I know I’m really late getting this in, but it’s never too late to join a fantasy league. And while private leagues have mostly already been drafted, there are always weekly leagues to keep yourself busy. I actually have a newly created league for friends that won’t be drafting until Wednesday, so we will go over as much information as possible without giving everything away. Then again, if you draft smart then there shouldn’t be an issue with who is or isn’t available.
To start, I will go over three different types of player: sure thing, toss-ups, and take a flier. There will also be an additional group of players that are PPR friendly (points per reception) for all of the individual positions (QB, RB, WR, TE). Kickers and defenses aren’t worthy of being picked before the last few rounds. It’s not uncommon to see them picked in middle rounds but it’s not worth the reach. Taking the chance that the Seattle Seahawks defense will have some monster year or that Stephen Gostkowski is going to kick 40 field goals from 4o yards out or further isn’t realistic. I know you have a favorite team and you want them to do well, but that’s exactly the reason why you don’t want to draft any of them unless you absolutely have to. I prescribe the following when drafting: pick the best available player. Yes, you have to fill out certain positions to have a half decent team but don’t force a pick just because there’s a particular trend in your draft. Ok, let’s get this started.
Sure Thing. Peyton Manning- Even without Wes Welker this offense will roll. They might not re-break the record for points and yards and everything else, but a stabilized defense will only help the team (rather than provide less need to score more). Drew Brees- No matter how good the Saints are and no matter how many times they retool, Brees just keeps on chugging. Brees had issues with turnovers two years ago and then got things rolling again last year. Aaron Rodgers- Don’t sleep on Rodgers, the Pack Attack really is back. With a running game that is one year better and some young receivers with a bit more experience, Rodgers will have every opportunity to hit it big in fantasy and in the standings. These three guys are the only players at the QB position worth drafting in the first two rounds. Manning has gone as early as 2 or 3 in drafts but is probably more realistic at the back end of the first round while both Rodgers and Brees should be taken within the first 15 picks in all formats.
Jay Cutler has all the weapons for a successful season.
Toss-Ups. Cam Newton- With the hurt ribs, Cam might not have the kind of start to the season you would want. But the Panthers have a great defense, so Newton should get the ball back in his hands more than a few extra times a game. A lot of the success he has had the past few years has been helped by Steve Smith, and now that he’s moved on to the Ravens it’s up to someone new to shoulder the load. He’s not worth a pick in the first 5 rounds, but if he’s available in the 6th then I’m gonna take a look. Russell Wilson- He’s a big name on a very good team, but that’s really the extent of it when considering him as a fantasy option. If Percy Harvin is getting used the way he was in Minnesota, then there’s a good chance Wilson will fall off with TD rushes. But if Harvin plays the role of a traditional receiver, then Wilson’s passing numbers may actually be a bit higher. Also, the Seattle D lost a fair amount from last year and that may contribute to a need for a more aggressive offense. If he’s available in the 10th round then I’d take a chance and he’s certainly ok to take as early as the 8th, but that’s the limit. Jay Cutler- For all the talk around the league about the abundance of weapons on offense for the Chicago Bears, Cutler still isn’t being drafted before the 10th round. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the guy is a safe bet, but if no one gets hurt then there’s really no reason why he can’t be a top 5 QB. That might sound crazy considering he’s barely rated top 15 on most sites, but the big thing for him and his teammates is health. The points will come. Count on it.
Take a Flier. Nick Foles- Foles isn’t a sleeper in the traditional sense, but then again no quarterback really is unless I end up mentioning guys that you won’t pick up until the 8th week. He won’t have a ridiculous touchdown to interception ratio as last season. Still, the Eagles are set up for another productive offensive season. With all the weapons at his disposal (though the WR unit isn’t staggering) he’s got a great chance to be a top 10 QB as long as LeSean McCoy is in the backfield with him. Taking him as early as the 6th isn’t a stretch and if he’s available in the 8th or 9th then pick him up. Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer- These guys are listed together because they are both coming off of seasons that were a little under the radar (unlike Philip Rivers who was top 5 even though he’s never treated like it). Both guys are playing in offenses with tons of potential. The Steelers have a solid, but young, running game that will need better run blocking on a consistent basis to compete. But if they can find a second-fiddle to Antonio Brown then I see him replicating his last 5 weeks of 2013-14 for an entire year. Palmer on the other hand had a pretty productive year with a couple new weapons taking shape. Andre Ellington is ready for a breakout season and Michael Floyd will look to have similar, if not better, numbers than Larry Fitzgerald. Both guys are available past the 10th round and allow you to take a stud RB or WR in the middle rounds and still get a top tier QB to start nearly every week.
Sure thing. Adrian Peterson- If All Day thinks this is the best offense he’s ever played in with Matt Cassel at the helm then they really must be good. There’s a bit more potential and options than merely Peterson and that will only help him. There isn’t much that needs to be said about this guy. Would you take him with the first pick in the draft? I would. Does that mean I wouldn’t take someone over him in a PPR? No. But if you’re in a standard league then it’s a no-brainer. Taking Peterson any lower than 3rd or MAYBE 4th is a bit much. LeSean McCoy- The best player to take in PPR leagues (but not by much), “Shady” should have a great year even with Darren Sproles in the mix. McCoy probably won’t lead the league in rushing again but he’s likely to be in the top 3 while producing Marshall Faulk-like numbers. He shouldn’t be taken any lower than 2 though I’ve been able to get him at 5 in more than one league. Jamaal Charles- Due to the performance by McCoy last year, Charles’ numbers might not have seemed so amazing. But he is what makes the Chiefs offense even close to relevant. It might not be realistic to expect that kind of performance again this year but it won’t be far off. Taking him 1st is a stretch, but taking him any lower than 6th is ridiculous. Matt Forte- I tried to limit each category to three players each, but this one is just too obvious. Forte will have to stay healthy and have an above-average receiving year, but he’s going to have the opportunity to produce huge numbers on a consistent basis even with the other studs in the lineup. He’s a top 6 overall player in any league.
Toss-ups. Zac Stacy- Coming into the season there was the expectation of taking what happened last season and turning it into a season-long performance. I’m still a bit skeptical that he’s going to be able to handle all the carries, but losing Sam Bradford may not be as big of a loss as people think. The Rams were going to run the ball either way and should run it even more now. Given the injury to Bradford, Stacy is ranked in standard leagues a little too high, but taking him in the mid to late 2nd is about right. Alfred Morris- He’s going to get you more than 1000 yards, but how much over that number isn’t for sure. Griffin will stay in the pocket more and DeSean Jackson will get the ball on reverses here and there. If the Skins can get some leads or keep more games close then he will have a great year, if not then he might not be the player of the past few seasons. Taking him in the late 2nd all the way to the early 4th is realistic. Marshawn Lynch- Lynch is still capable of being “Beast Mode”. Whether the Seahawks pass the ball more or not might not effect his carries, instead it might be the quality backups he has to contend with and the amount of carries he’s had in his career. Lynch isn’t a top 8 player. Taking him any later than 13 isn’t realistic either, but the name recognition isn’t what it once was.
Get ready for big production for Andre Ellington.
Take a Flier. Andre Ellington- With Carson Palmer still playing at a high level and a receiving corps with loads of talent, Ellington will have some openings in the running game. We already know what kind of talent he has as a receiver, don’t be surprised to see him in the top 5 in rushing yards. Ranked outside of the top 10 on many sites, he’s worth much more. I wouldn’t take him before the 3rd round only because he will last between there and the 5th round. Toby Gerhart- He was a solid performer for the Vikings while AP was out. If he had been filling in for anyone else he may have gotten more pub, but the former Heisman hopeful is playing for a team that traditionally loves to run the ball. Taking him as early as the 5th would only happen based on need, but taking him by the 8th is very realistic. Giovani Bernard- This might be another obvious one, but we still haven’t seen him in a feature role. The Law Firm is gone now and this is his team. Bernard has great hands and is a hard runner. The Bengals will get him the ball. The only question is how many yards he gets and whether he can be “the guy” on the goal line. Bernard projects as a late 2nd rounder and shouldn’t be available past the early part of the 3rd round.
PPR Flex Plays. Shane Vereen. Darren Sproles. Danny Woodhead. Dexter McCluster. Pierre Thomas.
Sure thing. Calvin Johnson- Megatron had a few drops last year and actually didn’t have as many big games as you would think. But that doesn’t mean he won’t still be the best in the game once again. The Lions will throw all day if they have to and Johnson is going to have better numbers than last year. He’s not a top pick overall, but he’s not far off. Demauryius Thomas- I will say it so everybody knows. I thought this guy was a stud when Tebow was running the show. Having perhaps the best QB of all-time getting the ball to you makes life easy. The ball won’t be spread around as much as last year only because Wes Welker may not be around much longer. Big numbers are coming for certain. Take him as early as 8 or as late as 13. Otherwise he’s off the board. AJ Green- He’s still a stud and while the offense for Cincinnati has improved he should still get plenty of targets. If Green can grab a few of the touchdowns that Marvin Jones was able to get last year, then he might be at the top of the mountain when all is said and done. Dez Bryant- Like him or not, Bryant is going to produce in the Dallas offense. The only thing that keep him from a bigger year than last year is the emergence of Terrance Williams. He’s a top 12 to 14 pick in standards leagues and as high as 8 or 9 in PPR.
Toss-ups. Percy Harvin- Harvin only had one catch in the regular season last year and didn’t really ever get into the offense due to his injury and his team’s success. There isn’t tons of competition at the WR position, especially now that Golden Tate’s production is gone. Projections and rankings don’t have him as high as he potentially could go, but it’s all a precaution to what we saw a couple years ago with the Vikings. Harvin should be available as late as the 4th round but don’t wait much beyond early 5th. Cordarelle Patterson- He’s in a new offense and Kyle Rudolph can’t be the only guy catching passes. If he can avoid getting suspended and show more consistent effort than last year, he will have the kind of effect similar to Percy Harvin. Reggie Wayne- Make no mistake about it, Reggie Wayne is still the top dog in Indianapolis. He’s older, slower, and coming off an injury. Still, he’s the best Indy has and while he may lose some targets to T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, it’s still probably a year too early to write him off. On top of all that, Hilton is being drafted well ahead of Wayne and Wayne’s average pick has been in the 70s. Taking him as early as the late 6th round is worth the risk.
If Cam Newton stays healthy, look out!
Take a Flier. Emmanuel Sanders- Especially now that Wes Welker’s future is in doubt, Sanders really has an opportunity for a big year. Eric Decker was a harder worker, but he got most of his yards on passes over the top and Sanders is faster. He’s not even going in the top 100. This is a no-brainer if he’s still available in the 9th or 10th round. Kelvin Benjamin- He’s not even the most talked about rookie receiver coming into the year, that title belongs to Brandin Cooks for New Orleans. But if Cam Newton can get healthy sooner than later, he should have all the opportunities in the world to put together a good year. He’s a late round pick that is available in 2/3 of leagues. Miles Austin- No, I’m not joking. He’s not someone you are going to have to fight to pick up on waivers after Week 1, but he very well could get a ton of yards. Cleveland backs aren’t great receivers and there’s only so many targets that Jordan Cameron can handle on his own.
Deep League Picks and Volume PPR guys. Marquise Lee. Andrew Hawkins. Harry Douglas. Kenbrell Thompkins.
Sure thing. Jimmy Graham- A guarantee for another thousand yard season is likely unless something terrible happens. Much like Adrian Peterson, there isn’t much you can really say about this one. Graham actually tried to get paid like a wide receiver. That’s how good he is. He’s a late first-round pick. He won’t be available any later than 12 unless the people in your draft are idiots. Julius Thomas- Playing in the best offense in the NFL is all that matters. He’s an incredible athlete who will get the targets inside and outside the red zone. He may not rack up the yards you might think, but he’s the only tight end beyond Graham that should be taken before the 3rd round.
Toss-ups. Rob Gronkowski- He’s got all the potential to get back to where he was before the myriad of injuries. If he can stay healthy then he’s gonna be right there with Graham and Thomas. There’s the same options for Brady as last year, but that isn’t a compliment nor is it a condemnation. He’s being taken in the 3rd round and I think that’s about right for now. Jason Witten- He’s getting older, but he’s still the best option at a position with few options and he’s playing in a high-powered offense with a terrible defense. If you don’t think Witten will get 80 or more catches this year you are on drugs. Still, the worry about his age is hurting his draft stock. If you can get him in the 6th round then you should be happy. Jordan Cameron- Cameron was a stud at the beginning of last season. His play slowed down drastically by the end of the season, but Brian Hoyer was a big part of why he had so much early success. A lot of how he does will depend on who is throwing the ball and how consistent the run game is in Cleveland. He’s got talent to match the top guys at the position but is being drafted in the 80s and below. Don’t reach any earlier than that.
Kyle Rudolph’s athleticism will be on display more often in a new offense in Minnesota.
Take a Flier. Dennis Pitta- Gary Kubiak’s offense popularized two tight end sets. And while they may seem like a reason to not take Pitta, consider the fact that Owen Daniels isn’t the same player of previous seasons and the Ravens offense will need a go-to at the spot. If Baltimore finally gets the kind of offense that they have the potential for, then this should be a good pick in the 12th round or later. Kyle Rudolph- He’s always been a known commodity, he’s just always been in a conservative, run-heavy offense and hasn’t seen the kind of production most think of should be getting. Rudolph is alive and well into the 10th round in most drafts. He’s probably worth an 8th rounder but patience pays off. Zach Ertz- In this crazy offense there’s going to be plenty of chances to make things happen. If Ertz can step up I think there’s a strong chance he will have a stellar season. He’s being taken in the later rounds and is a pretty good value.