Whether or not to include players with early season suspensions in your draft plans seems to be an annual tradition in fantasy football. This year’s suspended list lacks the star power of a Le'Veon Bell, but don’t think that it is any less important to your draft plan than the decision on Bell was two years ago. Mark Ingram II and Julian Edelman both are lined up for ample opportunity in featured comfortable roles central to top end offenses. Both could level off as low-end #1’s at their position once they return from four-game suspensions.
Should you take Ingram?
The Saints backfield continues to be one of the most productive in the league, year in, year out. Last year, it supported two fantasy RB1, and there’s no reason think it can’t do it this year. On a points per game basis, Ingram was the PPR RB5 from Week 6 on after Adrian Peterson was traded to Arizona, behind only Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and his teammate Alvin Kamara. Even a more than healthy regression of 25 percent from his Weeks 6-17 pace in 2017 would still have left him as RB12 over that span. Read Chase Stuart on valuing a player that will miss the start of the season. Ingram will provide more ADP in eight fantasy football regular season games than his ADP peers will provide in 12. He’s an easy call as your RB2 in the late fourth or early fifth.
Should you take Edelman?
Without Brandin Cooks in the mix, Edelman is similarly situated to his role in 2015, when Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski were his main competition for targets. Edelman was on pace for a career-high line of 108-1230-12 when he broke a bone in his foot and missed the last seven games. He was easily a WR1 in any format and worthy of a first-round pick. Without a strong second tight end, Edelman played a large role in the red zone. The Patriots again lack a strong second tight end after Martellus Bennett left for Green Bay, returned, and then retired. Edelman’s ADP has been falling since his suspension was announced, and he should definitely be available in the sixth round, if not the seventh or even eighth. The potential for resumed WR1 production and likelihood of at least WR2 production makes him worth that price.
What about both?
Yes, and you should. Even if you only have five bench spots, you can navigate the first four weeks with two of those spots taken up by Ingram and Edelman. You’ll need to avoid having multiple Washington and Carolina players because their Week 4 bye would be crippling for your roster flexibility. Your remaining three bench slots should still be taken up by your three least valuable players the same way they would if you took players other than Ingram and Edelman in the mid rounds, so it shouldn’t sacrifice waiver activity in the first four weeks. If you have benches of eight or more players, it is even easier to make the case for Ingram and Edelman. While it might seem ill-advised to take two suspended players, you can alter your draft targets to compensate for Ingram and Edelman’s early absences, and then have the chance of the equivalent of five players with Round 3 or higher value or six with Round 4 or higher value once they return.
what about Jameis Winston?
Now that Winston officially been suspended for three games, what do we do with him? He is going to miss potential shootouts against New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and the Bucs have a Week 5 bye. Carrying Winston as your second quarterback when he can only play in one of the first five weeks is not advisable unless you're in a league with more than 12 teams or more than 20 roster spots unless you see Winston with a real shot at being at top 5 quarterback once he returns. Even in that case, it probably isn't necessary to draft him as there's a high probability that the team that drafts him will drop him for a hot name in an early waiver wire. That is likely because weighing the potential gain from holding Winston versus the potential opportunity cost of missing an early waiver pickup breaks in favor of passing on him. If you want Winston, there's a good chance that he'll be available on the waiver wire in September.
Targets if you select Ingram
Rex Burkhead, RB, NE (Cost: 7th-8th round)
Burkhead elegantly brings together both of our suspended players storylines. Without Edelman in the lineup, Burkhead should get a few more targets and red zone opportunities. First-round pick Sony Michel could be integrated gradually, giving Burkhead the largest role he’ll have all season in the first few games. Burkhead was a mid RB2 on a point-per-game basis in PPR leagues last year despite having two games shortened by injury and having a minimal role in another. You should probably be targeting him whether or not you take Ingram, but he’s a more than suitable RB2 while Ingram is out.
Opening Schedule: HOU @JAX @DET MIA - The Houston, Detroit, and Miami games could be high-scoring, and Burkhead will be a prime target out of the backfield against a tough Jaguars secondary and pass rush.
Lamar Miller, RB, HOU (Cost: 5th round)
Miller works if you have an early first draft slot, then take Ingram in the late fourth and Miller in the early fifth. While he lacks the big plays that created value earlier in his career in Miami, He had two multi-score games, four games with at least three receptions, and no fewer than 63 total yards with four games over 80 in Deshaun Watson’s six starts. That’s perfectly acceptable RB2 production. D’Onta Foreman was threatening to take over more of the running game after Watson’s season-ending ACL tear, Foreman suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 11, and the team will likely bring him along slowly early in the season, increasing Miller’s chances of sustaining the nearly 20 touch a game workload he had with Watson last year.
Opening Schedule: @NE @TEN IND @NYG - One of Miller’s two-score games with Watson came against Tennessee. No one is going to confuse the Patriots, Colts, or Giants defenses with any of the top units in the league. This is a favorable quartet for the Texans offense.
Dion Lewis, RB, TEN (Cost: 5th-6th round)
Lewis is an alternative to Miller in the fifth, and there’s a possibility that he’ll be there for you in the sixth. The Titans paid up for his services, and the new offensive coordinator helped make Todd Gurley a force in the passing game last year. The Titans neglected their running backs as receivers more than any other team last year, and the acquisition of Lewis is a clear sign that they want to change that this year. He very easily could open the season as part of a 50-50 committee, and the better part in PPR leagues even though he is going after Derrick Henry in drafts. Like Burkhead, Lewis has the look of a profitable pick at ADP as long as he is healthy, and one you should consider whether or not you take Ingram.
Opening Schedule: @MIA HOU @JAX PHI - Miami’s linebackers have been notoriously poor in coverage, and as mentioned above, Jacksonville tends to discourage opponents from testing their corners or running long-developing plays against their pass rush. The Houston and Philadelphia games have high-scoring potential. There’s nothing here to discourage a choice of Lewis as a temporary RB2.
Alex Collins, RB, BAL (Cost: 3rd-4th round)
Collins might not sync up well with Ingram because he’s not always there in the late fourth, but if you start WR-WR around the first-second turn and want to go RB-RB around the 3-4 turn, Collins-Ingram is viable. Collins was an RB1 in the second half of the year, elite guard Marshal Yanda is back, and he’ll have a whole offseason to become a better fit in the Ravens offense. He’s another pick that is undervalued and worth your attention regardless of your level of interest in Ingram.
Opening Schedule: BUF @CIN DEN @PIT - The season opener against Buffalo should be a fantasy bonanza, the Bengals were one of the worst run defenses in the league last year, and Collins best game of 2017 came against Pittsburgh
Marshawn Lynch, RB, OAK (Cost: 6th-7th round)
Lynch is one of the cheapest starting running backs, and he’s paired with a coach that wants to use him heavily. Lynch was going in the third round at this time last year, but unless Doug Martin turns this into a committee backfield, you are getting virtually the same commodity at a huge discount with a coach who is probably more inclined to lean on Lynch from a philosophical point of view.
Opening Schedule: LAR @DEN @MIA CLE - This could be a sticking point, as the matchups against the Rams and at the Broncos don’t project to be good ones for a running game script or Lynch’s effectiveness. Weeks 3 and 4 when the Raiders travel to Miami and have the Browns come to town are better matchups, but not exactly pushovers
Devontae Booker, RB, DEN (Cost: 10th round or later)
Booker is not a preferred option, but he could have underrated value when focusing only on the first four games of the season. Third-round pick Royce Freeman is almost certainly going to be better between the tackles and should be the lead back by the end of the season, barring unexpected growth from Booker. The Broncos should still err on the side of going with experience early in the season unless Freeman blows them away in camp and the preseason, and give Booker at least half of the work in the backfield at first. We will also need to monitor the roles for UDFA rookie Phillip Lindsay and 2017 sixth-rounder De’Angelo Henderson, who could turn this into a three-headed backfield with a strong summer.
Opening Schedule: SEA OAK @BAL KC - None of these run defenses are dominant and the Broncos should be competitive in most, if not all of these games. Booker should at least be flex-worthy unless Freeman has supplanted him.
New Orleans Saints #3 running back (Cost: Late Round Pick)
This could be the simplest answer, and it’s definitely the cheapest. The Saints added Terrance West, which isn’t a great sign about their confidence in the group of 2017 UDFA (and brother of two 2018 first-round picks) Trey Edmunds, 2018 sixth-round pick Boston Scott, and Jonathan Williams (who was reunited with his college position coach after the Saints signed him off of the Broncos practice squad in November). Training camp and the preseason should clarify this picture with performance and perhaps a roster move or two. If you had to select one right now, Williams has the highest ceiling and skill set best suited for all three downs.
Opening Schedule: @BAL @MIN LAR @CIN - The Vikings are a brutal matchup and the Rams could be after Ndamukong Suh was added in the offseason. The Saints will also be on the road for three of the first four games, so the bargain basement price reflects the odds of the Saints RB2 truly solving your RB2 question if you select Ingram. The good news is that they will be the last running back on your bench and only a fallback option.
Targets if you select Edelman
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI (Cost: 4th round)
Fitzgerald is sure to lead the Cardinals in targets, especially early in the season with Sam Bradford getting used to his new targets in Arizona. The team doesn’t have a top end #2 receiver or receiving tight end, so it’ll be the David Johnson and Fitzgerald show in the passing game.
Opening Schedule: WAS @LAR CHI SEA - This is where the argument for Fitzgerald as part of a draft plan that includes Edelman resides. He’ll face Washington, who traded away a top slot corner (Kendall Fuller) this offseason, the Rams, who feature Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters on the outside, Chicago, where slot corner is a weakness, and Seattle, who Fitzgerald caught 18 balls against last year. It won’t be surprising if Fitzgerald is leading the league in receptions after four weeks.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, DEN (Cost: 7th-8th round)
Sanders was playing through an ankle injury last year and he’s getting a considerable upgrade at quarterback in Case Keenum so he should be on your target list whether you end up with Edelman or not. It’s possible that second-round pick Courtland Sutton will start to take some outside snaps away from Sanders as he develops, but that’s not likely to happen in the first month of the season.
Opening Schedule: SEA OAK @BAL KC - Sanders will face the mediocre to poor outside corners of Seattle, Oakland, and Kansas City at home in Weeks 1,2, and 4. Week 3 has the Broncos traveling to Baltimore in the only negative matchup
Kenny Golladay, WR, DET (Cost: 11th round or later)
In a theme of this article, Golladay is a player that should be on your draft priority list no matter what your take is on suspended players. He is situated to be in a 1A/1B/1C scenario with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr and prominently featured in the red zone. He’ll soak up some of the targets Eric Ebron vacated and also get a lot of play in the deep passing game. He’s easily the best value of the Lions trio of receivers.
Opening Schedule: NYJ @SF NE @DAL - This foursome of games is enticing for multiple reasons. The 49ers and Patriots games could be shootouts. New England and the Jets don’t generate a lot of pass rush, which will allow Matthew Stafford the time to find Golladay deep.
Deshaun Watson is well ahead of schedule in his rehab, which should reduce the fear factor when selecting Fuller. He was a WR1 with Watson last year with seven touchdowns in four games, so there’s room in Fuller’s value for some regression in big play rate while he’s still a profitable pick. My love of fourth-rounder Keke Coutee is well-documented, and he’ll benefit from the same factors that elevated Fuller last year.
Opening Schedule: @NE @TEN NYG @IND - The opener against the Patriots has shootout written all over it. The Titans gave up two scores to Fuller in their matchup with Watson last year. As long as DeAndre Hopkins sees a lot of Janoris Jenkins, Fuller will have a terrific matchup against the Giants, and it doesn’t matter who lines up against him in Indianapolis, the matchup will be even better. Tennessee, the Giants, and the Colts all have slot corner deficiencies too, so that makes Coutee a good hold and possible early season impact player.
Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR (Cost: 7th-8th Round)
Brandin Cooks has taken the place of Sammy Watkins as #1 receiver in Los Angeles, which means he’ll absorb the coverage of #1 corners. This often left Kupp open against lesser matchups in the slot, and Jared Goff is well-conditioned to quickly find the most advantageous spot to throw the ball on time with accuracy. Kupp should be even better coming off of his first full NFL offseason.
Opening Schedule: @OAK ARI LAC MIN - Gareon Conley will likely draw Cooks, leaving Kupp and open to run free against the Raiders slot corner. Patrick Peterson might not follow Cooks around the formation under new head coach Steve Wilks, but we can be reasonably sure he won’t line up in the slot against Kupp, who posted 4-51-1 and 5-68 against the Cardinals last year. The Chargers have Casey Hayward to lock up Cooks and another strong outside corner in Jason Verrett, factors that should funnel targets to Kupp. Kupp posted a solid 6-64 against the Vikings last year with Xavier Rhodes blotting out Watkins. It’s possible, even likely that Kupp leads the team in targets and receptions after four weeks.
Kenny Stills, WR, MIA (Cost: 10th-11th round)
Stills is an intriguing pick because Jarvis Landry’s vacated targets won’t be completely taken up by Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, both of whom are playing with Ryan Tannehill for the first time. The team is taking a more measured approach to expectations for Devante Parker, so it’s not a stretch to project Stills as the #1 receiver to open the season. His cost is puzzlingly cheap for a receiver who has been a WR3 with a high weekly ceiling for the last two years.
Opening Schedule: TEN @NYJ OAK @NE - Will the Jets put Trumaine Johnson on Stills or Parker? How about Stephon Gilmore? The Tennessee and Oakland matchups are favorable no matter who covers Stills, and he could get the weaker outside corner in his AFC East matchups. None of these teams are known for having a stifling pass defense.
Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG (Cost: 10th-11th round)
Shepard could be the fourth fiddle in the Giants passing game after Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram, but he also should be the last priority for opposing defenses. He posted a 7-133-1 in one of Odell Beckham’s few healthy games last year.
Opening Schedule: JAX @DAL @HOU NO - This is a beautiful draw for Shepard to open the season. Beckham will face shutdown corners in Weeks 1 and 4, and an inexperienced slot corner in Week 2. His toughest matchup will be Aaron Colvin in Week 3, but that game vs the Texans has the potential to be a track meet.
What about Chris Hogan?
Hogan would seem to be the automatic winner when Edelman is out, but we should remember that he had Brandin Cooks drawing top outside corners last year. The opening four games this year are Houston, which should be good for Hogan, and then Jacksonville, Detroit, and Miami. Jacksonville has the best outside corner combination in the league, Detroit has Darius Slay, and Miami has their own up and coming shutdown corner in Xavien Howard. Would Matt Patricia waste Slay on the likes of Phillip Dorsett or Kenny Britt when he knows how integral Hogan was to the pass offense last year? Remember when Howard blanketed Cooks and helped Miami stifle the Patriots offense last year? It’s possible that Hogan’s Weeks 2, 3, and 4 go similar to his Week 1 last year when he faced Marcus Peters.