WR Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons (Average Draft Position: 170)
Atlanta is one of those teams you absolutely want a piece of in 2017 but let’s look at it a bit closer. Julio Jones will cost you a first-round pick, Devonta Freeman will cost you a late first-early second, Matt Ryan will cost a third or fourth rounder and Tevin Coleman will cost you a sixth- or seventh-round pick. I think all of those guys will perform right at their current draft position or close to it. Taylor Gabriel, on the other hand, could easily exceed his current 14th-round price tag. Beginning in Week 8 last season, Gabriel went on a run-scoring double-digit fantasy points in six out of nine games. He just missed double digits in Week 13 and he sat out Week 17 so he could have easily gone 8-for-9 in those games. Even with those contests factored in he still averaged 13.8 standard points per game during that span. He is absolutely in that “big play-maker, boom/bust category” having averaged 16.5 yards per reception (seventh-highest in the NFL) with eight plays of 20-plus yards last season. With as potent as this Atlanta offense is I love the return on investment the young receiver provides. He will have single-digit weeks but the explosive potential he possesses outweighs the risk at this price point.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (Average Draft Position: 71)
I struggled to find good return on investment on this team. Cam Newton is a prime bounce back candidate but he’s coming off shoulder surgery and there are plenty of safe quarterback options going around the same time as Newton in current drafts. I like Christian McCaffrey but his price tag is up there in the mid-second round currently. His average draft position feels right, but isn’t a slam dunk from a value standpoint. Benjamin stands out to me simply because we know on average how good he can be. He is a few years removed from his 2014 Top 20 campaign where he posted just better than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 due to a knee injury and just missed his 2014 numbers lasts season, finishing with 941 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. With his 2014 numbers and 2016 numbers being so similar I find it strange to see the differences in opinion regarding Benjamin this draft season. Coming off that nice rookie campaign Benjamin was highly sought after during the 2015 draft season yet now he’s being considered a mid-round risk. There is no clear cut great return on investment option on this team at the moment but Benjamin has actually shown us some consistency when you look at his 2014 and 2016 numbers. I know photos have surfaced showing him as fat as Eddie Lacy but the coaches are saying he got whipped into shape during organized team activities (OTA’s). Taking Benjamin in the seventh round should provide you with a cheap WR2 with upside for WR1 numbers in any given week.
WR Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints (Average Draft Position: 87)
This week is full of wide receivers! I love the fact that Brandin Cooks is gone. I also love the fact that Drew Brees has been No. 1 in passing yardage each year for the last three seasons. Michael Thomas appears to be the new WR1 in New Orleans but Snead is going to put up a good fight. This feels like a Demaryius Thomas plus Emmanuel Sanders sort of scenario (before Peyton Manning fell off the map). They operated a bit like a high end WR1A and a nice WR1B any given week and it turned out great results. Given Snead’s rapport with Drew Brees, the number of targets available and the absence of Brandin Cooks, I like Snead’s chances to make a jump this season. A year ago the target share went as follows; Brandin Cooks (111), Michael Thomas (107), Willie Snead (100). With 111 targets now freed up, Snead could easily see an extra 20-plus looks come his way. At 87 overall I like Snead a great deal, I’d probably reach up and take him at 71 instead of Kelvin Benjamin given the difference in offensive schemes. When it comes to fantasy football, situation does matter.
TE O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Average Draft Position: 126)
I know all the adages about first year tight ends but O.J. Howard is a physical freak. It should be illegal to be 6-foot-6, 251 pounds and still run a 4.51. He also led all tight ends in the three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle during this year’s NFL Combine. As far as athletes go, Howard is clearly a different kind of creature. Having another big, fast target to compliment Mike Evans will do a lot of good for the oft-errant Jameis Winston. Defenses keyed in on Evans down the stretch in 2016 (he was about their only option) but that should change now that Tampa Bay has a nice target trio in Howard, Evans and DeSean Jackson – all three should be able to shake loose in any given matchup. It is very tough to predict rookie tight end output but the average draft position couldn’t be better given the potential return if Howard sees early success. If you wait on tight end, pairing O.J. Howard with someone like Jack Doyle (current ADP of 146) could prove to be a very cheap and effective way to address the position.