To be clear, I do not consider myself a fantasy football expert. Luckily I have a team at my disposal of folks who study fantasy year-round, using our PFF data to produce the best rankings and fantasy advice out there.
But even after tapping into their expertise, I still come away with my favorite players I like to target in my drafts each year. I like to go a little non-traditional, because even though guys like Cam Newton and Antonio Brown are outstanding, I try to surface the names of some guys you might not be thinking as much about. (Although when in doubt, I usually just follow the recommendations in our PFF draft tool.)
With that in mind, here are my 10 favorite fantasy picks entering the 2016 season. These guys are a mix of great values and stars who you can take early in your drafts. I’ve listed them in order of position.
1. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
Our fantasy guys are always preaching to me the importance of loading up your roster at other positions and trying to find value at quarterback later in my drafts. Well, I’ve listened, and a guy I really like this year who isn’t even being drafted as a QB1 in most leagues is Taylor. To me, Taylor is Russell Wilson Light. He loves to throw the deep ball, and if he has Sammy Watkins healthy for a full season, that will be a dangerous combination.
Taylor can escape the pocket and run with any QB in the NFL, and I think we should see bigger rushing and passing TD totals from him this year. He had a number of red-zone turnovers a year ago that could be converted into scores in 2016. Rex Ryan has had another year to convert the defense to his 3-4 system with his type of players, and a better defense means shorter fields and more opportunities for Taylor and the offense.
We’ve got a stat here at PFF called fantasy points per dropback that is one of our most critical numbers in terms of projecting future fantasy success, and last year Taylor ranked fourth in the NFL in that number. I’ll be thrilled to have him as my fantasy quarterback.
2. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
I think most people have forgotten how good Dalton was in the 13 games before his injury last year. He finished with 25 touchdown passes and three more as a runner, but he easily would have surpassed 30 and maybe even 35 total had he remained healthy – and that would make his numbers look a lot different. Remember that fantasy points per dropback stat I was talking about with Taylor? Well, Dalton ranked third in it last year, behind only Newton and Wilson. Both of those guys are being drafted as top-four fantasy QBs.
The Bengals have one of the best offensive lines in football, two good running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and two of the NFL’s truly dominant red-zone threats in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert (assuming Eifert gets healthy). This team is clearly one of the favorites in the AFC this year, after winning 12 games last year. Like Taylor, Dalton isn’t being drafted as a QB1 in many leagues.
[Looking for some sleeper options to get a jump on your competition? Check out these eight deep picks who could win you your leagues this season.]
3. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
This is a guy I’ll be watching for in the first round of my drafts. Not many players impressed me more last year than Johnson. He is powerful yet shifty, and while you don’t see big backs who are good receivers very often, I could really see him grow as a pass-catcher by the end of the season. On a per-opportunity basis (carries and pass targets), Johnson was the most productive back in PPR leagues and second-most productive in standard leagues last season. His attempts should at least double this year, and with so many weapons to deal with in Arizona, Johnson will get a lot of six- and seven-man boxes as a runner and lots of one-on-one man coverage as a receiver. Good luck stopping Johnson this year.
4. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks
It was stunning just to watch Rawls practice last year. His cuts were electrifying, and he paired that with surprising power. All reports are that his broken ankle from last season has healed, meaning he should return to the form that saw him average a league-best 5.6 yards per carry and the No. 1 fantasy points per opportunity average in standard leagues as an undrafted rookie. Wilson excelled without Rawls after his injury last season – I can’t wait to see what they can do together in 2016. Rawls is currently being drafted as the 13th running back off the board, so you don’t have to use a first-round pick to get him.
5. Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants
The Giants have had such a long run of playing so many different backs, but it looks this season as though they are going to let Jennings be the focal point. He is a back who can be so unspectacularly spectacular at any given moment — he's not the flashiest, but he can really be productive. He can run, he can catch, and if he is featured as the lead back in what should be a prolific Giants offense this year, he can put up some points for you. Of players with 150-plus carries last season, Jennings ranked eighth in fantasy points per opportunity. That makes him a great value, as the No. 36 back in standard league ADP right now. (PFF has him ranked No. 30.)
[How should you order this year's fantasy running backs class? Check out our latest rankings.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
There are a lot of elite fantasy wide receivers entering the season, but Hopkins is one who might be getting a little overlooked. We don’t yet know how good new starting QB Brock Osweiler will be this season, but the Texans’ quarterback situation was always in flux last year, and Hopkins still managed to put up huge numbers. He will now have two legitimate offensive threats around him in former Dolphins running back Lamar Miller and first-round WR Will Fuller, who is a deep threat I saw a ton of at Notre Dame who should draw some coverage. Hopkins is as good as there is in the NFL at winning jump balls. That one-handed game-winner against the Bengals was as good as anything I saw.
7. Devante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
I am really excited about what Parker can do in new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase’s offense. Parker will be assuming the Demaryius Thomas role in Miami, after Gase had a ton of success not just with Thomas in Denver, but also with Chicago’s bigger receivers last year. I’m expecting a lot of quick screens, slants and end-zone opportunities for Parker, who is a big, strong, physical receiver who didn’t even scratch the surface of what he’s capable of in his rookie season. We saw Gase make Bears QB Jay Cutler better last year, and I think he’ll do the same with Ryan Tannehill. Parker is currently being taken as the 34th wide receiver, so you can get him a little later.
8. Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
I'm doubling down with this pick, as White is a guy I liked a lot when he was coming out of West Virginia in the 2015 NFL draft. He is a raw route-runner with a lot to learn in terms of the basics, but he is a big, athletic target who likes to play above the rim — exactly the type of receivers Jay Cutler loves to target. Also, in that offense, the philosophy is very much to let their athletes go make plays any time they get one-on-one coverage, which should happen a lot for White with Alshon Jeffery on the other side. White is currently being drafted as the No. 36 fantasy wide receiver, and I like him as a high-upside option this year.
[Get round-by-round pick recommendations from PFF experts with our new Draft Master tool.]
9. Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints
I’ve seen Drew Brees have so much success throughout his career with bigger weapons in the middle of the field like Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, and Fleener, a free-agent signing from the Colts this offseason, is the best red-zone threat available on the Saints’ roster right now. He’ll form a great complement to smaller outside receivers Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead as a big target who can work down the middle. Despite the fact that New Orleans fell off a year ago because of its defense, Brees was still playing as well as ever. Fleener owners could benefit, as he is a guy you can likely grab after the first wave of star tight ends is off the board.
10. Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots
We’ll finish off this list with a late-round flier in Bennett who I think could have a big year in New England. The reason why the Patriots loved using their two-tight-end sets is because if you have two tight ends who can both stay in and run block, or both run routes as pass-catchers, it gives you a mismatch no matter what personnel grouping the defense uses. If they come out in pass defense, you can mash them with the run. If they come out in run defense, you can spread them out and throw.
In Rob Gronkowski and Bennett, they now have two really good blockers who are also really comfortable in space. I keep getting the feeling that they’ve really been looking for that second guy since the release of Aaron Hernandez, and Bennett’s blocking is going to keep him on the field. With coverage being drawn to Gronk and Julian Edelman, Bennett is going to get a lot of one-on-one opportunities.