My first projections cut took nearly 60 hours and I have likely invested another 20 hours per week at a minimum keeping this set where I think they represent the most likely outcomes of the players. Distilling data to one set of numbers does not do justice to some of these players who have terrific talent, opportunity, etc. I am penning this article to provide some perspective to guys I like or hate and some thoughts circling my brain that might have gotten lost in a dataset that reflects my best guess at all of the possible outcomes a player can have.
Players listed alphabetically by their last name and by position.
Kirk Cousins - He is being drafted as a top ten quarterback, but is now playing on a team that finished 22nd in pass attempts. Matt Bitonti, our offensive line expert, ranks their pass-blocking unit as a C-. Kirk Cousins might have landed the great contract in free agency, but I suspect he struggles to have the same success he had last year in Washington.
Jimmy Garoppolo - Maybe it's him dating a porn star in the offseason, or introducing the San Jose Sharks when they were playing the Boston Bruins, but this guy exudes the IT factor. I saw it last year in spades. The 49ers believed they could win with him in the huddle and did just that in every game he started. Everyone is thinking...he can't keep up these statistics throwing to Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor, right? This player just defies logic. I usually pass at his current ADP, but I won't be surprised when he is among the league leaders at quarterback in 2018.
Andrew Luck - He's back. And he still doesn't have a defense, an offensive line, or a running game. He was a clear buy to me early in the preseason, but as news of his health spread, his ADP has now priced him correctly to his corresponding risk. But here is another guy with that IT factor and when you have someone as talented as T.Y Hilton catching your passes, good things tend to happen. The Colts defense is so bad this year that Luck could benefit from nearly always playing from behind.
Eli Manning - I trust my eyes a lot while making projections. And by the middle of last season, my eyes told me the game has passed up Eli Manning. Erratic throws, different arm angles, weird footwork, no sense of the rush. Name it and he made that mistake. Admittedly, Odell Beckham Jr Jr. and Brandon Marshall were hurt and he now was playing with sub-par weapons, but even quarterbacks with bad receivers can have proper mechanics. It's a new season. Perhaps Eli will regain his lost youth. Me, I am passing until I see the improvement on Sundays.
Aaron Rodgers - I never like drafting early quarterbacks and this year is no exception. Most of Rodgers' upside is already baked into his most likely outcome and there are a few reasons to think he could regress in 2018. First, Randall Cobb is hobbled with an ankle injury. Second, Rodgers go-to wide receiver of the last few years (Jordy Nelson) is now starting in Oakland. I am not suggesting Rodgers will be bad in 2018 as he sits atop my quarterback list like everyone else, but using a high pick represents neutral value at best. You will field a better team by simply letting someone else grab him.
Alex Smith - He inherits a team that catapulted Kirk Cousins to a top-five finish in 2017. Alex Smith is never a sexy pick due to the dink/dunk nature of his passes, but he rarely makes mistakes. He is being drafted around QB16 and has a lock on the starting job unless he gets hurt. I can't see too many scenarios where he doesn't equal or beat this average draft position. He is the reason it's so easy to wait at quarterback. Getting "stuck" with Alex Smith after locking down all the other skill positions likely puts you in a position to compete for the title.
Tyrod Taylor - Having arguably the worst pass catchers in the league last season, Tyrod Taylor had the Bills competing each and every week. I suspect a lot of NFL teams are going to regret passing on Taylor in free agency. Discount the Baker Mayfield hype. The Browns are paying $16M this season to have Tyrod Taylor show this team how to win. He is a leader in every sense of the word. This Browns offense could have some teeth, especially if Josh Gordon can stay on the field. He is getting drafted at a point below his likely floor but offers upside with the best players at the position.
Deshaun Watson - He certainly passed the eye test last season before getting injured, but can he continue the high yards per attempt and touchdown rate? This is his second ACL tear in just 3 years and that should give everyone pause. I have him ranked as the 4th best option based on what he was able to do in limited snaps last season, but I am avoiding drafting him anywhere near that price.
Russell Wilson - Tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr have left. The offensive line has improved, but it still is worse than average. Seattle's premier defense is a shell of its former self. So what do all these moving parts say about Russell Wilson in 2018? I project him high because he is Russell Wilson, but I think he could greatly disappoint near his draft position. That defense gave Wilson short fields, extra clock, more possessions.
Carson Wentz - I think he is ready to play now, but the Eagles decided to pay Nick Foles a whopping $13.6 million insurance policy this offseason in case Carson was not ready to go by the start of the season. This same management could decide to play Foles until they really need Wentz making his worth a bit sketchy if he does not take the field in Week 1. It's a dicey proposition, but as bad as Foles has played this offseason, I suspect the Eagles roll with Carson Wentz under center from the start. He likely won't be as mobile as he was last season but still should be a solid producer in this offense.
Jay Ajayi - I don't trust Jay Ajayi to stay healthy and/or be consistent at the position. In 2017, he logged just two games over 100 yards rushing and only one touchdown all season as he battled knee issues. He flashed moments of greatness in 2016 with three two-hundred yard rushing games, yet ended the year with only 1,272 rushing yards. As I write this, he again is nicked up fighting an unknown lower-body ailment. I am avoiding him in all formats.
Peyton Barber- He has outplayed Ronald Jones in camp and is the projected Week 1 starter. Charles Sims to the injured reserve list further cements a big role for Barber. He is massively undervalued in drafts right now.
Saquon Barkley - The rookie enters the year with explosive skills and a combine to remember. And although I can see a point in time where Barkley deserves first-round consideration, I am hesitant to draft him near his ADP this season. The Giants offensive line is putrid and quarterback Eli Manning was so inconsistent with his throws, I would suspect defenses will load up the box to stop Barkley at all costs. He faces a murderer's row to start the season on defense (Jaguars, Cowboys, Texans, Saints, and Panthers). If you really want Saquon Barkley in 2018, trade for him after Week 5.
Giovani Bernard - The Bengals are projected to win just 6.5 games so I suspect we will see a lot of Bernard as the team plays from behind. In PPR, he remains a very safe selection near his ADP. Conversely, I am avoiding Joe Mixon at his ADP, because I think he will be pulled when the Bengals are playing catch-up football.
Rex Burkhead - The Patriots have scored a whopping 35 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, that production is usually scattered across a bunch of players. This is the player who I think could actually get a big piece of this pie this season. He is a value play in the fifth round or later.
Alex Collins - He enters the season as the unquestioned starter - both due to his successful 2017 season and a lack of competition for carries. On a team that went from 367 carries in 2016 to 461 in 2017, that's a good place to be.
Frank Gore - He has a million lives. I don't care how old he is. He never appears to be slowing down every time I watch him play. As I write this, he is now challenging Kenyan Drake for carries. He is going so late in drafts now that it is borderline comical. He is the perfect late-rounds best-ball back and will have a role this season.
Chris Ivory - There is a real concern that LeSean McCoy gets suspended and/or is put on the exempt list. Ivory is a solid backup that carries with it the possibility of being a workhorse back should McCoy get suspended. IMO, this is the safest way to hedge this situation without any real risk.
Kerryon Johnson - 363, 350, 354. Those are the last three years' rushing attempts for the Detroit Lions. It's simply not in their DNA to run the ball. Yes, they drafted a capable running back in Kerryon Johnson, but until I actually see the team game plan to run the ball, I am not going to believe they will effectively use him in that offense.
Aaron Jones - Suspended, hurt, and running behind Jamaal Williams devalues Jones despite the upside that a great offense brings. Ty Montgomery looks to have cemented himself in as the third-down back as well. I am intrigued by Jones' skill set but would rather trade for him if Jamaal Williams struggles out of the gate.
LeSean McCoy - Uggh. This story is so crazy. I want to believe that LeSean McCoy had nothing to do with the battered ex-girlfriend, but I have a feeling more dominoes are going to fall in this case before long. The Commissioner has the ultimate card to play - He can put a player on the exempt list (player gets paid) while the league figures out what to do next. It sucks for us fantasy players but is a strong option for the NFL if this story gets too far off the rails. McCoy represents solid value IF he plays the whole year, but that is an IF that comes with massive uncertainty for drafts happening now. Because I do not expect the Bills to be very good in 2018 (Vegas is predicting 6 wins), I don't see the potential for clock-killing production from McCoy to warrant the big risk. I am looking elsewhere for value.
Sony Michel - He is already hurt and came into the league with a fumbling problem from college. And he plays for Bill Belichick who will bench you for fumbling. There are too many other capable backs on New England's roster for me to want any part of this disaster just waiting to play out.
Lamar Miller - DOnta Foreman won't likely be ready to play in the early weeks (returning from an Achilles tear). This practically guarantees a giant workload against a very run-friendly schedule to start the year. Lamar is someone I am looking to draft in nearly every league I play in at his current ADP.
Adrian Peterson - It is easy to hate on the legend at 33 years old, and he could very well flame out in his opportunity in Washington. But make no mistake, Rob Kelley and Samaje Perrine are both awful running backs, so I won't be shocked when Adrian Peterson actually wins the job all season. In the later rounds, he is worth a flier. If he is awful, you will be able to see that very quickly.
Chris Thompson - This is the running back I like in Washington (especially in PPR scoring), but I am concerned that he is not expected to be 100 percent until November.
Keelan Cole - He finished 2017 as arguably the most reliable Jaguars wide receiver and has picked up where he left off at training camp. Let others draft Marquise Lee and Dede Westbrook. This is the Jaguars player that made Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson expendable.
Michael Crabtree - He has emerged as Baltimore's WR1 and has been steady all summer after signing his big contract as a free agent. The drafting of Lamar Jackson has lit a fire under quarterback Joe Flacco, and Crabtree could be the recipient of Flacco's hard work to improve this off-season.
Kenny Golladay - The Lions run three-wide-receiver sets so often that it hardly matters who is WR1, WR2, and WR3. But based on reports out of camp, Golladay looks to have taken over the outside job from Golden Tate (pushing him to slot receiver on most plays). I saw enough last preseason to confidently say Golloday could be a huge star in this league. I won't be shocked when he sits atop the Detroit wide receiver chart by season's end.
Marquise Goodwin - He is San Francisco's best option in the passing game and has been in sync at camp with quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo. If you believe in Jimmy Garoppolo, you need to believe in Marquise Goodwin. He could smash his draft position.
Josh Gordon - He is being drafted about right for the risk/reward, but let's be honest. He is going to either be a great steal or a horrible bust. I know the odds are stacked against him, but I genuinely believe he has turned his life around. He represents value to me and I will be drafting him when I can get him in the fifth round.
Alshon Jeffery - Is he ever not hurt? I know he is talented, but I like my wideouts healthy and he is always battling something. He makes my no-draft list for 2018.
Jordy Nelson - Seth Roberts is in danger of not making the Raiders 53-man roster. Martavis Bryant is wildly inconsistent. So it should not be shocking to see Jordy emerging into the WR2 role for the Raiders behind Amari Cooper. Jordy looked awful once Aaron Rodgers went down last year, but the early camp reports suggest Jordy Nelson has found his old game and is dominating again. He is a cheap option that has massive upside.
John Ross - How quickly people forget, but Ross came into the league with massive skills and was drafted as the ninth overall pick in 2017. Injuries derailed his rookie season, but he is healthy now and lighting up camp. Maybe because he plays for the Bengals, but no one seems to be noticing. He is my breakout wide receiver for 2018.
Kenny Stills - He outplayed Devante Parker in 2017 and that has continued this summer. He is Miami's WR1 going into the season.
Terrance Williams - The Cowboys are eating $16.9 million in dead money contracts to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant this year and also have issues surrounding the sudden retirement of tight end Jason Witten. This is important because the Cowboys seem unwilling to spend money to bolster their pass-catchers this season and look like they will address both wide receiver and tight end when they get cap relief in 2019. By default, Terrance Williams will have a role in this offense, and he might even be miscast as the team's WR1. He can be drafted in the last round of most drafts and is a decent dart throw with little to no risk.
Tyrell Williams - The loss of tight end Hunter Henry will have the Chargers playing more three- and four-wide-receiver sets this year. Tyrell Williams is a talented piece of the Chargers attack and is extremely undervalued in drafts.
Charles Clay - Another year and Charles Clay is back on the value list. Because you can usually get him so cheap, it devalues the tight end position for me considerably. Let others overpay for the stars at this position and I will take Charles Clay late.
Tyler Eifert - It's so easy to hate on Tyler Eifert. He has been hurt a lot. Betting on himself, he signed a one-year deal that is loaded with incentives for him to stay on the field. At his current ADP, he is a bargain if he stays healthy. If he doesn't stay healthy, his backup Tyler Kroft is a bargain. In leagues with deep rosters, the prudent move is to roster both players and wait for this story to be told.
Blake Jarwin - He is the Cowboys' starting tight end and is going undrafted. In leagues like the FFPC that reward a premium to the position, he is a decent late dart throw.
David Njoku - The industry is likely universally under-projecting Njoku at present even after his breakout two-touchdown game in the preseason. I expect Njoku to play nearly every offensive snap in this offense. He is backed up by an underwhelming Seth Devalve.