Winning a fantasy football championship is like writing a mini-epic novel. The opening chapter is the draft, but there is struggle, defeat, setbacks, tests of faith, bad luck, and any number of other obstacles placed in the way of the inevitable finish of a title. When the final story of your champion is authored, a handful of lead characters naturally emerge in hindsight. These protagonists are the players who outproduce draft capital to an extent that they become an unfair advantage for the teams that own them. If you want to have a legitimate chance to win your title, you need to draft a player or two with the potential to return a multiple of their draft capital. You might be thinking of a player that is not on my list when you read that description. Target that player. Much more than following my recommendations on players, the big takeaway here is to build upside into your roster. Pick a few spots for “luxury” selections that have “perfect storm” scenarios. Take Players That Can Make Your Season.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT - How can an early first round pick return a big profit? Since a par or even slight loss is really a win in the first round (you can’t win your league in the first, but you can lose it is the adage), an uberelite return on a first round pick is a big win. Le'Veon Bell can win your league in the first round. He outdistanced the pack from Week 7 on in a way that only Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck (and JJ Watt) can pull off this year, but Bell does it at the toughest position to get consistent production. He has already been a player that made your season, and none of the factors that created his perfect storm have diminished. If anything, they have intensified. Bell is still young and looks sharper than last season if that’s possible. Martavis Bryant is ready to dominate. The offensive line has continuity and good health coming off of their best year in recent memory. Bell is cleared for takeoff.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE - What does a Gronkowski with a healthy offseason look like? I hope I get to find out with him on at least a few of my rosters. The defense took a hit in the secondary, so this team could be even more high scoring in 2015.
Frank Gore, RB, IND - One touchdown every 16 touches. 4.7 yards per carry. These are the kinds of numbers running backs not named Trent Richardson put up in the last two years playing with Andrew Luck. Frank Gore has not missed a practice this summer and every report about his effort, play, and appearance in game is glowing. Gore has been the exception to just about every rule reality has tried to hem him in with on the football field. Age ain’t nothing but a number. Gore is the lead back in one of the best offenses in the NFL. Buy with confidence.
Lamar Miller, RB, MIA - Miller is a very good running back despite not getting the reputation he deserves as a football player. In the last year of his rookie contract, the Dolphins should push him and they have treated him as an entrenched starter. Fifth round pick Jay Ajayi has been a dud in his first camp and Miller is set up to be a feature back in a good offense. He’s also an underrated receiver. This could be his breakout year.
Mike Evans, WR, TB - Evans scored ten times in the last nine games last year with Mike Glennon and Josh McCown at quarterback. Jameis Winston, even an embryonic Winston, can be an upgrade from that duo, but the offensive line needs to give him a modicum of time and the Demar Dotson injury gets them off on the wrong foot. Evans’ red zone game is unstoppable and his mean as a touchdown scorer is still unknown. Vincent Jackson out-targeted Evans 142 to 123 last year. If that split flips and the passing game improves, Evans’ ceiling looks mighty high.
Andre Ellington, RB, ARI - I’ve made my case on the audible with Evan Silva this week. Ellington was electric as a rookie and he re-invented himself to gimp to a low RB1 rate of production on one good foot and many possible compensatory injuries last year. Ellington is healthy now and he should get a healthy share of touches, including heavy passing game use each week. The offensive line woes to begin the season makes Ellington’s presence on this list a bit dimmer since an improved run blocking unit led by Mike Iupati, who is sidelined for probably at least a few games was part of the “exciting unknown” in Ellington’s profile.
Mark Ingram II, RB, NO - Ingram has made all of us a bit gunshy. Many including myself expected him to be a heavy use back with copious goal line opportunities in a vibrant offense from day one, but it took until about day 1000 for that to happen. The offense might not be so vibrant this year (we’ll see), but Ingram is set up for the biggest workload of his career and his running mate is currently on the shelf. Khiry Robinson will factor in one way or the other, but it’s not a stretch to see him catching more passes than anticipated and approaching 320 touches this year if he can avoid missing time. Ingram presents stealth low RB1 potential as late as the fourth.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, DET - Sometimes the hype is actually warranted. Abdullah has hit every checkpoint on the impact rookie checklist so far and his running mate hasn’t even practiced yet. Reggie Bush ran to low RB1 numbers on the Ford Field turf in 2013 with Joique Bell still pulling down mid RB2 numbers. We know this offense is going to use the running back as a receiver a lot, which gives Abdullah a head start to show that he deserves even more of the backfield workload. Rookies in general have more potential to be a Player That Makes Your Season because of the “exciting unknown” of just how good they’ll be when they take the field. The fourth round is usually level with the fifth and sixth at running back and wide receiver unless a good target falls anyway, so it’s a good round for a luxury pick.
Travis Kelce, TE, KC - Speaking of fourth round luxury picks, that is often the ticket price to be assured of getting Kelce. We were baffled as to Kelce’s sporadic usage at times despite constant ownage of defenders last year. Come to find out that he was only cleared to run one month before camp last year after microfracture surgery. Start with full usage of Kelce and add in Jeremy Maclin to split safeties attention and you might have the makings of something special.
Martavis Bryant, WR, PIT - Bryant was one of the very best wide receivers in fantasy football points per target last year. Even though he might not keep that rate up this year, that is a GOOD THING. He is good at the things that matter for fantasy football. The Steelers ask him to do those things a lot when he’s on the field. All signs point to a lot of growth as a player in the offseason, and a likely overtaking of Markus Wheaton, who was not on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger last year. A red zone and deep ball specialist in a prolific offense? Sign me up.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT - Speaking of a prolific offense, it all intersects at Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Todd Haley has always been good at playing his offense’s strengths, and the strength of this offense pulling defenses in at least three different directions while Roethlisberger enjoys the best protection of his career. Don’t put artificial limitations on what this offense can do with this year on the stat sheet.
C.J. Spiller, RB, NO - Spiller’s preseason cleanup knee surgery dredged up the old injury fears, but really it will just amount to a discount for the same proposition we were looking at pre-surgery. As Bob Harris pointed out on my show this week, Spiller’s nagging problems have been more soft tissue and ankle problems, not knee issues. He is still in the souped-up Sproles role which has a low RB1 level of scoring at the high end of the range of possibilities. The Saints will know what to do with Spiller where the Bills did not.
Arian Foster, RB , HOU - Will Foster be back for Week 2? Week 5? Week 10? We can’t be sure yet, but the initial news after his surgery indicated to bet the under on weeks missed. Foster has suffered his share of injuries and any one of them could trigger a quicker decline, but he has also played very well when coming back from injuries over the course of his career. Foster knows his body and early reports had him looking to be as good of shape as ever before the injury. He’s a strong RB1 when healthy. The chance to get even a half of a season for that at a 7th/8th round price is something I’m happy to buy into, if only to make sure that only I can be the beneficiary of that. If he amounts to nothing this year, it was only a seventh or eighth round pick.
John Brown, WR, ARI - Brown was a sensation as a deep target last year, and actually got more looks than Michael Floyd. Floyd was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason and promptly got hurt in camp. He’s on the lengthy “expected to return in Week 1” list, but Brown could assert himself in the meantime, or even when Floyd returns. He has a skillset far beyond speed and high wire act catches, and he’s in a vertical pass offense that will maximize his fantasy potential.
Jordan Cameron, TE, MIA - Remember when we were taking Cameron as a top five fantasy tight end? It wasn’t very long ago, and that was in Cleveland. In Miami, he has a better quarterback, better surrounding weapons, and better scenery. Yes, he’s a major injury risk, but he’s also one of only two or three “big play” fantasy tight ends. He’s the best TE1 you can hope for outside of the top four.
Dwayne Allen, TE, IND - Robocop caught touchdowns at an alarming rate last year, and he admitted that he wasn’t really 100% for much of the year. Allen slimmed down to 254 pounds and changed his regimen to try to stave off injury this year and appears to be as healthy as he has been in years. As Andrew Luck’s most efficient red zone target and hopefully the beneficiary of being the only tight end in the growing three wide set tendency in Indianapolis, Allen has a lot higher fantasy ceiling than his rankings indicate.