For the first time in my life, I can finally say that my addiction to fantasy football is job-related. Now that I’m a contributor for Pro Football Spot’s fantasy team, all of the long hours, restless nights, and time I spend scanning through the waiver wire for the sleepers who will turn my season around, can help some of my fellow fantasy players.
It’s the time of the year that we start building our draft lists and deciding what our strategy is based on our draft position in our leagues. In this article, we’re going to look at the top 10 fantasy players in a contract year that you’ll want on your team.
There is no debating that NFL players mainly care about the money. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise said it best in Jerry Maguire: “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” These players are laying it all out on the field for either that first big contract or the extension that will get them through their prime in the NFL.
So, here we go…
1. Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 2 | PPR Position Rank: No. 2
Over the first four seasons of Le’Veon’s career, he’s missed a total of 19 games due to injury or suspension. Questioning his talent would be a joke, but his judgement is up for debate. When Bell is on the field, the Steelers have one of the most potent offenses in the league, and without him, they’ve struggled. He might end up getting the richest contract for a running back in NFL history, and this season is the most important of his career. In his 12 games last season, he averaged 105.7 rushing yards per game and 51.3 receiving yards per game on 75 total receptions, scoring 9 total touchdowns. And, he only turned the ball over 4 times. If Bell can put together 16 full games in 2017, he will lead a lot of teams to fantasy championships. Bell is a lock as an RB1.
2. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta Falcons: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 5 | PPR Position Rank: No. 5
Freemen has proven over the last two years that he can be productive even in a backfield that splits the load, or as the featured back. He’s missed one game in his first three seasons. In 2016, he averaged 67.4 rushing yards per game, 28.9 receiving yards per game and only fumbled once. While Freeman’s yardage is a lot lower than my top three backs, he makes up for it in the touchdown department, with 13 total in 2016 and 14 in 2015. The Falcons will continue to be a high-powered offense, and they’ll look to use Freeman as much as they can. Freeman is a lock as an RB1.
3. Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 18 | PPR Position Rank: No. 13
There has been a hype around Carlos Hyde since Frank Gore’s final season in San Francisco. Hyde fought injuries in 2015 and 2016, but he played through most of them last year, suiting up for 13 games. The Ohio State product’s struggles could be due to the fact that he plays for a rebuilding 49ers squad that’s stilling looking for a franchise quarterback. Hyde doesn’t flourish in the passing game (12.5 yards per game in 2016), but on the ground, he puts up 76.0 yards per game. He struggled turning the ball over with 5 fumbles in 2016 and only 9 total touchdowns. If Hyde can put together a solid year, and whoever starts at QB for the 49ers can make teams defend the pass, Hyde could be in for a top-10 season as a running back. I’d feel comfortable with Hyde as my RB2.
4. Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland Browns: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 23 | PPR Position Rank: No. 15
Let’s make this clear right now… Crowell is the only Brown I’m drafting before the 14th round and will be the only fantasy-relevant player. Crowell is playing for a new deal, and for his sake, I hope it’s outside of Cleveland. The Browns — like the 49ers — are searching for a quarterback, and until they find one, Crowell is dealing with crowded boxes on every play. I expect him to see his numbers go up from last year when he had 59.5 rushing yards per game, 19.9 receiving yards per game, 7 total touchdowns and 2 fumbles. Crowell’s numbers won’t blow you away, but he’s a good option for an RB2 or FLEX if you can get him.
5. Terrelle Pryor (Washington Redskins: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 31 | PPR Position Rank: No. 14
From one Brown to a former Brown. Pryor might have saved his career and could be in for a big payday along with his new quarterback, Kirk Cousins. At 6-4, Pryor will be a great target for Washington next to Jordan Reed. In Cleveland, Pryor caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and 4 touchdowns. I fully expect him to be around 95 catches this year, and his touchdown number should be closer to 10 total. Washington might have found the perfect complement to Cousins, and if they can re-sign both of them after the 2017 season, we will have a QB-WR duo for 4-5 years. Pryor will go as a WR2, but if I go RB on my first two picks this year, then Pryor is who I’ll target as my WR1.
6. Spencer Ware (Kansas City Chiefs: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 32 | PPR Position Rank: No. 18
Ware took advantage of Jamaal Charles’ injury last year, seizing the starting job in Kansas City. With Charles out of the picture, that leaves Charcandrick West and Kareem Hunt as Ware’s backups. Ware saw his touchdown numbers drop from the 2015 season, from 6 to 5. But, he could see a decreased role this year as the Chiefs test out Hunt to see if he’s their running back of the future. Ware is another guy who could be playing for a contract with another team this offseason. Last year, he averaged 65.8 rushing yards per game and 31.9 receiving yards per game, with 33 receptions in 14 games. Ware is a solid RB2 with upside as an RB1.
7. Allen Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 42 | PPR Position Rank: No. 16
Robinson struggled to live up to expectations last season, but it wasn’t his fault. Quarterback Blake Bortles regressed in 2016 and A-Rob was the one who suffered. The Jags are going to pay Robinson next offseason, but his performance this year could decide how much. Most of his numbers came in junk time last year, and Bortles failed to target Robinson as often as he should. With only 73 receptions last year, he should be around 85 this year and should see an increase in his 55.2 receiving yards per game from last season. Jacksonville would be wise to target Robinson more in the red zone improving on his 6 total touchdowns in 2016. I believe Robinson bounces back this year and is a solid WR2, but could easily be back to a WR1 by the end of the year.
8. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 43 | PPR Position Rank: No. 17
Exit Brock Osweiler, enter Deshaun Watson. Hopkins failed to get involved last year due to the poor play of Osweiler, but now that Watson is in town, we should see Hopkins force-fed the ball even when he’s not open. He dropped from 111 receptions in 2015 to 78 last year and his receiving yards per game fell from 95.1 to 59.6, and from 11 touchdowns to 4. My expectation is that Hopkins falls in the middle of those two with Watson in his rookie year. Hopkins is playing for that big contract and will be a great option at WR2 for teams.
9. Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 47 | PPR Position Rank: No. 19
Landry might as well be the AFC’s Odell Beckham Jr., without the media attention. Jarvis is a talented wide receiver who showed last year that he’s one of the best young wideouts in the game. Since coming into the league, he’s caught 84, 110 and 94 receptions in three years. The last two years, he’s averaged 71.6 receiving yards per game, with 4 touchdowns each year. For a 5-11 receiver, his touchdowns are dependent on short slants or bombs down the sidelines. If running back Jay Ajayi can have the same impact as last season, then Landry should be able to have another 95-plus reception season, with 75.0 receiving yards per game and a WR1 for most teams.
10. Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins: QB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 108 | PPR Position Rank: No. 7
Kirk is in another contract year after getting the franchise tag again. He’s continued to prove to the Redskins and the entire league that he’s a franchise quarterback, and at some point, Washington has to pay him, or the 49ers will. In his two years as the starter, Cousins has thrown for 4,000-plus yards, 25-plus touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He’s added 4-plus rushing touchdowns each season, proving he’s a threat in the red zone to sneak some in. Kirk is a QB1 and should be high on everyone’s “want list” this season. Don’t reach for him, but be sure to try and snag him in the fifth or sixth round if quarterbacks go quick in your league. He and Pryor will be a real pain for the rest of the NFC East this year.
- Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia Eagles: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 56 | PPR Position Rank: No. 21
- Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks: TE) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 61 | PPR Position Rank: No. 5
- Eddie Lacy (Seattle Seahawks: RB) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 67 | PPR Position Rank: No. 32
- Martavis Bryant (Pittsburgh Steelers: WR) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 72 | PPR Position Rank: No. 31
- Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals: TE) — Overall PPR Rank: No. 116 | PPR Position Rank: No. 9