While the season still sits firmly on the horizon, fantasy nerds like myself help prop up the early season ADP data by grinding mock drafts despite having very little information to work with. While I’ll still examine each position with the “hidden gem” feature articles later in the summer, we’re going to provide sleeper updates on a monthly basis until the season begins.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA: Don’t confuse his inclusion on this list as a suggestion that the Dolphins are a team on the rise; because they’re not. What he is, though, is a potential top 15 fantasy quarterback available in the last few rounds of your draft. Ignoring last season, Tannehill has finished 13th (2013), 7th (2014), and 15th (2015), and turned in a dud in 2016 as the QB25 (he did miss 3 games). Those aren’t world beater numbers, but considering the relatively easy schedule he’ll face, and his ability to generate surprising yards on the ground (he averages around 200 yards per season) his floor is well above what we may expect from a player being drafted currently in the 21st round of deep drafts. As a bench player, he costs very little draft capital, but provides more upside than the other QB’s being drafted in a similar spot.
Matt Ryan, ATL: A massive drop off from his QB2 finish in 2016, Ryan’s 2017 has scared off potential suitors and saw him drop to the QB16 spot per current consensus ADP data. No longer playing with the pressures of the QB who blew the biggest super bowl lead, Ryan is poised to bounce back. Atlanta returns it’s superstar backfield, still has Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and added Calvin Ridley at the draft, marking a very clear focus on surrounding Matty Ice with weapons. A return to the high flying offensive numbers of 2016 may be a stretch, but I’d find it hard to believe if Ryan turns in another dud this year. I fully expect a top 10 QB finish, and one that can be added in the 11th round of your draft.
Ty Montgomery, GB: I know I was derisive of Montgomery last year, but in spite of that, his current ranking (RB59, ADP – 100) is criminally low for a back that many viewed as a top 20 back last year before injuries derailed his season. While he remains an injury risk, a health Montgomery should resume his lead back role in 2018, especially in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be catching passes from the best QB in the game right now. If you need to add depth at the RB position, or punted on early round backs, Montgomery may help bail out a roster.
Marlon Mack, IND: While Mack was a trendy sleeper pick last year behind the aging Frank Gore, his performance over the season left a lot to be desired. In 16 games Mack garnered double digit touches only twice (in week 1 and week 8) otherwise he was an after thought in a terrible Colts offense. Now, he’s in line to be the lead back with Gore leaving for Miami, and the news that he’s fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he played the season with further cements his “sleeper” status in my mind. Even if Andrew Luck remains on the shelf, in the 8th round of drafts (ADP of 77th overall), Mack provides a solid floor while presenting plenty of upside.
Devante Parker, MIA: Last year, Parker was drafted with the expectation that he’d take a leap into the positions top 20; instead he was saddled with horrendous quarterback play and inconsistent targets following the season ending ACL injury suffered by Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill doesn’t present much of an upgrade over Jay Cutler and co in terms of real football, he does have a great rapport with Parker. Coupled with a relatively easy schedule, an Parker is a steal at 104 overall.
Cole Beasley, DAL: Another tumultuous offseason for the Cowboys saw franchise corner stone Dez Bryant leave via free agency and Jason Witten retired. Despite the addition of Allen Hurns, the player who stands to gain the most from the absence should be Cole Beasley. After leading the team in targets in 2016, Beasley felt the effects of the Elliott suspension hard as the season saw him finish with only 36 catches on 63 targets. Let’s not forget, though, that the diminutive slot man led the team in targets in 2016 and saw a healthy 75 targets the year before. Expecting 80+ targets shouldn’t be too difficult a prediction considering that Dak Prescott has to throw to somebody and Beasely represents the best option for slot work on a run first team. Basically an afterthought in drafts so far, Beasley can be had for the low low price of nothing.
David Njoku, Cle: Coming out of college Njoku seemed like a lock to contribute right out of the gates, but as we so often find out, rookies are a crap shoot in fantasy. Now, the word is that targets are going to be scarce for the talented tight end, thanks to three very good receivers and two capable pass catching backs on the roster. I’d argue that with Tyrod Taylor’s propensity to scramble with the football, Njoku could be a nice target for owners looking to add TE depth late in drafts. While he likely won’t finish in the top 15 at the position, he’ll probably see a healthy number of targets in the red zone, giving him value regardless.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jac: One of these days my Sefarian-Jenkins take is going to pay off in spades, and this year looks like it’s the year. Uber talented, Sefarian-Jenkins toiled away on a Jets team that couldn’t get consistency on offense no matter how hard it tried. It was recently revealed that ASJ suffered from substance abuse issues that he’s since sought help for and claims that he’s sober and focused on football for the first time as a pro. Color me intrigued as an involved Sefarian-Jenkins could be a monster in fantasy, especially given the lack of top tier weapons in Jacksonville following Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns departures. A late round target, he’ll cost you next to nothing to acquire but could be a massive piece of a championship run.
Joe Mixon, RB – CIN: With only one pre-season week in the books, any and all observation must be taken with a grain of salt, but Mixon certainly impressed in his NFL debut, rushing 6 times for 31 yards and hauling in one reception for 11 more. Mixon’s draft position has been slowly climbing as the hype machine gets louder, but a few more performances like this and the fears surrounding Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill’s presence on the roster will lose their weight.
Andrew Luck, QB – IND: The news out of Indianapolis is that Luck will be ready “around” the time of the season opener. This situation is sticky at best, considering that Luck is still being drafted as high as the #4 QB. Forecasting a QB’s effectiveness following his return from a lengthy recovery like Luck’s is difficult but I’ve already dropped Luck to #9 on my QB rankings as I anticipate some rust as he works his way back to game shape. If Luck misses any significant time, it could be even worse for owners who invested in him earlier in the preseason on the promises of Jim Irsay and the Colts front office.
Jordan Matthews, WR – BUF: Newly acquired wide out Jordan Matthews found himself injured following his very first Bills practice with what the team is reporting as a chip fracture in his sternum. At this point, he’s been labelled as week to week which makes for a messy situation as Matthews has to still learn the offense and his new role. While he may return from this injury quickly, it’s important to note that Zay Jones could very likely lead the passing game early on, and can be had for next to nothing at the end of drafts. If you’re high on Matthews in the Bills offense, just understand it could be a while before he pays off on the score sheet.
Alfred Morris, RB – DAL: Most (myself included) looked at Darren McFadden as the obvious stand in for Ezekiel Elliott’s 6 game suspension, but after a fine performance from the once-starter Morris, the waters are certainly muddied. I’m not suggestion that a single pre-season game would change the entire outlook on the Dallas backfield, but it’s far from the realm of possibility that Morris at least steals enough carries from McFadden to render either of them a flex starter at best. If I were forced to bet on either of them getting the bulk of the carries for 6 weeks, it’s still on McFadden, but I’d monitor the situation if you’re a Zeke owner who’s keen on snagging his handcuff.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting per sources that the NFL is planning to suspend Cowboys second year RB Ezekiel Elliott 6 games to start the season. This is a massive blow to early drafters who spent a first round pick on a player who’s set to miss 40% of the upcoming fantasy season.
Still, with the lack of information or evidence surrounding the domestic violence case and the other two incidents being far less egregious, I’d expect an appeal to at least shorten the length on his band to somewhere in the 3-4 game range.
Either way temper your expectations on Elliott and elevate McFadden as a possible handcuff and mid-late round guy for owners of Elliott and Doug Martin.
As the NFL transitioned in the 2000’s to the made-for-tv passing attacks that led to high flying offenses around the league, it became clear that wide receivers are the new “must haves” in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Consistency is the key, and with so many targets to go around, it’s unlikely that stud wide outs fall from grace unless injuries to themselves or their quarterbacks derail their season.
Still, the NFL is an ever changing landscape and the wide receiver pool features new names every year. Who can you count on to make the leap into the top 10?
Least Risk: Dez Bryant, WR – DAL
If you want an in depth look into Dez Bryant and his prospects this year, check out this fantastic article at FantasyPros.com, the data is pretty clear; Bryant isn’t done. A combination of injuries, ineffective play, and the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott as the catalyst for the Dallas offence led Bryan to finish as the WR 29, far below the expectations levied on him in the preseason. He’s still being selected as early as the end of the 2nd round, but the truth is that as his rapport with Prescott improved, Bryant quietly returned to his effective self, setting up a likely return to the top 10 of WR’s and the potential to push into the top 5.
A Little Risk: Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
Hill has gone from a sleeper pick to rocketing up draft boards following the release of WR Jeremy Maclin. As of the writing of this article, his ADP is in the 6th round but climbing. He presents a difficult assesment because the young receiver has never been tested as his teams #1 so regression is a potential concern as defenses cue up on him much more. Still, aside from Kelce, Hill offers strong upside as one of the most likely targets between the 20’s. Despite the unknowns, his ability and Kansas City’s committment to him as their guy should propel him up the standings by the time the season ends.
Most Risk: DeSean Jackson, WR – TB
While you may think Jackson in the top 10 is a stretch, remember that he’s sliding into the number two spot on Tampa’s Targets list and he’s protected from defenses thanks to the otherworldly ability of Mike Evans. With Jackson’s ability to stretch the field and get behind defenders firmly in tact (Jackson’s 17.9 YPC led all receivers with more than 25 receptions) expect Winston to look his way early and often and a career year could be in the cards for the crafty veteran.
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)
Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players.
Last season saw the rookie duo of Zeke Elliot and Dak Prescott carry the Dallas Cowboys to a division championship and an 8-2 run to close the season pushed the Giants into the wild card round in what looks to be one of the most stacked divisions in football once again. Both teams have plenty to be concerned with as Philly and Washington both closed the gap in the offseason.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Wentz (QB21), LeGarrett Blount (RB28), Darren Sproles (RB55), Alshon Jeffrey (WR13), Jordan Matthews (WR45), Zach Ertz (TE10)
Synopsis – While the Eagles managed a 3-0 start to the season, by the end of the year it was painfully obvious that young QB Carson Wentz needed more reliable weapons. He receives those in the form of jump ball specialist Alshon Jeffrey and bruising running back LeGarrett Blount to complement an improving Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor falls off the radar completely, but Jordan Matthews figures to man the slot and Darren Sproles should reprise his role as the primary passing down back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Kirk Cousins (QB7), Robert Kelley (RB31), Samaje Perine (RB35), Terrelle Pryor (WR20), Jamison Crowder (WR32), Josh Doctson (WR55), Jordan Reed (TE5)
Synopsis – One massive franchise tag later and the Washington Redskins return their wildly successful QB under center, and as the fates would have it Cousins has a new toy to play with. Converted QB Terrelle Pryor has elevated himself to WR2 status after a monster year in Cleveland and expects even better this year in Washington. Still, there are plenty of targets to go around for Crowder and a healthy Doctson. In the backfield, Kelley is expected to reprise the starting role, but rumors persist that Perine may be in line for some work should he falter.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Dak Prescott (QB9), Ezekiel Elliott (RB3), Dez Bryant (WR9) Cole Beasley (WR71), Jason Witten (TE16)
Synopsis – Prior to last year we had no idea Dak Prescott would push Elliott for the rookie of the year. This year, there are no such misconceptions as Dallas returns its potent two headed monster and hopes for a healthy year out of Dez Bryant. Under appreciated slot man Cole Beasley expects to far outperform his draft position with another 70 receptions, and the ageless Jason Witten is a safe TE2 who could score a bunch of TDs.
New York Giants
Notable Fantasy Stars: Eli Manning (QB19) Paul Perkins (RB30), Shane Vereen (RB72), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR4), Brandon Marshall (WR34), Sterling Shephard (WR54)
Synopsis – Not to be outdone by the rest of the East, the Giants went out and added former WR1 in Brandon Marshall, pointing towards a year in which Eli Manning does most of the offensive work. Paul Perkins should still see plenty of work on the ground (and Vereen on third downs) but this team is going to pass first and pass often. OBJ will still be the teams #1 but Sterling Shephard may take a bit of a hit with attention being given elsewhere.
Well the NFL Season is right around the corner and The Dr. is in the house! I apologize for my late arrival, but the world around us never ceases. Alas, here we are!
To ease us into the new Fantasy year, we’ll come back with 3 quick hits ( a veritable Fantasy 3 and out, if you will ).
1) Ezekial Elliot, worth the hype?
I wrote this article last year when the Todd Gurley train was a-rolling. I still feel very much the same way about rookie RB’s. Let them be the other guys mistake! Now, I conceed that Elliot is in a fantastic position to provide hefty fantasy dividends, and I’ll also admit that he looks like he’ll be a solid NFL pro at some point, but for every Gurley or Peterson, there are more still of the Bishop Sankey/Felix Jones’ of the world.
2) Suspensions Galore!
One of the most difficult things to gauge is how a player is impacted by a suspension (or even injuries). The offseason so two elite Fantasy players in Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell find themselves with 4 games suspensions, and leave drafters wondering what their value is. Truthfully, I think both players will provide elite fantasy production down the stretch, and their draft positions will likely reflect that. You’ll have to go earlier than you probably would like to get them, so make sure you’re prepared with a good plan to suppliment their numbers in the middle rounds, otherwise skip on them all together.
3) The continued fall of the RB.
Last year we saw more leagues than ever load up on QB and WR early and take swings at middling RB’s in the hopes that they turned into gold. I was one of the unlucky ones who retained Bell’s services and felt the egg as it hit my face simultanious to his knee injury. Owners of Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and other top of the draft RB’s who didn’t live up to expectations can attest to that now. Remember, RB is no longer the easiest position to draft, there’s too many committees and offenses that run through the air. Your best bet? Draft elite WR’s first, they’ve shown to be more consistent over the past few years.
- Michael Floyd – WR / Arizona Cardinals (Hand) – I expect Floyd to be ready for week one, but it’s clear the door is open for John Brown to ascend to push Floyd further down on our rankings. Unless he gets meaningful preseason reps, I’d expect him to open as the WR3 in Arizona.
- Kevin White – WR / Chicago Bears (Shin) – 6 weeks minimum is the expected time missed for the rookie as his shin injury required surgery. He could be on the shelf longer, but even when he returns it’s unlikely he’ll provide much fantasy help. Eddie Royal is looking like gold right now…
- Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas (Hamstring) – Although it’s not nearly as severe as the other injuries on this list, the mere mention of yet another injury in the long litany of them DMC has suffered should give owners pause. Draft with extreme caution, primarily as the cuff to Joseph Randle who now owns the keys to the kingdom.
- Joique Bell – RB / Detroit Lions (Knee) – Bell is working hard to find his way back on to the field, but it may be too little too late for the ageing veteran. Ameer Abdullah’s hype train seems unstoppable at this point, and while Bell won’t be kicked to the curb completely, it’s hard to expect him to handle a larger portion of the snaps.
- Arian Foster – RB / Houston (Groin) – It’s looking like half the season or more after groin surgery to repair the most recent injury to Foster. I argued to look past the injury history with Foster earlier in the off season, but it’s hard to ignore the facts; Foster is an injury waiting to happen, and as such needs to be handled with kid gloves. The fear with Foster is that even when he does play it’ll be a wait and see approach if he’s even worth starting. More of a last round flier than anything else with his history.
- Devante Parker – WR / Miami (Foot) – He showed flashes earlier in the off season and looked to fill a role on a team with several diminutive possession receivers. He should be ready for week one, but it may take him some time to get going, and Miami has a lot of mouths to feed. Be mindful he won’t be impact-full for several weeks at best to start the season.
- Brandon LaFell – WR / New England Patriots (Foot) – What exactly does his injury report mean? Not much considering that New England is the masters at giving just enough information to seem forthcoming but really say nothing. He may be hobbled to a bit to start the season, but without Brady, his numbers should be stunted anyways.
- CJ Spiller – RB / New Orleans Saints (Knee) – Spiller’s injury likely won’t cost him regular season playing time but it’s worth noting that Spiller has had troubles staying healthy in the past. When he’s on the field he’s electric, and his ability to play 3rd and passing downs makes him a valuable asset, but keep a close eye on his health going into your drafts, and have a backup plan for if (when) he becomes injured.
- Zach Ertz – TE / Philadelphia Eagles (Torso) – Ertz had a relatively minor surgery on his core, so expect him to be ready for week one. Not nearly as concerning as a head, knee, or foot injury, I’d ignore this one as a real threat to his ascension into the elite ranks of TE’s. Expect him utilized early and often in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense.
- Niles Paul – TE / Washington Redskins (Ankle) – At one point, the question of which Washington TE would get the bulk of looks was a real one. Now we know it won’t be Paul. The out-of-no-where contributor will be on the shelf for the 2015 season after breaking his ankle in the preseason. If Jordan Reed is healthy ( and they’re a concern there as well ) he could be worthy of a later round flier.
After the fantasy world collectively held it’s breath awaiting word on the extensions for Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant (both were recent hold outs), we can all breath a sigh of relief since both players signed 5 year $70 million dollar contract extensions.
However unlikely it was that either or both players were going to hold out for actual NFL games, we can now stop pondering how Terrance Williams would do in the absence of Bryant, and get back to drafting both of these guys in the first two rounds with confidence.
As Dez Bryant continues to hold out in an attempt to force Jerry Jones’ hand on contract talks, Terrance Williams has assumed the role of the #1 WR in the offense in minicamps. Although Bryant is unlikely to hold out for actual NFL games, williams has acquitted himself quite well, and will likely see an improvement on the numbers from last year.
Williams possesses the ability to be a difference maker down field, as was evidenced by his 7 TD’s on 37 total catches. If this time with the number ones improves his on the field relationship with Tony Romo, expect a much better finish than previously expected out of him.