Updated 6/26 (numbers in parenthasis are change in ranking from 6/1 rankings)
- Aaron Rodgers, GB (E)
- Tom Brady, NE (E)
- Drew Brees, NO (E)
- Matt Ryan, ATL (E)
- Andrew Luck, IND (E)
- Jameis Winston, TB (E)
- Kirk Cousins, WAS (E)
- Dak Prescott, DAL (+1)
- Russell Wilson, SEA (-1)
- Cam Newton, CAR (E)
- Derek Carr, OAK (+1)
- Tyrod Taylor, BUF (-1)
- Marcus Mariotta, TEN (+2)
- Philip Rivers, LAC (E)
- Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (-2)
- Matthew Stafford, DET (E)
- Andy Dalton, CIN (E)
- Carson Wentz, PHI (+3)
- Eli Manning, NYG (E)
- Blake Bortles, JAC (-2)
- Ryan Tannehill, MIA (-1)
- Joe Flacco, BAL (E)
- Sam Bradford, MIN (+2)
- Carson Palmer, ARI (-1)
- Alex Smith, KC (-1)
- Deshaun Watson, HOU (E)
- Mike Glennon, CHI (+1)
- Paxton Lynch, DEN (+1)
- DeShone Kizer, CLE (-2)
- Cody Kessler, CLE (E)
- Jared Goff, LAR (+1)
- Josh McCown, NYJ (-1)
- Christian Hackenberg, NYJ (+2)
- Brian Hoyer, SF (-1)
- Mitch Trubisky, CHI (+3)
- Tom Savage, HOU (E)
- Trevor Siemian, DEN (-3)
- Patrick Mahomes, KC (+3)
- Jimmy Garoppolo, NE (+8)
- Landry Jones, PIT (+4)
- C.J. Beathard, SF (-1)
- Cardale Jones, BUF (-3)
- AJ McCarron, CIN (E)
- Drew Stanton, ARI (+1)
- Case Keenum, MIN (+1)
- Brock Osweiler, CLE (-9)
- Bryce Petty, NYJ (-5)
They tell you that NFL Running Backs last only a couple of years, that after 30 they fall off the proverbial cliff. While I subscribe to that notion in general, it’s clear that every few years we’re presented with an “exception to the rule” and it’s our job as drafters to identify who can be trusted and who should be thrown in the “Do Not Draft” category.
This year, there are several starting NFL running backs that fall under that umbrella, and a few more still that figure to take up a large chunk of their offenses plays from the backfield. So who should you draft and who should you skip?
- Marshawn Lynch – 31 Years Old: Beast Mode is back, and the expectation in Oakland is that following Latavius Murray’s exit it will be Lynch in the backfield for all three downs. The situation is perfect for a renaissance, as the odometer on Lynch is still relatively low for a career starter in his 30’s. Expect a solid year with fantastic upside in the high powered Oakland offense.
- Danny Woodhead – 32 Years Old: Woodhead may fall into the “over 30” club but his tires have very little wear on them compared to backs who’ve started their whole careers. As a pass catching specialist in an offense that historically targets their backs, Woodhead’s only real danger is on the injury front. When he’s on the field, he’s dynamic and his age can be ignored.
- Frank Gore – 34 Years Old: Long ago I gave up on trying to figure out when Gore was going to slow down. A back who relies on vision and scheme to be effective, Gore continues to impress even as the he nears the end of a storied career. Indianapolis is going to pass first, which only helps to keep the defense from committing to stoping Gore. Expect another 1,000 yards and 4 YPC from the ageless one.
- Adrian Peterson – 32 Years Old: It’s clear that he won’t be the top dog in New Orleans but the Saints seem to favor a general split to keep Ingram healthy so you can expect a reasonably large workload for a back being drafted later in drafts than he should be. All reports point towards Peterson running with a chip on his shoulder, so the potential for him to steal 200+ carries exists, but there’s no telling how effective he’ll be following a lost season.
- Matt Forte – 31 Years Old: Forte has shown all the tell-tale signs of slowing down over the last few years and one expects that even if he gets off to a quick start that age will drag him down again. After a slow finish last year, the consensus was that Bilal Powell may take over for the bulk of the carries, but New York insists that Forte is their guy. So for the time being, he’ll have the lion’s share of touches, but be aware that drafting Forte is likely committing a pick for a guy who’s effectiveness has pretty clearly been proven to drop off after a few weeks.
- Jamaal Charles – 30 Years Old: I have faith that Charles has plenty left in the tank, but the fact remains that after being the 3 down horse in Kansas City for so long, there is serious concern that Charles can return to form. Denver can use him even if he’s primarily a pass catching back but the landing spot won’t do him any favors if he’s slowed down any. With Paxton Lynch or Trevor Semein as your starting QB, he’s likely to face plenty of stacked boxes. As a late round flier he’s worth a look but he may just be done as a fantasy option
- Jonathan Stewart – 30 Years Old: It’s not fair to Jonathan Stewart that he’s never been given the reigns to the Carolina offense, but even when his backfield competition left and he played well in an expanded role, the Panthers brought in other backs to take over. Queue the McCaffrey pick and you can see why Stewart is at the bottom of my list. Expect the rookie to dominate touches early, and with Cam Newton calling his own number more than most QB’s the writing is on the wall for the aging vet. Drafting Stewart is a crap shoot that’s likely to blow up in your face.
So maybe I’ve beaten a dead horse a bit on the bounce back and sleeper picks for QB’s… after all how many are really going to get drafted? Still, there has to be a line in the sand for elite QB1 options and the rest of the group. Who (aside from Joe Flacco… who I will refrain from including in this article) has the potential for a breakout, top 10 season?
Least Risk: Philip Rivers – Los Angelas Chargers – Rivers slots in on my ranks around the 14th spot, meaning he only has to leap four of the QB’s ahead of him. While age is certainly a concern amongst gunslinger type QB’s like Rivers, there’s little evidence that he’s slowing down. It’s clear that, despite the return of Keenan Allen and excpected return of Travis Benjami, LA is committed to giving Rivers more weapons as they drafted one of the best wide outs in the 2017 draft in Mike Williams. Coupled with a capable run game, Rivers is locked and loaded for a massive year.
A Little Risk: Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans – If you’re convinced that the Titans are going to ease Mariota back into the playbook following his season ending injury, then by all means, pass on the talented QB. Adding Corey Davis doesn’t seem like they’re committed fully to a run-first scheme, although they certainly want to remain balanced. The upside through the air is modest at best as Mariota still conforms to the NFL game, but his ability to make yards on the ground keep defenses honest and give him space to work. Don’t be alarmed if he starts slow, he’ll be well worth the pick by the end of the season.
Most Risk: Andy Dalton – Cincinnatti Bengals – We’ve heard this one before; Andy Dalton is poised to break out. It certainly doesn’t help having to play fantastic defenses in the ACF North but with John Ross and AJ Green, Dalton has two exceptional burners, and newly aquired RB (via the draft) Joe Mixon rounds out an already formidable backfield capable of catching passes. It may be a bit of a stretch as we can expect a boring, balanced offense in Cincy, but I won’t be surprised if he catches lightning in a bottle to push that top 10 group.
Every year there is significant turnover amongst Fantasy’s top 10 Running Backs, and drafters spend numerous hours pouring over data and stats to find the next guy who’ll slot in where others have failed.
It’s a grueling process, but when a gut pick is right, the feeling of success is second to none. The Running back position is especially volatile due to the injurious nature of the position.
There’s a reason why Backs tend to retire young.
So who can you target outside of the first 10-20 picks that may return first round value?
Least Risk: Lamar Miller, RB – HOU
While it sure feels like Miller has been in the league a long time, the fact is that when the season starts he’ll still only be 26 years old. Houston may not have improved much in terms of the QB situation, but Miller still managed to average over 11 points per week in standard formats, and his 160 points were good for 17th amongst RB despite only playing 14 games and often being limited due to injury. Miller is being drafted currently at 22nd over all (3rd round) as the 13th back off the board, but his ceiling is firmly in the top 10 and possibly as a top 5 back.
A little Risk: Carlos Hyde, RB – SF
Workload has never been an issue for running backs in San Fransisco, but the prevailing question about who’s lining up around him continues to be a cause for concern. In 13 games last year Carlos Hyde average 12.7 points per game (standard scoring) which was good for 10th amongst RBs. But it’s a look at his game log that reminds one just how consistent he is. Over the season Hyde averaged 70 or more yards on the ground 8 out of 13 weeks, while sprinkling in at least one TD in more than half of the games he started. In the 3rd round, Hyde provides a monster ceiling as the only real weapon in San Fran’s offense.
Most Risk: Isaiah Crowell, RB – CLE
The Crow, as he’s affectionately referred to by fans, has the dubious distinction of being the best offensive player on a pretty awful offensive team. This is the main reason his numbers last year were so wildly inconsistent. Despite averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Crowell finished 7 weeks with less than 40 yards on the ground. This is a testament to how ineffective the offense was last year. If the offense around him can improve even slightly, there’s reason to believe Crowell can crack the top 10 and push even further.
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.
For those trying a PPR league for the first time, it’s important to remember that standard scoring rankings need to be adjusted when looking at certain positions. When you league awards a point (or some percentage of one) per reception, players you never thought to target become valuable tools in your quest to become champion.
Running Back Targets
Drafting a PPR running back can be a nerve racking thing; with the exception of a few standouts, pass-catching running backs have a more volatile NFL existence and predicting th usage is difficult. David Johnson (RB1) and Le’Veon Bell (RB2) led all backs with 120 and 94 targets respectively. Here’s the next 5:
- James White, NE (RB51) – 86 targets
- Bilal Powell, NYJ (RB29) – 75 targets
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44) – 74 targets
- Darren Sproles, PHI (RB55) – 71 targets
- T.J. Yeldon, JAC (RB74) – 68 targets
A veritable who’s who of middle to late round picks. All of those players finished with 50 or more receptions, and in a 1 point PPR league that’s the equivilant of 500 rushing or receiving yards. Don’t expect all 5 of these players to finish in the top 10 in targets this year though, as turnover in the NFL is expected. Here are five PPR targets for 2017.
- Theo Riddick, DET (RB37)
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44)
- Chris Thompson, WAS(RB61)
- Danny Woodhead, BAL (RB32)
- Wendall Smallwood, PHI (RB65)
All five of these players should approach 50-75 targets, providing ample PPR scoring from the later rounds.
Wide Receiver Targets
Things get a little more… muddled when you start looking at middle and late round PPR targets. The top 20 receivers on the board in all formats are likely to be targeted the most, which makes WR’s that much more valuable in general. But there’s always a steal to be had in the late rounds. Here’s five PPR targets for 2017.
- Jeremy Kerley, SF (WR80)
- Quincy Enunwa, NYJ (WR62)
- Willie Snead, NO (WR36)
- Cole Beasley, DAL (WR71)
- Marqise Lee, JAC (WR66)
Sure, the list is a veritable who’s who of undervalued slot receivers, but all are a safe bet to finish in the top 35 of WR targets, and should likely far outproduce their draft values. It’s safe to assume that none of these guys are likely to finish in the top 20 overall, but as leagues continue to value receptions, these are like extra rounds in the chamber.
Two of the biggest questionmarks outside of the RB top 10 revolve around the return of Marshawn Lynch and the reclemation of Eddie Lacy. Both backs are being drafted between round 4-6 but do they really have the goods to return on that investment?
Marshawn Lynch (ADP 32, RB21)
For a player known as “Beast Mode” because of his bruising style of play, Lynch has been surprisingly durable across a 10 year NFL career. In part, this can be attributed to the lack of use in Buffalo; after 280 rushes his rookie year, Lynch averaged 12 touches a game until he made the move to Seattle. Even in Seattle, where he became revered as one of the leagues top backs, Lynch only posted two 300 rush seasons. The argument can be made that despite his age, “Beast Mode” has plenty left in the tank.
An upgrade in Oakland, Lynch will be given every opportunity early on to run away with the starting gig. DeAndre Washington will provide plenty of competition but barring injury or complete ineffectiveness on Lynch’s part, the job is his to lose.
Eddie Lacy (ADP 48, RB21)
Following Lynch’s exodus from Seattle, the Rawls/Prosise experiment began in ernest. Unfortunately, neither was able to do much with an expanded role, and Green Bay cast off Eddie Lacy was brought in to bring some consistency back to a Seattle offense that never got it going.
Lacy was once considered a top three back in the league after a rookie and softmore season that saw him post 3,000 combined rushing/receiving yards and 24 totat touchdowns. It was all downhill from there.
Lacy struggled with his weight and injuries over the last two years and found himself out of favor in only two short years. Now the question becomes which two years were the abberation? It’s clear that the talent is there, but it may have been a case of wrong place at the wrong time. Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers under center, is always going to be a pass-first team. Eddie Lacy became an albatross that needed greener pastures to bloom. At his current ADP Lacy presents a unique risk/reward scenario. With Seattle likely to run the football a significant amount, he could be the steal of drafts everywhere. If only he can put it all together again.
Who to draft?
Truthfully, I’m not down on either player. Both offer great value as high profile starters with little early season competition. Of course, should either stumble for a prolonged stretch, they could find themselves on the outs yet again. I’d suggest both are safe bets at their current ADP, but be cautious as we approach drafts not to over draft either player because of any potential upside. Between the two Lacy offers the best value in my mind, and with his stock failing to rise, will likely offer the best value going forward.
With Giovani Bernard’s knee surgery taking longer than expected to recover, the news out of Cincinatti is that he may be questionable for week 1 (possibly beyond that). Joe Mixon figures to be the starter on day one, so Bernard was little more than a flex option in deeper leagues and for PPR formats, but this news seriously impacts his value.
If Hill can compliment Mixon, then expect the Bengals to take their time with Bernard. Temper expectations going into your draft, and pending a miraculous recovery, draft Bernard as a late round flier only.
The NFC West has undergone major changes in terms of success. With the 49ers looking to enter a multiyear depression and the Rams still struggling to get out of their own, it’s up to the Cardinals and Seahawks to bring respect to the West.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jimmy Graham (TE6), Russell Wilson (QB8), Doug Baldwin (WR11), Eddie Lacy (RB20), C.J. Prosise (RB41), Thomas Rawls (RB48), Tyler Lockett (WR59)
Synopsis – The Seahawks will go only as far as Russell Wilson will take them, and an effective run game will go a long way in keeping him healthy. With Prosise and Rawls proving to be injuried or ineffiecient, the Hawks added Eddie Lacy who hopes to bounce back with the new club. Doug Baldwin should garner the bulk of Wilsons attention between the 20’s but Jimmy Graham finally achieved symbiosis in Seattle and can be relied upon as a top 5 TE again.
San Fransisco 49ers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carlos Hyde (RB12), Vance McDonald (TE29), Brian Hoyer (QB32), C.J.Beathard (QB39), Pierre Garcon (WR39), Joe Williams (RB54), Jeremy Kerley (WR80)
Synopsis – Barring a miracle, this San Fransisco team is looking like an abject disaster. Brian Hoyer as a starting QB isn’t the worst thing that could happen to this team, but between Pierre Garcon and Jeremy Kerley, there isn’t much to work with in this offene. McDonald may be a servicable backup TE but only Carlos Hyde is worth investing in as he proved last year he can be effective despite a crumbling organization around him.
Los Angeles Rams
Notable Fantasy Stars: Jared Goff (QB31), Todd Gurley (RB10), Robert Woods (WR60), Tavon Austin (WR73), Cooper Kupp (WR74), Tyler Higbee (TE27)
Synopsis – Things went sideway on the Rams last year as Gurley faced too many stacked boxes to show the burst we expected of him. With Goff likely to start this year, no one knows if they’ll actually be improved or not, but Gurley should still garner attention thanks to the high volume of carries. Robert Woods will outperform Tavon Austin, but not by much, with Tyler Higbee being the true sleeper candidate on a roster devoid of much fantasy bright spots.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Palmer (QB23), David Johnson (RB1), Larry Fitzgerald (WR26), John Brown (WR48), J.J. Nelson (WR63), Jermaine Gresham (TE36)
Synopsis – David Johnson returns as my number one fantasy player this year, and this season could be the perfect record breaking scenario following the obvious decline to aging Carson Palmer and the lack of weapons not named Larry Fitzgerald to compete with. John Brown is an underwhelming option and J.J. Nelson has more questions than answers. This is David Johnson’s team.
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.
Danny Woodhead – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 75 – RB28 | The running back situation in Baltimore has been in flux since the release of Ray Rice, and Woodhead looks to fill a void. While he can’t be relied upon for 250 rushes, the likelihood of 100 rushes and 75 receptions makes him an intriguing option, especially in PPR leagues. Prediction: 350 Rushing Yards, 750 Receiving yards, 6 total TDs
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP 105 – RB 36 | Reports out of Tampa regarding Martin are encouraging as he’s been seen in better shape and exhibiting better burst and speed in OTAs. While most take these reports with a grain of salt, Martin tends to be on the wrong side of the pre-season buzz, and he’s still the breadwinner in that backfield. Prediction: 1,000 Rushing Yards, 250 Receiving Yards, 8 Total TDs
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers | ADP N/A – RB59 | This is a deep cut considering Williams isn’t being drafted enough in ESPN mock’s to show up in their ADP data, but Green Bay’s converted RB Ty Montgomery occupies a very specific slice of the offense leaving plenty of room for rookie RB Jamaal Williams to exist. While he’s unlikely to make a major impact early in the season, for dynasty and keeper leagues he’s worth a late round look. Prediction: 700 Total Yards, 6 Total TDs
Honorable Mention: Jamaal Charles, Den (ADP 116), Latavius Murray, Min (ADP 122), Chris Thompson, Was (ADP 170+)