Every good fantasy owner goes into the season knowing which players to target or avoid. Some owners strike
gold and snatch up all or most of the players they desired. On the other hand, some owners fail to prepare and are forced to take unwanted players. The following players could define your fantasy season, for better or for worse.
QB: Marcus Mariota
Let this stand on the record: Not only do I think Marcus Mariota will be a top-5 fantasy quarterback, but by the end of the season I believe he will become the highest-paid player ever. Sure, he should get help from his new receiving toys Eric Decker, Corey Davis, and Taywan Taylor. Yes, he has an offensive line ranked as the fourth-best in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Don’t forget he has not one but TWO dynamic runners in Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Those are all obvious observations. However, beyond his on-field poise, superb arm talent, and surprising mobility, lies a guy who knows how to win. Part of being a winner is knowing your team has your back, and vice versa. Just listen to how his teammates talk about him in this article. That is a description of a young quarterback on the verge of stardom, a guy who knows how to win on and off the field. If you’re not completely sold, there is one more thing you should know about Mariota: his career red zone ratio is 33 touchdowns and not one interception.
Alternate: Derek Carr
Deep Sleeper: Jared Goff
RB: Kareem Hunt
As I sat back and watched tape of this random running back from the University of Toledo, I was blown away by one trait: This man won’t go down. Sixth months later, a national audience shared my fascination as they watched Kareem Hunt rack up 246 yards, 98 of which came through the air, and three touchdowns. Oh yeah, he did that against the reigning Super Bowl champs. In Foxborough. Hunt displayed the same perfect combo of speed and power, rare field vision, and incredible balance against the Patriots as he did in his four years at Toledo. (Let it be known that I was preaching my love for Hunt before incumbent starter Spencer Ware was lost for the season). Why Hunt was being drafted in the 10th round or later truly is anyone’s guess because he was clearly the better running back on the Chiefs roster, even before Ware’s injury. Maybe it was the fact that the Chiefs have given over 500 touches to their running backs each of the past three seasons, per CBS Sports. No wonder a Kansas City running back has finished as a top-10 fantasy back for the past four years. This year, that distinction will belong to Kareem Hunt.
Alternate: Ameer Abdullah
Deep Sleeper: Marlon Mack
WR: Martavis Bryant
You will never meet a bigger Martavis Bryant fan than me. I fell in love with him in college, and have adored him ever since. It is so rare to see a player with his size (6’4” 225 lb) and his speed (Bryant runs a sub-4.5 40). Needless to say, it broke my heart when he was suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Now that he’s back and reportedly done using drugs, expect Bryant to blossom in the NFL’s greatest offense. Defenses will have to choose between covering Bryant, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell, the two latter options being consistent superstars. That gives more opportunities for Bryant to showcase why, in my opinion, he is a top-10 receiver in the NFL. In 21 regular season games, Bryant has scored 15 times. In 2014, Bryant scored eight touchdowns and racked up over 500 yards in just ten games. That puts him on pace for 11 touchdowns and 1,038 yards, which would have made him third and 19th in the respective categories last year. The bigger cornerbacks are not fast enough to cover Bryant, just as the smaller ones are not big enough. Martavis Bryant is truly a freak of nature, no wonder his teammates call him “The Alien.”
Alternate: DeVante Parker
Deep Sleeper: Cooper Kupp
TE: Kyle Rudolph
Consistency is the name of the game, and although it took six years, Kyle Rudolph is finally living up to his yearly hype. Last year, the Vikings tight end saw a career high in receptions (83), targets (132), and yards (840). By the way, those 132 targets were the highest among tight ends. Rudolph is a big guy (he stands at 6’6” and weighs about 260 lbs), so naturally he is a reliable short-yardage and red zone option. This works great in a Minnesota system that favors short passes. In addition, having Sam Bradford is a plus (I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out). Not only did Bradford have the highest completion percentage last season, but he also had the highest success rate of throwing a pass 20 yards or less, per Team Rankings. Some people might be scared off because they think the Vikings might run the ball more now that they have Dalvin Cook. Consistent tight ends can be hard to find, but Rudolph is the most consistent out there. With a relatively low floor, Rudolph is the tight end to watch out for.
Alternate: Jack Doyle
Deep Sleeper: C.J. Fiedorowicz
QB: Ben Roethlisberger
If you read my last article, you know why I like to wait before taking a quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger on average is the 13th-highest signal caller being taken, so he should be available late. It is in your best interest, however, to ensure he does not make it on your team. I know he will probably in the Hall of Fame one day and he has the deadliest offensive weapons in the NFL, as I mentioned above. However, did you know that in 14 seasons Big Ben has never been a top-10 fantasy quarterback? Of course, he didn’t have a three-headed monster to work with, but Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes proved to be very solid options. There are two reasons for his lack of fantasy dominance: injuries and away games. In his entire career, Roethlisberger has played a full season just three times. Also, in the past two years, he has scored an average of 14 more fantasy points in home games than away games. Not to mention, he has been declining the past few seasons, as Matthew Berry mentions more in-depth here. Big Ben might be a shiny name, but his rust should not be overlooked.
Alternate: Dak Prescott
Don’t Buy the Hype: Carson Wentz
RB: LeSean McCoy
According to 4for4.com, veteran LeSean McCoy is being the sixth-highest drafted player in fantasy leagues. That is ridiculous. I’ll admit, I have never been a Shady fan, but this year my disdain is justified. The Bills finally canned Rex Ryan and hired Sean McDermott, a defensive-minded coach. McDermott brings a new zone-running scheme to Buffalo in hopes of revitalizing a lackluster roster. This is bad news for McCoy, who only averaged 3.91 yards per carry on 114 under-center carries since he joined the Bills in 2015, per 4for4.com. That is a full yard lower than his average for taking handoffs from the shotgun. In case you didn’t know, zone runs rely on under-center formations, not shotgun formations. While it helps that McCoy is the only real running back on the Bills’ roster, Shady is approaching the dreaded age (30) of all running backs quickly. Another look at that terrible roster and it is inferable that the Bills will be playing catch up a lot this year, which means more throwing and less handoffs to McCoy.
Alternate: Lamar Miller
Don’t Buy the Hype: Leonard Fournette
WR: Brandin Cooks
The Patriots acquired a disgruntled Brandin Cooks in March, and many expect the speedy receiver to shine in the dominant New England offense. Unfortunately, the chances he excels are not very good. Allow Dave Richard to present this crazy stat about Cooks’ effectiveness on outside grass compared to indoor turf. That one stat, as my previous article emphasized, is why research is so, so important. Cooks’ move to New England is huge because Cooks will only play one dome game, ironically when he returns to New Orleans on September 17th. Of course, maybe Cooks gets more opportunities as a focal point of the offense. After all, fellow receiver Julian Edelman is out for the season. Unfortunately again, this is New England. There are no focal points of the offense. The reason the Patriots have been successful, as USA Today explains, is that each week coach Bill Belichick develops a new game plan that involves choosing which of their various versatile athletes will be the main focus. Just check out former Patriot Jonas Gray’s five career touchdowns, four of which came in the same game. Cooks’ speed is his biggest asset, but being in an offense that chooses to spread the ball around is detrimental to his fantasy value.
Alternate: Jarvis Landry
Don’t Buy the Hype: Robby Anderson
TE: Jordan Reed
I have been a big Jordan Reed fan since his collegiate days. After all, he is the leading fantasy tight end for points per game over the past two seasons. That is, when Reed actually plays. Throughout a four-year career, Reed has missed 18 games. There are safer tight ends available at a lower cost; I would not want to waste a third-round pick on a guy who one week could score twice but the next week barely get two receptions. More importantly, Reed only saw the fourth-highest targets last year on his team. While injuries certainly played a role in that, Reed was also surrounded by talented receivers. This year, he will play with three studs in Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, and Josh Doctson (whom I love). While Washington was sixth in pass attempts last year, they loved to spread the ball around. If Reed can stay healthy AND garner more receptions than his three teammates, he can be a stud. Unfortunately for him and his fantasy owners, those are no small tasks.
Alternate: Delanie Walker
Don’t Buy the Hype: Any rookie TE