Expert DRAFTing Week 17

A how-to-guide to beating this week's snake drafts on DRAFT

The Week 17 article is far and away the most difficult to write because there is so much news and information to sort through in terms of which teams will be the most motivated, which stars might rest and which players are likely to benefit most from all of the moving pieces. Thus, the format of this article will be a little bit different this week and focus mainly upon trying to parse the news and figure out who we can count on this weekend and who we can’t. It will start with a Do Not Draft list and also detail some players to approach with caution. The sections rankings players for Head-to-Head, 3-Team, 6-Team and 10-Team drafts are included per usual. So too are the positional rankings and breakdowns. 

There is a real edge to be had for informed drafters this week. Many of the players listed below on the “Do Not Draft” list are still being drafted. Plus, some of the players on the “Approach with Caution” list are being drafted far too high. 

Note: This article has been a lot of fun to write each week and I hope you’ve found it helpful. We get to continue the fun for a few more weeks, as Expert DRAFTing is sticking around for the NFL Playoffs. 

Do Not Draft List

Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster Pittsburgh right tackle reportedly stated that Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell wouldn’t play against Cleveland. Gilbert later tried to put the cat back in the bag, but the report makes sense as the Week 17 matchup only matters if the New York Jets pull off a massive upset in New England. Las Vegas seems to think the starters won’t play much, if at all, as the line has dropped 9 points from Steelers -16 to Steelers -7. 

Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Robert Woods and all Rams

The Rams have stated they are resting their top players. "Being locked into that third or fourth seed -- every single game is important -- but I think it will provide an opportunity for us to potentially get some guys healthier, rest them, give some other guys a chance to step up," McVay said Tuesday, via the team's official website. "How that affects the guys that are healthy that we want to be smart with is going to be determined as the week progresses. But it is one of those deals where I think you might see us rest some guys and use this week where, you don't ever take anything for granted, but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy."

DeAndre Hopkins

Hopkins is “expected to miss” the Week 17 matchup against the Colts due to an ankle injury. If you want to draft him late and take advantage of the replace feature, it’s not an awful strategy, but don’t expect to see Hopkins.

Zach Ertz, Jay Ajayi, Alshon Jeffery, Nick Foles and all Eagles

The Eagles are expected to treat their matchup with the Cowboys like a preseason game, which should mean a couple series for the starters before they head to the bench. These guys aren’t top options even if expected to play an entire game, so it’s an easy decision to pass with playing time an issue. 

Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill 

The Chiefs are locked into the #4 seed and plan to start rookie quarterback Pat Mahomes. Andy Reid noted he would “sub in, according to position, some of the younger players … there are going to be some rotations going on.” Hunt, Hill and Kelce are especially dangerous to draft because they may end up active (no ability to swap out on Draft) and play extremely limited snaps.

Approach With Caution

Ezekiel Elliott

The Cowboys have been noncommittal about how long the starters will play and it is easy to imagine Jason Garrett getting backups into the game in the second half. Playing the starters a full game against mostly Eagles backups seems like a no-win scenario for Dallas. That being said, there is a narrative angle to watch with Elliott just 120 rushing yards shy of 1,000 on the season. “I think that would be a cool goal since Elliott didn’t play for six games and then against Denver we didn’t really run the ball. We didn’t have any yards,” Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said. “So I think it would be cool to get to that 1,000 yards, but the guys have too much pride in the locker room to go out there and not give it their all.”

Melvin Gordon III

Gordon may or may not be able to play. The biggest concern is that he ends up being active but doesn’t handle a full workload. He says he’s “good” and will “be ready on Sunday.” This is a must-win game for the Chargers, so it makes sense that Gordon would try to tough it out. We should get more information by late Friday afternoon but as of now, it is tough to draft Gordon in smaller Drafts. In 6-Team or larger Drafts, Gordon still has appeal due to the matchup. Plus, if he scratches completely, you can replace him with Brandon Oliver. 

Leonard Fournette

Doug Marrone is insistent that the starters will play and this game will be treated like a typical regular season game even though Jacksonville is locked into the #3 seed regardless of the outcome. We should take him at his word, as it does make some sense for the Jaguars to try to build some momentum for the postseason and this team has taken an “old school” approach to everything this season. However, we do have to be cognizant of Fournette’s health issues. If he comes off limping at all, even Marrone might see the wisdom in not risking further injury to his star offensive player in a meaningless game. 

Head-to-Head Draft Rankings

1. Julio Jones

2. Keenan Allen

3. LeSean McCoy

4. Dion Lewis

5. Alvin Kamara

6. Rob Gronkowski

7. Michael Thomas

8. Cam Newton

9. Tom Brady

10. Mark Ingram II

There is slightly more separation between the top two receivers and the rest of the pack at the position (especially given Michael Thomas’ hamstring injury) than there is between #1 and #4 at the running back position. Thus, Julio Jones and Keenan Allen are top priorities in must-win games and fantastic matchups. 

3-Team Draft Rankings

1. LeSean McCoy

2. Dion Lewis

3. Alvin Kamara

4. Julio Jones

5. Keenan Allen

6. Rob Gronkowski

7. Mark Ingram II

8. Kenyan Drake

9. Michael Thomas

10. A.J. Green

11. Alex Collins

12. T.Y. Hilton

13. Cam Newton

14. Tom Brady

15. Russell Wilson

We can still make the case for Julio Jones at 1.01 in 3-Team Drafts, but there is a bit of a tier drop at running back after the top-5. Thus, it makes more sense to try to lock in one of the top backs in the first round before turning to Jones and Allen as priority targets in round 2. 

The top-3 quarterbacks are all grouped tightly in terms of projections, floor and upside. Plus, the order these guys go off the board is going to be different in every draft. I’m content to wait until the final round and take whichever is still available.

6-Team Draft Rankings

1. LeSean McCoy

2. Dion Lewis

3. Alvin Kamara

4. Julio Jones

5. Keenan Allen

6. Mark Ingram II

7. Kenyan Drake

8. Rob Gronkowski

9. Michael Thomas

10. A.J. Green

11. Alex Collins

12. Melvin Gordon III

13. Derrick Henry

14. T.Y. Hilton

15. Adam Thielen

16. Larry Fitzgerald

17. Carlos Hyde

18. Ezekiel Elliott

19. Cam Newton

20. Tom Brady

21. Russell Wilson

22. Philip Rivers

23. Doug Baldwin

24. Christian McCaffrey

25. Leonard Fournette

26. Marvin Jones Jr

27. Brandin Cooks

28. Marquise Goodwin

29. Drew Brees

30. Matthew Stafford

Running back gets especially interesting in 6-Team Drafts this week. The depth is actually pretty good. Lower ranked options like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette are very talented and have solid matchups. However, we are also getting into big enough drafts where we have to strongly consider the pros and cons of some of the backs on our “Approach with Caution” list. Melvin Gordon III is the most attractive because he is at least in a must-win game, so we don’t have to worry about him only playing a half (unless he re-aggravates his injury). Plus, if he ends up being unable to play, we can sub in another top option (perhaps Brandon Oliver) to replace him. Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are much trickier because we are only guessing when it comes to playing time. Use your own judgment there, but ideally I am trying to lock in a pair of running backs earlier in the draft with no playing time concerns so I don’t have to worry about these problems. 

10-Team Draft Rankings

1. LeSean McCoy

2. Dion Lewis

3. Alvin Kamara

4. Mark Ingram II

5. Kenyan Drake

6. Alex Collins

7. Melvin Gordon III

8. Derrick Henry

9. Julio Jones

10. Keenan Allen

11. Rob Gronkowski

12. Michael Thomas

13. Carlos Hyde

14. Ezekiel Elliott

15. Christian McCaffrey

16. Leonard Fournette

17. A.J. Green

18. T.Y. Hilton

19. Jamaal Williams

20. Devonta Freeman

21. C.J. Anderson

22. Adam Thielen

23. Larry Fitzgerald

24. Doug Baldwin

25. Marvin Jones Jr

26. Cam Newton

27. Tom Brady

28. Russell Wilson

29. Philip Rivers

30. Brandin Cooks

31. Marquise Goodwin

32. Mike Evans

33. Stefon Diggs

34. Drew Brees

35. Matthew Stafford

36. Kirk Cousins

37. Jimmy Garoppolo

38. Jameis Winston

39. Matt Ryan

40. Demaryius Thomas

41. Jarvis Landry

42. Frank Gore

43. Marshawn Lynch

44. Latavius Murray

45. Jerick McKinnon

46. Samaje Perine

47. Robby Anderson

48. Randall Cobb

49. Josh Gordon

50. Josh Doctson

As is typical in 10-Team Drafts, we have to make running backs the top priority because it is the shallowest position. There is a tier drop after C.J. Anderson (RB15) to the next group of runners and ideally you can lock up your two running backs before having to dip into that lowest tier of RB16 and below. 

Waiting on quarterback is a fantastic option this week. There are 10 passers in relatively strong spots and nobody with an obviously fantastic matchup, so there is no fear of being left at a major disadvantage by waiting until the final round. 

With so many top wide receivers and tight ends resting, the depth at the wide receiver/tight end position dries up rather quickly. If you wait too long, you are likely going to be forced to rely on an awful quarterback to get your WR2 the ball (Paxton Lynch, Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer, etc.). 

Quarterback Rankings and Breakdowns

  1. Cam Newton Since Week 4, Newton is averaging over 22 fantasy points per game. His consistent production as a runner (at least 5.0 rushing points in 11-of-13 games) gives him a surprisingly high floor and he’s scored at least 15.5 points in 7 straight games. He also has a nearly unmatched ceiling, with 3 games of 30+ points. Newton and the Panthers have a lot to play for, with an outside shot at earning a first-round bye. 
  2. Tom Brady The Patriots need a win to secure the all-important #1 seed, which could be huge with a potential Steelers rematch looming. Las Vegas has the Patriots installed as 15.5-point favorites with an implied team total of 29.5 points, which indicates they expect to the starters to play the whole way. 
  3. Russell Wilson Wilson has cooled off in recent weeks and has a tough matchup against a solid Arizona defense that pitched a shutout at home last week. In 11 career matchups against Arizona, Wilson has thrown for more than 240 yards just twice. This is a must-win spot for the Seahawks and he has a solid floor since he is responsible for nearly every Seahawks touchdown. However, this could be a low-scoring affair with Drew Stanton not likely to push Wilson to play aggressively.
  4. Philip Rivers The Chargers need to win and get some help to get into the playoffs. In a week in which we can question the motivation level for many teams, Rivers is one of the safest options on the slate. Rivers also has plenty of upside against the Raiders mediocre pass defense. He has thrown for 310+ yards and 3+ touchdowns against Oakland three times since 2014. 
  5. Drew Brees The Saints need to get the win to lock up the AFC South and secure a home game in the first round of the playoffs. It is a prime matchup for the passing offense to tune up for the postseason. The Buccaneers rank 30th in pass defense DVOA. Brees has thrown for 250+ yards in 13 straight matchups against Tampa Bay. 
  6. Matthew Stafford The matchup is fantastic for Stafford against an awful Green Bay secondary. The major concern is motivation and playing time after the Lions were eliminated from the playoff race last week. Stafford sounds confident about playing a full game: “I’m the quarterback here,” Stafford said, via Kyle Meinke of “This is what I work hard for. I work hard for opportunities to go out there and play on Sundays. I don’t care what the situation is. You get your body ready. You get your mind ready to go out there and play. You go out there and play.
  7. Kirk Cousins This is a sneaky good spot for Cousins. The New York Giants are in turmoil with an interim coach, player suspended and their top two defensive backs both on injured reserve. A win could cost the Giants the valuable #2 overall draft pick in a draft where finding a franchise quarterback is a major priority. There is little incentive for the Giants to win. Meanwhile, Washington is focused upon getting to .500 and Kirk Cousins is trying to go out on a positive note in what could be his last game for the Redskins. 
  8. Jimmy GaroppoloHe has won his first four starts and his 1,250 yards passing are the most by any player in his first four starts for a franchise. Since taking over, Garoppolo ranks fourth in yards passing per game (312.5) and third in yards per attempt (8.7).
  9. Jameis Winston
  10. Matt Ryan

Running Back Rankings and Breakdowns

  1. LeSean McCoy The Buffalo Bills absolutely must win or their season is over. While there may be some scoreboard watching, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the starters don’t play the whole game. McCoy should get all the carries he can handle against Miami. In the two teams’ previous meeting this season, McCoy posted 96 total yards and scored twice. With nearly all of the top running backs sitting out this week, McCoy is one of the few elite players who safely projects for 20+ touches. 
  2. Dion Lewis Lewis saw 29 touches last week, rushed for 129 yards, caught 5 passes and scored twice. He is the only fully healthy back on the Patriots right now and should be the bell cow again in a big Week 17 game that New England needs to lock up home-field in the playoffs. The Patriots have an implied team total of 29.8 points and Lewis should have another big game. 
  3. Alvin Kamara Kamara gets the nod over Ingram in this spot. In the previous meeting against Tampa, Mark Ingram II was quiet while Kamara had a monster game. Kamara had 152 total yards, 2 touchdowns and 6 receptions (30.2 points). 
  4. Mark Ingram II While Kamara had more success in the previous matchup and is potentially in position to benefit more from Michael Thomas’ gimpy hamstring, Ingram has a strong projection as well. He has averaged a touchdown per game since Adrian Peterson was traded. 
  5. Kenyan Drake Drake had been on fire before struggling at Kansas City last week. Over the past seven games, Drake has averaged 97.9 scrimmage yards per game. He has a great shot to end the season on a high note against a Buffalo defense that has struggled mightily against the run. Since Week 8, the Bills have allowed over 140 rushing yards on average to opposing running backs. 
  6. Alex Collins Collins is in a great spot this week with the Ravens favored by 9.5 points at home against Cincinnati. If Vontaze Burfict remains out with a shoulder injury for the Bengals, it is a major boost to the Ravens running game. Cincinnati is already missing two other starting linebackers (Nick Vigil and Kevin Minter). The only concern with Collins is that the Ravens had four backs active last week and you have to worry about Javorius Allen vulturing touchdowns and Danny Woodhead soaking up targets.
  7. Melvin Gordon III Without health concerns, Gordon would rank as a top-3 option on the slate. The ankle injury is very problematic. Not only are we worried about him missing the game entirely, but the risk of re-injury is high. Plus, the Chargers could choose to activate Gordon but limit his touches.
  8. Derrick Henry It looks like DeMarco Murray will be out with a 3rd-degree sprained MCL. However, it is not certain as Murray has surprised and played through injuries at other times this season. Even without Murray, David Fluellen could steal much of the 3rd-down work from Henry. Still, in a must-win home game against Jacksonville, it is easy to like Henry this week. He should see 20+ carries and has a good shot at finding the end zone. 
  9. Carlos Hyde Hyde has scored multiple touchdowns in two of his last three games against the Rams. Los Angeles is looking to rest some players to get ready for the playoffs. Amongst the likely candidates to be inactive are starting linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, who are nursing injuries. It is hard to see other defensive starters getting much playing time even if active in a game the Rams are not trying to win. Hyde could have a big game on the ground if San Francisco plays to win and he continues to see 20+ touches (42 total over the past two weeks). 
  10. Ezekiel Elliott Elliott is 120 yards shy of 1,000 on the season and we could see Dallas prioritize the achievement due to having nothing else to play for. The concern is how much Elliott will play after the Eagles switch to their backups. The tendency if one team is treating it as a preseason game is for the other team to follow suit to some extent.
  11. Christian McCaffrey
  12. Leonard Fournette
  13. Jamaal Williams
  14. Devonta Freeman
  15. C.J. Anderson
  16. Frank Gore
  17. Marshawn Lynch
  18. Latavius Murray
  19. Jerick McKinnon
  20. Samaje Perine

Wide Receiver Rankings and Breakdowns

1. Julio Jones Jones is in a fantastic spot against a Carolina defense that has been getting torched in the passing game and by opposing wide receivers in recent weeks. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 302.6 yards over the Panthers' last 5 games, with 280+ in 4 of them and multiple touchdowns in 3. Since Week 9, the Panthers have allowed five 100-yard games to opposing wide receivers (including Julio Jones in the previous meeting) and a whopping 10 receiving touchdowns to receivers.

2. Keenan Allen Allen has seen at least 8 targets in every game since Week 11 and should again see a heavy workload in a must-win game for the Chargers. 

3. Rob Gronkowski The Patriots need a win to lock up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. With a number of pass catchers likely to be out (Chris Hogan, James White, and Rex Burkhead), Gronkowski is a near-lock to see heavy targets. He has produced four-straight huge fantasy games and could feast again against the Jets who he put up a 6-83-2 line against in Week 6. 

4. Michael Thomas The matchup is amazing for Thomas against a Tampa Bay pass defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against the pass and has been shredded by opposing WR1s this season. Plus, the Saints will be highly motivated with a win putting them at home for the first round of the playoffs. However, the hamstring injury is a major concern for Thomas. He saw season lows in snaps, routes run and targets last week and has been limited in practice. He has to be considered early in drafts due to his upside but don’t overlook the risk here due to the injury. 

5. A.J. Green Green will get overlooked with the Bengals implied team total of just 15.3 points. Do not forget about him. The Ravens defense has had major trouble against opposing WR1s since Jimmy Smith went down with injury. Plus, Green always seems to show up against the Ravens. In the last four seasons, he has 6 touchdowns in 6 games against Baltimore and has averaged 113 receiving yards per game.

6. T.Y. Hilton Hilton has dominated the Texans in his career, averaging over 4 PPG more against Houston than his career averages. In 11 career matchups, he averages 5.5 receptions, 101.5 receiving yards and 0..8 touchdowns per game. 

7. Adam Thielen

8. Larry Fitzgerald

9. Doug Baldwin

10. Marvin Jones Jr

11. Brandin Cooks

12. Marquise Goodwin

13. Mike Evans

14. Stefon Diggs

15. Demaryius Thomas

16. Jarvis Landry

17. Robby Anderson

18. Randall Cobb

19. Josh Gordon

20. Josh Doctson

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