Nick Guarisco’s Fantasy Football Draft Guide 2016

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“Are you ready?”

This was a text I received three weeks ago from an unknown number. I’ve never met the sender. I don’t even know his last name. But I knew exactly what he wanted. In fact, I had been anticipating this text. This is because I’ve received the same text every August 1st for the last five years.

This year’s message was unique, though.

You see, last year Anonymous Sender used this Draft Guide to break a long-standing league record for most points scored in a season. He somehow managed to pick one of the best combinations possible of the players on my Small Board. He could have just as easily picked all of the ones who busted. I had my fair share of misses. Everyone does.

  • Tom Brady and Cam Newton were his quarterbacks.
  • His running backs were Lamar Miller, Doug Martin and Chris Ivory.
  • Julio Jones, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, and John brown were his wide receivers.
  • Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert were his tight ends.
  • And the Broncos DST topped it off.

Unfortunately, Anonymous Sender lost a heart breaker in his championship game.

Ironically, the reason he lost was my fault. He lost his championship game by 3 points BECAUSE of my bad advice. I had convinced him to start a player who we had disagreed on all week, and he flopped when it counted most.

I apologized profusely, but I still think about it all the time. Whenever I see that player’s name, I remember how he let me down. How he ruined Anonymous Sender’s perfect season.

How could I not?

“I’m ready. Let’s finish the job this season,” I responded to his text.

He then asked, “So who was the player you started that cost me my championship?”

I was stunned. I didn’t think he was one to hold grudges. I felt ashamed, nervous, and wanted to apologize again. It was an awkward moment, and I responded with the only thing I could muster…

“You don’t remember?”

He said, “Nah, I forgot man.”

“Me too,” I lied.

And then he replied: “That’s probably for the best.”

And he’s right. It is for the best.

In the NFL, after a team loses a game on Sunday, coaches give them what is referred to as a “24-hour rule.” This means that you have 1 day to sulk in the loss, think about your mistakes, blame yourself for the events, ask yourself “if only…” and so on.

But once Tuesday comes around, Sunday’s loss must be erased from your memory. You have to go back to work and start preparing for next week’s game, as if the loss never occurred.

The reason for this is because harping on the past negatively impacts your job performance in the future.

The same concept applies in fantasy football, and we see examples of this all the time.

The brain will naturally treat the same statistical performance in two completely different ways, depending on whether it affected the outcome of your matchup. For instance, if you need 5 points from Player X to win your league championship going into the Monday Night Football game like Anonymous Sender did, a useless 2-catch, 23-yard performance that yields you 2 fantasy points and results in you losing your league title by 3 points is going to impact your ability to fairly evaluate that player going forward.

You’ll subconsciously perceive that player in a far more negative light because he let you down when it mattered most. Yet, that same 2-point dud performance by the same player is often dismissed or ignored in a game that you won or lost by 60 points anyway.

It’s hard not develop cognitive biases for specific players when you’re most emotionally invested in them because they appeared to single-handedly win you a game or blow it for you when you were counting on them most. Yet, from a statistical evaluation standpoint, those games should be treated precisely equally.

The vast majority of people who play this game have slanted their opinion on players based on the moments they were paying the most attention (i.e. the entire world watching a Prime Time game will recall a player’s amazing catch or hilarious gaffe more clearly than a similar event occurring in a Browns vs. Titans game at noon), and have the most at stake (i.e. when that player’s performance appears to directly affect the outcome of your fantasy matchup).

It’s important, however, to not allow cognitive biases to impact our judgment in determining whether or not to start that player next week, or deciding to draft him next season.

Emotional responses often compromise good fantasy football decisions.

Loyalty to your favorite team creates another bias that many fans who play this game can’t overcome.

It may pain Saints fans to select Atlanta Falcons players in their fantasy drafts. On the other hand, fans of the Saints may tend to reach for their home team players in their drafts. But the best league managers are the ones who can separate the real game from the fake game, just as you would playing two different card games. The cards (players) may be the same in each game, but there are different rules, and the winners know and accept that distinction.

As a Saints fan, I know my least favorite teams are our NFC South divisional opponents on Sundays.

But as a fantasy football manager, when making lineup or drafting decisions, I have 32 favorite teams.

Even though the games occur at the same time, it’s possible to be completely objective in your fantasy football decision-making process, while retaining the utmost support for your team when they play.

It’s also possible to win your fantasy league without drafting a rival team’s players.

Yet, this philosophy limits the player pool and could have been the reason a lot of Saints fans reading my 2015 Draft Guide couldn’t quite pull the trigger on Falcons’ WR Julio Jones, my favorite target in fantasy football last season.

Recency bias is another huge struggle for fantasy football managers. This is the tendency to place more weight on events that have occurred recently. Many of your fellow league members are following the trends of mainstream experts and chasing last year’s stats, both of which I’d strongly advise against doing.

I’d argue the best fantasy managers are not letting a player’s poor season overwhelm his or her thought process when evaluating for next season. Instead, they should be asking WHY that player struggled, and that reason is likely to apply again next season.

I have no issues with zigging when everyone else is zagging. In fact, my philosophy encourages it. You can thrive by avoiding last year’s biggest breakouts at their peaks and going after players who appear to be at their lowest point. While other players avoid last year’s mega busts like Eddie Lacy, Andrew Luck, and C.J. Anderson, because “they sucked last year,” you should be targeting them because of their proven upside, while taking advantage of their discounted draft cost.

Every year is different, and you’d be amazed how inaccurate experts’ rankings are when looking back at them, and correspondingly your draft, a year later. I simply can’t stress that enough.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from looking at past drafts, it’s this: Any draft strategy works as long as you pick the right players. Stated differently, it doesn’t really matter WHERE you draft players, all that matters is WHO you draft.

And this year will be no different. All you have to do is look at this year’s group of top tier running backs being selected in rounds 1-2 of drafts and notice that almost all of them have either:

  • NEVER played a FULL season as workhorse for an NFL team – Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, Lamar Miller, Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram, Thomas Rawls; OR
  • Are coming off major knee surgeries – Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles

While it’s easy to see all of these guys have tremendous upside, and while some may even be extremely talented, it’s pretty safe to say some of them will flop. It could be more than half of them. But a few will dominate and make you feel dumb for passing on them.

Either way, when looking back next year, it’s FAR more likely you’ll be saying, “I can’t believe / I’m so glad I drafted Lamar Miller ,” as opposed to “I can’t believe / I’m so glad I picked Miller in round 3 instead of reaching for him in round 2.”

In other words, your draft success is very simply defined by your HITS and MISSES, not the “value” you got on players based on rankings that have proven to be incredibly flawed.

This is one reason my draft board (which I refer to as my “Small Board”) consists of so few players. My goal is simply to identify and draft players who will “hit” and be positive fantasy contributors, for each round of the draft. The goal should not be to rank EVERY player as so many do, because half of the players ranked will fail.

Yet, the vast majority of fantasy football managers tend to view these rankings as gospel. And this in itself is another bias – known as groupthink bias – that traps even more experienced players.

When you look at so many websites with similar rankings, you’re subconsciously convinced to perceive players’ values in accordance to them. Even though the harsh reality is that, as I mentioned, these rankings are horribly inaccurate by season’s end.

This groupthink bias is one reason why I make my own board before I even look at other websites’ rankings (and also why mine, as you’ll see are VERY different than consensus rankings). I don’t want to be influenced them. And it works both ways. Not only do I want to alter my board because everyone else’s is different, but I also want to avoid confirmation bias. This often occurs when you view a player favorably (as a breakout candidate or sleeper, for example), and other experts’ similar thoughts work to confirm your belief, thus making it more difficult to fairly evaluate the alternative.

If you have researched as much as I have without these biases, you should be able to make a strong argument BOTH IN FAVOR OF AND AGAINST drafting EVERY player, regardless of which side you actually believe.

The best fantasy managers are objectively wired to ignore these biases in their research and decision-making process.

I like to think going to law school has helped me in this way. And I hope my research and advice will help you all too.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that I’ve done most or all of the research for you. But the decision-making process (who to draft, who to start each week) remains in your control.

Aside from who to select, I think the best advice I can give going forward is to take a page out of Anonymous Sender’s playbook: start this season with a clean slate, free of all the emotional, fan loyalty, recency, and groupthink biases that can compromise sound decision making. This will help you gain a competitive edge as fantasy football manager.

Are you ready?

SMALL BOARD – ROUNDS 1-10: 

Quarterbacks:

  1. Aaron Rodgers (GB)
  2. Drew Brees (NO)
  3. Andrew Luck (IND)
  4. Russell Wilson (SEA)
  5. Eli Manning (NYG)
  6. Philip Rivers (SD)
  7. Matt Stafford (DET)
  8. Marcus Mariota (TEN)
  9. Jameis Winston (TB)

Running Backs:

  1. Adrian Peterson (MIN)
  2. Le’Veon Bell (PIT)
  3. LeSean McCoy (BUF)
  4. C.J. Anderson (DEN)
  5. Jeremy Hill (CIN)
  6. Rashad Jennings (NYG)
  7. Frank Gore (IND)
  8. Melvin Gordon (SD)
  9. LeGarrtte Blount (NE)
  10. Ameer Abdullah (DET)
  11. Isaiah Crowell (CLE)
  12. Christine Michael (SEA)
  13. Spencer Ware (KC)
  14. Terrance West (BAL)
  15. CJ Spiller (NO)

Wide Receivers:

  1. Antonio Brown (PIT)
  2. Odell Beckham (NYG)
  3. A.J. Green (CIN)
  4. Dez Bryant (DAL)
  5. Alshon Jeffery (CHI)
  6. Keenan Allen (SD)
  7. T.Y. Hilton (IND)
  8. Mike Evans (TB)
  9. Randall Cobb (GB)
  10. Michael Floyd (ARI)
  11. Donte Moncrief (IND)
  12. Michael Thomas (NO)
  13. Tyler Lockett (SEA)
  14. DeSean Jackson (WAS)
  15. Marvin Jones (DET)
  16. Sterling Shepard (NYG)
  17. Devin Funchess (CAR)
  18. Mohamed Sanu (ATL)
  19. Mike Wallace (BAL)

Tight Ends:

  1. Jordan Reed (WAS)
  2. Martellus Bennett (NE)
  3. Julius Thomas (JAX)
  4. Antonio Gates (SD)
  5. Dwayne Allen (IND)
  6. Eric Ebron (DET)

Defenses:

  1. Seattle Seahawks
  2. Arizona Cardinals
  3. New England Patriots + Minnesota Vikings
  4. Los Angeles Rams + Baltimore Ravens

Attacking the Later Rounds – Round 11+

At this point, through 10 rounds, you should have roughly 1 QB, 4 RB, 4 WR, and 1 TE.

For rounds 11-16, you’ll need to draft the following positions:

  • Backup QB
  • 1 more RB
  • 1 more WR
  • 1 more TE
  • 1 or 2 Defenses (DST)
  • And a kicker (K)

You can draft these in ANY ORDER, depending on your league and how your draft has gone so far (for example, if you drafted a tight end late and feel shaky at the position, you can draft a backup TE in round 11 as opposed to round 14). It doesn’t matter. That all said, I’d save your kicker and any defense not listed on my Small Board for the end of your draft.

I’ll break down each of these positions separately.

Backup QBs:

IF YOU DRAFT A STRONG STARTER: Try to pair him with a backup with a complementing schedule. In other words, you want to target a backup QB who plays easy opponents during your starters’ problematic weeks. For example, you can maximize your total QB output by drafting backups who play against the Saints or the Lions when your starter plays Seattle, Denver, or has his BYE week. After all, aside from injury, you’re only planning to bench your starter on problematic weeks.

Note that it’s not necessary to draft a Backup QB if you don’t want to spend draft capital on one. You’re welcome to just play the waiver wire when your starter’s “red” weeks are approaching. I’ve provided the best option for either strategy.

Aaron Rodgers
Problematic Weeks: 4 (BYE), and 14 (SEA).
Pairs Best With: Matt Stafford, Jay Cutler
– Stafford plays @CHI during Rodgers’ early week 4 BYE. Staff also plays CHI at home when Rodgers faces the Seahawks later in the season.
– If you don’t want to spend draft capital on a backup QB after drafting Rodgers (understandably so), you can target Jay Cutler in the last round of the draft. Cutler plays the Lions at home during Rodgers’ early week 4 BYE, and you can dispose of Cutler afterward.

Andrew Luck
Problematic Weeks: 2 (@DEN), and 10 (BYE).
Pairs Best With: Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco.
– Mariota plays @DET in week 2 and hosts the Packers in possible shoot out in week 10.
– If you don’t want to draft a backup QB, then look to Joe Flacco in free agency to fill in for those weeks. Flacco’s two games against the Browns occur in weeks 2 and 10.

Russell Wilson
Problematic Weeks: 5 (BYE), and 7 (@ARI)
Pairs Best With: Marcus Mariota, Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton
– Mariota plays @Miami and has a game tilt against Indianapolis in weeks 5 and 7 respectively.
– Stafford has home games versus the Eagles and the Redskins in weeks 5 and 7 respectively.
– If you don’t feel like drafting a backup QB, keep an eye on Andy Dalton on the waiver wire. The Red Rocket plays against the Cowboys and Browns in weeks 5 and 7.

Drew Brees
Problematic Weeks: 5 (BYE), 8 (DEN), 10 (SEA)
Pairs Best With: Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton
– Mariota plays @MIA, CLE, IND, and JAX in a 4-game stretch during weeks 5-8 when Brees has a very tough slate: [bye, CAR, @KC, SEA].
– If you do not want to draft a backup, that’s OK. Just scan the waiver wire and pick up Andy Dalton before Brees’ week 5 BYE. Dalton plays the Cowboys that week.

Ben Roethlisberger
Problematic Weeks: 8 (BYE)
Pairs Best With: Tony Romo, Alex Smith
– Romo faces the Eagles during Big Ben’s week 8 BYE.
– If you choose not to draft a backup QB (a bold move considering Roethlisberger’s lengthy injury history), you can wait until just before week 8 to add Alex Smith from free agency. Smith plays @ Indy during Big Ben’s BYE.

Tom Brady
Problematic Weeks: Weeks 1-4 (SUSPENDED), Week 9 (SEA)
Pairs Best With: Tony Romo, Derek Carr, Matt Stafford
– Romo opens up with [NYG, @WAS, CHI, @SF, and plays @CLE during Brady’s BYE week.
– Carr opens up with [@NO, ATL, @TEN, @BAL, but has a brutal matchup against Denver during Brady’s BYE week.
– Stafford opens up with [@IND, TEN, @GB, @CHI] but has a challenging matchup @MIN during Brady’s BYE week.

Eli Manning
Problematic Weeks:
Pairs Best With: Tony Romo, Alex Smith
– Romo plays the Eagles at home during Eli’s BYE and has a nice amount of favorable matchups throughout his schedule.
– If you don’t choose to draft a backup QB, try adding Alex Smith just before week 8. Smith plays @ Indy that week.

Philip Rivers
Problematic Weeks: 6 (DEN), 8 (@DEN), 11 (BYE)
Pairs Best With: Marcus Mariota
– Mariota faces the Browns, Jaguars, and Colts in weeks 6, 8, and 11, respectively.

Carson Palmer
Problematic Weeks: 8 (@CAR), 9 (BYE), 16 (@SEA)
Pairs Best With: Tony Romo
– Romo has three golden matchups against the Eagles, Browns, and Lions during Palmer’s red weeks.

IF YOU MISS OUT ON A SOLID STARTER:

Wait a few rounds (likely rounds 11-12 depending on how fast backup QBs are going in your draft), and draft two of the following QBs to pair and play the matchups with all season:

Matt Stafford (DET – QB17) – Stafford is a borderline fantasy starter who for some odd reason is ranked as QB17 on ESPN, representing quite the bargain for a #2 QB. Regardless, Stafford should put up quality numbers even sans Calvin Johnson because his supporting cast is solid (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick can all catch), and the Lions have no defense or running game. This sets up for high volume. Stafford should be a viewed as a matchup-based starter. If you’re bold enough, it may even be wise to wait on QB, take Stafford as your starter in round 10+, and possibly pair him with Mariota or Winston and play the matchups.

Marcus Mariota (TEN – QB16) – Mariota missed time last year, but if you extrapolate his numbers in games played under Mike Mularkey (who took over in the second half of the season) to a full season, Mariota would have been a top-12 QB as a rookie last year. His rushing totals will aide his consistency. Mariota has sky-high upside and is worth taking as a second QB.

Jameis Winston (TB – QB19) – Winston had an up-and-down rookie season, but he appeared to get more comfortable as the season progressed. Winston’s fantasy numbers from weeks 7, onward, equate him to QB11 last season when extrapolated to a full year. His two twin tower WRs, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, should be healthier and more consistent this season.

Running Backs:

The late round running back(s) that you draft are broken down into three categories: 1) Handcuffs; 2) PPR Targets; 3) Deep Sleepers

Late-Round Handcuffs:

Sometimes it’s wise to purchase an insurance policy on one of your top running backs if his backup is established and would be a valuable fantasy contributor if the starter were to go down with an injury. If you drafted a running back in the left hand column, I’d recommend using a draft pick in rounds 11-16 on the player listed next to him in the column on the right.

  1. Adrian Peterson > Jerick McKinnon
  2. Todd Gurley > Benny Cunningham
  3. LeSean McCoy > Mike Gillislee
  4. Eddie Lacy > James Starks
  5. Mark Ingram > Tim Hightower
  6. CJ Anderson > Devontae Booker
  7. Latavius Murray > DeAndre Washington

Late-Round PPR Targets:

  1. Bilal Powell (NYJ)
  2. Darren Sproles (PHI)
  3. Charles Sims (TB)
  4. Jerick McKinnon (MIN)
  5. Theo Riddick (DET)

Running Back Sleepers:

Christine Michael (SEA) – Thomas Rawls is probably going to be the starter in Seattle. But the Seahawks running game is potent enough to support two RBs on soft matchups. Michael has reportedly worked very hard this season and has impressed the coaching staff. Pete Carroll is all about competition, and we could see Michael eat into Rawls’ workload. And if Rawls, who has quite the injury history, gets hurt again, Michael could be the lead back in one the most valuable fantasy backfields.

Darren Sproles (PHI) – (PPR Only) Looking at the Eagles’ lack of receivers, it only makes sense for this team to rely on its TEs and RBs to create mismatches in the passing game. New head coach Doug Pederson plans to deploy Sproles all over the field, in place of two-down RB Ryan Mathews. We should see them playing a similar amount of snaps by season’s end, with Sproles getting a ton of receiving work in the second half of games when the Eagles are trailing.

Terrance West (BAL) – The Ravens will likely turn to Justin Forsett as their starter, but West has shined this offseason and has reportedly been quite the play-maker at Ravens’ camp. When a player’s cost is basically free, sometimes it’s worth listening to offseason reports. He’s worth a flier near the last round in drafts. It’s likely that whoever wins the starting RB job for the Ravens is undervalued.

Spencer Ware (KC) – Jamaal Charles is coming off his second torn ACL entering his age 29 season. AFTER Charles got injured, the Chiefs rode Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware and reeled off 11 straight wins despite starting 1-4. Kansas City then proceeded to re-sign West and Ware to 3-year contracts. Ware has a shot to be Kansas City’s “closer” late in the year and perhaps more importantly, their goal line back. He could have standalone value some weeks, especially if the Chiefs work Charles back in slowly, like I believe they will.

C.J. Spiller (NO) – Spiller was a monumental FAIL last season. And he remains buried on the depth chart. There’s even an outside chance of him getting cut. But essentially being undrafted, it’s worth taking a shot on Spiller. Perhaps Spiller will be healthier this season, and Payton will be able to creatively get him into open space.

Wide Receiver Sleepers:

Mohamed Sanu (ATL) – Julio Jones has shown to be fragile in regards to his durability, and Sanu is one injury away from being the #1 WR in the Falcons’ offense. Kyle Shanahan has been known to funnel passes to his lead wide out. Regardless, the Falcons signed Sanu to a huge contract, and they expect him to play a big role for the Falcons. Without a good #3 WR or a remotely decent TE, Sanu could quietly approach 100 targets. The Falcons are likely going to be trailing often this season.

Mike Wallace – Deep threat Mike Wallace could be highly undervalued in Marc Trestman’s pass-first offense. Trestman annually ranks in the top half of the league in pass attempts, and during his first stint in Baltimore, the Ravens led the NFL in passing attempts. Flacco has a great arm, and speed and deep routes are Wallace’s game. It’s possible that Wallace’s could lead this team in receiving yards, especially in the wake of TE Ben Watson’s injury.

Phillip Dorsett (IND) – Dorsett is a name you may not know, but will know by the end of next season. He’s the Colts’ 3rd WR, but he’ll play regularly, as the Colts often employ 3-WR sets. Dorsett, Indianapolis’ first round pick in 2015, is a burner who ran a 4.3 ’40 yard dash at last year’s NFL Combine. He was overshadowed by Andre Johnson last year and was slow to develop, but many (including myself) believe he’s poised to make noise in his second year.

Tight End Sleepers:

Dwayne Allen (IND) – Newly promoted offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski is a tight end whisperer. Many of his previous TEs have posted big fantasy numbers. Rumor has it that the Chud promised Allen a bigger role in the Colts’ offense before the team re-signed him to a large contract. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Indy, so it’s tough to expect consistency from a yardage and catch standpoint. But Allen has sneaky double-digit TD potential as a primary red zone option for Andrew Luck.

Jared Cook (TE – GB) – It’s all about situation. Cook has dealt with miserable QBs his entire career. He’ll be inconsistent because he’s an inconsistent real life player, but he should have some big games as Aaron Rodgers’ move TE. His JerMichael Finley-like upside is too tough to pass up at a draft cost of essentially free; he’s being drafted in the final rounds, if at all. He’s a great #2 TE.

Eric Ebron (DET) – Drafted within the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft two years ago, Ebron has yet to realize his sky-high potential. Many within the Lions’ organization foresee a larger role for Ebron following Calvin Johnson’s retirement. The Lions will throw early, often, and late because of a weak defense. Ebron should turn some heads this year if he can stay healthy.

Kickers:

Wait until the final three rounds of your draft to select your kicker. I’m cool with targeting more reliable options like Hauschka or Crosby in rounds 14-16, but if you miss out on them, just wait until the last round to take Catanzaro or Janikowski.

The two things I’m looking for in kickers are 1) winning teams and 2) good offenses because the latter yields more kicking opportunities, and the former settles for field goals in the second half of games, while losing teams often are forced to score touchdowns or go for two (bypassing kicking chances) to make up a deficit.

  1. Steven Hauschka (SEA) – Consistently a top-12 scorer for the last three seasons, Seattle is a great team and should provide Hauschka plenty of kicking chances. They won’t be underdogs in many games.
  2. Mason Crosby (GB) – Green Bay is strong bet to return to being one of the top scoring offenses in the NFL. They are favored in almost every game to open the season.
  3. Chandler Catanzaro (ARI) – Arizona projects to be one of the best offenses (and teams) in the NFL, health permitting, and they have an attractive opening slate [NE (sans Brady), TB, @BUF, LA, @SF, NYJ] where I’ll be comfortable using the younger kicker, despite occasional accuracy issues.
  4. Sebastian Janikowski (OAK) – While Janikowski doesn’t play in a prolific offense as the above mentioned, he is free (undrafted ADP) and has an extremely favorable opening schedule: [@NO, ATL, @TEN, @BAL, SD, KC, @JAX, @TB]. Sea-Bass has a huge leg and should get plenty of scoring chances against those weaker defenses.

Defenses:

I’m not normally one to advocate taking defenses early, but there are two I like this season.

First, the Seattle Seahawks have been a top-5 defense for the last FOUR seasons in a row. And they have a very attractive opening schedule with their first 5 opponents being [MIA, @LA, SF, @NYJ, ATL].

I think it’s appropriate to consider them around pick 100 this year. However, it’s likely that someone less experienced in your league will take the Seahawks far earlier than pick 100. If so, I’m looking to target the Arizona Cardinals DST a few rounds later. The Cards have a favorable ranking as DST7 on ESPN, which will allow you wait until some other teams take a DST before you have to bite the bullet.

The Cards, while not as talented as the Seahawks, have also been very consistently good in the last few years. And, they fulfill my other requirement for taking a DST prior to round 13-14, which is an easy opening slate of games. Arizona opens up with games against NE (sans Brady), TB, @BUF, LA, @SF, NYJ.

Defensive Complements:

If you miss out on the Seahawks or the Cardinals’ DST, I’d wait until the final rounds of your draft and try to pair two lower-ranked defenses that have complementing schedules early in the season. Pinpointing these defenses whose schedules mesh well together allows you to play favorable matchups, at least for the first few weeks of the season.

This strategy is affordable; the defenses you invest in require a minimum draft cost. It also allows you to buy time to find a “breakout” defense in free agency, and sometimes that breakout defense actually ends up being one of the two you drafted to complement each other. This happens more often than you would think.

In fact, last year in this Draft Guide for example, I told readers to pair the Dolphins and Broncos defenses. I even moronically drafted the Dolphins BEFORE the Broncos defense in some leagues. Initially intending to play matchups with those two DSTs, I found out quickly that the Broncos DST was special, and dumped the ‘Fins quickly. Regardless, this strategy helped increase my odds of hitting on an elite defense at a minimal draft cost.

Here are some of my favorite DST pairs to target in the final rounds of your draft:

  • New England Patriots + Minnesota Vikings OR Green Bay Packers
  • Oakland Raiders + Los Angeles Rams OR Baltimore Ravens

Round-By-Round Targets

Round:

  1. Antonio Brown (WR), Odell Beckham (WR), Adrian Peterson (RB), A.J. Green (WR), Le’Veon Bell (RB)
  2. LeSean McCoy (RB), Dez Bryant (WR), Alshon Jeffery (WR), Keenan Allen (WR), Mike Evans (WR)
  3. Aaron Rodgers (QB), C.J. Anderson (RB), T.Y. Hilton (WR)
  4. Jordan Reed (TE), Drew Brees (QB), Carlos Hyde (RB), Jeremy Hill (RB)
  5. Andrew Luck (QB), Russell Wilson (QB), Donte Moncrief (WR), Michael Floyd (WR)
  6. Rashad Jennings (RB), Frank Gore (RB), Melvin Gordon (RB)
  7. DeSean Jackson (WR), Marvin Jones (WR), LeGarrette Blount (RB)
  8. Eli Manning (QB), Philip Rivers (QB), Ameer Abdullah (RB)
  9. Sterling Shepard (WR), Tyler Lockett (WR), Michael Thomas (WR), Spencer Ware (RB)
  10. Seahawks DST, Matt Stafford (QB1), Isaiah Crowell (RB)
  11. Julius Thomas (TE), Martellus Bennett (TE), Antonio Gates (TE)
  12. Cardinals DST, Matt Stafford (QB2)
  13. Darren Sproles (RB), Terrance West (RB), Christine Michael (RB)
  14. Mike Wallace (WR), Marcus Mariota (QB2), Mohamed Sanu (WR)
  15. Patriots DST, Vikings DST, Dwayne Allen (TE2), Eric Ebron (TE2), Jameis Winston (QB2),
  16. Steven Hauschka (K), Mason Crosby (K), Rams DST, Ravens DST

“WHY IS ______ NOT ON YOUR SMALL BOARD?”

If a player is NOT in bold, it DOES NOT mean I think the player is going to be a bust or valueless. It also does NOT mean I can’t see the upside to taking him. Indeed, there are numerous arguments in favor and against drafting every player.

But this game is about tilting the odds in your favor. And the players not listed in on my Small Board are players I’m not taking risks on at their current average draft position (ADP).

Again, I can’t stress this enough: just because a player you like is not in bold does not mean I hate him. It may merely indicate he comes with some extra risk I’d personally rather not take (but you can choose to, if you wish), or that I like other players going around his ADP more, or that while he may produce solid bottom line numbers, they won’t live up to his ADP… or maybe I actually do hate him this year.

You’re about read a list and my short-handed commentary of the ESPN Top 40 Players. They are numbered according to their current ESPN ranking, NOT MY RANKINGS. I’ve done it this way because these are the rankings most people will be looking at in your online drafts, thus the ones you need to familiarize yourself with. As you’ll see, I’ve bolded the players on my Small Board, that I’d strongly consider drafting.

  1. Antonio Brown (WR – PIT) – Three year receiving averages: 125-1,677-10.
  2. Odell Beckham (WR – NYG) – Over 90 catches, 1,305 REYD, and 12 RETDs in each of his first two seasons, despite missing 5 games. Proved doubters wrong last year. Should remain explosive.
  3. Adrian Peterson (RB – MIN) – Ranked 1st in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing TDs at age 30 last season. Less value in PPR formats (where I’d take 4-5 WRs ahead of him), but as steady as they come in standard leagues. Double-digit TDs in all 8 seasons that he’s played more than 1 game. Easier schedule this season + an improved O-line. My #1 RB, and it’s not particularly close.
  4. Julio Jones (WR – ATL) – My #1 WR last season, but afraid he’s peaked statistically. Nervous about a much tougher CB slate after a very soft schedule last season. Had been prone to injuries in previous seasons, and they usually crop up after a full year of health and extreme workload. Expecting a decline, but hoping otherwise.
  5. Todd Gurley (RB – LA) – A top-3 runner in the game, but Gurley will have to fight tough for yards/touchdowns. Rams’ O-line and QB situation is tragic. Could also see the team trailing often, limiting Gurley’s workload in some games. Can argue his knee will be even stronger this season, but also that he wore down later in the year, and remains an injury risk. His schedule is tough, too. Yet, despite all this, I’ve slowly come to think Gurley is going to overcome these obstacles. He’s a risky pick, but unlike the other backs going high, we KNOW he’s a special player.
  6. Ezekiel Elliot (RB – DAL) – Zeke’s upside is undeniable. Cowboys O-line is the best in the game, and they want to run. I don’t question his workload as a rookie, but it does concern me that he hasn’t proven he can handle a workhorse role for an entire NFL season. My philosophy values safety in round 1. Sometimes this bites me in the rear; Zeke could be amazing, but I need to see proven durability before I’m comfortable taking this early in the draft. I own him in one league.
  7. DeAndre Hopkins (WR – HOU) – Amazing in the first half of the season before finishing as WR7 during the second half. I expect his targets to decline now that the Texans have Lamar Miller. Afraid he’s peaked statistically.
  8. David Johnson (RB – ARI) – We’re relying on a dominant second half of 2015 to carry over, but he’s not this year’s Jeremy Hill. D.J. is not dependent on a positive game flow. He can catch, produce whether Cards leading or trailing. He has RB1 upside, but again with these young RBs, I want to see durability over a full season as the workhorse before I sacrifice a first round pick. Willing to consider the risk in PPR formats, however.
  9. Devonta Freeman (RB – ATL) – Last year’s surprising RB1, Freeman’s efficiency fizzled late last season. He wore down late, which makes me question whether he can handle full duties as a bell-cow, especially for two straight seasons. He’s a better player than backup RB Tevin Coleman, but the Falcons have been adamant about getting Coleman involved in a 1-2 punch. Much tougher schedule, swapping NFC East and AFC South for NFC/AFC West. Freeman more valuable in PPR formats, as Falcons should be trailing a lot more this season. Will certainly consider him there.
  10. Dez Bryant (WR – DAL) – A bargain in the bottom of round 1, Bryant had averaged a stellar 91-1,311-13 receiving line in the previous three seasons before an injury-plagued 2015. Bryant will be back in form and the focal point of the Cowboys’ passing game. As safe a bet for double-digit TDs as they come. I’m willing to take Bryant in the mid-first round, regardless of format.
  11. Rob Gronkowski (TE – NE) – Brady sitting weeks 1-4 may hurt, and the signing of TE Martellus Bennett may cause him to lose some red zone looks/scores. Love Gronk, but his ADP stands as if those concerns didn’t exist.
  12. Le’Veon Bell (RB – PIT) – Suspension reduced to 3 games, but still a heavy price for a first round pick on a RB coming off major knee surgeries. Bell may be the most talented, all around RB in the NFL, but it’s imperative to have reliability from your first two or three draft picks. Bell is one of those players who I have been able to get in the second round of two drafts, and I like him there.
  1. A.J. Green (WR – CIN) – With 5 straight 1,000-yard seasons and an average of 9.5 TDs in the past four, Green is the definition of the safety you’re looking for with one of your top draft picks. My WR5, Green should be a target monster after the Bengals lost #2 WR Marvin Jones and #3 WR Mohamed Sanu, and TE Tyler Eifert set to miss a few games to open the year. I’m targeting Green late in round 1 or early in round 2. In PPR formats, I’m willing to take Green in the mid-first.
  2. Lamar Miller (RB – HOU) – Another RB with fantasy MVP upside, Miller is a talented RB who would seem to be a perfect fit as the bell-cow on one of the league’s most run-heavy teams. Yet, it worries me that despite his talent, Miller hasn’t ever received more than 216 carries in a season. Perhaps the Dolphins’ coaching staff is dumb, but there could also be a reason for that. We don’t know for sure if Miller is ready to handle this intense volume. Furthermore, I’m not a fan of spending premium draft picks on a player who has changed teams. The success rate for smooth transitions in year 1 of playing for a new team is incredibly poor. Despite Miller’s obvious appeal, I’m not willing to make an exception to my philosophy.
  3. Allen Robinson (WR – JAX) – Love the kid’s game long-term. Glad I advertised him as a breakout candidate last season, but there’s a high chance that A-Rob will regress after last season’s 14-TD outburst. Now competing with Ivory and a healthy Julius Thomas in the red zone.
  4. Doug Martin (RB – TB) – He doesn’t catch passes, making him game-flow dependent, and Tampa Bay is not a very good team. This wasn’t a problem last year, but his schedule is a lot more daunting this season, trading the soft defenses of the NFC East and AFC South for the AFC/NFC West divisions.
  5. Jordy Nelson (WR – GB) – I don’t generally advise taking players coming off torn ACLs. I don’t feel they are more of a health risk, but I do believe they don’t regain their full explosiveness back until the following year. Thus, I’ll probably be targeting Nelson NEXT season after he underwhelms this season.
  6. Mark Ingram (RB – NO) – Ingram has yet to play a full 16 games and he’s yet to top 1,000 yards in a season. He’s bankable for TDs in the Saints’ potent offense, but he carries a bigger risk than you think. His cupcake schedule in 2015 does not carry over to 2016, as he’s forced to face Tampa Bay and Carolina twice (both top-10 run defenses last season), along with DEN, SEA, ARI, and OAK. Tougher sledding, not to mention the Saints now know they have a capable backup in Hightower, who is a must-cuff if you draft Ingram.
  7. Brandon Marshall (WR – NYJ) – Marshall was a top-5 WR out of nowhere last season, but I feel there’s a slim chance he is going to replicate his numbers. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to be more exposed this season.
  8. Eddie Lacy (RB – GB) – Lacy flopped like a whale last season, but I believe he’s a strong bet to bounce back in a big way. He should be motivated to shed poundage and run hard in a contract year. Playing with Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson in the Packers’ prolific offense will help. Lacy was a top-6 fantasy RB in 2013 and 2014, and I have Lacy ranked high this season, but I like LeSean McCoy (who typically goes after Lacy in drafts), more.
  9. Alshon Jeffery (WR – CHI) – Jeffery could be poised for a monstrous season entering the final year of his contract. His numbers in 9 full games played last season extrapolate to a WR7 finish if expanded to a full year. Jay Cutler has a tendency to lock on to his #1 WR, especially in the red zone. Health permitting, I’m expecting a career year. I like him as an awesome second round pick in PPR formats, who you can get in the late second in standard leagues.
  10. Jamaal Charles (RB – KC) – It’s easy to see the upside with a proven back like Charles. My #1 RB last year, Charles was the top fantasy RB before he tore his ACL five games in. However, I find it concerning the Chiefs re-signed both Charcandrick West AND Spencer Ware to 3-year deals. The Chiefs clearly have plans to use them, possibly at Charles’ expense in an effort to lighten his workload. If Ware steals goal line touches, it would torpedo Charles’ value. It’s worth noting the Chiefs reeled off 11 straight wins AFTER Charles got hurt last season. Kansas City was 1-4 at the time.
  11. Mike Evans (WR – TB) – A surefire bet for positive TD regression, Evans should triple his unlucky TD total of 3 last season. I’m expecting a strong recovery for Evans, who appears more motivated to correct last year’s mental errors, inconsistency, and drops. I wish his ranking was lower. This late 2nd round ADP seems to have already factored within it a bounce-back season.
  12. Sammy Watkins (WR – BUF) – A very gifted talent, Watkins tore it up in the second half of last season, ranking as WR4 down the stretch. A foot injury in the offseason, causing him to miss most of camp, has me too cautious.
  1. LeSean McCoy (RB – BUF) – My #2 RB, McCoy is my favorite second round target. He’s set to receive a massive workload in one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses. Not to mention, he’s pretty good at this football thing, when healthy. I would reach for him in round 2 without hesitation.
  2. Brandin Cooks (WR – NO) – Cooks really started connecting with Brees down the stretch last season after starting very slowly, but I find it concerning that almost all of his best statistical performances came against bad secondaries: PHI, NYG, TEN, WAS, DET, and JAX. The Saints also added Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener, who could siphon targets. Cooks will have some huge games and is a good player, but he’s probably being over-drafted.
  3. Thomas Rawls (RB – SEA) – Was RB2 in 7 games started and finished last season, but is coming off a severe foot injury, and now Christine Michael is shining in camp. I don’t believe Michael is all fluff/hype; I’d be legitimately worried.
  4. Jordan Reed (TE – WAS) – Reed actually finished with more PPG than Gronk last season and can be had ~30 picks later. Reed’s receiving lines in his final four games last season, including playoffs [9-120-1, 7-84-2, 9-129-2, 9-120-1] were nothing short of insane. I wouldn’t reach for Reed, but his ADP is lower than his ranking, as he tends to be falling in drafts. Reed is a HUGE injury concern, in fact as big as any in fantasy football. But, the danger can be mitigated by drafting a late round TE as insurance. Guys like Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, and Dwayne Allen going so late in drafts make Reed a high-risk, high-reward player worth the gamble in round 4.
  5. Amari Cooper (WR – OAK) – I like Cooper to approach 1,200 REYD this season, as he fought through the second half of last season not at full strength. Unfortunately, experts have also ranked him under the assumption he’ll improve in year 2, so he’s not exactly a bargain at his ADP.
  6. Demaryius Thomas (WR – DEN) – Denver is going to try to run the ball and play great defense in attempt to shorten games and keep the ball out of their QBs hands. Whoever winds up starting for Denver, whether it’s Trevor Siemian, Mark Sanchez, or Paxton Lynch, is not trustworthy. And there’s a chance each of them will start multiple games this year, making it hard to draft Demaryius this highly knowing it’ll be a QB carousel in a conservative offense. I’m also unsure why he’s being drafted two rounds ahead of Emmanuel Sanders, who may outproduce him.
  7. Keenan Allen (WR – SD) – Allen’s pace numbers through 8 healthy games last season prorates to an Antonio Brown-like 140-1,450-8 receiving line. He’ll be Philip Rivers’ top target, and he’s an ideal PPR target anywhere round 2 (even as high as 13th overall). I like stealing him in late round 2 or early round 3 in standard formats.
  8. Jonathan Stewart (RB – CAR) – Between not catching passes, Cam Newton stealing some rushing touchdowns, a MUCH tougher schedule this season, inevitable health regression as a team for Carolina, his own personal injury risk, and less frequent positive game scripts, J-Stew is being over-drafted.
  9. Carlos Hyde (RB – SF) – Hyde has historically fared well running from a shot gun formation and thrived at OSU in a similar system to Chip Kelly’s. Kelly has gotten the most of his RBs from a numbers standpoint, evidenced by LeSean McCoy’s career year in Philadelphia two seasons ago. Hyde will not get much receiving work, but he’s a very gifted, tough runner. He’ll have his fair share of great games, followed by some clunkers where the Niners simply get out-classed and are trailing by 10+ points by halftime, forcing Hyde to ride pine some weeks. All in all, Hyde is a nice boom-or-bust pick for those who like to gamble. I’m OK with taking him in round 4 after CJ Anderson or TY Hilton IF you’re confident you can get WRs later.
  10. CJ Anderson (RB – DEN) – Another boom-or-bust pick, Anderson quietly finished strongly last season after a miserable start that your league mates will probably over-emphasize. He should be a nice post-hype candidate as the workhorse for the Super Bowl champs. He’s playing in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme that has made great successes out of several RBs far less talented than CJA. I love drafting Anderson in rounds 3-4 as an RB2. Because of his injury history, I’d recommend handcuffing him with Devontae Booker later!
  11. Cam Newton (QB – CAR) – Things won’t be as easy for last year’s MVP. The Carolina Panthers are bound to experience health regression as a team, and their schedule is A LOT tougher. Newton’s rushing numbers will always help, and it’s nice to get Kelvin Benjamin back, but there are 3-4 QBs I’d rather draft one round later than reach for Newton in rounds 2-3.
  12. TY Hilton (WR – IND) – Hilton’s numbers were plagued by Andrew Luck’s injury last season, but he remains one of the league’s top home-run hitters. He may be somewhat inconsistent, but his bottom line stats should place him near the top-12 WRs by season’s end. I love the idea of pairing Hilton and Luck in rounds 3-4 respectively because this duo will have their fair share of week-winning performances.
  13. Julian Edelman (WR – NE) – Edelman is not going to come close to sustaining his TD-per-catch rate from last season. He’s battled lower body injuries for years, and the Patriots brought in Martellus Bennett to compete for chain-moving targets. Edelman is also a player who relies on chemistry with Tom Brady, who is missing the first four games of the season.
  14. Doug Baldwin (WR – SEA) – Baldwin went on a historic tear down the stretch, scoring 11 TDs in 5 games (weeks 12-16) in 2015, helping the millions of lucky owners who added him (including myself) win league titles. Many say Baldwin is due to regress, but I believe that regression is already factored into his ranking. If he wasn’t going to regress, we’d be drafting him in round 1, wouldn’t we? Thus, I don’t think his cost is outrageous, but I like him more as a flex, favoring other receivers around his ADP more. I think Tyler Lockett could post similar numbers (with fewer TDs) and possibly be a better bargain a few rounds later if you want some action in Seattle’s passing game.
  15. Jarvis Landry (WR – MIA) – Ryan Tannehill has a great bond with Landry, who seems to be the only receiver he trusts. Landry has great hands, but he struggles in the big-play department. His style of play limits him to PPR leagues only, and I don’t think he’ll match last season’s stats.
  16. Matt Forte (RB – CHI) – A great scheme fit in Chan Gailey’s system because of his receiving prowess, Forte is nonetheless being over-drafted because experts are under-estimating how often he’ll share carries with Bilal Powell (a comparative discount going 5 rounds later). There’s also a chance Khiry Robinson steals goal line touches for the Gang Green.

MY QUARTERBACK SPOTLIGHTS

(Who I’m Targeting and Why)

Entering last season, Aaron Rodgers had been a Top-2 fantasy QB in six of his previous seven seasons. In fact, the lone outlier season was in 2013 when he only played 9 games. Think about that for a moment; Aaron Rodgers had been either the first or second best fantasy QB in the last six seasons he was healthy. That is, of course, until he finished as QB7 last season. But make no mistake: this was by no fault of his own. Aaron Rodgers is still the game’s best quarterback and, by default, the most valuable player in the NFL. Just as I wrote repeatedly two seasons ago when Saints fans were (foolishly) calling for Brees’ decline, Rodgers’ lack of efficiency and production last season wasn’t based on his play; rather, his supporting cast had become nightmarish.

It’s easy to chalk up to WR Jordy Nelson’s torn ACL, but his loss was merely one of many variables. Nelson was the Packers’ best receiver, and he was the team’s only legitimate deep threat that could stretch defenses vertically.

But I’d argue that Randall Cobb’s separated shoulder in week 4 against the 49ers appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Prior to that week, Rodgers had been his typical, dominant self; he scored more than 20 fantasy points in his first three games and sported a 10-0 TD/INT ratio despite playing secondaries like Seattle and Kansas City.

The shoulder injury, which Cobb played through, made Cobb extremely soft and susceptible to contact coming off the line of scrimmage. With extra defensive attention thanks to Nelson’s injury, combined with Cobb’s nagging injury, defenders were able to re-direct Cobb with ease. Cobb, like other Packers’ wide receivers, could not separate from man coverage, and he was rendered ineffective.

Side Note: the Packers’ downplaying Cobb’s injury makes him one of the more attractive fantasy bargains this season; Cobb, who finished as WR6 in 2014 had posted 9, 11, and 28 points (ranking as a Top-5 WR) in his three games before sustaining the shoulder injury in week 4. But more on Cobb later…

Meanwhile, slot receiver Davante Adams proved to be one of the worst starting wide outs in the NFL last season. He dropped pass after pass and dealt with injury issues of his own. Just when flashy rookie WR Ty Montgomery was starting to come around, he was lost for the lost with an ankle injury before midseason.

This meant the Packers’ BEST receiver last season was James Jones, a player who couldn’t make the Giants’ final 53-man roster and had failed to find a team until the Packers called him up to sign him after Nelson’s injury. Despite his so-called revival season (which was only made possible because of Rodgers’ brilliance), the Packers refused to re-sign Jones, and he spent the entire offseason as a free agent until the Chargers recently signed him in the wake of Stevie Johnson’s injury. It’s important to understand what Rodgers was working with last season. Not to hate on Jones, but the harsh reality is that he has needed two season-ending knee injuries to even get an opportunity to make an NFL roster. And he was the Packers’ most reliable receiver last season.

Therefore, it shouldn’t shock you when you hear Rodgers led the NFL in “Failed Receptions” with 64. In his “QB Catalogue,” (a highly recommended read), Cian Fahey accessed Rodgers lost at least 635 passing yards and 10 touchdowns on these pass catching errors. No QB lost more fantasy points on failed receptions than Rodgers did. Furthermore, a whopping 21 of his 64 failed receptions killed drives on third or fourth down, which results in an additional loss of hidden production he could have attained had his WRs not made a mistake.

I haven’t even mentioned that the Packers’ traditionally steady offensive line dealt with more injuries than usual last season, and a running game led by “Fat Eddie” Lacy, who ballooned up to 260 pounds last season, wasn’t providing any help whatsoever.

All things considered, it speaks to Rodgers’ greatness that he was somehow able to maintain a 35-9 TD/INT ratio with such a pitiful supporting cast last season.

This season, the Packers are a prime candidate for positive health regression. Even if they do not get Jordy Nelson back at full strength, he will at least be reliable third down target and loosen up some of the tight underneath coverage the Packers’ deficient WRs couldn’t beat last season. Randall Cobb should be fully healthy and will be the same play-making WR we have come to know, also benefiting from more single coverage thanks to Nelson’s presence. Newly acquired TE Jared Cook provides more of an athletic seam-stretching alternative (think a more inconsistent version of JerMichael Finley) to Richard Rodgers.

And lastly, the offensive line should get healthier, and the Packers’ running game will be much improved once Eddie Lacy gets his weight down. He’ll be highly motivated to do so, entering a contract year.

Green Bay was also forced to face the NFC West and AFC West divisions last season, which provided a much greater physical, defensive challenge than the AFC South and NFC East divisions will this season.

A lot of experienced fantasy footballers will balk at the idea of taking a quarterback early, but if I can offer any strategy advice this early in the Draft Guide, I’d suggest not pigeon-holing yourself by picking particular “more important” positions early. It’s true that the quarterback position is among the game’s deepest, but the goal early in your draft should be to simply HIT on your picks, regardless of position. My board is different every year; some years I like taking QBs later, and some years I’ll have mid-round guys I’m targeting. But one thing remains the same: your first 2-3 picks are incredibly important, and you should be valuing safety with these picks over all. If that’s not enough, and you are a value-based or high upside-driven drafter, Rodgers still provides that league-winning upside that we’ve seen the best QBs give us in recent years (Luck in 2014, Newton in 2015).

The bottom line is that any strategy works if you pick the right players. And this year, Aaron Rodgers is one of several picks I believe are the right players.

And this season, we’re seeing one of fantasy’s annual top overall scorers – who has typically gone in the first or second round of fantasy drafts in the last for the last 6 years – ranked as the 49th overall player on ESPN. If Rodgers stays upright, it’s highly likely Rodgers will shatter his ADP (average draft position). Fast forward to November, and I think it’s equally likely your league members and experts alike will be asking: “How did we let the NFL’s best quarterback (possibly player) fall to round 3?”

For the reasons above, Rodgers is one of my favorite targets in fantasy football this season, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when you’re on the clock in round 3.

Drew Brees

A model of consistency, Brees has had at least 4,300 yards passing and 33 total touchdowns for EIGHT straight seasons. In fantasy terms, this has translated to has a top-6 fantasy QB finishes in every season during that span. This includes last season when Brees finished as QB6 despite missing a game and playing through a two significant injuries for a large portion of the season.

Brees hurt his rotator cuff in the second quarter of a week 2 game against Tampa Bay. Brees probably should have come out of the game, but he attempted to play through the pain despite his arm strength being shot. Brees was particularly awful in this game, and he was accordingly forced to sit out the next week. However, after returning from a week of rest, Brees was quietly the fantasy QB3 from week 4, onward, behind only Tom Brady and Cam Newton. This was more impressive considering it’s likely that the pain from torn rotator cuff lingered for several more weeks, and further, Brees fought through a torn plantar fascia down the stretch last season.

But if a better health and unmatched year-to-year consistency Brees isn’t convincing enough to target Brees in the mid-rounds of your draft, we can look to a much improved supporting cast. Newly acquired TE Coby Fleener may not provide much as a blocker, but he possesses a greater receiving ability than the departed Ben Watson. Fleener isn’t close to the player Jimmy Graham was for the Saints, but he’ll be used similarly and is certainly an upgrade from a fantasy perspective. Second round pick WR Michael Thomas is a physical specimen with very strong hands who can fill the Marques Colston role, eventually serving as a perfect complement to the speedy Brandin Cooks. He’s a massive upgrade over Brandon Coleman and the nearly retired Marques Colston, both of whom played significant snaps for the Saints last season. Further, it’s worth reminding readers that Cooks and Snead are very young as well, and will be benefited by another offseason of development.

Entering 2016, I’d assert Brees has the most talented supporting cast (at least on paper) he’s played with in quite some time. This is a diverse group of offensive threats that can beat defenses in a number of different ways. Cooks can take the lid off defenses over the top. Snead is a reliable target underneath, ideal for converting 3rd and 6 with hitch routes or finding the soft spot in zones on crossing patterns. Michael Thomas is going to extremely difficult to cover by traditionally smaller nickel backs. Fleener can be motioned and lined up as a receiver, creating mismatches in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Finally, Ingram and Spiller (hopefully healthy this season) can both catch out of the backfield.

The Saints’ pass catchers can attack defenses in a number of ways, and Brees remains the most accurate passer in the NFL.

Throw in the fact that the Saints defense is abysmal, which forces Brees and the offense to continually press, and we’ve got a recipe for fantasy success.

It is worth noting that New Orleans has a far more difficult schedule in 2016. Examining the slate, we see an easy start (Weeks 1-4) and finish (Weeks 12-17), but the stretch from Weeks 6 through 11 is by far the most brutal of any team this year. They face the Panthers twice, the Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs during that span. (Warren Sharp).

Nevertheless, Brees is my 2nd ranked fantasy QB, only behind the aforementioned Rodgers. Currently ranked as QB5 and 68th overall on ESPN, Brees is another prime target, and quite the bargain, in fantasy football this season. He tends to be picked higher in local drafts (many of my readers are based near New Orleans), but I’ve been pouncing on Brees in rounds 4-5 in several mock drafts.

Andrew Luck

Let’s discuss the BAD first. Last year, Luck was a joke during Indianapolis’ first three games. He committed a whopping 8 turnovers in those games, before missing the next two weeks with a partially separated throwing shoulder. When he returned two weeks later, Luck predictably lacked velocity on his throws and continued making poor decisions, while getting hit mercilessly behind a sieve-like offensive line. Luck was placed on I.R. with a kidney issue in week 9.

Even dating back to the second half of his breakout 2014 season, Luck’s last 16 games look like this: 57 comp%, 6.7 YPA, 30-22 TD/INT, 78.8 QB rating, and a -17.2 PFF passing grade (the worst among starting in that span).

Yet, while significantly short of 100 percent, Luck’s 16-game pace stats included 4,299.4 passing yards and 34.2 touchdown passes in seven appearances, which would have ranked eighth and sixth in the NFL, respectively. (Evan Silva). Almost unbelievably, Luck was the QB7 in fantasy points per game last season even though he played like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in reality. Moreover, what’s going under the radar among the draft community is that Luck wasn’t so lucky in regards to his schedule last season. The 7-game slate Luck was “healthy” (enough to play) in 2015 featured road games @ Buffalo and @ Carolina, and home games against the New York Jets, Denver Broncos, and the New England Patriots. That’s rough.

In 2016, the schedule is littered with suspect pass defenses, indoor games, and matchups with shootout potential like Detroit at home, San Diego at home, Green Bay at Lambeau, and Pittsburgh at home on Thanksgiving. (Pat Thorman).

Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the Colts will surely help lead to fantasy success.

The primary reason to get “Luck-y” this season is based on VOLUME.

First, all of the Colts’ talent is in the passing game. T.Y. Hilton is one of the league’s best deep threats. Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett are ideal #2 and #3 WRs who are both on the verge of breakout seasons. TE Dwayne Allen is an underrated talent in his own right. Second, because 33-year-old Frank Gore is the primary ball carrier in the Colts’ running game, it’s safe to say the Colts may rank near the bottom of the league in run-pass ratio. In fact, Luck is averaging 604 pass attempts in the three full seasons he’s played, while averaging over 40 pass attempts in seven contests last year, and 41 in 2014 (ranking second in the NFL). Third, Colts have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, which will continue to force Luck to pile up points to stay competitive.

Simply put: the Colts are going to throw A LOT in 2016… because they have to. That volume, while not as pretty to watch in reality, will translate to fantasy points.

Luck – strong, athletic, and mobile – has also provided fantasy owners with an additional 200-300 rushing yards and 3-4 rushing TDs since he came into the league.

Luck is coming off a huge 2014 season where he ranked as the QB2. Luck was the first or second QB taken in every league last year, usually in the first two rounds. This year, he’s generally being taken as the 4th QB off the board in round 5. I’m happy to reach a round ahead of that to secure Luck’s services. I think he’s due for another big fantasy season. And if it’s not due to the efficiency displayed in 2014, his volume will keep him among the top-5 QBs by season’s end.

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson was QB16 at the midway point of last season, but once Marshawn Lynch got hurt, the Seahawks completely changed their offense to a more wide open, quick-hitting, pass-based offense that implemented a lot of spread concepts. To say Wilson caught fire late last season would be a vast understatement. No player in fantasy football scored more points in the latter half of the 2015 than Wilson. Dangerous Russell Wilson compiled a stellar 24-1 TD/INT ratio in that span, making fantasy owners forget he was playing like a backup fantasy QB throughout the first half of the season. Long a run-foundation team, the Seahawks appear to be embracing this change in offensive philosophy. Head coach Pete Carroll said the 2016 offense will resemble its form in the second half of last year: “Our rhythm throughout camp, we stayed connected to what we did in the second half of the year… We went in determined to do that, and right from the get-go when we got back here on the field we were at it with tempo and timing.”

Wilson’s career finishes: QB9 in 2012, QB8 in 2013, QB3 in 2014, QB2 in 2015.

The trend is easy to spot here.

Sometimes from a fantasy perspective it’s risky to bet on Wilson because he has lacked passing volume over the years. The Seahawks annually rank in the bottom half of passing attempts. In short, because the Seahawks don’t throw the ball a lot, Wilson has had to be extremely efficient when they do throw in order to produce the impressive fantasy stats he’s amassed. It’s tough to bank on such continued efficiency.

But what aides Wilson’s year-to-year consistency (besides flawless health) has been his rushing output. This is significant, because just about anyone who analyzes fantasy football can tell you that it’s a near guarantee Wilson’s gaudy passing efficiency from last season will decline. Yet, despite the inevitable dip in passing, his rushing production is likely to keep his overall production afloat. This is especially true because while a dip in passing production is nearly inevitable, so to is an increase in rushing production.

In 2016, Wilson had the second fewest rushing yards of career, and he only scored 1 rushing touchdown. Both figures are due for positive regression, which should help offset any decline in passing efficiency.

One obvious flaw surrounding Wilson’s fantasy outlook is Seattle’s dreadful offensive line. I wouldn’t argue anyone who claimed the Seahawks have the worst offensive line in the NFL. It may be only a matter of time before this catches up to the smaller Wilson. However, Wilson has defied the odds of durability, and his playing style and escapability certainly mitigates the absence of quality protection up front.

Wilson’s schedule is attractive. Seattle may have the easiest first 6 weeks in the NFL (MIA, @LA, SF, @NYJ, ATL, and a BYE). Hopefully this can help Wilson avoid the slow start he and his team struggled with last season.

Wilson is being drafted in the second tier of quarterbacks, and though he outscored other QBs in this tier – Rodgers, Brees, and Luck – last season by a wide margin, I’ve seen Wilson be the last available of the above mentioned quarterbacks.

I’m fairly optimistic about this second tier of quarterbacks this season because I think the group consists of great, proven NFL talents who present both a fairly safe floor and high upside, while coming at a nice discount this season.

While I’m perfectly OK with waiting on the QB position and taking the guys I have below, I’ve often found myself unable to resist the temptation of taking one of these signal callers in rounds 3-5.

If I miss out on the tier of QBs listed above, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are my primary QB targets. Their low ADPs allow me to wait a few rounds before taking one of them. Ranked as QB9 and QB11 respectively, the round you select them should be determined by 1) the size of your league – it’s recommended to wait longer before selecting QBs in 10-team leagues; and 2) draft flow (i.e. how many teams have drafted a QB).

 

Overall QB Strategy

For purposes of this Draft Guide, my assumptions and advice are based on readers drafting in 12-team leagues. But the difference between 10 and 12 team leagues can drastically affect QB strategy.

In order to show why (league) size matters, perhaps this can be best illustrated with an example:

In a typical ESPN draft, you could see following QBs could be selected accordingly:

  1. Cam Newton 2nd round
  2. Aaron Rodgers 4th round
  3. Andrew Luck 5th round
  4. Drew Brees 5th round
  5. Russell Wilson 5th round
  6. Ben Roethlisberger 6th round
  7. Tom Brady 7th round
  8. Carson Palmer 7th round
  9. Blake Bortles 8th round
  10. Eli / Rivers 10th round

Here, you’ll see it’s conceivable that Eli Manning and Philip Rivers – QBs ranked 9th and 11th respectively on ESPN – are not one of the first nine quarterbacks taken.

In 10-team leagues, if the QB board plays out as it did above, and you have not yet selected a QB, you must take notice that every other team in your league has their starting QB except you. Knowing this, you could (should) sneakily wait a round or two before selecting Eli or Rivers as your starter. This is because it’s unlikely that people in your league are going to double down on QB and draft a backup this early. So as long as you can beat the start of the run where backup QBs are selected, you can, ideally, afford to wait on drafting a QB in a 10-team league until round 10-ish. You can even elect to pair Eli and Rivers in back-to-back rounds (say, rounds 9-10), becoming the last team to draft their starter AND the first team to draft their backup. I like the idea of going Philip Rivers and Matt Stafford back to back, for instance.Either way, you’ve merely spent minimal draft capital (9th+10th), and still managed to acquire at least one quality starting QB. In 10-team leagues this year, I would tend to wait on QBs for this exact reason.

However, in 12-team leagues, you aren’t afforded quite a luxury. Because more teams need starting QBs, and I believe there’s a massive drop off after Eli and Rivers are selected, you can’t afford to delay when 7-8 QBs have already been selected; you need to be sure to take them in that range before someone else does.

If executed properly, I’m winding up with either Rodgers in round 3; Brees in round 4, Luck or Wilson in round 5; Eli Manning or Philip Rivers in rounds 7-8; Matt Stafford in rounds 8-10, and Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston in the later rounds (10+).

MY RUNNING BACK SPOTLIGHTS

(Who I’m Targeting and Why)

 

LeSean McCoy

There may not be a player that differs more on my board when compared to consensus experts’ rankings. But to be honest, I’m totally dumbfounded why even the industry’s smartest fantasy experts aren’t drafting McCoy higher.

I have a first round, top-10 overall grade on LeSean McCoy, and he’s my 2nd ranked running back.

Now, I understand I’m going out on a limb with this ranking. To be clear, I’m NOT asking you to take him THAT high, but LeSean McCoy is carrying a painfully low RB13 ranking on ESPN and his ADP is between picks 27-30 on ESPN and Yahoo!

And you MUST, MUST, MUST take advantage of this.

McCoy is severely undervalued right now because some injuries caused him to have a quiet season in 2015. Recall, McCoy battled a hamstring injury last offseason and opened the season hampered, playing half snaps in weeks 1-3. He aggravated his injury in week 3, and it was reported that McCoy would miss 4-6 weeks. However, McCoy returned only two weeks later, suggesting he may have played some games not at 100%. Nevertheless, after returning, McCoy posted point totals of [15, 9, 17, 15, 18, 14, 11, 10] during an 8-game stretch in weeks 6-14 before getting hurt again in week 15 to miss the final 2.5 games.

McCoy’s 13.2 PPG in that midseason span prorates to 218 points in standard formats, which would have made him RB3 last season. McCoy’s 21 touches a game (massive volume for a RB these days) in his full 10 games played last season translated to excellent consistency from a fantasy perspective; McCoy never scored fewer than 8 points in ANY game he played fully last season.

Perhaps more impressively, McCoy produced these consistent figures against some of the league’s stronger run defenses. During that stretch alone, McCoy faced the Bengals, Jets, Patriots, Chiefs, and Texans, all of whom were top-10 run defenses in the second half of last season. He also yielded valuable goal line touches to backup RB Karlos Williams, who rotated in with McCoy often during half of his games.

Thus, McCoy’s original ADP was probably accounting for the threat of backup RB Karlos Williams siphoning touches and most importantly, goal line duties. Williams scored 8 TDs last season, many of which were within the red zone, an area where McCoy hasn’t exactly excelled in the past.

However, Williams reported to camp overweight and was suspended for the first four games of the season. It’s possible Williams remains buried on the depth chart for a good portion of the season. With Williams suspended and out of shape, McCoy should open the season as one of the NFL’s highest volume workhorses in 2016.

Regardless of Williams’ workload, McCoy plays in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL.

The Buffalo Bills LOVE to run the football. The two coaches running the show – head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman – are old school guys who believe a great running game and defense is best way to win. Rex Ryan and Greg Roman ALWAYS rank near top of the league in rushing.

Only the Carolina Panthers averaged more rushing attempts per game than the Bills in 2015. Furthermore, in 5 seasons as a coordinator, Greg Roman has never not finished top-3 in red zone rushing%. Teams under Roman have opted to run the ball 60% of the time when in the red zone. (Scott Barrett). This is a heavily favorable rate for RBs considering the modern, pass-first league.

And don’t forget that a healthy McCoy remains one of the most talented runners in the NFL.

He also has one of the best dual-threat QBs in the league in Tyrod Taylor, which can freeze defenders on read-option plays and open up more creases for McCoy to navigate through.

McCoy is one of my favorite picks in fantasy football this season, and I can’t comprehend what there is not to like about him. Many will cite his injury history, but I think recency bias may play a strong role in that argument. Moreover, I have a difficult time believing the RBs going ahead of him in drafts (Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, Todd Gurley, Jamaal Charles, to name a few) aren’t as risky from a health standpoint. Half of the backs going ahead of McCoy have yet to even start and finish ONE full season receiving a featured workload in the NFL, and the other half are coming off major knee injuries.

Overall, McCoy is a talented, proven, and bankable bell-cow back for one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. Health permitting, of course, I’m expecting a big season as the focal point of the Bills’ offense. He’s a player I would be targeting the first round if not for his incredibly low ADP, which allows me to take either a stud WR or Adrian Peterson in round 1, and then lock up McCoy in the second round.

Eddie Lacy

Eddie Lacy was a top-6 RB and a sure-fire first round pick for two consecutive years before getting fat last season.

Lacy dealt with an ankle sprain in week 2, a groin pull in week 9, and injured ribs later in the year. It’s believed the rash of injuries affected Lacy’s conditioning; he was rumored to balloon north of 260 pounds during the season. His playing weight should be around 230, and I believe Lacy has been highly motivated this offseason to get into the best shape of his career. Lacy showed this by training with Tony Horton, the inventor of P90X. And there’s a lot on the line, because he’s entering a huge contract year.

I don’t need to tell you the benefits of playing running back in the Packers offense. The threat of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game opens up lanes even “Fat Eddie” can fit through, and he’ll get PLENTY of red zone opportunities. Lacy’s splits with and without Jordy Nelson are telling:

Lacy in games WITH Jordy Nelson:

  • 17.34 PPR PTS, 22.5 REYD/G, 18 carries, 78.6 RUYD/G, and .63 RUTDs/G.

Lacy in games WITHOUT Nelson:

  • 10.4 PPR PTS, 13 REYD/G, 12 caries, 50 RUYD, 0.32 RUTDs/G.

Lacy’s 277 PPR PTS prorated to 16 would equate to RB2 with Nelson. (Pat Thorman).

Along with the loss of Nelson and his poor eating/training habits, Lacy was also hindered last year by his schedule. The Packers will be trading games against the NFC West and AFC West divisions for the AFC South and NFC East this season.

Vegas also favors the Packers in nearly every game to open this season, so positive game scripts will help Lacy grind out the clock late in games when Green Bay is leading.

Not is all rosy here, however, as the Packers felt the need to re-sign complementary back James Starks. By the looks of the deal he got, Starks will certainly share carries and snaps with Lacy. I would imagine the plan is for them to split touches pretty evenly (with Starks being a heavily utilized third down back), at least initially. Eventually, the coaching staff will likely regain their trust in Lacy, before riding him down the stretch in the frigid conditions at Lambeau Field.

Regardless, I expect the Packers to emphasize getting the running game going this season, and Lacy will be motivated to be in shape and run hard in a contract year. He should approach double-digit touchdowns in the offense he plays in.

Although it’s unlikely Lacy returns his previous top-5 overall value, I’m betting big on Lacy bouncing back and finishing as a top-10 RB this season. If you draft Lacy late in round 2 or early in round 3, I would recommend handcuffing Lacy with James Starks late in the draft.

C.J. Anderson

I know, I know. Anderson was a colossal bust last season. Viewed as a first round pick last season, I did rightfully warn readers to avoid drafting him in the 2015 Draft Guide. But this year I’m taking the opposite tone on CJA.

Anderson started very slowly last season, sharing carries with Ronnie Hillman, before taking over down the stretch (when fantasy seasons were already over) and helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.

You’d probably be surprised to know that Anderson actually led the NFL in yards per carry from week 6 on (5.93 YPC). Anderson also posted point totals of [13, 16, 14, 7, 15] from week 16-21 (including playoffs). His 13 PPG in the late 5-game stretch extrapolated to a full 16-game season would have placed him at RB3 last season.

The reason I’m placing such importance on Anderson’s finish last season is because I believe the way he was utilized (as the primary ball carrier) during the Broncos Super Bowl run will carry over to the 2016 regular season.

A few things happened this offseason that leads me to believe the Broncos will rely on Anderson as the focal point of the offense. First, the Broncos re-signed CJA to a 4-year, $19M deal this season. Second, Peyton Manning retired. The significance of this is two-fold. First, Manning’s retirement means that the Broncos best QB options are Mark Sanchez and raw rookie Paxton Lynch. The Broncos have no choice but to rely on their running game to move the ball. This is especially true considering their dominant defense. Their formula is apparent: run a conservative offense and play great defense. Denver should be one of the more run-heavy teams in the NFL. Second, Manning’s retirement also means that Gary Kubiak can run his preferred offensive scheme. Kubiak’s system derives from Mike Shanahan zone-blocking scheme that calls for several play action roll outs and lining up under center, often with a full back in the backfield. This system has dated back over a decade, providing fantasy owners with a laundry list of successful RBs who have thrived in this scheme. Think back to the early Denver days of Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis, and various other nameless 1,000 rushers for Denver afterward. Kubiak then left for Houston, where Arian Foster was a fantasy God in this zone-blocking scheme for several years. Two seasons ago, Kubiak made journeyman Justin Forsett in Baltimore a 1,300-yard rusher out of nowhere. Last season, however, Kubiak’s scheme did not suit Manning, who likes to line up in shot gun, stay inside the pocket, read and pick apart defenses based on mismatches. However, now that Manning has retired, the Broncos are set to implement Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, along with more traditional, I-formations with a full back (they even drafted one). His running scheme will be the center piece of the offense, and Anderson could be the next man up, to add to his long list of successful fantasy RBs.

Anderson has good hands, is a capable receiver out of the backfield, and is an exceptional blocker. He should be re-enlisted as Denver’s bell-cow back, just as he was when it counted most, in Super Bowl 50, when Anderson rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on a whopping 27 touches against the Panthers.

Anderson arrived at TC weighing 217 pounds, the lightest he’s been in his 4-year career. Beat writer says he looks faster than I’ve ever seen him, very swift as a receiver out of the backfield.

Denver lost Evan Mathis, perhaps of the best pulling guards in the NFL, but they also added LT Russell Okung and RT Donald Stephenson, and others should have more continuity in their second year in Kubiak’s system. It took a while for this unit to get used to the scheme last season because they were depleted by injuries early.

With an ADP of 38, I’ve been targeting CJA late in round 3 or early in round 4. There is a caveat worth noting. Because not just any RB can thrive in this unique system. It takes a one-cut runner with excellent vision to hit holes moving laterally (not north and south), I’ve learned that you never really know who can and can’t thrive in this system. Furthermore, CJA has never received more than 150 carries in a season and has had a slew of injuries early in his career. While the upside of taking CJA is great, I’d strongly advise handcuffing Anderson by taking Devontae Booker later in the draft, that way you can secure a valuable Broncos backfield.

 

DEEP SLEEPERS

-Keep an eye on these potential waiver-wire gems:

  1. Tajae Sharpe (WR – TEN) – You probably haven’t heard of him yet, but Sharpe is becoming a household name in Titans camp. He could challenge Kendall Wright and Rishard Matthews as Mariota’s leading wide out.
  2. Eli Rogers (WR – PIT) – While defenses account for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, slot WR Eli Rogers is going to find some soft spots in zones for Big Ben and have some nice PPR games.
  3. Vance McDonald (TE – SF) – Gabbert and McDonald developed a rapport late last season.
  4. Cameron Brate (TE – TB) – The coaching staff has continuously remarked on how Brate has a nose for the end zone and is showing good chemistry with Jameis Winston. If Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson have injury issues again, we could see Brate as the #2 target in Tampa.
  5. Chris Thompson (RB – WAS) – The Redskins are only favored in 2 of their 16 games to start the season, per Vegas odds. Thus, it’s likely they’ll be trailing a lot. Starting RB Matt Jones hasn’t proven worthy as a pass catcher, so Chris Thompson should man third downs and be Kirk Cousins’ ultimate check down option.
  6. Robert Griffin III – RG3 was been left for dead the past two seasons, but head coach Hue Jackson is an offensive guru who can get the best out of Griffin. I’m not expecting anything like his rookie season, he could make a living in garbage time for the hapless Browns. His scrambling ability helps for fantasy purposes, and he has a nice trio of WRs in Josh Gordon (suspended weeks 1-4), Corey Coleman, and Terrelle Pryor, not to mention TE Gary Barnidge and pass catching RB Duke Johnson. Griffin could be a decent backup QB by season’s end.
  7. Clive Walford (TE – OAK) – Walford is an underrated TE who may have a bigger role in the Raiders’ offense than people think.
  8. Joe Flacco (QB – BAL) – Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is EXTREMELY pass-happy. His offenses have finished in the upper half of passing attempts in almost every season under his tutelage, including last year when the Ravens led the NFL in passing attempts. With a subpar rotation at RB, and the addition of Mike Wallace, to go along with Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, 3-WR sets will be the norm, and Flacco will be heavily relied on for production. It may look ugly, but he should settle in as a backup QB by season’s end.
  9. Jesse James (TE – PIT) – Filling in as Big Ben’s starting TE until Ladarius Green returns from IR, James will be an after-thought for defenses as they focus on Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. James is a mammoth 6’7 red zone target who may put up 6-7 TDs this season.
  10. Davante Adams (WR – GB) – He’s not really good at football, but he remains in a prime situation. I think it’s worth taking a flier on Adams if you’re in a deep league and you need depth at WR.

MY MOST FREQUENTLY DRAFTED:

QBs:

  • Aaron Rodgers (3rd)
  • Andrew Luck (4th)
  • Matt Stafford (10th)

RBs:

  • Adrian Peterson (Top-5 pick)
  • LeSean McCoy (2nd)
  • Le’Veon Bell (2nd)
  • CJ Anderson (3rd)
  • Rashad Jennings (6th)
  • LeGarrette Blount (9th)
  • Spencer Ware (11th)
  • Christine Michael (12th)

WRs:

  • Odell Beckham (Top-3 pick)
  • A.J. Green (late 1st, early 2nd)
  • Keenan Allen (3rd)
  • Randall Cobb (4th)
  • Donte Moncrief (5th)
  • Sterling Shepard (9th)
  • Michael Thomas (9th)

TEs:

  • Jordan Reed (4th)
  • Martellus Bennett (12th)
  • Dwayne Allen (15th)

DO NOT DRAFT LIST

– 25 players I’m not drafting at their current cost:
(explanations are described above in the ESPN Ranking Commentary)

  1. DeAndre Hopkins
  2. Devonta Freeman
  3. Doug Martin
  4. Brandon Marshall
  5. Thomas Rawls
  6. Demaryius Thomas
  7. Jonathan Stewart
  8. Cam Newton
  9. Julian Edelman
  10. Eric Decker
  11. Kelvin Benjamin
  12. Matt Forte
  13. Larry Fitzgerald
  14. Dion Lewis
  15. DeAngelo Williams
  16. Danny Woodhead
  17. Jordan Matthews
  18. Gio Bernard
  19. Michael Crabtree
  20. Kevin White
  21. Allen Hurns
  22. Blake Bortles
  23. Gary Barnidge
  24. Steve Smith

CONTRACT YEARS:

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Allen Robinson
  3. Alshon Jeffery
  4. Eddie Lacy
  5. Latavius Murray
  6. Michael Floyd
  7. Emmanuel Sanders
  8. DeSean Jackson
  9. Drew Brees
  10. Kirk Cousins

PRESEASON STOCK RISERS:

-will be revised throughout

  1. DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry
  2. Eddie Lacy
  3. Jeremy Langford
  4. Marvin Jones
  5. Michael Thomas
  6. Carlos Hyde
  7. Dez Bryant
  8. Vance McDonald
  9. Christine Michael
  10. Terrelle Pryor

MY 2015 RESULTS

  • Total Regular Season Record:          71-27
  • Made Playoffs in 7/7 leagues.
  • 2015 Finishes:                                   3 firsts, 3 seconds, 1 fourth.
  • Total Prize Money:                            $1,850           

League Breakdown: Last season I played in 7 leagues. Four of those were high-stakes money leagues. Two are competitive private leagues, and one is a casual family league. Six of the seven leagues are 5+ years old. I serve as commissioner in three leagues.

MY FANTASY FOOTBALL HISTORY SINCE 2009:    

  • Total Leagues:           37
  • Reg Season Record:   322-180 (.6414)
  • Playoff Record:          46-15 (.7541) – Made Playoffs in 29/37 leagues.
  • Points Finishes:         19 firsts, 8 seconds, 3 thirds, 2 fourths, 3 fifths, 2 eighths
  • Standings Finishes:   15 firsts, 11 seconds, 3 fourths, 5 fifths, 1 seventh, 1 eighth, 1 twelfth

Editor’s Note: This draft guide has been written under the assumption that the reader is in a 12-team ESPN league with standard scoring. The projected rounds I’m targeting players may differ if you’re in a full-point PPR league, or 10-team or 14+ team league, and they’ll certainly differ if you play in a non-ESPN league (NFL.com, Yahoo!, CBS). Different leagues have different rankings in the draft room and these rankings substantially and directly affect average draft positions (ADPs).

Favorite NFL Over/Under Bets:

  • Bet the OVER on the Giants to win more than 7.5 games.
  • Bet the UNDER on the Bengals to win fewer than 9.5 games.
  • Bet the UNDER on the Jets to win fewer than 8 games.
  • Bet the UNDER on the Rams to win fewer than 7.5 games.
  • Bet the UNDER on the Falcons to win fewer than 7.5 games.

Super Bowl Prediction: 

  • Packers over Steelers

Follow me on Twitter @FantasyLawGuy


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