Many of my Gut Check articles between May and July focus on analysis that I conduct to create my August draft plans. Those articles feature analysis that leads me to recommend what I think is best. This week, I'm taking a break from that to share a list of players that I like from each 12-pick tier in David Dodds' Top 300 Player Rankings in June.
These are players I believe in regardless of what my analysis recommends and I'm willing to go down with the ship if enough of these guys falter. It's unlikely I will try to draft all of these players on every team, but a handful of them will be on many of my crews heading into the fall.
First round: RB Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas)
Always the most difficult tier to choose one player, Elliot beats out a loaded field that includes Davante Adams, David Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffery. Each candidate from this tier is worth serious consideration and deserves an honorable mention:
The Gut Check has Adams projected for 180 targets, 118 receptions, 1,478 yards, and 14 touchdowns in Matt LaFleur's play-action passing offense that should maximize Adams' route running and YAC skills. He's one of the few players coming off a career-year where I'm optimistic he can add to it. If picking from the second-half of the first round, Adams is at the top of the list.
If there's a receiver capable of matching Adams' volume and scoring potential, it's Hopkins. Despite playing hurt last year, Hopkins had a career-year in every receiving category. Hopkins falls behind Adams in the pecking order because one of Keke Coutee and/or Will Fuller V should be healthy enough to direct targets way from Hopkins. This is great for the Texans' offense, but it removes Hopkins' overall upside in the fantasy pantheon.
McCaffrey is a stud yardage gainer who could lead the NFL backs in yards from scrimmage. The Gut Check's current yards-from-scrimmage projection for McCaffery is 1,967 yards and 12 touchdowns. If you're drafting your first-round pick based the fantasy floor of his volume ahead of touchdowns, McCaffrey is one of the safest picks on the board. However, most of the top 5-6 backs on yours truly's board have similar yardage projections, so why not opt for the option with the highest potential for touchdowns?
When it comes to David Johnson, the same question applies to him as it does Christian McCaffery. Both runners have mobile quarterbacks with the dynamic skills to earn touchdowns in the red zone with their legs.
The subtraction of Mark Ingram II could give Alvin Kamara a feature-back share of touches in New Orleans. Or, Latavius Murray is the next man up to replace Ingram's volume and cap Kamara's fantasy ceiling. Yours truly isn't buying the "Murray = Ingram" replacement value and he's projecting Kamara for 1,698 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns—a career-year. However, Sean Payton's tendencies dictate a touch percentage for Kamara that's not on par for feature-back production.
Last year, Kamara earned 41 percent of the team's carries in this offense. In 2016-2017, Ingram earned at least 50 percent of the attempts. If staying true to the role, yours truly's projection for Kamara to earn 48 percent of the attempts for the Saints' ground game this year is a little too high. While possible Kamara earns more carries than Murray, the likelihood of it happening is historically a stretch.
The scenarios for the players above are why Elliott remains a player that the Gut Check feels best about drafting first and going down with the ship if the selection fails. Elliott delivered 2,002 yards from scrimmage despite losing Pro Bowl center Travis Elliott for the season and "sixth offensive lineman" Jason Witten to temporary retirement.
With these two returning and Amari Cooper bolstering the perimeter passing game, Elliott should sustain his yardage totals. In 2016, Elliot earned 1,994 yards and 16 touchdowns behind an excellent offensive line, Witten in the fold, and Dez Bryant still delivering nearly 800 yards and 8 touchdowns.
There's a lot of buzz about rookie Tony Pollard, the running back-receiver hybrid from Memphis. Gil Brandt believes Pollard will earn excellent rookie production that will cut into Elliott's upside to the tune of 115 carries, 512 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, and 35 receptions.
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