It’s early in the off season, and these rankings will likely take on a different form as we approach the start of the NFL season, but in an effort to map the journey, we’ll take a few days to give you a look at the top of each position and who we think is rising and who we think is falling. If you’re looking for overall rankings, our initial rankings will be posted at the links in the header this week as well.
- Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs – There shouldn’t be any question to who the top tight end is, and if Tyreek Hill is forced to miss time, then Kelce could be even more valuable as the primary passing target for one of the leagues best quarterbacks.
- George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers – When Jimmy G went down, us Kittle fans took a deep breath, and held it as he just charged on ahead as one of the top tight ends week in and week out. With Jimmy G back, it’s unlikely to change as Kittle has proven to be one of the most gifted pass catching TE’s in the league. Even a bit of regression doesn’t knock him out of my top 2.
- Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – Ertz saw his target share increase nearly 40% in 2019, from 110 to 156, and while there have been some notable additions to the offense, I expect Ertz to return as Carson Wentz top target most weeks. While he won’t get in the end zone more than 8-10 times, the sheer volume make him not only an excellent choice, but provides a top 3 floor nearly every week.
- Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints – Cook has long been the subject of sleeper lists and breakout articles, but last season he finally saw enough volume to produce along the lines we expected all along. Extremely athletic, Cook brings his talents to a much more amicable environment in New Orleans, and should step into the offense as a favorite target of Drew Brees. While I won’t suggest he’s the second coming of Jimmy Graham, I do expect him to managed the 100 target mark, and push a career high in TD’s.
- David Njoku, Cleveland Browns – All of the focus this offseason has been surrounding the addition of Odell Beckham to the Browns offense, and rightfully so, but don’t expect Njoku to take a step back in 2019. Just the contrary, as a solid route runner and excellent pass catcher, Njoku should find even more room to run, and in the red zone he’ll be a high volume target. His pedigree and skill set alone give him an outrageously high ceiling, and an improved offense in Cleveland should provide plenty of scoring opportunities.
- O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This is the point in the TE rankings where the range of outcomes enters the risky territory. Howard presents an interesting case, as he’s expected to assume the lions share of targets from teammate Cameron Brate, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll see the kind of opportunity that could push him higher on this list. I think a safer assumption is that Howard will be a bit of a roller coaster this year, but there will be more good than bad.
- Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts – Maybe it’s my continued prejudices against the former Detroit Lion, or maybe it’s my concern that Jack Doyle is going to chew into the target share, but the truth is that Ebron silenced doubters with a strong 2018 campaign. A perfect example of a player just needing a change of scenery, Ebron smashed through his career highs, and could replicate those in 2019 given how often Andrew Luck has thrown to his tight ends over his career. I do expect a bit of regression, and injuries are a concern, but Ebron is worthy of a top 10 desigantion.
- Evan Engram, New York Giants – Engram regressed much how we expected in 2018 after his historic rookie season, but the main reason for that regression (the return of Odell Beckham) is no longer a concern. Sure, the Giants added Golden Tate to the offense, but Engram proved he can be an excellent contributor, and there is evidence to suggest that Eli Manning performs measurably better without OBJ on the field. Expecting 100 targets in 16 games may be too much to ask, but if he plays 14 or so, a 90 target, 65 reception season (and a lot of red zone work) is reasonable.
- Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers – Last year was supposed to be the year Henry finally emerged from the shadow of future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, but his season was quickly lost to injury, derailing a sure hype train. Though slowed, it was never really derailed, and many outlets are viewing Henry as a top 5 scoring Tight End, but I’m not convinced it will be a smooth transition. After all, Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are one of the leagues better one two punches, and Melvin Gordon is as impactful as either of those two names. As the fourth option, I have a hard time investing in Henry as a top 5 pick, but at the back end of the TE1 range, his upside becomes intriguing.
- Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans – There aren’t many tight ends in the league right now with the kind of track record for solid fantasy contributions, but Walker ranks near the top of those. His most dynamic days are surely behind him, but despite a lost 2018, I’m not ready to write him off as a bounce back candidate. With Arthur Smith moving from the Tight Ends coach to the Offensive Coordinator, I’m expecting Matt LaFluer’s TE heavy approach to continue, and Walker should be in the mix nearly every week.
It was a bit of a rough week for the Dr. when it comes to Daily Fantasy. I had teams finish in the money, but despite hitting some of the weeks biggest scorers, I was a bit off on my tight ends and some of my middle of the road picks.
Best Pick: I was spot on with Denver’s use of Emmanuel Sanders and Case Keenum continued to target his slot receiver. With 10 catches for 135 yards and a TD, he was a massive producer for a small price tag.
Worst Pick: Despite Chicago being ahead 20 – 0 at half time, Anthony Miller was no where to be found. His final stat line of 2 receptions for 14 yards was disappointing as the hyped rookie failed to make an impact.
Week 2 Targets
Philip Rivers, LAC ($6,700) – With a week 2 date against a Buffalo secondary that made Joe Flacco look like Joe Montana, this one may be the easiest pick of the week. With weapons on the outside, at the slot, and in the backfield, Rivers should easily put up great numbers, even if a blow out slows him down in the 2nd half.
Alvin Kamara, NO ($9,500) – We’ll go back to the well on this one as Kamara and the Saints draw a Cleveland defense that got gashed by James Conner in week 1. It may sound asinine, but projecting Kamara for 150 total yards, 8 receptions and a TD is a bit on the conservative side. There’s no better high price option in week 2 at the RB position.
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU ($8,000) – While we admit week one was a bit underwhelming given that Hopkins was facing one of last seasons worst secondaries, but much of his lack of success can be attributed to a terrible offensive game plan that seemed to ignore it’s most talented players. With a match up against a bottom half defense in Tennesse in week 2, Houston, as well as Hopkins, should return the high flying ways that had fantasy owners licking their lips at the drafts this year.
Zach Ertz, PHI ($6,100) – Nick Foles looked every bit of a backup in a week one victory against the Atlanta Falcons, so it was no wonder that Zach Ertz was held to a moderate fantasy performance. Thursday night games may feature some entertaining games, but they play tricks on fantasy stats, and Ertz should bounce back just fine in week 2. Matching up against a Tampa defense that ranks in the bottom 10 of the league against tight ends, Ertz should be used heavily in what now looks like a higher scoring affair.
The Rest Of The Field
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6,400) – With a chance for this division rivalry to turn into a bit of a shoot out, Cousins stands to produce big time against a Packers defense that sits middle of the pack against QB’s. With an impressive debut in Week one, Cousins should continue to perform as a top 5 fantasy QB.
Alex Smith, WAS ($6,000) – Alex Smith continued his high efficiency ways last week, completing 70 percent of his passes for 255 yards and 2 TDs against the Cardinals. While he continues to be one of the least exciting options in the NFL, Smith draws a Colts defense that continues to give up fantasy points to opposing QBs. With less chance of a beat down, I see Smith producing on at an even higher level in week 2.
Joe Flacco, BAL ($5,200) – While you may be skeptical after the Ravens week one beat down of the listless Buffalo Bills, it should be noted that this receiving corps may be the best Flacco has had to work with in years. With legitimate down field threats and a serviceable run game, Flacco looks like a solid QB option against a Cincinnati defense ranked 27th in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. I don’t expect the monster out put in week 2 that we saw last week, but for the price, he’s a very safe option.
James Conner, PIT ($6,700) – It’s another cushy match up for the defacto starter as Conner draws a Kansas City team that ranks 30th against RBs in fantasy. With a Pittsburgh play book that will continue to rely heavily on its lead back, Conner should produce in spades for a second straight week as we wait for Le’Veon Bell to return from his self imposed lock out.
Adrian Peterson, WAS ($5,500) – While many will point to the below average 3.6 yard per carry in week one, I think the opportunity for 20-30 touches is too good to overlook considering the Redskins will play a terrible Colts front seven. If he sees 25 touches again, Peterson is a safe bet to out produce the weekly projections for a second straight week.
Matt Brieda, SF ($4,800) – The week one back field was split in San Francisco between Matt Brieda and Alfred Morris, but Brieda far outplayed the former Redskins back. With the passing downs to himself, and a growing share of attempts, Brieda, along with the entire 49ers defense, should be far better in week 2.
Golden Tate, DET ($6,500) – The Lions hope to put a dismal week 1 performance behind them when they take the field against San Francisco in week 2, and Golden Tate should be the focal point of the offense after being one of the only players in a Lions uniform who played well last week. While Golladay and Jones Jr should continue to be targeted, Richard Sherman and company will likely force Stafford to use his slot receiver heavily if they look to bounce back.
Josh Gordon, CLE ($5,800) – After being one what was described by the Browns coaching staff as a “pitch count” Gordon should be used far more heavily in week 2 as the Browns look for a spark to end their current winless streak. Still able to stretch the field (as was apparent after Gordon torched the defensive back only to suffer from an under thrown ball that was intercepted at the end of regulation), Gordon could be their best chance to combat the high flying offense New Orleans will feature on the other sideline.
Corey Davis, TEN ($5,100) – It’s not an ideal match up as the Titans play the Houston Texans in week 2, but with Delanie Walker out for the year, Davis becomes the only real red zone target in the passing game worth drafting. I don’t see a monster receiving yard number, but a TD or two isn’t out of the question, and at a discount no less.
Trey Burton, CHI ($4,100) – Week one was a poor start to what was expected to be a borderline TE1 season, so it may shock you to see him here. Still, his 6 targets were an indication that Nagy and the Bears offense want to include Burton as a pass catcher. He should improve in all categories in week 2, and should feature in heavily in the red zone.
George Kittle, SF ($3,800) – San Francisco didn’t look like the juggernaut we expected but Kittle was a bright spot in week 1. With the trust of Jimmy G and the potential for Marquise Goodwin to be limited or miss the game, Kittle will be called upon as a receiver for a second straight week.
Jared Cook, OAK ($3,600) – Cook finally looked like the big play receiving option he’d been touted in years past in a week 1 loss to the Rams. His 9 receptions for 180 yards was a revelation, and Jon Gruden would be foolish to not feature Cook heavily in the passing game. For nearly nothing, this is one of the highest ceilings at the “inexpensive tight end” range in all of football.
Dr. Fantasy’s Daily Sports Lineup
- QB: Philip Rivers ($6,700)
- RB: James Conners ($6,700)
- RB: Alvin Kamara ($9,500)
- WR: Corey Davis ($5,100)
- WR: Josh Gordon ($5,800)
- WR: Philip Dorsett ($4,500)
- TE: Jared Cook ($3,600)
- WR: John Brown ($4,400)
- D/ST: Chargers ($3,600)
We’re pushing through into the regular season this week and a lot of you are drafting; it’s time to post our final pre-season tiers for each position. It’s going to be a busy Sunday as we push to publish the remaining positional tiers!
- Rob Gronkowski
- Travis Kelce
You may want to elevate others to this tier, but the truth is outside of these two guys, there’s no one else worth reaching for. Every week they factor as one of their teams highest scoring players, and having one or the other gives you a significant advantage nearly every week.
- Zach Ertz
- Greg Olsen
- Jimmy Graham
- Kyle Rudolph
- Delanie Walker
While we don’t condone reaching on a TE, these five tight ends are worth grabbing in the middle rounds similarly to the middle tier of wide receivers. With plenty of consistency, either in targets or in the red zone, these guys won’t hurt you to have on your roster. There will be weeks they blow up and weeks they disappear, but the range of outcomes is fairly predictable.
VERY GOOD Tier
- Trey Burton
- Evan Engram
- George Kittle
- Jordan Reed
- O.J. Howard
- Jack Doyle
It’s important to understand that the TE position isn’t likely going to win you a championship, so waiting on a TE will land you a player likely in this tier. There’s some upside for many of them, but either inexperience, a new team, or extensive injury history suppress their value. We suggest understanding that a back up is necessary to offset the potential pitfalls here, but after missing out on the top seven TE’s, these guys are solid options.
- Austin Sefarian-Jenkins
- Charles Clay
- David Njoku
- Mike Gesicki
- Austin Hooper
It’s a shorter tier than the one before it, mostly because after Hooper, the proverbial cliff is steep and obvious. Starting one of these guys will likely leave a hole in your roster on some weeks, so pair with a player you like that’s still available and pray.
BACKUPS and PRAYERS Tier
- Eric Ebron
- Virgil Green
- Jared Cook
- Hayden Hurst
- Tyler Eifert
- Luke Willson
- Cameron Brate
- Vance McDonald
- Benjamin Watson
- Nick Vannett
If you’re grabbing a player in this tier, you’d better hope it’s as a backup or depth piece. There’s little upside with these players despite what the experts would have you think. There may have been some buzz recently about the guys in this tier, but a lot needs to happen to make them fantasy relevant. Of course, in keeper leagues or dynasty formats, guys like Hurst, Willson, and Vannett are worth a look as a long term asset.
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.
- Rob Gronkowski, NE
- Travis Kelce, KC
- Zach Ertz, PHI
- Jimmy Graham, GB
- Graham has had several peaks and valleys since his time in New Orleans, but he finds himself in an ideal situation in Green Bay. As the teams best red zone target, double digit TD’s is a reasonable quest.
- Greg Olsen, CAR
- Kyle Rudolph, MIN
- Delanie Walker, TEN
- Jordan Reed, WAS
- Trey Burton, CHI
- A contract with $22 million guaranteed is proof the Bears plan to use Burton heavily in the passing game. Beyond Allen Robinson, Burton could slide in as the #2 target for the young Mitch Trubisky.
- Evan Engram, NYG
- George Kittle, SF
- O.J. Howard, TB
- Howard only managed 26 catches last year, but his athleticism was on display through his 16.6 yards per reception and 6 TDs (that’s a score almost every 4!). He’s a big breakout candidate in his 2nd year.
- Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, JAC
- Charles Clay, BUF
- David Njoku, CLE
- Ricky Seals-Jones, ARI
- Austin Hooper, ATL
- Jack Doyle, IND
- Eric Ebron, IND
- By all accounts, Ebron looks like he’s adapting to the Colts offense well. While his talent never matched his on the field accomplishments, sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes for a player to pop.
- Virgil Green, LAC
- Jared Cook, OAK
- Tyler Eifert, CIN
- Hayden Hurst, BAL
- Ed Dickson, SEA
- No longer playing second fiddle to Olsen in Carolina, Dickson has a great opportunity to produce in Seattle. On a roster that’s top heavy in the passing game, Dickson is sure to be involved heavily in the red zone.
- Cameron Brate, TB
- Rico Gathers, DAL
- Vance McDonald, PIT
- Stephen Anderson, HOU
- Anderson flashed at times, but still needs to prove he can be consistent enough to be worth rostering. The retirement of C.J. Feidorowicz means we’ll know sooner than later for the Houston TE.
- Jesse James, PIT
- Luke Willson, DET
- One of my favorite positional sleepers, Willson has all the athletic intangibles to be a contributing member of the passing game. Despite that, overcoming the organizational depth means fighting for touches with several good passing options.
- Mike Desicki, MIA
- Ben Watson, NO
- Gerald Everett, LAR
- Jake Butt, DEN
- Adam Shaheen, CHI
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).
Every year we spend our fantasy prep time pouring through periodicals and compiling statistics based off of “expert” analysis. And while this information is invaluable, we often times ignore the most important players to a championship team: The Bench.
Finding these hidden gems can be difficult but rewarding when your first and second round picks start experiencing the injuries that come with playing as often as elite NFL players do. We’ll examine who from the bargain barrel section of the drafts can help you when they inevitably enter the fray.
Surest Thing – Zac Ertz: Last year the Eagles finally got Ertz involved to the tune of 110+ targets and close to 900 yards. While he had a disappointing 2 TD’s for the season, it’s clear that the torch is being passed from Celek to Ertz at the TE position. Considering he’s being drafted after guys like Jimmy Graham, you have to like his value in the 12-14th rounds.
Highest Risk Reward – Martellus Bennett: The risk is expecting the Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez offense of a few years ago, but Bennett is still going to offer upside in the later rounds. The issue will be consistency, both through the first four games (Brady’s suspension) and when Gronk and Edelman are healthy. If he can prove reliable, we all know Brady likes to spread the ball around, so his ceiling is close to 1,000 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad for an ADP around 130.
Big Ole’ Bust – Jimmy Graham: Graham hasn’t been himself for a while now, and it’s clear that Seattle has made strides to give Wilson better options at WR. The first strike against him is that his role with Seattle is nothing like it was with New Orleans, and coupled with his Patellar surgery (strike 2) it’s obvious that he’s in for a rough year. Draft with extreme caution, but expect that he’ll be a roster albatross if you do.
Bonus – Tyler Eifert: If you’re fearful that Eifert will miss some time, you’re not alone, and it’s likely that his draft position will reflect that fear. But along with the tumbling ADP, you’ll get extreme value when he does return. With as many questions as the Bengals offense has on it’s receiving depth chart after AJ Green, it’s likely that Dalton turns to Eifert in large volumes when he does return near the end of September.
- Michael Floyd – WR / Arizona Cardinals (Hand) – I expect Floyd to be ready for week one, but it’s clear the door is open for John Brown to ascend to push Floyd further down on our rankings. Unless he gets meaningful preseason reps, I’d expect him to open as the WR3 in Arizona.
- Kevin White – WR / Chicago Bears (Shin) – 6 weeks minimum is the expected time missed for the rookie as his shin injury required surgery. He could be on the shelf longer, but even when he returns it’s unlikely he’ll provide much fantasy help. Eddie Royal is looking like gold right now…
- Darren McFadden – RB / Dallas (Hamstring) – Although it’s not nearly as severe as the other injuries on this list, the mere mention of yet another injury in the long litany of them DMC has suffered should give owners pause. Draft with extreme caution, primarily as the cuff to Joseph Randle who now owns the keys to the kingdom.
- Joique Bell – RB / Detroit Lions (Knee) – Bell is working hard to find his way back on to the field, but it may be too little too late for the ageing veteran. Ameer Abdullah’s hype train seems unstoppable at this point, and while Bell won’t be kicked to the curb completely, it’s hard to expect him to handle a larger portion of the snaps.
- Arian Foster – RB / Houston (Groin) – It’s looking like half the season or more after groin surgery to repair the most recent injury to Foster. I argued to look past the injury history with Foster earlier in the off season, but it’s hard to ignore the facts; Foster is an injury waiting to happen, and as such needs to be handled with kid gloves. The fear with Foster is that even when he does play it’ll be a wait and see approach if he’s even worth starting. More of a last round flier than anything else with his history.
- Devante Parker – WR / Miami (Foot) – He showed flashes earlier in the off season and looked to fill a role on a team with several diminutive possession receivers. He should be ready for week one, but it may take him some time to get going, and Miami has a lot of mouths to feed. Be mindful he won’t be impact-full for several weeks at best to start the season.
- Brandon LaFell – WR / New England Patriots (Foot) – What exactly does his injury report mean? Not much considering that New England is the masters at giving just enough information to seem forthcoming but really say nothing. He may be hobbled to a bit to start the season, but without Brady, his numbers should be stunted anyways.
- CJ Spiller – RB / New Orleans Saints (Knee) – Spiller’s injury likely won’t cost him regular season playing time but it’s worth noting that Spiller has had troubles staying healthy in the past. When he’s on the field he’s electric, and his ability to play 3rd and passing downs makes him a valuable asset, but keep a close eye on his health going into your drafts, and have a backup plan for if (when) he becomes injured.
- Zach Ertz – TE / Philadelphia Eagles (Torso) – Ertz had a relatively minor surgery on his core, so expect him to be ready for week one. Not nearly as concerning as a head, knee, or foot injury, I’d ignore this one as a real threat to his ascension into the elite ranks of TE’s. Expect him utilized early and often in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense.
- Niles Paul – TE / Washington Redskins (Ankle) – At one point, the question of which Washington TE would get the bulk of looks was a real one. Now we know it won’t be Paul. The out-of-no-where contributor will be on the shelf for the 2015 season after breaking his ankle in the preseason. If Jordan Reed is healthy ( and they’re a concern there as well ) he could be worthy of a later round flier.