I’m sure I didn’t give it much thought.

I was nine-years old, how could I? Then again, I bet I thought I was making a smart, well-informed decision.

So at the ripe age of nine, I added Titans’ running back Chris Johnson to my first ever fantasy football team.

In case you weren’t a football fan or you just lived under a rock, Johnson broke the record for most yards from scrimmage with 2,509 yards. What you don’t know is that he led my team ‘Zach Attack’ all the way to the fantasy football championship.

It was a match made in heaven. A nine-year old besting a bunch of adults in a pretend sports game? Sounds like a good idea for a cheap NFL Films mockumentary, if only I had won.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Texans’ running back Steve Slaton, a.k.a my first-round pick, that he needed to play football. He ended up as the 94th-best fantasy player (in standard leagues) through just ten games played. Sorry young Zach, but your moment of glory would be postponed. 

Both players would fail to come close to reliving those 2009 seasons. Slaton was out of the league two years later while Johnson’s career slowly fizzled to the point where he remains unsigned after an uneventful two seasons with the Cardinals.

What can be learned from this little story? First, past performance does not always equal future success. Don’t ever draft a guy solely because he was “good last year.” Schemes change. Players decline. Rosters are remade. The factors for a down year are endless, but more on that in a little.

The second thing you should know is that I was born for this. Okay, okay. I’ll reel back on the bragging. It might have just been luck. After all, luck does play a huge part of fantasy sports. Injuries happen. Bad games happen. Good games happen. A fantasy team can score it’s fewest amount of points all year and still pull out a victory one week. 

Via Instagram: bigreem_3

However, saying fantasy football is all luck is just naive. If you had done the proper research last offseason (or listened to me), you would have discovered how successful running backs are under Andy Reid. You would have seen that in 18 seasons as a coach, Reid has had nine seasons of running backs with an RB1-type production and the other nine with RB2-type production. You also would have read the rave reports coming out of Kansas City about third-round rookie running back Kareem Hunt. That would have then peaked your interest, so you would have searched for Hunt’s highlights on YouTube. You would have seen a dual-threat RB with exceptional speed and burst coupled with rare balance and vision. Just to be safe, though, you would have looked up complete game tapes to see his good and bad plays. 

Then, you would have won your league because you drafted the NFL rushing champ as your backup running back. 

How’s that for luck?

Sure, incumbent starter Spencer Ware’s injury technically paved the way for Hunt to become the starter, but Hunt’s superior talent (which was apparent in college) would eventually have won him that starting job. At least, that’s what you would have concluded after all that research.

If you want to be successful at fantasy football, you need to consider both qualitative and quantitative research. In simpler, non-scientific terms, use statistics and observation. Relying on one over the other is a recipe for disaster, because ultimately, neither ever tells the full story. For example, after reading about a player’s targets and his surprising third-down efficiency, check out his tape to see if his success was pure talent, luck, or a little of both.

Another thing about fantasy football: you will be wrong. A lot. All fantasy owners are doing is trying to predict the future, which no one can consistently do with accuracy. The only way you truly lose when you make predictions is when you don’t learn from your bad ones. Find out where you went wrong. Did you assume that ultra-talented player would climb the depth chart? Did you bank on an injury-prone player finally staying healthy? Did you fail to see that the high-scoring player you love really only touched the ball a couple times? (See: Will Fuller.) What factors influenced your decision and should you rely on them again?

There are numerous factors that can influence a fantasy season, so the best thing you can do as a fantasy owner is to consider all of them before making the best possible decision. That’s what I’ve done below, where you’ll take a trip into my crazed, football-centric brain for some rankings, advice, reasoning, and yes, a little fun. With that said, enjoy the 2017-2018 NFL season and good luck! Unless you’re in my leagues, then I hope you draft Ronald Jones II as your starting back.

Strategy

I joined Armchair All-Americans last year on August 21st and posted my first article on September 6th. You can check out that Fantasy 101 here, which really has all the information you’ll need this year, too. I recommend taking a look at it because it has lots of good advice for winning your league. After all, I won both of mine last year using those guidelines. For the lazy ones, though, I outlined the article below. 

  1. Research the players
  2. Don’t use just one source of information
  3. Set a player’s ceiling and floor
  4. Don’t worry about bye weeks
  5. Practice with lots of mock drafts
  6. Don’t rely on a player’s previous seasons
  7. Wait to take a quarterback
  8. Take running backs early
  9. Take a good running back over a good wide receiver
  10. Eye players with upside in the later rounds
  11. Don’t touch a defense or kicker until the end of the draft
  12. Make trades with strength of schedule in mind
  13. Don’t stress; it’s just a game
  14. Hit me up with questions

I’m not going to expand on these because that’s what the original article is for. However, I thought I’d add a new couple pointers…

Opportunity is Key

It’s a pretty simple fact, but a player can’t score if he doesn’t touch the ball. That’s why eyeing solidified starters (and definitely not running baks in committees) is so crucial. That’s also why I always start my draft with a running back, preferably a dual-threat one. Take Alvin Kamara and Antonio Brown, for example. Right now, Brown has an ADP (average draft position) of five while Kamara is set at seven. In PPR leagues last season, Kamara was the fourth highest-scoring player and Brown was the fifth. In standard leagues, Kamara was 18 and Brown was 26. The reason? Kamara saw the ball way more than Brown did.

The rookie averaged 7.5 carries a game (that includes before he was a focal point of the offense) and 6.3 targets a game. On the other hand, Brown averaged 11.6 targets a game. Even using an extreme example like Brown, the best receiver in the game, a starting wide receiver rarely gets the ball more than the starting running back. This is why I place a premium on drafting RBs high, especially ones involved in the running and the passing game. They have a greater opportunity to produce because they get the ball more, though PPR leagues close the gap on that narrative. Which brings me to my next thing to add…

Do Points-Per-Reception (PPR) Leagues

I’m not saying PPR leagues are better than standard leagues, but I am saying they’re more fun. It gives fantasy owners more reasons to cheer (or curse) and can lead to some pretty high-scoring games. If you’re a true football fan, it also opens up a whole new area of research to dive into. It makes targets a higher priority and emphasizes passing offenses a little more than in standard leagues. Believe me, I fought against PPR leagues for years. Eventually, I gave into half-PPR, which is a half-point for each reception, and now I only do PPR leagues.

Another added bonus for me is that it allows for lesser-known receivers to make an impact. Third-string running backs will be lucky to get even a carry in a regular season game. Fourth and fifth-string receivers could still get a couple targets, hence a higher chance of more fantasy points. All this means is there’s just a little extra dimension to your league. Maybe that rookie wide receiver with six targets a game could be a worthy stash for later, if you have the roster space.

Add an IR spot

I love the Injured Reserve spot. I pound the table for it every year. There is no reason that you should waste a roster spot on a guy who will be out eight weeks. It hurts the ‘Ultimate Goal of Fantasy Football’: score as many freaking points as possible! That is the only thing that matters and you should be able to add another player to attempt to fill the injured player’s void. It also helps in dynasty leagues, which are a whole other animal. 

Of course, the one rebuttal with this addition is that owners can abuse the spot when a player misses one game. Sometimes owners pick up a player for that week and move their injured player (who will only miss that week) to the IR. Others stray from this sneaky tactic because they view it as “cheating.” First of all, show me the rule that says you can’t do this. Second, revisit the ‘Ultimate Goal of Fantasy Football’. Contrary to popular belief, fantasy football is a weekly game, and you should jump at any opportunity to add more points to your lineup.

Allow Draft Pick Trading

Via Instagram: davidjohnson31

This is by far the most fun thing you can do with your league, other than last-place punishments. I can’t think of a reason against this, to be honest. It makes fantasy football a little more like reality in that team owners can attempt to personalize their drafting experience. Say you want Todd Gurley but know you can’t get him. Offer your first and second-round pick for the first overall pick and a fourth rounder. It’s fun. It’s also how I paired David Johnson with Le’Veon Bell in 2016 en route a dominant championship season. 

Draft pick trading can also help you settle into areas of the draft board that you like. If you don’t like anyone in the mid-20 range but love a handful of guys in mid-50s, work some magic and position yourself in the best chance for success. Hypothetically in that scenario, you could just reach for players, but you might hurt the value of those players you like. Why get Player B now when you can get Player A now and Player B later? Maximize your value, but also know it’s fine to reach for guys you absolutely love.

Want some more fantasy advice? Check out what else I’ve written this Summer:

Rankings

The following rankings are suited for standard leagues and the sleepers ideally reflect a 10-12 team league. I recommend bookmarking this page as a) a valuable resource and b) a potential source of comedy come January.

Top Ten 

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Le’Veon Bell
  3. David Johnson
  4. Alvin Kamara
  5. Saquon Barkley 
  6. Ezekiel Elliot
  7. Antonio Brown
  8. DeAndre Hopkins
  9. Kareem Hunt  
  10. Dalvin Cook  

For reasoning behind Gurley over Bell, and Johnson over Elliott, you can click here and here, respectively. I like Kamara and Barkley better than Elliott mainly because while these rankings aren’t suited for PPR, they still will be more involved in the passing game than Elliott will. I give Brown a slight edge over Hopkins, who should return to greatness with Deshaun Watson back. Hunt’s position is nothing unordinary but I’m higher on Cook than most. People seem to forget that he was a top-three rusher with 20+ carries a game before getting injured last year. 

Via Instagram: dangerusswilson

Quarterback

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Russell Wilson   
  3. Tom Brady  
  4. Carson Wentz
  5. Deshaun Watson  
  6. Cam Newton
  7. Drew Brees   
  8. Matthew Stafford  
  9. Jared Goff  
  10. Kirk Cousins 

Sleeper: Marcus Mariota

Bust Candidate: Ben Roethlisberger

Rookie to Watch: Josh Rosen

Rodgers still reigns supreme, though Wilson gets the nod over Brady due to his running ability. Pending Wentz and Watson’s successful returns from ACL injuries, there’s no big reasons to see them slowing down. With Brees and Stafford I’m a little reluctant on them because of the potential rise of a running game in their offenses, yet they still are big-arm qauarterbacks. Spoiler: I am a big Jared Goff supporter this year. Any quarterback in a top-five offense is almost guaranteed to be a top-ten quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo, Phillip Rivers, and Matt Ryan just missed this list. Andrew Luck would be here too, but there’s too much risk in players with extensive injury histories. Not a fan of an aging Roethlisberger, who has finished as a top-ten fantasy quarterback only three times in thirteen years. 

Running Backs

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Le’Veon Bell
  3. David Johnson
  4. Alvin Kamara
  5. Saquon Barkley 
  6. Ezekiel Elliot
  7. Kareem Hunt  
  8. Dalvin Cook
  9. Christian McCaffrey  
  10. Melvin Gordon

Sleeper: Jamaal Williams

Bust Candidate: LeSean McCoy

Rookie to Watch: Kerryon Johnson

I touched on most of these guys earlier. Considering it’s a year dominated by running backs, grab them early. Trust me, you don’t want to be relying on Marshawn Lynch and Isaiah Crowell. I’ve always loved McCaffrey, but this year it looks like he could finally be a true number one option in Carolina. As for Gordon, he’ll easily demand 20+ carries a game but he needs to get more involved in the passing game. Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon are the last two players I’d confidently grab, as Fournette is the dominant starter and Mixon is an extremely skilled, dual-threat back. I wrote about Jamaal Williams’ potential a few weeks ago. As for McCoy, he has age, off-field issues and a lackluster offense all working against him. I believe that Kerryon Johnson will not only be the first Detroit Lion to rush for over 100 yards in a game since 2013, but he’ll do it more than once. 

Via Instagram: ab

Wide Receiver

  1. Antonio Brown
  2. DeAndre Hopkins  
  3. Michael Thomas  
  4. Julio Jones  
  5. Odell Beckham Jr.  
  6. Keenan Allen   
  7. A.J. Green  
  8. Adam Thielen  
  9. Tyreek Hill  
  10. Larry Fitzgerald

Sleeper: Marquise Goodwin

Bust Candidate: Demaryius Thomas

Rookie to Watch: Michael Gallup

I can break this into three tiers: 1-3, 4-5, and 6-10. Brown and Hopkins are just phenomenal and you can make a strong case that Hopkins is the best fantasy receiver in the NFL. I’m not sure why people are, somehow, sleeping on Michael Thomas, who could be the first receiver taken in next year’s draft. Jones and Beckham both had rough years, albeit for different reasons, but are still super humans. If Keenan Allen can stay healthy, I could argue that he’s a second-tier receiver. Same goes with AJ Green, but Andy Dalton holds him back. Adam Thielen is as consistent as you can be without being great. Tyreek Hill’s speed and versatility only maximize his usage as a WR1. Larry “The Legend” Fitzgerald is the definition of consistency except he finally has an actual quarterback. Fitz beats out Mike Evans here, who is the exact opposite of the Cardinal wide receiver because he only plays outside and is inconsistent. I don’t have much confidence after these top ten receivers.

Tight End

  1. Rob Gronkowski   
  2. Travis Kelce 
  3. Zach Ertz
  4. Evan Engram 
  5. Jimmy Graham  
  6. Greg Olsen
  7. Kyle Rudolph   
  8. Delanie Walker  
  9. Trey Burton  
  10. George Kittle   

Sleeper: Ricky Seals-Jones

Bust Candidate: Jordan Reed

Rookie to Watch: Mike Gesicki

The biggest factors going against most of the tight ends is health. The first three are all freaks of nature and Evan Engram is trending into that top tier, especially with Barkley and OBJ there to help take the defensive pressure off him. Jimmy Graham is in a great situation, but we’ll see how Father Time treats him. The same can certainly be said for Greg Olsen, who could once again defy age. Delanie Walker to me is a poor man’s Greg Olsen. New Chicago Bears’ weapon Trey Burton is talented enough to be a Travis-Kelce type in Chief-turned-Bear Matt Nagy’s offense, but will quarterback play help or hurt him? The tight ends drop off after Burton, though Kittle showed enough promise and consistency late last year. If healthy, Reed should be a stud, which is a big if. If you don’t get one of the top nine tight ends, you’re chances of having a successful tight end will be very, very low. 

Via Instagram: jtuck9

Kicker

  1. Greg Zeurlein
  2. Justin Tucker  
  3. Wil Lutz   
  4. Stephen Gostowski  
  5. Harrison Butker  
  6. Jake Elliott
  7. Matt Bryant   
  8. Matt Prater  
  9. Ryan Succop  
  10. Mason Crosby

Sleeper: Ka’imi Fairbairn

Bust Candidate: Adam Vinateri

Rookie to Watch: Daniel Carlson

There are maybe three or four kickers worth keeping on your roster year-round. If you don’t land them, it becomes a weekly game. After all, that’s fantasy football. It is just a weekly game. Consider high-scoring offenses, average-to-terrible defensive opponents, and yes, weather conditions, when picking your weekly kicker. 

Defense

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Los Angeles Rams   
  3. Minnesota Vikings
  4. Houston Texans
  5. New Orleans Saints
  6. Los Angeles Chargers  
  7. Philadelphia Eagles
  8. Baltimore Ravens  
  9. Carolina Panthers 
  10. Denver Broncos   

Sleeper: Chicago Bears

Bust Candidate: New England Patriots

Just like with kickers, you don’t need the same defense week to week. Playing a good defense against a great offense rarely ends well. A great matchup almost always trumps a great defense. Worse case scenario, here’s the Jets’ schedule.

Fantasy “Teams”

Via Instagram: mg4_4life

All-Rookie Team

QB: Josh Rosen

RB: Saquon Barkley

RB: Kerryon Johnson

WR: Michael Gallup

WR: D.J. Moore

TE: Mike Gesicki

FLEX: Anthony Miller

K: Daniel Carlson

As of now, it’s still unpredictable to say which rookie quarterback gets a significant amount of playing time, so I’ll just stick with my favorite even though no rookie quarterback looks draftable right now. The same can not be said for the running backs. Eye starters and dual-threat guys like Barkley and Johnson. Mark my words: This is the year of the rookie wide receiver. Guys like Dante Pettis and Tre’Quan Smith could be in line for lots of opportunities. I like Gesicki over Hayden Hurst because the Ravens have historically been inconsistent at playing one tight end. Anthony Miller might be the most talented receiver in the class and could eventually become a number one target. Not much options for kickers, but Carlson does play for a top offense. 

All-Breakout Team

QB: Jared Goff

RB: Christian McCaffrey

RB: Joe Mixon

WR: Brandin Cooks

WR: Marquise Goodwin

TE: Evan Engram

FLEX: Jamaal Williams

K: Ka’imi Fairbairn

D/ST: New Orleans Saints

I love the upside and opportunities of all these players. The Rams’ offense was the best last year so it only makes sense to buy into Goff (a guy I’ve banged the table for before) as well as Brandin Cooks. McCaffrey and Joe Mixon are both dual-threat starters with the talent to be every-down backs. Aside from Goff, there’s no one I’m more confident in than I am in Goodwin to blow past his ADP this year. His play with Garoppolo last season and their budding chemistry during the offseason sets him up to see WR1 targets. If Evan Engram could do so well last season, imagine how much better he could do with an improved offense and a TE-loving coach in Pat Shurmur. Nothing has changed since I wrote about Jamaal Williams a few weeks ago. Ka’imi Fairbairn was a top kicker last year, though his stats took a hit once Watson went down. Not sure why people are sleeping on the Saints’ defense, which has gotten better since their tenth-best finish last year. 

Via Instagram: jordanwilkins_30

All-Sleeper Team

QB: Marcus Mariota

RB: D’Onta Foreman

RB: Jordan Wilkins

WR: Dante Pettis

WR: Chris Godwin

TE: Ricky-Seals Jones

FLEX: Tre’Quan Smith

K: Cody Parkey

D/ST: Detroit Lions

A ‘breakout’ is a somewhat highly-ranked player in-line for a drastic increase in opportunity. A ‘sleeper’ is a guy ranked lower on the board who, if given the opportunity, has the talent to blow up. The key word is “if”. But Mariota and Seals-Jones are the only ones guaranteed a starting job, barring unforeseen circumstances. Foreman was seeing increased usage as Lamar Miller’s backup before tearing his ACL in 2017. Wilkins might get stuck in a committee (a fantasy owner’s nightmare), but I’ve heard rave reviews about him. Same with Pettis and Smith, who I’ve both gone into detail about before. Godwin has been a favorite of mine since his collegiate days and it looks like he could finally earn a starting job this fall. Parkey’s success is tied to the success of the Bears’ offense. New Lions coach Matt Patricia could help the Lions build on their hot start from a season ago. 

All-Bust Team 

QB: Ben Roethlisberger

RB: LeSean McCoy

RB: Jay Ajayi

WR: Demaryius Thomas

WR: Randall Cobb

TE: Jordan Reed

FLEX: Ronald Jones II

K: Stephen Gostowski

D/ST: New England Patriots

A ‘bust’ could perform way below his ADP (average draft position) due to a number of factors. Age and injuries are the prime reasons, which is why you should be cautious with McCoy, Demaryius Thomas and Jordan Reed. Roethlisberger might fall in that category but he’s never been a top-ten fantasy quarterback sans the 2014 season. Ajayi has unproven receiving skills on a team with plenty running backs who do have them. Also *whispers* he’s in a committee. Cobb could be out of Green Bay soon; after all, the Packers drafted three WRs and reportedly shopped Cobb. The reports about Jones II have not been good and his crummy preseason stats don’t inspire much confidence. Call me biased, but could this be the year the Patriots’ falter? They have arguably the worst offense in the Belichick era, so don’t value their fantasy options too highly. 

Via Instagram: jaboowins3

Make-Or-Break Team

QB: Jameis Winston

RB: Isaiah Crowell

RB: Ameer Abdullah

WR: Amari Cooper

WR: Josh Gordon

TE: Cameron Brate

FLEX: DeVante Parker

K: Mason Crosby

These players face pressure to perform at high levels or else they could be searching for new teams next season. The fantasy implications are that these guys could find the incentive to breakout or they will continue to underwhelm, so proceed with caution. Each one of these players have questions of their own. Can Winston finally take the next step both on and off the field? Will Crowell and Abdullah grow beyond their one-dimensional styles of play and break through their crowded backfields? Can Amari Cooper, a monster of a talent, consistently catch the ball? Do I even need to explain why Josh Gordon is on this list? Will Brate be overshadowed by former first-rounder O.J. Howard? Can DeVante Parker stay healthy enough to finally make an impact? Can Crosby become a top-five kicker again?

My Favorite Fantasy Team Names 

Need a fantasy team? I listed my favorite five names from different categories for you to consider. I don’t take credit for all these names, unless they’re the bad ones. Disclaimer: Scroll to the bottom for a PG-13 list.

Classic Songs

  • Baby Got Dak
  • Le’Veon a Prayer
  • Hooked on a Thielen
  • Kerryon My Wayward Son
  • Hit Me With Your Prescott
Via Instagram: athielen19

Pop Culture

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Bortles
  • Dalvin and the Chipmunks
  • InstaGraham
  • Mariota Kart
  • Victory Crowell

Sports

  • Golden Tate Warriors
  • Chicago Kupps
  • Manningchester United
  • Toronto Ryan Leafs
  • Alabama Crimson Hyde

PG-13 *NSFW?*

  • My Ball Zach Ertz
  • It Ertz When I Pee
  • Go Luck Yourself
  • Two Gurleys One Kupp
  • Jacking Goff to Gurley Pics

As always, have fun this football season. Also, follow me on Twitter @ZachCohen12 where I’ll be writing about football all season long. That includes weekly recaps, fantasy updates, NFL Draft scouting, and other fun stuff. Until next time, happy drafting (and never, ever take a quarterback in the first round). 

For quality up-to-date sports reporting, visit our website, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Author Details
Content Creator at Armchair Fantasy , The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
Since I was five, I’ve wanted to talk about sports for a living. I am an award-winning sports broadcaster with experience as a sports commentator. sports anchor, sports producer, and sportswriter. I’m a former athlete and a current NFL Draft and fantasy football enthusiast. Two-for-two in 2017 fantasy league championships. Best fantasy moments: drafting Chris Johnson in 2009 and pairing Le’Veon Bell with my keeper, David Johnson, in 2016. Not related to the other thousand Zach Cohens on social media. Follow me on Twitter: @ZachCohen12
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Content Creator at Armchair Fantasy , The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
Since I was five, I’ve wanted to talk about sports for a living. I am an award-winning sports broadcaster with experience as a sports commentator. sports anchor, sports producer, and sportswriter. I’m a former athlete and a current NFL Draft and fantasy football enthusiast. Two-for-two in 2017 fantasy league championships. Best fantasy moments: drafting Chris Johnson in 2009 and pairing Le’Veon Bell with my keeper, David Johnson, in 2016. Not related to the other thousand Zach Cohens on social media. Follow me on Twitter: @ZachCohen12

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