In best ball leagues, I am all over Justin Jackson and John Kelly, but most standard redraft leagues don't have deep enough benches to warrant selecting a clear-cut backup running back. If I'm going for a lottery back in those leagues, I want someone who may win the job in the pre-season. A few players stand out to me from Doug Martin and Matt Breida to Jordan Wilkins and Elijah McGuire, but the top among them all for me is Chris Carson. Pete Carroll has shown in the past that he doesn't care about draft capital or a sunken cost if it is preventing him from winning football games. That means even Rashaad Penny's starting job may be at risk, and there have been glowing reports this off-season about Carson, who flashed some serious ability last season. I'm happy to add him just in case we find out Carson is the top back in a Russell Wilson offense.
Name one under-the-radar WR that you plan to target in all drafts as a late-round lottery ticket and why?
Like running back, there are a handful of late-round wide receivers with substantial upside. Geronimo Allison seems like the obvious choice to me while I also considered Jordan Matthews, Kevin White, Chris Godwin and Terrelle Pryor. The one I am choosing to bring to your attention, however, is Ryan Grant. No, not the old Packers' running back, rather the quick wide receiver who happens to be starting in Andrew Luck's offense. It has been long enough that you might need to be reminded that Luck posted 356 fantasy points in his last healthy season which is a full 50+ points above every QB not named Russell Wilson last year. A full bill of health isn't certain for Luck, of course, but if he is indeed recovered, those fantasy points will have to go to whoever is on the field.
Darren Sproles missed most of last season and he is now 35 years old, but the Eagles insist he is their starter right now. This isn't to say that he will see 200+ touches, but he should see enough to be fantasy relevant. Keep in mind that he's been a quality fantasy player even at an advanced age, finishing 29th, 48th, 30th, 36th, 23rd and 10th among running backs since his 28th birthday, and those rankings are in standard leagues. Don't hesitate to add him near the end of your draft if you've loaded up on high-upside backs. Sproles should be a quality week to week flex play.
What wide receiver outside the top 60, is your top sleeper candidate?
It feels dirty to use Chris Godwin here because his current (#68) ranking is going to soar over the next few months. The Bucs threw for over 4,600 yards last season and are likely to repeat that with Jameis Winston maturing another year. Godwin, who had 9.5 yards/targets last season, should see an extra 60 to 70 targets now that he has been moved into the starting lineup.
What tight end outside the top 20, is your top sleeper candidate?
We saw flashes last pre-season of Rico Gathers' immense athleticism. That isn't to say it will translate to Sundays, nor that he is a lock to replace Jason Witten, but he certainly has potential worth paying attention to. If the former basketball player can stay healthy and win the job, he may morph into a TE1 by the end of the season since Dallas doesn't have many options to throw the ball to.
Rex Burkhead is the big winner from last night, as the Patriots have what is clearly the easiest schedule of any team. Seeing that they are still top five in talent, this should all translate to plenty of positive game scripts which will benefit the Patriots' running game. New England has other options, of course, but as it stands now, Burkhead is expected to get the bulk of the work, especially on the goal-line.
Who is a player facing a difficult schedule that fantasy owners should be aware of?
LeSean McCoy was given no favors bu the scheduling committee. His out of division games include road games at Baltimore, Houston, and Minnesota, while Buffalo "welcomes" Tennessee, Chicago and Jacksonville. Pairing that with the rumors of Buffalo trading up for Josh Allen, McCoy ought to begin thinking about retirement.
For the fantasy playoffs (weeks 14-16), is there a notable player that jumps out as having a particularly easy schedule?
The Denver Broncos have an unbelievably easy road during the fantasy football playoffs. They will go up against San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland, who were are all bottom quadrant pass defenses last season. I'll be keying on Demaryius Thomas as a trade target mid-season this year unless these teams see drastic improvement during the season.
I'm selling both of the Browns' primary receivers, Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. There are only so many targets to go around in a Tyrod Taylor (or worse, Josh Allen) led offense. Add in Corey Coleman, David Njoku and potentially Saquon Barkley to the mix and you'll find that Landry has moved from the best possible situation to perhaps the worst possible. Gordon is worth closer to his current start-up dynasty ADP, but someone in your league will still be willing to pay a bonkers return for him. I'd gladly take Dez Bryant for Gordon or Jerrick McKinnon for Jarvis Landry.
Which player are you buying now in dynasty leagues and what are you willing to give up to get him?
If I can get my hands on Tarik Cohen right now, I'd be thrilled. Matt Nagy requires pass-catching backs in his offense and Jordan Howard may have the worst hands of any starting running back in the NFL. Cohen is nicknamed the human joystick for a reason. He is a mini-Kareem Hunt and I'm confident Nagy will use him this season in a similar role to what we saw from Kamara. Don't hear me wrong, I wouldn't take him in the top five rounds or anything like that, but I would trade a piece like Alex Collins for him.
Allen Robinson may not been as dynamic in the future as we saw before his ACL injury, but he is certainly in a better situation to succeed. As odd as it may seem, he would have had more competition in Jacksonville for targets from Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook than the wasteland that was the Bears' receiver core. Robinson would be the #1 wide receiver in most places, but in Chicago, he may get an extra 15 to 20 targets which will go a long way over the course of a season.
What player has seen his fantasy value decrease the most as a result of free agency?
Prior to free agency, there was plenty of excitement about Dion Lewis, but I expect that to die down now that he signed with the Titans. It isn't even so much that Derrick Henry's presence will hold him back, although that is also true. Rather, it mostly comes down to the fact that the Patriots are the team best suited to utilize a player like Lewis in the passing game, plus they provided more goal-line opportunities than any team in the NFL each of the past two years. Tennessee won't come close to being able to offer that, especially with Henry in the mix.
Matt Ryan at #19 is significantly too low for me. Let's not be so quick to forget that he recently completed one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. Sure, Shanahan is gone and Ryan had a bit of a rough season, but we are talking about a guy with 4,000+ passing yards and 20+ touchdowns in six straight seasons. That has always been a top 15 QB at the very least and will be once again this year.
What RB is the most undervalued in our early consensus rankings and why?
As it stands now, Joe Williams is ranked as the #59 running back. Meanwhile, everyone has Carlos Hyde leaving town and Saquon Barkley being selected before San Francisco has a chance to add him. You can bet on them using Matt Breida or perhaps a mid-round rookie running back, but I'm expecting Kyle Shanahan to use the player he went out to acquire specifically for his offense. Williams is a top-notch athlete who tore up college football and could be a star in this league if he is healthy.
What WR is the most undervalued in our early consensus rankings and why?
Here we are again, same as last season, the year before that and so forth. Michael Crabtree is being vastly underrated. He is listed as the #27 ECR wideout right now despite having been top 20 in each of the past three seasons including 2016 when he was a fantasy WR1. Even if the Raiders end up cutting Crabtree, the chances are that he will end up with a better quarterback and won't have to compete with the likes of Amari Cooper for targets.
Taking DeShaun Watson above the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Cam Newton is cringeworthy to me. He is coming off major surgery and due for significant regression. His 243 yards per game was similar to Blake Bortles and Eli Manning. His 61.8% completion percentage was on par with Manning and Jay Cutler. The only thing that went well for him was an absurd 9.3% TD-rate which is so unsustainable that it would be wise to project him at half of that in 2018.
What RB is the most overvalued in our early consensus rankings and why?
Dion Lewis is currently ranked as an RB2 which is far too high for me. Granted, there will be three or four rookies who pass him up, but I won't be advising anyone to select him as a top 36 running back. Sure, he had a great run for four games, but that was cut short by James White's emergence as the new goal-line back. The chances of Lewis starting even 8 games is small while the odds not ever being the head dog again is non-zero.
What WR is the most overvalued in our early consensus rankings and why?
We saw this season that T.Y. Hilton is a mediocre NFL wide receiver without a healthy Andrew Luck. He went for just 57 receptions, 96 yards and 4 scores, which is right in line with what Quincy Enunwa and Kamar Aiken did when they were number one receivers. The matter of the fact is that Luck is still dealing with shoulder issues and even if he somehow plays a full season, may never be the same again. I'm not taking such a risk with my third round pick.
Pick: New England Patriots (-9)
The Jags' weak schedule led them to playing in few negative game scripts this season. We will see the true colors of Bortles if they play from behind and it will lead to a blowout.
Game: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles (+3)
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (+3)
This line is right on the money, but those nasty Philly fans are my tiebreaker. Imagine being a mediocre quarterback like Keenum going into that hostile atmosphere.
Which game pick are you most confident with?
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots (-9)
Pick: Atlanta Falcons (-3)
The Falcons have the second most efficient defense this season and have been getting better each month. Going up against Deion Jones and this unit will be a nightmare for Foles.
Game: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5)
Pick: Tennessee Titans (+13.5)
Titans are loaded with talent, will shut down the run and can score on the Pats' #29 ranked defense. What this comes down to, however, is Brady playing injured:
Blake Bortles this season: 1.31 TD/gm, 0.81 INT/gm, 60.2% comp, 230.4 yd/gm, 1.50 sck/gm
Brady after Achilles injury: 1.20 TD/gm, 1.00 INT/gm, 61.3% comp, 240.6 yd/gm, 2.20 sck/gm
Game: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (+7)
Pittsburgh had no recipe for stopping Fournette with Shazier out. Plus, not only do the Jags have the best pass defense, but since they traded for Marcell Dareus, their 3.62 YPC allowed is top 5 in football.
Game: New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-4.5)
Pick: New Orleans Saints (+4.5)
If Terron Armstead doesn't play for the Saints, I'd switch this pick. That is how close I expect this one to be. Keenum seems to have lost his confidence otherwise I'd take MIN by 7 or more.
Which game pick are you most confident with?
Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5)
Pick: Tennessee Titans (+8)
The CDC is reporting widespread influenza activity in the Midwest, and as you might imagine, the Chiefs have been hit hard with it. This news paired with Derrick Henry starting is enough to expect the Titans to at least cover the spread.
Game: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (-5)
Pick: Atlanta Falcons (+5)
Freeman, Julio and several other Falcons are banged up while the Rams are rested and ready to roll. Plus, Atlanta has scored just 88 points over their last 5 weeks.
Game: Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-8.5)
Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (-8.5)
With LeSean McCoy playing at less than 100% and the Bills having no viable alternative ground game option, Tyrod will be forced to throw into the teeth of the beast and it won't be pretty.
Game: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-6)
Pick: New Orleans Saints (-6)
Cam may be the worst passer in the playoffs of late and it doesn't help that their running backs are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Drew Brees should eat this crumbling secondary apart as well.
Which game pick are you most confident with?
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-6)
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Bobby Sylvester is the FantasyPros Baseball Podcast host and FantasyPros Football Podcast co-host with Mike Tagliere. He is a FantasyPros featured writer across baseball, football and basketball.