These are some fantasy players that I love, but that have higher floors than the ones mentioned in my partner article Five Must Have Fantasy Players: Risky Edition. Roster construction plays a large role in winning your league and you have to balance some high upside guys with those that are consistent and possess an easier road to fantasy points. Here are some of my must-have guys that will anchor your fantasy roster.
Marcus Mariota, QB Titans
Mariota represents the quarterback with some of the highest upside in 2017 due to solid acquisitions in the off-season and overall growth. As a fantasy owner, I’m definitely excited to watch this intriguing offense in 2017. In 15 games (went down in week 16 with a broken fibula) last season, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns and finished as the #13 fantasy QB. Look for his touchdowns to get a bump this year with red zone monster Eric Decker and rookie Corey Davis (if he can get healthy) joining Delanie Walker in the Titans receiving corps. Running backs Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry will keep the offense balanced and bring major talent on both the ground and through the air.
In addition, Mariota will be well protected, as Profootballfocus.com ranked the Titans offensive line as #4 overall coming into this season. He protects the ball well, throwing only nine interceptions in 2016 and 10 in 2015. Mariota also gives fantasy owners an edge on the ground, as he finished as the #6 QB in rushing yards (357 yards) and ran for two touchdowns in 2016. Mariota could easily finish as a top 10 fantasy QB, so owners who invest a 7th round pick (current ADP) should draft with confidence.
Jeremy Maclin, WR Ravens
I’m not really sure why Maclin’s ADP is the late 7th round (PPR, 8th in standard). He is the WR1 on a pass-heavy team with 228 targets free after the retirement of Steve Smith and injury to Dennis Pitta. Flacco’s other weapons consist of a chronically hurt Breshad Perriman and Ben Watson, a 36-year-old tight end that’s recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Luckily, the Ravens still have the speedster, Mike Wallace, to spread the field and threaten the deep ball. They also acquired Danny Woodhead to help out in the backfield.
Flacco tied with Drew Brees for the most pass attempts in 2016 (673) and was nearly twice as likely to throw than run last season. Hopefully, Flacco is fully recovered from his back injury by week 1, as head coach Harbaugh asserts. I don’t think any of us could watch another Ryan Mallett start, let alone feel good about any Ravens fantasy players (maybe Woodhead) without Flacco.
Some said that Maclin “lost a step” last season with Kansas City, but he later revealed that he was playing through a groin injury. In both the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Maclin proved a solid WR1, missing only one game and accruing 1318 yards and 10 TDS in 2014 and 1088 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. He finished as the 9th fantasy WR in PPR both years, but I know his poor performance last season is still etched in most fantasy players’ minds in 2017.
Maclin is an absolute steal at his current ADP for someone with a solid floor, clear path to major targets, and past fantasy success. I’ll be capitalizing on fantasy owners’ recency bias and snagging him where I can, and for a crazy value.
Jay Ajayi, RB Dolphins
Any running back not named Leveon Bell or David Johnson that is going as early as Jay Ajayi gives me a little concern. It is a lot of draft capital to invest, I know. However, watching him in week 3 of preseason helped ease some concerns. Ajayi looked quick and elusive and rushed 9 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns. He quieted any qualms about his missed time with a concussion and showed great ability to break tackles and find running room.
Ajayi finished as the 11th fantasy running back in 2016, gaining 1272 yards and 8 touchdowns on a whopping 260 carries (4.9 YPC) in 2016. He added 27 receptions for 151 yards and had an impressive 5.6 YPR. He certainly showed fantasy owners his ceiling, having three 200+ yards games last season. I’m somewhat concerned about the offensive line, as PFF ranked them #26 overall heading into 2017. The addition of Jay Cutler definitely helps Ajayi compared to some other options, as he has the ability to throw downfield (sometimes recklessly though) and built chemistry with playmaker DeVante Parker over the past couple of weeks.
You’ll pay for Ajayi in the form of an early 2nd round pick, but especially given all the question marks in so many backfields, he’s worth it and has a clear path to consistent fantasy points on a weekly basis.
Doug Baldwin, WR Seahawks
Russell Wilson’s favorite weapon might be as safe as they come. Not that I needed much convincing, but Baldwin looked solid in the preseason and Wilson looked 100% healthy. All good news from a football and fantasy perspective. Baldwin finished the past two seasons with 1000+ yards and ranked #7 (#8 in PPR) and #10 overall fantasy WR in 2015 and ’16, respectively.
Baldwin received a hefty 25% of the overall target share last season and there isn’t really anyone to challenge him for a larger share this year. Paul Richardson and Jermaine Kearse are vying for the number 2 spot but may lose it to Tyler Lockett once he’s at full health. Lockett was a fantasy bust in years past but could help spread the field for Baldwin with his speed and playmaker ability. Jimmy Graham should be involved, but he received an 18% target share last season so shouldn’t take many opportunities away from Baldwin.
One area that I think will increase this season is Baldwin’s TD count. Last season, Graham was targeted slightly more in the red zone (20 targets to Baldwin’s 16) and Kearse received 16 as well, yet both were much less efficient—Graham completing only 40% and Kearse ending with a six percent completion rate in the red zone. Yes, six percent (1/16). Compare this to Baldwin’s completion of 69% of his red zone targets and you see why the Seahawks would be stupid to not throw the ball his way on scoring opportunities. He has an overall completion percentage of 72, by the way.
Baldwin is being drafted as the #10 wide receiver currently according to FFC, so draft with confidence in the 2nd (PPR) or early 3rd (standard) round and know you’re getting a high-floor player who will perform for you. I have him ranked as my #9 fantasy WR and am hoping to walk away with him on a few of my redraft and best ball teams. I just snagged him yesterday in a draft and couldn’t be happier about it.
Doug Martin, RB Bucs
I initially planned to include Martin in my undervalued article, but the more I looked at the running backs I target and at his current ADP, the more I liked Dougie. Now, I know some might say that there’s no way they would consider Muscle Hamster (can we retire that nickname yet? Lol) “safe” by any means. I would fall in that category if he was being drafted as a fantasy RB1, but he’s going in the 5th round. His three game suspension and concerns about his rollercoaster of a career are somewhat baked into that price for me.
Going on news out of training camp and watching preseason, I’m hopeful we are getting the Martin of old. He looked solid and I would be surprised if he has any problem taking back his starting job from Jacquizz Rodgers. I know the coach speak has been noncommittal, but that seems like a motivational tactic for Martin. The Bucs should have a strong offense and their receiving game got a boost from their acquisition of Desean Jackson in the off-season. Winston is looking to best his 2016 performance and needs to protect the ball more. However, I’m confident that his game takes a step up in 2017 and he will elevate his weapons with him.
Martin ran 5 times for 30 yards and a touchdown in preseason week 2 and looked fresh and made impressive cuts. He’s been seeing the bulk of the first team reps at camp. Martin is only one season out from finishing as the #3 fantasy running back and earning 1402 yards and 6 TDs on 288 carries, adding 33 catches for 271 yards and another touchdown. He was fourth in the league in touches (128) and touches per game (21.3) a year ago when he returned from injury. So, he has the talent and the opportunity. Fantasy owners just need him to capitalize on it by staying healthy.
There really is no one to truly challenge him for the RB1 spot upon return, except his own poor performance. I would rather draft him than Ameer Abdullah, Danny Woodhead, Bilal Powell, and Mike Gillislee who are all being drafted around the same time. He might not seem like a “safe” bet on paper, but when you look at the other running back options, his opportunity and talent, and ADP, he fits the bill for me in 2017.
Honorable Mention: Ameer Abdullah, RB Lions
Though they are most likely going to remain a more pass heavy team, they are showing more commitment to the running game and Abdullah has a clear path to touches.
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