In the 2014 film Draft Day, Kevin Costner portrays a fictional Cleveland Browns GM who has his heart set on using the team’s number one overall pick to select linebacker Vontae Mack. Despite internal push from the Browns’ owner to use said selection on a quarterback, Costner’s character ends up snagging his guy anyway, using a crumpled up Post-It note stating “Vontae Mack No Matter What” as inspiration. While the movie itself has garnered a fair share of criticism for being unrealistic, and is filled with plenty of Hollywood contrivances, the message of pursuing players whom you believe in is quite applicable in the fantasy football world. Below I am going to to discuss some of the guys I’m targeting in every single draft, and while average draft position (ADP) likely dictates that I can’t have all of them, they are my priority targets for a litany of reasons that vary between logical and personal.
QB – Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
While oft criticized for inconsistent on-field play, Newton has been nothing if not consistent in terms fantasy scoring, having finished as a top-4 quarterback in five of his seven NFL seasons, including a QB2 finish in 2017. In addition to immense rushing upside (Newton averages 617.6 yards and 7.7 scores annually on the ground), the Panthers’ quarterback will have an expanded toy closet heading into the 2018 season. Steady veteran tight end Greg Olsen returns from injury after missing a majority of the 2017 season, while the team also spent a first-round draft pick on wideout D.J. Moore, whom by all accounts appears poised to settle in as the no. 2 wideout behind Devin Funchess. Additionally, the Panthers brought in speedy Torrey Smith and underrated slot receiver Jairus Wright via free agency, both of whom should contribute insofar as being able to take advantage of defensive mismatches when the coverage shades towards Cam’s primary targets. Even if Newton’s rush attempts are scaled back both to reduce injury risk and/or due to the presence of former Bronco C.J. Anderson in the backfield, his passing numbers should see an uptick with an improved receiving corps. Newton typically comes off fantasy draft boards as the QB4 in the eighth round, which I think provides far better value than Aaron Rodgers in the fifth or Deshaun Watson in the sixth.
RB – Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
As a Redskins fan myself, I tend to shy away from drafting their players in fantasy since it usually ends in disappointment. However, when Derrius Guice fell to the Skins at 59th overall in last April’s draft, I was ecstatic as he gives the team their most electric runner since trading for Clinton Portis back in 2004. Widely considered the second-best running back prospect after Saquon Barkley, Guice’s draft day fall was allegedly due to “character concerns”, though he’s reportedly been nothing short of a consummate teammate and professional throughout the Redskins’ offseason programs and training camp. With only pedestrian talents Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley on the Washington roster as competition, Guice immediately slides in as Washington’s first and second down banger, with the potential upside to play all three downs after displaying better than advertised receiving skills during training camp. In fact, Guice may be called upon to catch passes more often than expected during the first half of the 2018 regular season, as receiving specialist Chris Thompson recently declared publicly that he doesn’t anticipate being 100 percent until November (Thompson had a metal plate surgically installed this offseason after breaking his leg in Week 11 of the 2017 season). Earlier this summer, I had consistently seen Guice taken in the early fourth-round of PPR format fantasy drafts, though price has steadily crept upward since the Thompson news broke.
Update: Guice exited the Redskins first preseason game with a knee injury and did not return. Fingers crossed the team was just being cautious with their talented running back and injury is nothing serious.
RB – Derrick Henry, Tennesse Titans
Another player who elicits a wide variety of reactions from the fantasy community, Derrick Henry finally has the chance to step out of Demarco Murray’s shadow after playing second-fiddle the past two seasons. Unfortunately for Henry’s breakout prospects, the Titans decided to pair him with former Patriot Dion Lewis. While Lewis’ presence is certainly a concern for Henry’s outlook, I’m not ready to write the former Heisman winner off. Lewis, was signed to a four-year/$21 million contract, which is certainly not chump change, however, Lewis will only be earning about $250k more annually than Duke Johnson and Giovani Bernard (each of whom are on three-year/$15 million contract). Nobody is worried about Johnson or Bernard making a push for the number one role their respective teams, so it seems reasonable to consider the Titans envision Lewis as part of a 50/50 committee at best. Listed at 238 lbs. and 6’3″, Henry is a freak of nature with burst and quickness traits that are not normal for a man his size. Built to batter opposing defenses into submission, Henry will be most effective when given at least 16-18 carries per game, especially in the fourth quarter (Henry’s 4.11 yards-after-contact-per-attempt in the 4th quarter last season ranked second to only LeGarrette Blount). I realize that spending a late third or early fourth round draft pick on Henry is a bit of a gamble, though I’d feel far more devastated if I passed on this behemoth and he takes the league by storm to say, the tune of 1,400 total yards and 12 touchdowns than simply going on faith and getting a modest improvement on last year’s numbers.