Must-have fan­tasy play­ers at RB, WR, TE and QB

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS - By DES BIELER WPNS Colum­nist

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).

Run­ning back

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.

Wide re­ceiver

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.

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