Football season is finally upon us! With all 32 teams now having started their respective training camps, I've decided to make a list of the top 5 players on each roster based on talent coming into 2017. Enjoy!
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Rams
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
New York Giants
New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In my opinion, one of the key components of a successful fantasy draft is finding the best value player at each of your picks and not reaching for a certain player or position. Although it's easy to push a player up your board on draft day because you want to draft a certain position in a certain round, this more often than not leads to regret only minutes later when you realise you passed on a potentially elite receiver for a mediocre running back and there's still RB's of similar ability left on the table at your next pick (don't worry, we've all made this mistake). This is why I've decided to give my thoughts on some players that I don't feel will give you the production their current draft position suggests, as well as some players that I think have great value at their ADP and you should target in your draft. Below are my picks for rounds 1-4, my choices for rounds 5-8 and 9-12 will be published over the summer.
All ADP's taken from fantasyfootballcalculator.com for a 12 team league with full PPR scoring.
Avoid: Melvin Gordon (1.09)
I can't deny that Gordon was incredible last year finishing as a Top 10 PPR running back despite getting injured early on in the Chargers' week 14 game at Carolina and subsequently missing almost three full matches. However, I can't see the third year back putting up as impressive numbers as he did last season.
Gordon scored 10 touchdowns in 2017 despite not scoring any the previous year and I fully expect this number to drop as the Chargers look to the passing game in the red zone to exploit the abilities of the now healthy Keenan Allen, rookie Mike Williams and second year tight end Hunter Henry. In fact, I see the whole offense shifting more to the passing game, leaving Gordon with potentially fewer carries. A reduction in carries could be a big problem for Gordon as he wasn't one of the most effective runners in 2016 averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, 18th best of all running backs with over 150 rushing attempts.
Although I do predict Gordon to still be an RB1 in 2017, I don't feel he's worthy of a first round selection and that there are better options available at his ADP of pick nine.
Target: Antonio Brown (1.04)
This a really simple one for me. Brown has been the top scoring PPR wide receiver for three years in a row and I see no reason for that to change in 2017. Despite often being drafted at pick four behind running backs David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliot, it's only Johnson that I would choose ahead of the 28 year old Steelers receiver in PPR drafts this summer. The reason for this is that early on in the draft I like to take players with the highest guarantee of top production and Brown fits the description perfectly. He's almost a shoo-in to be a top three wide receiver (barring injury) and with Big Ben fit and healthy under center I expect AB to be the number one fantasy wide receiver once again. On top of this, unlike his teammate Le'Veon Bell, Brown rarely struggles with injury and hasn't missed a regular season game since Week 12 of the 2012 season.
Points wise, I predict he'll improve on his tally from last year as fellow wideout Martavis Bryant returns to the line up in 2017. Although Bryant may take a few targets away from Brown he'll also take away a lot of attention which should leave AB with more one-on-one match-ups for him to exploit.
All things considered, I think Antonio Brown is as close as you can get to a sure thing in fantasy this year and a player to target early in the first round of PPR drafts this season.
Avoid: Marshawn Lynch (2.09)
Hard as I try, I just can't bring myself to draft a 31 year old running back who is coming out of retirement in the second round. Nobody has any clue how good or even how durable Beast Mode is going to be in 2017 so the fact that fantasy players all over the world are willing to draft him as the RB10 is ridiculous to me.
I understand that he's walking into a starting role on an AFC contending team with one of the best offensive lines in the league but, and I will repeat myself, he's the wrong side of 30 and hasn't played any football for a whole year. In addition, the last season he did play back in 2015, he struggled on the Seahawks offense and was certainly not the dominant Marshawn Lynch we'd come to expect.
Although he does have great touchdown upside, in a PPR league I feel there are so many better options available in the middle to late second round that I'd much rather draft. He's way too risky for me!
Target: Doug Baldwin (2.11)
Although his ADP has been creeping up over the past few weeks, I'm surprised Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin is still only going at the back of the second round. I know he might not be the most exciting pick on the planet, but Baldwin has finished as a WR1 in PPR scoring leagues for two years in row now and all things point at this continuing in 2017. Baldwin has unquestionably become Russell Wilson's go to guy racking up 94 receptions from 126 targets last season and, with Tyler Lockett recovering from a serious injury, it's possible that Baldwin could even hit the 100 mark this year.
The main reason Baldwin is a great player to target this year is that he's being taken later than a lot of receivers that he's outscored in previous years. Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper and Dez Bryant are all getting picked above Doug Baldwin despite him putting up more fantasy points than all of them in both 2015 and 2016.
I feel Baldwin is a lock to be a Top 12 PPR wide receiver come January and I'd be more than comfortable taking him at his late second round ADP.
Avoid: Allen Robinson (3.10)
I was going to talk about Brandin Cooks here but I feel I've exhausted myself telling people to avoid him on the podcast so I've decided to go with different wide receiver. Poor Allen Robinson fell from grace last season as he went from a Top 10 PPR wide receiver in 2016 to a being outside of the Top 25 receivers in 2017, breaking the hearts of countless fantasy owners on his way.
Despite having over 150 targets last year, Robinson only managed to pull in 73 receptions, although a large part of this low conversion rate was down to poor throws from Jags quarterback Blake Bortles, one of the main reasons I'm avoiding Robinson this year. The other reason, beside the quarterback play, is that Jacksonville look to be becoming more of a run first team after drafting Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick of 2017 NFL Draft. The knock-on effect of this will be that Bortles won't have to throw the ball as much as has in seasons past, a good thing for the Jaguars but not A-Rob.
Another factor is that the Jaguars defense is now stacked with talent after the offseason additions of Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye and this should mean that Bortles won't have to chase games as much as in previous seasons, again hindering Robinson who often benefited from garbage time points.
If he was still on the board in the middle of the fourth I'd struggle to pass on such a talented player but I feel his ADP is just a bit too high to be worth it.
Target: Isaiah Crowell (3.06)
Yes thats right, I'm telling you do draft a Cleveland Brown, but I've got a feeling Crowell will be well worth it. Crowell finished as a top twelve scoring running back in most PPR leagues last year despite being on a team that found themselves behind early and chasing in most of their matches, a game script that doesn't usually favour the running back position. With the Browns looking like they've improved this offseason, especially on defense, Crowell has an opportunity to receive more than the 198 carries he was given in 2016 and with a top 10 yards per attempt average of 4.8, he could become one of the top backs in 2017.
The icing on the cake is that Browns head coach Hue Jackson has said that he wants to use Crowell more this year and that can only be a good thing for his production. I'm expecting Crowell to be a low end RB1 in 2017, great value for a middle of the third round pick.
Avoid: Davante Adams (4.06)
A few months ago I quite liked the value of Green Bay wideout Davante Adams in the mid fourth round but then I uncovered some issues. The first was that he was very touchdown dependent in 2016 scoring an impressive 12 TD's but I just can't see him sustaining that level of production, especially with Green Bay drafting a red zone threat running back in Jamaal Williams. The second issue I have with Adams is his tape just doesn't get me excited. He might be in a great situation with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball but he often gets lost against defenses with a good number two cornerback.
Overall, I just don't feel Adams has either the safe floor or huge upside to warrant being a fourth round pick. I'd much rather take Julian Edelman, Golden Tate or Jamison Crowder, all players going soon after Adams.
Target: Drew Brees (4.11)
I'm normally not the kind of guy to take a quarterback in the first five or six rounds of a draft but with the value you're getting with Drew Brees in the late fourth round is almost too good to pass up. Brees has consistently finished as a Top fantasy quarterback since the universe was created 13.7 billion years ago (or so it seems) and despite losing Brandin Cooks in the offseason, I feel he has more than enough weapons to once again be near the top of the charts.
Also, according to Scout Fantasy, Brees has the second easiest fantasy schedule of all quarterbacks and although I usually don't give the strength of schedule much weight in my rankings with the NFL as unpredictable as it is, it can't hurt.
So at a spot where there's not many great value players in the either wide receiver or running back department, why not go for an almost guaranteed high end quarterback at the back of the fourth?
Last season only two teams, the Patriots and Texans, managed to retain their divisional crowns from the previous season as the other six lost out and had to fight for wildcard spots. Looking forward to the 2017 season, I don't think they'll be as large a turnover as the previous year, however I can see their being four new divisions champs come January, two in each conference. Below are the four teams I expect to lose the top spot in their respective divisions in 2017.
Atlanta Falcons - NFC South
The laws of physics state "What goes up must come down" and this will be no more true than with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017. Kyle Shanahan's Falcons offence was electrifying last year as Matt Ryan claimed the NFL MVP award and Atlanta made their first Super Bowl since 1999, but they have one big problem coming into this season; Shanahan is gone!
I have no doubt that their young defence will be improved as many players return from injury and also I think Dontari Poe can make a huge impact on the defensive line, however I see a large regression on offence and, with the South looking strong this year, I don't think the Falcons will be able to retain their crown. Instead I see the number one spot in the division being owned by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come the end of the season as Jameis Winston and company become the new offensive powerhouses in the NFC. The Super Bowl hangover is set to strike once again!
Dallas Cowboys - NFC East
The Cowboys went from worst to first in the division last year as rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led Dallas to the number one seed in the NFC. While many have the Cowboys tipped to repeat last season's success, I am not one jumping on the band waggon down in Dallas.
A big problem for Jerry Jones and his boys is the lack of talent on defence, in particular in the secondary. On top of this, Dallas lack pass rushers, a killer when you have weaknesses at both the cornerback and safety position. The scarcity of top players on defence will put even more pressure on the Cowboys offence and, as more teams workout ways to stop Dak, I can see them struggling to produce the same numbers as last year.
So while the Cowboys seem set to regress, I don't feel this can be said for either the Giants or the Eagles, two teams who have certainly strengthened this offseason. I expect Eli and all his shiny weapons and elite defence to win the East this year while the Cowboys and Eagles scrap for a potential wildcard spot.
Houston Texans - AFC South
The past two years the Texans defence has managed to carry the team to the number one spot in the division despite them continuing to have huge problems on offence, particularly in the quarterback department. Their divisional dominance has mainly been due to the poor records of their rivals as back to back 9-7 seasons have been enough to claim the South on both occasions. However, this year I'm expecting the Texans to lose their crown to the young and talented Titans as Tennessee aim to win their first division title since 2008.
The starting quarterback job still remains a huge question mark in Houston as the Texans must decide between backup Tom Savage and rookie DeShaun Watson and neither option is particularly inspiring. The Titans on the other hand have a potentially elite quarterback in Marcus Mariota, a top three offensive line and one of the most feared backfields in the NFL as well as an improved receiving corps in 2017 after the drafting of Corey Davis and the free agency signing of veteran Eric Decker.
As always in the NFL, there's a chance that injuries could wreck the Titans' year but if they manage to stay healthy I see them as the team to beat in AFC South.
Kansas City Chiefs - AFC West
I'd say KC were slightly lucky to win the division in 2016 as I feel the Raiders would have just edged their final game in Denver had Derek Carr not have broken his leg the previous week and that extra which win would have taken Oakland to 13-3 and given them the number two seed in the AFC.
This year, I fully expect the Raiders to overtake the Chiefs and claim the bragging rights in the West. This is mainly due to the fact that, as I look at the rosters, the Raiders are in an even stronger position than last year, whereas the Chiefs have lost a few key components. The loss of Dontari Poe will certainly be felt and although the releasing of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has helped the Chiefs financially, it has left a large hole in the KC receiving corps. In contrast, the Raiders kept hold of almost all of their starters and the players they did let go, such as running back Latavius Murray, were replaced by those of equal, if not superior ability, including veteran Marshawn Lynch.
Not only do I think the Chiefs will lose the AFC West to the Oakland Raiders, I wouldn't be surprised if they got overtaken by the LA Chargers as well. The Chargers' roster is loaded with talent and, barring injuries, I can see them challenging for a playoff spot.
Mowlem is a sports writer from Reading, United Kingdom. All articles are written by Reece Mowlem (unless stated otherwise).