How to Win the 2017 Fantasy Football Draft

There’s a certain level of curiosity which stems from disaster, and if you’ve ever seen an accident on the freeway, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The cars involved could be on the shoulder, blocking absolutely zero lanes, yet traffic will be backed up for miles since every passer by feels the need to slow down and peep the carnage.

Turn on the news, and guess what you see? Nope, not all of the good that’s going on in the world, but stories of terror, pain, misery…

That’s just what moves the needle.

Now, if you’ve ever played fantasy football, I’m sure you’ve had one those seasons which make you question your football knowledge, fandom, and in extreme cases, your existence altogether. We all have. Yet, do we give up? Nope, and I’d argue fantasy football is more popular now than it’s ever been.

We love the terror, pain, and misery.

With that being said, it’s probably safe to assume if you’re reading this, it’s not because you want to be that disaster no one can take their eyes off of. Chances are, you have dreams of being lauded by your peers, and sipping adult beverages, while you bask in the glory of a fantasy football championship.

All of your wildest dreams are within your grasp. If you win the draft.

Sure, you can find the diamond in the rough waiver guy in Week 2 before he blows up, or pull off a blockbuster trade in Week 5 that turns your season around, but odds are, your season will be won (lost) with your draft.

Now, let’s be clear, bad drafts are inevitable. Whether half of your guys go down for the season, or simply don’t perform up to expectations, it happens to the best of us. But, don’t fret and read on. I’ll tackle some players to target and avoid at each position, and for good measure, the complete 2017 Fantasy Football Draft Rankings are included.

Let’s start with the QBs…

*Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers provided by fantasypros.com

Quarterback

Depending on your league settings, the Wait on QB draft strategy can be key to winning the draft, and last year was yet another prime example of why. Of the Top-10 fantasy QBs, seven were likely available in the 8th round or later – Cousins, Stafford, Ryan, Bortles and Carr were all drafted late, and Prescott and Taylor were likely picked up off waivers (sans 2-QB leagues).

7 of 10? I’ll take those odds.

Unless you’re in a standard scoring league, or a die-hard Rodgers or Brady fan, it’d be wise to spend the first 5-7 rounds adding as much depth as possible at your RB/WR positions. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of options remaining at QB.

QB I’m Targeting: Philip Rivers – LAC (ADP: 114)

Ok, so he’s 36, led the league in interceptions, and ProFootballFocus has his offensive line ranked an unsatisfying 21st… Yeah, yeah. Who cares?

Here’s the deal, the Chargers injury report was novelesque last season. #1 WR Keenan Allen went down in Week 1, and Danny Woodhead went all “Anything you can do I can do better!” in Week 2. He even added some finger snaps, and a neck roll. Yet, Rivers finished the year with 4,386 yards (5th), and 33 TDs (4th)… With guys most of you have never heard of.

Fast forward to 2017: there’s already speculation that rookie wideout Mike Williams is done before the season has started, but their o-line (while probably still wack) should be better this season, Allen is healthy for now, we’ve all heard of those guys we hadn’t heard of now, and Melvin Gordon looks like a #1 back.

Rivers has the potential to be a Top-10 QB, and you should be able grab in the 10th round (or later) in most 10 team leagues.

QB I’m Avoiding: Dak Prescott – DAL (ADP: 75)

He’s more Alex Smith than Dak Prescott…

Let me explain.

Last season, Dak finished as the #6 scoring fantasy QB. He also had just 2 games which he threw for 300+ yards, was 23rd in pass attempts, 19th in passing yards, and 15th in passing TDs… He wasn’t exactly slinging it around the yard.

For comparison’s sake: Smith finished 21st in attempts, 22nd in yards, and 27th in TDs.

Big difference in passing TDs, and Dak rushed for about 150 more yards, but most of Dak’s fantasy value can be attributed to the fact that he tied Tyrod Taylor for the most rushing TDs from the QB position (6). Assuming you get 6 points per rushing TD, that’s 36 fantasy points, and without them, he finishes as the year as the #19 QB – between Big Ben, and Carson Palmer.

Smith finished as the #23 QB.

Now, I get it. He’s not going to stop utilizing his legs, but banking on a rushing TD about every other game isn’t exactly a smart bet. He also lost 2 key contributors to the offensive line in Ronald Leary, and Doug Free, and teams now have a full season’s worth of film.

If he proved one thing last season, however, it’s that he’s a winner. So, I’m not saying to not draft the guy altogether (8th round isn’t terrible), but ahead of Stafford, Cousins, Mariota, and Rivers?

Nah, fam.

If you do draft him, temper your expectations, and don’t be surprised to see some regression.

Running Back

Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Apply that principle to your draft.

Listen, if you’re in a 10/12 team league you don’t need 2 QBs, TEs, DSTs, or Ks – That’s what the waiver wire is for, finding mid-season gems on the wire at the RB/WR positions is a much more difficult task.

Instead, get one of each you feel confident with, and fill out the rest of your roster with RBs, and WRs. You don’t want to let injuries ruin your season, and for the most part, RBs and WRs present just as much trade value as the top QBs (if not more).

Take some fliers, grab some handcuffs (backups), place more value on upside… The word of the day is: depth.

RB I’m Targeting: Bilal Powell – NYJ (ADP: 74)

Yes, Matt Forte still exists, but after the top twelve or so guys, you’re probably going to be looking at a some sort of RB committee.

That’s just the way it is now.

But, does that mean if you miss out on the top guys there’s no value to be had? Absolutely not, and Powell has a great opportunity to be one of the guys who provides it.

4 things to like about him:

  1. Forte is 31, and is coming off knee surgery/the worst season of his career in terms of yardage.
  2. From weeks 14-17 (Forte out/limited), only Le’Veon Been averaged more fantasy points per game than Bilal Powell.
  3. Schedule. I hate projected schedule strength, but glancing at the Jets schedule, I’m not seeing many unfavorable matchups.
  4. ADP

Yes, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have new homes, but who were the Jets starting QBs in Weeks 14-17 (Not you, Jets faithful)? Exactly. You don’t know… Bryce Petty, and Ryan Fitzpatrick – He still produced, and is a capable pass catcher; so playing from behind won’t be issue. And you can bet they will be. A lot.

Now no, I don’t expect Powell to be the #2 fantasy RB, as he was for the last 4 weeks of ’16, but he’s a solid RB2 (with RB1 upside) and is currently being drafted in the 8th round on average.

Yes, please. And, thank you.

RB I’m Avoiding: Jay Ajayi – MIA (ADP: 15)

Remember that whole bad draft/terror, pain, and misery thing from earlier? Wanna go that route? Spend your 2nd round pick on Ajayi.

Disclaimer: I just may have happened to drop Ajayi last season in Week 5 (right before his Week 6-9 explosion) but no, this is not some form of personal vendetta.

Look, three 200+ yard rushing games aren’t a product of luck. Clearly, Ajayi has skills. But, those 3 games (and his 111 yd Week 9) accounted for 58% of his rushing yards on the season. He totaled 537 yards in the remaining 11 contests, topping 75 yds just twice (scoring a TD in neither), and finished 37th in receptions, and 50th in receiving yards among RBs.

In much simpler terms, owning Ajayi left you disappointed more often than not, and there isn’t much (if anything) to suggest that’ll change this season. If he falls in the draft, sure. But, 2nd/3rd round? No thanks.

Wide Receiver

Barring a change in Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, i.e. Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco, NFL offenses remain largely unchanged year-to-year. Meaning, passing teams will continue to pass, and running teams will continue run. Translation: the 3rd WR on the Chiefs, won’t be nearly as valuable as the 3rd WR on the Saints.

Use that to your advantage.

It’d also be wise to take a look at last year’s target leaders, see who’s in line to see more/less based on roster changes, and also factor in the team’s offense.

Like RB, depth is the objective here.

WR I’m Targeting: John Brown – ARI (ADP: 122)

Ajayi wasn’t personal. This one is.

Maybe it’s because he’s a small college guy (Pittsburg St.), maybe it’s because his nickname is “Smokey”, or maybe it’s because he’s my size… I’m really not sure why, but he’s one of my favorite receivers in the game.

He also happens to be a baller!

Yeah, he’s coming off of a “down” year, but that’s mostly due to a sickle cell trait that limited him throughout the season. In fact, he was on the field for less than 50 snaps in 13 of the Cardinals 16 games. When he was on the field, however, there were flashes of 1,000 yard, 7 TD ’15 breakout season.

Looking at last year’s game log, he received more than 5 targets in 4 games:

Week 3 at BUF: 6 catches, 70 yards

Week 4 vs. LAR: 10 catches, 144 yards

Week 6 vs. NYJ: 5 catches, 54 yards

Week 15 vs. NO: 5 catches, 81 yards, TD

That’s 87.25 yards per game, which would have been the 4th highest in the league – ahead of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Mike Evans. Obviously, we can’t just exclude the other 11 games he played in, but there’s a direct correlation between yards and receptions, receptions and targets, and targets and snaps.

He should be ready to go in ’17, Larry Fitzgerald is a year older, and Michael Floyd is long gone. All of which should result in an increase in snaps, targets, receptions, and yards. Making him a prime bounce-back candidate.

And even if I’m wrong, he’s going in the 13th round, what do you have to lose?!

WR I’m Avoiding: Brandin Cooks – NE (ADP: 27)

Sure, Cooks signing with New England makes the Patriots offense massively scarier (didn’t think that was possible), but does it make him a better fantasy WR?

I actually think it makes him worse.

Take away the 5 Super Bowl rings, the golden boy smile, and all of the intangibles that factor into the aura that is Tom Brady

On sheer throwing ability, how much better of a QB is Brady than Brees?

He may be better, but it’s not by much. It’s not like Cooks is going from Osweiler to Montana here.  So, let’s just say the change at QB is a non-factor.

The change in offense is.

Cooks will have a bit more competition for targets in a Patriots uniform as Rob Gronkowski, James White, and Julian Edelman will all play a massive role in this offense, and then there’s Belichick – who cares not of individual performance, but of exploiting weakness.

Speaking of Edelman, he was Brady’s #1 receiver last season, and finished as the 22nd WR in standard scoring; without Gronkowski eating targets for 8 games. And let’s not forget, they also added Dwayne Allen, and Mike Gillislee.

I say all of that, to say this: sounds like a headache to me. One I can’t justify taking in the 3rd round.

Sure, Cooks will have some monster games, he’ll also have some duds. This just feels too ’11 Vincent Jackson to instill any form of excitement in me. And, if you were lucky enough to miss out on that roller coaster, don’t stand in line for this one.

Tight End

The difference between the #6 scoring TE last season (Cameron Brate), and the #16 TE (Dennis Pitta) was 31.1 points. That’s a little less than 2 fantasy points per game. Sure, you’ll have weeks where those 2 points matter, but why bother when you could be adding depth elsewhere?

Either take one of the big dogs early, or don’t draft one until late. Don’t waste a mid-round pick on a position that offers little variance, limited upside, and plenty of options.

TE I’m Targeting: Eric Ebron – DET (ADP 134)

Matthew Stafford threw 24 TD passes last season. Anquan Boldin caught 8 of them. 24 TD passes isn’t an enormous amount in today’s NFL (14th), so there’s a pretty good chance Stafford will hit or exceed that number in 2017.

Boldin is no longer with the Lions. So take away those 8 TDs (and the 22 red zone targets), and disperse them as you wish. No matter how you slice it, you’re left with one thing for Ebron: Inordinate potential.

You see, Ebron finished last season 8th among TEs in yards, and 10th in receptions. He had a solid year. Problem was, he only caught 1 TD pass. Now it doesn’t take a scholar to guess that a few of those 8 TDs will go his way (along with the 95 targets vacated by Boldin), and last I checked, 1+2 still equals 3.

Ebron has the talent, and opportunity, to finish in the Top-10 but is currently being drafted as the 14th TE off the board. Great value. No Wal-Mart.

TE I’m Avoiding: O.J. Howard – TB (ADP: 120)

As a late round flier, he’s not the worst pick in the world. But, he’s being drafted before John Brown and Eric Ebron on average… Bewilderment.

True, my man was an absolute monster at Bama. Let me correct myself, MONSTER. However, he’s still behind Cameron Brate on the depth chart; who’s proved to be a more than capable TE at the NFL level. They added DeSean Jackson, still have some guy named Mike Evans, and remember how Philip Rivers finished 1st in interceptions? Yeah, Jameis Winston was a close second.

All told, I think it’s opportunity that kills Howard in year 1, not talent.

Defense/Special Teams

If you haven’t received the message by now, I’ll say it again, the key to a productive draft is depth… And, that doesn’t apply to DST units.

Sure, there’s a pillowy comfort that comes from plugging in your DST, knowing it’s likely they’ll show up on a weekly basis, and having a backup option in the case of a poor matchup. But, there’s a ton of variables that come into play with DSTs, and in most weeks, a Top-10 option will be available on waivers. Don’t be lazy.

The Vikings finished last season as the #1 scoring DST with 175 points. The Texans? 20th with 110. That’s a difference of about 4 points per game. Now sure, those 4 points are valuable, but look at it this way, the Broncos are currently the first DST taken of the board – ADP 108. Guys like the aforementioned John Brown and Quincy Enunwa are going after that. Corey Coleman, Tyrell Williams, Samaje Perine, C.J. Prosise, James White, Jamaal Charles…. The list could go on with guys available at that point, who’s baseline is about 4 points per game, but have the potential to outscore (or come within striking distance of) the number 1 DST…

You’ve now bridged the gap.

Now, I won’t go into kickers. But I will say, if you’re taking one before the last round, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

 

Hope you enjoyed, and feel free to drop a comment with who you agree/disagree on, and who you’re liking for the upcoming fantasy football season. Also, be sure to subscribe, and check me out on Twitter: @maxingyourodds to stay up to date with the latest fantasy advice!

The complete list of rankings looks something like this (updates surely to come)…

 

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