While the Dr. typically does his sleeper prognosis earlier in the off season, it is a beneficial exercise to examine who our newest breakout and sleeper candidates are as we approach the final countdown to our drafts. While there’s still a ton of players we like outside of this list, these are some of our favorite late round targets and the reasons why we’re targeting them ourselves.
Tyrod Taylor, QB – CLE
It’s a fair concern for drafters that the Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall in the draft. With as well as he’s playing, it would make sense to expect him to start at some point in 2018. But the fact remains that Hue Jackson has been unmovable in his stance that Taylor is his starting QB. With the chemistry already building between Taylor and his receiving group, especially Jarvis Landry, a hot start could mean less chatter about him being replaced. Being able to add a potential top 15 QB in the 19th round (current ADP data shows him going around pick 183), sure qualifies as a sleeper to the Dr.
Blake Bortles, QB – JAC
We understand why Bortles is considered a bottom of the barrel NFL starter, but the real-world hate has seriously suppressed his value in the fantasy community as well. According to data supplied by the consensus ADP rankings at FantasyFootballCalculator, Bortles is being selected on average with the 204th pick of drafts. As the 29th QB off the board, it may surprise you to know that 2017 was his worst finish as the QB 15; his previous two seasons were as the QB9 in 2016 and the QB3 in 2015. While we expect a similar finish in 2018 thanks to an elite defense and high end run game, being able to select a borderline QB1 in the 21st round is larceny.
Jeremy Hill, RB – NE
I’ve been pounding the Jeremy Hill drum since he was released from the Bengals in the off season. Much to my delight he landed with my hometown Patriots, and has slowly been working himself into the good graces of the coaching staff and fans alike. Currently, both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead are on the shelves with non-serious injuries, but their absence opens up the door for Hill who was far more impressive than Mike Gillislee in the teams first preseason action. While it’s unlikely that he’ll receive the massive workload that saw him compile 1,400 rushing yards early in his career in Cincinnati, the chance to be the primary goal line back and work on early downs makes him an intriguing play at 180th overall. His ADP has been climbing steadily, but currently provides incredible value as a flier.
Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ
When Isaiah Crowell was brought in, it was seen by many as a sign that the Jets didn’t believe in Powell as a starting running back. What we’ve seen through the first weeks of the off season is that Powell may have the better chance to start, especially with Crowell experiencing a head injury in the first preseason game. With his role pretty well defined as the third down back, Powell offers excellent value in PPR formats regardless at his current ADP (192nd) but his status with the teams starters means there’s a chance he could provide even more value as the clubs lead back despite Crowell’s presence on the roster. While I doubt he’ll be a full three down back, the needle is pointing up for one of the leagues most underrated backs.
Dede Westbrook, WR – JAC
The wide receiver competition in Jacksonville is wide open with the uninspiring Marqise Lee sitting atop a receivers group that has plenty of depth but not a lot of experience. A lot of folks were high on Keelan Cole after his explosive stretch to finish the fantasy season last year, but talk in camp has centered on 2nd year receiver Dede Westbrook. A talented receiver, Westbrook has been turning heads with athletic plays and his growing chemistry with Bortles. I’m not a big believer in Lee, and while I was in love with Cole last year, it’s sounding more and more like Dede is going to be the late round guy to draft.
Chris Godwin, WR – TB
Staying in Florida, Chris Godwin has been turning up on a lot of these sleeper lists, yet he’s still being drafted on average around the 21st round of only the deepest drafts. The Tampa coaching staff has already expressed it’s interest in starting the young receiver opposite Mike Evans as the teams #2 receiver, and with DeSean Jackson running as often as he has out of the slot, I’m beginning to believe it. Working in Godwins favor is that Evans draws as many double teams as he does, opening up the other side of the field for plenty of work. Expect a bit of a delay in his progress, as Fitzpatrick tends to target his #1 receiver an inordinate percentage of plays, but it won’t be long before Godwin is a must start.
Mike Gesicki, TE – MIA
It’s nearly a clean sweep for the Florida teams, as the Miami Dolphin’s rookie TE Mike Gesicki pops up on our list. A lot was made of the high number of targets that are up for grabs in the Dolphin offense after Landry left in the off season, but all the attention has been on the incumbent receivers and the two off season additions in Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. What I’ve been reading, though, is that Tannehill has begun to target Gesicki as one of his favorite receiving weapons. In the past, his TE usage has fluctuated, much to the dismay of owners, but I expect a flier on Gesicki to offer a sizable return on that late round investment. I don’t expect a top 5 finish like Engram had last year, but a border line TE1 finish is in the conversation
Michael Gallup looked good in limited action, and the timing pass that Prescott landed in his hands is a good sign that he’ll be heavily involved in Dallas. Jordan Wilkins has been on and off these lists, but with Mack nursing a hamstring injury, a fine showing could move him up the depth chart and put him within striking distance of lead back duties. Jameis Winston may still feel like a risk, but given his pedigree and obvious ability, he’s more than worth a flier in the 19th round. Make sure you have a starter to pair him with, though, for the first three games.
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.
Every Friday, until the season starts on Thursday, September 6th, we’ll run our NFC and AFC Player Profile article. You know what to expect from the guys at the top of your draft, now it’s time to learn what to look for in the later rounds.
When the 2017 started, many had high hopes for the Fantasy successes of Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor. After all, his ability to produce big on the ground in addition to an efficient, if unspectacular, aerial attack, had owners excited. Flash forward several disappointing months later, and the now Browns starting QB is getting far too little respect as the 2018 season dawns.
It’s always important to put a rushing QB’s exploits into context. In 2016 added 580 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground, pushing his fantasy totals towards the higher tiers. To quickly make sense of that, the rushing yards are the equivalent in points to an additional 1,000 yards, and rushing touchdowns extrapolate to 9 passing TDs. While still not in the “elite” tier, Taylor is the type of player who has sneaky value thanks to less than spectacular passing numbers.
In 2017, his statline looked as follows:
263 completions for 2,799 yards, 14 TDs to 11 INTs and another 427 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. All were career lows (excluding seasons in which he didn’t start). As such, he finished in standard QB leagues in the 16th spot, just missing out on the QB1 tag.
A Look Ahead
While you may not want to admit it, the fallout from last years down season has pushed Taylor into an undeserving spot. Currently being ranked in the mid 20’s at the position, his ADP is far too low for the type of talent he brings to the Cleveland Browns.
With a roster oozing with talent, and a head coach that’s committed to Taylor this year despite selecting Baker Mayfield first overall, I expect a career year for the rushing quarter back. Taylor has always had the arm, but he’s upgrading from Zay Jones and the hobbled Kelvin Benjamin to Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. He’s got a young stud in David Njoku and pass catching specialist Duke Johnson to help move the chains.
Not to mention the skill in the backfield on first and second down with a two headed monster featuring RB1 talent in both Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb. Instead of suiting up for a team that can’t seem to move the football in Buffalo, Taylor should have a ton of opportunity for points.
When Taylor was traded to the Browns, he entered the polarizing world of Cleveland football. He may not be in line for double digit wins, but his stat line should support a fantasy team. With no risk to draft him, Taylor offers massive upside, one that I plan to exploit.
Barring any major injuries, Taylor can expect at least the 3,000 yards through the air he enjoyed in Buffalo in 15′ and 16′ but I personally believe we’ll see 3,400 yards, 22 TDs and plenty of work on the ground. As my number 18 QB, I’m higher on Taylor than most, and even I might be missing the boat. If you feel the need to wait on a QB, Taylor is the type of player who can offer top end value at the kind of price I love to pay for players.
Draft with confidence.
You’re confident in your strategy, and you have your core guys targeted and queued up. You’re prepared to supplement the foundation with high upside guys in the middle rounds, and you’re wondering what you can add in the late rounds to help define your team during bye weeks and injuries. Let’s take a look at the more confusing rounds featuring players you may not know to players you may not want.
- Aaron Jones, RB – GB
- Jared Goff, QB – LAR
- Jamaal Williams, RB – GB
- Robby Anderson, WR – NYJ
- C.J. Anderson, RB – CAR
- Jaguars D/ST
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB – PIT
- Sterling Shepard, WR – NYG
- Matt Ryan, QB – ATL
- Jack Doyle, TE – IND
Player I Love: The hype surrounding Neslon Agholor subsided quickly during a rookie year that was rocky to say the least. Last year, though, he and Wentz developed the kind of chemistry that could help push him into the WR2 category. While you’ll have to live with a few weeks of sub par performances, as a flex starter or backup WR, the potential for 800 yards and 8-10 TDs is hard to pass up.
Player I Hate: I will use this as a platform to decry the drafters that feel it’s necessary to draft a defense earlier than round 15. Instead of wasting a pick this early, draft skill position players and stream a defense drafted at the end of your draft.
- Nick Chubb, RB – CLE
- Nelson Agholor, WR – PHI
- Rams D/ST
- Philip Rivers, QB – LAC
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR – BUF
- Patrick Mahomes, QB – KC
- Devontae Booker, RB – DEN
- D’Onta Foreman, RB – HOU
- Ty Montgomery, RB – GB
- Allen Hurns, WR – DAL
Player I Love: As the QB 12 in the 12th round, Mahomes provides the kind of excitment you’re missing with the other QB’s in this area. The talent around him is elite, the ability and athletisim is off the charts, and Kansas City turned milquetoast Alex Smith into an elite Fantasy option. Draft with confidence.
Player I Hate: Devontae Booker seemed for a moment to be on the verge of breaking out. Now he’s fighting for touches with rookie Royce Freeman, who is better suited for the full time gig. While the potential may be there for Booker to see touches, his talent doesn’t scream “draft me” even at this point in the draft.
- Vikings D/ST
- Stephen Gostkowski, K – NE
- George Kittle, TE – SF
- Greg Zuerlein, K – LAR
- Dez Bryant, WR – Free Agent
- Eagles D/ST
- Tyler Eifert, TE – CIN
- Marcus Mariota, QB – TE
- Justin Tucker, K – BAL
- Dak Prescott, QB – DAL
Player I Love: George Kittle may have not been on your radar last off season, but this year he should be. With an up and coming offense devoid of any real red zone targets besides, Kittle could be in line for a big work load. Currently atop the depth chart for the TE position, expect a low end TE1 season for the 2nd year pro.
Player I Hate: Dak Prescott is a player that I want to like, I try to like, but I just can’t bring myself to overlook the issues Dallas has to deal with. With no real number one receiver and a run game that’s going to get all the work it can handle, Dak is a talented QB without many avenues to fantasy greatness. I could be wrong but there are better options out there if you prefer to wait on a QB.
- Derek Carr, QB – OAK
- O.J. Howard, TE – TB
- Marqise Lee, WR – JAC
- D.J. Moore, WR – CAR
- Calvin Ridley, WR – ATL
- David Njoku, TE – CL
- Kenny Stills, WR – MIA
- Cameron Meredith, WR – NO
- Jameis Winston, QB – TB
- Martavis Bryant, WR – OAK
Player I Love: Cameron Meredith was a top sleeper pick last year in Chicago, and that was with journeyman Mike Glennon slated to be his starting QB. Unfortunately, the talented wide out suffered a season ending injury and didn’t play a snap. This off season he popped up in New Orleans, and I expect him to gobble up a fair amount of looks. While Michael Thomas is fully entrenched as the #1, Meredith will provide an upgrade over Ted Ginn as an every day player.
Player I Hate: Marqise Lee may look like the heir apparent to the departed Allen Robinson, but I’d argue that he’s reached his ceiling and other players in that offense are better suited to carry the load. Between late season hero Keelan Cole and rookie Dede Westbrook, Lee has his work cut out for him if he wants to earn the lions share of targets, and I doubt he’ll accomplish that goal.
- Chargers D/ST
- Alex Smith, QB – WAS
- Texans D/ST
- Giovani Bernard, RB – CIN
- Corey Clement, RB – PHI
- LeGarrette Blount, RB – DET
- Mike Williams, WR – LAC
- Doug Martin, RB – Oak
- Ravens D/ST
- Broncos D/ST
Player I Love: Mike Williams is a name that you’ve no doubt seen pop up on sleeper boards all off season and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t buying into the hype. With mediocre players behind him on the depth chart and an injury prone Keenan Allen the only real obstacle away from WR1 looks, there’s not much keeping him from being fantasy relevant right out of the gates.
Player I Hate: LeGarrette Blount has had more fools gold seasons in his career than I’d care to admit falling for, and this year he’s off my list of potential starters for that reason. That uneasy feeling you get when preparing to select Blount stems from the fact that he can’t catch the football and the Lions have more talented backs on that roster already. While he may be inline for a ton of goal line work, rookie Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick are the two players I want from this backfield.
- Chris Carson, RB – SEA
- Rishard Matthews, WR – TEN
- Bilal Powell, RB – NYJ
- Josh Doctson, WR – WAS
- Latavius Murray, RB – MIN
- Kenny Golladay, WR – DET
- DeSean Jackson, WR – TB
- Case Keenum, QB – DEN
- James White, RB – NE
- Wil Lutz, K – NO
Player I Love: Chris Carson is the forgotten man in Seattle after Mike Davis stole the thunder last year and Rashad Penny was added in an attempt to return Seattle to the 80s where smash mouth football was the norm. You know who hasn’t forgotten about Carson? Coach Pete Carroll, who’s gushed about how fantastic Carson has looked this off season. As a depth piece, Carson’s road to starting touches is a fairly straightforward one, and with very little risk to boot.
Player I Hate: Kenny Golladay may still have some sheen after last years pre-season feeding frenzy, but don’t be fooled by the feelings you may still harbor towards him. Marvin Jones is the true threat down the sidelines and Golden Tate will eat up a ton of targets himself. Without enough to go around, Golladay will be the mouth left hungry.
- Jake Elliot, K – Phi
- Theo Riddick, RB – DET
- Nyheim Hines, RB – IND
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE – JAC
- Harrison Butker, K – KC
- Eli Manning, QB – NYG
- Cameron Brate, TE – TB
- Panthers D/ST
- Matt Bryant, K – ATL
- Robbie Gould, K – SF
Player I Love: He’s been on my sleeper list more than once, but I can’t shake the feeling that a healthy and sober Austin Seferian-Jenkins is in a position to blow up this year. With as much talent as anyone else at the position not named Gronkowski, ASJ will have the chance to prove himself in Jacksonville this year as the starter. While I don’t expect a top 5 finish, he’s certainly in the conversation as a low end TE1.
Player I Hate: At some point, Cameron Brate had to be on the outs in Tampa Bay. With O.J. Howard comfortable after a full season, it’s likely that the offense transitions towards him in the coming months. Couple that with the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t target either tight end much in the games he played, and Brate may be better suited for the back of a milk carton than the bench of a fantasy team.
- Saints D/ST
- Patriots D/ST
- Chris Boswell, K – PIT
- Mitch Trubisky, QB – CHI
- Paul Richardson, WR – WAS
- Michael Gallup, WR – DAL
- Hayden Hurst, TE – BAL
- Kenneth Dixon, RB – BAL
- Blake Bortles, QB – JAC
- Matt Prater, K – DET
Player I Love: While you’re firmly in the “drop in case of waiver wire pickup” stages of the draft, Michael Gallup presents real upside as a potential top receiver in Dallas. The rookie out of Colorado State is in the mix for the targets vacated by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. In the 18th round, having a potential top receiver available seems criminal, and I’ll be jumping on Gallup as often as I can this draft season.
Player I Hate: I don’t hate Hayden Hurst the player, but I hate Hayden Hurst the Baltimore tight end. There hasn’t been much success for Baltimore tight ends since Dennis Pitta’s career was cut short, and with Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams on the roster siphoning plays, Hurst has too high a mountain to climb for me to feel comfortable drafting him at all.
- Christian Kirk, WR – ARI
- Dan Bailey, K – DAL
- Courtland Sutton, WR – DEN
- Frank Gore, RB – MIA
- Mohamed Sanu, WR – ATL
- Matt Brieda, RB – SF
- Steelers D/ST
- Eric Ebron, TE – IND
- Jared Cook, TE – OAK
- Tyrod Taylor, QB – CLE
Player I Love: It’s reasonable to be concerned about Tyrod Taylor’s job security, after all Baker Mayfield was drafted first overall. That would be to ignore the very loud proclamation that regardless of Mayfield’s presence on the roster, Taylor is the guy this year. Looking at the weapons both at wide receiver and in the backfield, there’s no better last round QB in my mind for real fantasy production.
Player I Hate: I’ll admit I’m guilty of hyping up Matt Brieda last year, as I incorrectly assumed Carlos Hyde wouldn’t handle passing downs. Now, he’s stuck behind an even better pass catcher in Jerick McKinnon. While Brieda may have some NFL talent, there’s little daylight in terms of fantasy value here. If McKinnon goes down, he’s a waiver option, but not worth carrying in standard leagues.
- Baker Mayfield, QB – CLE
- Andy Dalton, QB – CIN
- Ted Ginn, WR – NO
- Tyler Lockett, WR – SEA
- Dede Westbrook, WR – JAC
- Austin Ekeler, RB – LAC
- Mason Crosby, K – GB
- Josh Rosen, QB – ARI
- Lamar Jackson, QB – BAL
- Vance McDonald, TE – PIT
Player I Love: We mentioned it early with Marqise Lee (spoiler alert, I don’t like him as a #1) but Dede Westbrook is a guy that I look at with massive upside in an offense that seems to never have stability at it’s wide receiver position. While it’s typically useless to extrapolate previous years stats, it’s important to note that the young WR’s numbers over a full 16 games would have been 774 yards on 61 catches; and now he has less competition for targets.
Player I Hate: Lamar Jackson, in my eyes, is more of a project then a polished, NFL ready passer. With Joe Flacco still the starter, it’s unlikely Jackson sees extended time this season, and even if he does, there’s very little chance he excels in what would be a dismal situation. In dynasty leagues he’s a flier, but in redraft or short term keeper leagues, he’s best left to the waiver wire.
One of the most useless exercises that gets perpetuated during every sport’s preseason time is the “bold predictions” article. But since this is the fantasy sports blogger equivalent to “if all of your friends jump off a bridge” argument, I suppose I’ll jump too (featuring a whole lot of sarcasm).
1. Leonard Fournette has a monster sophomore slump, finishing outside the top 20 for running backs and costing his teams a shot at the title.
2. Jared Goff wins the MVP. With added weapons, and an elite defense protecting leads, Goff throws for 4,500 yards and 33 TDs.
3. Juju Smith-Schuster pushes Antonio Brown for the most targets on the Steeler’s roster and easily crests 1,200 yards receiving.
4. Evan Engram finishes as the TE1, scoring 16 touch downs to fall one shy of the TE record of 17.
5. Tyrod Taylor rushes for 700 yards and finishes as a top 5 QB despite Cleveland losing 10 games.
6. Saquon Barkley is a monster disappointment, costing fantasy owners a top 20 pick but rewarding them with less than 500 yards and nearly no contributions in the passing game.
7. Sam Darnold beats out the other quarterbacks in the preseason to start week one, and manages to win 8 games for the Jets as a rookie.
8. Sammy Watkins passes Tyreek Hill on the depth chart in Kansas City and coasts past the 100 target mark to finish as a top 15 WR.
9. Jeremy Hill fends off former teammate Rex Burkhead for the Patriots first two downs, and while he misses the 1,000 yard mark, manages 10+ scores for the first time in 2 years.
10. Minnesota Vikings fails to produce a top 15 WR as Kirk Cousins struggles in his first season for the Vikings.
Eli Manning, QB – NYG: Currently ranked 186th by Fantasy Pro’s consensus rankings, Eli Manning appears to be little more than an afterthought going into his 14th professional season. Part of the problem for fantasy owners is that, at 37, his performance last year is as easily attributed to his age, as it is to the circumstances surrounding the Giants roster upheaval. I’d say they’re wrong.
This offseason, the Giants have tried adding help to both the backfield and the offensive line, two maligned personnel groups that managed to cost Manning valuable time in the pocket. With a stronger run game, a healthy wide receiver corps, and a cleaner jersey thanks to a capable left tackle, Manning should have a much more favorable fantasy season. Do I expect him to finish in the top 5? Hell no, he is 37 after all, but 4,000 yards and 28 TD’s is a reasonable expectation, and one that will give you excellent value in the 19th round of your draft.
Derek Carr, QB – OAK: With all of the noise surrounding the Oakland Raiders and it’s young stud quarterback going into last season, it’s no surprise that the team seemed to shrink from the pressure. Carr turned in some duds early on and suffered a broken vertibrae midway through the season, Amari Cooper showed up for a handful of games at best, and the run game was a mess when Marshawn Lynch got dinged up. This year, expectations should be more in line with what this team is capable of; a wildcard playoff run and maybe a round or two in the playoffs.
With a shiny new weapon in Jordy Nelson, and a likely bounce back candidate himself in Amari Cooper, Carr should turn in a season much closer to what we saw from him in 2016. If he competes hard and reaches his ceiling, he’s a top 10 fantasy QB without a doubt.
Matt Ryan, QB – ATL: The Super Bowl hangover strikes again, as 2016’s break out star and MVP Matt Ryan turned in a stinker after being drafted far earlier than necessary in drafts last year. Ryan finished 15th amongst quarterbacks last year, which was shockingly worse than Blake Bortles, Jared Goff, and Case Keenum.
Still, the Atlanta offense remains one of the most high powered in the league, and Ryan still owns the keys to the car. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu being one of the rangier WR duo’s in the league, and two pass catching backs in Coleman and Freeman still on the roster, it’d be a surprise to me if he didn’t bounce back in a big way. His floor is around the QB12 mark, but with his ranking sitting around the 12th round, I’m all in on Matty Ice.
Honorable Mentions: A revamped offense in Cleveland means Tyrod Taylor has the best receiver corps he’s ever had the privilage of throwing to. In the 18th round (ranked 175) he’s a steal. Likewise, Jameis Winston managed to play himself out of the position’s top 10 rankings thanks to a down year. Expect the Winston to Evans magic to resume early as he finishes in the top 10 again.
With the offseason well underway, and the NFL draft looming in the distance, the time is now to evaluate the many moves that went down following the start of free agency. Over the next week, we’ll evaluate each position individually, and attempt to break down the impact of each move to this point.
Kirk Cousins Signs With Vikings:
With the ink drying on Kirk Cousins’ 84 million dollar contract, the fantasy community stirred in it’s offseason slumber. While too many unanswered questions rest between here and fantasy drafts, this represented the first major offseason domino in many to come. The question remains, though; what does this mean for fantasy owners?
A top 5 season is a general expectation, especially considering that Cousins finished 6th in standard ESPN leagues last year. Minnesota’s roster is litered with game breakers, and a more consistent run game should mean a more consistent threat to score for the Vikings new signal caller. With their sights set on the super bowl, the Vikings should be a great source of fantasy contributors, and Cousins should be a target for anyone.
Alex Smith Signs with Washington:
Replacing Cousins in Washington will be Alex Smith, the notorious game manager previously starting for the Kansas City Cheifs. His track record is far from inspiring, but surprisingly enough he managed to finish as the fourth highest scoring quarter back in standard ESPN leagues last year.
Much of that can be attributed to the lack of healthy QB’s, but Washington presents a unique challenge in terms of predicting success. No longer stocked with weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Smith will instead be throwing to a stable of unproven youngsters and oft-injured tight ends. Whether or not he’s a target come draft day depends on what the community suggests his average draft position is. A low end QB1 is as good as I’ll give him at this point, but may not select him as anything but flier in the later rounds, assuming he falls that far.
Case Keenum Signs With Denver:
Continuing the trend of displaced QB’s, Minnesota’s surprising star Case Keenum moves on to Denver after a season that witnessed him outscore superstars like Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Jameis Winston. While it’s fair to question the validity of those numbers, as Keenum was viewed mostly as a backup to this point, there’s not a lot of drop off in terms of talent around him going to Denver.
Elite wideouts Demarius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should help him continue to produce, and an elite defense should give him plenty of opportunity to score points. While I won’t say he’s ready for prime time, another top 15 finish isn’t out of the question.
Tyrod Taylor Traded To Cleveland Browns:
While it’s with a great deal of consternation that I even include a Browns QB in this article, the truth is that Taylor has been a very productive fantasy QB over the last few years, and should have plenty of opportunity in Cleveland with the weapons surrounding him. Elite wide outs Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry present a major upgrade to what he found himself working with in Buffalo, and two capable pass catchers out of the backfield in Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson mean Taylor’s ability to run will be on full display as teams will be forced to respect the weapons around him.
Does this mean I’ll be reaching in drafts to select a Browns QB? Absolutely not, but as a back end top 10 QB, Taylor may have the moxie to bring fantasy success to teams in the middle to late rounds thanks to what has become the curse of playing for Cleveland.
Sam Bradford Signs With Arizona Cardinals:
The biggest risk in the NFL in terms of fantasy quarterbacks has got to be the always injured Bradford. Every year it’s the same thing; superlative starts make way to lengthy DL stints and surgery. While my personal opinion is Bradford is no more than a last round flyer, the Arizona Cardinals present an opportunity for him to bounce back into fantasy owners good graces.
With enough weapons to be successful, and a run-first scheme that may help him stay healthy, Bradford should be on your radar in the preseason as a backup candidate. When healthy, he’s a top 15 QB, but I’d be willing to bet we’ll be seeing an Arizona backup by week 6.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Garoppolo signed a massive deal to stay in San Fransisco, and the fantasy community is chomping at the bit to see what he can do with a full seasons worth of reps. Teddy Bridgewater, the least impactful of the Minnesota triumverate that departed in the offseason, finds himself in the Jets’ backfield as a potential starter. The talent is there, but questions surround his surgically repaired knee. Andrew Luck has resumed throwing, and while there’s plenty of concern that his career may never get back on track, the pedigree is there for the man to be a top 5 QB again. With less risk in late rounds, he’s a nice bounce back target that costs nothing if he never returns to form.
The Quarterback position is arguably the easiest position to navigate during your pre-draft research. After all, save for injury, we’re reasonably certain that the top 10 QB’s are going to perform somewhere near our expectations. But when waiting on a QB like every good fantasy guide tells us, who should we target in those middle rounds, and who should we avoid.
Using the consensus rankings at Fantasypros.com I’ve highlighted three quarterbacks who might far out produce their draft positions and three to avoid.
Derek Carr – QB,
Las Vegas Oakland Raiders
If you cringed at the mention of the Raiders signal caller due to his leg injury suffered at the conclusion of last season, then you’re one of the reasons the talented QB has slid into round 8-10 following what can only be described as a breakout season. With a talented cast of receivers and Beast Mode in the backfield, a now-healthy Carr looks to build on a 2016 that saw him finish as the QB10 despite missing the final week of the season.
Tyrod Taylor – QB, Buffalo Bills
His name doesn’t inspire confidence like you’d expect out of a guy who finished as QB7 in standard ESPN scoring, but the truth is that Taylor in the 11th round is a steal. Buffalo could have added a QB in the offseason or at the draft; but they didn’t. What they did do was add weapons to an offense that is already returning the ultra-talented Sammy Watkins to the fold after a lost season in 2016. While he’ll likely only throw for 3,200 – 3,500 yards, his ability to put another 400+ on the ground really rewards owners. Draft him after round 10 with confidence.
Eli Manning – QB, New York Giants
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Eli is poised to bounce back after an awful 2016 that saw him finish with a paltry 199 fantasy points (12.5 per week). It didn’t help that the offense was a dysfunctional mess while OBJ worked out his personal problems on the field and a new system failed to maximize on the wealth of talent lining up on offense. Still, the Giants are committed to winning through the air, and adding talent at WR in the draft only helps to alleviate the pressure of throwing to Beckham Jr. every other attempt. You’ll still have to deal with the gunslingers disease (15-18 INT) but I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll throw for 4,200 yards or more and 28 TDs or better.
Ben Roethlisberger – QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Before I say something stupid, I’ll preface this by saying I do like Big Ben as a QB. He’s the ultimate competitor and does what he can to help his team win. Unfortunately that’ll continue to hamper his ability to stay on the field. At 35, and recently considering retirement, the odds are greater that he falls off the proverbial cliff rather than treads water. Still, he’s being drafted ahead of guys like Mariota, Dalton, and Taylor, who all offer a modicum of safety when compared to the aging QB.
Carson Palmer – QB, Arizona Cardinals
While I will continue to root for Palmer the QB, it will be from a distance as I won’t be adding him to any of my rosters. Its fate that the wheels are bound to come off for the aging gun slinger. His WR core is nearing retirement age (L. Fitzgerald) hasn’t proven themselves (J. Brown) or are gone (M. Floyd) and Bruce Arians is committed to putting the rock in David Johnson’s hands as often as he can. This amounts to a rough year for owners.
Ryan Tannehill – QB, Miami Dolphins
I once felt that Tannehill was the best value amongst QB’s. That was before Matt Moore became a better starting option for the dreadful Dolphins last year. Could the former college WR bounce back? Sure, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Instead, I would avoid him altogether and let him be someone else’s’ headache this year.
Of course, every year there’s a surprise from each tier, and I implore you to use as much of your own research to reach conclusions of who to draft and when, but when in doubt; hold off on Quarterbacks. Don’t get caught up in the inevitable early round runs that may hamstring you when it comes to filling in your position players.