We’re back, baby. With the first NFL game in 23 days, the Twitter-sphere is alight with football banter. I’m shaking the rust off and digging in for my first article of the season. Hopefully, you’re all tagging along for the ride. These are five top fantasy football players in 2018 that I plan to heavily invest in across all formats. I’ll give you my hardest sell and then cross my fingers that none of you are in any of my leagues. Snipers. All of you. You know I’m right.
I listed “my guys” in no particular order but are all equally awesome. Just kidding, I have favorites but I can’t give you all my secrets. If you’re a listener of The Redshirts Fantasy Football Podcast, you’ve heard me beat the drum for some of these players already. Let’s do this.
Tevin Coleman, RB Falcons
I can’t stop my Tevin Coleman love from flowing freely this summer. Currently being drafted in the mid to late 6th round as the #30 running back, Coleman’s value remained intact through July and into August. Who knows what will happen by draft time, but for now, I want those shares. Coleman finished as the #22 fantasy running back in 2017 and #20 in 2016 (13 games played). In a fantasy landscape where bell-cows are hard to come by without significant draft capital, Tevin Coleman represents an RB with stand-alone value and top-tier handcuff status. Should Devonta Freeman miss time for any reason, Tevin is there. When you’re drafting in the middle rounds, that is the upside you want at RB before it starts to get scary thin.
In 2017, Coleman finished with 628 yards and five TDs on 156 carries and added 299 yards and three TDs on 27 receptions. Perhaps people attribute Coleman’s 2017 success to the fact that Devonta Freeman got a little dinged up, giving Tevin more opportunity for carries. Well, two things come to mind. The first is that this illustrates perfectly why Coleman is such a value. If Freeman gets banged up during the season (he’s coming off MCL + PCL sprains by the way), the Falcons don’t need to push him and will give the rock to Coleman with confidence. The second thing that comes to mind is that in 2016, Freeman missed zero games. Coleman ended with even higher production in 2016 than in 2017. So, am I worried that he won’t get enough opportunity? No.
Lastly, Tevin Coleman is in a contract year. I’m not a person that will cite this as a reason for a significant bump in production or effort, BUT the Falcons drafted rookie Ito Smith seemingly to replace Coleman’s role next season. So, do I mind owning a fantasy player who wants to show his talent in the hopes of gaining a big-time deal and a solid landing spot next season? I think you know the answer to that one.
I’d be remiss in not at least mention that Coleman has yet to play a full 16 game season (12, 13, 15 games in his three years in NFL). One aspect influencing his health may be the sickle cell trait, though this has not significantly impacted Coleman’s functioning/fantasy impact in the past. For more information on the sickle cell trait and its impact on football players, check out my boy Matthew Betz’s article here.
Pierre Garcon, WR 49ers
A neck injury cut Pierre Garcon’s 2017 season short after eight games, forty receptions, and 500 receiving yards. He was on pace for 134 targets which would’ve ranked him 12th among WRs, beating out players like Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Devante Adams. In 2016, Garcon ended as the #27 fantasy WR in half/full PPR scoring with 79 receptions for 1,041 yards and three TDs. He produced at that level on 114 targets, with DeSean Jackson (100 targets), Jamison Crowder (99 targets), and Jordan Reed (89 targets) all still receiving plenty of opportunities themselves. This shows that with volume and opportunity coming his way in 2018, Garcon possesses a high floor and a decent ceiling. All this, at a late seventh-round draft price. And P.S., that means I’m saying Goodwin will get his and I’m not worried about it impeding Garcon’s production.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan and Garcon illustrated how well they work together already in the past. With Shanahan as his offensive coordinator for the Redskins in 2013, Pierre Garcon hit career highs in targets (182, highest of all WRs that yr), yards (1346), receptions (113), and fantasy finish (#12 fantasy WR). He gets a significant upgrade at QB from Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard to Jimmy G in 2018. Also, Garcon is fully healthy and played all 16 games the last four seasons before 2017, so fantasy owners need not worry about “injury prone” concerns. Currently being drafted in the 7th round, Pierre should have no trouble beating his ADP and being a reliable WR3 with WR2 upside on a weekly basis.
Dion Lewis, RB Titans
I recently “planted my flag” on Dion Lewis’ fantasy success this season on my redraft podcast The Redshirts Fantasy Football Podcast. So, I’m all in and snagging him wherever I can. The Tennessee Titans signed Lewis for a reason. They love his ability to break tackles in the open field and his involvement in the passing game, two things they clearly didn’t see enough of from Demarco Murray in 2017.
Dion Lewis ranked as the #1 running back in yards after contact (3.17) in 2017 and gave up zero fumbles on his 212 touches. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lewis was the 2nd most elusive RB last season. He gained 896 yards and six TDs on 180 carries, also adding three TDs and 214 yards on 32 catches in 2017.
So, many are probably saying, “But, Jen, what about Derrick Henry?”. Oh, friend. I’m not concerned. Lewis is no stranger to sharing a backfield, having played for the Patriots. All fantasy players are familiar with that complicated backfield, of course. He finished as the #15 fantasy RB in half/full PPR scoring in 2017 despite sharing the rock. There’s room for both Henry and Lewis on a team that was 12th in rush attempts in 2017 and 3rd the season before.
The Titans offense stands to bounce back this season with a healthy Mariota behind the 5th ranked offensive line (per ProFootballFocus.com) and returning weapons Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, and Delanie Walker. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, previously of the LA Rams (11th in rush attempts and a bounce back offense in 2017), should prove a valuable addition and only bodes well for Lewis’ usage.
In addition, the Titans showed at training camp that they want Lewis to be more than just a 3rd down back/receiving threat. A huge shout out to my fellow TFA senior writer, Travis May, for his contributions to my Dion Lewis love/evidence to this end. Travis attended five training camp practices and feverishly kept notes so that he could enlighten us all. Regarding first-team snaps, Lewis saw 110 reps compared to Derrick Henry’s 95. No, I’m not saying that Lewis will be their primary back, but it does show that they won’t just relegate him to a rigid role or always favor Henry between the tackles. They’re going to give him touches and we know one thing for sure about Dion Lewis–he doesn’t need a ton of touches to be successful.
He’s my #18 RB in half-PPR/full PPR because he will stay healthy this season (please, Dion, please) and I love his ceiling. Join me on his hype train, won’t you? I’ll even let you toot the horn. Just once, though. I’m the conductor of this train. Don’t get it twisted.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR Broncos
After finishing in fantasy wasteland in 2017, Emmanuel Sanders represents a key bounce-back player this season. He’s currently sliding under the radar (so far). The QB carousel of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler over the last two seasons in Denver definitely impacted the fantasy duo of Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. In 2016, Sanders maintained his production and finished as the 20th fantasy WR with 79 catches for 1032 yards and five TDs. Sanders finished even higher in 2015 (17th) and 2014 (7th) with Peyton Manning tossing him the pigskin.
Sanders didn’t find himself as lucky in 2017 and finished the season with his first sub-1000 yard performance in three years. He also missed four games due to a nagging ankle injury. Couple that with the dreadful QB play and it’s no surprise that he landed outside the top 50 WRs last season. Why is he still being undervalued in 2018? Well, most fantasy owners seem to be doing the same thing with all the Denver offensive pieces, so snatch them up while you can.
The Broncos upgraded the QB position by anyone’s standards in the form of Minnesota Miracle Man, Case Keenum. He’s no Peyton Manning but if Sanders can achieve a top 20 fantasy performance with Trevor Siemian as his main QB, I love his upside with Keenum. Not to mention that if Demaryius Thomas’ performance really is on the decline or he gets injured, Sanders’ fantasy value only increases.
Currently being drafted in the middle of the 7th round in redraft, 12 man, half/full PPR leagues, Sanders is a value. This is a player who in the 2014-2016 seasons, played all but one game, averaged 138 targets per season, and received between 23-25% of the overall target share. Emmanuel Sanders will return to the top 20 fantasy WRs in 2018–will you be a proud owner and bask in your 7th round value? I will.
Rex Burkhead, RB Patriots
Ok, for the record, I loved Rex this much even before news of Sony Michel getting dinged up surfaced. Ask my podmates. I swear. Rex Burkhead finished 2017 as the #39 RB in half-PPR scoring. He did so in just 10 games and 94 combined touches (64 carries, 30 receptions). One reason for this is his high usage in the red zone for the Patriots, even with Mike Gillislee being heavily involved (38.1% of team carries within the 5-yard line) for part of the season. Rex received 33.3 % of the Patriots’ carries within the five-yard line in 2017 and snagged 8 total TDs on the season. I predict his heavy red zone involvement to continue in 2018, with room to increase. Goal line work for a New England Patriot RB? Um, yes, please.
Now, of course, we have to take into account the high draft capital that Coach Belichick used on rookie Sony Michel. We know he will be involved. However, Dion Lewis is gone, leaving his 212 touches up for grabs. Michel tweaked his knee recently and underwent a procedure that may force him to miss the preseason. There was speculation at one point that Michel could miss week 1, but he’s hoping to suit up. Either way, news out of training camp wasn’t exactly glowing regarding Sony’s performance. Now, he’s dinged up and misses out on the opportunity to impress in preseason. Michel’s slow start might be just the opportunity Burkhead needs to gain some momentum heading into 2018.
If you’re concerned about Rex’s being injury prone, don’t be. He was fully healthy for 16 games in both 2015 and 2016, but was buried on the Bengals’ depth chart. The Patriots recently listed Rex as the #1 RB on their depth chart, triggering a massive jump in his ADP. Previously, you could steal him in the 7th round but now he’s going in the 5th. I’m hoping that his ADP settles down if Michel returns to camp because James White, Mike Gillisleee, and Jeremy Hill surely aren’t going to take away from his hype train. If Rex receives the nod for leader of this NE backfield, his ceiling only increases. If you’re concerned that two NE backs can’t have value, let my friend Matt Okada convince you that both Rex and Michel could be fantasy values here.
As those that know me well understand, I’m not concise. So, here are a few other guys I love but I can’t fit in this amazing article.
Alex Collins, RB Ravens
I tried to stay away from the higher ADP guys, in order to focus on the value later in drafts. BUT I love Collins. He’ll pick up right where he left off last season and I’m completely happy when he lands as my RB2.
DeSean Jackson, WR Bucs
He actually fared well with Ryan Fitzmagic under center in the past. A great downfield threat that still has some speed and an offense that needs him.
Allen Hurns, WR Cowboys
Opportunity = 231 vacated targets. Best (aka, #1 , folks) conversion rate (91.7%) on contested throws over the last four years. This data tracked and analyzed by the amazing Matt Harmon via #ReceptionPerception. You should look him up stat. Follow. Read. Repeat.
Rishard Matthews, WR Titans
He was #37 fantasy WR in 2017 in only 14 games. Great floor option for half/full PPR. His cheap ADP bakes in most of the risk (recently injured), but something to watch for sure.
Jared Cook, TE Raiders
If Gruden doesn’t use involve him consistently this season, it’s a mistake. He’s got the boom-bust risk though, for sure.
Spencer Ware, RB Chiefs
You haven’t seen Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware healthy at the same time. Don’t underestimate the power of the handcuff with some stand-alone value.
Well, there you have it. My favorite picks for top fantasy football players in 2018. I have significant shares of these guys and plan to snag more of them in my redraft leagues this August. Agree? Disagree? As always, shoot me a tweet @theonlyjensmith and let’s banter! I’m the Only Jen Smith you need to know! Thanks as always, for reading and supporting my work and the work of my colleagues at TheFantasyAuthority.com. They are my family, so don’t miss out on our amazing content now and throughout the season. You won’t regret it!