Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, here’s my top five takes on injury risks, draft targets, players to avoid and non-rookie breakouts.
* ADP information taken from MyFantasyLeague.com
ADP Avoids – At their current price, thanks but no thanks
Todd Gurley, LAR, RB – Last season’s unofficial Bust of the Year has somehow managed to convince the fantasy community that he’s still worthy of top 10 RB status – so says his ADP. This is a guy that averaged 3.4 YPC when facing light boxes (which was a healthy 44% of the time). The Rams, under the on-field direction of Jared Goff, are just too toxic to touch. Gurley, Sammy Watkins, the Rams are all players to let other managers draft.
Derek Carr, OAK, QB – The No 16 QB last season is going, on average, No. 6 at the position this season. The Raiders’ Win/Loss record and defense (in terms of points allowed) has improved in each season with Carr at the helm. What usually happens when you have a great offensive line and a defense that can hold the opposing offense in check? You typically throw less, which has also been the case in each year under Carr (he threw a career-low 559 times last season). Moreover, when Carr chucked it last season, he wasn’t often trying to hit a home run (he ranked 21st among QBs in pass attempts of 20-plus yards). This isn’t Carr’s fault, it just makes sense in his current team environment. I’m fine landing Carr in the back-end of the QB1 class, but his ADP suggests I’ll never be in a position to do that, and that’s fine by me.
Leonard Fournette, JAC, RB – Comparisons to Bo Jackson or Adrian Peterson might be a taking it a bit far, but I certainly get it. Fournette’s a rare physical talent, one that I’m worried will have a hard time staying healthy given his smash-mouth running style. And how many times has Jacksonville tried to fix its running game with splashy new additions, only to fail miserably? Toby Gerhart, T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory come to mind. As Todd Gurley showed us last season, great talent can’t always overcome a bad situation. And Fournette’s landed with a team that has finished in the bottom-six in RB fantasy production for five straight seasons. I’m open to the idea of Fournette helping Jacksonville buck this trend, I’m just not open to the No. 11 RB price tag it will cost to be an investor in that idea.
Davante Adams, GB, WR – A tried-and-true axiom in fantasy is to chase carries and catches, but not TDs, which are much more fickle by nature. Adams was the LeGarrette Blount equivalent at the WR position last season, finishing No. 2 in TD receptions (12) but outside the top 20 in catches and receiving yards. He also finished with the fourth-most drops at the position (9) and was just 40th in yards per route run. His yardage tallies were an extreme rollercoaster ride as he finished with 50 yards or less in 10 of 16 games. With that kind of volatility, his TD production was vital. But with TE Martellus Bennett in the Packers’ passing picture this season, Green Bay now has four players that finished among the top 10 in TD catches of 10 yards or less. That’s a lot of players fighting for a chunk of the TD pie when the team gets in striking range of the end zone.
Jarvis Landry, MIA, WR – Landry hasn’t been much of a TD threat in his three seasons, averaging just five trips to the end zone in his career, with a punt return TD and a rushing score included in that average. And now that the team has been forced to turn to the strong arm of Jay Cutler, you have to be concerned about the upside of a short-range slot weapon in the Dolphins attack. With an ADP in the early 20s at the WR position, folks are drafting him like nothing has changed, but this offense is likely to be a lot more focused on down-field weapons DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills now that it has an arm capable of delivering it to them. Ryan Tannehill had the fewest pass attempts of 20-plus yards last season among qualified signal callers. With a full season, Cutler is likely to finish well above average in that category, and that’s a party that Landry won’t be invited to.
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ADP Targets – Based on their price, these players aren’t getting proper respect
Philip Rivers, LAC, QB – Rivers should be the poster QB for why you wait on signal callers in fantasy drafts. His past four seasons have delivered an average of more than 30 TDs and mid-4k passing yards, and he’s got an impressive stable of targets to work with this season. He can very often be had as the No. 12 QB (or later) in your draft, and I’ve been a happy recipient of that discounted price a few times this summer.
Carlos Hyde, SF, RB – Hyde’s typically falling to the back end of the top 20 among RBs in drafts, despite finishing as the No. 14 fantasy RB last season (in only 13 games played!). There’s no denying that the San Francisco environment is less than ideal, but with Kyle Shanahan heading this franchise, it feels like things are at least turning in the right direction. With another expected healthy workload, I don’t see Hyde taking a step backwards this season. I’m buying (cheaply, I might add) on at least a repeat.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR, WR – With an ADP in the mid-20s at wide receiver, Benjamin’s jumped out at me this preseason in limited action. He looks all the way back from his ’15 ACL injury, and maybe even better. He’s lost some buzz after a ho-hum ’16 return, but his 941 yards and seven TDs still netted out as a top 20 fantasy wideout. And with the extra quickness he seems to have gained, a return to 1,000-plus yards and a run at double-digit touchdowns seems reasonable. I’m targeting him because I expect that to happen.
Terrance West, BAL, RB – He’s the definition of a J.A.G., but a J.A.G. in the right situation has to be taken seriously in fantasy football. By the looks of his ADP, though, not many are giving him much respect. With Kenneth Dixon out for the season, West should own early down carries and goal line plunges for the Ravens. At the very worst, like Hyde, he should be able to repeat last season’s numbers, which were good for RB24, and that doesn’t jibe with his current RB38 ADP.
Martellus Bennett , GB, TE – Bennett is the ninth tight end off the board, according to his ADP, a couple spots from where he finished in fantasy at the position last season (No. 7). Now in Green Bay, I really don’t see Bennett taking a step backward. Green Bay threw the ball 69 times more than New England, and Green Bay doesn’t have a Gronk crowding his situation. In fact, Aaron Rodgers made a statuesque Richard Rodgers a top 10 fantasy tight end a couple seasons ago. I think a much more talented Bennett has top-five potential with the Packers.
Non-Rookie Breakouts - For these players, it’s time to shine
DeVante Parker, MIA, WR – As much as Jay Cutler’s style hurts Landry, it’s a boon for Parker, who is one of nine receivers to have at least 80 combined catches the past two seasons with a yards per catch average of at least 15.0. We saw the duo’s potential in the team’s third preseason game when Cutler connected with Parker for a beautiful 72-yard reception. Cutler called Parker a “faster Alshon,” and the former Bears QB sure had an affinity for Jeffery, so it’s an encouraging comment, to say the least.
Jameis Winston, TB, QB – Honestly, it’s tough watching Winston on HBO’s Hard Knocks and not falling in love with Winston’s talents, and his work ethic. He can be a bit cheesy at times, but I don’t question his desire to be great. Nor do I question the talent that he has surrounding him in the passing game with one of the game’s elite up-and-coming receivers in Mike Evans and a top-notch field-stretcher in DeSean Jackson. Winston has been in the back-end range of the QB1 class each of his first two seasons. This is the year he drops 30-plus TD passes and dives squarely into the middle of that group.
Terrance West, BAL, RB – Let’s talk about West again. The three most important factors in determining a player’s fantasy value are talent, environment and opportunity. For West, I say that 1.5 out of three ain’t bad. Yes, he’s a bit of a lug in the talent department, but you can’t argue that his path to 200-plus carries (I’ll say 220) is pretty clear. And any running back with that expected workload, which will include goal line duties, has no business slumming it in the mid-to-late 30s in terms of ADP at the running back position. A final tally in the neighborhood of 1,000 YFS and eight TDs would represent a fantastic return on investment, and it’s a very reasonable projection given his situation.
Derrick Henry, TEN, RB – The Titans ranked fourth in running back rush attempts (406) last season, with DeMarco Murray handling nearly three-quarters of those totes (293). It stands to reason after Henry showed well in backup duty that Tennessee won’t feel the need to work their lead back into the ground with Henry’s fresh set of tires offering similar rushing upside. If Henry can land an extra 4-5 touches per game this season while sustaining his per touch fantasy production from last year, he’s got a realistic shot at landing in the RB top 20 when the dust settles on ’17.
Eric Ebron, DET, TE – Ebron was a fairly consistent yardage producer last season, delivering 50-plus receiving yards in seven of his 13 games played. But after catching a TD pass in the first game of the season, he failed to find the end zone through the air the rest of the way. Now, with Anquan Boldin gone, along with his six red zone touchdowns (ninth in the league), there’s an opportunity for Ebron to ramp up his pay dirt production. Consider this: A 16-game season at his yards per game pace from last season to go with six touchdowns (not far-fetched) would have landed him in the TE top five in ’16.
Injury Risks – Guys whose health history should keep you up at night
Andrew Luck, IND, QB – This is a layup, since he’s already slated to miss Week 1, and rumors are flying that his absence might extend well beyond that. Even when he returns, you have to worry about re-injury performing behind an offensive line that received little upgrade this past offseason despite the fact that Luck led all QBs in Pressure%.
Jordan Reed, WAS, TE – There would be so much to like with Reed if there weren’t so much to worry about. A toe injury was his most recent health battle, and last year it was his shoulder. The most notable concern is an extensive history of concussions, to the point where you have to at least consider whether he’s one hard hit away from his career being over.
Keenan Allen, LAC, WR – Allen’s a human question mark. During his college career at Cal, he endured ankle surgery and a PCL tear. In his four NFL seasons, his games played (15, 14, 8, 1) has spiraled downhill at a break-neck pace. He’s going off the board on average as the No. 16 wide receiver despite the fact that he’s never placed that high in his four-year career. Talk about a leap of faith.
Rob Gronkowski, NE, TE – He’s reportedly off the sauce (during the season, at least) and in the best shape of his life. Of course, we’ve witnessed his physical prowess take a quick turn for the worse once the real bullets start flying. Sixteen games worth of Gronk is fun to fantasize about, but that’s what it is, a dream that last came true in ’11. Of course, he’s capable of pacing the TE position in fantasy points even if he misses a few games, but the point here is to at least recognize his significant injury risk.
Tyler Eifert, CIN, TE – Ok, are you getting the message here that the TE positon is a minefield? Calling Eifert Gronk-like in terms of his TD potential is fair (18 TDs in past 21 games), and so too is recognizing his penchant for getting injured. In four seasons, we’ve yet to see a full campaign from Eifert, and he’s averaged 8.7 DNPs over his past three seasons.