It happens just about every year: a player ranked outside of the top ten at their position, or even much lower, comes out of nowhere to finish among the five best players in the league. Last year it was Doug Martin, Devonta Freeman, and Gary Barnidge among others who came out of nowhere to shock everyone with performances that had them finish at the top. Figuring out who these players will be before the season starts is just about one of the hardest challenges in fantasy football. Below I’ve ranked the four players I believe have the best shot at finishing top five, despite a sub-10 preseason ranking.
Quarterback- Blake Bortles
In just his second year in the NFL, Blake Bortles surprised just about everyone when he threw for over 4400 yards and 35 TDs. If you were lucky enough to get Bortles off waivers last year then you ended up with a top five quarterback basically for free.
This year the ADP of the Jaguars quarterback has slipped well below the level of his finish last season. The main cause of concern this year will be the Jaguars defense. They probably improved more than any other team in the league and this could mean a slower pace and less time on the field for the offense. The Jags should also be playing from behind a lot less, which could mean less garbage time passes. However, in my opinion Bortles still has all the weapons he needs and another year of NFL maturity, all of which which can propel him to a second top five finish.
While the defensive situation for the Jaguars may have changed, their receiving corps has remained much the same. This means that Bortles will still be throwing to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, two receivers who finished in the top five and top 15 respectively. While the concerns about an improved defense are valid, you should not be deterred from drafting Bortles, especially at or around his ADP.
Running Back- Eddie Lacy
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that last year I was one of the owners who jumped aboard the Lacy hype train midway through the season expecting him to break out later on. As we all now know that train never left the station as Lacy performed so poorly that many were questioning whether or not he would be able to maintain his starting role.
Well the new season is here and not only has he kept his role on the team, he’s actually managed to inspire confidence in even the most jaded fantasy owners. The major talking point that came up in nearly every Lacy debate last season was his weight. This was a completely valid concern because, while Lacy could never have been called slim before, he had definitely packed on even more pounds than in his previous outings. I’m happy to say that this is no longer the reality as Lacy has managed to drop quite a bit of weight and now looks — dare I say it? — slim.
Obviously a little weight loss doesn’t mean a guaranteed comeback for the running back. However I haven’t yet mentioned what I believe to be the biggest factor predicting a resurgence — the return to form of the Packers offense. As someone who owned Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and Davante Adams last year, I can tell you first hand that the entire offense in Green Bay was not firing on all cylinders.
With the loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the preseason, defenses were able to key in on receiver Randall Cobb, making it much harder for GB to drive down the field. Lacy underperforming didn’t help either, but it sure didn’t help him that his team did not find itself in the red zone nearly as often. Well good news, Jordy is back and all signs point to the Packers offense we all remember so fondly making it’s return.
With a great class of running backs at the top of draft boards this year, Lacy is going to have to work hard to make it back to his previous heights. However, let’s not forget that he finished sixth and seventh in the two years before that. With both Lacy and the Packers offense returning to their previous selves, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that finishing top 5 is completely realistic for the running back.
Wide Receiver- Keenan Allen
If you were a Keenan Allen owner going into week 8 then you were undoubtedly very excited to have him on your team. Through those first seven weeks the receiver had amassed 62 receptions, 690 receiving yards, and three touchdowns cementing himself as one of the top fantasy options going forward. If you were excited, then sadly you ended up being equally disheartened when Allen injured his shoulder in week eight and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
That injury is the main reason Allen has slipped so far on draft boards this season, because I have no doubt that if he had been able to finish out all his 16 games he would be easily ranked within the top 10. Even having played half a season in 2015 the receiver did have a top 10 finish, not in total fantasy points but rather in points per game. Allen’s performance through seven weeks earned him a 12.1 PPG finish, tied with Steve Smith Sr. for ninth overall.
Now that the new season is here, Keenan Allen is healthy and more than able to finish among the best receivers in the league. Assuming he stays healthy the whole season I can almost guarantee he’ll coast to at least a top 10 finish with top five upside. Considering the fact that (depending on your league) you might be able to get him in the late second or even third round, Allen should be at the top of the list for anyone who misses out on a high ranked receiver in the first.
Tight End- Martellus Bennett
I’d like to note that out of all the positions on this list, tight end is by far the one I had the hardest time picking a player for. The reason for this is that I see each of the top 10 ranked TEs to have far and away the best chance at finishing fifth or better overall. So after much deliberation I finally decided on Martellus Bennett.
I know what you’re thinking. Can a tight end really finish top five while playing alongside consensus number one TE Rob Gronkowski? Don’t forget, however, that this exact situation already happened all the way back in 2011. During that season Gronkowski finished in the first place spot while the TE playing alongside him, Aaron Hernandez, amassed 79 receptions, 910 yards, and seven TDs — good enough for third overall.
Now we all know what happened with Hernandez. However, we also know that the Patriots have not had a second TE on the roster at his caliber since then, and that Bill Belichick loves to run his two TE sets. Well now they have Bennett, a player who was ranked fifth best in fantasy scoring just two years ago. With all of this in mind it’s not inconceivable to think that we could be looking at a New England team with two top five finishers at the TE position.
Please don’t fret if you manage to whiff on getting a player ranked top 10 at one of these positions. There is an abundance of other great talent out there, and while I’ve only listed these four players that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an even lower ranked sleeper out there ready to surprise everyone with a top five finish.
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