In most fantasy leagues, this week is either the final week of the regular season, or it is the first week of the playoffs. Either way, the fantasy season is in the final act before the curtain call at the end of December, and it’s time to look ahead to the 2017 Fantasy Draft.
Now, it’s important to note these are all players that I believe will be in the first round, based on their production through 12 weeks of the 2016 season. Their presence in the first round will warrant more consideration as free agency, the draft, training camp, and any number of things play out between now and the season kickoff next September.
Having said that, here are the players that are likely to be in the top 10-12 come 2017.
Let the dissent commence!
1. RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
I admit, I was dead wrong about him coming into this year (despite owning him in a dynasty league), as I honestly thought it would be a similar situation to CJ Anderson a few seasons ago. I’ve delighted in being proven wrong, as Johnson is a treat to watch. The entire offence runs through him, whether it’s running the ball or catching passes out of the backfield.
His floor seems to be ten points in standard leagues, which is pretty amazing (if you’re in a PPR league, he is the unquestioned #1 overall pick thanks to the volume of passes he catches). Of the 11 games he’s played this season, only two of them were below 14 points in standard scoring – that speaks to the level of consistency he’s shown so far.
That combined with his youth (will be 25 at the end of December 2016) makes him a lock for a top three pick; the variance really depends on your personal preference, as you can’t go wrong with any of the top three guys on this list.
2. RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
After missing the first four games of the season this year – and seeing backup RB DeAngelo Williams absolutely rip it up in his stead – Bell’s return was a little underwhelming. Yet, he managed to rack up enough yards from scrimmage to keep him relevant until he started scoring touchdowns again, and he has been so effective over recent weeks that the Steelers actually have seemingly changed their gameplan.
Instead of airing it out as frequently as they can, they’ve changed to more of a ball control offence, letting Bell methodically take the team down the field with an occasional shot to WR Antonio Brown. While this has made it tough to pick out the fantasy relevant players outside of those two (as well as QB Ben Roethlisberger), he’s nothing short of mesmerizing to watch, and an argument can be made to take him #1 overall.
3. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Hooboy, was I wrong about Zeke. I thought the #4 pick of a running back for the Cowboys in the draft was, honestly, a good decision – I did not think he would be worth it as a rookie in fantasy football, despite the situation. He has been better than advertised, thanks to that dominant offensive line, and has gotten enough touches to make it worth it as well.
He has a violent, physical running style, and is also patient enough to wait for blockers/holes to open up. If the offensive line stays healthy – and they’re all locked up for multiple years, contract-wise – then there’s no reason not to spend a top pick on the soon-to-be sophomore.
I have him at #3 (in case anyone is wondering) because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield – he has shown he can do it, but hasn’t shown it long enough to make me vault him over the other two, when all else is the same. If they keep that part of his game in the cards, then he should move up to the top – but again, were you to take Elliott over Johnson or Bell in standard leagues, no one could really fault you.
4. WR Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans is a curious case. He had an absolutely fantastic rookie season, and indeed, a lot of receivers did that year (including another receiver on this very list). Not so great in his sophomore campaign, he is making up for it with a vengeance this year. Earning one of the highest target shares on any team in the entire league, Evans is gobbling up the passes from QB Jameis Winston as his clear-cut favourite target.
The other pieces on the team serve as usable complements to Evans, who has remained the only constant on the entire team the whole year. If this stays true through free agency, the draft, and training camp, then I see no reason to not draft him as the first WR off the board.
5. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s kind of hard to put Brown as low as #5 overall, as funny as that may sound for essentially any other player. It’s more of a testament to the seasons that the others ranked ahead of him are having, than an indictment of him. Frankly, because of those others, getting Brown this low would be robbery of the highest order.
The stats don’t lie: through 12 weeks last year, a campaign that would eventually solidify Brown as near to a consensus #1 pick as it gets, he had earned 1310 yards and 7 TDs. This year through 12 weeks, he has 998 yards and 10 TDs – less yards, more touchdowns. Nothing bad can be said about him, and Big Ben gets WR Martavis Bryant back next year as well – more help on other parts of the field opens up space for Brown, the crispest route runner in the NFL.
6. RB LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Funnily enough, LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy is probably one of the oldest players on this list, at only 28 years old – he’s been breaking ankles in the NFL for more than half a decade, dating back to his Philly years (boy, what a piece he’d make for QB Carson Wentz). He only started 12 games last season, his first in Buffalo, and still was pretty good despite the injuries. This year, he has endured some ailments as well, but has bounced back in a titanic way. As long as you handcuff him with RB Mike Gillislee (or whoever it ends up being next year), he’ll be a great piece for any team.
7. RB DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
After a disappointing season in Philadelphia (what’s with all these RBs leaving Philly, anyway? Should Darren Sproles be worried?), Murray was shipped off to Tennessee, where it was thought a logjam would exist at the position. It was made worse with the drafting of Heisman winning RB Derrick Henry out of Alabama, and many thought the toll of all the carries from his previous campaigns would cause him to break down and lead Henry (and his fantasy owners) to the promised land.
He’s been great so far, and has been integrated into the Titans’ gameplan enough that he catches a decent amount of passes out of the backfield to make up for any yardage that Henry eats up on the ground. Even so, that’s been negligible – again, so far.
8. WR Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
I think, considering Beckham’s own lofty play, this year got off to a relatively slow start. It’s another silly thing to say in a vacuum, considering that he still racked up over 300 yards in his first four games – how many other WRs are that dependable?
The Giants took a while to find their groove, but once they did, Beckham was back, averaging 15 points a game over his next seven games. There aren’t too many WRs that can get you that production, and with WR Sterling Shepard proving to be the real deal in his rookie season, Beckham won’t have double coverage bracketing him every play.
9. WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio is an elite talent, and one of the best WRs in the NFL. Now that I’ve said that, he’s this low on the list thanks to the Atlanta offence in general. It’s fantastic! Which means that, while Julio will still get his, QB Matt Ryan can now look to other threats (WRs Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, RBs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman) to move the ball.
He’s had four games (out of a countable 11 thus far) below four points, whereas the other seven games haven’t fallen beneath 12, including one where he had 36 pts (300 yds and a TD). He’s worthy of your first round pick, but because Ryan has so many options now, those four point games are suddenly a little more likely to happen than at any other time in his career.
The final say, really, is up to you, but if you do draft him you know you’re getting one of the premier WRs in the NFL.
10. RB Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
After what could be called nothing else than a horrible rookie season – marred by tackles for losses and fumbles, and hindered further by poor offensive line play – Gordon has re-invented himself in his sophomore campaign. After pending free agent RB Danny Woodhead suffered an ACL injury, and the Chargers were hit in other departments as well (WR Keenan Allen, for one), they were forced to find more ways to get the ball to their remaining playmakers.
Pleasantly so, they found Gordon more than up to the task. Cleaning up his ball security, and getting him out in space worked wonders, as he is currently the #4th ranked RB in standard leagues by points.
Allen and backup RB Branden Oliver figure to be back – Woodhead is a free agent this summer, and likely won’t be re-signed after this latest injury – which is why Gordon is a little lower in the first, but he’s finally living up to his draft status from 2015.
11. WR AJ Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green has been absolutely dominant for the Bengals this year – still, of the ten games he’s played for them in 2016 so far, he’s gone under nine points in five of them (counting the game he started and then went out with injury on the second snap).
In the other five, he’s averaged around 19 pts a game – a tale of two Greens, it seems. He has always been a streaky scorer, and when he is on, he is absolutely dominant.
At the end of the day, Green is one of just two real threats on the team (TE Tyler Eifert is the other), so he’ll always get his share of volume. Simply put, his fantasy output is tied to QB Andy Dalton, so just be aware of that when drafting him.
12. TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
When you get to this point in the first, it often comes down to personal preference, as most other players you might have been targeting are more than likely gone. For me, a self-professed Patriots fan, it comes down to ‘Gronk’. The unquestionably best TE in the entire NFL, Gronk is a game-wrecker with his speed, size, and strength. The largest issue for him, unfortunately, is his health. The last time he played a full season was in 2011 – five years ago.
If Gronk can survive the offseason without any ailments, however, he is worthy of a first round pick. The idea of positional scarcity is an important one, and apart from perhaps three other players, the TE position is a mostly barren one. The peace of mind that comes with being able to essentially ‘set and forget’ with Gronk is more than worth a low-end first round pick, given the WR and RB help available on the backturn for picks 13-15.
If you’re curious on reading up a bit more on his injury history, check out this well-written piece by Dr. Jessica Flynn.
Who will slip into the second? There are plenty of faces that will help your team, that will be worthy of a 2nd round pick. Here are 12 names to keep an eye on:
RB Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
WR Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (OL & QB will determine how high he goes)
RB Matt Forte, New York Jets (could also retire at end of 2016)
RB Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (RB Tevin Coleman can steal touches)
RB Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs (status of RB Jamaal Charles affects this)
RB Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
WR TY Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
TE Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
RB Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
RB Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (will always be hindered by QB Brock Osweiler)