This article is all about getting players who have the potential to return big value. As I have said repeatedly on the Fantasy Football Podcast, I want guys who can outperform their draft position. I want to target players who can perform a few rounds above where I select them. That’s how you end up being better than the other teams in your league.
For insight into how I apply this article to my drafts, check out my 2016 Draft Plan and Draft Plan Podcast. Both are available for free on Rotobahn, as is the Rotobahn 500 and our cheat sheets. If you need to get ready fast, we have your back.
A word on average draft position (ADP): As I say over and over, it is simply crucial that you use ADP sourced from the site your league drafts on. You will find links to many ADP sources in my Draft Plan article. The ADP in this article is sourced from Fantasypros.
For a deeper take on this article, check out this week’s podcast on WEEI. Jim Hackett and I will be recording that Friday. To keep pace with all of my fantasy content, including my weekly Draftkings rankings, follow me @Rotobahn.
All right, let’s get into the targets.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks, 36
He’s going as the third overall quarterback and much later than Cam Newton (19) and Aaron Rodgers (25), so if you are thinking of going after an elite quarterback, Wilson is the one I would be targeting.
Tony Romo, Cowboys, 107
Romo is the 13th quarterback off the board, and he has a nice profile for the upcoming season. He’s an elite fantasy scorer and he has an elite weapon to work with. Romo also plays behind one of the best offensive lines, if not the best. The Cowboys also play a highly favorable schedule. Romo is cheap enough where I can easily spend another pick on a strong backup.
Kirk Cousins, Washington, 112
He’s the 14th quarterback being taken, and you can usually get him in the 10th round of 12-team drafts. Cousins makes a very nice QB1 if you wait out the starter run. He has as much upside as a lot of the guys being taken ahead of him, and you can draft him late enough to afford taking another strong option right after him.
Marcus Mariota, Titans, 139
He’s the 19th quarterback taken on average, and I’m willing to roll with him as my starter. Mariota has a deep though unspectacular array of weapons and he has a solid backfield to lean on. He proved that he belonged last year, and his coaches sound like they want him to use his legs more this season. That will lead to more fantasy points. Mariota is a highly explosive athlete for the position. He’s capable of game-breaking runs.
LeSean McCoy, Bills, 26
His 26 ADP is about right, but he’s my 10th back and he’s being drafted as the 12th. I’m bullish on McCoy, who has the upside to return first-round value.
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks, 33
As I said in the opening, I want guys who can outperform their draft position. Unless it’s a full PPR scoring league, I am liking Rawls at his current ADP. In full PPR, I would target him in the fourth round. Rawls is easily the best back on his team. He runs the ball the way the coaches want. He has outstanding vision and he finishes runs well.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals, 52
I’m very happy scooping Hill up as the 20th running back off the board. I’m taking him in the fourth round for the most part as an RB2 or RB1 if I started with three stud receivers. He should be a solid source of weekly points. He is a bit game flow dependent, as Gio Bernard would take over if the Bengals fall far behind, but Cincinnati is a strong team, so I will take my chances there.
Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 69
If you read my rookie scouting report on Gordon, you know I’m not his biggest fan, but he has a few things going for him this year. His team will be better, and he’s the early-down runner. That should get him more work. He’s also in his second year and should react to the speed of the game better. I never saw an NFL star when I watched Gordon at Wisconsin, but I thought he was a solid NFL prospect. He’s a value right now as the 25th back off the board. His knee surgery (microfracture) seems like a minor concern in the short term.
Frank Gore, Colts, 75
Yes, he is old. Yes, he’s more risky than he was last year. The thing is, these things are baked in to the price you pay. Gore is the unquestioned lead dog for an offense that should provide plenty of opportunity. If you want to draft your RB2 in the seventh round, Gore’s a good way to go.
Rashad Jennings, Giants, 90
If you can get him this late as your RB2 or RB3, you are doing just fine. Jennings is a value for sure. His injury risk is more than baked in at this price level. He’s currently the 34th back of the board, and that’s just hysterical.
T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars, 98
I’m honestly not sure how 37 other backs are being taken ahead of Yeldon. I think he has RB1 upside if there is an injury to Chris Ivory, and I see him out-touching Ivory whether the newest Jaguar stays healthy or not. Yeldon is the better overall player and he still is getting better. I love drafting him as my RB4, especially in PPR formats.
DeAndre Washington, Raiders, 175
He’s the 54th overall runner in terms of ADP, and that’s a potential steal. Washington is not a sure thing because Latavius Murray looks like he’ll get a crack at carrying the load, but my money is on Washington over time. He brings more to the table and has a better motor than Murray. I think the Oakland coaches will like the energy he brings to the offense. If I am a Murray owner, I am making sure I get Washington as a handcuff, but I usually will be a non-Murray guy who is chasing Washington as value and I won’t be taking him as late as his ADP suggests. He’s a viable option as early as Round 10 in PPR formats.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings, 180
He’s the 60th back off the board, and I would not wait that long to take him. McKinnon is an explosive athlete and a three-down weapon. He may have stand-alone value in large formats, but he is a potential monster if anything happens to Adrian Peterson. If I draft Peterson, I’m going after McKinnon no later than Round 12.
Chris Thompson, Washington, 249
He’s an afterthought as the 69th back off the board, but he has a lot of sleeper potential in PPR formats. If your league gives a full point for all receptions, then Thomas could be this year’s Danny Woodhead or Theo Riddick. I think he becomes viable around the 14th round of 12-team PPR drafts.
Wendell Smallwood, Eagles, 254
He’s the 73rd back off the board, but he goes a lot earlier in expert drafts, so know your league type if you are targeting Smallwood, who can be a solid handcuff for Ryan Mathews owners. It’s also very possible that Smallwood could carve out his own significant role. He can play in all situations.
Mike Gillislee, Bills, 289
He’ll be moving up with the release of Karlos Williams, but he’ll still be a value late in drafts for those looking to handcuff LeSean McCoy, whose primary risk factor is injury.
Malcolm Brown, Rams, 350
A lot of people will handcuff Todd Gurley with Benny Cunningham, but I will be taking Brown, who is a strong early-down runner and underrated in the passing game. He’ll almost always be there for you in the last round of big drafts.
Keenan Allen, Chargers, 27
In PPR formats, I will be taking Allen a lot sooner than this. I see him as a second-round talent. You are stealing him if you can land him in the third.
Brandin Cooks, Saints, 29
I’m very happy if I can get Cooks at his ADP, but there’s a good chance I’ll take him sooner. I have him ranked 19th overall. He’s going to be Drew Brees’ big weapon, and teams cannot fixate on Cooks because the Saints still have a strong ensemble offense. He should be an efficient weapon in that offense. Cooks is a highly explosive athlete. We haven’t seen his best yet.
Sammy Watkins, Bills, 30
I love Watkins’ game, and I have been landing him a lot in Round 3 as the 15th receiver off the board. I think he plays to the level of a first-round pick if he plays 16 games. I’d take him even sooner, but he keeps falling to me in the third, so I’m using it to my advantage.
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos, 31
I think he’ll fade a tad this year, but he’s worth more than the 31st overall, and he is better than the 17th overall receiver, which is where he’s being taken.
Jordan Matthews, Eagles, 68
He’s falling down boards because of a knee injury, but he should be back soon, and he should be the prime cog in the Eagles passing attack. Matthews has top-15 potential this season, and you currently can get him as the 31st receiver off the board. I’ll take that any day.
Donte Moncrief, Colts, 65
I’m taking him much earlier than this. Moncrief has something close to WR1 upside, and I’d be shocked if he failed to post WR3 statistics, which is where he’s currently priced as the 28th receiver off the board.
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks, 81
He should go sooner than this. Lockett is an explosive receiver with outstanding technical route ability who lucked into playing with Russell Wilson. He’ll return good value at his current ADP. I expect him to be the co-lead receiver with Doug Baldwin this season. Currently there are 33 receivers being taken before him. That’s opportunity for you and me.
Travis Benjamin, Chargers, 127
If you read my waiver wire articles last year, you know how much I love Benjamin’s game. Now he has a quarterback who can hit him downfield with some consistency and some receivers who can take pressure away from him in Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates. I’ve been landing him in the 90-100 range all year and I love the value. He’ll be a solid WR3 with weekly potential for big games. He’ll get some great matchups in the Chargers’ scheme.
Philip Dorsett, Colts, 157
Dorsett has been flying under the radar all year and I honestly can’t figure out why. He has an elite quarterback in Andrew Luck and he has two other receivers (T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief) who will draw the top cornerbacks in coverage. Dorsett will be a consistent source of big plays if he stays healthy this year.
Devin Funchess, Panthers, 161
I smell a breakout in Carolina, and I am not alone. Funchess had a growth year in 2015, but he should be ready for more this season. His size is a good fit for Cam Newton, and he should get looks in the red zone. I like him as a WR5 with big upside. I’m targeting him as soon as 100 players are off the board.
Tajae Sharpe, Titans, 313
I’m not Sharpe’s biggest supporter, but he’s obviously adapted well to the Titans offense and currently is projected to start on the outside. It’s not like there is a dominant weapon right now in Tennessee, so he has a chance to post some decent numbers if he hangs on to the gig. He’s easily worth what you need to pay to get him deeper PPR formats. His ADP is off by more than 100 spots. Sharpe now is 183 overall on Rotobahn’s board.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots, 9
All right, it might be tough for Gronk to outperform his ADP, but I like Gronk in the late first as his ADP suggests, and I have been able to land him in Round 2 a few times, which I love. Obviously, this is a Patriots blog and Gronk will be going even earlier in some of the local leagues ’round these parts, but he’s actually capable of paying off, even when taken too high. The man’s simply a beast.
Jordan Reed, Washington, 38
The second-most talented tight end in football is a value if you can land him around his ADP. Reed’s capable of returning first-round value, so he fits our drafting paradigm. I feel like his risk is accounted for at this draft position. In PPR, he is an even bigger value. I’m all over Reed in the third round of full PPR formats. He may see some touchdown regression, but not very much. Only injury will wreck your investment. Reed’s talent is 100 percent legit.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs, 61
I think he still has some breakout potential even with his yearly stat line becoming a bit flat. The issue is Alex Smith’s buggy whip arm and also a heavy dose of blocking responsibilities. I see Kelce as a guy who could score more touchdowns if the Chiefs move the ball a bit better, and I think they can this year. He’s a great value at 61 overall.
Zach Ertz, Eagles, 95
Ertz is a player who is on the verge of breaking out. He’s shown the ability to post nice numbers, and he only needs to add some touchdowns to be a top 12 tight end. I think those touchdowns come in 2016. I see in excess of six and as many as 10.
Martellus Bennett, Patriots, 139
If you have been listening to Jim Hackett and me on the Fantasy Football Podcast and the Fantasy Football Hour, you know how much I love Bennett’s upside in the Patriots’ scheme. I see him as a core member of the offense and a huge weapon in the red zone. Bennett has top-10 upside at the position. He’s a steal at this ADP and I look for him in or around Round 9.
Dwayne Allen, Colts, 174
With Coby Fleener gone to New Orleans, Allen has a great chance to finish as a top-12 tight end this year. He should be a huge factor in the red zone and will have room to work underneath with all the speed the Colts have at the receiver position. He is a solid upside selection once the top 100 players are off the board.
Will Tye, Giants, 280
I love his upside as a receiver, but his blocking needs to be up to snuff or he may not play enough snaps to be fantasy relevant. I like Tye as a late-round upside play or TE2 option in large formats. He has the ability to become a top-12 option at the position if he can stay on the field. I look for him starting in about Round 15 of 12-team drafts.
Vance McDonald, 49ers, 283
He is going very late, but he is a potential steal if he earns a major role in the offense as expected. McDonald is a huge, athletic tight end with the kind of speed coach Chip Kelly loves. There is a bit of a target vacuum in San Francisco, and McDonald is one of the guys who can take advantage.