We draft our fantasy teams with the best of intentions, thinking they will be on our rosters for the entire season. However, a year-end fantasy roster looks quite different from the drafted version with plenty of injuries, busts, twists, and turns. One aspect of team construction which is paramount to success is finding a difference-making trump card or two along the way, ideally without paying top dollar for the production. Using round-by-round ADP from myfantasyleague.com here at Footballguys, here are my best bets to find league-winning upside in each ADP frame:
David Johnson is a blend of 'we have seen it before' at an elite level, but not for an entire season, plus in his career arc production prime. Johnson is in an elite offense with a chance to lead NFL running backs in receptions and touchdowns. Arizona may lead the league in scoring and David Johnson is their moveable chess piece. David Johnson could be the rare 25 PPR PPG running back for fantasy owners in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Julio Jones. The volume will be there, to-date the touchdowns have eluded Jones (more than eight scores in just one career season). If a few more end zone trips are added, Jones could have a Calvin Johnson-type peak season.
Mike Evans has a sharp touchdown regression in 2015 after 68-1051-12 as a rookie. As the unquestioned top target for Jameis Winston's Year 2, Evans is poised to see top-shelf targets (140+) along with a return to double-digit scores. Vincent Jackson back helps Evans get a few more single coverage looks.
Honorable Mention: Alshon Jeffery. Like Julio Jones, Jeffery has been a relatively low-touchdown scorer over his career despite prototypical size. Jeffery had just four scores in nine games a year ago. Jeffery and Kevin White will dominate Chicago targets without much behind him in the passing pecking order.
Kelvin Benjamin posted more than 1,000 yards plus nine touchdowns back in 2014. Benjamin was a rookie and Cam Newton was a far cry from the top-notch pocket passer regularly on display in 2015. Now with Devin Funchess stepping up this offseason and Benjamin returning to a more polished Cam Newton, Benjamin has elite upside.
Honorable Mention: Mark Ingram II. Projecting missed games are tough. Ingram has missed at least three games in 4-of-5 NFL seasons. Ingram is one of the few running backs with 12+ touchdown and 50+ reception upside, yet is available regularly in Round 3 of drafts.
Donte Moncrief was on track for a breakout season in 2015 before Andrew Luck was injured for the rest of the season. Moncrief had 64% more PPR production with Luck under center than the trainwreck Colts offense without Luck in the lineup last year. Moncrief has prototypical traits and enters Year 3, a very common breakout season for wide receivers on the career arc spectrum.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Hyde. There is minimal competition for backfield touches for Hyde in San Francisco and Hyde passed the eye test with glowing results in 2015. Hyde, like Mark Ingram II, provides some injury discount in the mid-rounds. In three NFL seasons, Chip Kelly produced 124%, 110%, and 124% of the league-average for running back production. Carlos Hyde is the Kelly upside play for 2016.
Kevin White missed his rookie season, but the Bears are light on viable targets for a high volume of usage in 2016. White and Alshon Jeffery could rival the power combos of wide receivers like Jeffery and Brandon Marshall or Julio Jones and Roddy White of recent seasons within the same offense. At least 125 targets and 10+ touchdowns are within reach for White.
Honorable Mention: Dion Lewis. In seven games last season, Lewis was logging nearly 90 total yards, 0.6 total touchdowns, and more than five receptions per contest. Lewis, like David Johnson, has shown RB1 production for a partial season stretch on a high-level offense. Especially when Tom Brady returns midseason, Lewis offers difference-making upside if the combination returns to early 2015 form.
Coby Fleener joins a New Orleans Saints offense, which has been the second-best tight end producing attack (No.1 is New England) over the past five seasons. The Saints have logged 72 receiving touchdowns by tight ends, a mark bested by only the Patriots and no other NFL team has even 50 over the same span. Ben Watson enjoyed a career year in his mid-30s a season ago and Fleener is in his prime. Fleener is a quality bet to finish as the No.2 overall tight end in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Danny Woodhead. Like the Saints with tight end production, the Chargers know pass-catching running backs. San Diego backs have the second-most receptions over the last five seasons (No.1 is New Orleans) with 574, an average of 125 per season. Danny Woodhead has 81 and 76 respectively in his last two full seasons with the Chargers. Woodhead is also regularly used in the red zone and on hurry-up drives as Philip Rivers' safety blanket. Woodhead offers RB1 potential for a fraction of the price.
Tom Brady is getting the suspension discount with an ADP near QB10 and Round 7 in myfantasyleague.com. Bridging the opening month with a stopgap quarterback is an inexpensive pairing. The biggest inconvenience with Brady ownership would be carrying a second quarterback in shallow roster formats. Brady has been a different quarterback with Rob Gronkowski in the lineup since 'The Gronk' arrived in New England in 2010. Brady is a 4,600-yard, 35-8 TD-INT ratio seasonal quarterback with Gronkowski. In 16 games without Gronkowski, Brady is a mortal 4,100-yard, 27-13 passer, a difference of more than four points-per-game.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Mathews. Picking are slim in Round 7 of ADP, but Mathews is the ultimate *if healthy* caveat player with little competition for interior work in Philadelphia and a strong per-touch player in his injury-checkered career.
Zach Ertz, along with Jordan Matthews, is earmarked for a heavy workload in the Eagles passing game without quality depth. Ertz finally saw quality volume in 2015 (112 targets), especially over the final month of the season where he logged 35-450-1, more than half his seaonal output of yardage. Touchdowns have eluded Ertz in his career to-date (5.3% touchdown rate), making a few more red zone looks the missing piece to a top-5 fantasy finish at tight end.
Honorable Mention: Josh Gordon. I am on the skeptical side of the Gordon projection spectrum. He has a tentative return in Week 5. The Browns quarterback situation is a question mark, Corey Coleman was drafted in the first round, and Gary Barnidge collected 125 targets in a surprise 2015 campaign. However, Gordon has difference-making potential from the mid-rounds at WR4-type cost.
Charles Sims is listed as a Round 9 ADP, but I have seen Round 7/8 the sweet spot to draft Sims thus far in mock drafts. Sims was an RB2 despite Doug Martin being the preferred early-down back in Tampa Bay, Martin staying healthy all season, and having a career-best efficiency on the ground. Sims averaged nearly five yards per rush and more than 10 per reception. Sims is a weekly starter in PPR scoring even without a Martin injury. If Martin misses a few games, Sims is an automatic top-10 weekly play.
Honorable Mention: Tavon Austin. The Rams gets a quarterback upgrade (Jared Goff) and there is little in Austin's way to be more involved in the passing game. Kenny Britt has been a career bounce back with the Rams but does not project as a high-volume target. Brian Quick has been a disappointment and Lance Kendricks is a de facto starter more than difference-maker at tight end. Austin was a WR2 despite 104 offensive touches (52 on the ground). On 220 career touches, Austin has 16 touchdowns on offense.
All reports have been glowing for Sammie Coates Jr this offseason after flashing late in 2015. With Martavis Bryant out for the year, Coates has a golden opportunity on a high-powered offense to break out.
Devin Funchess is another quality bet to flash weekly starter production. Cam Newton has progressed as a passer and the game is slowing down for Funchess after still making highlight plays while his head was swimming as a 21-year-old rookie positional convert.
Jordan Howard may not even need a Jeremy Langford injury to emerge as Chicago's top running back this season. Howard projects as the best early-down and goal line option on the roster with decent receiving chops for a big back.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's ADP is still lagging after his prolonged teamless period this offseason before returning to the Jets as expected. Fitzpatrick was a fringe QB1 last season with an enviable duo at wide receiver of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Add 300-yard and multiple touchdown rushing upside and Fitzpatrick is one of the best values at quarterback in August drafts.