Across the fantasy football landscape, average draft positions are starting to take shape. Fantasy analysts are coming back out of the woodwork armed with stats and research and we are rearing to go.
We are all trained to assess risk. A risky player isn’t necessarily a bust, or someone you should avoid. Instead, think of this list as a resource to use to determine your exposure to these players. I already drafted most of these players in my early drafts, so don’t completely avoid anyone. Instead, I encourage you to exercise caution.
Below are two guys going in each of the first five rounds where the risk might be larger than common sentiment would have you believe. Tread lightly.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall ADP per Fantasy Football Calculator: 9; fourth WR)
Last season, Evans led the league with 168 targets. However, he only caught 57 percent of them, which was the lowest completion percentage among the top-15 wideouts in both standard and PPR scoring. In 2015, he caught 51 percent of his passes. In 2014, 59 percent. In 2016, Evans totaled 1,321 yards (fourth among WRs), and scored 12 touchdowns (tied for second). Over the offseason, the Bucs signed DeSean Jackson and drafted O.J. Howard. There is a big possibility that Evans’ target share will go down, and since he hasn’t caught more than 60 percent of his targets in his NFL career, his overall totals could also take a hit.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears (Overall ADP: 11; sixth RB)
Last season, Howard only got 12 carries over the course of the first three games, but he ended the season with the second-most rushing yards (1,313) in the league as a rookie who came into the league as a fifth-round draft pick. He did that with a quarterback carousel that featured Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The quarterback situation still looks bleak, featuring a signed-then-spurned Mike Glennon and the rookie Mitchell Trubisky. And now the NFL has a year of Howard tape. Everyone knows that the Bears will run, but they knew that last year and still couldn’t stop him. The real question is if he can pull that off two years in a row? (Sorry for the bad memories, Todd Gurley owners…)
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (Overall ADP: 20; first TE)
I wrote about Gronkowski in my TEs that might bust article, as well, but it bears repeating. Gronkowski is the best fantasy tight end in the league. That is not debatable. 15.1-yard average depth per target. 3.18 yards per route run. 8.7 yards after the catch. Everything is tops. But he only played in eight games last year, and in three of those games, he caught one or fewer passes while he served as a decoy. He was cleared to practice this week and the Patriots restructured his contract with an eye on the future, but he hasn’t played a full season since 2011. You should absolutely get Gronkowski in leagues this year, but diversify.
Brandin Cooks, WR, New England Patriots (Overall ADP: 23; 11th WR)
The Patriots’ trade for Cooks was a brilliant football move, but it was scary fantasy move. I don’t mean to go back-to-back Patriots, but there are only so many targets to go around, and there are a lot of mouths to feed. If you like Cooks in Round 2, then it’s hard to also like Gronkowski there. And then where do you put Edelman? Some of the same people who love all three of those players this year, are also touting Dwayne Allen and James White as sleepers. And then there’s Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. Remember Dion Lewis? We could go on and on. Let’s also unpack the “Cook is the next Randy Moss” debate. Both are speedsters and great deep threats, but there are clear differences. For one, Cooks is 5-foot-10. Randy Moss is 6-foot-4. More importantly, Moss only played four games with Rob Gronkowski during his rookie season. He never had to share targets with this star tight end. I’m surprised Cooks’ ADP stayed this high. If it drops, I could change my tune.
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall ADP: 27; 12th RB)
Keep your eye on Ware and his camp battle with newly drafted Kareem Hunt. Ware started off the 2016 season strong but didn’t go over 100 total yards in a single game after Week 7. He also only scored one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown in that same time frame (both in the same game). Ware will need to prove that he can be the bell-cow back for an entire season, otherwise, Hunt will cut into those carries and could get a chance to take the job outright. In fact, reports out of camp indicate that Hunt may have already impressed enough to get a large slice of the usage pie.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall ADP: 32; 15th RB)
Ezekiel Elliott was the first running back drafted in 2016. He went to run behind a top-tier offensive line on a team that wanted to run the ball. That’s not what happened to Fournette. He went off the board first at his position, but he went to the Jaguars. The Jags’ offensive line ranked 22nd last year according to PFF, and their offense that only ran the ball 392 times last year (24th). The team abandoned the run on multiple occasions due to game script and their uncanny ability to get behind in the game fast and early. Jacksonville focused on improving their defense over the last few years, so the game scripts could end up favoring Fournette in some matchups, but there’s still a risk factor here due to his usage and potential issues on the offensive line.
Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints (Overall ADP: 45; 19th RB)
Last season, Peterson struggled with knee and groin injuries and therefore only carried the ball 37 times for 72 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per carry with the Minnesota Vikings. Over the offseason, he turned 32 years old and joined the Saints. New Orleans still has Mark Ingram on their roster, a younger back who rushed for 1,043 yards and caught 46 passes last season, more passes than Peterson has ever caught in any of his 10 years in the league. Then the Saints drafted Alvin Kamara, a rookie who will likely play a third-down role in the offense. No matter how you slice it, Peterson isn’t going to be the bell-cow back fantasy players are used to. A crowded backfield, a team change, a role change, and Father Time’s undefeated record makes Peterson in the fourth round a dicey choice.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders (Overall ADP: 48; 22nd WR)
Last season. I had almost 100 percent exposure to Crabtree. Same with the year before. Since Amari Cooper entered the league, Crabtree scored more fantasy points than Cooper in both standard and PPR scoring formats. However, last season Crabtree’s ADP was in the eighth round, 93rd overall. Also, Crabtree will turn 30 years old in September and Cooper will enter his third year in the league. It is very likely that Cooper will end up the higher scoring option. While I don’t think Crabtree’s production will take a nose-dive this year, he’s a far cry from the value he was in the past.
Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Giants (Overall ADP: 53; 25th WR)
Odell Beckham Jr. is the No. 1 option on the Giants. Will Marshall or slot receiver Sterling Shepard get the second-most targets? There’s no clear-cut answer to that question yet, and if you’re taking Marshall in the fifth round of your fantasy draft, then you’re drafting him to be an every-week starter. Do you want your every-week starter to be the WR3 on his team? I would answer that question with an emphatic “No.” Marshall has gone over 1,000 yards in eight seasons, but he always led the teams in targets. This is unchartered territory.
Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay Packers (Overall ADP: 57; 24th RB)
Montgomery only got double-digit carries in one game during the regular season last year. He got double-digit targets twice, Weeks 6 and 7. Three times he eclipsed 100 total yards, but was under 50 yards in 11 outings. He scored three rushing touchdowns and zero receiving touchdowns. Montgomery was impressive in the playoffs — he carried the ball 25 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns, while catching all 10 of his targets for an additional 77 yards. He focused on transitioning to running back full-time over the offseason, but can he maintain that kind of usage all season long? We haven’t seen it yet.