There are a lotta ins and outs, a lotta what-have-you's in our heads about fantasy football right now, it is difficult to keep track of it all. I've tried to capture what is slanting through my gourd and more importantly being informed my gut or intuition - which is not mysterious but a hyperprocessing of all of the data and experience we bring to bear when making a decision - by recording a stream of consciousness of salient takeaways on a team-by-team basis. Hope it helps you organize your thoughts as you head into drafts.
The NFC East
Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant could get off to a hot start with Ezekiel Elliott out for six games, assuming his suspension holds up on appeal. That hot start could also be delayed by an opening 1-2 combination of the Giants and Broncos. The Cowboys offense is also adjusting to some changes on the line. They could be a buy low by Week 3... Taking Elliott in the second takes courage, but if you can scuffle and get to 3-4 by the time he returns, you will be set up very well with a second Top 5 quality player for the stretch run and playoffs. Plenty of teams make the playoffs when one of their early picks contributes very little for long stretches of the season. Bet on yourself to be a good enough fantasy GM to make taking Elliott work for you.
New York Giants
I’m fascinated by Paul Perkins, but can’t find the will to pull the trigger over the crop of solid-strong QB1s, solid TE1s, and upside WR3/Flex plays around the same point in my draft. The Giants inability to run the ball is holding me back, and I’ve never been a strong Perkins believer. The Giants appear to be and if Eli Manning is better than 2016, I’ll regret not having more shares of him at a very reasonable price, especially if Shane Vereen can’t stay healthy... The picture of target distribution with the strongest #2 and #3 of the Beckham era is difficult to get into focus. Certainly Brandon Marshall can’t outproduce ADP unless Sterling Shepard is a non-factor, Odell Beckham takes a hit, or Eli Manning takes a step forward. My inability to get a handle on this offense has me staying away but I sense there could be a profitable pick or two here.
This offense was frustrating for fantasy last year because of the myriad of options at every position and the somewhat capped upside of a unit headed by a rookie. Carson Wentz could take a step forward this year, but he won’t be among the league’s top half of passers, and the offense is still stacked with options… Perhaps Zach Ertz is the play here now that Jordan Matthews is gone, but I have trouble investing in players whose fantasy outlook exceeds their ability to add value to their touches. Alshon Jeffery might have a rough takeoff with his new team. LeGarrette Blount looks pedestrian and is far from a lock to be the early-down and touchdown option. I’m ending most of my drafts with no Eagles on my roster.
The Washington pass offense is going to contribute to fantasy wins this year, but it could be a slow start if Jordan Reed is rusty and Kirk Cousins hasn’t established a connection with Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson yet. This offense can support three fantasy wide receivers and Reed, and at least one receiver’s production will greatly exceed investment if Reed’s toe is a problem all year... Cousins isn’t one of the most exciting value quarterbacks with these questions to resolve, but he’s still good enough to merit investment in the targets. Rob Kelley will start the season as the #1 back and games against the Rams, Raiders, and 49ers in the first five weeks should justify a pick if you are relying on Elliott or Doug Martin earlier in your draft... If the running game stays bogged down early, we could see Samaje Perine by midseason but is his modest upside worth the roster spot? Not unless his ADP continues to drop. This offense is undervalued on the whole in fantasy drafts, but not as much as it was before Reed’s injury and the slow rampup by the newer weapons.
The NFC North
Mitchell Trubisky hit some Dak Prescott-esque notes in his preseason play to date. It might be meaningless, but Mike Glennon isn’t inspiring any confidence thus far and could threaten to suck the life out of the Bears offense a la Osweiler and in a more striking way than Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley could last year. Trubisky gives you hope if you take Jordan Howard or Cameron Meredith, but there’s no guarantee his preseason performance portends any kind of rookie success, just that the team will at least allow there’s a chance he could move the offense, whereas they are probably going to look on Mike Glennon in a similar fashion to the way Jacksonville looks on Blake Bortles. The offensive line and running game success last year could carry over for Howard. Meredith could build on his strong performances in high volume games from last year with little legit competition for targets. I’m probably letting others rely on those factors and avoiding the Bears in my drafts.
While we pause to remember the archetypal toughness, strength, and complete focused exertion that was Anquan Boldin in the NFL, let us also remember that his departure leaves a lot of red zone chances and targets up for grabs in the Detroit offense. Surely some will go to rookie sensation Kenny Golladay, but Eric Ebron’s balky hamstring raises the specter of another not quite putting it together season. I’m open to Marvin Jones Jr being a quality weekly WR3/Flex with some of the red zone opportunity flowing into his cup. Golden Tate was already a PPR low WR1 after his benching. The name to remember here is Ameer Abdullah. If he makes the run game credible, this offense could improve across the board. The Lions top two wideouts and top running back are worth investments, and I suppose Stafford is too, but he gets lost in a deep low QB1/strong QB2 tier.
Aaron Rodgers had one of the most impactful fantasy seasons of his career last year, and he did with a so-so start, little running game to speak of, banged up Randall Cobb, and sometimes present and effective play at tight end. The team has taken steps to improve all of those situations and while it might bring down Rodgers’ career high attempts from 2016, his yards per attempt/completion numbers from last year have room to improve when plotted next to his career norms. He’s worth his ADP... Ty Montgomery’s injury has taken some of the shine off of his upside with his ADP pushing the third round, and instead Jamaal Williams is becoming one of the more interesting backup running backs to target late in drafts. I can’t let go of the vision of Cobb at the top of his game, so he’s on my list in the 7th/8th, but I allow that his health trend could continue and make Bennett or Adams even more valuable.
The Vikings are a sleeper offense to take a big step forward from 2016. Their offensive line has to be better, Dalvin Cook will breathe life into the backfield, and one of Michael Floyd/Laquon Treadwell could improve the #3 wide receiver spot. Also Pat Shurmur is fully installed as the offensive coordinator instead of taking over for Norv Turner in-season. Let’s remember that Shurmur was the one that lobbied the team to trade for Bradford after he worked with him in St. Louis and Philadelphia. At least one or two players from this offense could be highly profitable… I can’t quite take the plunge with Stefon Diggs, who needs Jarvis Landry volume to flourish. He’ll have big games but lack of scores and his injury history keep me from investing… Kyle Rudolph is boring but will probably provide an excellent return on investment if injuries strike the tight end position like they did last year, and an improved offense would give him more scoring opportunities… I won’t talk anyone out of taking Dalvin Cook in the third with an offense that should feed him receptions and a backfield that is his to control now.
The NFC South
Julio Jones is the pick in the four slot over Odell Beckham because of the team’s potential emphasis on him in the red zone… Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper are all worth consideration in the second half of your draft. Sanu played through a bum shoulder and is a starter in a great pass offense. Gabriel was absurdly productive on a per touch basis and isn’t joining the team on the eve of the season this time around. Hooper will take over a tight end position that late career Jacob Tamme sometimes made productive. To top it off the team opens with the Bears, Packers, Lions and Bills defenses, all having questions about their secondary or pass rush coming into the season.
As my nephew Matt Harmon indicated on Twitter, don’t let the historical trends behind the Carolina offense confine what you believe Christian McCaffrey is capable of this year. He is not just an ideal fit in a developing short passing game, but McCaffrey is also better suited for the Panthers running game than late career Jonathan Stewart. Like Cook, he’s worth the third he costs… Kelvin Benjamin hasn’t played the prettiest ball in recent years, but it has been good enough to post at least low WR2 numbers. He appears to be better prepared to take a step forward in his development than he was last year coming off of an ACL injury and is a solid pick at his ADP… Greg Olsen was on an elite fantasy tight end pace last year before Cam Newton suffered a head injury. He’s not a sexy pick, but one unlikely to underperform his cost, with an excellent durability record for his position.
Any of the Saints running backs are worth a pick at ADP. Mark Ingram II has underrated pass catching ability, Adrian Peterson will have a massive chip on his shoulder, and the team has a plan for Alvin Kamara after they traded next year’s second rounder for him. Don’t sweat the committee, only the Cardinals and Steelers produced more Top 10 PPR games at the running back position last year… I’m having more trouble projecting Ted Ginn Jr to get significantly fewer targets than Brandin Cooks than I am projecting him close to Cooks 117 targets (Ginn had 95 and 97 the last two years with Carolina). He’s a ridiculous value as the possible #2 receiver in one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. The Saints got him very quickly in free agency and I assume he was their Plan A after trading Cooks… Ginn’s larger than expected role may come at the expense of Willie Snead IV, who will have value, but not necessarily a big leap in value as anticipated when Cooks left.
The coaches are clearly sticking with a motivational plan that has worked for Doug Martin. He’s not in danger of being released and is the clear #1 back upon return. He’s close to “player you shouldn’t leave your draft without” status. Jacquizz Rodgers is a good pick with or without Martin on your roster as long as you have a flex position to shoehorn him into your first three weeks lineup… I can’t see Mike Evans living up to his 100+ target first half of 2016 and delivering on a first round investment in drafts. The offense will be more balanced and there are more quality targets than the first half of 2016, when guys like Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate were ramping up and DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard weren’t on the team.
The NFC WEST
It hurts to watch John Brown move towards the roster bubble because of his injury issues and sickle cell trait. I have taken him off of my board for now and replaced in the late rounds with size/speed prospect Jaron Brown. Can you believe the 2012 Clemson Tigers had six wide receivers currently in the NFL (Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, and Brown). No wonder we thought Tajh Boyd had an NFL future… Carson Palmer’s opening quartet of the Lions, Colts, Cowboys, and 49ers make him the easy pick if you want to take your starting quarterback after 15-18 have been drafted… All of the Cardinals issues at wide receiver point towards Larry Fitzgerald topping 100 catches yet again and providing low WR1 value in PPR leagues at a WR2/WR3 price yet again. Just try to sell him before his second half fade.
Los Angeles Rams
The buoyancy of this offense without the lead weight of Jeff Fisher might surprise us. Sean McVay comes from an offensive approach of highly structured gameplans and play design around limited talent quarterbacks and Jared Goff appears to be flourishing. Todd Gurley is the main beneficiary, as defenses will have to honor the pass (especially with Sammy Watkins on the roster) and there will be more scoring drives and competitive games. Gurley was already higher on my radar after Lance Dunbar’s knee flared up and put him out indefinitely… Cooper Kupp could have a Jamison Crowder 2015 impact, which is useful in fantasy leagues, but moreso in best ball. He’s worth a late pick, but not necessarily a priority pick… I can’t solve the case of Watkins, whose raw talent dictates a higher pick than the fifth round, but surrounding offense and talent indicates a smaller target share than he had in Buffalo and fewer high value deep balls and improvisational plays. With the Colts, Washington, 49ers, and Cowboys to open, he and this pass offense could get off to a hot start. I won’t talk anyone out of taking him if he’s there in the fifth.
Carlos Hyde is a badass, but this 49ers team isn’t going anywhere this year, Hyde might not be in their future plans, and they will want to see what they have in Joe Williams at some point. I just can’t pull the trigger at ADP, but I’m aware that I could regret that because I’m ignoring what he was able to do in a similarly bad situation last year… Pierre Garcon’s volume-based value is sound drafting in PPR leagues, but keep Jeremy Kerley on waiver wire speed dial if Garcon fizzles out or gets hurt.
The Seattle offensive line was already sporting a question mark at left tackle, now it might be a black hole of production without George Fant. There’s no easy answer, and it certainly isn’t Rees Odhiambo. I would be more concerned about investing in the likes of Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett if the Seahawks hadn’t been scuffling through various combinations of players and levels of talent on the line under Tom Cable for years now, but if there are big struggles in the first month, the schedule gets a lot tougher in October… Injuries will clarify which Seattle back we want, at least temporarily, but it can and will change, and could be Chris Carson by the end of the year. If I want to tangle with a three-headed backfield in my draft, I’ll dabble in the proven high weekly upside of the Saints backfield.