The daily fantasy sports site DRAFT has recently started offering season-long best ball leagues for the 2017 NFL season. Recently the NFL announced its top 100 players. In this piece I give my top 100 DRAFT best ball players as of early July.
Best Ball Leagues
As I mention in my piece on 10 DRAFT best ball pivot plays, in best ball you draft your team — and that’s it. It’s a draft-only format, so it makes sense that DRAFT would offer it. You compete against the entire field for Weeks 1-16. Rosters lock for the season immediately after the draft, and the starting lineup is retroactively optimized each week.
On DRAFT, there are 18 players per roster with eight scoring positions each week: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1 non-QB FLEX. Per usual, the contests have 0.5 point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. In 10- and 12-team leagues, three and four players typically cash. Of course, be sure to check contest rules for yourself at PlayDraft.com.
Because best ball optimizes lineups each week, volatility is preferable to consistency, all else being equal. Just as in guaranteed prize pools we want to roster players with high Upside Ratings and expected Plus/Minus values, in best ball leagues we want to roster players with outsized potential relative to their average draft positions (ADPs).
News & Noise
These are my personal rankings, which are subject to change. They’re based on my research and seasonal projections. As is the case with the ratings and projections in our Models, my personal projections are regularly updated. That said, I try not to overreact to offseason and training camp news.
Example: When quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL at the end of August last year, I updated my projections for the Vikings because that was a significant event. Similarly, when the Vikings acquired quarterback Sam Bradford from the Eagles shortly before the 2016 season started, I again updated my projections. That was news.
However, when Tajae Sharpe was getting hype as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Titans, I ignored it in my private projections — and I mocked it in my public writing:
When I hear talk like that, I want to do my best Melvin Udall impersonation: We’re all stocked up here.
Sharpe one day might be a great NFL receiver. But as a rookie? We’re talking about a skinny-and-slow fifth-round selection from a mid-major conference on a slow-paced run-first team with an established target-hog tight end and a veteran starting wide receiver signed by the team this offseason to a three-year, $15-million contract.
Last year the Titans were 22nd in the NFL with 1,008 plays, fourth with 476 running plays, and third with 2,187 yards rushing. Tight end Delanie Walker had 102 targets in 15 games for 65 receptions, 800 yards, and seven touchdowns. No. 1 wide receiver Rishard Matthews (in his first year with the team) had 108 targets for a 65-945-9 stat line. Sharpe barely outproduced the discarded Kendall Wright even though Sharpe played in five more games and was targeted 41 more times. Sharpe caught only 49.4 percent of his targets. Let’s count that as a win for the *sshole.
When it comes to my projections, I take a hard-line stance on what qualifies as news. Very little is news. Almost everything is noise.
What Do These Rankings Mean?
With these rankings I am not saying that this is the exact order in which you should draft players for your team. What you think about players and especially how you like to construct rosters matter. How you allocate your draft capital — when you draft certain positions and how many players you roster at each position — is as important as (and maybe more important than) the exact players you draft.
Here’s what I take into account when creating these rankings:
- Roster construction strategies
- My personal biases
As a result, these rankings don’t represent the order in which I think players will finish the season as producers (adjusted for positional scarcity). These rankings represent my thoughts on when it’s best to acquire the expected production of players within the context of the current DRAFT market — and that market is always changing.
Freedman’s Top 100 DRAFT Best Ball Players
Get ready. This might be the first article in which I write a lot and still provide remarkably little analysis on a per-player basis. That’s what happens when I write about 100(-ish) players in one piece.
Round 1: 1-12
1. David Johnson (RB1): An athletic and big-bodied workhorse, Johnson has 23.7 half-PPR points per game (PPG) in his 19 career games with at least 10 carries.
2. Le’Veon Bell (RB2): Blessed with elite size and receiving skills, Bell has missed 14 games for various reasons over the last two seasons. In his 13 games with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in that time, Bell has 22.3 half-PPR PPG.
3. Ezekiel Elliott (RB3): Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, only Eric Dickerson has had more rushing yards per game (113.0) as a rookie than Zeke’s NFL-leading 108.7 last year. In Dickerson’s second campaign he set the NFL record with 2,105 yards rushing in a season.
4. Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR1): In NFL history, only Randy Moss has more yards and TDs through his first three seasons than OBJ’s 4,122 and 35. Haters gonna hate.
5. Antonio Brown (WR2): The NFL’s most consistent wide receiver over the last four years, Brown is somewhat of a Roethlisberger-dependent player. With his 35-year-old starting quarterback, Brown has averaged 18.7 half-PPR PPG since 2013; without him, 9.6.
6. Julio Jones (WR3): Over the last half-decade Julio has averaged an unbelievable 100.8 yards receiving per game. If he caught more TDs and/or weren’t consistently hobbled, he’d be the WR1.
7. LeSean McCoy (RB4): The Bills return most of their starting offensive line, which last year led the NFL with 2.88 yards before contact (per Pro Football Focus) and was strong on zone runs. Offensive Coordinator (OC) Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme and the absence of former backup Mike Gillislee should suit LeSean.
8. Jordy Nelson (WR4): Last year Nelson led the league with 29 and 15 targets inside the 20- and 10-yard lines. In the years following his injury-impacted 2012 campaign, Jordy has averaged 16.9 half-PPR PPG in his 41 games with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Since breaking out in 2011, Jordy has seven and 17 more TDs receiving than Antonio and Julio — in 16 and three fewer games. I’m higher on him than most people in the industry.
9. Mike Evans (WR5): With wide receiver DeSean Jackson stretching the field and quarterback Jameis Winston starting his career with back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, Evans is entering his prime. Only Moss, OBJ, Torry Holt, and the next guy have more than Evans’ 3,578 yards receiving in their first three seasons.
10. A.J. Green (WR6): With OCs Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson, Green averaged 0.6 TDs per game in his first five years. Last year, Green had 0.4 and was targeted inside the 10-yard line only four times. OC Ken Zampese doesn’t give Green the love the way Gruden and Jackson did.
11. Melvin Gordon (RB5): Inefficient in the running game, Gordon feasts on volume and scores. Before suffering season-ending injuries in Week 14, MG3 averaged 20.9 carries, 4.7 targets, and one TD per game last year.
12. Jay Ajayi (RB6): Entering his second year in Head Coach (HC) Adam Gase’s offense, Ajayi is expected to progress in the passing game, given that he had 50 receptions in his final college season. Only three other backs in NFL history have matched or surpassed Ajayi’s 2016 mark of three 200-yard rushing games in a season: Hall-of-Famers Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson and 10,000-yard rusher Tiki Barber.
Round 2: 13-24
13. T.Y. Hilton (WR7): Think of him as a smaller, lesser Julio. Only Holt, Moss, some guy named “Jerry Rice,” Julio, A.J., Larry Fitzgerald, and some other guy named “Calvin Johnson” have more yards receiving in their first half-decade of action than Hilton’s 5,861. Last year he had a career-high 155 targets.
14. Rob Gronkowski (TE1): Gronk has missed 24 regular-season games since entering the league in 2010. He still has an NFL-high 68 TDs receiving over the last seven years.
15. Devonta Freeman (RB7): He’s the only NFL player with both 2,000 yards and 20 TDs on the ground over the last two years, but Freeman has to compete for touches with fellow runner Tevin Coleman, and new OC Steve Sarkisian might be unable to replicate former OC Kyle Shanahan’s system. Within the industry, I’m low on him.
16. DeMarco Murray (RB8): Even with his Chip Kelly-impacted 2015 campaign, Murray has averaged 273.8 carries and 63 targets per season over the last four years — with four different offensive play callers. Derrick Henry looms large, but Murray is the arbitrage Johnson.
17. Amari Cooper (WR8): Teammate Michael Crabtree has had the advantage in targets and TDs over the last two years, but Crabby turns 30 in September, and the only NFL players with more yards receiving than Cooper’s 2,223 in their first two seasons are OBJ, Moss, Rice, the erstwhile Josh Gordon, Holt, A.J., Evans, Marques Colston, and Bullet Bob Hayes. The breakout is coming.
18. Michael Thomas (WR9): 121 targets, 92 receptions, 1,137 yards, and nine TDs in a rookie campaign do not necessarily a sophomore stud make. Thomas will probably be the WR1 for quarterback Drew Brees, but it’s not certain that he won’t turn into second-year Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay Mike Williams, or even Eddie Kennison.
19. Dez Bryant (WR10): From 2011 to 2015, Bryant played 64 games with quarterback Tony Romo, averaging 76.1 yards and 0.8 TDs per game. In the second half of last year — as rookie Dak Prescott found his groove — Dez averaged 73.4 yards and 0.9 TDs per game in seven full games with Dak. He’s missed 10 games in the last two years, but he’s still Dez.
20. Jordan Howard (RB9): A big-bodied runner, Howard averaged 16.7 half-PPR PPG in his 12 rookie contests with double-digit carries. Catching only 58.0 percent of his targets last year, JoHo will likely be replaced on passing downs by veteran Benny Cunningham in a dumpster-fire offense.
21. Doug Baldwin (WR11): Over the last two years, only three players other than Baldwin have at least 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in the air: Antonio, OBJ, and Allen Robinson. Unlike A-Rob, Baldy is targeted by someone who isn’t still trying to learn how to throw.
22. Lamar Miller (RB10): Only two running backs have more than Miller’s 3,904 yards from scrimmage and 25 TDs over the last three years: DeMarco and Matt Forte. He might lose goal-line work to promising rookie D’Onta Foreman, but Miller is still Houston’s best three-down back.
23. Todd Gurley (RB11): A big-bodied and athletic workhorse with 43 receptions last season, Gurley should benefit from new HC Sean McVay, who coaxed competence out of the undrafted and unathletic Rob Kelley in 2016. Even if/when quarterback Jared Goff underwhelms, Gurley will still be a three-down presence.
24. Travis Kelce (TE2): In five games without the departed Jeremy Maclin over the last two seasons, Kelce had 8.8 targets and 90.6 yards receiving per game. Averaging 102.3 targets per year in his three active seasons, the All-Pro Gronk impersonator is now the No. 1 receiving option in Kansas City.
Round 3: 25-36
25. Leonard Fournette (RB12): Every team that spends a top-10 pick on a running back talks about wanting to rush the ball more — but Jacksonville’s offense is mediocre, its offensive line is subpar, and Fournette had only 34 receptions in his final two college seasons. Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, Darren McFadden, Cedric Benson: All workhorse backs with 1,000-yard campaigns in their careers selected with top-five NFL picks — all disappointments as rookies. Fournette might be great someday, but maybe not this year.
26. Brandin Cooks (WR12): Fresh off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons, Cooks is the Patriots’ first in-his-prime top-tier field-stretcher since Moss. On only 18 percent of the Saints’ targets last year Cooks received 33 percent of the team’s air yards. The only NFL players in history to accumulate more yards and TDs receiving than Cooks’ 2,861 and 20 before their 24th birthdays are Moss, Evans, Fitz, and Hakeem Nicks. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rarely throws deep, but when he had Moss from 2007 to 2010 he had a Brees-esque adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) of more than 14.0 when passing 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
27. DeAndre Hopkins (WR13): The only ‘NFL quarterbacks’ ever to throw Hopkins a pass are Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler — all of whom are somehow still in the league. With this nonatet of nothingness, Nuk has managed to accumulate more yards (4,487) and TDs (23) through the air in his first four seasons than any NFL WRs except for Moss, Holt, Rice, A.J., and Fitz. Can rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson be worse than the average of Nuk’s previous passers?
28. Sammy Watkins (WR14): He averaged only 8.6 half-PPR PPG last year and has missed 11 games over the last two years, but as a 22-year-old second-year star Watkins averaged 14.5 half-PPR PPG. In his eight full seasons of coordinating offenses with healthy stud wideouts for the Broncos (2006-08, 2015-16) and Texans (2010-13), Dennison gave Demaryius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Javon Walker an average of 159.9 targets per season.
29. Demaryius Thomas (WR15): Even with the #HorriDuo of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch tossing passes, Thomas was still 11th in the NFL last year with 144 targets. Only Antonio has more than his 790 targets, 492 receptions, and 6,870 yards over the last five years.
30. Allen Robinson (WR16): In 2015, A-Rob had arguably the greatest all-time NFL season for a 22-year-old wide receiver with his 80-1,400-14 stat line in 16 games. He’s had exactly 151 targets in each of the last two years. Last year he had 37 percent of the Jaguars’ air yards on 24 percent of their targets. Even with Blake Bortles pretending to throw him the ball, he’s still A-Rob.
31. Davante Adams (WR17): After the injury-marred catastrophe that was Adams’ sophomore campaign, it’s easy to view his third-year triumph as a TD-fueled fluke. The fact is Adams has been consistently targeted by Rodgers for two seasons (7.2/7.6 targets per game in 2015/16), and last year only five players had more than his 10 targets inside the 10-yard line.
32. Aaron Rodgers (QB1): With a current ADP of 20.6, A-Rod likely won’t be available in most drafts in the second half of the third round. I like Rodgers — I’m high on the Packers, and no quarterback has more fantasy PPG than Rodgers since he became a starter in 2008 — but strategically I don’t like drafting passers early. Since Jordy’s 2011 breakout, Rodgers has averaged 283.6 yards and 2.5 TDs per game with his No. 1 receiver on the field.
33. Jordan Reed (TE3): Yet to play a full 16-game season, Reed is nevertheless the most established receiving option in Washington’s offense. With 13.1 half-PPR PPG over the last two seasons, Reed is in position to inherit a number of the 214 targets from last season vacated by the absent D-Jax and Pierre Garcon.
34. Joe Mixon (RB13): A big-bodied pass-catching rookie workhorse, Mixon is a younger and healthier version of Giovani Benard in a more athletic version of Jeremy Hill‘s body. Likely to earn significant touches right away, Mixon should see few stacked fronts with opposing defenses forced to account for Green, first-year wideout John Ross, and stud tight end Tyler Eifert. His ADP is 42.4. I’m high on him.
35. Ty Montgomery (RB14): After Eddie Lacy‘s season-ending injury last year, Montgomery transitioned from wide receiver to running back, averaging 14.7 half-PPR PPG in his seven games with double-digit touches. Although fourth-round rookie Jamaal Williams and fifth-round rookie Aaron Jones have potential, Montgomery is slated to be the big-bodied three-down lead back in A-Rod’s offense.
36. Isaiah Crowell (RB15): Even though Crow has the ‘best’ ADP of this end-of-the-round trio, I’m ranking him last. He’s never missed an NFL game, but he’s never eclipsed 200 carries or 1,000 yards rushing. Still, Crow overtook third-down back Duke Johnson by the end of the season, finishing the year with 53 targets. Right now he looks like a cheaper, smaller, less athletic Fournette with a better offensive line and more pass-catching skills.
Round 4: 37-48
37. Marshawn Lynch (RB16): After sitting out for a year, Beast Mode is now a member of his hometown
Oakland Los Angeles Las Vegas Oakland Raiders. As far as I’ve found, only two Marshawn-caliber running backs have ever skipped a season at a comparable age, convalesced willingly and/or without injury, and then returned to football. One was Hall-of-Famer John Riggins in 1980; the other, Adrian Peterson in 2014. They both crushed upon returning — but Lynch’s ADP is 30.6. That’s rich.
38. Julian Edelman (WR18): Since becoming New England’s primary slot receiver in 2013, Edelman has averaged 13.1 half-PPR PPG with Brady at quarterback. Targeted by the NFL’s best quarterback 9.9 times per game over the last four years, Edelman is a lock for 1,000 yards barring a significant injury.
39. Tyreek Hill (WR19): The 2016 embodiment of volatility, Tyreek Le Freak was not a fluke as a rookie. Joining West Alabama shortly before his senior season started, Hill was used sparingly, but he still scored eight TDs on 92 total touches as a receiver, runner, and kick and punt returner, good for an 8.7 percent TD rate. As a rookie, he converted 8.7 percent of his 138 total touches into 12 TDs. Tyreek had one of the greatest collegiate receiving seasons of all time for a running back with 25.2 percent of his team’s pass-catching production — as a freshman. He averaged 8.5 targets per game last year in his four contests without Maclin. The hype is real. He has young Carolina Steve Smith upside. His ADP is currently 44.5.
40. Alshon Jeffery (WR20): Strange as it may seem, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz just had one of the best rookie seasons of all time as a passer, completing 62.4 percent of his attempts for 3,782 yards — the fourth-highest rookie mark in history. Even though Alshon missed 11 games over the last two seasons, he still averaged 9.0 targets and 77.5 yards per game over that span. That prorates to 1,240 yards for 16 games.
41. Drew Brees (QB2): His ADP is 33.8. Even though Brees has led the NFL in passing seven of his 11 years in New Orleans, he’s going too early in drafts. Still, it’s hard to overvalue a guy who’s averaged 321.2 yards and 2.3 TDs passing per game over the last half-decade. At home — the Coors Field of fantasy football — Brees does even better.
42. Tom Brady (QB3): Since 2011 (Brady’s first full post-Moss season), he’s averaged 301.4 yards and 2.2 TDs passing per game with Gronk; 260.5 and 1.9 without him. Since 2013 (when Edelman broke out), Brady’s averaged 289.8 yards and 2.1 TDs per game with his slot receiver; 221 and 1.4 without him. Brady’s a great player, but he’s significantly less great without his best receivers. His ADP is 27.6.
43. Terrelle Pryor (WR21): Gruden funneled 9.7 targets per game to Green when coordinating the Bengals in 2011-13. Pryor is less experienced and talented than Green — but he’s bigger and faster. Pryor’s floor is probably Garcon’s 6.7 targets per game with Gruden in Washington over the last three years. His ADP is 50.2.
44. Michael Crabtree (WR22): Eleventh in the NFL over the last two years with 291 targets, Crabby in 2016 was especially used where it matters most with 21 targets inside the red zone. Since he’s joined the Raiders, the only wide receivers to score more TDs than Crabtree are OBJ, Antonio, Baldwin, and A-Rob. His ADP is 50.4.
45. Jarvis Landry (WR23): With similar year-over-year yardage (1,136/1,157) and TD (4/4) totals as a receiver, Landry in 2016 might’ve looked like the guy he was in 2015 — but he wasn’t. With fewer targets, receptions, and peripheral TDs as a runner and returner, Landry regressed as Ajayi emerged. In Ajayi’s 12 games last year with double-digit touches, Landry averaged only 7.1 targets; the other four games, 11.3 targets.
46. Keenan Allen (WR24): In his nine games over the last two seasons, Allen has been a stud, averaging 10.7 targets for 87.6 yards per game. That said, Allen is yet to play a 16-game season four years into his career, and he’s now likely to lose targets to wide receivers Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Mike Williams, and Travis Benjamin as well as tight end Hunter Henry — none of whom were established options in the Chargers offense when Allen last played.
47. Carlos Hyde (RB17): The big-bodied grinder has a respectable career average of 4.3 yards per carry. In his two years sans Frank Gore, Hyde has 16.6 carries for 72.9 yards per game. For his career he has a Le’Veon-esque 78.1 percent catch rate, and last year he turned 33 targets into 163 yards and three TDs. He could be HC Mike Shanahan’s new workhorse.
48. Christian McCaffrey (RB18): Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has 48 TDs rushing in his career and a penchant for running the ball instead of dumping it off. Veteran Jonathan Stewart has 211.6 carries for 874 yards and six TDs per season over the last three years. McCaffrey’s uncertain usage as a runner, receiver, and goal-line back makes him perhaps this year’s riskiest player given his high acquisition cost.
Round 5: 49-60
49. Larry Fitzgerald (WR25): Used almost exclusively as a high-percentage slot savant over the last two years, Fitz is third in the NFL with 216 receptions in that time frame. He had 12 targets inside the 10-yard line in each of the last two seasons, good for a top-five mark in both campaigns. His ADP of 58.4 is way too low.
50. Golden Tate (WR26): It’s easy to belittle Tate’s 1,000-yard performances in 2014 and 2016 by saying he benefited from injuries to teammates, but he’s had at least 128 targets with the Lions for each of the last three seasons. Tate’s three-year average of 93.3 receptions for 1,073.7 yards and 4.7 TDs is probably not circumstantial.
51. Emmanuel Sanders (WR27): After his 1,400-yard breakout in 2014, Sanders has still managed to average 77.5 receptions per season for 1,083.5 yards and 5.5 TDs with latter-day Peyton Manning, Osweiler, Siemian, and Lynch over the last two years. His offensive situation probably can’t get much worse. He’s cheap at his 57.4 ADP.
52. Willie Snead (WR28): Another in a line of undervalued receivers, Snead is ready to enjoy a large target bump in New Orleans thanks to the departure of Cooks. The only late-round/undrafted receivers with more than Snead’s 141 receptions in their first two years of NFL playing time are Hostra studs Colston and Wayne Chrebet as well as Victor Cruz. His ADP of 60.8 is a discount.
53. Martavis Bryant (WR29): A volatile big-play receiver with 12.6 half-PPR PPG in his brief career, Bryant had 13 red zone targets (plus a carry) in 11 games in 2015 — the last year he played. DRAFT users seem not to have gotten the memo: Bryant is back (for now?). His 66.7 ADP is a screaming discount.
54. Stefon Diggs (WR30): A fragile player — last year he dealt with groin, knee, and hip injuries — Diggs is a small speedster who in 2016 lived on high-percentage volume, catching 75.0 percent of his targets. He now gets a full offseason with quarterback Sam Bradford and OC Pat Shurmer.
55. Jamison Crowder (WR31): The real winner of the D-Jax and Garcon departures might be Crowder, who’s the presumptive WR2 in Washington’s offense. Last year Crowder played almost as many offensive snaps (781) as Garcon (807).
56. Spencer Ware (RB19): In two years with the Chiefs, Ware has averaged 14.6 half-PPR PPG in contests with double-digit carries. People talk about third-round rookie Kareem Hunt as if he’s a certain threat to Ware — but Hunt enters the NFL as a mid-major prospect with limited athleticism. Not all mid-round running backs drafted by HC Andy Reid turn into Brian Westbrook. Sometimes they turn into Correll Buckhalter, Ryan Moats, Tony Hunt, and Knile Davis.
57. Greg Olsen (TE4): Perhaps a smidge overvalued, Olsen — or #überWitten, as he’s known nowhere — has led the Panthers in receptions and yards receiving each of the last four seasons with 1,000-yard campaigns in the past three. Olsen’s lone drawback is his TD deficiency: In his six years with Cam and the Panthers, Olsen has scored more than six TDs in a season just once.
58. Andrew Luck (QB4): With an ADP of 48.9, Luck is being drafted aggressively. A top-five fantasy quarterback in each of his last three healthy seasons, Luck has 25.1 half-PPR PPG since 2013.
59. Mark Ingram (RB20): Even with the annoying Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, Travaris Cadet, C.J. Spiller, and Tim Hightower stealing carries and targets, Ingram has averaged 1,215 yards and 8.3 TDs from scrimmage as well as 41.7 receptions per year over the last three seasons despite missing five games. He’s a better receiver than the aging Peterson and better runner than the rookie Alvin Kamara.
60. Donte Moncrief (WR32): A size/speed wideout long on potential and short on production, Moncrief has been a TD-dependent player through his first three NFL seasons. That said, last year he had six targets inside the 10-yard line in nine games played. The Colts want to get him the ball near the goal line.
Round 6: 61-72
61. Randall Cobb (WR33): From 2012 to 2014 — after becoming a regular part of the Packers offense — Cobb averaged 14.66 half-PPR PPG as the team’s No. 2 wideout in 33 games behind Jordy. In 2015, Jordy missed the entire year. In 2016, Cobb was hampered most of the season by neck/back, hamstring, and finally ankle issues. Turning only 27 right before the season starts, Cobb still has the potential to be a high-end WR2 when he and Nelson are healthy.
62. Kelvin Benjamin (WR34): I’ve recently changed my position on K-Benjy. Other receivers — such as DeVante Parker — may have higher overall ceilings, but Benjamin has a good chance of performing well enough often enough to make a difference in best ball leagues. A big-bodied statistical bully, K-Benjy either underperforms or piles it on. In his 14 (of 32) career games with a TD, he’s scored 16.8 half-PPR PPG. In two active NFL seasons he’s averaged 131.5 targets and eight TDs per season.
63. DeSean Jackson (WR35): The quintessential boom-or-bust player, D-Jax underwhelmed in three seasons with Washington — but when he scored a TD he also averaged 102.3 yards per game. Think of him as a smaller, faster K-Benjy with higher (albeit less frequent) highs.
64. Mike Gillislee (RB21): Sending their 2018 fifth-round pick to the Bills for the right to sign Gillislee, the Patriots added the restricted free agent to their roster even after signing all-purpose back Rex Burkhead and extending pass-catching maven James White. With a league-high 5.7 yards per carry and nine TDs on 110 touches last year, Gillislee looks like New England’s early-down and short-distance back. LeGarrette Blount led the NFL with 24 carries inside the five-yard line and 18 TDs rushing in that role in 2016.
65. Tevin Coleman (RB22): The departure of Shanahan is a concern, but if Freeman suffers an injury then Coleman will be a top-tier option. Even if Freeman stays healthy, Coleman will likely get his. Coleman had double-digit touches in 11 of 13 games last year: In those games he averaged 77.3 yards from scrimmage, 0.6 TDs, and 14.5 half-PPR PPG.
66. Dalvin Cook (RB23): It’s presumptuous to assume that a rookie will automatically beat out a bigger, more athletic veteran running back with 230.5 carries and 48 targets for 1,175 yards, 37 receptions, and nine TDs per season over the last two years — even if that rookie is a second-round pick and that veteran is ‘just’ Latavius Murray. Plus, the Vikings offensive line was 30th last year with 0.98 yards before contact (per PFF).
67. C.J. Anderson (RB24): Although his 2016 campaign ended early with an injury, CJA has been Denver’s lead back in his last 11 games (including the team’s 2015 playoff run to the Super Bowl). In his 23 regular-season games with double-digit touches, Anderson has 94.8 yards, 0.8 TDs, and 15.7 half-PPR PPG. I never bet against Jamaal Charles, but CJA is acceptable at his 69.1 ADP.
68. Eddie Lacy (RB25): In Green Bay, Lacy was either the workhorse or he wasn’t. In his 46 games with double-digit carries, he averaged 93.2 scrimmage yards and 14.2 half-PPR PPG; without double-digit carries, eight yards and 1.3 PPG. Explicitly monetarily incentivized to lose excess weight, Lacy has a chance to be Seattle’s next revitalized workhorse.
69. Danny Woodhead (RB26): Too cheap at his current ADP of 82.9, Woody is now on a Ravens team that last year gave 156 targets to six running backs far less talented. He’s missed 27 of his last 64 possible games, but in his two healthy seasons with the Chargers he averaged 102 carries and 97 targets for 1,062.5 yards, 78 receptions, and 8.5 TDs per year. Amazingly, he has 100-carry, 100-target, 1,000-yard, 10-TD upside.
70. Tyler Eifert (TE5): He’s missed 26 of his last 48 potential games — but when he’s played he’s been the balls. In his 19 healthy games over the last two seasons, he’s scored 18 TDs. No tight end has more TDs since 2015.
71. Matt Ryan (QB5): I want no part of Ryan at his 55.0 ADP, but his career has been drastically underappreciated. He has five straight 4,500-yard seasons. For comparison, Rodgers has zero 4,500-yard seasons in the last five years. Ryan is second and fourth with 23,463 yards and 145 TDs passing over the last half-decade — despite missing Julio for 14 games. In his 66 contests with Julio since 2012, Ryan has averaged 299.5 yards passing per game. Respect the MVP. (Just don’t draft him.)
72. Russell Wilson (QB6): Yet to miss a game in his career, Wilson has the third-most fantasy points at the position over the last four years and 4,000-yard campaigns in his last two. He’s still expensive at his 68.2 ADP, but we’re getting closer to the quarterback sweet spot.
Round 7: 73-84
73. Frank Gore (RB27): At 34 years old, Gore has somehow been a workhorse for the Colts over the last two years, averaging 261.5 carries and 52.5 targets for 1,268 yards, 36 receptions, and 7.5 TDs per year. As consistent as any NFL back, Gore hasn’t missed a game in five years. He lost 14 carries inside the 10-yard line and 35 targets last season to Robert Turbin, who scored eight TDs and caught 26 passes — but even if Turbin steals work this year Gore is discounted at his 88.0 ADP.
74. Adrian Peterson (RB28): On the one hand, Peterson looked like burnt toast last year, playing in only three games because of knee and groin injuries and struggling when he played. On the other hand, Peterson was running behind PFF’s third-worst offensive line and when he’s been healthy (and not suspended) he’s had at least 1,000 scrimmage yards and 10 TDs each season of his career. It’s possible that the heretofore medical marvel had a short-term snakebite last year. If Ingram struggles, Peterson could be the lead back in New Orleans. If Peto struggles, he’ll likely be the poor man’s luxury Tim Hightower. Either way, his current ADP of 51.5 is an abomination.
75. Bilal Powell (RB29): Entering his seventh NFL season, Powell hasn’t led his team in carries since college, but the Jets indicate they want Powell to take more of the backfield work. Declining three-down back Matt Forte might put up some resistance, but Powell’s rushing average has improved each year of his career, and last year he was fourth at his position with 58 receptions. At worst, he’s a proven passing-down back on a team likely to trail most of the season.
76. Theo Riddick (RB30): An elite pass-catching back, Riddick will get his targets even if teammate Ameer Abdullah emerges as a backfield presence. If Abdullah struggles, Riddick will simply get more opportunities. A high-ceiling/medium-floor player, Riddick has 17.8 half-PPR PPG over the last two years when scoring; 8.0 PPG when not scoring. Even when TD-less, Riddick has best ball value.
77. Jimmy Graham (TE6): Returning from a patellar tear that ended his 2015 campaign, Graham was better than expected last season. After using Week 1 as a warm-up game, playing only 20.7 percent of the snaps, Graham had 64 receptions for 912 yards and six TDs the rest of the way. Nevertheless, he was poor in the second half of the season with only 27 receptions for 378 yards, and he’s untouchable at his ADP of 61.0.
78. Delanie Walker (TE7): Since becoming a 100-target force in 2014, Walker has led the Titans in receptions each season, averaging 10.9 half-PPR PPG. Over the last two years he’s easily been quarterback Marcus Mariota‘s most-used receiver with 171 targets. No one else on the team has over 100 targets from MaMa.
79. DeVante Parker (WR36): Throughout Ryan Tannehill‘s five-year career, he’s had his highest AY/A (8.2) when throwing to Parker. Blessed with an A.J.-esque athletic profile, Parker is a big-play third-year first-round breakout waiting to happen. In his seven career games with TDs, he’s averaged 15.26 half-PPR PPG.
80. Pierre Garcon (WR37): Wonderfully mispriced at his 89.2 ADP, Garcon is familiar with Shanahan’s offense, having led the league with 113 receptions on 181 targets in 2013, Shanny’s last year in Washington. Garcon will be 31 years old when the season starts, but even so he has significant upside: In Shanny’s first year with Washington in 2010, he coordinated an offense that funneled 145 targets to a 31-year-old Santana Moss, who produced a 93-1,115-6 stat line. It’s a bonus that quarterback Brian Hoyer knows Shanahan’s offense from their 2014 season together in Cleveland.
81. Eric Decker (WR38): In 2015 (Decker’s last healthy season), he led the NFL with 16 targets inside the 10-yard line. In 2016, Mariota was one of the league’s best passers inside the 10, completing 69.6 percent of his attempts for 14 TDs. Despite wallowing on the Jets for the last three years, Decker has scored TDs in 19 of 33 games played in that time.
82. Cameron Meredith (WR39): Emerging as an off-and-on force after Mr. Glass Kevin White‘s season-ending ankle injury in Week 4, Meredith led all Bears skill players in snaps (703), targets (97), receptions (66), yards (888), and TDs (4). A quarterback for his first three years at Illinois State, Meredith is a size/speed specimen still learning the position who will compete for targets with wannabes in White and Markus Wheaton and has-beens in Cruz, Kendall Wright, and Rueben Randle. In his seven games last year with at least six targets, Meredith averaged 90.57 yards, 0.4 TDs, and 15.3 half-PPR PPG. He’s the lesser Pryor in a much worse offense.
83: Mike Wallace (WR40): Before his 2015 season in Minnesota, when the Vikings were last in the league in pass attempts, Wallace averaged 11.3 half-PPR PPG. Last year, when the Ravens led the league in pass attempts, Wallace had a team-high 1,017 yards receiving, and now target hogs Smith, Kamar Aiken, Dennis Pitta, and Kyle Juszczyk are gone. Wallace’s glory days were with the Steelers, but even since leaving Pittsburgh he’s averaged 16.6 half-PPR PPG when scoring a TD. He still has some week-winning games in him.
84: Kenny Britt (WR41): In 2003 as a first-year offensive coordinator in Washington, Hue Jackson funneled 159 targets to Laveranues Coles. In 2007, Jackson coordinated a Falcons offense that gave 137 targets to breakout third-year receiver Roddy White. In 2011 he oversaw a Raiders offense that fed 115 targets to Darrius Heyward-Bey. In 2014-15, he gave a total of 249 targets to Green while coordinating the Bengals, and then last year he gave 140 targets to Pryor in his first full year of action at receiver. Britt is a big-bodied veteran who just set career-high marks in targets (111), receptions (68), and yards (1,002). Second-year wideout Corey Coleman‘s ceiling is higher, but Britt’s ceiling is more attainable.
Round 8: 85-96
— To be clear: The following six passers are all ranked lower than their ADPs. They’re all good, but I’m not saying you should draft them. —
85. Jameis Winston (QB7): After becoming the NFL’s first quarterback to open his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, Winston is on the precipice of superstardom. Surrounded by athletic receivers in Evans, D-Jax, and Chris Godwin, pass-catching tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, and receiving backs Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers, and even rookie Jeremy McNichols, Winston should have every opportunity to progress: He has the seventh-easiest pass defense schedule of 2017 (per Warren Sharp). That said, his 77.9 ADP is too high.
86. Ben Roethlisberger (QB8): A career-long home/road-splits passer, Roethlisberger has increasingly become a home-only player as he’s aged. Per our NFL Trends tool, Big Ben has been the league’s No. 1 fantasy quarterback at home over the last three years, averaging 339.9 yards and 2.9 TDs passing per game. Over that same time, he’s been one of the NFL’s worst road quarterbacks, averaging only 269.9 yards and 1.1 TDs on the road. I’m not a fan of drafting passers before the triple-digit picks, but Roethlisberger’s predictable volatility works well for best ball.
87. Cam Newton (QB9): In his four healthy seasons, Newton has been a top-five fantasy quarterback each year. In his two injury-marred campaigns, Newton has still been a QB2 with some week-winning performances. Last year he had career-low marks in completion rate (52.9 percent), TD rate (3.7 percent), rushing attempts (90), rushing average (4.0 yards per carry), and rushing TDs (5). Most if not all of those numbers are likely to regress positively in 2017.
88. Kirk Cousins (QB10): A top-eight fantasy quarterback each of the last two seasons, Cousins knocked on the 5,000-yard door last year and has the NFL’s fourth-most yards passing (9,083) since 2015. With athletic pass-catchers in Reed, Pryor, Crowder, Josh Doctson, Vernon Davis, and Chris Thompson, Cousins is a legitimate darkhorse MVP candidate. The prop markets currently have him at +6,600 odds to win the award.
89. Marcus Mariota (QB11): I love the Maserati — but the Titans were 28th in the league last year with 504 pass attempts, and for a running quarterback Mariota has underwhelmed with only 94 career carries. Fourth in 2016 with 476 rushing plays, the Titans run their ‘exotic smashmouth’ offense through DeMarco and Henry, leaving relatively few carries for Mariota, who was just seventh in the league with his 60 carries last season. Mariota is yet to play a full 16-game campaign but is still a bigger MVP favorite than Cousins at some sportsbooks.
90. Derek Carr (QB12): Peppering Cooper and Crabtree with a combined 525 targets over the last two years, Carr leads the NFL with 11 fourth-quarter comebacks over that span. A collegiate 5,000-yard, 50-TD gunslinger in a spread offense, Carr has transitioned to the NFL game remarkably well and is now (for the moment) the league’s highest-paid player with his five-year, $125 million contract extension. Intriguingly, Carr has arbitrage-worthy MVP odds ranging from +900 to +2,000 at various sportsbooks. He’s averaged 32.7 half-PPR PPG in his 10 (of 31) games with three-plus TDs passing since 2015.
— We’ve officially reached the ADP-be-d*mned part of the rankings (for the most part). —
91. Martellus Bennett (TE8): While part of Bennett’s 2016 success was due to playing with Brady and having Gronk miss half the season, Marty has been no worse than a low-end fantasy TE1 in each of his four healthy seasons since leaving Dallas and Witten’s eternal shadow in 2011. Last year Rodgers completed a career-low three TDs to tight ends. With Black Unicorn now on the Packers, that TD total is likely to double.
92. Kyle Rudolph (TE9): Second in the league with 24 red zone targets last year and first on the Vikings with 205 targets and 12 TDs over the last two years, Rudolph has emerged as a useful fantasy asset. While he’s unlikely to lead the team in 2017 targets, his 35.2 percent TD market share since 2015 suggests he has a strong chance to lead the Vikings once again in scoring.
93. Hunter Henry (TE10): As a rookie, Henry scored eight TDs last year. Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka, Pro-Bowler Junior Miller, and Gronk are the only tight ends ever to score more TDs as first-year players. Rookie TEs almost never lead their teams in TDs receiving — but Henry did. Even though there’s competition for targets in
San Diego Los Angeles this year, investing in Henry on a yearly basis will likely be a productive long-term tactic.
94. Tyrell Williams (WR42): Playing at least two-thirds of the Chargers’ snaps in each game after Allen’s Week 1 injury, Tyrell the Gazelle led the team in targets (119), receptions (69), and yards receiving (1,059) last season. The return of Allen and arrival of No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams dampen Tyrell’s seasonal outlook, but Allen has never played a full 16-game season and Clemson Mike is yet to practice because of a back injury. In his seven games last year with a TD, big-play Tyrell averaged 16.2 half-PPR PPG.
95: John Brown (WR43): After producing a 1,000-yard effort in his second season, Brown spent most of 2016 hobbled with injuries. He was able to play 60 percent of Arizona’s snaps in only four games — but the few times he was targeted more than five times he balled out, averaging 87.3 yards per game. Living with quarterback Carson Palmer this offseason, Brown (per HC Bruce Arians) “looks like John Brown.” With Fitz aging and Michael Floyd gone, Smokey could break out in a big way.
96: Adam Thielen (WR44): An undrafted hometown product from Minnesota State University, Thielen last year clawed his way up the depth chart and finally emerged in his third NFL season. While he did little for the first month, Thielen took advantage of Diggs’ injury-induced Week 5 absence to break out with a 7-127-1 performance, averaging 11.8 half-PPR PPG from that point on. While Thielen is an up-and-down producer perhaps best drafted as insurance on Diggs, his 75.0 percent catch rate in 2016 speaks to his ability.
Round 9: 97-108
— The Final Four —
97. LeGarrette Blount (RB31): Early in his career Blount was accused of being a finesse back in a grinder’s body. He put those criticisms to rest last year, easily leading the league with 68 red-zone carries and 18 TDs on the ground. With 299 carries and 94.7 percent of the Patriots’ rushing scores, Blount was a bruising workhorse. After Ryan Mathews is healthy enough for the Eagles to cut, Blount will be the lead back on a team that last year was third in offensive plays (1,080).
98. Jonathan Stewart (RB32): In Reggie Bush’s rookie season, the veteran Deuce McAllister still had a 1,000-10 rushing campaign. McCaffrey is a Bushian talent, and he’s unlikely to dethrone an athletic big-bodied professional entering his 10th season with the franchise. Stew is a mortal lock to miss games with a lower-body injury, but he’s averaged 16.3 carries for 67.2 yards and 0.5 TDs per game over the last three years. A 202-pound rookie isn’t going to take all of that production from him.
99. Samaje Perine (RB33): Perine is this year’s Howard. Similar in college production, athleticism, and size and drafted with a comparable pick by a team analogously bereft of a bona fide lead runner, Perine has 1,600-yard potential as a rookie. Turning 22 in September, Perine broke Oklahoma’s all-time record for most career rushing yards in only three years and had one of the best true freshman seasons of all time in 2014 with 1,713 yards and 21 TDs on 263 carries in 13 games. His primary competition for carries is a guy whose rushing average last year was less than 4.0 yards per carry in nine games as the default lead runner. If Perine can’t be out a guy whose nickname is “Fat,” he should quit football.
100. Darren Sproles (RB34): An original ganster offensive weapon, Sproles is the playmaker in a backfield with little proven depth. The only running backs with more receptions (147) and all-purpose TDs (18) over the last three years are Le’Veon, Forte, Devonta, and DeMarco. His ADP of 139.2 is both a disgrace and a gift.
— The Extra Eight —
101. Ted Ginn, Jr. (WR45): Signed by the Saints to replace Cooks as a deep threat, Ginn isn’t just a boom-or-bust player. He’s an underappreciated producer with an average of 96 targets and nine carries for 824.5 yards, 49 receptions, and seven TDs per year over the last two seasons in Carolina. Able to fly down the field and rush the ball on jet sweeps, Ginn doesn’t have his predecessor’s floor or consistency — but he has about 75 percent of Cooks’ upside. Since 2015 Cooks has scored TDs in 13 games, averaging 21.9 half-PPR PPG in those contests. Over that same time, Ginn has TDs in 10 games, averaging 17.8 PPG when he scores. With just a few big games, he’ll provide value.
102. J.J. Nelson (WR46): Ever since Smokey’s Week 7 absence last year gave Nelson the opportunity to play significant snaps, J.J. was a Tyreek-esque big-play force for the Cardinals, scoring seven TDs on only 32 touches in the final 10 games of the season. In the five games when Brown’s health and Floyd’s departure enabled him to play at least 60 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Nelson turned 8.6 targets into 72.4 yards and 0.8 TDs per game. He’s likely to play significant snaps this year as Arizona’s third receiver despite the arrival of promising third-round wideout Chad Williams.
103-108. Dak Prescott (QB13), Philip Rivers (QB14), Tyrod Taylor (QB15), Matthew Stafford (QB16), Andy Dalton (QB17), and Carson Palmer (QB18): It’s probably not the worst strategy to ignore the position until 12 quarterbacks have been drafted and then to select two of these guys. You’re welcome.
I’m not likely to draft these guys with top-100 picks, but some people might:
- QB: Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith
- RB: Doug Martin, Ameer Abdullah, Paul Perkins, Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, C.J. Prosise, Terrance West, James White, Matt Forte, Rob Kelley
- WR: Brandon Marshall, Corey Davis, Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Quincy Enunwa, Corey Coleman, Marvin Jones, Tavon Austin, Breshad Perriman, Robert Woods, Cole Beasley, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Sterling Shepard
- TE: Zach Ertz, Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Coby Fleener, Austin Hooper, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jason Witten
I’ll update these rankings whenever substantial developments occur. For simplicity, I might release a new article with updated rankings in August.