There is more uncertainty at the top of fantasy football drafts than we have seen in past years, but you can still end up with a great team if you come in prepared.
It’s impossible to know what the rest of your league will do before your pick in the first round or throughout the rest of the draft. However, you will be in good shape if you look for value early and target key players in the middle and late rounds.
Not all of the mid-round players will be stars (if they were sure things, they would go in the first round), but grabbing enough high-upside options to pair with low-risk veterans could help create a championship team.
Yes, Le’Veon Bell is set to miss the first two games because of a suspension. Still, he can more than make up for it with great production through the rest of the season, which is something fans should expect at this point.
From Week 11 of last season to Week 16 (when most leagues have their championship), Bell averaged an incredible 26.6 fantasy points per game in standard leagues. He produces as a runner and a receiver and should be the most productive running back in the NFL when he returns.
The next few options on the board are similar, but at this stage security is a big factor. You don’t want to miss on a top-five pick, which makes drafting a low-risk option like Eddie Lacy so appealing. Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports provided a look at some of the positives for the 25-year-old running back:
More of a surprise might be the placement of Adrian Peterson, a player some consider to be the best overall option. The problem is we have no idea what to expect from a running back who missed almost all of last season and hasn’t played in the preseason. The talent is there, but the risk is too high.
As far as the receivers are concerned, Antonio Brown is the most consistent option and is worthy of a high pick. He will be followed by Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. in order, three players all capable of putting up ridiculous numbers throughout the season.
While Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are the clear top two at the position, they might be going too high in most drafts to justify the selections. Instead, fantasy owners could be wise to wait until the later rounds to take a quarterback.
One of the better late options could be Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill. After a strong start to the preseason, the fourth-year player still sees room for improvement, per ESPN.com’s James Walker:
I think guys are getting open and making plays for me down the field and I’m making good decisions getting the ball out in the right spot. Obviously there are plays that I don’t do perfectly and I want to complete, but I feel like we’re trending in the right direction right now and we have to build on what we’ve done in this preseason.
With a better offensive line and more help at receiver than he has ever had, Tannehill could be set for a big year.
Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is also expected to make a nice leap after a solid rookie season, making him a good high-upside bet for one of the later rounds.
Eli Manning and Sam Bradford are in a different category as established options who fans know well. This duo has seemingly been the butt of jokes more often than leaders of good fantasy teams. However, new situations can help them post big numbers this season.
Bradford enters a Philadelphia Eagles offense that is going to be effective no matter who is under center. The spread offense will be perfect for the former No. 1 pick as long as he stays healthy. Manning hasn’t changed teams but is throwing more than ever (career high of 601 attempts last season) and has a big-time target in Beckham. Even after a poor preseason, the chances of a good year are high.
The hype for Latavius Murray is growing, but there is no problem with grabbing the Oakland Raiders running back a round early. He is going to be an every-down back this season and has the talent to take advantage of the opportunity.
Ameer Abdullah could also be a victim of too much hype, especially after this preseason run:
The breakdown of carries with the Detroit Lions is uncertain, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the rookie take over the majority of touches before too long. Don’t reach too much, but the hype is real.
There is less excitement for veterans such as Chris Ivory and Justin Forsett, but they could be keys to a championship season thanks to excellent value. Forsett is considered a third- or fourth-round pick, but this is even too low for a player who ranked eighth among running backs in fantasy points last season. With a strong offensive line still in front of him, there is no reason to expect much of a decline.
Meanwhile, Ivory should remain the go-to option with the New York Jets, which alone should put him ahead of part-time running backs like Rashad Jennings, Giovani Bernard and C.J. Spiller.
The term “sleeper” might not be fitting for some of these players, but you can expect great things from young stars getting picked in the fourth round or later.
Three players in very similar situations are Jordan Matthews, Brandin Cooks and Davante Adams. All three are second-year receivers who had solid but not spectacular rookie seasons, though each is set for a breakout year in a high-powered offense thanks to the departure of other veteran players.
Jeremy Maclin signed elsewhere, Jimmy Graham was traded and Jordy Nelson is out for the year with an injury. This leaves an opening for the younger class to step up. Cooks is certainly gaining fans on his own team:
It would be a smart strategy to get at least one of these three on your fantasy team.
Similar to Manning and Ivory, you could also get some quality receivers late in the draft with picks that wouldn’t be considered as sexy. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree both have the ability to be 1,000-yard receivers this season, which is good enough for a late-round draft pick and bye-week fill-in.
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