Every year, players either surpass, meet or fall short of expectations, both on the football field and in the fantasy realm. For fantasy purposes, drafting the players who meet or exceed expectations is absolutely crucial, especially in the early rounds. Miss in the first round and you’ll struggle to produce wins without consistent big scorers. Hit in these rounds and you’ll get consistent production every week from the guys you’re counting on. In order to make sure you do this, we’ll be rolling out one overrated player, one underrated player and one safe bet for every ten picks, based on our player rankings. This is the first story in our seven-part series as we now tackle players ranked in the 1-20 range.
Overrated: Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 5 overall, No. 2 wide receiver): There’s absolutely no denying Beckham Jr. is a superb talent, but even with the incredible start to his career, he has never finished a season as a top-three fantasy receiver in terms of total points. That doesn’t figure to change in his fourth year in the league. The Giants added Brandon Marshall, who has averaged 156 targets per year over the last 10 seasons. More importantly, though, Marshall is a red zone ballhog who finished third in the league last year in red zone target share. Expect OBJ’s overall targets and red zone targets to fall with Marshall in the mix. Basically, he’s never been a top three wide receiver before, yet he’s ranked as the No. 2 receiver despite another high-target receiver joining the team.
Underrated: Julio Jones (No. 8 overall, No. 4 wide receiver): Jones is due for a bounce-back year, and that’s saying something for a player who finished fourth among wide receivers last year in points per game last season. Jones put up yet another monster season despite only seeing nine red-zone targets last year, tied for his fewest since his rookie season. In 2015, he had a 28.9 percent red-zone target share. That number fell to 11.8 last season. His receptions and yards have always been a strong point. Expect the red-zone targets to jump back up for Jones and, in turn, a return to a top-three spot among receivers.
Safest bet: David Johnson (No. 1 overall, No. 1 running back): Yes, it’s intuitive for the No. 1 overall player in the rankings to be the most trustworthy, but it’s worth reiterating it here. Johnson hasn’t missed a game in his career, and he could seriously threaten the 1,000-1,000 club for rushing and receiving. And unlike fellow versatile threat running back Le’Veon Bell, Johnson isn’t holding out nor has ever been a risk for a suspension. If you have the No. 1 pick, do not overthink this. Go with David Johnson. And if you don’t have the No. 1 pick but he’s somehow still available, do not overthink this. Go with David Johnson.
Overrated: Dez Bryant (No. 19 overall, No. 9 wide receiver): There was a time from 2012-2014 when Bryant was a bonafide fantasy star, with season averages of 91 catches for 1312 yards and 14 touchdowns. But in the two years since, he’s missed 10 games with injuries and is barely even the top option on his own team. Last year, Bryant came in second on the team in targets, and he didn’t do much when the ball was thrown his way, finishing 87th in the league in catch rate. The Cowboys run the ball more than any other team, and when they do throw, Bryant hasn’t been able to make an impact like he did several seasons ago. Missing on your top wideout puts a huge hole in your roster. Don’t risk it with Bryant.
Underrated: Jordan Howard (No. 13 overall, No. 8 running back): Even after starting the season as Chicago’s backup running back, Howard finished sixth in the NFL with 1611 yards from scrimmage. That’s more than Jay Ajayi and Melvin Gordon, both of whom are ranked ahead of Howard. What held Howard back was a pedestrian seven touchdowns. He should be better in the red zone this year, and behind a good line and with a year’s worth of experience, he’ll be a top-five fantasy running back, not just a top-10 one.
Safest bet: Doug Baldwin (No. 18 overall, No. 8 wide receiver): Only four players have had at least 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in both of the last two seasons: Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks and Doug Baldwin. Baldwin is a perfect fit for the Seattle offense and tough around the goal-line despite his diminutive size. He’s been in the top 16 in both of the last two years in terms of red-zone receptions. He’s also outstanding after the catch, ranking in the top 11 each of the last two seasons in total YAC. (Both rankings per Player Profiler)