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What does it mean for a player to “make your draft” ? It means providing such a surplus return on value that the player makes other issues with team building easy. An unfair advantage, which includes Until recently I would have said a player who can “make your draft” can’t come from the first 2-3 rounds because those picks are supposed to be your cornerstones, but Christian McCaffrey and Michael Thomas absolutely made your draft last year as early round picks. So even if you are picking second or third overall, you can take someone that makes your draft. Who can make your draft this year?
Lamar Jackson - Jackson was one of the three most valuable players in fantasy football last year, and not just because he was a 10th (or so) round pick. If Jackson repeats 2019, he will make drafts as a second round pick because he’ll give a 10 point advantage over a replacement option at quarterback. He lost Marshal Yanda and Hayden Hurst, but gained a healthy Marquise Brown, improved Miles Boykin, and speedy slot receiver Devin Duvernay. The Ravens also took the foot off of the gas on offense in the second half a lot last year. He could also, you know, get better in his third year in the league.
Dak Prescott - Prescott is the best bet to lead the league in passing yards, and maybe passing touchdowns. He should be a priority in leagues that give bonuses for 300+ yard games. I have no idea how defenses are going to answer the questions the Cowboys pass offense and running game present and thankfully Kellen Moore was kept by Mike McCarthy to preserve continuity.
Joe Burrow - Burrow’s transformative game and aura are visible from space. He has already made believers out of his teammates and observers at Bengals camp. How much of the LSU offense turning into maybe the greatest college offense of all time was Burrow and how much was the supporting cast and coaching? Burrow is a good runner, and he has a good set of targets, it’s just a question of him overcoming the offensive line woes. He’s your top “late round quarterback” along with Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and Ben Roethlisberger, but Burrow has the highest ceiling.
Jonathan Taylor - Taking Taylor in the third round is part of what makes fantasy football fun and I’m not going to talk anyone out of it. All of the camp buzz has been exactly what you are looking for when making an aspirational pick, the RB2 tier has been devastated, Taylor is in a perfect situation, and he has that Derrick Henry ability to put up a good week in the fourth quarter of a win - which the Colts should have many of this year. Go forth and draft for ceiling.
James Conner - Conner just needs to stay healthy. He’ll be an RB1 for as long as he is. Unfortunately history shows this is very unlikely. Just make sure to draft Benny Snell too, although he won’t be at the level Conner or De’Angelo were at in past incarnations of the Steelers backup running back that made your draft.
Antonio Gibson - Gibson is a special size/speed talent with the ability to make an impact in the passing game too. He’s very reminiscent of David Johnson as a prospect, but where Johnson had to wait for a Chris Johnson injury to make a big impact as a rookie, Washington seems open to Gibson having a large enough role to open the season that if he pays off with big plays, that role will grow.
Raheem Mostert - It's not very often you can get the clearly best running back in a good running game in the fifth round. Mostert put on a show in the NFC title game to the tune of four scores and over 200 yards, and when he wanted some more money as a sign of respect, the 49ers gave it to him. He can flirt with low RB1 numbers if he catches a few more balls and continues to be lead back he was down the stretch last year and in camp, and there's bonus upside if the oft-injured Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman miss time.
Derrick Henry - Henry is going in the mid first round, but he was the clear #2 running back after Ryan Tannehill took over, and he might be more involved in the passing game this year. A healthy Saquon Barkley could make #2 a difficult spot to attain, but Henry could be a strong #3 with a big gap to #4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Joe Mixon, and Miles Sanders are also running back candidates to hit big in the first round, but they don’t have Henry’s sustained run of fantasy greatness under their belts yet.
Preston Williams - Williams is recovered from his mid breakout game ACL tear and ready to go. His ADP is way too low and he’s playing in a pass offense that had over 2300 yards in the second half of the year, once it got going (without him). Write him into your draft plan in pen.
DeVante Parker - Yes, two Miami receivers. Parker was a fantasy WR1 last year, and while it was without Williams out there, there’s no reason that Williams and Parker can’t both hit at ADP given the overall production with Ryan Fitzpatrick and quality of talents now that the #3 and #4 receivers both opted out, narrowing the target tree in what should be a decent to good pass offense. Parker has been a round or two cheaper than he should be all summer.
Will Fuller - Much like James Conner, if Fuller can just stay healthy, he’ll smash ADP. If he can show a fuller route tree (ducking tomatoes) he might even become a true #1 receiver. His cost is right where the known risk and demonstrated reward balance out.
Brandin Cooks - Cooks has had 1000 yard seasons in his first with a new quarterback twice already, and if Fuller is going to miss more games than he plays, Cooks could become Deshaun Watson’s #1. It’s difficult to weigh the concussion risk after he had two last year, but Cooks injury risk is lower than Fuller’s and he’s cheaper.
D.J. Chark - Chark was a strong WR1 in the first half of the season and then the Jaguars fell apart and later he got hurt. He’s the clear #1 for the team coming into this year and putting on a daily show in training camp. Remember what Allen Robinson did with Blake Bortles when the Jaguars went 5-11 in 2015?
Laviska Shenault - Shenault is a long shot, but his ADP reflects that. He could be this year’s A.J. Brown even though the Jaguars won’t be this year’s Titans. Shenault has an overwhelming physical profile and a lot of ways to hurt a defense. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden seems willing to give Shenault snaps all over the formation, including touches as a runner, and he could make hay after the catch as a slot receiver on a team that will be throwing a lot. He just has to stay healthy, which might be asking too much.
Marquise Brown - This one is simple. Brown wasn’t 100% at any point last year. We still don’t know what he can do in this unprecedented Ravens offense with all of his speed and quickness. He might be the super Tyler Lockett, converting long scores frequently and posting WR1 numbers on a limited target load.
Tyler Boyd - Boyd is in the Justin Jefferson role for Joe Burrow and we saw what that did for Jefferson’s stock and productivity. Boyd is also the most durable of the Bengals top three receivers (unless we count Auden Tate as a top three receiver and maybe we should). 100 catches is well within his range of outcomes.
Odell Beckham - Remember him? Beckham will be the designated target on shot plays off of the play action that should come easy to this offense with the additions at offensive tackle and quality running game. He might not have the volume of the Eli Manning days, but 1300+ yards and double digit scores aren’t asking too much if he’s in pre-hernia form.
Terry McLaurin - McLaurin’s numbers from last year mask just how astounding his rookie year was. He was hurt early and bounced back quickly and dealt with the worst quarterback play this side of Pittsburgh. He should dominate targets in a more pass-friendly offense under Scott Turner and McLaurin has already proven that he can hang with the best #1 corners in the league.
Adam Thielen - Thielen might get 200 targets this year. The Vikings have no established #2 receiver and their attempts could go up this year if the defense has a rough transition to three new starting cornerbacks.
DK Metcalf - All of the reports in camp have Metcalf wowing with his physical gifts and fully establishing his rapport with Russell Wilson. We might be looking at the Calvin Johnson/Julio Jones alpha of alphas, although my friend Eric Stoner would say that David Boston is a better comparison.
Davante Adams - I’m not a fan of taking wide receivers in the first round but Adams could make it worth your while. Aaron Rodgers will surely lean on him and he might set career highs in yards and catches after a foot injury slowed him last year. It’s not a stretch to see him overtaking Michael Thomas and coming closer to Thomas’s numbers last year anyone expects.
Mark Andrews - I have worries about Andrews holding up under additional snaps and targets after he was a resident of the injury report last year, but there’s no doubt that Hayden Hurst’s departure opens him up to join Travis Kelce and George Kittle in the elite TE1 tier, assuming Lamar Jackson remains as productive and the increase in wide receiver quality doesn’t affect his target share.
Hayden Hurst - Austin Hooper was drawing targets on a level with Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz in the first half of the year. Hurst can do a lot more after the catch than Hooper, so it’s possible that he can improve on what Hooper did, which at one point was good enough for TE1 overall.
Mike Gesicki - Gesicki is basically going to be a big slot for this team, and as noted above, the Dolphins had a very productive pass offense last year and a narrow target tree this year. Gesicki has a decent chance of being this year’s Waller/Andrews.
Chris Herndon - I wanted to also list Blake Jarwin, Irv Smith, and maybe even TJ Hockenson as this year’s Waller/Andrews candidates, but settled on Herndon as the leader of this group. He has been getting consistent praise out of camp, he has a good connection with his quarterback, and the Jets passing game is in shambles.
And 7 Who Need An Injury to Do It
All of the players listed above can make your draft without an injury to a teammate - although it could help their cause if target trees narrow or backfield become less crowded. There’s also a group of players who can make your draft if they have injuries ahead of them on the depth chart.
Mecole Hardman - Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill have already broken the seal on soft tissue injuries. Remember, Hardman only switched to wide receiver midway through his college career, so there’s a lot of room for him to grow from year one to year two. No wide receiver is better situated to be fantasy relevant on a small amount of targets.
Tyler Higbee - Higbee’s ADP splits the difference between his irrelevant role before Gerald Everett’s injury and being the #1 fantasy tight end after. Certainly, Jared Goff won’t forget how efficient and effective Higbee was last year, but he won’t be up to last year’s levels unless Everett goes down. Which he did last year, but didn’t miss a game in his first two years.
J.K. Dobbins - Dobbins is probably farther away from taking over the starting role than Jonathan Taylor because Mark Ingram is more entrenched as the starter and veteran leader of the offense, but injuries can strike any back. If Ingram wasn’t on the Ravens, Dobbins might be going in the first round of drafts.
Dallas Goedert - Goedert is the one already hurt, with a cast on his thumb and the Eagles offensive line is disintegrating, but still if Zach Ertz goes down, we’ll surely rank Goedert in the top five tight ends the next week.
Kareem Hunt - Nick Chubb went down with a catastrophic knee injury once upon a time. Hunt would be a top five running back if it happens this year. Hunt also has the best chance of being an everyweek starter for fantasy even without an injury to the player ahead of him.
Chase Edmonds - Edmonds had a three touchdown breakout game last year and then promptly hurt his hamstring, which led to the Kenyan Drake trade and the rest is history. Edmonds can ball and Drake, who has never been a lead back for a whole season, can’t hold up under a lead back role for a whole season, then Edmonds could be a fantasy RB1 in the improving Arizona offense.
Randall Cobb - Cobb is going to be the best slot receiver Deshaun Watson has played with in his NFL career and he can have standalone PPR value even if Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks stay healthy. If they don’t (and he does, far from a given), Cobb could be a 100-catch players. Remember Keke Coutee set a modern-era record for catches in a debut from the slot with Watson.