which limits Henry’s upside.
- Latavius Murray, RB – MIN
- Corey Davis, WR – TEN
- Thomas Rawls, RB – SEA
- Justin Tucker, K – BAL
- Philip Rivers, QB – LAC
- Seattle Seahawks DST
- Darren McFadden, RB – DAL
- Houston Texans DST
- Corey Coleman, WR – CLE
- Tyrell Williams, WR – LAC
Player I love – Tyrell Williams: Yes, Keenan Allen is “healthy” and the Chargers drafted Mike Williams, but I’m not convinced either or both of those players will be healthy for any length of time. Allen is a time bomb and Williams is dealing with his own issues, and still Williams gets no love following a 1,000 yard season.
Player I Hate – Latavius Murray: It feels sacrilegious to say, but Murray’s done nothing for himself following the big payday he received in Minnesota to win that starting job. All Dalvin Cook has done has been impressive as a rookie, leading to doubts that Murray will find enough running room to be even
- Kenny Britt, WR – CLE
- Rishard Matthews, WR – TEN
- John Brown, WR – ARI
- Matt Bryant, K – ATL
- Eric Ebron, TE – DET
- Arizona Cardinals DST
- Minnesota Vikings DST
- C.J. Prosise, RB – SEA
- Jack Doyle, TE – IND
- New England Patriots DST
Player I love – Kenny Britt: Britt slides into the Cleveland offense replacing the departing Terrelle Pryor and his 141 targets which could mean 70-80 receptions for the former Ram. If Britt maintains his career averages (or somewhere close to the 15 yards per catch) he should produce at least 1,000 yards. Target Britt all day in the 13th round.
Player I Hate – Eric Ebron: How long does a prospect get before the hype turns into hot air? Ebron is not a TE1, yet that’s exactly where he’s being drafted. Instead of leaping on Ebron, wait for a guy like Hooper, or Brate, or even Jason Witten in the later rounds.
- Duke Johnson, RB – CLE
- Mike Wallace, WR – BAL
- James White, RB – NE
- Adam Thielen, WR – MIN
- Jeremy Hill, RB – CIN
- Eli Manning, QB – NYG
- Dan Bailey, K – DAL
- Jacquizz Rodgers, RB – TB
- O. J. Howard, TE – TB
- Marvin Jones, WR – DET
Player I love – Adam Thielen: Not much has changed in Minnesota besides the running game, and still Thielen and his nearly 1,000 yards is being drafted around the 150 mark. One of the best values in all of fantasy football this year, expect Thielen to at least match his numbers if not eclipse them all together.
Player I hate – Jeremy Hill: Joe Mixon is in town and impressive, and Gio Bernard should handle his fair share of passing downs leaving not much for the former early round pick to rely on. Sure, Mixon could stumble, but it seems the writing is on the wall for a player who doesn’t offer much upside at all.
- Jamaal Charles, RB – DEN
- Jamaal Williams, RB – GB
- Jordan Matthews, WR – BUF
- Tyrod Taylor, QB – BUF
- Andy Dalton, QB – CIN
- New York Giants DST
- Sterling Shepard, WR – NYG
- Ted Ginn, WR – NO
- Carson Wentz, QB – PHI
- Jason Witten, TE – DAL
Player I love – Jamaal Williams: It still boggles my mind that an converted WR who played barely enough snaps to be considered a starting RB is being selected in the top 40 picks. Ty Montgomery is NOT the back of the future; Jamaal Williams is. Expect Williams to usurp the role pretty quickly as he’s shown an ability to block, which is important in an offense like Green Bay.
Player I Hate – Jamaal Charles: Sometimes a back hangs on too long, and it appears that this year could be the dud of a swan-song for the one time fantasy stud. If reports out of Denver are to be believed, Charles may not even make the team, much less give Anderson a run for his money at the top of the depth chart. Bookers injury clears space for Denver to keep him on the roster, but he won’t find his way onto mine.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Adam Thielen – Minnesota Vikings | ADP 106 – WR41 | Despite the efforts of the Vikings to bulk up the backfield after AP left for New Orleans, Sam Bradford was still bought and paid for in order to create some kind of passing game. Diggs is the obvious #1 but Thielen posted borderline WR2 numbers last year despite the turmoil on the field. Expect similar, if not better, for the third year receiver. Prediction: 1000 Receiving Yards, 4 TDs
Travis Benjamin – Los Angeles Chargers |ADP 170+ – WR96 | While Benjamin is likely only being drafted in the deepest formats, his WR96 ranking is criminal considering how likely it is that Keenan Allen misses time. Benjamin is progressing ahead of schedule on his own recovery and by all accounts Mike Williams is well behind the rest of the offense and may take time to mature in the NFL. Prediction: 800 Receiving Yards, 3 TDs
Cole Beasley – Dallas Cowboys | ADP 131 – WR57 | I’ve been on the Cole Beasley train as early as 2014, arguing his value and suggesting he was a better option than Terrence Williams. Still, even after his success, Beasely is being drafted as late as the 14th round as a 5th or 6th WR. In PPR formats he’s rises as his 75-80 receptions is in the top 25 of all WRs, but he’s incredibly underrated so late in drafts. Prediction: 80 Receptions, 925 Receiving Yards, 5 TDs
Honorable Mentions: Robert Woods, LAR (ADP 155), Josh Doctson, Was (ADP 140), Kamar Aiken, Ind (ADP 260)