4. Green Bay Packers
The only thing this team is missing to be in the top three is a viable run game, but the mere presence of the best quarter back in the league helps elevate the entire passing game. Add to his arsenal an elite red zone weapon in tight end Jimmy Graham, and you have a recipe for success for one of the leagues best passing attacks.
Players Worth Drafting: Davante Adams (ADP 22), Aaron Rodgers (ADP 23), Jimmy Graham (ADP 61), Randall Cobb (ADP 88), Jamaal Williams (ADP 105), Aaron Jones (ADP 124), Ty Montgomery (ADP 131)
The real question becomes “is there anyone who can handle the rushing duties?” It feels like forever ago that Eddie Lacy was a first round pick, and after last years three back committee failed to churn out more than a spot start here and there, the hunt is on as all three return in some capacity. While Aaron Jones looked more impressive in his opportunities, it looks like Williams will get the first crack at the job.
Deep Sleeper: Last year I tore into the idea that Ty Montgomery was a viable three down back, and following an injury, it seemed that I was right. Still, neither Jamaal Williams nor Aaron Jones did enough to erase the memories of Montgomery shredding defenses in the passing game. When healthy, and by all accounts he is, he’ll handle the passing downs, and in the 15th round, he’s got far too high a ceiling to not be a target.
3. New England Patriots
Yes, I’m concerned about the Patriots ability to return to the Super Bowl given the on going off season drama, but I’m not concerned about the elite players turning in elite fantasy seasons. Tom Brady may take a bit of a step back this year due to age and unfamiliar pieces, but even a Tom Brady at 90% is better than most in a league that values decision making and smarts. It’s the run game that could potentially produce the biggest surprises in New England this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Rob Gronkowski (ADP 19), Tom Brady (ADP 31), Sony Michel (ADP 51), Chris Hogan (ADP 69), Julian Edelman (ADP 80), Rex Burkhead (ADP 114), James White (ADP 145), Jordan Matthews (ADP 188)
With 1st round back Sony Michel the first NE back coming off the board, it sure seems like the public believes the Patriots are going to do what every other NFL franchise does when it drafts a player that high. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, while Michel is a nice player, it’s Rex Burkhead that’s the Patriot to own at running back. His versatility and rapport with Brady is undeniable, and with less time to prepare thanks to his off season hold out, Brady will need to lean on Hogan and Burkhead to get the offense going.
Deep Sleeper: I may be a bit higher on Jordan Matthews than most, but I see a low risk pick that has the chance to start the season as the top slot option in a passing attack that targets it’s slot receivers at a higher rate than most of the league. With Edelman missing 4 games and over a year removed from playing football, there’s a very good chance that this is Matthews best chance to showcase his skills.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are a team on the rise. With a capable backup quarter back, even a delay in the return of franchise QB Carson Wentz isn’t a death sentence for the elite players this roster boasts. Zach Ertz is a no doubt TE in any format, as he continues to be the top target in the red zone. Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor return as a fantasic complimentary duo, with both players a threat to his 800-1000 yards.
Players Worth Drafting: Zach Ertz (ADP 32), Jay Ajayi (ADP 43), Alshon Jeffrey (ADP 46), Carson Wentz (ADP 53), Nelson Agholor (ADP 117), Corey Clement (ADP 181)
Targeting a running back here could get tricky. You may be tempted to jump early at Ajayi after he posted some pretty impressive numbers in an Eagles uniform. I’d caution against it. While he certainly has the skills, he’s in an unenviable position of being type cast in the early down role with Darren Sproles handling the passing downs and Corey Clement chewing into red zone touches.
Deep Sleeper: Currently falling into the “undrafted” category, Darren Sproles returns as the primary pass catcher for the Eagles. While the diminutive scat-back certainly has the injury history to make one squeamish, he also has the skills to haul in 50+ balls from the waiver wire.
1. Minnesota Vikings
It may surprise you to see the Vikings here, but after paying big money to bring in Kirk Cousins, the offense in Minnesota now features a top 20 player at every counting position, and several top 10 candidates. Kirk Cousins’ big arm should only help Diggs close the game with Thielen (if not pass him) and a Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray backfield should scare defensive coordinators who want to abandon the box to stop the down the field passing.
Players Worth Drafting: Dalvin Cook (ADP 14), Adam Thielen (ADP 25), Stefon Diggs (ADP 35), Kirk Cousins (ADP 76), Kyle Rudolph (ADP 84), Latavius Murray (ADP 155)
You may be wondering why Cook is being valued as high as he is after only playing 4 games as a rookie before suffering a big time injury. The truth is that, while he could certainly return a different player, it’s expected he’ll return healthy and continue to receive a three down workload. In those 4 games he averaged over 5 receptions and 100 combined yards, further supporting Minnesota’s intentions to use him even on passing downs.
Deep Sleeper: Allow me to talk out of the other side of my mouth for a moment and plug Latavius Murray as one of my favorite deep sleepers of the year. With Cook’s return imminent, his draft value continues to fall, making the former Raider a fantastic value given how well he played in Cooks absence last year. I’ve sung his praises in years past, and the freak athleticism he possesses should help him see the field regardless of Cooks’ effectiveness upon his return.
9. Houston Texans
The Texan’s playoff hopes were dashed the moment the team announced budding superstar Deshaun Watson would miss the remainder of the 2017 season with a non-contact ACL tear. What we were witnessing up until that point was nothing sort of miraculous, and the lack of a larger sample size has led many pundits to argue the pro’s and con’s a little more loudly than for some other players.
Players Worth Drafting: DeAndre Hopkins (ADP 8), Deshaun Watson (ADP 45), Lamar Miller (ADP 73), Will Fuller (ADP 79), D’Onta Foreman (ADP 115)
While DeAndre Hopkins is one of the safest bets in any league format, predicting how much regression to expect for Watson is the hardest thing to do. As others have been so quick to point out, Watson’s 2017 pace had him finishing with just under 500 attempts, which when accounting for regression should scare those who are willing to draft him early. The same can be said for Will Fuller who’s ceiling may be sky high, but his bust weeks could be more numerous than other guys in his draft area.
Deep Sleeper: One of my favorite sleepers last year, D’Onta Foreman was hit with the injury bug as well, rupturing his achilles to end his season. While he certainly flashed at times, his usage remained inconsistent despite Lamar Miller’s numerous ailments. I expect that at some point this season Foreman should gain at least a split in the carries, if not a larger time share than that. Blessed with three down talent, he’s one opportunity away from stealing the full time gig.
8. New Orleans Saints
A perennial powerhouse when it comes to churning out fantasy studs, New Orleans looks poised to do so again this year with 2nd year back Alvin Kamara ready to take a larger portion of the offense on, especially in the absence of Ingram who will serve a suspension to start the year. As always, this team goes as far as Drew Brees takes them, and the consistency remains despite his advanced age.
Players Worth Drafting: Alvin Kamara (ADP 6), Michael Thomas (ADP 16), Mark Ingram (ADP 57), Drew Brees (ADP 75), Ted Ginn Jr. (ADP 156), Cameron Meredith (ADP 168), Ben Watson (ADP 182)
Still one of my favorite fantasy commodities, Michael Thomas should return as a fantasy stud, even with Cameron Meredith brought in to bolster this offense. Expecting this team to run the football as much as it did last year would be a bit foolish given the explosiveness this team features in the passing game. Expect a bit of a down turn in Ingram’s usage when he returns from his suspension.
Deep Sleeper: Before the season, I was hyper critical of Ted Ginn’s one dimensional game, and while he was successful last year, Cameron Meredith was brought in to provide a more traditional number two option in the passing game. While his health will certainly be in question, the talent that had him one of the trendier picks prior to his season ending injury in 2017 remains. With an elite QB throwing him the football, he’s a safe bet to out perform his ADP.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Is it any surprise that, despite the issues with depth, a team featuring two of the top five players on the planet would finish as a top 10 ranked fantasy juggernaut? We all know what Bell and Brown bring to the table, and Ben Roethlisberger should continue to be boring but reliable. It’s the rest of the offense that presents the biggest risk as well as opportunity.
Players Worth Drafting: Le’Veon Bell (ADP 1), Antonio Brown (ADP 5), Juju Smith-Schuster (ADP 44), Ben Roethlisberger (ADP 89), Vance McDonald (ADP 169), James Washington (ADP 192)
with Bell threatening to hold out for much of the preseason, the question becomes how quickly will he hit the ground running? I doubt there will be much of an impact; this team and it’s offense hasn’t changed much in the last few years, and Bell’s talent trumps any other circumstance. The passing game does have a huge hole at tight end, though, with neither Jesse James or Vance McDonald being worth drafting in almost any format.
Deep Sleeper: This roster consists of a mostly top-heavy spread of talent, so choosing a deep sleeper is difficult. If you’re like me, and the issues surrounding Bell concern you, it’s not hard to see the value in his backup; James Conner. Already, rumblings about how well Conner has looked in off season programs have been surfacing, so either the Steelers are trying to motivate Bell or their preparing for life without him. Either way, any back with the kind of volume a Pittsburgh back has is worth a flier in case Conner sees extended time on the field.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
A breakout year across the board, the Chiefs cut bait with former first overall pick Alex Smith and instead are going to roll with Pat Mahomes as their young gunslinger of the future. Gifted with a monster arm, Mahomes may be better suited for this offense than his predecessor, especially given the addition of Sammy Watkins.
Players Worth Drafting: Kareem Hunt (ADP 10), Travis Kelce (ADP 26), Tyreek Hill (ADP 27), Sammy Watkins (ADP 74), Patrick Mahomes (ADP 113)
With so much speed and so many weapons, it’d be important to caution anyone about over drafting Kareem Hunt. Despite his massive numbers in his rookie year, consistency was never a given, and with Spencer Ware returning to the fold and Charcandarick West still on the squad, it’ll be difficult for Hunt to return with the volume he had last year. Getting a piece of the Chiefs offense may seem like a good idea, but only at the right price.
Deep Sleeper: The fact that Spencer Ware isn’t on anyone’s radar this off season speaks to the impressive nature of Kareen Hunts 2017 season. What it doesn’t account for is that Ware looked might impressive himself when he had the starting gig down the stretch in 2016. What should start as some kind of committee, there’s no way to discount the player that Ware is. While I doubt Hunt falters enough for Ware to take over 100%, any struggle should give Ware time on the field. Should he prove himself, Ware would be a steal in that offense.
5. Carolina Panthers
So I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong about Christian McCaffrey when I tried to talk folks out of drafting him. What I’m not wrong about is the effect C.J. Anderson’s arrival will have on his rushing statistics. When the team brought him in to replace the departed James Stewart, it signaled that McCaffrey would not inherit the first and second downs like many expected.
Players Worth Drafting: Christian McCaffrey (ADP 20), Greg Olsen (ADP 54), Cam Newton (ADP 60), Devin Funchess (ADP 81), C.J. Anderson (ADP 138), D.J. Moore (ADP 146)
Cam Newton, however, should benefit from the additional weapons. Both Anderson’s ability to refocus opposing defenses and D.J. Moore providing a potential #1 WR should make Cam an even safer bet this year to finish as a top five quarterback. I’m bullish on all three of them to far outperform their price on draft day, while less so on McCaffrey and Olsen.
Deep Sleeper: As mentioned above, I believe in the talent that D.J. Moore has, and there’s a reason why Carolina traded up to get him. With Funchess not really possessing the elite receiver profile, he’ll have opportunities early and often to steal a larger portion of targets than most of his fellow rookie receivers.
14. New York Giants
It may come as a surprise to many, but I feel that this roster could be even higher on this list if I was convinced the O-Line had improved. I love the addition of Nate Solder, but it remains to be seen if the Giants can give Eli Manning enough time to find his receivers. It helps getting Beckham back. Between the passing game and Saquon Barkley’s arrival, this offense should keep defensive coordinators guessing and give the Giants plenty of plays to run to keep Eli on his feet.
Players Worth Drafting: Saquon Barkley (ADP 7), Odell Beckham Jr (ADP 12), Evan Engram (ADP 65), Sterling Shepard (ADP 121)
While it may seem like we’re overvaluing Barkley, the truth is that he fits the mold of a 3 down back, and despite Jonathan Stewart’s presence on the roster, I expect Barkley to have a massive number of touches. Just knowing he’ll see 275 rushes (or more) will mean more space to run for Eli’s three biggest weapons. While there may not be enough balls going to receivers to support all these weapons, the fact remains that Big Blue should be much improved over last year.
Deep Sleeper: It may be the first act of his swan song, but the Eli Manning should be inline for one of his best seasons in years. Don’t expect outrageous volume; my guess is that the Giants will opt to rush a bit more than pass, but he’s got the weapons to far outpace the projections that have him sitting just outside the draft able tier of QBs. If you need to pull the trigger on a super late QB, Manning is one I’d be comfortable taking.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are one of those teams that churn out reliable fantasy starters without despite never really feeling like an elite NFL team. Despite Philip Rivers still being disrespected by the fantasy community, it’s clear that owners trust the production of the two biggest stars in Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen. Of course, aside from volume, both players represent major concerns that may dissuade you from selecting them at their position near the top of your draft.
Players Worth Drafting: Melvin Gordon (ADP 13), Keenan Allen (ADP 15), Philip Rivers (ADP 125), Mike Williams (ADP 165)
Gordon is an interesting case in that he’ll have tons of volume (roughly 20 touches per game) but he’s not exactly taking the top off with a career yard per carry mark of under 4. Whether or not that’s a product of the system, the signs are there for regression should the volume change at all. Keenan Allen on the other hand represents one of the highest ceilings in the league despite feeling like an injury risk every time he steps on the field. Drafting a Charger takes guts, and while the reward can be great (both are considered top 12 in their respective positions) the risk is equally as jarring.
Deep Sleeper: It’s hardly a secret, but Mike Williams is popping up everywhere as a potential 2nd year breakout candidate. Thanks to his injury issues that kept him from turning into a fantasy stud last year, you have a limited window to grab the elite talent in a later round. If you happen to get him, understand that he’s a WR1 waiting to happen.
12. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland’s 1 – 31 record over the last two seasons may scare you away from drafting their players, but I’d argue that most of these guys are undervalued for that very reason. Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry are both top 25 threats, even in the same offense, and Duke Johnson remains under rated especially in PPR formats. The only major concerns I have are with Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb cannibalizing each other’s touches.
Players Worth Drafting: Josh Gordon (ADP 37), Jarvis Landry (ADP 55), Duke Johnson (ADP 78), Nick Chubb (ADP 111), Carlos Hyde (ADP 120), David Njoku (ADP 139), Tyrod Taylor (ADP 149)
Njoku may find himself the odd man out this year in the passing game with so many elite options for Tyrod Taylor to attack with. Josh Gordon has been heavily targetted (9-11 targets per game since 2012) and should continue to see the bulk of the targets, but don’t count out Landry for another 100 reception season. Don’t shy away from Taylor either; Baker Mayfield is going to hold a clipboard this year.
Deep Sleeper: Tyrod Taylor may have had a down year last year, but his weapons improved exponentially compared to what he had to work with in Cleveland. While his ADP has him available near the end of your draft, there’s a real chance for him to finish as a QB1 this year.
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Super Bowl hangover was a strong one for Atlanta who went from record setters to barely watchable in the matter of a few months. Still, even this much of a drop feels like an overreaction as the Falcons still boast some of the most complete play makers in all of football. Expecting Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman to repeat as middle of the pack performers would be a sure fire way to miss out on a discount for this years Atlanta studs.
Players Worth Drafting: Julio Jones (ADP 9), Devonta Freeman (ADP 21), Tevin Coleman (ADP 83), Matt Ryan (ADP 119), Calvin Ridley (ADP 132), Mohamed Sanu (ADP 152)
Obviously Jones is still being targetted early, but still overlooked is his usage in the end zone. Not much has to improve for him to go from a top 10 WR to a top 3, which I expect to be the case this year. Outside of Jones, the Falcons are universally underrated, especially veteran QB Matt Ryan. While I won’t predict a return to the 2016 numbers that saw him win a regular season MVP, I will be bold enough to predict a return to the top 10 in his position. A perfect “wait on a QB” candidate, he’ll help you build out a stabled of position players without costing you much in production.
Deep Sleeper: Mohamed Sanu may not be a sexy name, but he’s been an above average 2nd option in this Atlanta offense for years, and the arrival of Calvin Ridley shouldn’t completely torpedo his usage. If anything, there’s more evidence that rookie receivers aren’t fantasy studs right away, so don’t expect Sanu to fade into the background. He’s a 16-18 round option who could put up WR30 numbers if Atlanta returns to it’s high flying ways.
10. Detroit Lions
It helps that Detroit loves to the throw the football, and I don’t see the addition of Kerryon Johnson or LeGarrette Blount changing that. I expect another 600 attempt season out of Stafford, as well as positive performances out of Tate and Jones, both of whom should hit the 1,000 yard mark this year. The rushing game exists to compliment this potent passing attack, so expect experimentation early on as the coaching staff tries to meld the deep stable of backs into a cohesive unit, so don’t expect too much too soon.
Players Worth Drafting: Golden Tate (ADP 49), Marvin Jones (ADP 62), Kerryon Johnson (ADP 93), Matthew Stafford (ADP 107), LeGarrette Blount (ADP 148), Kenny Golladay (ADP 151), Theo Riddick (ADP 158)
In fact, the rushing game may be ugly all season long. LeGarrette Blount was brought in to be a goal line guy, so while TD’s may be a boon, there’s no telling what the rest of the group will siphon away. Theo Riddick is the safest of the group in PPR leagues, but Kerryon Johnson could be a guy who increases his workload slowly until he’s a fantasy star.
Deep Sleeper: Luke Willson was an under the radar signing for a team that’s been looking for it’s red zone, pass catching TE for years. His athletic ability profiles him as a top tier receiving threat, even if his limited exposure in Seattle would seem to show otherwise. With Kenny Golladay the popular late round pick in this offense, I expect to be able to add Willson off waivers or in the really late rounds in deep leagues, which is exactly the kind of value I look for from a guy with his pedigree.