It’s football season folks! With the Hall of Fame Game officially behind us, we can confidently welcome you to the heart of draft season, and the most critical time in the preparation process.
Undoubtedly you’ve purchased your magazines or draft kits, and are reviewing the print to find players you’re interested in and players you’re out on. But if we don’t pay close attention to what’s going on in camp, we’ll miss the movers and shakers as they separate themselves from their competition.
Chris Carson| RB – SEA| At this point, the prospect of Rashaad Penny inheriting a three down workload looks slim to none as the team, and it’s beat writers, continue to pound the drum for Chris Carson. Being said to have looked like the “most impressive back” in camp doesn’t mean he’ll be a top 10 RB, but it does lend credence to the idea that he could have far more value than his 16th round ADP would suggest.
Isaiah Crowell | RB – NYJ | Still only 25 years old, it’s strange to me that Isaiah Crowell would be considered an after thought; yet here we are. Currently being drafted around pick 100, Crowell offers a ton of upside for a relatively low risk pick. With a firm grasp on the early down work, and less competition with Elijah McGuire finding himself injured, there’s a relatively high floor for The Crow in 2018.
Marquise Goodwin | WR – SF | Maybe I’m just stubborn, or maybe I’m just a Pierre Garcon truther, but I was surprised to hear that Goodwin has been performing well above expectations as Jimmy Garoppolo’s top target. Reading through the off season hyperbole machines that are the local media can be taxing, but the overwhelming signs are pointing to a monster year for the former Bills cast off. With his blend of speed and route running, Goodwin factors to be a major part of San Francisco’s resurgence in 2018.
Lamar Jackson | QB – BAL | There continues to be this narrative around the fantasy community that Lamar Jackson will be starting sooner rather than later in Baltimore, but after his lackluster performance in Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game, I’m thinking Flacco’s job is safe. He was inefficient, completing only 3 of 10 passes, and did nothing to really excite me with his obvious athleticism. He’s a late round prospect in dynasty leagues, but in redrafts and most keeper formats, he’s not worth drafting.
Doug Baldwin | WR – SEA | It’s not an issue with talent, but with his ongoing injury issues, Baldwin’s prospects of repeating as a WR1 are in jeopardy. As his knee injury lingers, likely costing him all of the preseason, there’s a very real chance Baldwin could stumble out of the gates. At his current draft capital (Rnd 4 as the WR15), he’s a risk that I’m not willing to take without some better assurances.
C.J. Anderson | RB – CAR | This one may feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but the news out of Carolina has been nothing but glowing in terms of Christian McCaffrey and his potential uses. Missing from the headlines is anything to do with newly signed bruiser CJ Anderson. With coach Ron Rivera suggesting he’d like to give McCaffrey 25+ touches per game, it’s becoming clear that they value their 2017 draft pick a little more than drafters are expecting. While I still think Anderson will be involved in the offense, I’m questioning, now, just how heavily.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Similar to Dallas, this top heavy roster has failed to produce beyond it’s run game and Larry Fitzgerald for years. Both Johnson and Fitzgerald are fairly safe bets, but who else on the roster can you trust. Newly signed QB Sam Bradford has never wowed me, but his efficiency may help support a 2nd QB if he can stay healthy. That, of course is the million dollar question… can he stay healthy?
Players worth Drafting: David Johnson (ADP 3), Larry Fitzgerald (ADP 33), Christian Kirk (ADP 182)
In ESPN mock drafts neither Bradford or Rosen are being selected with any regularity, further muddying the waters beyond the two players being selected early. Kirk is a buzzy rookie, but the rest of the roster seems to be off of the radar. Of course, if Bradford gets hurt, Rosen could be a sneaky waiver add; his profile certainly looks like that of an NFL starter.
Deep Sleeper: While Kirk was my first choice, the buzz surrounding him is loud enough now that Ricky-Seals Jones is currently being overlooked as a potential breakout candidate. A WR in college, Jones certainly profiles as a pass catching TE, and only his ability to pass block can keep him from seeing meaningful snaps in the passing game.
24. Washington Redskins
Like many of the teams in this range, turnover at the most important position in football, the quarter back position, could mean any number of things. Will Alex Smith continue to throw the ball down field after reinventing himself in Kansas City last year? Can the post hype potential of guys like Josh Doctson finally be realized?
Worth Drafting: Derrius Guice (ADP 40), Jordan Reed (ADP 85), Chris Thompson (ADP 99), Jamison Crowder (ADP 100), Alex Smith (ADP 129), Josh Doctson (ADP 137), Paul Richardson (ADP 174)
It was a strange season for Washington last year. Despite the heroic efforts of Kirk Cousins, the offense never really found a rhythm, and the ADP data suggests that no one really knows who will emerge as a top 25 WR. Alex Smith has made a career out of making the safe play, so expecting a return to last years gun slinging ways is a bit pre-mature, but Jordan Reed may be the biggest beneficiary if he can stay healthy. Odds are he won’t, but Smith tends to turn TE’s into elite fantasy options, and Reed has the talent to be a top 5 TE this season.
Deep Sleeper: While Alex Smith will have to gain some chemistry with his new team, 2nd string TE Vernon Davis is already intimately familiar with the former first overall pick. I expect Davis to have a healthy amount of snaps in this offense, and while he’s been mostly quiet since leaving San Fransisco, the TE is still a great athlete and he’s turned in his best seasons with Smith at the helm. For just about nothing, he has Top 15 potential (at the TE position).
23. San Fransisco 49ers
One of the busiest teams in the last year and a half, the 49ers went out and got what they consider a cornerstone pairing with Jerick McKinnon in the backfield to go with QB Jimmy Garoppolo. While the defense is expected to be better, this offense should continue to evolve into the high flying machine that Kyle Shanahan tends to put together.
Players Worth Drafting: Jerick McKinnon (ADP 28), Pierre Garcon (ADP 71), Jimmy Garoppolo (ADP 104), Marquise Goodwin (ADP 106), George Kittle (ADP 164), Matt Brieda (ADP 186)
Expecting the passing game to be any kind of consistent may be asking a bit too much. While Garoppolo figures to be a very good QB, the stable of receivers isn’t highlighted by any big names, and Jimmy G is just as likely to adopt the Tom Brady method of finding who’s open rather than forcing it to one or two guys. Garcon is a safe bet for consistent targets, but beyond him, there’s no guarantees for season long success.
Deep Sleeper: George Kittle seemed to fade a bit when Garoppolo came into the offense, but a few decent weeks at the end of the season rejuvenated the breakout rumors. With another season in this offense, the young TE is expected to see the bulk of the snaps at the position, and with a passing game orchestrated by Shanahan, we could see a big year at a relatively inexpensive price tag for the 2nd year TE.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
After turning in a dominant season, riding the strength of it’s rushing game and defense, the Jaguars return in 2018 featuring many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the obvious stud in Leonard Fournette, this is a team that could warrant it’s own article with all of the moving parts. As always, the Jags figure to surprise in a few more areas this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Leonard Fournette (ADP 11), Marqise Lee (ADP 118), Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (ADP 166)
The list of players being drafted, as noted above, may seem smaller than one would like, but part of the problem is that beyond Lee, the passing game features a handful of guys who have little on their resume. With the mercurial Blake Bortles set to start under center again, it’s always a question of who outside the top guy can he support? I’m a fan of Keelan Cole, if only because he helped me secure a championship, but there’s a lot of middling talent on this team that could be both fantastic or awful.
Deep Sleeper: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is one of my favorite picks to bounce back this year. After failing spectacularly to cash in on the hype, it was learned he was struggling with some kind of alcohol or drug abuse and he set about getting clean. Recently, he explained that, now sober, he’s in the best place he’s been in years and he’s ready to bring it full circle. I’m willing to give the guy a 2nd chance, as his talent excites me.
21. Tennessee Titans
When the season started last year, many fantasy pundits, myself included, had several Titans queued up as breakout candidates. Unfortunately, despite a playoff birth, most of this teams fantasy studs took a step back, hamstringing teams that relied heavily on players like the recently retired DeMarco Murray and 3rd year QB Marcus Mariota. With a new coaching staff looking to rejuvenate a team with plenty of talent, there’s optimism that this year could be the breakout last year should have ben
Players Worth Drafting: Derrick Henry (ADP 47), Delanie Walker (ADP 63), Dion Lewis (ADP 70), Corey Davis (ADP 77), Rishard Matthews (ADP 140), Marcus Mariotta (ADP 141)
Knowing how much talent Mariota has around him, it’d be a shock to see him continue the trend of regression. Corey Davis is no longer dinged up and Rishard Matthews continues to be an underrated workhorse. Throw in that the coaching staff is now better suited to pull the most out of him and the run game has a two headed monster that’s above average in all aspects of the game, and Mariota is one of the hottest break out commodities in Fantasy.
Deep Sleeper: This team has invested heavily in weapons for Mariota, and none were as successful out of college as 2017 first round pick Corey Davis. Unfortunately for him, the season started off poorly and injuries limited him to just 9 starts and 34 receptions. The talent is certainly there, and a full offseason should work wonders for the teams top receiving threat. While not a traditional “deep” sleeper, his value is a potential top 15 WR is something that can’t be overlooked.
20. Seattle Seahawks
A team in turmoil, the Seahawks had one real bright spot in 2017, and that would be Russell Wilson. There’s no doubting the former 2nd round pick any longer as he’s proven to be one of the leagues top QB’s, both in real life and in fantasy. Where the team lacked any continuity was in the run game. Porous offensive line play combined with a lackluster running back group (Chris Carson not withstanding) led to a season of “run for your life” stats that didn’t translate to success elsewhere. Improved O-line (even if just slightly) and a shiny new convertible in the backfield in Rashaad Penny, and one can be optimistic that there’s some new life in Seattle in 2018.
Players Worth Drafting: Doug Baldwin (ADP 34), Rashaad Penny (ADP 39), Russell wilson (ADP 50), Chris Carson (ADP 167), Tyler Lockett (ADP 170)
Whether you believe Penny is a true three down back or not, the truth is that his handling of 1st and 2nd down should provide some protection from Wilson, who no longer has Jimmy Graham to throw to. Doug Baldwin is the real deal in the slot, and Tyler Lockett has some upside, but this offense may have a handful of late round picks that turn into fantasy gold.
Deep Sleeper: The aforementioned Rashaad Penny is garnering much of the buzz in the backfield, but Chris Carson may offer the best value of any Seattle back. Prior to his injury, he was more effective than anyone else on the roster, and seems to have recovered well from the injury that ended his year. With Pete Carroll promising a return to smash mouth ground and pound football, Carson could be a fine sleeper if Penny isn’t all he’s been advertised (which is always a concern with rookie running backs).
Every year I run an article where I examine the what I consider to the be the most rewarding same team pairings in fantasy football. The idea, if you’re not familiar, is that by adding high tier quarterbacks with elite wide receivers or running backs you give yourself a larger share of the available points. Of course, this works best with high scoring offenses.
Last year I missed the mark a little bit with my go to; Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, as both disappointed. Luckily I planned well enough that it didn’t impact me too much (I won the league after all), but the same risks exist for any strategy as some guys just don’t show up.
But this year presents a different challenge, as the number of elite quarterbacks have dropped precipitously and the number of sure fire fantasy studs is at a questionable level. Let’s begin:
Earl Round Pairs ( Most Difficult To Manage)
Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams: Adams is finally getting the respect he deserves, ranking 7th among wide receivers. Pairing the #7 WR with the #1 QB is a healthy strategy regardless of what team they play for, but getting extra point for yards and touchdowns shared has this pairing at the top of list. Still, it’ll cost you two of your first four picks to assemble this pairing.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown: While the jury seems to be out on Roethlisberger every year in the off season, Big Ben grinds his way to a top ten finish at the position. What’s NEVER a question is how good Brown will be when he’s on the field. The easy answer is that Brown is the safest pick in fantasy, but it will require you have a top 3 or 4 pick.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas: Despite still playing at a high level, Brees has sort of slipped behind Thomas and Alvin Kamara as the top targets in the New Orleans offense. That in no way diminishes his ability to produce in fantasy, and I’d argue is a better option than both Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but that’s a different article all together. Getting Michael Thomas, though, is the hard part. His ADP of 15 will mean drafting 1-5 will preclude you from drafting him unless you get lucky. If you do get lucky, a 6th or 7th round pick will land you Brees, who’s ADP of 69 is criminally low.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: Draft Brady at your own risk, but if you’re confident that the off season malaise in New England won’t affect Brady’s ability to perform then have at it. The truth is that Rob Gronkowski could set records this year as the only reliable pair of hands left for Brady to chuck it up to. Sure, Edelman will be back in 4 games and Hogan has shown he can play with Brady, but Gronk should see the end zone 10-15 times this year on top of a ton of yards. Grabbing him in the 3rd round to pair with Brady in the 7th gives plenty of time to add skill players besides.
Middle Round Pairs (Easier To Coordinate)
Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin: This one isn’t as impactful in terms of fantasy because Wilson tends to supplement his passing stats with his legs. Unfortunately for this exercise, his rushing statistics can’t be taken into account. Still, Doug Baldwin is one of the leagues best slot receivers, and as a 4th round pick has a lot of value regardless. Without Jimmy Graham in the red one, he may even see a few more looks there. This one may not be the sexiest pair on the list, but they may be the most effective.
Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz: It may seem strange to see another WR/TE combo, but the fact is Wentz and Ertz seem to share a brain in the red zone, meaning a ton of points are up for grabs between the two of them. While Alshon Jeffrey may be the #1 wide out on the team’s depth chart, the true number one is Ertz. if you miss out on Gronk but you want a stud tight end, pair a 4th round Ertz with a 7th round Wentz and reap the benefits.
Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs: Wait, you say. This should be Thielen and Cousins! I’m here to tell you, not so fast. Now, I can see a scenario like in Denver years back with multiple 1,000 yard receivers, but the guy I’m targeting is Diggs in the late 4th round. He was excellent last year even though he wasn’t the top target for the Case Keenum led Vikings. Now, he has Cousins tossing the ball to him. A classic gunslinger, Cousins’ game best fits the strengths Diggs brings to the table. This is one of the least expensive pairings you can get as a 4th and a 10th gets you both players.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones: You may have to spend a 2nd round pick on Jones, but the wait on Ryan is a bit longer than the other QB’s on this list. As the QB13, he’s being drafted in the 11th round, and I’d argue his value is sky high this year as a bounce back candidate. If you’re like me, and you see more value in grabbing high end skill players to pair with the later round QB, Matt Ryan is a slam dunk. Have him and Julio, and you’ll reap the rewards for all those yards.
Odell Beckham and Eli Manning: If you’re nervous about drafting either of these guys, I’d say you’re hardly alone. Beckham is an otherworldly talent when he’s right, but the combination of recent injury woes and an inability to stay level headed means he may fall towards the end of the first round. What I will say is that if you manage Beckham, Manning is a wonderful pairing if you waited a bit long on your QB. In the 16th round of drafts (current ADP is 152) Manning presents a conundrum. He was awful last year but much of it could be logically blamed on the terrible circumstances around him. With healthy weapons, an upgraded offensive line, and an elite RB to draw the attention, and Manning could be a surprise top 15 QB this year.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen: Allen proved last year that when he’s healthy, he’s every bit the stud we thought he was. Rivers remains one of the most under appreciated QB’s in fantasy, and his ADP of 112 presents tons of value. Without Hunter Henry, even more weight will be given to Allen, meaning these two could hook up for a ton of points.
Honorable Mentions: Derek Carr and Amari Cooper (a new coach could help get these two back on track). Jared Goff and Brandin Cooks (it’s a new look for Goff, but Cooks could be his go to early and often). Jameis Winston and Mike Evans (This requires a bounce back year for both, but not guaranteed). Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis (There’s so much talent between these two, it’s hard to imagine both of them laying duds this year).