From David Johnson to Mike Wallace, an early look at fantasy football’s best as those summer drafts near
The original plan was to reveal the top 2,017 fantasy players for 2017, but I only got through 100. So… sorry.
1. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals: I tried to convince myself otherwise, but if Johnson is going to catch even 60 balls for 600 yards, on top of a mammoth workload as a runner and goal-line touches in full, there’s just no way anyone else can go No. 1.
2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: I suspect he’ll be on the field a little more this year, as he is more than capable as a pass-catcher and in blitz pick-up. Elliott only averaged 47.5 snaps per game as a rookie, fifth in the league and far behind fellow elite backs Le’Veon Bell (65.1) and David Johnson (60.3). The schedule is a little tougher, but if you throw in another couple touches every week, that more than makes up for it.
3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: Durability is an issue, and the arrival of James Conner implies that Bell isn’t taking the kind of obscene workload he got a year ago. Thus, he’s third of the Big Three.
4. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers: The Chargers gave him his old lead blocker last year, and Gordon responded with a breakout season. With a depth chart as weak as LAC’s, Gordon should be looking at an enormous workload again.
5. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: He might lose a couple red-zone opportunities with Martavis Bryant back.
6. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: As my best friend in the world Andy Benoit said on our podcast: The best all-around zone runner in football (with the possible exception of Ezekiel Elliott). The Bears’ interior O-line, with Cody Whitehair and Josh Sitton getting a full camp under their belts and Kyle Long healthy, has a chance to be outstanding.
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7. Odell Beckham Jr. , WR, Giants: The good news is that teams will not longer be able to devote six defensive backs to defending him. The bad news is that Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram will conspire to steal a bunch of red-zone targets, capping OBJ’s TD upside.
8. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: All he does is not catch touchdowns. (Get it? The old Buddy Ryan/Cris Carter thing? Pretty good, right?) Jones has averaged a TD every other game in his career, and hasn’t had a double-digit TD season in the last four. He has a total of 10 red-zone TDs over those four seasons, which is tied for 51st most in the NFL during that span, and tied for second among Joneses (behind Marvin Jones’s 13 and tied with James Jones, who didn’t even play last year).
9. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills: You could argue he’s as high as four. But do you like reviewing the injury report every Sunday morning?
10. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: The Bucs had a ton of success throwing in goal-to-go situations last year, and Evans is at the center of all that.
11. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: He should be back to his old self in his second full season back from the torn ACL. More importantly, he was a red-zone monster last year, with a league-leading 11 red-zone TDs on 29 red-zone targets, the most since Demaryius Thomas in 2014.
12. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
13. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: A quick sidebar. Or not so quick, let’s see how it goes. I wrote about Mixon in the sleepers and busts piece last week: He has a chance for a huge year, as evidenced by the fact that I’m currently ranking him 13th overall. Now, of course, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to root for him over the course of a season in light of the fact that, when he was 18, he punched a woman so hard that he broke multiple bones in her face. Last weekend, a young… well, he might have been old, I don’t know… but a gentleman on Twitter @-ed me to say that because I projected Mixon to have a good statistical season, I was “advocating” for him as a human being and that Mixon should be banned from the NFL. (Which, by the way, is in direct contrast to the wishes of the victim in his case. And while victims don’t get to unilaterally mete out punishments in our criminal justice system, certainly we can take her wishes into account, even if they are in part motivated by a civil suit. And anyway, isn’t it a little strange to demand that as a society we mandate “you can not work at your first choice of employer” as a punitive component for sentencing? Logically, shouldn’t you be arguing for a life prison sentence then? Whether or not Mixon plays in the NFL is a matter for the scales of public relations, and if you don’t like the fact that the Bengals took him or that your favorite team employs [Player X with bad history, and there are a lot of them] you can vote with your wallet, and if enough people do…) Where was I? Oh, yeah. There are many things I dislike about Twitter, but virtue-signaling bros are… well, they’re probably somewhere in the middle, which makes them very annoying. I’ll probably write about Mixon and his past later this offseason, but for now I just want to make this point: Mixon did a horrible thing and might very well be a horrible person. If you choose to not draft Mixon in fantasy football because of the fact that he slugged a woman, very good. But don’t walk around waiting for someone to pin a medal to your ass for it. If you are troubled by the plight of women in this country (and, frankly, you should be), be like Colin Kaepernick: Do something to help the cause. Volunteer your time and/or money at a local women’s shelter. Help plug the funding gap for Planned Parenthood. But don’t @ some dork fantasy writer then puff out your chest like you’re fighting the good fight. (And yes, you can do both, but I’d wager dollars to donuts that most don’t.)
[dismounts high horse]
14. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
15. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: I’m bullish on Ajayi but still a bit skeptical. I think last year’s absurdly up-and-down performance had a lot to do with injuries and rotations on the O-line.
16. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: They’re building all of it—ALL OF IT!—around him in Jacksonville.
17. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys: Only four double-digit target games last season (including postseason). I’m a little bit worried about the floor on a weekly basis considering the strength of the run game, plus Dak’s comfort level with Jason Witten and Cole Beasley.
18. Spencer Ware, RB, Chiefs
19. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans: I wake up in cold sweats over the presence of Derrick Henry. Only David Johnson played more snaps than Murray’s 862 last season. That number has to drop in 2017.
20. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons: He’s a very good back, but arguably not the most talented on his own team (which is more about Tevin Coleman being very good than Freeman being bad; they’re both among the NFL’s 10 best running backs). I’d expect this to keep sliding toward a 50/50 timeshare, and wouldn’t be shocked if the more versatile Coleman out-touched Freeman some weeks.
21. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: Between Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson, do the Texans have a quarterback who can move this offense? I’m not so sure. And you’ve also got a workhorse in rookie D’Onta Foreman backing Miller up now.
22. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Despite the uniform number, he’s a true No. 1 back (there’s a reason the Packers waited until Day 3 of the draft to take their running backs) in an explosive offense.
23. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints: The undisputed No. 1 target for Drew Brees, due to both talent and scheme fit.
24. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams: The first-round upside is still there, especially with the upgrades on the offensive line and coaching staff in L.A. Of course, it will be another year of frequent eight-man boxes and infrequent trips to the red zone.
25. Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills: Maybe a little more caution with any offseason injuries this year, eh Bills? If healthy, Watkins will be among the most-targeted receivers in football.
26. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: He was pretty good despite having not-very-good receivers last year. And if Jordy Nelson is truly at full strength again, with Martellus Bennett and Ty Montgomery providing movable chess pieces in an otherwise stagnant scheme, Rodgers is geared up for another MVP run.
27. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: Yeah, playing with Alex Smith puts his TD ceiling right around 10, but Kelce is more durable than Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed, making him my top tight end.
28. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles: Of the Round 1 and 2 candidates, Jeffery has the widest range of production possibilities. It’s a question of how comfortable Carson Wentz will be throwing him open, as Jeffery isn’t a guy who creates a lot of separation. (One thing to keep in mind: None of Wentz’s pass catchers could create separation last year, so he might already be used to it.)
29. Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars: Dude’s gotta get off press coverage every once in awhile.
30. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: He’s going to miss some games. And if it’s late in the NFL regular season again…
31. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington: If it weren’t for durability concerns, he’d be my No. 1 tight end. He’s the focal point of Washington’s offense, a big red-zone producer, and might be relied on even more heavily considering the turnover at wide receiver.
32. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks: The Seahawks seem to be gearing up for a little more power running in 2017, which would cost Baldwin a target or two each week. But Darrell Bevell’s play designs out of those bunch formations, combined with Baldwin/Russell chemistry... He’ll be solid either way.
33. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: Is unlikely to be suspended for the first four games of this season.
34. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: Can’t get any worse than Osweiler. (Right?)
35. Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints: Huge risk/reward pick, but as Andy Benoit points out, Peterson, even at 90%, is perfect in New Orleans. And if Sean Payton was playing Tim Hightower ahead of Mark Ingram last year, he won’t hesitate to make a healthy/effective Peterson his primary early-down back.
36. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos: The O-line should be better this year, and neither Jamaal Charles nor Devontae Booker (barring a massive improvement) are shaping up to be serious threats.
37. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
38. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins
39. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos: I’m cautiously optimistic about Mike McCoy rebuilding this offense and relying on a lot of quick throws from Paxton Lynch(?) to Thomas.
40. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
41. Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings: Minnesota was a good but not great landing spot for Cook. He should have no problem overtaking Latavius Murray, but I think Murray is a TD vulture and Jerrick McKinnon is the primary third-down back.
42. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders: As mentioned last week, the Carr-Crabtree love affair, plus struggles against press coverage, plus invisibility in the red zone add up to a solid but underwhelming third season. Math!
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43. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers: Hmmmm, I’m a bit concerned with what looks an awful lot like a schematic overhaul in Carolina.
44. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks: And you all laughed at me when I had him top-75 last year.
45. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns
46. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans
47. Paul Perkins, RB, Giants: Improved weaponry will open up a little more running room for Perkins and, like you and me, he’s a more dynamic runner than Rashad Jennings was last year.
48. Davante Adams, WR, Packers: The fact that Adams nearly had nearly 1,000 yards and a dozen TDs a year ago is a testament to Aaron Rodgers’ otherworldly abilities. (And Rodgers is the favorite to win the starting job in Green Bay this summer, sorry Taysom Hill believers.)
49. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: I’ll believe Larry Fitzgerald is in decline when I see it, and not a moment sooner.
50. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: He only played 40 snaps in a game once last season, but could be playing 40-50 every game this year.
51. Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals: Can he stay healthy? Will he have a significant role outside of the red zone, especially in light of the arrivals of John Ross and Joe Mixon and presumed development of Tyler Boyd? Can the Bengals move the ball with what could be a disastrously bad offensive line in front of a not-particularly-good-for-a-starting-quarterback quarterback?
52. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders
53. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: Kinda wimped out and split the baby with him and Adrian Peterson, didn’t I?
54. Golden Tate, WR, Lions
55. Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots: Too many [Brandin] Cooks? (Yeah, I’m just linking to the short version so that folks are only slightly weirded out.)
56. Robert Kelley, RB, Washington: We’ll see what happens in training camp, but to my untrained eye rookie Samaje Perine is basically a poor man’s version of Kelley. (They don’t do tackling so much in the Big 12.) I think Kelley holds his spot atop the depth chart.
57. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
58. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: He had established himself as Sam Bradford’s fave before he was slowed by a series of injuries last year, ultimately missing three games. Project his 2016 numbers over 16 games and you’d get 103 catches and 1,111 yards (though only four TDs).
59. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers: He’s so good, probably the best big-play big receiver outside of Julio Jones.
60. Martellus Bennett, TE, Packers: He’s basically a better version of Jared Cook, and Cook went 48-606-3 over 13 games (including playoffs) last year.
61. Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts: He has a chance to be the red-zone weapon of choice for Andrew Luck, giving Moncrief 10-plus TD upside along with an outside chance at 1,000 yards (keep in mind that injuries limited him to 470 snaps in a disappointing 2016; if healthy he should play around 1,000 this season).
62. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: You can take him top-50 in PPR leagues. Jonathan Stewart will vulture touchdowns, but McCaffrey has a shot at 1,200 yards from scrimmage and has the home run-hitting ability to score at least half a dozen TDs.
63. Bilal Powell, RB, Jets: He had 552 scrimmage yards and 21 catches over four games as the feature back this year. If Matt Forte is out of the picture, Powell becomes a surefire every-week start, even on the Jets.
64. Brandon Marshall, WR, Giants: He’s still a red-zone threat, and with all that single-coverage Marshall could easily grab 80 catches for 1,000 yards.
65. Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington: I think he emerges as the No. 2 option behind Jordan Reed, and he has already carved out a role as a secondary red-zone option when Reed draws a ton of attention.
66. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: Maybe a bit too high, with the O-line fixed and Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen ready for breakout years, but Rudolph’s floor is low-end TE1.
67. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: As good as he was a year ago, Ryan was a disaster the last time he got a new OC, two seasons ago.
68. Terrance West, RB, Ravens: I still think Kenneth Dixon is the better back, but with Dixon facing a four-game suspension to start the year West has a chance to create some separation on the depth chart. And the Ravens, who last year said they really truly very much wanted to establish the run (so much so that they canned Marc Trestman) will surely lean on the ground game more this year. In part because they ended up football’s most pass-heavy team last year (66-to-34 ratio!). But also in part because they didn’t address their poor receiving corps in any meaningful way this offseason.
69. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: He’s probably not going to do nearly as much running as he used to (remember, most of Newton’s runs were designed runs, he does not scramble that often). Judging by the additions of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, Newton is going to be asked to do a lot more pre-snap work and get the ball out of his hands quickly. It’s the complete opposite approach to the offense last year and during his MVP 2015 campaign. This could go either way.
70. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: The Bucs have no other potential workhorse on the roster, and while they’ll likely throw it more this year, they still want to get that power run game going. Once he serves out his suspension, Martin could be in for a big bounceback season.
71. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots: There are a lot of mouths to feed in New England; along with Cooks needing to establish a rapport with Tom Brady he is shaping up to be the No. 3 option and an afterthought in the red zone. Brady is a better deep-ball thrower than Brees at this point in their careers, but that’s less than what Cooks’ role was in New Orleans.
72. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: My gut is that, between the arrival of Adrian Peterson to pair with Mark Ingram, plus the loss of Brandin Cooks (replaced by Ted Ginn), plus Brees’s diminished arm strength, plus the desire to keep that god-forsaken defense off the field will lead to more of a run-first, ball-control approach for the Saints in ’17.
73. Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: It’s easy to say “LeGarrette Blount role” (though remember how to pronounce Blount). But after adding Rex Burkhead, and with 16 games of Dion Lewis, Gillislee is probably looking at a workload closer to the 14 touches per game Blount got in 2015, not the 19 touches per game Blount averaged last year. A likely goal-line role makes Gillislee a potential RB2 though.
74. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders: I mean, he’s 31 years old and only lasted seven games the last time he played. The expectation is probably along the lines of Ryan Mathews last year (168 touches over 13 games, 776 scrimmage yards, 9 TDs).
75. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Let’s see if the arrival of actual NFL-caliber receivers on the perimeter open some things up for Ertz.
76. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: He’s a good talent, but can he stay healthy? And do the 49ers feel he’s a part of the future?
77. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
78. Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons: As mentioned above, I wouldn’t be surprised if the more versatile Coleman overtook Devonta Freeman at some point this year.
79. Mike Williams, WR, Chargers: The time for Antonio Gates is over. Look for Williams to become the centerpiece of the Chargers’ red-zone attack. And Philip Rivers has always loved his big receivers. Guys like Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd were like the sons he never had besides the 14 sons he does have.
80. Jack Doyle, TE, Colts: I might be getting a little carried away, but Andrew Luck likes the cut of his jib, and I’m not sure the Colts have a better option in the red zone.
81. Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers: He might have had the best offseason of any QB in terms of what was added around him: DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard are perfect complements to Mike Evans, and exactly what Winston needs as a downfield passer. And the Bucs were the most efficient goal-to-go offense in football, where they were extremely pass-heavy a year ago.
82. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: I’m not sure where to put him. So, obviously, I put him at 82. I could see Thielen catching 90 balls for 1,200 yards; good things happened when Sam Bradford connected with him last year. Or, I could see him getting squeezed out into a fourth option on this team behind Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook.
83. Cameron Meredith, WR, Bears: Somebody has to catch passes in Chicago. Or maybe nobody. What do I know.
84. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Ravens: I’d consider him a top-50 candidate if not for the season-opening suspension; he’s a better version of Terrance West. And the Ravens will surely go much more run-heavy after firing Marc Trestman last October and saying they wanted to go much more run-heavy then finishing the year as the most pass-heavy team in football.
85. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks: The best pure runner in Seattle’s land of 1,000 backs.
86. Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: There’s room for another step forward, especially with Jared Cook providing a movable chess piece that they’ve lacked, buddy Todd Downing becoming the new offensive coordinator, and Amari Cooper capable of a better season than he had in 2016.
87. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins: On raw talent, he’s one of the 15 or so best receivers in football. But he too often seems to have no idea what he’s doing.
88. Theo Riddick, RB, Lions: He’s right there with David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell as far as pure pass-catching backs. And while Riddick isn’t much of an option as a runner, the Lions consistently run their no-huddle in the red zone, meaning Riddick stays on the field and has a chance for more TDs than you might think (he caught five TDs in 10 games last year).
89. Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington: He’s immensely talented but still a work-in-progress at wide receiver, and now he has to pick up a new offense and establish rapport with Kirk Cousins (when Cousins is already quite comfortable with Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder).
90. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: It’s going to be a lot of feast-or-famine games.
91. Corey Davis, WR, Titans: Already far-and-away the best talent in a bad group of receivers, Davis could feast against single-coverage on a team that loves to throw on first down.
92. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: He’s going to carve out a bigger role this year, and could even overtake DeMarco Murray by midseason. And if Murray gets hurt, Henry becomes a top-25 fantasy player.
93. Willie Snead, WR, Saints
94. Corey Coleman, WR, Browns: Terrelle Pryor-to-Kenny Britt is a major downgrade across from Coleman. If he can show a little better grasp of the offense this year, he could emerge as the top receiving option on a team that figures to trail often and throw a lot.
95. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: Hoyer-to-Garcon. It’ll look like Montana-to-Rice if you squint really hard. And you were recently maced. And you were also recently hit in the face with a mace. And you didn’t have eyes to begin with. And you don’t know who Joe Montana and Jerry Rice are.
96. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: He’s entering the TD vulture phase of his career (and there could be value as the Panthers try to limit the hits Cam Newton takes).
97. Frank Gore, RB, Colts: He can still run, but Gore too often comes off the field in red-zone and goal-line situations.
98. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers: To be honest, I didn’t think he was good enough to be on the field last year. Maybe it was just because it was the first year back from an ACL. But things are changing in Carolina, and I’m not sure Benjamin is more than an occasional downfield threat and red-zone specialist.
99. Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles
100. Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens: The [sigh] best receiver in Baltimore. (But really, he wasn’t half-bad last season.)
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