The Hudsonian’s 2018 Preseason Confidence Plays (Play/Fade)

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By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

Super. Bowl. Champions. I was finally able to write those words when I previewed the Philadelphia Eagles for the upcoming season and damn it if I won’t write them again. For fans of franchises like the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions, the Los Angeles Chargers, and so on — your time is coming. (Well, maybe not for the Browns. Sorry.) The wait is/will be excruciating. But when you finally get to see your favorite team hoist that Lombardi trophy, you’ll be speechless. It’ll be hard to breathe. Shell-shocked is an applicable term. It’s an otherworldly experience and I highly recommend your teams deliver you to this euphoria.

Now that my gushing is out of the way, we can talk about all 32 teams. Specifically players that are going to help you hoist your own trophy. Hands down, this is one of my favorite columns to write. All the research, studying, analyzing, sifting through stats all summer brings me to this exact moment. I’m either going to sound like a complete idiot in about five months, or I’m going to sound like a genius. But a humble genius. No one likes a braggart.

There are going to be hundreds, possibly thousands, of articles throughout the World Wide Web telling you how to draft, who to draft, when to target them, and who to avoid. Some are good reads, some are so outlandish the main goal is for you to just click on the links. For an upstart like Club Fantasy, I want myself and my team to think outside the box but not to go for shock value just for the shock value. If I’m going to tell you that a team’s number four wide receiver will be their number one by year’s end, I better come with the stats to back it up. If you choose to believe it and succeed, yay me and good for you. If I totally miss and you believed me, don’t be the guy or girl that puts the blame on me because you couldn’t formulate an opinion on your own. I want to be here to help you and to entertain you. Fantasy football is all about having fun. And winning. Let’s not forget the winning. Bragging rights run deep when in a league with friends, old college roommates, family members, etc. Here is all I ask: if you’re going to bitch to me about a wrong choice I made, tell me about a good choice I made that helped you as well. I think that’s a fair trade, right?

Which of course brings me to the bragging and humble pie section of this column. Last year was the first year I did a full season of Confidence Plays. I made some predictions in a format — start/play/bench — that probably was more confusing than initially intended. That will be rectified this year, but I digress. Start highlighted studs that were no doubt people to build your teams around. Play highlighted players in the middle tiers that had a chance to take their game to the next level. Bench highlighted people that were being overdrafted and that you shouldn’t be targeting them near as high as they were being drafted. Or to just avoid them at all.

So how did I do last year? I told you that Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers were great value — both top 10 QBs last year — and I told you to pass on Big Ben and Cam Newton — both top 10 QBs last year. I said take your chances with Melvin Gordon and that Leonard Fournette could be relied upon as your starter. Both were top 10 RBs. I also said Devonta Freeman and DeMarco Murray were stalwarts to continue riding and both floundered into RB2 territory. I told you to hitch your wagons to OBJ and Mike Evans and to not pass on DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Keenan Allen. I also told you that Zach Ertz would be a top 5 TE but also that Martellus Bennett could be relied upon. To that effect, I owe you plenty of “I’m sorrys” and a few “you’re welcomes” as well.

Here’s the biggest takeaway from my Confidence Plays: I’m not perfect. I know, big shocker. I don’t profess to believe I’m going to get every single pick right, but I’m going to give you reasons to like them so that you can make an educated decision in making your decisions on draft day and throughout the season. If you have read any of my and Cole’s A Look Inside series from this summer, many of these names may sound familiar and even some of the stats. I’ll do my best to find stats I haven’t used to keep things fresh and reiterate my point and I’ll strive to make this piece as enjoyable for you as possible. Because I love your eyes. You know, reading my columns and perusing our website. Or am I flirting with you? Okay, this got weird quick.

I’m introducing a new format this year. No more Start/Play/Bench. We’re simply going with Play and Fade. I think the meanings will be pretty simple. Play offers up a series of players that, based on their average draft position and rankings currently among their respective positions, will put their ADP in the rearview. They may be obvious names, but some may be diamonds in the rough. Fade focuses on players that are being overvalued to a point where no matter what they do, they won’t reach the potential people think they will. Or people that I think will flat out bomb this year. Kind of like my pick of Brandon Marshall last year. Seriously, why did anyone think he’d have a good season?

When laying out my picks, I’ll include for them my preseason positional ranking, their ADP on ESPN, and their positional rank among the consensus. Not to inundate you with information, but can you really be too prepared? And now, your 2018 Confidence Plays from me, The Hudsonian, on Club Fantasy!

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Deshaun Watson (HOU) – (QB2; ESPN – QB6; ADP – QB3) From Week 2 (Watson’s first start) through Week 8 (last game before his ACL tear), Watson scored 206.18 fantasy points. In six games. (The Texans had their bye week during that 7-week stretch.) There wasn’t a single six game stretch in Fantasy last year by a QB scoring that many points — only Russell Wilson had a seven game stretch that topped it. I fully expect 2018 to be less electrifying. But it won’t be because of the knee injury he suffered leading into Week 9 or that defenses have “figured him out.” Just pure natural order. He averaged 34.36 points per start. Over a full 15 game fantasy schedule, that’s 515.40 fantasy points in a full season. Not even Peyton Manning’s 2013 or Tom Brady’s 2007 hit those figures. But with his ability to pick up yards on the ground, throw bombs to Will Fuller V, and DeAndre Hopkins’ ability to catch, well, anything, Watson is my QB2 by the slimmest of margins. I don’t recommend drafting QBs high. But if you’re in a league with smart people and he’s there in the 8th round as a top 5 QB, yeah, you take him.

Carson Wentz (PHI) – (QB3; ESPN – QB5; ADP – QB5) In 14 games (really 13.5), Carson Wentz threw 32 TD passes. And still finished 2nd in the NFL in TD passes. He also finished as QB3 and only threw for a hair short of 3,300 yards and missed the bulk of the fantasy playoffs. Wentz and the Eagles had a magical season and with Wentz coming off his own ACL injury, there’s plenty of reason to doubt him. But he returns the same cast of weapons, gets RB Darren Sproles back, and swaps out TE Trey Burton for 2nd round pick Dallas Goedert. I don’t care that his only top 5 weapon on offense is TE Zach Ertz. Wentz produces and you shouldn’t be shy about drafting him.

Jared Goff (LAR) – (QB8; ESPN – QB18; ADP – QB15) I’m not going to lie, I left Goff for dead after that abysmal rookie season. He was bad. Pro Football Focus had him as the lowest graded non-backup QB in the league in 2016. 2017 saw a rebirth under first-year head coach Sean McVay. Goff finished as QB8 and while I don’t think he’ll have a top 5 season, he’ll put up respectable QB1 numbers, especially with the addition of Brandin Cooks (replacing the departed Sammy Watkins). Goff attempted 57 passes that travelled more than 20 yards down field and completed 20 of them. Cooks had 16 receptions on such passes last year alone and 40 total over the last three years. Oh, by they way, the Rams just gave Cooks a 5-year extension. Look out folks!

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QB Matthew Stafford is criminally underrated. Is he a top 5 QB? No, but if you want to focus on building depth at RB and WR, you could do A LOT worse than Stafford. (Photo from www.sportingnews.com)

Matthew Stafford (DET) – (QB10; ESPN – QB10; ADP – QB12) There have been two quarterbacks in fantasy to score over 300 fantasy points in three straight seasons. One is Kirk Cousins. The other? Matthew Stafford. Why is this important? With the recent boon in fantasy production among running backs, receivers and quarterbacks’ fantasy production has dwindled. Stafford may not have a high floor — he’s never finished higher than QB9 over the last three years — but at least you know what you’re getting. You want to take a risk with a running QB like Russell Wilson or Cam Newton? Sure, the ceiling is high — both had top 5 finishes two out of the last three years — but the floor is outside the top 14, just as it was in 2016 for the two of them. If you wait on a QB, you can do a lot worse than Stafford.

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) – (RB1; ESPN – RB4; ADP – RB4) He’s my number one running back entering the 2018 season. Why you ask? Of the consensus top four RBs — Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Zeke, and David Johnson — Elliott has the best offensive line. He also doesn’t have a proven number one receiver (Cooks for Rams, Antonio Brown for Steelers, Larry Fitzgerald for Cardinals). In fact, the leading receiver on the Cowboys is likely to be someone who’s missed 11 games over the last two years (Allen Hurns) or a rookie from Colorado State (Michael Gallup). We also saw last year what happens to the Cowboys offense when Zeke isn’t there. Without Zeke in the lineup, QB Dak Prescott was QB22. With Zeke in the lineup from Weeks 1-9? QB5. Zeke will be a horse both as a runner and pass catcher. I’m looking for over 1,500 yards rushing, 50+ catches for more than 600 yards, and close to 15 TDs.

Melvin Gordon (LAC) – (RB5; ESPN – RB9; ADP – RB10) Will the fantasy community stop disrespecting Melvin Gordon? His attempts and rushing yards have increased each of the last three seasons and he’s third in the NFL in total TDs among RBs over the last two years with 24, only one behind Zeke and Todd Gurley. He also ranks 9th among RBs in receptions over the last three years with 132. That was with stud TEs Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry catching passes. Not sure if you heard, but Gates is “retired” and Henry just tore his ACL in the offseason. Gordon is my number 5 RB heading into the season by a comfortable margin.

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The Tennessee Titans signed free agent RB Dion Lewis away from AFC Champion New England this offseason. Many will say Lewis is holding back Derrick Henry’s breakout. I say Henry is holding back Lewis. See what I did there? (Photo from ftw.usatoday.com)

Dion Lewis (TEN) – (RB13; ESPN – RB27; ADP – RB29) When the Titans signed Lewis this offseason, many were upset he was blocking the breakout potential of Derrick Henry. I’ll have more on Henry later — spoiler, it won’t be positive — but I really wish people would stop thinking that Lewis is just going to be some kind of scat back in this offense. First, he finished as RB15 with the Patriots last year. And he was competing for touches with Super Bowl hero James White, Rex Burkhead, and short yardage specialist Mike Gillislee. Lewis averaged 5.0 yards per rush last season. On 180 carries. And he had only 32 receptions. Lewis is being drafted after Henry and has a current ADP in the 8th round. I have him as a top 15 RB in 2018.

Kenyan Drake (MIA) – (RB14; ESPN – RB18; ADP – RB18) Just to refresh your memory, Drake finished as RB9 from the moment the Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi. That’s half the season. Yes, the Dolphins brought in Frank Gore. Yes, the Dolphins drafted Kalen Ballage. Neither of them scare me. People seem to be higher on Jerick McKinnon (more on him later) than Drake which just baffles me. He averaged over 5 yards a carry the latter half of 2017 and what do you think adding more depth at the position is going to do for Drake’s mindset? I need to run my hardest to keep my job. Gore has had a great career, but he was brought in as a mentor and in case Drake can’t hold up over a full season. Ballage should do well as a pass catcher out of the backfield, as Drake hasn’t done a ton of that at the pro level (or in college for that matter). But which Ballage shows up? Junior year Ballage who had over 1,000 total yards, 44 receptions and 15 TDs? Or senior year Ballage who had 760 total yards, 20 receptions and 6 TDs? Drake is a top 15 guy who’s being drafted as barely a top 20 guy.

Royce Freeman (DEN) – (RB18; ESPN – RB23; ADP – RB20) My favorite rookie RB this year. Yes, I’m including Saquon Barkley in that equation. Barkley will get his and I have him as a top 10 RB (more on him later) but the better value is Freeman. Do you trust Case Keenum? The Vikings made Keenum a productive QB because they limited his opportunities, thus letting him be an efficient game manager. Minus Keenum’s 40 rush attempts, the Vikings ran the ball 461 times. Keenum had 481 pass attempts. Freeman was the definition of a workhorse at Oregon. Over his four years in Eugene, Freeman had the 2nd most carries in the NCAA (947) and did so while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He also had 60 rushing TDs, the most in college football over that time frame. If you want to tell me Devontae Booker will play into the Broncos’ game plan at tailback, I’ll ask you to look at how uninspiring his first two years in the league have been — 911 rushing yards, 3.6 YPC, 61 catches for 540 yards, 6 total TDs, and 4 lost fumbles. Freeman’s ADP has him going in the 5th round as the 20th RB off the board. He’s my RB18. I’d rather pay that then Barkley’s price of 7th overall pick, 6th RB off the board.

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Saints RB Mark Ingram is facing a 4-game suspension. He’s being drafted as an RB3 and will return RB2 numbers. Bank on it. (Photo from www.theadvocate.com)

Mark Ingram (NO) – (RB16; ESPN – RB26; ADP – RB27) Two years ago, Le’Veon Bell missed the first three games of the fantasy season and finished as RB3. Last year, Ezekiel Elliott missed six games in the middle of the season and finished as RB13. Ingram is slated to miss the first four games of this season which clearly sets him back. Ingram’s workload shows a guy that even in 11 games (Club Fantasy seasons are Weeks 1-16; 4-game suspension plus bye week) can be effective as your RB2. He averaged 18 touches, 96.25 total yards, and 0.75 TDs per game. Even if there’s a touch of regression based on the four game absence, Ingram, who hasn’t missed a game in two straight seasons, should average 16 touches a game (4 receptions) for 85 total yards and have around 7 TDs. Over those 11 games, That’s about 165.5 points over the season. That puts him at RB23 over a full season based on last year’s scoring. So sure, draft him as your RB3 — his ADP is currently RB27 (7th round) — but there’s no reason you can’t get at least RB2 production from him upon his return in Week 5.

Duke Johnson Jr. (CLE) – (RB19; ESPN – RB28; ADP – RB31) Over the last three seasons, Duke Johnson Jr. hasn’t missed a game. He leads all RBs in targets and receptions since 2015. He finished 4th last year in yards after catch (YAC). The last three years, Johnson has finished as RB24, RB28, and RB12. Johnson has never topped 400 rushing yards in a season. Last year was the first year he topped 1,000 total yards. He’s an ascending talent in an offense that has added serious firepower this offseason with the additions of WR Jarvis Landry and RBs Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb. The added depth at RB doesn’t scare me with Johnson. He has a role carved out and he remains in the same offensive scheme. His current ADP is RB31 in the 10th round. That’s amazing value for a RB who will be a solid FLEX play this year with top 15 upside based on his production as a receiver out of the backfield.

D’Onta Foreman (HOU) – (RB22; ESPN – RB52; ADP – RB56) Last year, only one RB on the Houston Texans averaged more than 4 yards per carry. That would be the rookie from Texas, D’Onta Foreman. He tore his Achilles in the middle of the season just as he was showing the team and the general public that he should be the Texans’ starting RB going into the 2018 season. Foreman averaged more broken tackles on rushes than Miller while both averaged 2.5 yards after contact per attempt. Foreman also had a higher percentage of his rushes go for more than 15 yards — 5.1% for Foreman, 3.3% for Miller. A healthy Foreman will lead the Texans in rushing in 2018 which is why I have Foreman ranked ahead of Miller this season, even in PPR leagues where I know Miller will outproduce Foreman as a receiver, just not in total yards. Give me Foreman’s ADP (RB56) over Miller’s (RB28).

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Michael Thomas (NO) – (WR4; ESPN – WR5; ADP – WR6) The Saints had only five WRs catch passes last year. Five. Yes, they added former Bears WR Cameron Meredith who’s coming off an injury, but the next closest WR to Thomas’ 149 targets was Ted Ginn Jr. with 70. More than half! Thomas finished as WR7 last year because he only scored 5 TDs, down from 9 the year before. With RB Mark Ingram missing the first four games, don’t expect Thomas to repeat his 5 TDs. He’s more of a 7+ TD kind of guy. He’s good for more than 90 catches and 1,000 yards. That’s a top 5 WR in fantasy. His ADP is WR6. He’s no worse than a 2nd round pick in Fantasy. Solid pick.

Adam Thielen (MIN) – (WR10; ESPN – WR10; ADP – WR11) People are rightfully drafting Thielen ahead of teammate Stefon Diggs. Yes, Diggs is more talented and just got paid a boatload of cash. But Diggs gets hurt a lot and disappears for stretches. Thielen also has a new QB in Kirk Cousins, as does Diggs but I digress. Cousins’ two favorite targets in Washington were Jamison Crowder (slot receiver) and Jordan Reed (TE). Even with the Vikings bringing in Kendall Wright from Chicago, Thielen ran 51% of his routes from the slot. Thielen had almost 40 more targets than Diggs last year. Is he a TD guy? No. But Thielen’s YAC numbers dwarf those of Diggs. I think Thielen is a top 10 guy and should see a slight bump in TDs with a better QB behind center.

Jarvis Landry (CLE)(WR11; ESPN – WR22; ADP – WR21) Same player, new offensive scheme. It’s easy to discount Landry on the Browns. But the fact of the matter is he has the most receptions through four seasons in NFL History. New QB Tyrod Taylor has averaged less than 7 yards per pass attempt over the last two seasons. Landry ran 64.8% of his routes from the slot last year and 72.7% in 2016. 34% of Taylor’s passing yards went to pass catchers lined up in the slot in 2017. The outside WRs in the Browns offense are likely to be Josh Gordon and who knows after the Browns dealt Corey Coleman to the Bills. Gordon left the team to go to rehab (good for him, seriously) and a return date is not known at this time. I’ll take the most reliable weapon on this offense and his current ADP in the 6th round (WR21).

Golden Tate (DET) (WR16; ESPN – WR18; ADP – WR19) Through four seasons in Detroit, Tate has never had a season under 90 receptions. In three of those four seasons, he has over 1,000 yards. That alone is close to 190 points which is clear WR2 territory. His WR19 price tag in the 5th round is right around where I’d take him but as one of the most reliable WRs in the league, he’s arguably the safest WR2 you can draft.

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WR Alshon Jeffery took a little longer than expected to develop chemistry with QB Carson Wentz. But it happened alright. Jeffery should exceed his draft status as an WR3 with ease in 2018. (Photo from http://www.fastphillysports.com)

Alshon Jeffery (PHI) – (WR18; ESPN – WR20; ADP – WR23) 2017 marked Jeffery’s first season in Philadelphia. From Weeks 1-7, Jeffery was WR28. Not great, but not awful. He and Wentz needed some time to build some rapport. From Weeks 8-14, the final week Wentz played before tearing his ACL and LCL, Jeffery was WR11. One of my biggest points in regards to expecting TE Zach Ertz to break out in 2017 was because it would be his first season with the same QB in back to back seasons. A full year of Wentz will do Jeffery wonders in 2018. I’m expecting a 1,000 yard campaign from him despite the number of weapons on the Eagles and his current ADP as WR23 is a slap in the face.

Corey Davis (TEN) – (WR20; ESPN – WR33; ADP – WR31) Davis is my breakout WR of the year. I think he’s primed to take a big leap in production with the Titans bringing in a new OC and Mariota bouncing back from his abysmal 2017. Davis was hurt going into the season and never fully recovered. He had 2 TDs in their playoff loss to the Patriots and led the Titans in targets in the playoffs. People who think Derrick Henry’s usage in the playoffs is indicative of future production aren’t offering Davis the same benefit of the doubt. Interesting. Davis was drafted to be the team’s number one WR and no one outside of Delanie Walker had more than 100 targets on the team. That’ll change this year after the Titans didn’t bring back Eric Decker. Davis’ ADP is currently as a WR4 in the 8th round. I have him at WR20 with clear upside. I’ll take that price on draft day.

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Jets WR Robby Anderson was a top 15 WR in 2017. With Josh McCown as his QB. Anderson isn’t even being drafted as a FLEX option. Can we put some respect on this dude’s name?? (Photo from http://www.ftw.usatoday.com)

Robby Anderson (NYJ) – (WR26; ESPN – WR34; ADP – WR39) Here’s another WR whose ADP absolutely baffles me. From Weeks 13-15 in 2016, Anderson was WR9. Last year, he finished as WR14. Anderson is currently the 39th WR off the board. In the 10th round. Um, what?! He averaged 14.9 yards per reception and had the 6th most yards on passes that travelled more than 20 yards down the field. Between Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Darnold, I expect Anderson to be the Jets’ number one guy by a mile. I have him as a top 30 guy so that 10th round ADP is extreme value for me. Don’t discount Anderson because of a suspect QB throwing him the ball. He’ll be fine.

Kenny Stills (MIA) – (WR36; ESPN – WR52; ADP – WR45) Stills has been consistently inconsistent throughout his time in Miami. His production is down one week and up the next. But when he goes off, he goes off. Did you know he was a top 30 WR last year? He has 15 TDs the last two years and the last season he had Ryan Tannehill as his QB, he had 9 TDs in a season. I’m a DeVante Parker fan but he just can’t seem to put it all together. If I’m riding with a Dolphins WR this year, give me Stills as he’s going two rounds later than Parker and has been more productive the last two seasons.

Zach Ertz (PHI) – (TE2; ESPN – TE3; ADP – TE3) I told you he’d be a top 5 TE last year and he finished as TE3. Ertz has firmly established himself as a top 3 option at the position, with guys like Delanie Walker, Greg Olsen, and Jimmy Graham getting up there in age. His ADP is high (round 4) but if you’re trying to corner the market at TE, you reach for him. He averaged 15.3 fantasy points per game last year. That would’ve put him as WR12. So yeah, the fourth round is still good value for him. I have him as my TE2 this year so yes, I have no problem taking him if I don’t like the WR2 options available.

Trey Burton (CHI) – (TE5; ESPN – TE10; ADP – TE11) Ertz’s backup from last year, Burton is now on the Chicago Bears. The Bears’ new head coach is Matt Nagy. Nagy used to be the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. The Chiefs have Travis Kelce as a stand out TE. Kelce has finished as TE6, TE1, and TE1 the last three seasons. Burton is the same type of athletic TE that can flourish in this offense. A young QB’s best friend is a good TE. Burton should easily approach 60 receptions in 2018 and I have him as a top 5 TE this year. His current ADP is TE11 in the 12th round. Give me some of that all day.

Cameron Brate (TB) – (TE10; ESPN – TE16; ADP – TE18) There is nothing special about Brate. Seriously. You watch this guy play and the only thing that pops off the screen is the box score. He’s finished as a top 10 TE two straight years and I don’t see O.J. Howard as much of a threat because the team uses Howard more to stretch the field, limiting his total opportunities, while Brate works the middle of the field and has the trust of Jameis Winston. If you miss one of the top options, it makes sense to wait and play TE roulette. You can do worse than Brate and his TE18 ADP.

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Rookie TE Mike Gesicki is primed for a massive workload in the Dolphins offense. He lit up the combine and is crazy athletic. If any rookie can do what Evan Engram did, it’s Gesicki. (Photo from www.miamiherald.com)

Mike Gesicki (MIA) – (TE14; ESPN – TE25; ADP – TE20) My rookie TE of choice this season. Not every rookie TE can be as productive as Evan Engram was last year but few have the opportunity he had. The top two targets on the team go down via injury and there’s little to no running game to speak of. Now let’s look at the 2018 Dolphins. They’re down their top target from a year ago and they traded their number one RB midway through last season. They’re breaking in two new weapons at WR, two new RBs, and a new TE (Gesicki). Gesicki is tall (6’6″) and ran a 4.54 40 at the combine. Gase made Julius Thomas into a household name in Denver so we know what big, athletic TEs can do in this offense and Gesicki is already turning heads in camp. If I’m rostering two TEs, Gesicki is a target and his price is currently the 14th round.

Chargers D/ST (LAC) – (DST2; ESPN – DST7; ADP – DST11) The Chargers have arguably the best pass rushing tandem in the league (sacks). They have the league leader in INTs (turnovers). A healthy Denzel Perryman in the middle of the defense means less rushing yards for opponents (forces defenses to pass). They also play the AFC North and the NFC West (only two playoff teams from a year ago). The Chargers are a top 2 D/ST for me this year.

Bears D/ST (CHI) – (DST7; ESPN – DST14; ADP – DST20) The Bears are ascending. While their offense was pitiful, they were still a top 10 D/ST in 2017. They’ll be on the field less with a better offense. I don’t love their schedule — toughest in football — but they kept their DC when they brought in a new head coach and rookie LB Roquon Smith should be the missing piece to make them even more feared.

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Tom Brady (NE) – (QB4; ESPN – QB2; ADP – QB2) Don’t be that person that takes this to mean I’m telling you not to draft Brady. By all means, go right ahead. I just won’t be joining you in that activity. Brady just won the MVP award. Awesome. He also just turned 41. Remember when Peyton Manning had a phenomenal 2014, finishing as QB3 at the age of 38? Then in 2015 he had less fantasy points than Johnny Manziel? Drew Brees, coming off his age 37 season, finished 2016 as QB2. Then last year, he fell to QB12 as the team remade the offense around him. It’s nothing personal against Brady. He seems to be the QB that defies all logic and keeps giving the middle finger to Father Time. But I won’t be the guy to rely on him because I want nothing to do with the collapse of a legend. His QB2/3rd round price tag is way too high for me.

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) – (QB14; ESPN – QB12; ADP – QB9) Another aging QB who uncharacteristically has finished as a top 10 QB in back to back seasons. I would rather roll the dice with a younger guy or someone like Kirk Cousins who’s been consistent in his ability to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Or Matthew Stafford who is arguably the most reliable QB in Fantasy. Big Ben always finds a way to miss games and his home/road splits are so glaring that I would need to roster a 2nd QB for his road games. And in 10 team leagues, there is zero reason to draft a 2nd QB with how deep the position is. He’s being drafted as QB9 so I know Ben won’t be on any of my teams.

Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) – (QB16; ESPN – QB11; ADP – QB11) His sensational end of 2017 — 5-0 with the 49ers after being acquired from the Patriots — has many abuzz about the potential of Jimmy G(Q) with a full offseason under his belt. He gets Pierre Garcon back, will have Marquise Goodwin for a full season, and a new lead RB behind him in Jerick McKinnon. As Cole pointed out in our A Look Inside the 49ers, Jimmy G(Q) finished as QB11 from weeks 13-16 and was a top 5 QB in Weeks 15 & 16. His current ADP is QB11 which seems to fit but I have him ranked a little lower based on some returning QBs (Rodgers, Luck, Watson) and bounce backs from under performers (Carr, Brees). Would it surprise me if Jimmy G(Q) is a top 10 QB? Nope, not one bit. But as I mentioned above, I don’t roster two QBs in 10-team leagues so for me, he’s a 12-team league or deeper QB.

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What Alex Smith did in 2017 was amazing. Seriously. But when that’s the only season of his career where he’s finished as a top 5 fantasy QB, color me skeptical he’ll do it again. (Photo from www.richmond.com)

Alex Smith (WAS) – (QB21; ESPN – QB15; ADP – QB20) If you think Smith is going to repeat his QB2 finish from a year ago, you’ve got a helluva dealer and I’m going to need their number. Smith is a game manager who had an anomaly of a season, is on a new team with inferior weapons, and in a division with the defending Super Bowl Champions. That’s hardly relative, I just like mentioning it. Smith will revert back to his QB2/3 ways and be a steady bye week fill in at best.

Todd Gurley (LAR) – (RB4; ESPN – RB2; ADP – RB2) The last time a RB finished number one in back to back seasons was Priest Holmes. Suffice it to say, I’m not in on the Gurley-repeats-as-RB1 fan club. Doesn’t mean I won’t draft him in the first round. This is basically for everyone taking him as the first pick in the draft. He won’t repeat. But looking at the top four RBs, you can easily make a case why any of them will be the number one RB (as I did for Zeke above). Plus, the Rams brought in Brandin Cooks who will have more receptions than the man he replaced (Sammy Watkins). That will chip away at Gurley’s production.

Saquon Barkley (NYG) – (RB10; ESPN – RB6; ADP – RB6) For the record, I like Barkley’s potential. He will be a workhorse in New York for the Giants. But despite the improvements the Giants made on the offensive line, I’ll reserve judgment for when I see it. Barkley’s desire to turn every carry into a home run won’t fly in the NFL. He may run a 4.4 40, but defenses in the NFL are much faster than those in college. He’s going to need to learn how to settle for 2 and 3 yard gains. That said, he’s an exceptional pass catcher and has little in the way of competition for touches. But his 7th overall draft price, over guys like Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt is disgraceful. Don’t fall for the allure of the rookie. He’s a top 10 back but he’s not top 6.

Jerick McKinnon (MIN) – (RB20; ESPN – RB14; ADP – RB14) Why people think McKinnon is suddenly going to succeed in San Francisco is beyond me. He’s had plenty of chances in Minnesota to showcase more than just his ability to be a pass catching back but he averages less than 4 yards a carry and has never been able to carry a full load. He’s not suddenly going to be able to carry a full load for the 49ers, despite what Shanahan’s offense has produced in the past with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is not the caliber of RB those two are. I would rather take a late round flier on Matt Breida or Joe Williams (don’t sleep on him because he missed all of last year) than pay the RB14 price tag on McKinnon. He’s going ahead of Jordan Howard (RB9 and RB11 the last two years) and that’s just blasphemous.

Derrick Henry (TEN) – (RB30; ESPN – RB22; ADP – RB19) As stated in my write up on the Titans, I’m not buying into Henry as an every down guy. He’s being drafted 10 spots higher than Lewis and has never produced the way that Lewis has. Take out Henry’s 8 rushes of over 15 yards and he averaged 2.8 yards per carry. On 168 carries! I don’t want to sit back and wait for the 10 rushes a year he decides to break off. I’d rather get someone who’s consistently chugging out 3-5 yards and can add a 10-, 15-, or 20-yarder here or there. Henry isn’t that. His value will lie in his ability to score TDs in bushels and I won’t pay for what I hope will happen.

NFL: MAY 12 Buccaneers Rookie Minicamp

After producing over 2,600 rushing yards over the last two years at USC, RB Ronald Jones II is coming into Tampa Bay with a lot of buzz. Yeah, I don’t see it. He may be built like Reggie Bush, but he certainly isn’t as electric. (Photo from bucswire.usatoday.com)

Ronald Jones II (TB) – (RB35; ESPN – RB24; ADP – RB23) I don’t watch a ton of college football. I leave that to Chris Tyler, our resident college analyst here at Club Fantasy. What little of USC I saw last year did nothing to prove to me that Ronald Jones II is/will be an RB1 caliber RB in the NFL. Yes, he’s rushed for over 2,600 yards the last two years and scored 19 TDs last year. But he’s about as big as Reggie Bush and doesn’t catch passes. Jones is more highlight reel run than ground and pound. The Bucs backfield is murky with no real standout among Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and now Jones. Jones should be the guy because Barber is hardly impressive, but Rodgers and Sims are the 3rd down guys. Jones is barely a top 40 guy for me which is why his ADP as RB23 is laughable.

All Packers RBs (GB) – (Highest is Jamaal Williams as RB42; ESPN – RB36; ADP – RB37) Do you know who is starting for the Packers? One interesting stat I found while writing up the preview on the Packers was that if you took what Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery scored the weeks they were the starting RB, the Packers had the 8th best RB in fantasy. Williams was underwhelming but the best of the three in pass protection; Montgomery is clearly the 3rd down guy as he’s a former WR; and Jones averaged over 5 yards a carry last year in limited action. Jones could be the guy that floats to the surface when he returns from suspension but I feel like it’s Williams’ job to lose. He just needs to work on his YPC as he seems to do everything well but nothing spectacular. I really want nothing to do with this situation on draft day.

Lamar Miller (HOU) – (RB39; ESPN – RB25; ADP – RB28) So, fun stat: there have been only three RBs that have finished in the top 15 over the last three years. LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram, and Lamar Miller. Yeah, I couldn’t believe that last one either. Miller’s first two seasons in Houston have been anything but stellar. He’s accumulated the two most workload-heavy seasons of his career. He’s also produced the two lowest YPC seasons of his career. It seems to me the Texans drafted Foreman to be their bell cow and keep Miller as the type of third down/change-of-pace RB that he was in Miami when he finished as RB4 in 2015. As noted above, I’d rather have Foreman at his current price than Miller at his current 7th round price tag.

Sony Michel (NE) – (RB43; ESPN – RB29; ADP – RB25) Just like in year’s past, I’m doing all I can to avoid the Patriots backfield unless their draft prices come way down. I want to believe that Michel will prove me wrong and be the featured back in New England. I’m of the belief you don’t spend a 1st round pick on a RB if you’re not going to run him in to the ground. Michel joins a backfield with Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill. Burkhead looks to be the early favorite for the lead role with White factoring in on passing downs and either Gillislee or Hill being more of the short yardage guy. So where does Michel fit in? When you don’t know that, it’s hard to pay the price of a 6th rounder to find out.

07_Fade_Jones_SS_ Graham_ Reed_CF

Julio Jones (ATL) – (WR8; ESPN – WR3; ADP – WR2) Don’t get it twisted, I’m a huge fan of Jones. Pound for pound, he may be the best WR in the NFL. He’s also one of the most inconsistent. Last season, he had one amazing game — 55.80 points in Week 12 — and a slew of mediocre ones. If you take out that one game, Jones scored 188.10. That’s WR21 numbers. If you’re thinking this is an anomaly, Exhibit B takes us to 2016. He scored 53.00 points in Week 4. Take that away and he put up WR28 numbers. Are you willing to pay the price of a 1st or 2nd round pick for WR3 numbers? I’m not.

Demaryius Thomas (DEN) – (WR24; ESPN – WR15; ADP – WR16) He was one of the most consistent WRs in all of fantasy with Peyton Manning as his QB. He was 2nd in receptions and yards and 3rd in TDs. Easily WR1 numbers. The last two years — eh. He’s been an average WR2. With another new QB, I don’t see Thomas improving on those numbers. He’s being drafted ahead of guys like Alshon Jeffery and Amari Cooper. I’d rather have them than Thomas.

Allen Robinson (CHI) – (WR22; ESPN – WR19; ADP – WR17) Speaking of Robinson, while I hope he has a true bounce back season in a new city with a new QB, I don’t think he’s the reliable number two receiver he’s being drafted as. I have him more as a WR3/FLEX option based on his less than spectacular 2016 season. Robinson will be going against some big time number one corners this year — Xavier Rhodes (twice), Darius Slay (twice), Patrick Peterson, Xavien Howard, Janoris Jenkins, Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib, Tre’Davious White, and Stephon Gilmore to name most of them — and I’m not privy to think he’s going to return to his 1,400 yard peak in 2015. Let him fall to you, don’t reach.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) – (WR30; ESPN – WR24; ADP – WR24) JuJu was electric last year. But any time you’re playing 3rd fiddle behind Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, you have to make the most out of every opportunity. JuJu did that in 2017 to the tune of 58 catches for 917 yards and 7 TDs, highlighted by a 97-yard TD reception. And he did that with half the targets of Brown. He’s being drafted about two full rounds sooner than I would prefer. The electric playmaking is alluring but keep in mind, he had 6 games with single digit fantasy points, not counting for the two missed games and the bye week. Again, big play options are hit or miss. I’d rather use them in my FLEX and as bench depth than rely on them as my 2nd or third option at the position. JuJu’s current price tag (WR24) puts him out of my price range.

SammyWatkins

The Chiefs paid WR Sammy Watkins an exorbitant amount of money considering he’s had only one 1,000 yard receiving season. I hope he does well, but I won’t be buying stock. (Photo from clssport.com)

Sammy Watkins (KC) – (WR45: ESPN – WR32; ADP – WR30) Just because he’s getting paid as a top 10 WR doesn’t mean you should draft him as such. He had 8 TD receptions last year but otherwise was underwhelming. One thing he does well is provide a solid target for his QB. Jared Goff had the 5th highest QB rating when targeting Watkins. That being said, his 15.9 yards per reception career average is the exact reason why I’m hesitant to rely on a guy like Watkins. He’s a big play option and big plays aren’t abundant when Watkins is rarely healthy. He’s not a top 30 WR as his current draft price would have you believe. Sorry.

Michael Crabtree (BAL) – (WR37; ESPN – WR23; ADP – WR29) The days of Crabtree being a reliable number two option in Fantasy may be over. Baltimore is where WRs go to die. He is in fact their best option at receiver but Flacco’s inconsistencies make me steer very clear of Ravens wide outs. I have him as WR37. He’s being drafted as WR29. Even with a down 2017, Crabtree still finished as a top 30 option. What will keep him afloat is his ability to score TDs. Crabtree has 25 TDs over the last three seasons. The problem? Flacco has thrown only 52 TD passes over the last three seasons, 19th in the league. Needless to say, Crabtree may be lucky to have 4 TDs, keeping his value way below that of a WR3.

Randall Cobb (GB) – (WR51; ESPN – WR36; ADP – WR34) Why do people keep expecting Cobb to break out after he’s had only one good season? He hasn’t had 70 catches or 700 yards since 2015 and has only 8 TDs over the last two years. He has only one season with over 1,000 yards. He did have the 2nd most targets on the team last year but with the addition of Jimmy Graham, the emergence of Geronimo Allison, and the arrival of three rookies with legitimate potential, I don’t see Cobb being much more than a 50 catch guy with 3 TDs. He finished as WR41 last year and he’s being drafted as WR34. I have him as WR51. Take your chances elsewhere.

DeVanteParker

If WR DeVante Parker wants to finally claim a place in fantasy owners’ hearts, he needs to do this more often than not. Oh, and stay on the field. That’s important too. (Photo from www.profootballfocus.com)

DeVante Parker (MIA) – (WR42; ESPN – WR42; ADP – WR37) Time is running out for Parker. I love the kid and his potential but he can’t seem to stay healthy. Pair that with Miami’s decision to bring in WRs Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola for depth, and the pressure is on Parker to be the WR1 the Dolphins envisioned him to be when they spent the 14th overall pick on him in 2015. He’s never finished as a top 50 WR in Fantasy. Ever. He’s also never had 60 catches in a season. His current ADP is WR37. Um, what?

Jimmy Graham (GB) – (TE9; ESPN – TE7; ADP – TE5) One of my friends told me Graham will be a top 2 TE with Aaron Rodgers throwing to him. That was in March. I’m still laughing. His current ADP of TE5 is unreal. Rodgers hasn’t had a top 10 TE since Jermichael Finley and that was almost 10 years ago. Finley wasn’t in his 30s and still had his athleticism. Graham is older than 30 and is basically just a red zone threat. He hasn’t had over 100 targets since his days in New Orleans and I don’t like paying a premium for TDs if he doesn’t offer anything else. If I can’t get Kelce, Gronk, or Ertz, I’m not drafting Graham in the 6th round — 5th in a 12 team league — when he’s not likely to get more than 550 yards on 50 catches. The price is wrong, Bob.

Jordan Reed (WAS) – (TE13; ESPN – TE9; ADP – TE9) As great as he is when he’s healthy — TE2 in 2015, TE8 in 2016 — he rarely ever is. I’m not spending a 9th round pick on a TE if I have to draft another one. He’s a top 15 option because I believe he’s worth a late round pick in the event he finds a way to get healthy and we know what Alex Smith can do with a quality TE — see Kelce, Travis. His current draft price is nuts with his injury history.

Tyler Eifert

Bengals TE Tyler Eifert had one season where he did this more than ten times. Stop thinking he’ll return to that! **Face palm** (Photo from www.bostonherald.com)

Tyler Eifert (CIN) – (TE23; ESPN – TE14; ADP – TE15) Why do people still believe in this guy? Why can’t people realize he had one good season (2015) and hasn’t approached those numbers since? Why can’t people realize he’s played in only 39 games in 5 seasons (31 missed games)? Why is he being drafted as a top 15 guy? Roster space is valuable. Don’t waste it on guys who won’t produce.

David Njoku (CLE) – (TE15; ESPN – TE12; ADP – TE12) I love Njoku. I have high hopes for him. But in an offense that is loaded with talent — and yes, I’m talking about the 0-16 Cleveland Browns — Njoku is fighting for touches. He had 60 targets last year and I’d love to see that number go up. The arrival of Jarvis Landry, a full season of Josh Gordon, and the RB trio of Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Nick Chubb will likely keep him at or around that number. He’s going as TE12. I have him much lower based on expected opportunity.

Steelers D/ST (PIT) – (DST13; ESPN – DST15; ADP – DST9) The Steelers led the league in sacks. I don’t foresee them repeating that figure and they don’t have much in the way of a special teams threat. JuJu Smith-Schuster is likely to be more involved in the offense which will take him further away from special teams. They went from DST10 to DST17 to DST7 in three years. I like them more as a streaming option than a bonafide top 10 unit.

Patriots D/ST (NE) – (DST16; ESPN – DST9; ADP – DST8) How the Patriots have maintained the ability to be a productive fantasy unit, I’ll never know. Their defense was awful in 2017 and still managed to finish as DST12. I still don’t believe they’ve fixed their moribund pass rush — how they managed 42 sacks is a testament to Bill Belichick’s genius — and Stephon Gilmore isn’t a 6 INT a season kind of corner. Again, they’re a streaming option for their six games against the AFC East but they’re not a top 10 unit.