Fantasy owners will soon embark on one of the best days of the year: draft day. It’s hard to make a bad selection within the first few rounds by focusing on running backs and wide receivers. It gets trickier afterward. My mindset for every league – whether that be redraft or auction keeper – is stockpile running back and wide receiver depth, a quarterback late to stream with waiver pickups throughout the season, wait on tight end and don’t take a defense or kicker until the last two rounds. After discussing seven players from the NFC last week, and based on their average draft position (ADP) per Fantasy Football Calculator in 12 teams, let’s focus on guys who project to be good, bad, or indifferent from the AFC.
Side Note: No matter which type of league you’re in, be flexible and adapt when necessary. Don’t be stubborn, unwilling to veer off course based on other people’s tendencies. For instance, even though I’m a proponent of streaming quarterbacks, if Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady slips to the third or fourth round, you better believe I’m weighing the pros and cons. Same goes for tight end. Rob Gronkowski drops well past his 2.07 ADP due to injury concerns? Sign me up. Drafts rarely go according to plan so plan accordingly.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee
But he’s 29 years old! But he had 293 carries in 2016 and 392 carries in 2014! But Derrick Henry is going to have a bigger role in his sophomore season!
Whatever. DeMarco Murray is the unquestioned lead back in a run-first offense, which means Henry will be a solid backup. Maybe Henry will transition into RB1 territory next season, but as for now, Murray’s not going anywhere. Murray gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage last year, including 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground and 377 yards on 53 receptions and three touchdowns. Last season, Henry had 110 carries for 490 yards and five touchdowns. Let’s use an arbitrary number, like 30, as in Henry gets 140 carries in 2017 and drops Murray’s carries down to the 260 range. Oh well. That’s about two fewer carries per game. Going into his seventh season, the veteran running back may welcome a lighter workload to keep his body fresh. Murray is reliable. He played 16 games in two of the past three years and missed two games in 2013, his third of four seasons with Dallas.
What makes Murray a borderline steal at his current 1.12 ADP is the large men he’s running behind. The Tennessee offensive line last season paved the way for the league’s third-most rushing yards (2,187), yards per carry (4.6) and 10-plus-yard runs (30). Pro Football Focus ranks the O-line at No. 4 headed into the 2017 season, proclaiming the unit is “building something special” with first-round tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, “while former undrafted guard Quinton Spain has turned into a gem of a find. Melvin Gordon is going 1.08. As much as I like the Los Angeles Chargers’ workhorse, his situation – especially considering all the team’s injuries – isn’t as promising as Murray and Tennessee’s ground game. The return of quarterback Marcus Mariota strengthens the running attack as opposing defenses must be cautious of his arm and legs. Murray will be the main benefactor and projects to be a certain RB1. I wouldn’t take Murray ahead of running backs LeSean McCoy or Devonta Freeman in the first round, but I couldn’t fault someone for pulling the trigger early if he’s their guy knowing it’s now or never.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver
Wide receivers Brandin Cooks (3.01), Doug Baldwin (3.03), Terrelle Pryor (3.05) and DeAndre Hopkins (3.08) are being drafted ahead of Demaryius Thomas (3.10). That’s good news for you because Thomas can be drafted later than he should be. Cooks and Baldwin are the wide receivers of the four listed who I’d rather have than Thomas. Denver’s quarterback situation is once again questionable with Trevor Siemian. Last sason marked Thomas’ fifth consecutive season in which he played 16 games with at least 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and 140 targets. Compared to 2015, his numbers dropped such as 15 fewer receptions and 221 fewer yards, and his touchdowns were five (2016) and six (2015) despite double-digits the previous three seasons. In 14 starts a season ago, Siemian completed 289-of-486 pass attempts (59.5 percent) for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Not great stats by any means, but Siemian looked for Thomas often and will do so again.
Cooks, Baldwin, and Pryor have better quarterbacks throwing them the ball in New England, Seattle and Washington, respectively, but they also have more competition for targets. Hopkins is in the worst situation as he finished with 954 yards and four touchdowns on 78 receptions last season with then-quarterback Brock Osweiler. Denver was the 27th-ranked rushing team in 2016. In late October of that year running back C.J. Anderson suffered a torn meniscus and was put on Injured Reserve. Anderson averaged 4 yards per carry in seven games. He is healthy now but Denver may still struggle on the ground and will air it out to Thomas. In a perfect world, I won’t own a Denver player. The quarterback and running backs are questionable, but that doesn’t mean the team’s WR1 cannot provide great value at his current asking price. Draft Thomas as a WR2 or flex position if you’re going with a zero running back strategy.