Calculated risks are integral to winning championships in fantasy football. Considering the volatile nature of the game, you might even say they're unavoidable. But the key word there is calculated. So when you're drafting players for your cleverly named fantasy team (which is almost certainly a pun of some sort), don't strain your neck looking at their high ceilings the whole time. Make sure to peek at their floor; see what's going on down there.
Mock drafts are an excellent way to gather intel on how starry-eyed owners are about certain players. We'll use each player's Average Draft Position thus far to get a handle on their risk/reward potential. (All ADP numbers come from the experts at Fantasy Pros.)
Just to be clear, we're not telling you not to draft the players listed below, as it's possible one of them will be the key to unlocking that fantasy trophy case -- thus giving you endless ammunition to hurl, gleefully, at your opponents all season long. Just don't reach too far for them. It might also be wise to draft plenty of safer options around them in case the rewards don't live up to the risk.
32 ARIZONA CARDINALS - JOHN BROWN
ADP: 121 Overall, WR48
It's hard to call anyone on the Cardinals roster a "risk" because only two players are going in the Top 100 -- David Johnson at #2 and Larry Fitzgerald at #61 -- and both of them should have pretty secure production. Next on the draft board is John Brown. Of everyone in the Cardinals' receiving group, Brown has the highest upside. He and J.J. Nelson are currently fighting for the No. 2 spot, though Brown excels more as a deep threat.
But there are still some health concerns to factor in. Even though reports indicate Brown should be fully healthy this year, it's hard to ignore his battles with sickle cell anemia that played a huge part in his career-low stats last season. If the issue isn't resolved as the team believes, it's possible Brown's stats are once again stunted.
31 ATLANTA FALCONS - MATT RYAN
ADP: 50 Overall, QB4
Last season Matt Ryan posted the 2nd-highest fantasy numbers for quarterbacks just behind Aaron Rodgers, despite being drafted many, many rounds later than the Green Bay gunslinger in most leagues. And with good reason, The season prior, Matty Ice ranked a cool 19th amongst fantasy QBs. So...what changed?
Besides Mohamed Sanu gaining a bit more fantasy relevance as a Falcon, most of the key offensive pieces were the same from one season to the next. That should be concerning for anyone thinking about drafting him just behind Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees, because Ryan's only finished as a Top 5 fantasy QB one other year, in 2012. It's tough to believe last year wasn't a bit of an outlier. He's still a lock to put up some big numbers, but be weary of chasing after him too early.
30 BALTIMORE RAVENS - JEREMY MACLIN
ADP: 104 Overall, WR41
Jeremy Maclin should, at the very least, put up better stats than last year when he sat four games due to a groin injury. After returning in Week 14, Maclin seemed to have lost a step, posting meager numbers in all but one of his last four games. But to be fair, he wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard before his injury, either.
Maclin's role as the slot receiver in a Ravens offense that desperately needs consistency should give him a safe week-to-week floor in PPR leagues. But the question is whether he'll benefit catching passes from Joe Flacco, who hurls the ball downfield so much you'd think he has a serious grudge against his shoulder socket. Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman might be safer picks in this offense, and you can grab them a couple rounds later than Maclin.
29 BUFFALO BILLS - SAMMY WATKINS
ADP: 34 Overall, WR16
Sammy Watkins is currently going in the 3rd round because he was a 1st round pick once upon a time, and dammit, this is the year he finally lives up to his full potential! But for Watkins, all we have to go on this year is hope. We hope he can shrug off those pesky ankle and foot injuries. We hope he can have a career year.
Because even in his best year, Watkins just barely squeaked out a Top 15 finish. Then again, he didn't have another receiver on the opposite side of the field to keep defenders honest. If Zay Jones is able to come in and make an immediate impact, Watkins would have a chance to be the constant threat he's being drafted as. But only if he's able to suit up every week.
28 CAROLINA PANTHERS - CAM NEWTON
ADP: 81 Overall, QB8
Cam Newton is still being drafted based on his outrageously productive 2015 season. Newton just squeaked into the Top 20 last season, and failed to crack the Top 15 in 2014. Then again, he was in the Top 6 in his first three seasons.
After spending the majority of 2016 being ping-ponged around the field by defenders, it's logical to assume the Panthers' primary focus this season will be on protecting their franchise quarterback. And that starts with limiting his scrambles.
Could Christian McCaffrey help Newton recover from his subpar 2016 season? The sky is the limit for Christian McCaffrey. Unfortunately, his floor is the Gulf of Mexico; it really all depends on how well he plays as a rookie.
27 CHICAGO BEARS - JORDAN HOWARD
ADP: 16 Overall, RB9
The good news is that, like Todd Gurley last year, you can guarantee Jordan Howard will receive an abundance of touches. The bad news is that, like Todd Gurley last year, there aren't any weapons surrounding him to take the pressure off.
The stud running back's production will depend almost entirely on how efficient the pair of Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky will be at quarterback. The Bears lack a true #1 receiver at the moment, so unless Cameron Meredith or Kevin White make a huge leap this season or the QBs are able to elevate the position (which is highly unlikely), defenses won't be afraid to stack the box against Howard.
26 CINCINATTI BENGALS - JOE MIXON
ADP: 40 Overall, RB17
This year's rookie draft class was loaded at the running back position, and it figures that about a dozen of them will have an immediate impact on their teams. But only a handful -- Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon -- are being bandied about as potential Top 25 RBs.
Mixon had the meekest stats of those four, but he goes into a backfield situation that's ripe for the taking. Jeremy Hill hasn't lived up to his rookie year breakthrough in the last couple of seasons, and Giovani Bernard is returning from a torn ACL. Hill is likely to enter the season as the starter, but there's an opportunity for Mixon to leapfrog to the top of the depth chart. Considering the Bengals frustrating backfield history, though, it's just as likely he'll get caught up in a timeshare with Hill and Bernard.
25 CLEVELAND BROWNS - COREY COLEMAN
ADP: 111 Overall, WR43
The Browns have a clear need for a No 1 receiver, but right now you're drafting Cleveland receivers based entirely on upside. Coach Hue Jackson thinks Corey Coleman can "make the jump" in his second year, but expectations for a big stat boost should be tempered for now. Yes, Terrelle Pryor's exodus frees up plenty of targets, but it's likely most of those go to newly-acquired Kenny Britt.
Coleman has been dealing with lingering hamstring issues since his freshman year of college, which caused him to miss minicamps this offseason. Meanwhile, Britt posted a 1,000-yard season catching passes from the duo of Case Keenum and Jared Goff in an offense that ranked 31st in passing yards. Britt's ADP is 122, making him a more obvious pick.
24 DALLAS COWBOYS - EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
ADP: 3 Overall, RB3
If it weren't for a possible suspension looming overhead -- and a solid batch of other off-the-field shenanigans to boot -- Elliott would be an obvious Top 5 pick, and deserves his current ADP. Even if he regresses from last year's bonkers stat lines (16 TDs, just shy of 2,000 yards from scrimmage), it's impossible to see him putting together much less than 1,200 yards on the ground.
But that four-game suspension puts him in the same situation Le'Veon Bell was last year. Obviously, Bell went on to have another outrageously productive season when he returned, but Elliott also has to contend with Darren McFadden's return to the backfield. McFadden isn't the workhorse Elliott is, but he'll be the starter in those first 4 games if Zeke has to sit. If McFadden he performs like he did in 2015, it'll be tough not to give him a bigger role than Alfred Morris had last year. There's also speculation there will be a heavier emphasis on the passing game if Dak Prescott takes a step forward in his sophomore season.
23 DENVER BRONCOS - C.J. ANDERSON
ADP: 58 Overall, RB23
If the NFL's backfields were a meaty buffet, the Broncos running backs would be those mystery kabobs at the last table that don't have a nameplate over them. They don't look half bad, and you're fairly sure they won't give you food poisoning, but there are far tastier-looking options to sink your teeth into.
Rolling the dice on anyone in Denver's backfield -- especially as your RB2 -- is an ill-advised move as long as the offensive line keeps cutting them off at the knees. The team ranked 27th in rushing yards per game last season and 28th in yards per attempt. There's also no clear-cut favorite to start at the moment.
22 DETROIT LIONS - AMEER ABDULLAH
ADP: 76 Overall, RB31
The Broncos O-line may be questionable, but Detroit's guard and tackle situation is downright gnarly. The group was 30th in the league in rushing yards per game last year, and they may have actually gotten worse during the offseason with the loss of Taylor Decker. Ameer Abdullah will spend much of this year running in quicksand.
The only positive is that the Lions didn't add anyone to the backfield via free agency or the draft, so Abdullah seems to be the entrenched starter. But after an underwhelming rookie year and a lost sophomore season, the former Cornhusker needs to prove his foot is healthy and he can still flash some of those eye-popping Nebraska moves before he's considered even a flex option in standard leagues.
21 GREEN BAY PACKERS - MARTELLUS BENNETT
ADP: 85 Overall, TE8
A lot of folks are worried about Ty Montgomery's status as the No. 1 running back in Green Bay, but their former wide receiver (who played running back in high school, mind you), should be heavily involved in the Packers' high-powered offense one way or another. No, the bigger question mark for fantasy owners is how Martellus Bennett's talents will be utilized.
Bennett posted excellent numbers last year, largely because he was pushed to the forefront after Gronk was sidelined for most of the season. (Tom Brady loves his tight ends. Passionately.) But consider Bennett's numbers over the 4 games Gronk was actually on the field and fully healthy: 155 yards, 0 TDs. Marty B has gone on record saying he likes to block more than he likes to catch, which should worry those drafting him as a mid-field threat. It's entirely possible Richard Rogers and Lance Kendricks soak up more targets while Bennett blasts away at defenders.
20 HOUSTON TEXANS - LAMAR MILLER
ADP: 25 Overall, RB13
Is Lamar Miller a feature running back or not? After finally being handed the reigns to the backfield in Houston last season, most fantasy owners were frothing at the mouth to see what Miller would do with an increased workload. He responded with a career low 4.0 yard per carry, and a drop-off in both touchdowns (6) and receiving yards (188).
Now that 3rd-round draft pick D'Onta Foreman is also in the picture, Miller might see a significant decrease in carries to around the 200 mark once again, which might actually help his stats. Or, Foreman could completely show him up and take over the starting gig, relegating Miller to a change-of-pace option. Either way, it's tough to envision Miller as anything close to an RB1 this year, especially in standard formats.
19 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - FRANK GORE
ADP: 77 Overall, RB29
Frank Gore will be put on lists like these until he finally retires...or collapses on the field as a 64-year-old stud running back. While Tom Brady has been absorbing all the headlines about defying Father Time, Indy's 34-year-old running back quietly plodded along for another 1,000 yard season (the 9th of his career) last year.
But like Brady, the wheels have to come off some time. Right? The Colts know it, and they took Marlon Mack in the 4th round of this year's draft for some insurance. (The last time they took a running back in the first four rounds was 2011.) History shows you should never count Gore out, but fantasy owners should be weary of a drop-off in yards per carry, which could lead to more touches for Mack. Also, never underestimate Robert Turbin's ability to vulture touchdowns.
18 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - ALLEN ROBINSON
ADP: 36 Overall, WR17
Last season, Allen Robinson finished a woeful 29th among all wide receivers in fantasy points. Because he was catching balls from Blake Bortles, that's why. This year, Robinson hopes to receive a little help from LSU stud Leonard Fournette. Unfortunately, he'll still be catching balls from Blake Bortles. And that makes him a risky play once again.
Those drafting Robinson in the 3rd round are hoping for a return to 2015 form, when he amassed 1,400 yards and tied for the league lead with 14 TDs. Fournette -- along with a seemingly improved offensive line -- should make things a little easier on Bortles, but the up-and-down QB is too much of a wild card to have much confidence in Robinson's WR17 ADP.
17 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - TYREEK HILL
ADP: 49 Overall, WR24
This dynamic receiver excelled as a gadget player last season, but was on the field for a paltry 416 snaps. The key to sustainability in fantasy is consistent targets/touches, and Tyreek Hill did not have either in 2016. It's no guarantee he'll have more going forward. The release of Jeremy Maclin did open up some targets for the rest of the wide receivers, but Chris Conley looks to inherit the majority of those as he's the closest thing to a WR1 Kansas City employs.
Hill might remain a utility player in Andy Reid's offense, which makes him an extremely volatile play from week to week. Taking him above guys like Martavis Bryant and Golden Tate seems crazy, especially considering Hill never had a game of more than 100 receiving yards.
16 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS - KEENAN ALLEN
ADP: 43 Overall, WR20
Are Keenan Allen's days as WR1 over? He's been unable to recreate his stellar rookie season numbers due to mounting injuries, and now he'll be coming back from an ACL tear. Does he have a Jordy Nelson Comeback Player of the Year season in him?
True, when healthy, Allen was capable of putting up monster numbers. (In 2015, he had at least 12 catches and 133 yards in 3 of the 8 games he played.) But that was when the Chargers had no run game to speak of, and Allen was the main mouth to feed in the wide receiving corp. That's just not the case anymore. Allen should be drafted as a WR2 based on his tremendous upside, but taking him as a true must-start is a fool's errand.
15 LOS ANGELES RAMS - TODD GURLEY
ADP: 21 Overall, RB 11
It's no guarantee that Gurley bounces back from his rough sophomore season. Sure, it seems almost impossible for him to perform worse than his 3.2 yards per carry last year, but Gurley regaining fantasy relevance in 2017 will hinge on two things: 1) New O-line additions Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan providing a serious upgrade in protection, and 2) Jared Goff elevating his game just enough to keep defenses from once again stacking the box.
If those two things don't happen, expect more of the same from Gurley, who had the 5th most touches of all running backs last year (278) but finished just 20th overall in points.
14 MIAMI DOLPHINS - JAY AJAYI
ADP: 14 Overall, RB8
The phrase "boom or bust" feels like it was invented just for Jay Ajayi's 2016 season. In the 12 games he started last year, Ajayi eclipsed 200 yards three times. But he exceeded 100 yards just once more, while failing to hit at least 60 yards five times. The problem was Ajayi became a must-start for the season based on those first two back-to-back 200 yard games, and he's still being drafted as such going into the 2017 season.
Regression should be expected, even if Ajayi receives the monster workload Adam Gase suggested this offseason. (We're talking Zeke Elliot touches.) That, by the way, seems almost impossible, since Ajayi isn't a great pass catcher. Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake should still fill that role. Besides, the Dolphins' feeble O-line will force Ajayi to keep those high yards-after-contact numbers in order to sustain any kind of consistency. And we all know that can wear on a guy.
13 MINNESOTA VIKINGS - DALVIN COOK
ADP: 57 Overall, RB22
It's not exactly a trade secret that Mike Zimmer would like to run the ball more this year. He brought on Latavius Murray, drafted Florida State sensation Dalvin Cook, and made some moves to shore up the offensive line. The only question is, did they do enough to fill in those O-line weaknesses? Minnesota's rushing unit ranked dead last in yards per carry last season, so boosting those stats to the middle third of the league would be a boon.
In PPR leagues, Cook is an obvious choice. But expecting him to be an every-down kind of guy, especially in his rookie season behind an unproven O-line, is a bit much. Murray could be the between-the-tackles thumper, especially in the first half of the season, and Jerrick McKinnon didn't just go away. Cook very well could be a low-end RB2 this year, but there are too many variables to call it a sure thing.
12 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - BRANDIN COOKS
ADP: 28 Overall, WR12
We all know by now never to draft a New England running back in the first couple of rounds, but why do people still trip over themselves to draft multiple Patriots receivers so early in fantasy drafts? There are just too many weapons in this offense to trust that any of them will be a Top 10 receiver at the end of the season.
The Patriots haven't fielded a Top 25 WR duo since Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2008. And yet, both Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman are being taken in the Top 25 at the position. Those hoping the Pats can recreate that magical 2008 season are forgetting about Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, James White, Dion Lewis and, oh yeah, Rob Gronkowski, any and all of whom could eat into the target share pretty significantly depending on the week. If you have to go with one, wait on Edelman, who should still be around in Round 4.
11 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - MARK INGRAM
ADP: 52 Overall, RB20
There's actually not anyone on the Saints roster that can be called "risky" for fantasy purposes, because everyone fits pretty nicely onto their ADP. So if we have to choose someone who might cause you headaches throughout the season, let's go with Mark Ingram.
Ingram's been hovering around the RB1 level in fantasy for the last three years, but now he has actual competition in Adrian Peterson. Sure, Peterson may not be the beast he was in 2015, but it's hard to believe he won't put up some solid numbers working behind a better O-line than he had last season. Look for him to cut into Ingram's touches as the season wears on.
10 NEW YORK GIANTS - ODELL BECKHAM JR.
ADP: 6 Overall, WR3
I know, I know. It seems pretty stupid to list a guy who's finished as a Top 5 fantasy receiver every year he's been in the league as a risk. You're going to take Beckham in the first round if given the opportunity. You're going to take him above guys like Michael Thomas and Jordy Nelson. But you should know that there's an outside chance OBJ posts career-low numbers this season.
Brandon Marshall is going to get plenty of targets, and if Sterling Shepard makes the leap this year, Beckham will be involved in a legitimate trio of receiving studs. Toss in 1st-round rookie tight end Evan Engram and Beckham's numbers are bound to take a bit of a hit. Don't expect 1,300 yards and 10 TDs this year.
9 NEW YORK JETS - BILAL POWELL
ADP: 75 Overall, RB28
Unsurprisingly, there aren't many Jets players showing up in the Top 300 lists of fantasy experts. What is surprising, is that the feverishly rebuilding squad -- that cut ties with just about anyone old enough to have seen Jurassic Park in its original theatrical run -- held onto a 31-year-old running back. Even more shocking is that the starting gig still appears to be Matt Forte's to lose.
We know that Bilal Powell is going to leapfrog Forte into the starting role eventually, we just don't know when. What makes the situation even more maddening is that Jets offensive coordinator John Morton recently said "Every game is going to be different with different personnel groupings." In other words, the best-case scenario is that Powell just found himself in a running back by committee.
8 OAKLAND RAIDERS - MARSHAWN LYNCH
ADP: 24 Overall, RB12
It's highly unlikely Beast Mode falls to Round 3 of your draft. Part of it's nostalgia, but part of it's simply that he has too much going for him to fail. Hometown return? Check. Top-rated offensive line? Heck yes, check. Stellar supporting cast? Checks on checks on checks.
Still, we can't ignore the fact that Marshawn's been away from the game for an entire year, and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry after undergoing sports hernia surgery in his last season with the Seahawks. It's impossible to know whether Lynch will be more of a Tiki Barber or an Ahman Green in his 30s. It would make more sense to draft Lynch closer to the RB15, just in case he's more Decreased Mode than Beast Mode.
7 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - ALSHON JEFFERY
ADP: 30 Overall, WR14
Jeffery had just one game with more than 100 yards last season, thanks to four-game suspension. More disconcerting, though, is that he notched just 2 TDs over 12 games. Part of Jeffery's appeal to fantasy owners is his ability to go up and grab the 50/50 ball, a feat that usually pays dividends in the end zone.
The hope, obviously, is that Carson Wentz establishes enough trust with his new wide receiver to give him more of those opportunities this season. But let's not forget the Eagles also added Torrey Smith to the roster, who excels at breaking off big plays for touchdowns. That could mean fewer chances to Jeffery to find pay dirt. The fact that he's currently being drafted between Doug Baldwin and Demaryius Thomas seems a little outlandish.
6 PITTSBURGH STEELERS - BEN ROETHLISBERGER
ADP: 86 Overalll, QB9
Can you count on Big Ben to stay on the field for all 16 games? Right now he's a ticking time bomb, and it can't be long before he goes the way of Tony Romo. Mounting injuries have taken a toll on his fantasy production, and that trend could continue.
After playing 14 games last season, Roethlisberger finished outside the Top 10 for the 5th time in the last seven seasons. That's not the kind of consistency you want from a quarterback being drafted this high. If your heart is set on taking Roethlisberger, it would be a good idea to double down on a solid QB in the next couple of rounds to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
5 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS - CARLOS HYDE
ADP: 36 Overall, RB16
Hyde is coming off a torn MCL that he sustained during Week 16, and there are questions about how he will fit in Kyle Shanahan's new offense. In the offseason, they brought in Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs via free agency, and then drafted Utah running back Joe Williams in the 4th round of the draft. None of that sounds like a ringing endorsement for Hyde going forward.
Still, he nearly cracked 1,000 yards in just 13 games last year, accruing 4.6 yards per carry. Hyde's a powerful dude with a more proven track record than anyone else on the roster, which should at least give him first dibs on the starting role. With a lack of true workhorse backs to choose from, it might be tempting to chase Hyde in the 3rd round, but you might be better off waiting on someone like Ty Montgomery (51 Overall, RB19).
4 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - EDDIE LACY
ADP: 59 Overall, RB 24
Much has been made of Seattle whipping Eddie Lacy into shape using weight loss incentives. But we've been down this road before. (Remember the P90X hype?) The biggest concern about Lacy isn't how many pounds he packs on, it's whether his ankles can hold up enough to make him anything close to the workhorse back he used to be.
Thomas Rawls is still nipping at his heels, too, and we know Pete Carroll isn't opposed to featuring multiple backs throughout the season. At the very least, Lacy looks to get less work in the passing game than he did in Green Bay, with C.J. Prosise likely the designated receiving back. Lacy is the second Seahawk going off the boards after Doug Baldwin, which only makes sense if he's able to hold the reigns in the backfield for the majority of the season.
3 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - DESEAN JACKSON
ADP: 83 Overall, WR 35
It doesn't matter which team DJax plays for, the only thing guaranteed about his production is that it's going to be impossible to guarantee his production. Even in a Washington passing attack short on playmakers -- when Jordan Reed was out, Jackson's only competition for targets was Pierre Garcon -- he barely cracked 1,000 yards.
He'll now have to contend with fellow wideouts Mike Evans and Adam Humphries -- who took a huge step forward in his sophomore season -- and new arrival OJ Howard for targets. And if Doug Martin returns to his old form, the renewed running game will help make it another year of feast or famine for Jackson owners. His current ADP at least makes him worth the risk if you have some safer options around him.
2 TENNESSEE TITANS - DEMARCO MURRAY
ADP: 13 Overall, RB7
This time last year, most fantasy experts were ready to cede at least half of the Titans' run game to rookie running back Derrick Henry. That obviously didn't happen, and that's why so many are willing to get back onboard the Murray Train heading into 2017.
The problem is that Murray started to struggle down the stretch last year, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in his final six games. Now, of course it's possible that Murray has more spring in his step come September, but you also have to wonder if this is the year he finally breaks down from his tremendous workload over the last four seasons. (The guy amassed 1,095 carries in that span. Yowza, jeez, and cripes!) If you take Murray this high, make sure you handcuff Henry to him and throw away the key.
1 WASHINGTON REDSKINS - JORDAN REED
ADP: 39 Overall, TE3
Take it from someone who had Washington's star tight end sitting on his bench for nearly half of last season, you shouldn't draft an injury-prone tight end (outside of Gronk, that is) in the first four rounds. As enticing as Jordan Reed's per game numbers might be with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon gone -- and make no mistake, he's a must-start if he's on the field - it's tough to invest such a high pick on a perpetually "questionable" player.
Reed's ADP seems a bit high for a touchdown dependent player who's never played a full season or posted more than 1,000 yards. Reed is coming off the boards ahead of the ultra-durable Greg Olsen, as well as Jimmy Graham, who put up big numbers after finally finding his place in the Seattle offense. There are more reliable options out there with ceilings only slightly lower than Reed
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