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2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Positional rankings, sleepers and more

A full draft kit to prepare you for the 2017 fantasy football season

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Training camp kicked off for the Ravens on Thursday, meaning that fantasy football draft season is going to kick into high gear. As you prepare for your draft, I’ve provided my rankings for each position, sleepers, big names to avoid and analysis to give you the best opportunity to win your league in 2017.


  1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
  2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
  3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
  4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
  5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
  6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
  7. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
  8. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
  9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
  10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Tom Brady topping this list wasn’t too hard of a choice. Brady missed the first four games of the 2016 season, but dominated upon his return, managing to throw the seventh most touchdown passes in the NFL. Brady has gotten upgrades in his receiving corps over the offseason, and could thus post even better numbers than a year ago.

Rodgers was the leading scorer among quarterbacks a year ago, and will stay near the top this year. With his star studded receiving corps all returning, Rodgers will once again put up a MVP caliber season.

Speaking of MVPs, Matt Ryan comes in at third on the list. While I don’t know if he can have as strong of a season as he did last year, with everyone returning on offense, Ryan should once again be among the top fantasy scorers in the NFL.

Other notables on the list include Ben Roethlisberger who was not a top 10 quarterback in standard scoring a year ago. If he can stay healthy, which is a big if, he will put up top 10 numbers with the offense he has around him. Dak Prescott just missed the top 10. As teams now have had months to look at film, Prescott may regress slightly. With so many high flying passing offenses in the NFL, Prescott may be pushed out of the top 10.

Running Backs

  1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
  2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
  4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
  5. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
  6. Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
  7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
  8. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
  9. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
  10. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

David Johnson was the leading scorer among running backs a year ago, and he will lead his position in fantasy points once again. Johnson is both the best runner and receiver of all his running back colleagues. Johnson found the end zone 20 times last year. A player that puts up big yardage numbers and consistently finds the end zone is invaluable in fantasy. In my eyes, David Johnson should be the first player selected in all fantasy drafts.

Le’Veon Bell’s health is always a risk, but when healthy, he is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and it shows in his fantasy stats. Behind one of the NFL’s better offensive lines, Bell will once again be among the top three fantasy running backs.

Ezekiel Elliott’s ranking is in part based on his current non-suspended status. If Elliott is suspended for multiple games, then his ranking drops a couple of notches. For the time being, Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards last year, and behind what is one of, if not the best offensive lines in football, he will put up big numbers once again.

I’m looking for DeMarco Murray and Jay Ajayi to repeat their breakout seasons from a year ago. While this was technically Murray’s second big breakout year, he has had down time in between his two best seasons. Instead of falling off again, I expect another big year from Murray. Quietly, the Titans are close to overtaking the Cowboys status as having the best offensive line in the NFL. It is behind that line that Murray will thrive.

Jordan Howard was a breakout star last year in his rookie season, finishing second in the NFL in rushing yards. As the primary option on a Bears offense that could have instability at quarterback, Howard could get a high volume of touches.

Despite the time he has taken off from football, Marshawn Lynch still finds his way into my top 10. He plays on one of the NFL’s best offensive units, and behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. He may not be what he once was, but he will still be productive.

Wide Receivers

  1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
  2. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
  4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  5. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
  6. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
  7. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
  8. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
  9. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
  10. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

Julio Jones is the best receiver on the NFL’s best offense. Jones had the sixth most points among receivers, and the second most receiving yards in the NFL despite missing two games. If he can stay healthy, Jones will easily emerge as the top scorer among wide receivers in 2017.

Antonio Brown was the leading scorer among receivers in 2016, and he will put up another big year in 2017. Brown averaged 19.2 points per game last year. His demotion from the number one spot is not saying that Brown will regress, but instead saying that Jones will improve. Brown will benefit from the return for Martavis Bryant who will take attention from opposing secondaries as well.

Mike Evans stays in the top five again in 2017. Jameis Winston will have a breakout year as he leads the Buccaneers to the playoffs this season, and a lot of his success will be attributed to having a superstar receiver in Evans. Evans averaged 19.0 points per game last year, expect much of the same this year.

Amari Cooper is set for a big breakout year. He will reach the top 10 in points in 2017. Cooper already has two 1,000 yard seasons, but to supplant himself as a top 10 fantasy receiver he will need to find the end zone more often. I believe that he can do so, and will become an elite receiver next year and for years to come.

Tight Ends

  1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
  2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
  3. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
  4. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
  5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
  6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
  7. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
  8. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
  9. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
  10. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The top five on this list will go without much argument. It’s the order of those five that is more up for debate. Gronkowski is the clear number one. I have Kelce second, following a 2016 season in which he led all tight ends in fantasy scoring. With Jeremy Maclin out of the picture in Kansas City, Kelce could see an even high target share.

Jordan Reed is third as arguably the top option in one of the NFL’s best passing attacks. However, Reed’s health is always a major risk. The Redskins have two 1,000 yard receivers to replace, and a good portion of that yardage will go to Reed.

Olsen and Graham at fourth or fifth could go either way. Both are among the top options on an offense with a good quarterback.

The tight end position rankings are the first to feature a rookie: O.J. Howard. Howard somehow slid all the way to the 19th pick in 2017 draft where the Buccaneers happily scooped him up. Howard is an extremely talented tight end, and he will quickly unseat Cameron Brate for the starting job. Similar to Evans, Howard will benefit from a breakout year from Jameis Winston. Expect Howard to not take long to burst onto the scene, in a campaign that could net him the Offensive Rookie of the Year.


  1. Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
  2. Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
  3. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
  4. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
  5. Matt Prater, Detroit Lions
  6. Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
  7. Will Lutz, New Orleans Saints
  8. Dustin Hopkins, Washington Redskins
  9. Cairo Santos, Kansas City Chiefs
  10. Caleb Sturgis, Philadelphia Eagles

Tucker is the clear top option among kickers. The Ravens star kicker finished second in scoring behind Matt Bryant by just two points in 2016. The Ravens offense, even with the loss of Kenneth Dixon for the year, should be better than a year ago, and Tucker should get more opportunities. Expect the most accurate kicker in NFL history to take full advantage.

Bryant is second to Tucker after he led kickers in points in 2016. As the kicker on the NFL’s best offense, Bryant will be used heavily once again.

Will Lutz was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent last year, but was let go before the season started. Lutz played well for the Ravens during the preseason, and signed on with the Saints after the Ravens released him. Lutz went on to surprise everyone and win the starting kicker job for New Orleans. Lutz had a strong rookie season, and will repeat it again in 2017. Plus, it always helps to play in an offense run by Drew Brees.

Defense/Special Teams

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. Minnesota Vikings
  4. Kansas City Chiefs
  5. Arizona Cardinals
  6. New England Patriots
  7. New York Giants
  8. Baltimore Ravens
  9. Houston Texans
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Denver Broncos star studded secondary, paired with one of the league’s best pass rushers, will be one of the toughest units to move the ball against in 2017. The Broncos keep you off the scoreboard, and they consistently create turnovers. This unit finished second in scoring last year, but will move to the top spot in 2017.

The Seahawks defensive posted their worst fantasy season since 2010 last year. The biggest reason was the unit failed to create a lot of turnovers. On top of that, Seattle struggled to stay healthy, namely Earl Thomas. If the defense can stay healthy, then a rise back up the rankings should not come as a surprise.

The Vikings were the top fantasy defense a year ago, but it was really a tale of two halves for the Vikings. The team started the year with five double digits fantasy point weeks in the first six games. Down the stretch however, the unit was largely inconsistent. There is so much talent on this defense, they will once again be among the NFL’s best.

The Chiefs defense was inconsistent last year, and it sure doesn’t help that they will face the Patriots in Foxboro this year, and play in the same division as the Raiders. This defense is very talented and can create turnovers. However, the real value with this unit comes in special teams, where Tyreek Hill emerged last season as a weapon in the return game. His production will boost the Chiefs defense again this year.

The Ravens defense finished seventh in points last year, and largely improved over the offseason. The secondary failed the defense at times, but now it looks to be one of the strengths of the team. Expect another strong year from Baltimore. I have them falling one spot down from last year due to the Patriots improved secondary vaulting that unit up the road.

Sleepers to target

  1. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  2. Vance McDonald, TE, San Francisco 49ers
  3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
  4. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
  5. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants

I’ve ranked Howard in the top 10, and with the hype that he has coming into the NFL, he may not be sleeper. However, he is not regarded as a top option at the position yet. In an offense that is set to climb toward the top of the NFL this year, Howard will quickly emerge as a highly regarded fantasy tight end. You won’t have to spend a high pick on him, and he could really help your team.

McDonald has quietly been a pretty good tight end on a really bad team. The 49ers options in the passing game are very limited, and as a result, McDonald could see a big target share. Projected starting quarterback Brian Hoyer may lean on McDonald as one of his only reliable options.

With the exposure he had in college, Deshaun Watson is already a big name. However, he is not one of the top quarterback options, in fact he hasn’t even won the starting job yet. But with the only competition being Tom Savage, Watson should be able to win the job. Of all the rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, Watson is in the best position to succeed. He is surrounded by a good offensive line, a good running back and DeAndre Hopkins. Watson in an intriguing quarterback option in the later rounds.

Josh Doctson was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, but injuries have prevented him from making an impact in Washington. With DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon now both out of the picture, Doctson should be able to win a starting job, and take advantage of the targets that will have to be spread around in their absence. In the high flying Redskins offense, Doctson can prove worthy of his draft placement as long as he can stay healthy.

The Giants running game may be the only thing keeping it back from Super Bowl contention. Paul Perkins may be the best running back on the roster. With a good training camp, I expect Perkins to win the Giants starting job outright. In what should be a really good passing offense between Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, Perkins should have room to run. Look for him in late rounds as a possible flex option.

Big names to avoid

  1. Todd Gurley III, RB, Los Angeles Rams
  2. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
  3. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers

Gurley III underwhelmed last year in the Rams poor offense. With the addition of offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Rams offensive line should improve in 2017. But this may not matter for Gurley III, as opposing defenses can still stack the box against him. Until Jared Goff and the Rams passing attack proves that they can actually move the ball, defenses will key in on Gurley III. I need to see the Rams passing game improve before trusting Gurley III once again.

Carlos Hyde is in what could be a volatile situation. Reports have swirled that Hyde may be a surprise cut in training camp this year. Head coach Kyle Shanahan seems to love rookie running back Joe Williams, and the possibility of a committee is certainly in play in San Francisco. Odds are that Hyde will not be cut, but he may not have the same domination of the carries that he had last year.

The Bengals lost Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency this summer. Their offensive line is set to take a big step down from a year ago, a line that wasn’t all that great to start with. As a result, Dalton may find himself the victim of many a sack this year. Expect a downturn in Dalton’s production as he spends much of his season running for his life.

Davante Adams’ growth in the Green Bay offense directly correlates to a decline in Randall Cobb’s production. Adams finished just three yards shy of a 1,000 yard season, and has gained more of Aaron Rodgers’ trust with each game that goes by. Cobb will see less targets as Adams gets more. Despite having Aaron Rodgers as the quarterback, there just aren’t enough targets for everyone, and Cobb will be the big loser this year.

That concluded my 2017 fantasy football draft kit. Good luck in your draft!