Must-have fantasy players at RB, WR, TE and QB
In fantasy drafts, you never know when you have struck gold. That’s sort of a glass-half-full way of saying drafts involve a good amount of luck, but it’s worth bearing in mind that players who subsequently jump out as your best picks can come from any round, even the late ones.
Here are three players — one each from the early, middle and late rounds — at running back and wide receiver, and two at tight end and quarterback who are must-haves, based on where they are going and their tantalizing upsides.
I’ll use Fantasy Pros’ aggregate of average draft positions from several websites, defaulting to points-per-reception formats (however, much of the analysis can be applied to standard formats, as well).
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins (7th among RBs, 14th overall)
Ajayi is slipping out of the first round, which should not happen. Sure, he was disconcertingly boom-or-bust last season. But his booms were massive, and his projected workload — well upward of 300 touches — should provide a safe floor in his off weeks. Ajayi also received offseason praise for his improvement as a pass-catcher, and as it’s reasonable to expect his pedestrian receiving numbers (27 catches for 151 yards and a 5.6 yards per reception average) to go up, it’s also reasonable to view him as one of the more entic- ing commodities late in the first round.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers (30th, 75th)
The bad news is that Martin will sit out the first three games on a suspension handed to him near the end of last season. The good news is that those missed games will cause his ADP to fall, making him a great mid-round value. The Bucs made few changes to their running back corps in the offseason, meaning that Martin should regain his starting job upon his return. Offseason reports from Tampa Bay have been glowing, and it’s well worth an inexpensive investment to discover if he’ll be back to the form that made him a top-three fantasy RB in two of his first four seasons.
C.J. Prosise, Seahawks (39th, 108th)
Health questions hang over Prosise’s outlook, as he struggled with injuries at the end of his final season at Notre Dame and then was limited to just six games as a rookie last year. That brings up sample-size concerns, as well. But when on the field, Prosise looked a lot like Seattle’s most electric back, and he has a good chance to outshine even new addition Eddie Lacy. If nothing else, the converted wide receiver is slated for work on passing downs, a role that always makes for a good lateround pick in PPR formats, and at 6-1, 225 pounds, Prosise has the build to become heavily involved in the Seahawks’ attack.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys (10th, 20th)
This may seem like an odd choice in a PPR context, given that Bryant has had better than 150 targets in a season just once, and more than 90 catches twice, in his seven-year career. But touchdowns work pretty well in PPR, too, and Bryant has always been among the best at his position in that regard. More than anything, I’m happy to bet on his talent, which is up there with that of any WR, and the fact that he is far and away Dallas’s best receiving option.
Stefon Diggs, Vikings (27th, 54th)
A pattern is emerging here of hoping for players to be healthier this season than they have been at times in the past, and why not? Injuries are impossible to predict, even for someone like Diggs, who has missed several games in each of his first two seasons. He has also flashed WR1-level skills, and last year’s 84 catches on 112 targets for 903 yards seems all the more impressive given that Sam Bradford only got to Minnesota just before the season began. There is plenty of reason to think that a healthier Diggs could top 90 receptions and 1,000 yards without too much trouble, and an uptick on this three 2016 touchdowns would likely follow.
Mike Wallace, Ravens (52nd, 125th)
Baltimore brought in Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead to beef up its pass-catching corps, but with three of the team’s top four receivers from last season gone, there will be plenty of targets to go around. Wallace hasn’t finished worse than 26th at wide receiver in six of his past seven seasons, and his 1,017 yards last year easily led the Ravens. Soon to turn 31, Wallace can still get open deep, and he’s a steal at this price.
Tight end Jimmy Graham, Seahawks (5th, 73rd)
If you miss out, or sit out, the first wave of top-tier tight ends but still want an elite commodity, Graham is your guy. He was surprisingly effective last year, coming off a devastating knee injury but racking up 65 catches for 923 yards, six touchdowns and a career-high 14.2 yard-per-reception average. That made for his fifth top-four finish at his position in the past six seasons, and his usage by the Seahawks — running the most routes per snap of any TE last year (H/T Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar) — bodes well for another stellar campaign.
Jack Doyle, Colts (14th, 126th) When Coby Fleener left Indianapolis for New Orleans last year, Dwayne Allen was supposed to be the main beneficiary, but instead, it was Doyle who finished second on the team in targets (75), catches (59) and yards (584), adding five touchdowns. Now Allen, too, has left town, while Doyle was given a three-year, $19 million deal with half the money guaranteed. The fifth-year player, undrafted out of Western Kentucky, will need Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder to return to full working order, but Doyle looks like a great bet to outperform his draft slot.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (13th, 94th)
In keeping with our general position that a wait-on-QB approach is the best approach, let’s skip right past the top 12 to Big Ben. His rather lowly ADP does not seem to be reflecting an important fact: For the first time since 2014, Pittsburgh appears set to regularly have Roethlisberger on the field with running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. That’s as dangerous a trio as there is in the NFL. And during that 10-game stretch in 2014, Roethlisberger completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 3,359 yards, 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions (per Steelers Depot). Over a 16-game season, that works out to huge-osity.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills (19th, 140th)
Did you know that Taylor was eighth among QBs in per-game fantasy scoring in each of the past two seasons, his only two seasons as a starter? That’s a pretty good track record. QBs who run well have long been a bit of a fantasy football cheat code, and Taylor is no exception. His prowess on the ground (568 yards rushing and four touchdowns in 2015; 580 and six last season) has been more than enough to make up for his relatively skimpy passing numbers in Buffalo’s run-heavy attack. Under a new offensive coordinator (Rick Dennison), the Bills may throw more, and top wide receiver Sammy Watkins is on track to be at full speed by Week 1, so there’s reason for optimism.