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I don’t even know how to do this anymore. For the first time in over 10 years, I’m only a writer. I didn’t say “just” a writer, because as a publisher I know better than anyone – you’re only as good as your writers. This is how I got my start, a little column that was supposed to last one week, and turned into a 20 year career in Fantasy Football. My first “call” was Marshall Faulk, then Kurt Warner before Week 1, Priest Holmes, leading for years until two years ago when all of us DRAFTED David Johnson as a rookie. It’s the only real talent I have in this business. My NBC tagline used to be “I see, I say, it happens,” and this year I love everyone I love even more. I’m going back to the roots of this column with a stiff to stay away from, too. This column is my version of retirement, the Emeritus column that will go on as long as it’s still helpful. The theory here is that your season only really begins when free agency starts and you need to dominate the waiver wire to win your league no matter how well you drafted. For those of you who haven’t re-subscribed yet for the premium services, let’s get that done so we can get you that ring. It’s the time to grab those players most of your league isn’t on yet, and time to know which are the studs and duds. Let’s have a great year!!!
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Tom Savage is the best, he’s our guy, and we are ready to go into battle with him! His footwork looks great! Apparently the Houston coaching staff also has a bridge in inventory, which, God Bless them, sure would help at home right now. It’s hard to think football when you think Houston with all of the flooding, but don’t forget what brought back the spirit of New Orleans after Katrina – it was Drew Brees and the Saints in that electric first game in the Superdome. Tom Savage could go 8-8, maybe 9-7. With playmaker Watson this squad has enough around him to contend for the Super Bowl. Sooner or later the coaches realize that, I’m banking it’s no later than Week 3. Once he is the starter I like him as an every week QB1.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Cook outran a Michigan defense (twice) that sent 8 players onto NFL rosters in his last game at FSU, it was then I knew he would be my top rookie back. He could not have gone to a better situation, as he will be the featured back on all three downs, despite losing occasional work early to Latavius Murray. Cook will move the ball, Murray will get hurt. There isn’t a player on the field for the Vikings that can match Cook’s talent, and the coaches will use him early and often. He’s a Top 10 PPR back.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Likewise, McCaffrey may be the easiest rookie to pick and has the most upside in PPR formats. I was sold when I heard Ron Rivera interviewed and he shared how when a LB makes ANY stop on McCaffrey on a pass pattern in PRACTICE, they celebrate as if they’ve just won the Super Bowl on a goal line stand. That kind of energy and competition make for a very exciting fantasy pick. He’s my number 4 overall back, and could be number 1. Karim Hunt seems an obvious choice to be a top back, but McCaffrey and Cook are going to substantially outperform their ADP.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
You have to start somewhere, and for the Rams that’s with Kupp. He’ll be the most targeted rookie wideout, and will outperform every other rookie who’s not Corey Davis easily. He’s an immediate grab and stash, but I am comfortable playing him week 1, and probably will in many daily games.
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
The Giants have been lacking a viable TE and have tried to replace them piecemeal, but this time they got the whole pie. Pie sounds like Tye, and Tye will have the same impact for the Giants now that he was cut. All of this points to the Giants using Engram as a chess piece for Eli Manning as the move Tight End. He’ll be good for 6 to 10 targets a game from day 1 despite not being listed as the starter, and at least 2 to 3 of those should be in the red zone.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
This is my bust of the year, and keep in mind last year’s was Laquon Treadwell. Fournette is a big plodding back perfectly suited for a team with a great offensive scheme and a big line. Unfortunately, his team is full of undersized average players and a QB who begs for an 8 man box. He has happy feet and people want that to mean he’s LeVeon Bell, but Bell is the only back capable of running with that style because his line is mammoth. Fournette won’t even dominate touches to the extent that will be needed. I have to trade him away while he still has the value of excitement.
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz was dreadful as a fantasy starter last year despite all of the good things we were seeing on the field. The offense was ball control and play defense, but that seems to have changed and Wentz is ready to take the leap. I only like the Wentz – Ertz combo play, as I am not a big fan of Jeffrey, but I see Wentz jumping consistency levels making him worthy of QB1 status in 12 team leagues and beyond. It’s a leap of faith in the man, the staff, and the off-season additions they brought in to help him be successful.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith is no hero and can throw up some eggs, but with the arrival of Mahomes and the sting of the last game last year, the Chiefs look to have an extra level of confidence and a renewed focus down the field. Smith will be a serviceable starter in 2 QB leagues and on bye weeks in standard leagues. I like him as a matchup play in the daily games – had I gone with my gut and started him over Brady when I played for the million back in 2013, I’d be writing this column from my Hawaiian Villa (that was the 5 TD game against the Raiders).
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennesee Titans
I keep hearing how amazing he is and how he had 4 TD games and this offense is great and more of the fantasy hooey I don’t want to believe. This is a run first offense and he has now suffered his first big injury. He has young talent at WR and a great line, but if Tennessee is executing to their liking he’ll be handing the ball of 2 out of every 3 downs at a minimum. I like him to remain sporadic, and a matchup play only. I’ve seen him in the top 6, and I only like him for the top 15.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets
Powell was the back we all hoped Forte would be last year, and despite Forte’s presence and strong health, Powell is the clear back to own in PPR. Powell proved his durability and his resourcefulness as a back last season, and should get plenty of opportunities again. He’ll perform as a top 18 back.
Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay Packers
The rookie hype train has significantly cut in to Mogo’s perceived value, despite his clear role as the feature back during a run that they want to replicate. Montgomery is a full time running back now, with no split time in the film room and even a running back jersey number. He is the crucial cog in the Packer’s wheel and will dominate RB touches. He’ll be a consistently productive RB1.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Coleman is the forgotten man in fantasy drafts despite his tremendous productivity last season. Maybe people are scared by Shanahan’s leaving or that he is oft-injured, but in PPR leagues Coleman is still a must own as a borderline RB2/RB3.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
This baffles me just as much as how Gwyneth Paltrow is considered sexy. Abdullah has just as much meat to him as a vegan, as he has been given every opportunity to win that job and continues to fall on his face. It’s like if the Chiefs named Charcandrick West the starter and suddenly the hype train would go off, or like McKinnon last year. A bad back is a bad back, and Abdullah has bad in droves. Stay away – Riddick is the star of this backfield.
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
I am a little confused by my fantasy brethren and the Stephon Diggs hype. I know Diggs is big and sexy, but how is everyone overlooking Adam Thielen‘s consistent season ending performance? He laid an egg in a playoff week when he got hurt, but short of that he spent many weeks in double digits in PPR leagues. He’s on almost all of my rosters and I will be playing him in many daily lineups on a weekly basis. Grab him before week 1 when it becomes clear he will lead the Vikes in receptions.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Giants
Another forgotten man, Marshall was playing with the worst QB in the league last year and remained a pro. With the way Eli likes to throw the ball up for grabs and let his receiver save his butt, errrr, make a play on the ball, Marshall should be a top 20 receiver going away. OBJ on the opposite side of the field is a huge boost for Marshall to get single coverage against weaker corners.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Another forgotten man, he has gone from WR#17 to WR#28 in most leagues but he is only one season removed from being a perennial Top 7. I like him to rebound and end up as a lower end WR1. The QB position will be better this season, as will the running game.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Benjamin is big and strong and healthy and will be Cam’s favorite WR all year. That may be enough for the occasional 2 TD game mixed in with the 3 catches for 36 yard performances – – – if he stays healthy, which he has not proven he can. This offense will focus on power running, Cam, Olsen, and McCaffrey, McCaffrey, McCaffrey. Benjamin is a strict matchup play only, I like him as a middling WR3 and not the middling WR2 he is being drafted as.
Julius Thomas, TE, Miami Dolphins
Thomas is a couple years removed from greatness, but in fairness, TE’s go to die in Jacksonville where he was. He is reunited in Miami with Adam Gase, who made him a star, and Jay Cutler loves to throw to his TE in traffic. That’s good for Thomas until he inevitably gets hurt. He’ll be available now in more leagues with the week 1 bye. I like him as a TE1 – he’ll get enough games in.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
I love this guy and it pains me to write, but all I need to know is I cut him for rookie Engram in my favorite league. I know what Witten is and I went for Engram’s upside. Witten used to be 6 to 10 catches for 60 to 100 yards and a good shot at a TD. Now his biggest asset is his name, and his games are more often 3 to 5 catches for 30 to 60 yards – – completely TD dependent. He’ll still have his big game or two, even three for best ball leagues and daily games, but he is safe to release for upside candidates in redraft and dynasty setups.
You can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with lineup questions or for waiver advice.