Fantasy football drafts are approaching – it’s time to get your draft list and get dialed in on sleepers for the 2017 season. Here are a few – who project to outperform where they are being drafted – to keep in mind when you are on the clock.
▪ Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay) would be my preferred fantasy quarterback this season at his seventh-round average draft price. After two exceptional seasons to start his NFL career, Tampa has added major weapons for Winston to progress further (especially on fantasy statistics). After Winston, below are two undervalued quarterbacks to target.
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▪ Dak Prescott (Dallas) may not be a “sleeper,” but he’s very underappreciated in drafts. Prescott’s 23 touchdowns to four interceptions last year with a 104.9 passer-rating was the best-ever for a rookie quarterback and Prescott completed an impressive 68 percent of passes. Yet, he is somehow being drafted 16th overall among quarterbacks.
▪ From weeks five to 12 last season, Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) was second only to Aaron Rodgers in total fantasy points – that is the type of upside he offers. Mariota is worth reaching up a round or two to draft. In his career, Mariota has 33 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the red-zone.
▪ At running back, the influx of high-impact rookies will be one of the main storylines in the NFL. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina) has looked exceptional throughout camp and he sure has not disappointed in preseason play. Those who want to lock in McCaffrey should use a late 2nd-round pick to do so.
▪ The Jaguars went from averaging 73 rushing attempts per game in its first seven games last year to 125 from week eight on. They will keep that mentality this year, making Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville) a solid selection who will be busy with his remarkable size/speed ratio.
▪ Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland) looks locked in for a heavy workload behind one of the better offensive lines this year, and he’s in a contract year. Crowell has touched the ball 442 times over the past two years with just two lost fumbles.
▪ Even as a backup to DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry (Tennessee) should be a reasonable enough starter as your second running back. Henry finished the season with four touchdowns over the Titans’ final five games. Henry looks locked-in to reach double-digit touchdowns and he could be a top-five fantasy player if Murray were to miss time.
▪ Both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (Atlanta) scored double-digit touchdowns last season and there is room in the Falcons’ offense for both backs to be key fantasy players. Coleman should be a key target in the seventh round of drafts, and like with Derrick Henry, Coleman is a better fantasy prospect than many NFL starters.
▪ He’s buried a little as the team’s No. 3 back, but take a flyer on Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) who has looked exceptional in preseason games. The Saints have completed 127 receptions to its running back each of the past two seasons (both NFL highs) and Kamara will get his share even as a rookie.
▪ If you’ve tracked any preseason highlights, then Kenny Golladay (Detroit) must be flying up your boards. There is legitimate upside here and Golladay looks to be a major touchdown-threat. Golladay looks like he’s worth taking a gamble on. Be aggressive and pull the trigger a little higher than his now 12th-round average draft position.
▪ Jarvis Landry led all receivers with 30 percent of his team’s receptions last year. That seems unlikely to continue with Jay Cutler under center who seems to be fond of DeVante Parker (Miami) – Cutler recently called Parker “a faster Alshon Jeffery.” Let someone else draft Landry with a higher pick and connect on Parker later in your drafts.
▪ Sterling Shepard (N.Y. Giants) finished as the 36th-best fantasy wide receiver last year but he’ll drop to closer to the 60th selected. The addition of Brandon Marshall pushes Shepard down, but he will still be a major target for Eli Manning after an impressive rookie campaign with 65 receptions and eight touchdowns.
▪ Taylor Gabriel (Atlanta) didn’t get his first touchdown as a Falcon until week 8 last year but he was a major threat down the stretch. From weeks eight-15, Gabriel was a top-five fantasy receiver at 16.7 points per game. Gabriel will be available late in drafts.
▪ At tight end, my top target for the price is Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers). Henry caught eight touchdowns on just 36 receptions last year as a rookie (highest-rated among all tight ends last season) and Henry had just one drop. Antonio Gates returns for a 15th-season but it’s Henry’s time to shine after an impressive rookie season.
Alan Satterlee is in his fourth year of writing about fantasy football for The Charlotte Observer. Find him on Twitter at @Speedkills_DFW.