The Great 2017 Fantasy Football Manifesto
To prepare you for the upcoming fantasy football season, I go through each team and its most intriguing players.
Here we are, yet another NFL football season is upon us. And most importantly, another fantasy football season is upon us.
For some NFL fans, becoming a GM each year — and/or week — is the most exciting part of the season. The traditional, season-long leagues have been around for decades. They will never get old. But the young, new daily fantasy option — where players can draft a new team each week — has taken the community by storm. Perhaps it’s the fresh start each week, or maybe it’s the 10s or 100s of thousands or millions of dollars available to win each week. Maybe it’s a combination of those things. Either way, it has grown immensely over the years, and surely that is a trend that won’t change course anytime soon.
This comprehensive breakdown will lean more towards the DFS crowd, as many players — for the right price — can be useful on a week-to-week basis. That crop grows by the week as players get injured or simply lose their spot on the depth chart to a player you may have never heard of before today.
The beautiful thing about fantasy football is its unpredictable nature. With this manifesto, however, I hope to leave you feeling more prepared for the season than ever before.
The only sure thing coming out of Arizona this year is David Johnson. Last year he led running backs and wide receivers in PPR scoring — 407.8 points — by a margin of 82.4 points and, when including all other players, led second ranked Aaron Rodgers by 27.8 points. He can do it all on offense and he will probably have to carry a large load once again this year.
After Johnson, draft with caution. Carson Palmer is past ripe and showed signs last season of being on his last legs after a solid 2015 campaign. He is by no means a bad quarterback, but he isn’t very reliable and you shouldn’t draft him.
A not-so-reliable quarterback means his passing options won’t be dependable either. Larry Fitzgerald is still a beast, and John and Jaron Brown as well as J.J. Nelson should be matchup-dependent draftees in the daily fantasy sphere. In terms of season-long, Fitzgerald is still the obvious no. 1 and you might be able to get him in mid-to-late rounds for good value. You could take a shot on the others towards the backend of the draft, but keep in mind that they might not pan out.
Last season, tight end wasn’t a major focus area in the Cardinals’ offense. Jermaine Gresham led that group with just 37 receptions, 391 yards and two touchdowns — equaling out to 88 points for the season. This year, it’ll be Gresham and fourth year man Troy Niklas at tight end — who has just a total of eight receptions and 71 yards in his career. Those two will likely be non-factors once again this season.
On the defensive side, Arizona lost 2016 leading tackler Tony Jefferson to Baltimore, but will be replacing him with veteran Antoine Bethea. Arizona scored the second most points of all defenses last season and they are still rather solid on that side, so drafting them in season long would be good — if it can be at a valuable spot, of course — and they will surely be usable in DFS contests. They open up the season at $2,800 on DraftKings facing Detroit.
The Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons should be fun on the field and in the fantasy world once again this season. In PPR formats last season, Devonta Freeman was RB6 and I see him finishing this season a couple spots higher. He’s now a lot richer, making more than anyone else currently at his position after his recent five-year contract extension.
Freeman in some ways is like a mini-David Johnson. He’s nowhere near the receiver that Johnson is, but it is a big part of his game and he can turn small plays into big plays. If Johnson, LeVeon Bell and LeSean McCoy are off the board by the time it’s your turn to pick, be happy to take Freeman.
Drafting a great back like Freeman makes someone like Tevin Coleman that much more valuable. Coleman could probably start at running back for a number of teams, and he had a little bit more of an impact than Freeman in the passing game when he was utilized. Drafting Coleman in a later round as Freeman insurance would be smart. And for DFS, Coleman will always be a player to consider if Freeman ever goes down to injury.
Matt Ryan, of course, is the captain of this battleship. He finished as the second quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers in points scored and with all of his weapons back, he should have another great year. Without Kyle Shanahan as his Offensive Coordinator, Ryan may not have another MVP season, but he will be up there once again in regards to production.
That means his receivers will have a pretty good year once again. Julio Jones is a superstar and an obvious first round pick. The other receivers is where it gets tricky. Taylor Gabriel exploded onto the fantasy scene toward the middle of last season and got more opportunity as the season went on. Mohamed Sanu, however, was more consistently targeted throughout the year and had a few big games himself. Picking between those two should be done at the discretion of the drafter, but I would say either are worth a shot as a second backup wide receiver.
Austin Hooper was a non-factor last season, but it seems as though he could get more involved this season. Drafting Hooper as a high-upside tight end in season-long or getting value on him as a punt tight end early on in the DFS season could pay off in tournaments should he play a bigger factor in Atlanta’s offense.
Thanks to internal development, the Falcons’ defense may be usable here and there in daily fantasy contests. I wouldn’t draft them in season-long leagues.
The Ravens disgust me a little bit this year in regards to fantasy. Joe Flacco isn’t going to win you any games. Their tight end situation is meh. Mike Wallace may have five or six fantasy relevant games. Jeremy Maclin might have a few. Their most talented offensive weapon — Danny Woodhead — is already hurt to start the year.
You could probably make use of their defense, but otherwise, stay away from the Ravens.
The Bills are just completely tanking on offense. They’re kind of tanking on defense, too. Are they good at anything? Special teams, maybe?
After trading away Sammy Watkins, there are no more boom-or-bust players that are fun to bet on in daily fantasy tournaments. We know what to expect from their players. Jordan Matthews is an average-to-good receiver, and if he develops a good rapport with Tyrod Taylor, maybe he could be a good flex or WR2 option at the right price. After Anquan Boldin’s retirement, Matthews and rookie Zay Jones look set as the Bills’ top two receivers. It’s not a bad group, just not terribly reliable — especially for consistently good production.
Charles Clay is another option for Taylor in Buffalo. He is probably the perfect example of a solid tight end. He doesn’t have a lot of potential for big games (no 100-yard games last season, one game with multiple touchdowns) but 10 points is about a normal game for him. If you don’t need much from your tight end, he is a solid bet to reach his high floor.
Now to the man leading this passing attack — Tyrod Taylor. Taylor ranked eighth amongst quarterbacks last season fantasy points, which is pretty impressive considering he didn’t have the weapons that the guys ranked ahead of him did. Taylor did more with less last season. For this season, however, that may not be the case.
The likely oft-used bailout option for Taylor is LeSean McCoy. McCoy finished 2016 as RB4, and with Ezekiel Elliott out for six games and more opportunity for McCoy, my guess is that he finishes RB3 this season. McCoy is always reliable to make his high price point worth drafting him on a week-to-week basis.
The Bills finished 15th last season in defensive/special teams fantasy points scored, and they lost their two top corners. They are the most expensive defense for Week 1 as they face off against the Jets, and I would recommend looking elsewhere.
Carolina has built a nice stable of weapons for Cam Newton. In the backfield, Newton is going to consistently have a weapon on the ground and in the air with Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey. Stewart is a good back when he’s actually on the field, which has been his problem. He hasn’t played in a full season since 2011, though since playing just nine and six games in 2012 and 2013, Stewart has played in 13 games in each of the past three seasons.
Still, from both a fantasy and real life perspective, it’s nice to now have a safety blanket for Stewart. The thing is, however, McCaffrey may not just be a safety blanket for the Panthers, even in his rookie season.
It’s just preseason, but McCaffrey has gotten a fair amount of run with the starters thus far and has probably earned the right to split reps with Stewart to start the year. If he can produce right out of the gate, he may steal reps from Stewart. Especially if he can prove to be a great receiving threat, as Stewart has always been good-not-great in that department.
Kelvin Benjamin has been a favorite of mine in the past, as he’s just so big and strong and fairly reliable. He can make plays in all three levels of the field and should generally be good for 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns a season (though he has not yet reached the 10 TD threshold in two seasons).
Greg Olsen is another favorite of mine. He has been a top tight end for years now and Newton generally looks for him when times get tough. He only scored three touchdowns last season, but numbers were down across the board with Newton playing injured.
Across from Benjamin is another big target — Devin Funchess. Funchess is probably one of the better third passing options in the league, and if Newton is healthy this year, it may be smart to pick him up in a mid-to-late round if he’s there.
After Josh Norman left for Washington last season, the Panthers’ secondary and defense altogether took a hit. They dropped back from five to 13 in fantasy points scored from 2015 to 2016. They added safety Mike Adams in the offseason, who was very productive in his three seasons with the Colts. They are still inexperienced at corner, however, starting two sophomores.
Jordan Howard finished at RB10 in 2016, and I would be very surprised if he didn’t finish at least a few spots higher this year. With a great run blocking group up front, Howard has a chance to shine this season. Last year, Howard finished with at least 10 PPR points in 11 games, including the final nine games of the season. Howard is such a strong runner and when the Bears feed him, he rewards them — and fantasy owners.
Mike Glennon will be the starting quarterback to start the year, despite the Mitch Trubisky hype. Which is fine. Either Glennon or Trubisky should be an improvement over the Cutler-Hoyer-Barkley trio from last season — even though Hoyer had a nice stretch before getting injured.
Cameron Meredith was poised for a breakout year with Alshon Jeffrey now in Philly, but he was just the latest player to lose his season to injury before it even got started. The Bears’ passing game has now lost a ton of credibility, as they have no receivers behind Meredith that will be able to fill the void on their own.
They have a ton of guys that will surely try, however. Kendall Wright is a former 1,000-yard receiver, Markus Wheaton was solid in Pittsburgh, and Kevin White is a former top 10 pick. One or maybe more of those guys may become worthy of a roster spot down the road, but for now I would say to draft with caution.
Zach Miller may see more looks now as well. Miller has his games, but like Charles Clay, is not generally a boom-or-bust tight end. When he is targeted close to 10 times, however, he is very reliable to reach or exceed his value.
Chicago looks formidable up front on defense but their secondary can be attacked. Avoid them in season-long drafts, though they may become relevant at some point in the season for daily teams.
Cincinnati ranked 24th in points scored and I can already tell you that will not be the case this year. They were 1–5–1 in games decided by five points or less. Had some of those games gone in their favor, the Bengals could have found themselves in the playoffs. With all of their weapons, they should be scoring a lot of points this season.
All those weapons means Andy Dalton is going to have a big year.
A.J. Green missed six games last season and still ended up with 66 receptions, 964 yards and four touchdowns. Many — including Andy Dalton — believe this is Green’s best camp yet. My prediction: Green finishes the year as WR3 behind Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
It helps that Cincy has a ton of other really good receivers behind Green. The new guy, John Ross, is fast as hell and should be of use at some point — even though it doesn’t look like he will be right away. I’m not sure where Ross should be drafted at yet, and he’s actually going undrafted on average in ESPN leagues. Fellow receivers Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd aren’t being drafted either, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t better options. I would expect LaFell and Boyd to start the year off as the more valuable draft targets, but Ross undoubtedly has the highest ceiling of the three. All three should be useful DFS players right off the bat in some capacity.
This also feels like a big Tyler Eifert year. He’s never played a full season, and never even eclipsed 700 receiving yards. He’s a major threat in the red zone, however. The dude had 13 touchdowns in 2015 in just 13 games. He may not record a ton of yardage — leave that to the receivers — but he has a good chance to score on a game-to-game basis. Let’s just hope he can play 16 games this season.
The running back group is quite impressive as well. Jeremy Hill leads the group, and it’s looking like Joe Mixon will top Giovani Bernard for the no. 2 spot. Mixon is the real intriguing player of this group. He may be a terrible person, but he knows how to play football and he should have an impact on the Cincinnati offense this season. It’s kind of hard to gauge where to draft these guys because reps will probably be split up. Hill and Mixon are definitely worth drafting for your bench or as low end starters.
Their defense isn’t bad. Hopefully they can step up after a below average 2016.
The late-preseason decision by Hue Jackson to name rookie DeShone Kizer as the starting quarterback over veteran Brock Osweiler was an interesting one for both real life and fantasy football. Kizer as a rookie is more unpredictable, but that brings more upside than Osweiler as we know what he is. What is he? A bad quarterback. He’s not going to push the ball down field, he’s going to be inaccurate, and he’s going to turn it over. A team like the Browns needs to play players with upside. Proven mediocrity is not going to get them out of this seemingly bottomless hole.
Jackson’s decision will not make the Browns’ starting quarterback a viable fantasy option (in season-long), but it does make the players around him more intriguing. Corey Coleman, for example, did work while healthy last season and looked to be Kizer’s go-to option in Week 3 of the preseason. With Coleman’s downfield ability alongside Kizer’s big arm, Coleman has major upside as a WR2 on your team this season.
Kenny Britt had his first 1,000-yard season of his eight-year career in LA last season, and could have just as good a year as the veteran option for Kizer.
Many were already high on Isaiah Crowell coming into the year with the Joe Thomas-led group up front, and Kizer makes him an even more valuable play. Osweiler loves the short-to-intermediate throw, which brings the secondary closer to the line. Kizer will take shots down field, and he’ll hit home runs here and there. If he can open up the middle of the field enough, Crowell becomes a serious threat as a check down receiver. And, as most know, a competent quarterback keeps the defense honest and opens up the run game.
Duke Johnson Jr. has had more receiving yards than rushing yards in both of his NFL seasons. He’s another very intriguing weapon in that offense and is almost guaranteed big games in PPR leagues — assuming Kizer can hold his own.
The tight end situation is looking rather meh at the moment, but perhaps rookie David Njoku emerges at some point during the season — though he currently stands third in line on the depth chart.
The addition of Myles Garrett alone should make for an uptick in sacks this season for Cleveland (Jamie Collins will also get his first full season in The Land). They got younger in the secondary, adding Jabrill Peppers — who could also make some big plays as a return man — and releasing veteran Joe Haden. Replacing Haden with younger players probably isn’t great, though the pass rush will help.
With Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas’s potential on offense is through the roof. An elite running game opens up the passing game, and when the passer is Dak Prescott — with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and others to pass to — the offense becomes damn near impossible to stop.
Dallas was fifth in points scored last season, behind offenses manned by the elite of the elite — Atlanta, New Orleans, New England and Green Bay. If Elliott weren’t pegged for a six-game timeout, Dallas would have a very good chance at getting back to that point again in 2017. There is a chance the suspension will be reduced for this season, or even pushed back completely to 2018 — Tom Brady style. For now, however, let’s move forward with the assumption that Elliott will not be available for six games (even though he is currently available to play).
Behind the best offensive line in the league, the Cowboys’ running game should still be very good. Not only do they have great blockers, they have a tested running back — Darren McFadden. In 2015, pre-Elliott, McFadden rushed for 1,089 yards — 4.6 yards per carry. That was the second best mark of his career, just the second time he rushed for 1,000 yards-plus. He’s not Elliott. He’s not going to score 15 touchdowns. In Elliott’s time out, though, McFadden is still a very good fantasy option.
It’s easy to predict a sophomore slump for a quarterback that had a better-than-expected rookie campaign. But there are no logical reasons to predict that for Prescott. He’s young, but has the best offensive line in football and veteran receivers. He also plays well beyond his years.
Prescott turned the ball more over on fumbles than interceptions last season, which is actually a good sign. Rookies fumbling is not even close to a new thing, especially rookie ball carriers. Rookie quarterbacks almost always throw interceptions. First overall pick Jared Goff threw seven last season in seven games. Prescott threw four in 16 games. Fumbles are an easy fix. Not throwing interceptions early on is a great sign for Prescott moving forward.
Considering his ability to rack up fantasy points on the ground as well as in the air, Prescott could be drafted fairly high. After Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are off the board, Prescott may give you the most upside.
I think Dez Bryant is going to have a huge year. He’s been hurt the past two years, and injuries arem’t predictable. When Dez is healthy, though, he’s a beast. Hopefully he gets 16 games in this time around.
Jason Witten is a legend. Not much else to it. He’s missed one game in his entire career. He’s great to have in season-long. In DFS, like most tight ends, he’s matchup-dependent.
Dallas’s defense finished 18th in fantasy points scored last year and I don’t expect them to move upwards much at all this season.
Alright, let’s just get it out of the way. I’m a Broncos fan, and I am a Trevor Siemian apologist. If you want to discount what I have to say about Denver, that is fair and probably smart.
I think we see a sizable jump in Denver’s offensive production this year. When watching Siemian last year, a lot of his mistakes were made because of a lack of protection. And he didn’t make too many mistakes anyway.
Now, after adding Ronald Leary through free agency and Garrett Boles through the draft, it’s fair to assume Siemian is a bit safer in the backfield now. He’s got a litany of weapons and he’s capable of feeding them.
Siemian himself isn’t a good bet for fantasy, but almost everyone else around him is. That improved line is also good for C.J. Anderson, who you could probably get at a discount in season-long after his injury-riddled 2016 campaign. Jamaal Charles would be an interesting guy to take a flier on late in the draft, too.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, assuming good health, are almost a guarantee for a floor of 1,000 yards and five touchdowns a season. Siemian will be better this year. Draft those guys once the really big fish are off the market.
Their defense has been on a slow descent since winning Super Bowl 50, but it has been very slow. They lose good players and replace them with slightly worse players. Their defense may actually be a bit better than last year, and their secondary is still incredible. They’ll be a top five defense once again this season.
Matthew Stafford is not just rich anymore, he’s really rich. Highest paid player of all-time type of rich. Hopefully he wants to spread that wealth with some of his teammates, just in targets instead of money.
Marvin Jones had a scorching hot start to the 2016 season, but he cooled off and took a backseat to Golden Tate. Jones is a fine receiver but there are a ton of second options I would take over him.
I would probably take Tate around where Emmanuel Sanders goes, perhaps slightly ahead of Sanders. In ESPN leagues, Tate (47) is currently being taken 12 spots ahead of Sanders (59) on average.
If I was going to take any other receiver on Detroit, it would probably be rookie Kenny Golladay. It’s just preseason, but he’s shown a ton of ability and likely earned himself some targets coming into the season. He’ll be available in late rounds and he’s worth the flier.
It is going to be very tricky projecting numbers for the Lions’ running backs. Ameer Abdullah is clearly the lead back, but he got hurt last year and that’s always a worry. Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner will get some run but ultimately if you want to draft a Lions RB, take Abdullah. He’s going 80th in ESPN leagues, and for what it’s worth, Riddick is going 81st.
Eric Ebron is just…does he score touchdowns? Seven career touchdowns in three seasons doesn’t get a fantasy owner riled up.
Don’t draft their defense.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers should be the first quarterback off the board.
Jordy Nelson is going to be awesome. Davante Adams is going to be great. Randall Cobb is going to be good. Ty Montgomery is going to be fun. Martellus Bennett is going to have a career high in touchdowns.
The Packers offense is going to be off the chain. Draft as many of those guys as possible.
Don’t draft their defense.
Tom Savage is better than Brock Osweiler, so it’s fair to assume numbers go up across the board. I would like to think Savage is somewhere in the middle of Brian Hoyer and Osweiler, so I’ll split the difference between DeAndre Hopkins’ 2015 and ’16 numbers and make that my prediction for his stats this season: 90 receptions, 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns.
It would be great if Houston utilized Braxton Miller more this season, just for the sake of fun. Will Fuller is a boom-or-bust type of receiver, and I usually don’t draft those types. He drops balls, too. If you like him, however, I don’t see many people reaching for him in middle rounds of the draft.
With improved quarterback play, I can see a big year for Lamar Miller. D’Onta Foreman would be a really smart handcuff to Miller if you go in that direction.
C.J. Fiedorowicz was my go-to punt tight end last season and he never disappointed. Houston just handed him a three-year extension, so they are now a lot more invested in him. I don’t know about him as a season-long play, but I know I’ll be using him a ton in DFS.
The Texans may have the best defense in the league. They are at least in the conversation. They are worthy of a draft pick.
I will be playing T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Jack Doyle quite a bit once Andrew Luck is healthy. We just have no idea when that will be. Once Luck is back, though, it’ll be nice to have those guys. Frank Gore, too.
Their defense? Yeah, let’s not talk about that.
Blake Bortles kind of ruins everything for me. He even ruins Leonard Fournette for me, which sucks.
Their defense is intriguing. They could be a streaming option for DFS folks.
Kansas City Chiefs
With the Spencer Ware injury, the door is wide open for Kareem Hunt. Hunt was a fantasy football darling even before the Ware injury. With him now as the expected starter, he is shooting up draft boards. He is up to RB15 on ESPN, with an ADP of 35. I’m sure plenty have reached for him in an earlier round.
Tyreek Hill is another expected to have a big year in Kansas City. The Chiefs should be using him more in their offense this season, and he’s going to be a threat as a return man as well. He’s going in the mid-fifth round in ESPN drafts.
Travis Kelce is the second best tight end in the league, so getting him on your team would be good. Their defense is going to be one of the best in the league.
Los Angeles Chargers
Phillip Rivers has a nice little group around him. If Keenan Allen can stay healthy this year, he would pay huge dividends for fantasy owners. Tyrell Williams probably won’t be able to repeat his 2016 output. Travis Benjamin is a personal favorite of mine. If rookie Mike Williams can’t get on/stay on the field this season, one of those guys will break out in his place. If it’s Tyrell Williams, I am prepared to eat my words.
Like Witten, Antonio Gates is a legend. I’m not sure Hunter Henry will have eight touchdowns again this season.
Melvin Gordon went from zero touchdowns his rookie season to 12 total last season. I think he’ll regress a bit in that area, but he’ll break 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career.
I am really high on the Chargers’ defense. They’re aggressive and they’ll have some big fantasy days.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff was impressively bad in seven games last season, but he looked better in preseason. Even though this feeling makes no sense, I feel a big year coming for Sammie Watkins.
Todd Gurley had a sophomore slump in 2016 after an impressive rookie season. Whether Gurley can bounce back depends on Goff’s improvement and the offensive line.
Wade Phillips + Aaron Donald = a defense that will be good.
Many Dolphins’ fantasy stock depends on Jay Cutler. I, as a Ryan Tannehill doubter, believe Cutler can fulfill most of Tannehill’s shoes. In saying that, I see a nice year for DaVante Parker. I am not saying, however, that I believe in Jay Ajayi — or at least that he will replicate what he did last season.
Ajayi had an incredible three-week run, recording 36.7, 31.6, and 25 fantasy points in Weeks 6–9 (Week 8 bye). Aside from that run, though, Ajayi just had one game of 15+ points — Week 16 at Buffalo, 30.9 points. He had 14.7 points in Week 13 at Baltimore as well. That means, of the 15 games Ajayi played in 2016, he was only fantasy relevant in five games. In the other 10 — and if you want to include the playoffs, 11 — Ajayi was average-to-bad in the vast majority of his games last season. Sure, he was incredible in those five games, but is he worth the risk?
Obviously there are two drafting angles: season-long and DFS. In season-long, Ajayi is being picked as RB8 in the late second round on ESPN. I would say that’s fair, as Ajayi will pay off here and there throughout the season. And, as he showed last season, his ceiling is extremely high on a game-to-game basis. RB8 is a fair spot for Ajayi.
When looking at Ajayi as a DFS player, however, he must be the right price. For Week 1 against Tampa Bay (which has actually been rescheduled to Week 11 thanks to Hurricane Irma), he’s priced at $6,500 on DraftKings, which is right in the range I would draft him at. Anything above $7,000 is where I would shy away. He’ll have big games where he’ll reach value even with a high price point, but that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take with his proven inconsistency. Maybe some of that inconsistency goes away with experience as a lead back under Ajayi’s belt, but that’s just something he’ll have to prove throughout this season.
Miami also has two intriguing wide receivers—Parker and Jarvis Landry. Parker is more intriguing with Cutler than he may have been with Tannehill, as Cutler has a history of targeting bigger receivers — see Marshall, Brandon and Jeffery, Alshon. Parker wasn’t very consistent last season, but he showed some great ability and I expect more from him this year with more targets hopefully coming his way.
Landry was a lot more consistent last season, only having four games in single digits and five more below 15 points. He had five outings with 19 or more points, as well as a 24.2-point day in their Wild Card playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Landry has the higher floor and has shown to be more consistent, justifying his WR24 ADP in ESPN leagues to Parker’s WR33 spot. Landry is safer in season-long, but if Cutler does fall in love with Parker, he could give you a better shot at green in the daily fantasy sphere.
The Dolphins were top 10 in D/ST points scored last season. I typically like to stream defenses in season-long unless a really good one slips, but the Dolphins wouldn’t be a bad choice. I’m sure I’ll use them in daily fantasy at some point.
Minnesota had a horrific offensive line last season, and it’s not much better for this season. That makes me lower on their options than I’d like to be.
I still like Kyle Rudolph, who is coming off a career year with Sam Bradford under center. He had just four sub-10-point games last season, which is typically my preferred floor for tight ends. He’s a decent bet for a touchdown, getting seven of them last season.
With a leaky offensive line, Bradford will be looking for the closest receiver very often. It’s part of the reason I like Rudolph, and it’s part of the reason I have hope for rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Cook, a great pass catcher out of Florida St., could see a lot of dump-and-go opportunities throughout the season. Cook is small and quick, so it’s not hard to imagine little screens turning into big gains. Cook could turn out to be a bargain in PPR leagues as a mid-round pick.
Stefon Diggs was a little bit like Jay Ajayi last season. He had a few huge games and a ton of duds. I think I’m staying away from him this year unless I can get really good value. Same story with Adam Thielen.
Minnesota’s defense is very good and definitely draft-worthy.
New England Patriots
For the Patriots, we typically don’t know much outside of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Brady will be one of the first two quarterbacks off the board, and Gronk will be the first tight end.
It’s usually hard to rely on any New England receivers as they rarely foster any skill players that are too expensive. Will the acquisition of Brandin Cooks and injury to Julian Edelman, however, it’s a little bit easier to see tons of points this year for both Cooks and Chris Hogan.
Cooks is quick, and he produced with Drew Brees. He’s had 84 and 78 receptions the past two years, along with 1,138 and 1,173 yards and nine and eight touchdowns.
The exciting thing about Cooks is his big game potential. In those two years, Cooks had six 100+ yard games. He had at least one touchdown in all of those games, and he had two touchdowns in two of those games (both last season). He was fairly steady in the other games, and there weren’t too many duds (which every receiver is prone to here and there).
Drafters are loving Cooks. He’s being picked WR8 on ESPN, right after former Saints teammate Michael Thomas, at the end of the second round. With Amari Cooper, Doug Baldwin, Dez Bryant and T.Y. Hilton being selected behind Cooks, he has to do a lot to prove his drafters right. He has all the opportunity to do so.
As one would assume, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady got more out of Chris Hogan than EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan ever did. In just 15 games last season, Hogan had a career year with 680 yards and four touchdowns. It was not a career year for him in terms of targets and receptions. And yet, those 680 yards beat his previous career high in yards by 230. How did that happen? Well, the 17.9 yards per reception probably helped, whereas his previous career high was 12.5. Hogan can do work down the field! Who knew!
The Edelman injury and Cooks acquisition make it hard to predict what Hogan will end up with at season’s end. We can’t just carry over Edelman’s 98 receptions from last season into this season and project off of that, because it would be very logical to think the Pats run more this season. Brady is aging, so preserving him for the postseason is key. They also have a nice committee of running backs, which we will get to soon.
One thing to question is who will fulfill Edelman’s role as the short-yard receiver. Could it be Hogan, who did it in Buffalo, or could they cut back on Cooks’s typical diet of catches down the field? Maybe it’s Danny Amendola, who is prone to injury. There are so many questions and not many answers on how the Patriots will operate, as per usual.
Now, onto the four-headed monster at running back. LeGarrette Blount and his 18 touchdowns are out the door. None of the four are the size of Blount. In fact, three of the four are some version of the same kind of back. They all have experience as pass-catchers. Rex Burkhead has been utilized the least of the three, and for that reason a ton of people are buying Burkhead stock. Dion Lewis was on pace for damn near 1,000 receiving yards in 2015 before he got hurt just seven games in. James White had more receptions and receiving touchdowns than Hogan last season. Then there’s Mike Gillislee, the former Buffalo Bill. Gillislee is probably the best runner of the group. He’s quick and is not afraid to run over defenders at 218 pounds. He did well in Buffalo as LeSean McCoy’s backup last season, racking up 577 yards and eight touchdowns. It also seems likely that Gillislee picks up most of the goal line carries. For that reason, Gillislee is being picked higher than the other three Patriot backs in ESPN leagues. He’s being picked in eighth round on average, but reaching for him a couple rounds earlier may be a smart move. Since he’s now in New England, I’m assuming he’ll become involved in the pass game more than he has in his first three years.
New England actually finished sixth in D/ST points scored last season, and added Stephon Gilmore in the offseason. They will probably go under the radar seeing as no one usually cares about the Patriots’ defense.
New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas as a rookie last season: 15 games, 92 receptions, 122 targets, 1,137 yards, nine touchdowns. Brandin Cooks is now gone. If he doesn’t smash this season (sans injury), with Drew Brees at quarterback, it will be the biggest disappointment of the season.
Willie Snead is a solid second receiver, but he’s suspended for three games and that hurts his value. Ted Ginn Jr. is prone to cold hands but he’s got a really accurate quarterback and a lot of speed. The Snead suspension makes him less of a sleeper, but you could still probably grab him for a good price.
Coby Fleener was a big fantasy disappointment last season, but maybe he makes up for it this year with Cooks gone. Like Ginn Jr., Fleener drops a lot of balls.
Mark Ingram has always been a favorite of mine, especially for PPR leagues. He broke 1,000 yards rushing for the first time last season, and he’s good for 50 receptions as well. He’s almost always a solid option in DFS, and he’s going as RB21 in ESPN leagues currently — which should be a crime.
He’s got Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara behind him, but I don’t see them dipping into his touches too much.
New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. is going to be the fourth or fifth pick. That much we know. Everything else is a bit of a mystery.
Brandon Marshall should do very well opposite Beckham Jr. Eli Manning might be the best quarterback he’s had, and hopefully that makes him a good fantasy option throughout the year. I could see rookie Evan Engram do things here and there, but he’s currently behind Rhett Ellison on the depth chart.
I never like to draft Giants’ running backs, and I advise you to do the same. Paul Perkins, who had zero touchdowns in 112 attempts last season, is their guy right now.
The Giants’ defense is worth drafting this year.
New York Jets
Bilal Powell. Maybe Matt Forte. Maybe Robby Anderson. Maybe Jermaine Kearse.
Everyone else sucks.
Derek Carr is leading the show and you could probably pick him up in the eighth round or later. He finished QB10 last season and should finish at least a couple spots higher this year.
His top target, Amari Cooper, is a good guy to look at as soon as the big dogs come off the board. He has recorded 1,000+ yards in his two NFL seasons and he’s still got room to improve. Carr’s no. 2, Michael Crabtree, actually has more receptions, targets and touchdowns than Cooper in the last two seasons. He finished 2016 as WR12. If you have a pick in the middle of the third round and Crabtree is still there, take him and don’t look back.
I’m bearish on Marshawn Lynch. He has fresh legs and is working behind a great offensive line, but it just doesn’t feel like he’s going to be able to do it the whole season. He may have a good first half, but he’ll tail off. If he’s there in the fourth round, though, that’s fairly good value. And if you do take him, I would recommend handcuffing him to Jalen Richard.
Please don’t draft Jared Cook. Don’t try to convince yourself it’s going to work out. It’s not.
Their defense is coming along, but I foresee tons of shootouts for the Raiders. Stay away for now.
Carson Wentz is probably a guy you can get in a fairly late round, and he’s $5,300 for Week 1 on DraftKings. Just incredible value to kick off the season.
His no. 1 target is now Alshon Jeffrey after going through his rookie year with a rather thin receiving group. Let’s just pray Jeffrey isn’t held up by tons of injuries. If he stays healthy, he’s got easy WR1 potential.
This may be a bounce back year for Torrey Smith. He’s got a bright-eyed young quarterback and expectations within the offense. I think he’ll get closer to where he was when he was with Baltimore, making him a low end WR2/flex option.
It’s important for Wentz and the Eagles to show confidence in Nelson Agholor so he doesn’t completely shut down. Luckily, as people living in a fantasy world, we don’t have to worry about that. I’d stay away from Agholor.
I’m not on the Zach Ertz hype train that has picked up steam, but I do think he’ll be a solid option at the right price.
LeGarrette Blount had 18 touchdowns last year and finished as RB9 last season. That won’t happen this season. He’s 30 and hasn’t done much in his career outside of New England. The Eagles’ carries will probably be split up between Blount and Darren Sproles, and I like second year back Wendell Smallwood as well. That being said, I don’t think I want to draft any of these guys.
Philly had a great defense in terms of fantasy last season and I expect the same this season.
LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown will finish at the top of their position. Martavis Bryant, fully reinstated, will be very good. There’s not much else to say about the Steelers.
San Francisco 49ers
I can’t explain why I like Brian Hoyer so much. I just love the dude. I rode him last year in daily-fantasy until he got hurt, and I may consider it this year if he looks good vs. Carolina Week 1.
Hoyer is a solid quarterback. Because of that, I am big on Pierre Garcon this year. Garcon had his best season in 2013 under Kyle Shanahan when he was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator. Garcon’s 2013 stats: 113 receptions, 184 targets, 1,346 yards, five touchdowns. Garcon probably won’t get those numbers this year in San Fran, but he’ll get closer than he has the past three years.
Former Bill Marquise Goodwin will probably get the largest target share of his career this year and would be worth taking a flier on.
The Niners have more offensive talent this year, opening the doors for a nice year from Carlos Hyde. He hasn’t played a full season, which is worrisome, but this seems like the year for Hyde to break through the walls holding him under 1,000 rushing yards.
Their defense will be improved, but still stay away.
The Seahawks have a chance to be really good on both sides of the ball. Don’t be afraid to make them the first-picked defense. They have Sheldon Richardson now. Their defense is going to be incredible.
Russell Wilson will still probably have to run for his life, but he managed last year while fighting through injuries. He should have a pretty good year. Doug Baldwin has become one of my favorite receivers, and he should be an easy WR1 option this year. I might take a flier on Paul Richardson. And if Jimmy Graham doesn’t break 80 receptions, a mark he hasn’t passed since being traded to Seattle in 2015, I’d be surprised.
I’m staying away from the running backs for now. Thomas Rawls is coming off a bad injury and Eddie Lacy may or may not be out of shape. Who knows.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers could be a lot of fun this year on both sides of the ball. Jameis Winston is a guy I’m taking in almost every draft, as he’s usually there in Rounds 8–10. Mike Evans is a top seven pick, and DeSean Jackson is great value in the eighth round. Let me put this in perspective: Jackson has had three seasons in his nine year NFL career where he recorded 1,000+ yards with less than 60 receptions. It generally takes guys between 75–90 receptions to reach 1,000+ yards. The dude always makes big plays, and Winston is going to put him to work.
With the Doug Martin suspension, you could get good value for Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers. Martin is a good starter, and Rodgers is a solid fill-in. Handcuffing these two would be smart, and playing Rodgers in DFS as a cheap flex option is something I will probably be looking at.
Tampa Bay is going to surprise people on defense this year. Go ahead and draft them.
Tennessee is in the same stratosphere as Tampa Bay. Both young and full of weapons. If I can’t get Winston, I’m perfectly fine with Marcus Mariota. In some instances I’d prefer Mariota.
I prefer Winston’s weapons, but Mariota’s aren’t bad. Rishard Matthews made a lot of people money in daily-fantasy last season. Corey Davis was one of Tennesse’s first round picks so they have high expectations for him. He missed all of the preseason, but he is expected to play Week 1 vs. Oakland and we’ll see how he fares. Eric Decker is a guy with a ton of experience and he’ll probably see a fair amount of looks his way.
Delanie Walker is a top five tight end in the league. He’s the guy I try to take once Gronk and Travis Kelce are off the board.
It’s hard to imagine DeMarco Murray finishing RB5 again this year, but he’s so good on the ground and as a pass-catcher that it’s worth the risk to see if he can. I recommend handcuffing him with Derrick Henry, however.
Their defense probably isn’t up to par yet, but they’re getting close.
Here’s the bad news for Kirk Cousins: he lost Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Here’s the good news: he got Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder is perfectly capable of picking up the slack. Second year Josh Doctson is also healthy and available after just two games and two receptions in his rookie year.
When you throw in tight end Jordan Reed, I’m very high on the Redskins’ passing game this season.
I’m not nearly as high on their running game. Rob Kelley is the starter, and he’s fine. Chris Thompson is a nice backup. I just think they’ll rely on the pass a lot more than the run.
Their defense underachieved last season, but I still don’t see them being very useful in fantasy this year.