Nelson Agholor (left) knows the way to the end zone (AP)
Long intros aren’t my jam. Let’s get right to it.
I’ve already drafted a bunch, and here are some names I’ve regularly landed or at least been targeting. You want a peek at my playbook, you got it. If I’m going to have a successful season, a chunk of these players need to come through — or I need to lock everyone out of the waiver wire. (Stop with “pound the waiver wire” as a strategy point. Even the worst owner in your league understands that.)
For the ADP listings, I used MFL results (skin in the game) over the past week. No ADP method is perfect; obviously, season to taste.
The 2018 Wallet is open. Take my money, take my reccos. (Leave the drycleaning receipts.)
• Nelson Agholor (WR39, ADP 91): I understand why some fantasy owners don’t like early drafts. Injuries will pop up and wreck some of your rosters. The season is so far away. Definition is hazy.
Alas, I’d argue the lack of definition is our friend in the early draft season. If you can connect dots quicker than your opposition, you’re getting a significant leg up. Philly’s receiving depth chart is a case in point.
Agholor and Alshon Jeffery weren’t that much different last year in end-of-season ranks: Jeffery checked in at WR15, Agholor at WR22. Since then, Jeffery’s had shoulder surgery and hasn’t done a thing in camp. Meanwhile, Agholor has flown under the radar, with many fantasy players remembering him as the 2015-2016 bust that he was, not the 2017 mini-breakout (62-768-8) he turned into.
“Slot receiver” is no longer a pejorative. The coverage is often easiest on that part of the field, and the throws easier to execute. Even if Jeffery were healthy, I’d be eschewing him because I want to snag Agholor later. But with Jeffery in full-fledged limbo, I’m essentially taking him off my draft board completely — and still angling for Agholor in the middle rounds.
No, we can’t get the spring Agholor price any longer, or even the midsummer price. But he’s still somewhat screened in this offense. The development curve is different for everyone. Agholor finally cashed in on his first-round pedigree in the second half of 2017, and I’m betting on him to duplicate those numbers or perhaps build on them.
• Trey Burton (TE9, ADP 92): Most of the Bears are hard at work learning a new offensive system, but Burton’s already done the homework. Chicago is running the tight-end centric offense the Eagles ran (and the Chiefs), and it threw a boatload of cash at Burton so he can essentially be the team’s version of Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce. Asking Burton to play at a Pro Bowl level in his first year as a starter might be a stretch, but he definitely has Top 5 upside. He’s looked terrific in early exhibition play.
Burton’s going to get plenty of work as a movable chess piece and as a de-facto wide receiver, which is wonderful news. We don’t want our tight ends taking out the trash (read: blocking) all that often. We want them as matchup-problem hybrid receivers. That’s what the Bears brought Burton in to be.
The price has come up in recent weeks, to the point that you might have to pay an expectant ticket on Burton for the final few draft weeks. But still try to get some shares. If I had to bet on Chicago’s most value target this year, I’d take Burton over Allen Robinson (or anyone else) without hesitation. I’m willing to bet on new head coach Matt Nagy, too.
• Alex Smith (QB 18, ADP 143), Jamison Crowder (WR37, ADP 81): Smith was the QB4 last year and I get it, no one is going to pay for that repeating. And obviously he’s left the womb of Andy Reid. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Jay Gruden has been good to his fantasy QBs (Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton flourished under him), Washington’s targets are solid, RB Derrius Guice is already out of the mix. Smith has six seasons inside the QB20 cutline, which makes him a perfect target as your second or third QB in formats that demand multiple starters or depth options. And you’ll probably get a sneaky 300 rushing yards and a ground score or two.
Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine who a quarterback will feature when he joins a new club, but it’s easy for me to envision Smith and Crowder meshing seamlessly. Smith’s always been one of the sharpest slot-throwers in the league, and Crowder does terrific work there, winning on option routes and providing a quickly-defined, easy throw for his quarterback. Crowder is on several of my rosters ostensibly as a depth add, but I expect to be starting him more often than not.
Chris Hogan, fantasy hero (AP)
• Chris Hogan (WR25, ADP 53): Another early-season draftee that’s finally starting to command the price he should have all along. I still will add shares even at market, though. Look at all the attrition to the Patriots wideouts — Julian Edelman suspended; Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Michell already cut. Rob Gronkowski remains a dynamic tight end, but they can’t throw every pass to Gronk. Even RBs Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have physical concerns. If Hogan can last a full year — and that’s no sure thing — consider what he’s done with 119 New England targets: 72-119-9. There’s a major upside here, and you’re riding with a Hall of Fame quarterback.
• Corey Clement (RB49, ADP 133): One of my favorite lottery tickets. Jay Ajayi came into the league with a troublesome physical history, and might not be ideally suited for a heavy workload. Darren Sproles broke in with the leather helmet crowd. Clement was a walking splash play in his rookie year — albeit on modest volume — then riddled the Patriots for 100 receiving yards in the Super Bowl. Smart teams recognize talent and find ways to expand the role of said talent; I’d be flabbergasted if the Eagles didn’t find more for Clement to do this year.
• Isaiah Crowell (RB36, ADP 86), Jordan Howard (RB14, ADP24): The lovely thing about Howard is that you can focus on him as a reactive pick, not a proactive pick, and often scoop him up in the third round. He’s obviously not a good receiver, but the Bears might use him some on third downs. And even if that never materializes, he’s locked into a two-down role and a goal-line role on an offense likely to be improved. With so many shiny toys and narratives in Chicago (and heck, I wrote about one above), Howard is a little overlooked and under-appreciated.
Crowell is one of my favorite types of picks, an unexciting player on an unexciting team. But Crowell cut his teeth nicely as a two-down grinder in Cleveland, and he’s a sneakier receiver (68 catches the last two years) than you might realize. Bilal Powell? Undersized, just a guy. Charandrick West signing? Come on, every team has a third-string running back — that’s not a direct threat to Crowell. You can probably land Crowell as your third or fourth (or maybe even fifth) running back, and yet he might wind up being a common starter for you.
• Kenny Stills (WR43, ADP 103.3): It’s always nice when a player can regress and still be a profit player — Stills, quietly, has checked in as WR26 and WR28 the last two years. And he’s probably the best receiver on his own team; DeVante Parker can’t get out of his own way, Danny Amendola is a freshly-acquired slot receiver who doesn’t score touchdowns. Albert Wilson is new to the team, too, as is rookie TE Mike Gesecki. Jarvis Landry vacated a boatload of targets. Comebacking QB Ryan Tannehill has more rapport with Stills than anyone else in his huddle.
• Matthew Stafford (QB11, ADP 141.1): A perfect midrange target; Stafford gives you upside, floor, durability, and value. We already know Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are needle-movers, and second-year WR Kenny Golladay could be, too. The jury remains out on all of the Detroit running backs. (If you miss out on Stafford, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers are reasonable consolation prizes.)
I didn’t want to overload this list with quarterbacks, since the position is insanely deep and everyone is going to like their quarterbacks this year. But the point is to show you what I already have tucked away, and I have a bunch of Stafford. The indoor-heavy schedule (10-11 indoor games, depending on how you view Dallas) is a bonus, too.
• Jarvis Landry (WR17, ADP 41.5): He’s not a giveaway at that price, but he’s a safe harbor to park your money, especially in the fourth round. The Browns are filled with buzzy and exciting narratives to buy into, starting with Josh Gordon (part fable, part Superhero). There’s nothing exciting about watching Landry run boring routes and post 7-52-1 and 8-84-0 stat-lines. But he’s likely to be the first read in this offense and the simplest throw for two quarterbacks with fleas (Tyrod Taylor isn’t that good; Baker Mayfield is obviously a rookie). I’d be shocked if Landry didn’t lead this team in catches.
• Blake Bortles (QB23, ADP 168.4): Here’s where we mind the gap between real-life and fantasy value. Bortles is a dreadful real-life quarterback, a change-the-channel guy. But he’s handy as a runner and probably has a fair amount of job security; he makes sense as a depth play in Best Ball leagues, or a lower-end second starter in the Superflex crowd. We just want the numbers. Bortles’s end-of-season QB rank the last three years: QB13, QB10, QB4.
Quick Hitters: If I had to take a flier in the crowded Jacksonville receiving group, Keelan Cole is where I place my chip. And I wouldn’t draft Donte Moncrief on a dare . . . Kenny Golladay is no giveaway, but he showed big-play ability as a rookie and he might be Detroit’s best answer inside the 10, too. And he’s going to play a lot — the Lions run a ton of three-receiver sets . . . I rarely get married to a defense, I like to take it week by week. Baltimore hosts Buffalo in Week 1. You want in on that. If you play in a format where FA swaps aren’t as easy, make sure your DST is from a team expected to contend for the playoffs . . . If you have to take a vanity kicker, focus on someone with a later bye week. Gostkowski, Tucker, Zuerlein and Butker all fit the mold . . . Latavius Murray is one hit away from being Minnesota’s featured back, and he might be the goal line guy, too. A solid lottery ticket. Minnesota’s offensive line is not great, but this probably is the best overall roster in the league . . . No one is getting Davante Adams at a discount, but he’s worth the freight in the second round. He’s the NFL’s leaders in touchdowns over the last two years, a repeatable skill I’d invest in given the rapport he’s built with Aaron Rodgers. And heck, Adams didn’t turn into a pumpkin when Brett Hundley had to play last year . . . I do fear the pumpkin risk with Case Keenum, which is why I’m cool on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. I’d rather be a year early than a year late on players at the stage of their careers. If I had to take a Broncos wideout, I’d side to Sanders — hope he gets more slot work than usual. But this is an offense I’m generally avoiding. I’m certainly not drafting any of these guys proactively.
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