Happy fantasy football draft weekend! In 2017, shrewd owners were rewarded with breakout stars like Alvin Kamara and sleepers like Robby Anderson. The unlucky (or unskilled) among us were saddled with busts like Dez Bryant and Isaiah Crowell. Finding the players who eventually outperform their draft price should be at the forefront of any draft strategy.
In anticipation of draft weekend, let’s play a little “breakout, sleeper, bust” for each fantasy position. I fully expect everyone to give me credit and/or hold me accountable for any of these picks. Let’s dive in…
Breakout – Patrick Mahomes
I’ll admit, I’m falling for the hype surrounding Mahomes’ preseason performance. He has the type of arm talent that only two or three other quarterbacks in the entire league possess, and enjoys one of the strongest supporting casts in the NFL. Oh, and he plays for an Andy Reid-coached team that will have to throw, throw, and throw some more because of its awful defense. What’s not to love about all of that? Sure, there will be some growing pains and he’ll throw lots of interceptions, but the good will outweigh the bad for Mahomes in 2018.
Sleeper – Tyrod Taylor
While Baker Mayfield’s inevitable promotion is troubling, Tyrod has the best supporting cast he’s ever had. His ability to create points with his legs and protect the ball make his weekly floor remarkably high. He might not be a week-winner like Michael Vick in his prime, but Taylor is a high-end QB2 in most leagues and a viable QB1 in deeper leagues. All of this for a guy who is hardly being drafted? Yes, please.
Bust – Deshaun Watson
What Deshaun Watson did last year was sensational. And highly, highly unsustainable. Watson threw a touchdown on 9.3 percent of his passes as a rookie. For reference, Aaron Rodgers’ career rate is 6.4 percent. Regression to the mean is inevitable. He’s being drafted as QB5 based on the expectation that he’ll pick up right where he left off before tearing his ACL in November. I’m not paying that price in any of my drafts.
Breakout – Royce Freeman
I considered a lot of players for this spot. Joe Mixon has a chance to be a fantasy stud as a true three-down workhorse, but there are too many question marks around him on the Bengals. Christian McCaffrey is in for a potential top-five year, but he already “broke out” to some degree last season, finishing as an RB1 in PPR formats. Thus, I arrived at Broncos rookie Royce Freeman. I believe in his talent, his situation, and his track record as a workhorse at Oregon. It may take him a few weeks to win over the lion’s share of the backfield work, but he has a clear path to fantasy studhood once he does.
Sleeper – Jordan Wilkins
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Colts have a good offensive line. Like, a really good one. Quenton Nelson was an outstanding draft pick, as he arguably enters the league as a top-five guard. If Andrew Luck is back to his usual self, Indy is going to score a lot of points in 2018. That leaves a lot of fantasy points on the table for their lead running back. Wilkins averaged 6.5 yards per carry against SEC competition on a bad Ole Miss team in 2017, so the talent is there. He’ll just need to beat out Marlon Mack for lead back duties. Players with RB1 upside are hard to come by in the double-digit rounds, so Wilkins is certainly a guy worth taking a flier on.
Bust – Kareem Hunt
I was a proud Kareem Hunt truther last season and owned him in all my leagues. While the end-of-season numbers sparkled, the journey there was anything but smooth. Hunt went through a nine-week stretch without a touchdown in 2017. It was clear that the running game fell out of favor with Andy Reid when the Chiefs were behind, and their awful defense will likely put them behind quite often in 2018. On top of that, Spencer Ware is fully healthy and has been very capable in both the running and passing games. There are just too many questions surrounding Hunt to justify drafting him at his current price. I’d much rather have Leonard Fournette or Melvin Gordon in any scoring format.
Breakout – Marquise Goodwin
Like the rest of the 49ers’ team, Goodwin’s numbers got a lot better once Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starting quarterback. Extrapolating his numbers from Jimmy’s starts, Goodwin was on a 90-reception, 1200-yard pace. While I don’t expect that kind of production over a full season, 80 catches for 1100 yards is within reach for the sixth-year speedster. It’s clear that he and Garoppolo have legit chemistry on the field, and Kyle Shanahan is known for feeding his number one target.
Sleeper – John Brown
What if I told you there was a former 1000-yard receiver playing for a team that has averaged over 600 pass attempts over the past two seasons, and that player is hardly even being drafted in fantasy? That player is John Brown, a speed demon who has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. He’s now completely healthy and playing with a quarterback who loves to throw deep. Draft Brown and thank me later. He’ll be a great FLEX play at worst if he stays healthy, and he’s dirt cheap.
Bust – Adam Thielen
I love Adam Thielen as a player, but I just don’t see him living up to his draft price (WR13). He saw 143 targets in 2017, which propelled him to a top-12 fantasy finish. Thielen probably won’t see 143 targets again in 2018. The preseason has made it clear that Kirk Cousins prefers Stefon Diggs, who I believe is in for a huge season. Furthermore, Pat Shurmur’s departure leaves a number of question marks surrounding playcalling. Thielen’s not the type of player with enough touchdown-scoring aptitude to get by on a lesser target volume. He won’t totally burn you and his weekly floor is higher than some of his peers, but you can do better.
Breakout – Trey Burton
When a team hires a new pass-happy head coach and then signs a pass-catching tight end for $35 million, that gets my attention. Burton was solid in relief of Zach Ertz as a member of the Eagles, and it looks like the Bears will feature him heavily in their new offense. At 6’3” and 235 pounds, Burton is a classic “move” tight end, and I think new head coach Matt Nagy will utilize him all over the field. If he can carve out 105 targets, I think he’ll be a top five tight end.
Sleeper – Ricky Seals-Jones
A converted wide receiver who averaged 16.8 yards per reception as a rookie in 2017, Seals-Jones is one of my favorite late-round fliers this year. He might be third in line for targets behind Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, but he could be the first guy Sam Bradford (and eventually Josh Rosen once Bradford gets hurt) looks for in the red zone. David Njoku and O.J. Howard are the trendy upside picks at tight end in the double-digit rounds, but I’m all-in on Seals-Jones as a last-pick flier.
Bust – Evan Engram
While Engram was undoubtedly a worthwhile fantasy asset as a rookie, it took him an average of nearly eight targets per game to get there. That type of volume simply won’t be available to him this year, as the Giants have added a healthy Odell Beckham and a very talented receiving halfback in Saquon Barkley. I’d rather have Trey Burton than Engram this year, regardless of draft price. Engram is going nearly 30 picks earlier on average. There’s no chance he lives up to that price tag.
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