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2018 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Elite plays, mid-range buys, and sleepers

Heath gives a quick overview of some of his favorite fantasy football plays at each position.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I did this last year at this time, and the effort was met with some kind words. I’m catering to those of you who have been under a rock the for the last month or so. And to those of you who are time-strapped and don’t have as much time to spend on fantasy football as the rest of we degenerates.

All ADPs (average draft positions) are derived from expert consensus rankings at FantasyPros. In your “hometown” leagues you may be able to land some of these mid-range and “sleeper” plays a bit later than their consensus rankings.

I tried to shy away from obvious names in this space. We all know Aaron Rodgers is the QB1. Therefore, I tried to pick other elite options so that you can have a guy (or three) at every tier—elite, middle, and late. I’m including some links to Fake Teams content so that you may sprint down the rabbit-hole of your choosing. I hope this helps someone. I know it will aid me in synthesizing my thoughts (writing is good for that). Good luck in your drafts, ladies and gentleman!

Quarterback

Elite: Cam Newton (QB4) and Drew Brees (QB6)

Cam is way for you to get away from the risk of Deshaun Watson. Most pundits agree that Newton now has the best receiving weapons of his career (and he is already undoubtedly the best running quarterback in NFL history). He is my QB2 this season, but in most spots you can land him fifth—after Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Deshaun Watson.

Most people think Drew Brees just had a bad year last year. Truth is, the running game was so epic that he just didn’t have the volume (only 536 attempts). In the five years prior, here were his total passing attempt numbers: 673, 627, 659, 650, and 670. You get the idea. Sure, the defense is legit and that may suppress the passing totals again, but Mark Ingram is also suspended for four games...so the ground game may not be quite as potent, at least to begin the season. The Saints have bolstered their receiving group with Cam Meredith and rookie Tre’Quan Smith. I’m betting on some positive regression for Brees’ 4.3% TD rate last year, too. His career average is 5.3% and his marks over the five years prior are: 5.5%, 5.1%, 5.0%, 6.0%, and 6.4%. I think he’s a steal as the QB6 and love this floor play in the middle of the draft.

Mid-range: Marcus Mariota (QB17) and Alex Smith (QB18)

Mariota roasted me last season, but the horrible offensive scheme wasn’t his fault. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will bring the Titans offense back into the 21st century, as well as breathe new life into MariGOATa. The addition of receiving maven Dion Lewis, the continued growth of Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Taywan Taylor, the presence of underrated veteran Rishard Matthews...what’s not to like?

Alex Smith is elite, I already told you. He has underrated upside with his legs, too, following the loss of Derrius Guice for the season. Smith was the QB4 in 2017. Among quarterbacks, he was second with a 8.0 Y/A (behind Brees’ 8.1 Y/A), sixth in rushing yards, sixth in TD%, and tied with Tyrod Taylor for the lowest INT% in the NFL. He is projected to have the second-friendliest schedule for a quarterback in the league this year. I love Smith at his draft cost.

Sleeper: Blake Bortles (QB21) and Andy Dalton (QB24)

Bortles finished as the QB10 two years ago and managed a QB13 finish last year. His running ability makes him a quality QB2 player. His quality as a real life quarterback does not concern us (unless the Jaguars bring in legitimate starting competition against him). For now, I’ll take Blake as my QB2 or as a part of my streaming game. For what it’s worth, he has the easiest projected strength of schedule for a quarterback this year.

Dalton currently has A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert healthy. The Bengals appear willing to actually throw to speedster John Ross as well. Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard are both capable backs and quality receivers out of the backfield. Tyler Kroft is a solid backup in the likely event of an Eifert injury. Dalton was the QB16 last year and the QB17 two years ago. His current draft price is fantasy-friendly.

Running Back

Elite: Melvin Gordon (RB8) and Joe Mixon (RB14)

Gordon ranked ninth in rushing yards per game in 2017, despite his much-publicized 3.9 Y/A. I suppose it’s the Y/A average keeping him down, because it’s certainly not his volume. Gordon managed 284 touches on the ground and a whopping 83 targets last year. I’ll take him ahead of Leonard Fournette and definitely before Kareem Huntwho I think is a Round 1 bust this year.

It’s possible that Joe Mixon is Christian McCaffrey with red zone carries. Run-CMC has to contend with Cam Newton and C.J. Anderson, while Mixon has only Gio Bernard. It helps that Mixon’s receiving skills are elite, and he has a bigger frame (6-1, 228) than McCaffrey (5-11, 205). I think we are talking up Mixon as a Round 1 pick in 2019.

Mid-range: Carlos Hyde (RB26) and Peyton Barber (RB31)

I’m over 40% on Hyde on DRAFT. He was undervalued all offseason and looks like the frontrunner in Cleveland. I’m a Barber-believer, as Ronald Jones III has been woeful and Barber has been the opposite.

Sleeper: Bilal Powell (RB44) and Rod Smith (RB78)

Powell is a favorite of mine. It’s only he and Crowell in New York, and Powell has the talent to vastly outplay his ADP. Elijah McGuire’s foot injury has opened the door...I think Powell can take advantage.

Smith is a no-brainer as the clear backup on a team with a sturdy offensive line. I love him as a depth play in deep formats and best ball leagues.

Wide Receiver

Elite: A.J. Green (WR8) and Stefon Diggs (WR11)

Green as the WR8 screams blasphemy to me given his red zone prowess. I’m taking Green over Julio Jones this year. I’m following the money with Diggs, and choosing him over Adam Thielen (WR13).

Mid-range: Jamison Crowder (WR36) and Nelson Agholor (WR38)

In truth, I love a lot of late wide receivers this year. But I love these two shifty guys.

Sleeper: Cameron Meredith (WR64) and Jaron Brown (WR92)

Meredith is Drew Brees’ second-best wide receiver. His ranking is total garbage. Draft him everywhere. Jaron Brown is 6-3, 204 and runs a 4.40 40-yard dash. Doug Baldwin is only 85% to begin the season and Ed Dickson is still hurt. Either Jaron Brown or Brandon Marshall is going to see some red zone looks this year. I think Brown can make it happen.

Tight End

Elite: Rob Gronkowski (TE1) and Zach Ertz (TE3)

Everyone knows there is a clear-cut tier of three guys, so you get stuck with Gronk on this one. But I do advocate waiting for Ertz instead of drafting Travis Kelce, so there’s that.

Mid-range: Kyle Rudolph (TE8) and Trey Burton (TE9)

These guys are “safety” and “upside” in human form. I’m aiming for Burton where I can, and settling for Rudolph if I miss. Here’s my case for Kyle Rudolph. He’s Jimmy Graham with more yardage and a cheaper ADP.

Sleeper: Eric Ebron (TE16) and Ricky Seals-Jones (TE22)

Andrew Luck has a dearth of receiving options in Indianapolis, and I really like Ebron to make his presence felt in the red zone this year. Sam Bradford is a known tight end lover, and “RSJ” makes sense as an upside depth play. He could see enough volume to make some noise.

I didn’t offer tons of reasoning in this space. I’m basically doing my version of some flag-planting. Other than Seals-Jones—who I am coming around to recently—I have a lot of the aforementioned players in best ball leagues and will be targeting them heavily in my own leagues that are upcoming.

If you’re in a draft with me tonight, you’re welcome.