By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Finally, it’s here. I think we’ve all been waiting for this since the New England Patriots hoisted that Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time and left a bitter taste in our mouths. Sorry, we’re not all Patriots fans people!
This summer saw a whirlwind of change throughout the NFL. Free agency saw big contracts get thrown around and coaches were fired and coordinators were promoted. So basically just your run of the mill NFL offseason. But for whatever reason, this offseason just felt more intriguing.
The Raiders lost their starting running back to the Vikings and then promptly traded for the previously retired Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks. The Vikings parted with the great Adrian Peterson, who then signed a free agent deal with the loaded New Orleans Saints. TE Martellus Bennett left the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots and joined up with former Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
That’s just some of the action this offseason had in store. There was plenty of movement and lots to be excited about heading into the 2017 season. And who better than I to tell you who you should be targeting in your upcoming fantasy football drafts? Actually I’m sure there are better qualified people but I’m at least entertaining. At least I think I am and that’s what really matters.
If you’re unfamiliar with my Confidence Plays, let me explain how this works. I break players into three categories: Start, Play, and Bench. It’s similar to a start/sit column, but with more detail. The Start section includes players ranked in the upper echelon of my preseason rankings that I think will exceed expectations and dominate this season. These are the guys you absolutely want to build your team around. The Play section features players who are likely to be selected after the third round in your drafts but could put up 1st-3rd round numbers. They’re also players that will likely be drafted as bench depth who could provide steady FLEX value. The Bench section does not mean these are guys you shouldn’t draft, but individuals that are not likely to live up to their draft spot, and cause you headaches along the way. All these selections are chosen based off of my rankings going into the season versus where other “experts” rank them and what their average draft position is currently.
Because this is the preseason, this column will be extra-sized, covering a lot of players in all three sections. If you want the short version, check out our Instagram page and join the discussion. Welcome to the 2017 NFL season everybody!
QB Drew Brees – Saints (ADP: 37.6 – 4th round): I’m not an ageist, so you can tell me he’s 38 until you’re blue in the face and I won’t care. On average, he’s been the best and most consistent QB in fantasy over the last decade. Take away Brandin Cooks? Who cares? Sign Adrian Peterson and draft Alvin Kamara to control the clock? Bring it on. Michael Thomas is morphing into a stud and he still has Willie Snead and the recently signed Ted Ginn Jr. to serve as a deep threat. Brees will push for the top spot among fantasy QBs and is well worth the price on draft day.
QB Matt Ryan – Falcons (ADP: 40.9 – 5th round): Matt Ryan was a 13th round pick last year for me. A 13th round pick! A top three finish in 2016 will change that. The Falcons have arguably the best set of weapons of any team in the NFL and a change at offensive coordinator won’t slow down this attack. Ryan is entering the prime of his career and has arguably the most talented wide receiver in the league as his number one target. Expect another top 5 finish from Matty Ice in 2017.
QB Kirk Cousins – Redskins (ADP: 95.4 – 10th round): When a team loses two 1,000 yard receivers in an offseason, odds are you’re due for regression. I don’t think that will happen to Cousins. Is he the solution to getting the Redskins to the playoffs? We don’t care. But when he goes from throwing for 4,166 yards in 2015 to throwing for 4,917 yards in 2016, you want him leading your fantasy team. Cousins will have a couple of new receiving threats in free agent WR Terrelle Pryor Sr. and 2nd year wide out Josh Doctson (who missed damn near all of 2016 with an Achilles injury), my favorite WR from the 2016 class. Cousins will approach 30 TDs and if TE Jordan Reed plays in more than 12 games, he will provide insane ROI.
QB Marcus Mariota – Titans (ADP: 119.3 – 12th round): I love me some Marcus Mariota this year. He went from the 22nd ranked QB in 2015 to the 10th best QB in 2016, despite breaking his leg at the end of the season. The Titans want to run the football and control the clock and Mariota’s ability to keep defenses honest with his legs will throw a jolt into your fantasy lineups. The Titans also added a legitimate number one receiver in this year’s draft in Corey Davis to go with 2016 breakout Rishard Matthews and free agent signee Eric Decker. Mariota has no shortage of weapons and I can envision a sharp increase in production which will move Mariota further into top 10 territory. And oh by the way, he had a seven week stretch where he was the number one QB in fantasy. Just sayin’.
RB Le’Veon Bell – Steelers (ADP: 1.8 – 1st round): This is a no brainer, right? He’s The Commish’s number one overall player and my number two. He’s playing on the franchise tag and in search of a new contract. The Steelers also get WR Martavis Bryant back which should allow Bell to work the middle of the field more. Bell could very well be fantasy football’s MVP this season. If your league allows for draft pick trading – and really, it should because it just makes things SO much more interesting – make a move to the top of the draft. You won’t be disappointed.
RB Melvin Gordon – Chargers (ADP: 15.3 – 2nd round): His rookie season was an utter disappointment. Last year he returned immense value after RB Danny Woodhead went down early with a knee injury by showing off his receiving skills: 41 catches for 419 yards and 2 TDs. Woodhead left as a free agent so Gordon is the unquestioned workhorse and new head coach Anthony Lynn, a former RB himself, knows how to focus an offense around a stud running back, having come from Buffalo where he featured LeSean McCoy. Gordon will push the trio of David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott for the affection of fantasy owners everywhere.
RB Devonta Freeman – Falcons (ADP: 11.7 – 2nd round): I wrote an extensive piece about Freeman in our A Look Inside the Falcons. Freeman is a talented running back but he tends to wear down as the season progresses. Enter Tevin Coleman. When these two get going, dangerous things happen. Freeman is the stud though, with his ability as both a runner and receiver. Don’t worry about Coleman. He’s a compliment, not a threat, and you can own both separately and be golden.
RB DeMarco Murray – Titans (ADP: 17.0 – 2nd round): A year after bombing in his lone season in Philly, Murray returned with a vengeance in 2016. If you listened to our podcasts throughout the 2016 season, you’ll know that The Commish and I were high on Murray from the start. He backed it up with a RB5 finish. Over his last six games of the season though, Murray shared the load with Derrick Henry to the tune of a 68-32 split and managed only a 3.50 yards/carry average. Is that a precursor to problems heading into 2017? I’m not buying it. Henry will be worked more into the offense, but Murray contributes largely to the passing game, with 53 catches and 3 receiving TDs last year. Murray will be a top 10 back in 2017 and don’t you forget it.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. – Giants (ADP: 6.7 – 1st round): This seems like a fairly easy assumption, seeing as how OBJ is tied for the most receiving TDs over the last three seasons. But the Giants signed Brandon Marshall in the offseason – more on Marshall a little later – and many expect the veteran to chip into OBJ’s effectiveness. Let others buy into that. Eli needs all the weapons he can get to create one-on-one’s for OBJ. OBJ has 132, 159, and 169 targets the last three seasons. Adding Marshall and rookie TE Evan Engram won’t make those numbers go down. Barring injury, OBJ will be a top 3 WR in 2017.
WR Mike Evans – Bucs (ADP: 9.1 – 1st round): When your QB is on the rise, your career will take off with him. Evans is a stud and will make a run at the top spot among WRs over the next three seasons. He’s averaged almost 1,200 receiving yards a season and 9 TDs in his first three years in the league. Now he has a legitimate WR across from him in free agent acquisition DeSean Jackson. Evans is primed to explode as the Bucs offense continues to evolve under Winston. And it’s not like they have a great running game to take the focus off of Evans. Evans is a first round pick and you’ll need a stud WR like this if you’re trying to win your league.
WR Michael Thomas – Saints (ADP: 17.7 – 2nd round): Playing second fiddle to WR Brandin Cooks during his rookie season, Thomas became the most reliable weapon Drew Brees has had since Marques Colston left town. In any other year, Thomas would’ve been Rookie of the Year, with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 TDs. Now that Cooks has been shipped off to New England, Thomas is the unquestioned number one in the Big Easy. Thomas will push for a top 5 finish and you won’t be sorry you drafted him.
WR Brandin Cooks – Patriots (ADP: 30.6 – 4th round): I may be in the minority here, but I think Cooks is going to excel in New England. I’ve seen all the stats – he doesn’t perform well outside of a dome, the Patriots have too many weapons, Cooks will be crazy inconsistent, blah, blah, blah. Can it. Sure, the Patriots have a ton of weapons, but so did the Saints and Cooks was just fine there. Want to know what happened the last time Tom Brady had a weapon like Cooks? He threw for 50 TDs in a season and his top weapon was Randy Moss. No, Cooks isn’t Moss, but he’ll have a similar effect on the offense. Cooks is being way undervalued so scoop him up and laugh all the way to the playoffs.
WR DeAndre Hopkins – Texans (ADP: 29.8 – 3rd round): After a disappointing 2016 that saw him plummet to a WR36 finish, it’s understandable if you scoff at the mention of him in the “Start” section. I don’t think QB Tom Savage is the answer, so when rookie Deshaun Watson takes over, he’s going to feed Hopkins like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Despite the poor performance, Hopkins still had 150 targets and 954 receiving yards. Look for his TD total to jump up from 4 last year to closer to his 2015 number of 11. You probably won’t draft him as your number one, but he’ll put up numbers resembling one.
TE Jordan Reed – Redskins (ADP: 32.9 – 4th round): Despite the injuries, Reed is likely the best TE fantasy has to offer. Yes, even more so than Rob Gronkowski. Cousins is a better QB with Reed on the field so look for Cousins to target Reed early and often. I’m fully expecting Reed’s first 1,000 yard receiving season with the departures of Jackson and Pierre Garcon from the offense. A word of caution, though: if you take him early, and you’ll have to if you want to secure his services, draft a solid backup because history says you’ll need one.
TE Travis Kelce – Chiefs (ADP: 42.5 – 5th round): Last season’s number one TE, the Chiefs don’t have any other weapons so Kelce will be heavily involved in the offense’s weekly game plan. The Chiefs jettisoned WR Jeremy Maclin and RB Jamaal Charles and didn’t do much to reload. It’ll be the Travis Kelce Show in Kansas City this year.
QB Jameis Winston – Bucs (ADP: 102.2 – 11th round): When 2015 rolled around all the talk revolved around who would be the better quarterback, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, The Commish and I took opposite sides on the debate. He’s a Bucs fan and graduate of FSU and I just like Mariota’s game. And really, through two years in the league, it seems like both QBs are on their way to successful careers. Winston has a tendency to turn the ball over more, but it could be said that Winston has superior weapons. He’s a prime target in dynasty leagues and a fringe top 10 option at QB this year. If you get him in the 11th round, you have a potential steal on your hands.
QB Tyrod Taylor – Bills (ADP: 129.4 – 13th round): Taylor isn’t the savviest of QBs. He’s never thrown for more than 3,100 yards in a season or tossed more than 20 TDs in a season. But what he does do is rack up rushing stats with the best of them. I’m not one to rely on QBs who generate rushing yards, as witness by my dislike this year of Cam Newton, but there’s hardly a more consistent QB in this regard than Taylor. In the last two seasons, he’s combined for 1,148 rushing yards and 10 TDs, which equates, on average, to an additional 87.4 fantasy points per season. That’s the difference in a 20th place finish and a top 12 finish.
QB Philip Rivers – Chargers (ADP: 129.0 – 13th round): If there’s a QB that is more underrated in fantasy than Rivers, I challenge you to find one. Rivers has thrown for 4,000 yards in eight of the last nine seasons. Every year, he loses top weapons to injury and turns nobodies into somebodies, as witnessed with the emergence of Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman in 2016. If Keenan Allen stays healthy this year, Rivers could be a top 5 option in 2017, and to get him in the 13th round is criminal.
RB Leonard Fournette – Jaguars (ADP: 26.8 – 3rd round): Will the number 4 pick in the NFL Draft once again lead the league in rushing? Probably not because the Jaguars don’t have near the offensive line the Cowboys do. But Fournette is a monster and will be a workhorse from the start and should cross 1,000 yards in spite of this o-line’s deficiencies. He’ll be a top 15 back with upside and that’s valuable during the season.
RB Ameer Abdullah – Lions (ADP: 90.5 – 10th round): Call me crazy, but I’m high on Abdullah this year. Behind a wretched offensive line in his limited time last year, Abdullah averaged 5.6 yards per carry. He also had 5 catches for 57 yards and a score. That would translate to 40 catches for 416 yards over a full season. Any time you can get those numbers from a RB in fantasy, you scoop him up. Backfield mate Theo Riddick is a PPR stud, but QB Matthew Stafford will dump it off to anyone. The foot injury Abdullah suffered is healed and he’ll have no problem getting back in shape. The Lions upgraded their line so Abdullah will have even bigger holes. I have him as a top 13 option going into the season and fully expect him to end the season higher. I’ll be drafting him way sooner than the 10th round. If that wasn’t enough, my favorite team name this year is Abdullah Oblongatas. So yeah, I’ll be owning him just for that.
RB Ty Montgomery – Packers (ADP: 54.8 – 6th round): In limited action after transitioning to RB from WR midseason, Montgomery was rated as the most elusive back in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Want some more stats? How about after he officially switched to RB in Week 7, he forced 30 missed tackles on 141 touches and had an average of 4.59 yards after first contact? And we know he can catch the ball out of the backfield as he’s a former WR. I have him ranked 19th in the preseason and I’m probably too low on him. He should be picked higher than the 6th round as he has RB1 potential in the Packers offense.
RB Mike Gillislee – Patriots (ADP: 77.3 – 8th round): Gillislee takes over for LeGarrette Blount, who just produced 18 rushing TDs in the same offense. Brady will likely play a full season, so they don’t need to overly rely on the running game like they did last season. Gillislee was underutilized in Buffalo behind LeSean McCoy and now gets to showcase the type of RB he can be as the back who’s most likely to get all the early down snaps. In only 101 carries in 2016, Gillislee had 8 rushing TDs. He finds the end zone so even if he only gets 150 carries, look for him to exceed 600 yards and score between 8 and 10 TDs. I obviously feel he produces more than that, which is totally worth more than an 8th round pick.
WR Michael Crabtree – Raiders (ADP: 47.3 – 5th round): It’s not a secret that I prefer Crabtree to Cooper. It seems like every year we’re expecting Cooper to be a stud and Crabtree shows up and outperforms him in fantasy. Such as life. I have Crabtree ranked 12th in my preseason WR rankings, two spots ahead of Cooper. Those could easily flip as Derek Carr continues his ascension towards becoming one of the best QBs in the league. What Crabtree does best? Scores TDs. He’s secured 17 the past two seasons, and I fully expect another eight or nine en route to a top 15 finish.
WR Terrelle Pryor Sr. – Redskins (ADP: 47.6 – 5th round): When last year rolled around and it was known that Terrelle Pryor Sr. was going to be a starting WR in the NFL, I don’t think many suspected he’d produce a 1,000 yard receiving campaign or that he’d hold his own against some of the best corners the league has to offer. But he did just that while catching balls from not one, not two, but FIVE different QBs last year. He has since moved on to Washington where he’ll catch passes from last year’s number 5 QB in fantasy. Pryor should have no problem crossing 1,000 yards but look for his TD total to increase from 5 (1 rush). He has WR1 upside and you’re getting him in the 5th. Stupid value.
WR Keenan Allen – Chargers (ADP: 44.8 – 5th round): Many of you know by now how much I love Keenan Allen. He had a phenomenal 2015 that was cut short by injury. He started 2016 with a bang, going 6 for 63 and then tore up his knee. The poor guy just can’t catch a break. The difference this year is that I won’t rank him in the top 10, thus meaning I won’t spend an early pick on him. Draft him as a number two, pray he stays healthy, and then win your league with two number one receivers.
WR Pierre Garçon – 49ers (ADP: 68.4 – 7th round): Garçon is being forgotten about in the Bay Area. Make sure you don’t and reap the benefits that come with taking someone like him in the 7th round (?!).
WR Sterling Shepard – Giants (ADP: 131.0 – 14th round): Maybe I’m crazy, but I think Shepard outperforms Marshall this year. I have Shepard ranked in the 30s at WR going into the season and Marshall in the 50s. If I’m getting Shepard in the 14th, hell, even in the 10th, I’d be ecstatic. You remember he had 8 TDs last year, right? OBJ is the target monster but Shepard moves the chains. Remember that on draft day.
TE Zach Ertz – Eagles (ADP: 105.2 – 11th round): Maybe this is a homer pick, but if you read my take on him in A Look Inside the Eagles, you’ll see that he finally has continuity at QB. Even with all the new weapons, Ertz will be the biggest beneficiary. I have him ranked 5th among TEs and he’s going in the 11th round? Nucking Futs.
TE Martellus Bennett – Packers (ADP: 92.0 – 10th round): From one stud QB to another. Bennett is primed to be useful on the Frozen Tundra. The last time Rodgers had a big time threat at TE was with Jermichael Finley. He used to put up top 3 numbers. Bennett will be a top 10 guy and a bargain in the 10th round.
TE Hunter Henry – Chargers (ADP: 117.1 – 12th round): Henry showed his chops as a rookie last season with eight TDs. Incumbent Antonio Gates just turned 37. Henry’s time is now.
QB Ben Roethlisberger – Steelers (ADP: 93.0 – 10th round): Big Ben has consistently been one of the more overrated QBs in fantasy. It’s true he has three top 10 finishes in the last four seasons, but with so many young QBs coming into the league and having success, it’s easy to remember that Big Ben is no spring chicken. The Steelers showed last season they want the entirety of the offense in Le’Veon Bell’s hands, so I look for Big Ben’s season to more in line with his 2015 campaign, that of a QB just outside the top 15.
QB Cam Newton – Panthers (ADP: 75.6 – 8th round): Maybe he’s 2015 Cam Newton. But maybe he’s 2016 Cam Newton. He has some new toys in his arsenal with the arrival of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, but Cam’s short accuracy is among the worst in the NFL. Excuse me if I’m not as hyped about these additions as you are.
RB Marshawn Lynch – Raiders (ADP: 25.7 – 3rd round): Allow me to remind everyone that Beast Mode was a spectator last season. Yes, the Raiders have an outstanding offensive line, better than any Lynch had throughout his time in Seattle. It’s hard not to root for Lynch, but you’re crazy if you think I’m spending a 3rd round pick on my 23rd ranked RB who adds little to no value as a receiver.
RB Christian McCaffrey – Panthers (ADP: 35.5 – 4th round): See Newton, Cam above. McCaffrey, to me, has more value in dynasty leagues than season long, even in PPR leagues like Club Fantasy. At least this year. The Panthers still have Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers have never been an offense that targets RBs out of the backfield. Color me skeptical, especially with a 4th round price tag.
WR Dez Bryant – Cowboys (ADP: 19.7 – 2nd round): Dez has not been Dez for the better part of two years now. With Dak Prescott running the show, it’s time those two find a way to get on the same page. Dak was better playing the short game, which takes Dez out of his element. Until I see Dak go long, I’m steering clear of Dez.
WR Julian Edelman – Patriots (ADP: 42.2 – 5th round): He’s a big time weapon on a stacked offense. But he’s a possession receiver that had only 3 TDs and finished in the 30s among WRs in 2016. Gillislee may not score 18 TDs, but Edelman certainly isn’t catching 10. That’s too high for a 5th round selection.
WR Brandon Marshall – Giants (ADP: 71.9 – 8th round): I’m off the Marshall train. We had a good run bro. Been a fan of yours for a long time. But you’re on a team with more weapons than the US Military. You’re the mentor now, not the featured target. Enjoy the ride but Shepard isn’t going anywhere. Sorry bro.
TE Tyler Eifert – Bengals (ADP: 77.6 – 8th round): For as often as this guy gets hurt, I find it hard to rely on him as my starting TE (which feels very contradictory as I put Jordan Reed in my “Start” section). Eifert is a red zone magnet, but it just seems like everyone is hanging onto the one good year he had. Injuries or not, I want more consistency from my TEs. Eifert isn’t that.
TE O.J. Howard – Bucs (ADP: 124.8 – 13th round): He’s a rookie tight end, which by rule means he’ll disappoint. Yes, he’s mega-talented, but he also has a top 10 TE in front of him on the depth chart. He’s a dynasty stash, not a starting TE. Yet.
TE Eric Ebron – Lions (ADP: 130.1 – 14th round): I mean, when has he been top 10 outside of the actual NFL Draft? He hasn’t. Stop telling yourself he’s finally going to be a top 10 TE in fantasy. He’s a backup with minimal upside, and those types of TEs don’t belong on your roster.