These are “my guys”. They are the ones that I’m finding that I will reach for or that are ending up on my rosters consistently. They all have one thing in common: risk. However, they also have equal or higher upside. Here are some must own fantasy players that I’m targeting in 2017. I haven’t hidden my love for these guys this off-season and I’m willing to put my name on the line defending their value.
Five Must Own Players: Risky Edition
Martavis Bryant, WR Steelers
Come on, you knew this was coming. I’ll start with Bryant because those who know me also know my love for the Steelers and is probably my most predictable pick. However, I’d still pick Bryant up if I wasn’t part of Steeler Nation. His talent and upside are just that enticing. I’m not the only one. Bryant’s ADP stood in the 9th round at the start of 2017 and now rests solidly in the 4th, with the big uptick coming after his reinstatement to the NFL appeared imminent last month. There’s been some fluctuation in August, most likely because of the NFL’s allusive “conditionally” reinstatement is most likely the culprit. Unless something goes drastically sideways, Bryant will be on the field in week 1 and will hopefully be on my (and your?) roster.
I’ve already written a good deal on Bryant (I told you, he’s my guy) in this Michael Crabtree vs Bryant Throwdown as well as the Steelers Training Camp Preview, so I won’t beat a dead horse. Basically, it’s been a rollercoaster with Bryant, I know. He looked solid in his preseason debut (even playing with Joshua Dobbs) and snagged two passes for 20 yards. If he violates the substance abuse policy again, it’s bye-bye Bryant. He looks to be a fitter (15+ lbs of muscle), more disciplined, focused version of himself. He’s a 4th (almost 5th) round pick with top 15-20 fantasy WR upside. Yes, please.
Mark Ingram, RB Saints
I know what you’re thinking. That crowded backfield Jen?! Yup. Ingram proves time and time again that he thrives despite competition and adversity. Finishing in the top 15 fantasy RBs over the past three seasons, Ingram represents a well-rounded, three down back with the fourth best elusiveness rating among RBs in 2016 according to PFF. The addition of Adrien Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara to the backfield firmly throws Ingram into the “risky” category. But, I’m not shying away from this late-5th round (what?!) pick.
The biggest argument for bumping Ingram down the ranks in 2017 is fewer touches due to vultured carries from AP on early downs and Kamara stealing targets through the air. In 2016, Hightower, Kuhn, and Cadet snagged 233 touches and Ingram still finished as the #8 fantasy RB in PPR. Just a reminder, he’s currently being drafted as the 26th RB according to FFC. Even with fewer carries, his 5.1 yards-per-carry average helps assure me of his talent and high floor.
No one will argue over AP’s stellar career and skills; however, I’m yet to be convinced he “hasn’t lost a step” as Saints coaches assert. Keep in mind this is a player who participated in just three games in 2016 and averaged 1.6 YPC on 31 attempts in weeks 1-2. Not quite the AP of old, right? I’m not saying he will do that badly, but I am saying he won’t steal enough of Ingram’s carries to threaten his value significantly. Peterson also is a big injury risk given his history and age.
Lastly, Kamara looks good in preseason. Noted. He’ll get some opportunities, but so did Cadet last season. Cadet and Ingram received almost the exact amount of targets in 2016 (58 for Ingram, 54 for Cadet) and Ingram still finished as the #20 running back in reception yards on 46 catches (6.9 average YPC).
Eric Decker, WR Titans
It’s strange for me placing Decker in the “risky” category, as I see him as one of the most consistent wide receivers in the game historically. He finds himself on this list and not on THIS ONE because he missed almost the entire 2016 season with major injuries to his shoulder and hip. We also can’t forget his relocation to the Titans as a factor as well, but honestly, learning a whole new offense in Tennessee is 100% better than the Jets disaster he left in the rear view this off-season.
News out of training camp is positive, not just about Decker’s red zone usage and chemistry with Mariota but also regarding his health. This is a player who finished fantasy seasons 2012-15 as the #9, #9, #26, and #13 (respectively) fantasy WR in PPR. He reached 1000+ yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns in 3 out of his last 5 seasons. In 2015, 2013, and 2012, Decker ended the fantasy season as a top 3 red-zone receiving target and saw 34% of red zone targets for the Jets in 2015.
I know, he’s 30. Injury concerns. New team. No preseason preview (as of yet). Lots of weapons. All these factors equal risk, but at his current ADP in the late 7th to early 8th, his upside seduces me.
DeSean Jackson, WR Bucs
One of the more exciting team changes for me was the Bucs acquiring of deep threat DeSean Jackson from Washington. We all know his speed and his big-play ability, but we also know his injury history and inconsistency at times. D Jax missed six games in 2015 and struggled to hit expectations until around week 12 of 2016, leaving fantasy owners disappointed.
If we look at the last 6 weeks of the 2016 season though, Jackson’s potential was fully on display. He racked up 538 yards and 2 TDs on just 22 catches. Jackson ended with 1000+ receiving yards two out of the past three seasons, on just 56 receptions each time. It should be no surprise that he led the league in yards-per-reception in both 2014 and 2016, and finished fifth in YPR in 2015.
Defenders will have to respect DeSean’s Jackson’s speed, so they won’t be able to double cover Mike Evans. Jameis Winston led the NCAA and ACC in yards per pass attempt in 2013 (10.6) and ranked #2 in 2014 (8.4), so clearly he will benefit from finally having a legit deep threat target. Just to give context, Matt Ryan led the NFL in 2016 with a YPA of 9.3. So, we hope the addition of Jackson will give Winston the opportunity to air it out early and often in 2017.
D Jax’s current ADP is in the late 8th round, going around guys like Cobb, T Williams, and Moncrief. For me, his upside trumps those easily. It doesn’t hurt to watch his chemistry with Winston and Evans on Hard Knocks either, I’m just sayin’.
Keenan Allen, WR Chargers
I love me some Keenan and I don’t care who knows it. I’ve been on his hype train since last season and kept my hope alive despite losing him in week 1 of 2016 to a torn ACL. Let’s get the usual out of the way–yes, he only played 9 games in two seasons. However, he’s fully recovered from his ACL tear and I consider his lacerated kidney in 2015 as a fluke. But, he’s on this list for a reason. Injury is definitely a concern, but not enough to drive me away.
In his first 8 games in 2015, Allen was on pace to have a career season catching 67 passes for 725 yards and 4 TDS (3 100+ yard games). He tied the single-game franchise record with 15 receptions in week 1, good for 166 yards. Before exiting with the injury, he was ranked the #7 fantasy WR through 8 weeks, beating out Antonio Brown by two fantasy points. Needless to say, Allen has upside.
He is returning to a well-balanced offense with talented RB Melvin Gordon, solid tight ends in Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, and wide receiver Tyrell Williams who stepped up big time for the Chargers last season. Rookie Mike Williams could return at some point, but it is hard to tell with a back injury. There are plenty of targets to go around, as Rivers threw the 10th most passing attempts in 2016 (578). Without even touching Gates, Henry, or Gordon’s targets, Allen looks to take his share of targets previously snagged by T Williams (113), Inman (104), and Benjamin’s (77) and run with them.
I predict Keenan Allen to lead the team in overall target share and receive at least 18-20% of the red zone targets.
No more RBs, Jen?
Thanks for taking the time to read about my must have fantasy players! I know that I’ve only included one running back in this list, but let’s be honest, there are just a ton of question marks this year outside of the top 4-5 RBs. I just didn’t feel “in love” enough with any others, compared to how much I value the wide receivers listed. Be sure to look for my partner article Must Have Fantasy Players: Safe Edition for those that might be more averse to so much risk on their rosters.