Cost is key for fantasy football drafts as a player can be a screaming value in Round 5, but squeezing all the profit out if snagging them in Round 3. In the style of Draft This, Not That here are the standout target and avoid players for 2017 drafts:
*myfantasyleague.com ADP data 'after August 1, 2017' for 12-team redraft leagues*
Any of the 'Big 2' running backs
Without Ezekiel Elliott at the top of the draft, David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell stand alone as clear luxury selections at 1.01 and 1.02. Without separation from 1.03 to the later 1st, having a later pick is the next best draft position.
Gordon is the favorite value option in the later first. With no Danny Woodhead for most of 2016, Gordon was commonly among the top running backs in the league on a weekly basis in snap rate (north of 90%) and usage. Woodhead is gone to Baltimore and Branden Oliver (recovering from Achilles injury) is the closest replacement as the Chargere eschewed the running back position in their off-season to-do list.
Wide receiver with the exception of Jordan Nelson, if pressed at running back options, late in the round
While other owners pay a higher price for Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and potentially other receivers mixed into the earlier Round 1 zone, Jordy Nelson is the value play if going receiver in the first. Nelson has 13+ touchdowns in three of his last four healthy seasons and finished in the top-2 of fantasy receivers each time. Nelson is the unquestioned No.1 receiver for Aaron Rodgers and has seen 150+ targets each of the last two seasons (not counting his missed 2015 year).
Both backs are on the upward swing of a running back's historical career arc and unquestioned starters. Ajayi enjoys the Adam Gase system and did not get started last season until October. From that point forward, Ajayi was the No.8 overall running back in fantasy. For Todd Gurley, the best is on pedigree and a complete reset of the Rams struggling offense last season. Gurley's workhorse is safe and a coaching restart, plus Jared Goff in Year 2, offers promise for a rebound closer to Gurley's 2015 than 2016. Even through all the turmoil and 'bust' talk, Gurley finished as a mid-RB2 in PPR scoring last season and hit 12+ fantasy points in 56% of his games. While not the same as his 54% of games of more than 16 points as a strong rookie performer, if 2016 is a worst case for Gurley he is closer to his floor than his ceiling in the mid-to-late second round of drafts.
Hilton has averaged 23% fewer fantasy points in games without Andrew Luck in his career. Without ambiguity of Luck's status for early in the season, this is an added risk for Hilton out of the gate. Also, Hilton is coming off a career year and WR5 result, by far his highest to-date.
Diving into the quarterback pool early is tough to turn a profit. With Tom Brady a round later in ADP and Drew Brees a full two rounds later, plus the committee quarterback zone strong this year out to around 18 signal-callers, there is little argument to splurge for Rodgers with a late-Round 2 ADP.
Mixon is one of the few potential difference-makers at running back in the middle rounds. Mixon is a two-way back with talent to rival any back in this year's class. Jeremy Hill is 'just a guy' and Mixon, while he may be a slow-starter to the season with a committee in effect, can be a David Johnson-like impact later in the season with a full complement of touches.
McCaffrey will live and die for his fantasy ceiling needing elite pass-catching usage. While Carolina is sure to improve their bottom-of-the-barrel PPR production at running back from recent seasons with the addition of McCaffrey, the rookie will need a Reggie Bush-like season to justify his purchase price.
While firmly the No.2 receiver in Green Bay to Jordy Nelson, the Packers (read: Aaron Rodgers) are one of the few passing offenses to consider a secondary receiver as high upside. Rodgers churns out a strong touchdown rate across his weapons and Adams is no different with 12 touchdowns and 121 targets last season in his breakout year to-date.
Landry is priced close to his ceiling this season as his 131 targets in 2016 was by far the highest for the Dolphins. DeVante Parker is primed for an expanded role, the team brought back Kenny Stills, plus Julius Thomas offers more upside than the anemic 35 targets accrued by de facto starting tight end Dion Sims last year. Add in the variable of Jay Cutler's addition and Landry seeing more targets early in 2016 when Jay Ajayi was not a cornerstone aspect of the run game and Landry is an avoid player in this draft range.
Despite all the hand-wringing and tough love coach speak this offseason, Hyde is in terrific shape for camp and the preseason by reports and clearly the most talented option in San Francisco's backfield. In the mid-RB2 zone of ADP, Hyde is one of the few upside candidates with a three-down projection and on the career arc upward remaining as a Week 1 starter.
Carolina added two offensive weapons in the top-50 of this year's draft (Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel) plus Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess were relative disappointments last year. Olsen led the team in targets in 2016 and finished a career-high TE4. With added targets and more run game dimensions, Olsen will be hard pressed to matchup his production and justify his ADP.
Both are Steady Eddie type options with a top-30 floor and WR2 ceiling. Fitzgerald has extended his upside of late with a shift into the slot. Willie Snead IV stands to benefit from Brandin Cooks leaving for New England and Ted Ginn Jr being a deep threat replacement, but not on short to intermediate routes. The secondary receiver in New Orleans commonly has finished in the top-25 during the Sean Peyton-Drew Brees era and Snead stands to benefit this season.
Even when Abdullah was drafted his role in Detroit was ambiguous with receiving maven Theo Riddick present and Abdullah not possessing a goal line-type build. With high receiver upside (outside of Riddick missing time) and a low touchdown upside, Abdullah loses all tiebreakers in this draft range without strong long-touchdown level speed to his credit, the third element for backs without elite PPR or touchdown potential.
Woodhead is a good bet to approach the NFL lead for running back targets this season. Baltimore is New Orleans North in terms of churning out passing production from their running backs in recent seasons. With Kenneth Dixon out for the season, Woodhead will have exclusive access to elite PPR numbers on an already high-volume passing attack. Expect Woodhead to go in Round 6 (or even late Round 5) of many drafts while the ADP catches up and be aggressive taking Woodhead as a strong RB3 on rosters or RB2 when adding in an early receiver or tight end when appropriate.
Kevin White will get every opportunity to justify his No.7 overall draft position in 2017, pending his balky health to-date. Priced in the WR3/4 zone of positional ADP, Meredith has limited profit potential even if he emerges as the clear No.1 option for Chicago. With a projected bottom-8 quarterback situation in 2017, the historical WR1 for those level of passing games has finished as WR35 with the WR2 finishing outside the top-60. Meredith's 97 targets last year included a full month without Alshon Jeffery in the lineup and Kevin White missing all but four games. The perfect storm is unlikely to happen again and his price is markedly different than free from the waiver wire like last season.
With minimal competition for targets (every other receiver plus the starting tight end job in San Francisco is up for grabs), Garcon is a strong bet historically as the No.1 Kyle Shanahan option. Top-15 PPR production is possible for Garcon and it could be shades of 2013 in Washington when Garcon had 182 targets and lapped the team field for opportunity.
The Titans had one of the weakest wide receiver groups in the NFL last year, boosting Walker's volume with Rishard Matthews with a cameo role as the WR1. Tennessee drafted Corey Davis as the top receiver off the board in April and added Eric Decker from free agency. Walker is one of the lower upside tight end options compared to his ADP this season.
Riddick has averaged more than six targets per game over the past two seasons. In fact, Riddick has more receptions than any other running back in the NFL over the span, despite missing six games. Riddick's eight receiver touchdowns match David Johnson and Riddick is averaging more than 11 PPR PPG as a receiver alone.
The mantra 'fade rookie tight ends' is in effect for 2017. While the first tight end off the board in the NFL Draft and paired with a quality quarterback, Howard faces stiff competition for targets. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are strong No.1 and No.2 receiver options and Cameron Brate is poised to be a roadblock to Howard's snap counts and opportunity at tight end, at least in the first couple months of the season.
The theme at quarterback the savvy veteran with strong weapons. Rivers and Manning are both strong committee options with top-10 upside on their own. Selecting a single quarterback in more shallow redraft leagues and being active on the waiver wire (if necessary) is the optimal roster construction for start-1 formats.
Listed in order of ADP, West and Forte offer Week 1 starting options on the cheap. The rest of the list contains priority backup options ranging from those with flex potential without an injury in front of them (Darren McFadden, Robert Turbin, Tim Hightower, T.J. Yeldon) to higher upside starters if pressed into a larger role (Jonathan Williams, James Conner).
The theme of this list (outside of Ginn) is taking shots at finding a team's No.1 receiver. Britt has the highest odds of the bunch with White and Wallace the next most likely to lead their team's receiver corps in targets. Doctson will need to battle Terrelle Pryor and Breshad Perriman is a darkhorse candidate among Wallace and Jeremy Maclin in Baltimore.
Ebron fits the criteria for having top-half TE1 upside with a strong quarterback and a team without a dominant WR1. Witten is the steady option and his price has dropped in recent years with his waning production. However, Witten remains in the TE10-15 range on volume alone. Watson is the sleeper play at strong volume and getting a hot early season waiver wire option in the final rounds of the draft. Returning from an Achilles injury, Watson is the leader in the Baltimore clubhouse to be the Week 1 starter on a high volume passing game.
Without a superflex environment, there is little upside to taking Mahomes. He is unlikely to start early in the season and holding him will be tough to validate over early waiver wire options.
Williams and McNichols are overvalued rookies with crowded depth charts. Charles is a big injury question mark independent of team strength or opportunity dynamics, and Jeremy Hill has Giovani Bernard returning from injury and Joe Mixon looking inevitable to be the lead back in short order even if Hill has a notable early-season role.
The theme here is crowded depth charts and limited ceilings. Thielen will face more competition from rookie no-show LaQuon Treadwell this season. Coming off a career year, Thielen is now priced much closer to his ceiling than floor. Ross has A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and strong receiving backs to fend off for meaningful volume. Samuel has more NFL potential in 2017 than fantasy upside with a bevy of other weapons in Carolina and a 'tweener' between running back and receiver in terms of skillset. Shepard has Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram added to the mix in the Giants pecking order.
Even Round 1 picks, rookie tight ends are poor fantasy bets. Evan Engram is on a loaded passing game with Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard, not to mention Shane Vereen out of the backfield. Just 6% of Round 1 tight ends produce at least five games of 50+ yards as rookies, with 25% producing zero such games. David Njoku has an easier depth chart to navigate, but also is paired with a weaker quarterback situation and enters the NFL more on the raw side than Engram.