In Season 11, Episode 13 of The Simpsons (‘Saddlesore Galactica’), Marge is at Springfield Downs, reading over a betting brochure.
“So many horses,” Marge exclaims “I don’t know who to vote for! Can’t I just bet that all the horses will have a fun time?” she asks the bookie.
“Yeah, I think you want that line over there,” The bookie replies, pointing out the ‘Wuss Bets’ window.
At some point, fantasy writers must take a stand on what they believe is right, or else we’re all just here having fun like Marge. I could tell you right now, barring injury, that Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, David Johnson, and Mike Evans will all have elite fantasy seasons. Nor is it very bold to say Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck will be at the top of the quarterback rankings in January 2018. Eventually, we all need to take shots, as it’s the players rising above fantasy expectations who ultimately win you your league. Never one to shy away from the chance to be proven wrong, here are six flag players I am absolutely enamored with entering the 2017 fantasy season. These are six guys you will want to buy now prior to the start of the 2017 season, as they will have skyrocketed in value by January 2018. I’m willing to reap the rewards of owning these players now, or risk going down with the ship for putting my faith so strongly in their abilities.
Doug Martin, RB TBB
Bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, Martin turned 319 rushing attempts into 1454 yards and 11 touchdowns. Martin finished the campaign behind only Adrian Peterson as the RB2. Dynasty owners took immediate notice, thrusting Martin into the upper echelon of running back values. After an injury-shortened sophomore campaign followed by a disappointing 2014 where Martin failed to top 500 yards rushing, Martin slipped down to the RB33 prior to his fourth season according to DLF’s June 2015 ADP data. The contract-year former stud was left for dead by dynasty owners, being drafted behind Tre Mason, Alfred Morris, and C.J. Spiller. Martin proved his doubters wrong by exploding in 2015 for 1402 yards on 288 rushing attempts and 6 touchdowns, finishing as the PPR RB4. He was immediately signed to a 5 year, $36 million contract with Tampa Bay. 2016 ended up being a lost year, as Martin battled injuries before being suspended four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. After serving one game of the suspension in 2016, Martin will miss the first three games of the 2017 campaign. Once again, dynasty owners have given up on Martin. There were reports he could be released by the Buccaneers early in the offseason, with a replacement drafted or signed in free agency. Neither of these scenarios took place, other than fifth-round draftee Jeremy McNichols; Martin still finds himself as the most talented runner in an improving Tampa Bay offensive attack.
Offseason reports have been extremely positive, as Martin has taken the time to get healthy and focus on his training and conditioning. He has attended a drug rehabilitation program, saying and doing all the right things thus far. The Bucs added veteran receiver DeSean Jackson and drafted promising tight end prospect O.J. Howard in an effort to improve an already impressive offense which features emerging franchise quarterback Jameis Winston and dynasty stud Evans. The renewed focus on his health, coupled with the lack of wear and tear his lack of recent play affords him, means Martin should be due for a bounce-back campaign in the impressive Tampa Bay offense. He excels in an area where Tampa Bay has a clear need, a tough between the tackles runner with the skill to prolong drives and chew up yards and clock. At a current startup ADP of 106 overall, Martin is an incredible value to owners who load up at other positions early in the draft. By the end of the 2017 season, Martin will be a top-50 dynasty asset and a top-12 option at running back.
Alshon Jeffery, WR PHI
While his current ADP (29th overall according to DLF’s June numbers) seems to be steadily climbing, I still feel Jeffery is widely ignored by the dynasty community when it comes to ranking the top-end talent at the wide receiver position. This is a player who has twice surpassed 1000 yards receiving in the past four years as the PPR WR8 and 10 during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Injuries, suspensions, and playing for inferior teams have hampered the former second-round pick, but Jeffery has shown the ability to be a WR1 for dynasty teams. Finally free of the messy situation which is the Chicago Bears, Jeffery has taken his talents to Philadelphia, signing a one-year prove-it contract as a free agent. He has done this, despite reports he had been offered multiple-year, more lucrative contracts from other teams. Jeffery is betting on himself to have a bounce-back year in which he reestablishes his value and is thus able to land a bigger contract next offseason. This type of bold gamble is why I like Jeffery to have an enormous statistical season, and why he is one of my flag players. The Eagles weren’t content to only add Jeffery to sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz’s arsenal this offseason. They also signed veteran deep threat Torrey Smith, drafted impressive pass-catching running back Donnel Pumphrey, and then signed 2016 NFL touchdown leader LeGarrette Blount to compliment slot machine Jordan Matthews, ageless wonder Darren Sproles, and talented tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles front office believes Wentz is a franchise quarterback and are looking to surround him with as much talent as possible to ensure his success early in his development. In Jeffery, the Eagles have acquired a prototypical WR1 who commands targets and forces opposing defenses to focus on him at all times. Reports are positive from the Eagles regarding their new wideout, with coach Doug Peterson recently listing him as a player who stood out at OTAs. The plethora of options at Wentz’s disposal should mean Jeffery should find himself with favorable matchups to exploit, and his motivation to have a good statistical season should guarantee maximum effort level. Look for Jeffery to reestablish himself as a top-end wide receiver in dynasty leagues, and be a top-15 overall selection by January 2018.
Paul Perkins, RB NYG
I’ve written previously about my man-crush as well as making my feelings clear on Twitter and the Dynasty One podcast, as Paul Perkins is in line for a great 2017 season. Though he only averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season in New York, he was finally able to show glimpses of his talent in Week 17’s win over Washington, posting 102 yards on 21 carries as the clear alpha in the Giants’ backfield committee. With Wayne Gallman and journeyman Shaun Draughn brought in this offseason and pass-catching specialist Shane Vereen in year seven of “sleeper” status, everyone is ignoring Perkins, evidenced by his current ADP ranking of 103 overall. He has previously and will have a chance to thrive in Ben McAdoo’s system. Over a three-year collegiate career with UCLA, Perkins rushed for over 3500 yards and 32 total touchdowns. He has shown an ability to play in passing and running situations and seems to improve when given larger workloads. Still just 22 years old and free of Rashad Jennings’ underwhelming shadow, Perkins will be given every opportunity to assert himself atop the Giants’ depth chart.
The team has added veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall this offseason to an already fearsome receiving corps which includes Beckham and Sterling Shepard as well as highly touted tight end prospect Evan Engram. Opposing defenses will be forced to respond to these options, opening room on the ground for the elusive Perkins to capitalize on. New York finished 29th in the league last season in rushing yards and 22nd in rushing attempts due in large part to poor offensive line play and Jennings’ inability to create yards on his own. Perkins was praised in the pre-draft process for his creativity, cutting ability, and quick moves which allowed him to make big plays at the collegiate level, skills we saw once he was handed the reigns at the end of the 2016 season. Entering his second full offseason with NFL level coaching, look for him to utilize these skills in an improved Giants offensive attack. Vereen will certainly have a role provided he can stay healthy, and Gallman will be eased in as a complimentary player, but there is no reason Perkins will not garner the lion’s’ share of backfield work due to his familiarity and experience in the system. Watch as Perkins finishes the season as a top 20 running back and becomes a top 30 overall option in dynasty leagues by this time next season.
Austin Hooper, TE ATL
The dynasty tight end landscape will be undergoing massive change in the next couple seasons. Always a treacherous position to rank, the only constant in recent seasons has been Rob Gronkowski’s role as the alpha-dog atop the list. Behind him a variety of young potential, veteran stopgaps, and one-hit-wonders have filled out the yearly top twelve. Veteran options such as Greg Olsen, Jason Witten, and Delanie Walker are reaching the tail ends of their careers, while others such as Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed are constantly clouded by injury concerns. Younger players such as Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and Tyler Eifert have become solid fantasy contributors in recent seasons, but the position was in need of a talent infusion. The 2017 NFL draft saw a number of hyped-up names get selected to positive situations. Howard was picked by Tampa Bay, David Njoku will be backing up Seth DeValve in Cleveland, Gerald Everett was drafted by the Rams to be their offense’s Reed, and Evan Engram latched on with the Giants. This infusion of talent has dynasty owners once again thinking positively about the future of tight ends. Add to this list the 2016 class included Hunter Henry of the Chargers, Tyler Higbee of the Rams, and my personal favorite Austin Hooper. Hooper, selected in the third round by Atlanta, turned pro after his redshirt sophomore season. Though never topping 500 yards in a season at Stanford, Hooper showed strong hands and above-average blocking ability in both running and passing situations. On a team which utilizes the running backs in the passing game like Atlanta tends to do, these pass protection and blocking skills should benefit Hooper in the form of additional playing time. Hooper caught 2 of his 3 red zone targets last season, both for touchdowns. Look for these numbers to expand, as Hooper will take the bulk of the departed Jacob Tamme’s 14 red zone targets. With Tamme not returning, this leaves the underwhelming Levine Toilolo as Hooper’s main competition for playing time and targets. The Falcons targeted their tight ends 82 times this past season, and Hooper should see the majority of those looks going forward.
The Falcons’ high-scoring offense was potent enough to propel them to a Super Bowl berth and will continue to be a force with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman returning for another year. Ryan has shown the ability to support a highly productive tight end in the past, having worked with all-time great Tony Gonzalez during the 2012 and 2013 seasons where Gonzalez finished as the TE2 in PPR formats back-to-back. While Hooper is nowhere near as naturally skilled as Gonzalez, I do see him having a highly productive season and gaining momentum in dynasty rankings moving forward. Hooper will have a top 10 tight end season, propelling up draft boards and ADP ranks following the year. Look for him to improve significantly on his current 134th overall ADP and be found somewhere in the top 75 range in January, leapfrogging more established yet less consistent producers like Eifert, Ertz, Graham, and Henry.
Joe Mixon, RB CIN
Character concerns and off-the-field issues have never dissuaded the Cincinnati Bengals from acquiring a talented football player who could benefit their organization. The Bengals hope Oklahoma standout Joe Mixon brings first round production despite being taken at a bargain price in the second round of the draft. Mixon’s collegiate tape speaks for itself: a decisive, elusive, and powerful runner, he can immediately step in at the NFL level and be a three-down back. He has the size to be a physical runner at 6’1 and 226 pounds, but also the quick feet and steady hands to be deployed as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. In Cincinnati, Mixon will immediately slot into a role on offense, needing only to leapfrog underachieving Jeremy Hill and currently injured Giovani Bernard on the depth chart. Coach Marvin Lewis has always been a proponent of balanced offensive attacks, evidenced by the fact the Bengals ranked 9th in the league in rushing attempts per game and 6th in rushing touchdowns despite injuries and ineffectiveness at the position most of the year. The passing game is headlined by all-pro A.J. Green, top-tier tight end Eifert, and hyped-up rookie John Ross, a combination which should keep opposing defenses honest and allow for room in the running game for Mixon. Fellow 2017 rookies Leonard Fournette, Corey Davis, and Christian McCaffrey are all receiving more positive reviews and are being selected higher in rookie drafts, but I see Mixon being the most productive first-year player on offense this season. Provided he can keep his name clean and not let his off-field issues impact his on-field opportunity, Joe Mixon will be a steal at his current 27th overall ADP. By January 2018, Mixon will be top 10 overall dynasty startup pick after an offensive rookie of the year season. The top tier of running backs will go from three to four deep following his 2017 rookie campaign.
Amari Cooper, WR OAK
It is hard to envision much room for improvement from a player currently being selected as the seventh overall player according to June ADP, but Cooper has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Still just 23 years old, the future looks amazingly bright for Cooper and the rest of the Raiders offense. Quarterback Derek Carr has firmly established himself as a cornerstone franchise signal caller while playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Veteran Michael Crabtree provides a constant threat opposite Cooper to draw away defensive coverage, while newly signed Jared Cook hopes to carry over his impressive 2016 postseason run into being a reliable target for Carr. Recently unretired Marshawn Lynch joins the Raiders as another weapon for the opposition to concern themselves with running, meaning even more opportunity for Cooper to utilize his elite route-running and ability to win contested catches. The Raiders have been pass-happy in recent seasons, finishing 9th overall in attempts per game and 13th in passing yards in 2016. As Carr and Cooper continue to improve and mature, it is clear Cooper is in for a special year in his third season in the league. One area to look for the Cooper-Carr connection to improve is in the red zone. In 2016, Cooper was targeted 7 times inside the 10-yard line without a catch, while only 5 of 13 inside the 20-yard line. Despite this, Cooper still finished as the PPR WR14. Watch for him to improve on both his yardage totals and his touchdowns, finishing as a top-3 PPR wide receiver in 2017 and be a top-3 dynasty pick in January 2018 behind Beckham and Evans.