There are at least one or two people in your league who will overreach on players like Aaron Rodgers in the first round or or Jimmy Graham in the third (I’m in a league with lots of Green Bay Packers fans). Reaching one round is a draft strategy that promotes reaching for certain players a round – or even two rounds – earlier than their average draft position (ADP). As with all draft strategies, there is risk involved and your current team makeup is going to weigh heavily on how to proceed. Let’s focus on a few players who I’ll be looking at to draft early.
David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
Montgomery is built like the perfect running back at 5-foot-10 and 222 pounds. He can break tackles as well as make defenders miss completely. He also has hands that will take balls away from teammate Tarik Cohen as Montgomery is a true jack-of-all-trades. He was drafted into the perfect situation in Chicago as second-year head coach Matt Nagy has worked with a similar running back in the recent past (Kareem Hunt) and had wild success with him. The departure of Jordan Howard leaves a lot of opportunity for Montgomery. He won’t take all of Howard’s 250 carries from last season, as Mike Davis will get some of those as well. His only knock is he lacks breakaway speed, so he probably won’t have many huge 30-plus-yard plays.
His current ADP in Points Per Reception (PPR) league formats is the middle of the fourth round. I would have few qualms about taking Montgomery in the third round. Montgomery should get around 180-200 carries and another 40 catches, which are numbers you can lean on for your RB1 if you go with wide receiver/wide receiver or wide receiver/tight end in the first two rounds.
Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos turned a lot of heads last year in September by making undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay their starting running back. Lindsay was great averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring 10 times in 2018. Injury and the increased workload seemed to tire Lindsay out near the end of the year, as his yards-per-carry slipped to 2.63 yards in his last three games. Freeman took his opportunity in Week 17 to earn 103 total yards against the Los Angeles Chargers. With the old coaching staff gone and the third-round draft capital spent on Freeman, new head coach Vic Fangio seems to be leaning to a more even split between the two ball-carriers. Lindsay will get closer to 170-180 touches this year instead of 227 from 2018 while Freeman’s load should get closer to 160 touches. These backs are also very complementary to each other as Freeman is the old-school bruising running back with Lindsay bringing the finesse and spark.
Freeman is currently being selected in the early eighth round as the RB37. With the chance of a bigger workload for a team that will be running the ball more often, I am taking great pleasure in drafting Freeman in the seventh round. The pick is even nicer behind a more running back forward start to my draft with guys like Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey in the first round followed by Aaron Jones in the second or Derrick Henry in the third to give me a boost in touches for a good price.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
After a strong start and rough finish to 2018, signs are pointing to Newton being back on track for another great year. He has tweaked his throwing motion to improve accuracy and put less stress on his surgically repaired shoulder. We haven’t heard any negative reports yet, so I’m saying ‘no news is good news.’ Newton is one of those players who can giving you multiple week winning performances with his arm or his legs – and there’s nothing wrong with his legs. In 2018, Newton threw for 250-plus yards in seven games, ran for 36 or more yards in seven games and threw two or more touchdowns in 11 consecutive games – a threat in all facets of the offense. He has most of the same targets from last season, with the exception of Devin Funchess. McCaffrey is any quarterback’s dream when it comes to running backs with 107 receptions last year. Wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel both showed growth and explosiveness in 2018. I especially like Samuel coming into his third year when a lot of young wide receivers break out. Greg Olsen is a tried and true tight end who is always reliable when healthy.
With a firm ninth-round ADP in PPR formats, Newton is going behind a lot of other quarterbacks with question marks. Newton has proven himself in multiple seasons that he is an elite quarterback for fantasy – even the No. 1 quarterback in 2015. If you’re willing to wait on drafting your quarterback, taking Newton in the eighth round is like getting a bacon cheeseburger for half price – satisfying, cost effective and everything you’d want!
Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Projected to be the No. 1 wide receiver for the 49ers, Pettis is a fantasy darling in the making. After being mostly unused through the first nine weeks, he was given an opportunity and ran with it. He was the WR20 in fantasy from Weeks 10-16 with Nick Mullens at quarterback. Now he has a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo throwing to him and I’m giving him all the empty targets left by Pierre Garcon; ninety-one upcoming targets is definitely now out of the question. He also had more than 75 receiving yards in three of his last five games and at least five targets in each of the last six games. Rookie Deebo Samuel is not an early threat to take away targets after how they used or didn’t use Pettis in early 2018. Pettis is a lot like Stefon Diggs in that both are fantastic route runners with great hands. Pettis is also a return threat.
Pettis will be a great receiver to play in the flex or even as your WR2 in 12-16 team leagues. He is absolutely worth the early seventh-round price, but I’m not letting him out of the sixth round in any format with just about any build in my first five rounds.