It’s hard to believe that we are less than a week away from the start of regular-season NFL football. But after four weeks of exhibition games, roster cuts and surprise trades, we are days away from separating the pretenders from the contenders.
This is not just the case for your favorite franchise. The same rings true for fantasy football. Soon, team owners will be spending countless days and hours over the next five months battling for bragging rights with friends, family and co-workers alike.
To make sure you have the upper-hand and aren’t spending Thanksgiving Dinner defending an atrocious draft pick — we all know the cousin who drafted a kicker in the fifth round or the uncle who picked a wideout suspended for half the season — our team did the homework for you and has outlined 10 things you must know before your fantasy football draft.
1. Wait on a quarterback. Unless you are in position to grab Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan or Tom Brady — don’t sweat on getting a quarterback in the early rounds. If you want to win your league, load up on running backs and consistent wide receivers and grab a capable signal caller later. There will be great value picks in rounds 7-10, including the likes of Eli Manning (a proven Super Bowl champ), Carson Palmer (a veteran with a talented supporting cast) and Andy Dalton (who finally has a healthy A.J. Green back as his primary target).
2. Travis Kelce will be, hands down, the best tight end in football. The Pro Bowl MVP is coming off a career year in which he hauled in 85 receptions for 1,125 yards. With an inexperienced group of wide receivers around him, expect Kelce to be a safety blanket for quarterback Alex Smith in Kansas City’s West Coast offensive scheme.
3. The Falcons are still a fantasy football dream team. Atlanta is coming off the most devastating Super Bowl loss of all time, but don’t let the headlines get in the way of the facts — the Falcons still have a potent offensive attack that will help lead you to the promised land. In case you forgot, Matt Ryan is still the reigning 2016 NFL MVP for a reason. Outside Arizona running back David Johnson, running back Devonta Freeman might be the best dual-threat player in the league coming out of the backfield. And Julio Jones? He’s just arguably the best wide receiver in all of football and has averaged 1,500 receiving yards over the last three seasons.
4. Golden Tate will have the best season of his career. Tate has caught 90 passes in each of his three seasons with the Lions. Now, he is moving into the slot position — traditionally a more favorable spot to get targets from a quarterback — and should be Matthew Stafford’s favorite target in an offense that likes to sling the ball downfield early and often.
5. Kareem Hunt will be the best rookie running back in 2017. Unless you are a diehard Chiefs fan or went to the University of Toledo, you probably haven’t heard of Kareem Hunt. That’s ok. Hunt was Kanas City’s third-round draft pick this spring and due to injuries, he is in line to start for the Chiefs. Why is that noteworthy? Andy Reid offenses have produced a top 10 fantasy running back in 9 of the last 13 years. Count on this being the 10th in 14 years.
6. DeMaryius Thomas is still a No. 1 wide receiver. Since Peyton Manning retired at the end of the 2014 season, Thomas’ numbers have been on the a steady decline while playing with inexperienced QBs. Still, Thomas is Denver’s best offensive option by a long shot and the Broncos count on him to shoulder a heavy amount of their offensive production. Thomas received 10 or more targets in half of his games in 2016 and had a 1,000 season despite shaky quarterback play. If that is his floor as a player, just imagine his ceiling. Keep Thomas as a strong fantasy option in an AFC West division that likes to score points.
7. Don’t sleep on Larry Fitzgerald. It seems like Fitzgerald has been in the NFL forever … and well … he has been. Since starting his NFL career in 2004, he has posted seven seasons with 90-plus receptions — that happens to be a league record. His career might be coming to an end, but his production certainly has not. Fitzgerald’s production has been stellar the last two seasons, posting back-to-back 100-reception seasons — numbers that are very comparable to New York Giants superstar Odell Beckham.
8. Jimmy Graham will return to All-Pro form. Since arriving in Seattle after an All-Pro start to his career in New Orleans, Graham has never quite found that magic formula with the Seahawks. That will change in 2017. He shed 20 pounds in the offseason and his coach, Pete Carroll, says him and quarterback Russell Wilson have established great chemistry entering their third year together in the same scheme. Watch out for a monster year from one of the best tight ends in the NFL over the last decade.
9. Jay Cutler will actually be a solid fantasy option. Bears fans don’t want to hear this, but Cutler should be a very viable fantasy option in 2017. He is playing in a familiar system under a head coach he respects, Adam Gase. Not to mention, Cutler has an extremely talented nucleus of offensive weapons at his disposal. Running back Jay Ajayi is electric and the three-headed wideout attack of Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry will cause headaches for defensive coordinators throughout the league this season.
10. Pittsburgh will be the best fantasy offense in 2017. Antonio Brown is the first wide receiver off the board in most fantasy drafts, and for good reason after hauling in 106 passes for 1,284 yards with 12 touchdowns in 2016. Le’Veon Bell is a sure-fire 1,000 yard running back when healthy. Ben Roethlisberger, even at age 35, doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon after throwing for close to 4,000 yards and 29 TDs last season. It’s Super Bowl or bust this year in Pittsburgh. With expectations high, expect a lot of points out of a team that is traditionally known for their Steel Curtain defense.