For many, this is the weekend to select your initial 2017 fantasy football roster. Moves throughout the season can be equally important but nailing your draft, of course, is critical. We present 22 final notes, insights and strategies to file away for when you are on the clock.
▪ Many are discounting Matt Ryan’s (Atlanta) chances to repeat a stellar fantasy season – in part due to some natural regression plus losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. However, all the pieces are back in place to duplicate a strong season. Ryan averaged 9.3 yards per attempt last year – the best since Kurt Warner in 2000.
▪ Who doesn’t like to wait on a quarterback, but you can’t mess up selecting Drew Brees (New Orleans). Brees joined the Saints in 2006 and they have finished with top-five passing numbers every season since (11 years straight).
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▪ Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) seems destined to sit for many weeks recovering from shoulder surgery. Even if he plays, it’s hard to have a ton of faith at this point as Luck hasn’t practiced at all this season. It’s also time to lower T.Y. Hilton at least a full round.
▪ Phillip Rivers (L.A. Chargers) looks primed for one of his best seasons with Keenan Allen back, and Rivers had 33 touchdowns last season without him. Through Week Three of preseason, Rivers has completed 11 of 12 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. It’s also worth noting that Rivers has gone 11 seasons without missing a game.
▪ Jay Cutler (Miami) is out of retirement and he should be a good fit for the Dolphins. He knows the offense well, having played for head coach Adam Gase at Chicago in 2015 where Cutler had his best season of quarterback rating. The Dolphins have an easy schedule out of the gate and Cutler has an excellent cast around him.
▪ Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo) is at his best when throwing deep – Taylor has averaged 25.6 yards per touchdown length over the past two seasons, best in the NFL. But now that he’s suddenly lost his deep threat and best receiver Sammy Watkins, Taylor – and the Bills in general – feel like a massive avoid.
▪ Rookie running backs should be the talk of the town in 2017. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota), Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville), Christian McCaffrey (Carolina) and Joe Mixon – all selected in the first or second round of the NFL draft – look set to have immediate high-level impact.
▪ The rookie running back fun does not stop there – the next two drafted Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) and Kareem Hunt (Kansas City) are also attractive targets. Kamara will get into the mix although the Saints have a crowded backfield. Hunt can do it all and after the Spencer Ware injury he should vault up to the third round of fantasy drafts.
▪ Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh) has missed all of preseason holding out but he is no danger of missing the regular season. Bell averaged a whopping 157 yards and 6.3 receptions per game last year – he should be locked-in as a top-two pick.
▪ The suspension of Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas) remains to be determined as he could appeal his case to federal court. Even suspended, Elliott should be a first-round fantasy pick. Draft good depth and ride it out before adding in his elite production whenever he returns to the field.
▪ In other suspension news, Doug Martin (Tampa Bay) will be out for three games, but when he returns he should have sleeper value. There will be ample points to be had in the Buccaneers offense while Martin is just two years removed from a near 1700-yard season.
▪ Derrick Henry (Tennessee) has a legitimate shot at 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, even as a complement to DeMarco Murray. If Murray were to miss time, Henry could easily be a top-five running back option. Henry is worth coming up a round to select in the fifth round.
▪ The injury to Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith has a ripple effect to Jordan Howard (Chicago) as the Bears offense should have a very low touchdown projection. Given such a high draft price, Howard is an easy pass in my book.
▪ Ameer Abdullah (Detroit) has had an exceptional preseason and he looks primed to be an impact player – Abdullah has a rare combination of speed and moves to break long touchdowns. Abdullah totaled 99 yards in less than one half of the Week Three preseason game.
▪ It’s confirmed that Jamaal Charles (Denver) has made the final Broncos roster. Charles has barely played since 2014 but still he’s one of the better back ever (his 5.5 yards per carry average is better than Jim Brown, and better than any running back in NFL history). Charles has showed good burst in preseason and should be involved.
▪ Everyone will have Mike Evans (Tampa Bay) high in their rankings, but I’d roll the dice on him above all receivers after Antonio Brown. Evans has improved his yardage total every year and there’s no reason why that won’t continue this season as he and Jameis Winston keep improving (and Winston is dialed-in his way).
▪ It’s hard to believe but Amari Cooper (Oakland) has 155 receptions in his first two seasons and none have been when the Raiders were inside the 10-yard line (Cooper did connect on two two-point conversions last year). It’s an opportunity and that should improve – Cooper is a solid second-round pick.
▪ Keenan Allen (San Diego) looks ready to roll after last year’s ACL injury. Allen's past nine games hit a full-season pace of 130 receptions, 1,401 receiving yards and seven TDs (and he would have been the top fantasy wide receiver last year with those point totals in “PPR scoring”).
▪ The Julian Edelman season-ending injury creates opportunities and most likely that will be for Chris Hogan (New England) who should be significantly moved up draft boards. Hogan showed his big upside in the AFC championship game last year with nine receptions, 180 yards and two touchdowns.
▪ As a mid-round sleeper, add Corey Coleman (Cleveland) to the list. DeShone Kizer will need time to develop but he at least brings big-play potential. In Week Three of pre-season, Kizer had 18 pass attempts and seven of them went to Coleman (where he totaled four receptions and 66 yards).
▪ Even though he’s missed 11 games, Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati) leads all tight ends with 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Tyler is an absolute scoring machine and there’s no reason that should change this year.
▪ Some may say kickers don’t matter, but two should – I would jump up a round to add Justin Tucker (Baltimore) or Stephen Gostkowski (New England). After those two, Matt Prater (Detroit) is my next favorite option. A dome kicker on a great offense with a big leg, Prater has had an excellent camp and preseason.
Alan Satterlee is in his fourth year of writing about fantasy football for The Charlotte Observer. Find him on Twitter at @Speedkills_DFW.