No offense to kickers or defense and special teams units, but fantasy football is all about the skill-position players.
Not only do quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends dominate the first several rounds of drafts and score most of your points, but those positions also represent most of the time and energy spent by team owners on fantasy football.
For that reason, it’s important to have your personal rankings at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end nailed down before the draft and available for tweaking during the season as you navigate the trade market and the waiver wire.
Below is a sample top 20 at each of those positions put together by yours truly, along with one possible sleeper at each spot to consider in the later rounds.
Sleeper to watch: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are almost always an afterthought in any sort of predictive exercise, whether it be a standings forecast or fantasy projections. To some degree, it’s valid, as the team has gone 4-12 or worse in three consecutive seasons and its offense has been 24th or worse in points scored in each of those seasons.
However, you’d be foolish to dismiss Derek Carr as a terrible fantasy quarterback for 2015.
The second-year signal-caller’s leading receiver won’t be Andre Holmes (!) again, because he’ll have rookie first-round wideout Amari Cooper and free-agent acquisition Michael Crabtree catching a hefty chunk of his throws.
Oakland’s 32nd-ranked running game from last season should be slightly better this year with Latavius Murray taking away carries from the disappointing (and departed) Darren McFadden, but the offense is still more passing-focused.
Feel good about drafting Carr as your No. 2 quarterback, and possibly starting him based on matchups if the Raiders offense starts to click.
Sleeper to watch: Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Like the Raiders, the Browns are rarely given the benefit of the doubt in fantasy discussions. The team rarely has a statistical beast leading its charge.
However, Duke Johnson, a rookie third-round pick, could surprise with a nice fantasy campaign in 2015.
Johnson is a versatile scatback who’ll line up all over the field in his rookie year, according to Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, via ESPN.com. Montgomery also noted Johnson has a shot at Cleveland’s lead back spot. In that circumstance, the Browns will still have a three-headed attack in the backfield, with Johnson, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
Still, it’s remarkable that a potential starter on a run-oriented team has an average draft position of 115.3.
Johnson hasn’t played in the preseason yet due to a hamstring injury. Keep an eye on what he does in Cleveland’s final two exhibition games, starting Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sleeper to watch: Eddie Royal, Chicago Bears
Eddie Royal’s ADP of 132.5 ranks him 51st among all wide receivers. In his rookie (and only) season with Jay Cutler throwing him passes, Royal notched 138.9 fantasy points, good for No. 19 among wideouts. Now, he’s reunited with Cutler in Chicago.
Well, he probably won’t rank that high in 2015, but either way, the 29-year-old Royal is getting overlooked by far too many fantasy owners because he’s not a sexy pick. However, he’s the clear No. 2 receiver for the Bears after Alshon Jeffery in a solid passing attack, which should warrant at least a 10th-round pick.
Scoop Royal up late in your draft while your opponents foam at the mouth over high-upside players.
Sleeper to watch: Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
It’s not every day a 26-year-old who was the No. 6 fantasy player at his position drops out of the top 20 in many preseason rankings without any major circumstantial changes, but that’s what has happened to Fleener.
The biggest reason for the drop was because a bulk of his 2014 production came when fellow tight end Dwayne Allen was out for almost four full games with ankle issues during the second half of the season. But are we so sure Allen is going to be completely healthy in 2015? I’m not.
Allen is a better blocker and red-zone threat, but Fleener is more athletic and has been developing chemistry with quarterback Andrew Luck since their days together at Stanford. There’s also enough passing attempts to go around in Indianapolis to get both tight ends decent fantasy production.
Don’t be scared to take a flier on the Colts’ No. 2 tight end. He definitely won’t be close to an every-down player with Allen healthy, but when he’s on the field, he’ll produce for you.
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