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Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Elite plays, mid-range buys, and “sleepers”

Heath offers some of his favorite targets at each position and links to copious amounts of Fake Teams content.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Carolina Panthers
J-Stew is a better value than Run-CMC...what?
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon, fake footballers. In an effort to shorten up the research for those of you who tend to do very little advance planning, I have compiled a list of my favorite targets at each position. At each spot I offer a pair of options that are high-end, mid-range, and low-end. These are not my only targets at each position, but they are players I feel comfortable with considering talent level, situation, and average draft position.

All ADPs are derived from expert consensus rankings at FantasyPros. In your hometown leagues you can probably draft a few of these players later than the rankings listed in this space.

Finally, I tried to shy away from the obvious names. Everyone knows Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson, Julio Jones, and Rob Gronkowski are high-end options. With my high-end options I stayed in the elite tier but went a little below and worked my way downward from there. Also, I tried to link to previous work here on Fake Teams for any player listed. A lot of information is included in this effort. This allows you to sprint down the rabbit-hole of your choosing. Good luck in your final drafts, ladies and gents!

Quarterback

High-end: Russell Wilson (QB4) or Marcus Mariota (QB7)

I think Wilson versus Mariota is splitting hairs, which is why I love Mariota, who I can draft a round or two later than Wilson in most places. Mariota is my QB4 this year and is a member of editor Pete’s official hypetrain. All aboard!

Mid-range: Matthew Stafford (QB15) or Tyrod Taylor (QB19)

Stafford and Taylor are both members of my “endless middle tier” of quarterback options. Stafford is getting massive shade from the fake community after back-to-back Top 10 finishes (QB9 and QB7) over the last two years. Taylor’s ADP dropped three spots (down from QB16) after the loss of Sammy Watkins, but what he still offers is Top-10 upside at the QB position each week due to his running ability. He was the #16 QB in 2015 (14 games) and the #13 QB last year (15 games). He is currently a solid value as the QB19 (or worse) in most formats.

Low-end: Sam Bradford (QB21) or Jay Cutler (QB23)

Bradford began the offseason as my QB23, but I have since moved him up to QB19. Cutler was a non-factor early on due to being retired, but I have him as my QB18 heading into the season. Each offers solid QB2 value, but in different ways. Bradford has more of a weekly floor, whereas Cutler will make more mistakes but have more weekly spikes. Just pick the guy that fits your personality (or your format). Pete also has Cutler as a Top-20 signal-caller this season, as his bold prediction of “Jay Cutler isn’t going to suck” implies.

Running Back

High-end: Devonta Freeman (RB5) and Kareem Hunt (RB17)

Freeman is a lock for elite running back numbers, while Hunt is new to the party following Spencer Ware’s season-ending PCL injury. I have Hunt as the highest-performing rookie this season. In that friendly Andy Reid system, you should draft him aggressively. Freeman, meanwhile, is one of my 10 guys worth the “gold price” this year.

Mid-range: Mark Ingram (RB21) and Jonathan Stewart (RB37)

Ingram made Matias Wodner’s mock draft video from the #1 draft slot. I agree that Ingram is a great value in the middle, once things begin to get murky. Stewart is a favorite of mine this year. Christian McCaffrey is an excellent smokescreen, as J-Stew will still be the “banger” in this offense and get plenty of opportunity at the goal-line. Stewart has RB2 written all over him, but he is being drafted as a RB4 in most places.

Low-end: Jacquizz Rodgers (RB48) and Rex Burkhead (RB49)

You won’t find a better dart-throw than Rodgers, who will receive copious amounts of volume while Doug Martin serves a three-game suspension to begin the year. Burkhead is a cheap do-it-all guy in what could be the top offense in the league. He makes far more sense as a sleeper than Mike Gillislee, who is still being ranked and/or drafted as a high-end RB3. Gillislee is the RB25 on FantasyPros. To be clear: I am a fan of drafting Gillislee AND Burkhead if I have a deep bench that allows for that strategy. If my bench is short, though, give me the cheaper guy in Burkhead.

Wide Receiver

High-end: Michael Thomas (WR7) or Doug Baldwin (WR11)

Michael Thomas is a lock for me if I have a pick late in the first round this season. I initially had Willie Snead as one of my “gold price” guys, but with Snead’s three-game suspension I now prefer Thomas instead. J.E. Barnett agrees, as one of his bold predictions is Thomas finishing as a Top 3 wide receiver. I agree with Brent Patterson that Baldwin is the Seahawk to own (instead of those running backs) and have Baldwin as a “gold price” player this year.

Mid-range: DeVante Parker (WR32) and Tyrell Williams (WR37)

Remember, Jay Cutler isn’t going to suck, and that is good news for Parker, as Cutler has a history of peppering his favorite guy with targets. There is a great chance that guy is Parker this season. “Tyrell” means “thunder ruler,” in case you needed a Game of Thrones reference in lieu of watching a new episode this weekend. I know I did. Anyway, Williams was the leading receiver for the Chargers last season and his opportunity is currently safe with the injury to rookie Mike Williams. If Mike does happen to return in October and take snaps away from Tyrell, at least you began the fantasy season strong (which is an underrated goal). Play for right now, folks.

Low-end: Chris Hogan (WR50) and Kevin White (WR52)

With Julian Edelman’s torn ACL, Chris Hogan is a phenomenal value in your fake drafts. He is also buried on most draft applets since the injury to Edelman was recent, so you can get a WR2/WR3 type for a WR4/WR5 price. Hogan is the arguably the value of the year right now. He is an excellent example of why you should never draft a kicker. Kevin White made my list of late-round wide receivers to target BEFORE the season-ending injury to Cam Meredith, so you can believe he is now firmly entrenched as a late-round guy for me. Pete spoke to SB Nation’s Lester Wiltfong of Windy City Gridiron about White’s potential to breakout and what the Bears will do sans Meredith.

Tight End

High-end: Kyle Rudolph (TE7) and Zach Ertz (TE9)

I know Rudolph made it onto Wodner’s squad from the #12 spot if you enjoy the video format. Rudolph is my #6 tight end this season and is the primary reason I will not draft Travis Kelce in Round 3. Ertz is the other tight end I seek if I miss out on acquiring Rudolph’s services. Pete also identified Ertz as a tight end to target.

Mid-range: Coby Fleener (TE14) and Austin Hooper (TE15)

I reluctantly ranked Fleener as my #15 tight end. His attachment to Brees makes him a high-end streaming target this season, whether it makes you feel good or not. Hooper is one of my 10 “gold price” players and also made Pete’s late-round tight end list. The Falcons let Jacob Tamme walk, so I love Hooper’s opportunity this year, especially in the red-zone. Opposing defenses will be forced to pay attention to Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, which means Hooper has a chance to be this year’s Hunter Henry—a hyper-efficient touchdown-scorer.

Low-end: Charles Clay (TE23) and Vance McDonald (TE28)

Here is a friendly reminder from J.E. Barnett: don’t reach for rookie tight ends. You can, however, add Clay—who enters 2017 as Tyrod Taylor’s most familiar target. Vance McDonald may take some time early on to acclimate in Pittsburgh, but he is an intriguing playmaker that the Steelers lacked at the tight end position prior to his arrival. McDonald will round out a bench spot for me in some deep leagues for sure.

Okay folks. I did my best to point you in the right direction and lead you down the rabbit-hole of your choosing. If you have lingering draft questions heading into your draft, feel free to ask them in the comments or on Twitter. We here at Fake Teams would love to help you start your fake football season strong. Good luck!