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The NFL is loaded with talented players at every position. This can make it a little confusing when it comes to choosing the best player for your fantasy team. Last year’s studs can easily be this year’s duds just as last year’s bums can be this year’s plumbs. Those lucky enough to have a strong draft position need to make sure they get the best value. There’s nothing worse than having one or two of your top draft picks get injured. It also hurts when your big picks simply underperform. How many fantasy GMs gambled on Rob Gronkowski last year? Russell Wilson? Todd Gurley? It wasn’t pretty. On the other side of the coin, those that took chances on DeMarco Murray, Mike Evans, or Kyle Rudolph were pleasantly surprised. Let’s take a look at the best fantasy players at every position.
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Quarterback – Aaron Rodgers
Drew Brees threw for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns last year but he was picked off 15 times. Matt Ryan fell just shy of the 5,000-yard mark and tossed 38 TDs and just 7 interceptions. Fantasy GMs who owned those guys were mighty happy with their production but there was one quarterback who topped both of those stud quarterbacks and he looks to do even better this year. Aaron Rodgers piled up 4,428 yards through the air which is significantly lower than Brees and Ryan. However, Rodgers threw 40 touchdown passes and was picked off just 7 times. As per NFL.com, The Packers’ pivot racked up 380.02 fantasy points. That total handily exceeded Matt Ryan’s 347.46 points and Drew Brees’ 332.32 points.
Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, along with a few other guys like Tom Brady and Andrew Luck should amass a lot of passing yards and TDs which will translate into a bunch of fantasy points in 2017. With Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and the newly-acquired Martellus Bennett, Aaron Rodgers looks to be the best quarterback and fantasy points producer in 2017.
Running Back – David Johnson
Ezekiel Elliott, the breakout rookie running back for the Dallas Cowboys, led the league in rushing yards with 1,631. He averaged 108.7 yards per game and an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. He found his way into the end zone 15 times and finished the season with 293.40 fantasy points. There are a few other running backs that put up impressive numbers in 2016 and most of them look primed to repeat that success this season. There are also a couple of rookies that will pile up yards but Arizona’s David Johnson looks like a good candidate to be the top producer among NFL running backs. In fantasy terms, Johnson was the top running back in 2016 finishing the season with 327.80 points. He was the fourth-highest overall points producer behind Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees. With the exception of week 17 in which he carried just 5 times, Johnson racked up at least 100 in offense in every game. You see, Johnson is a receiving threat as well. He caught 80 passes for 879 yards and 4 touchdowns to add to those running stats.
Wide Receiver – Antonio Brown
Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Jordy Nelson were the only 4 wide receivers that gained more than 1,200 yards and scored more than 10 touchdowns in 2016. Naturally, it was these 4 guys that finished on top of the fantasy standings with Mike Evans leading the way with 208.10 points. He was targeted 173 times and reeled in 96 of those passes. Eli Manning threw 169 passes to Beckham Jr. with the Giants’ wide out catching 101 of them. Antonio Brown caught 106 of 154 passes while Jordy Nelson snagged 97 of 152 passes.
Green Bay has beefed up their running game entering 2017 and with so many viable targets at Aaron Rodgers disposal, look for Nelson’s production to take a bit of a hit. Odell Beckham Jr. will likely see a little less action with the addition of Brandon Marshall to the Giants’ roster along with an improved running game. It could be Mike Evans that suffers the most from a statistical point of view. The addition of DeSean Jackson to the Tampa’s roster as well as having two young studs at the tight end position will result in Evans seeing fewer passes. Antonio Brown will see more or less the same number of targets this year and with a catch rate of 68.8%, look for Brown to get fantasy GMs the most points of any wide receivers. T.Y. Hilton, Julio Jones, and Brandin Cooks get honorable mention.
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski
There’s no doubting that Rob Gronkowski is a monster at tight end. When he’s healthy, Gronk is a game-breaker both on the field and in fantasy line ups. The problem is that there is a bit of risk in having Gronkowski especially when you consider that he is usually such a high overall pick. Losing him to injury has a huge impact on fantasy rosters.
There were 9 tight ends that exceeded 100 fantasy points last season. Delanie Walker, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Olson, and Travis Kelce were the only ones to top 120 points. A healthy Gronkowski would have likely topped them all by a wide margin. Gronk is still the best tight end in the league and he is expected to be 100% to start the season. Can he stay healthy? If so, he will provide a steady stream of scoring.
Kicker – Matt Bryant
There are kickers like Wil Lutz, Stephen Gostkowski, Dan Bailey, and Mason Crosby that are the beneficiaries of high-scoring offenses. Those PATs are easy points. Matt Bryant was also given a lot of easy points from PATs in 2016 but it is his ability to consistently nail the tougher field goals that makes Matt Bryant the best fantasy kicker out there at the moment. He converted on 34 of 37 attempts last year but it is the 6 for 8 from 50+ yard conversions along with the 9 for 9 between 40 and 49 yards that helped him rack up 170 fantasy points in 2016. Now, Justin Tucker should not be overlooked. He hit 38 of 39 while going 10 for 10 on 50+ yard attempts and 14 for 14 on attempts between 40 and 49 yards. The only drawback is his offense’s inability to hand him those easy PAT points. Tucker might be the better overall kicker but Bryant will get you more fantasy points.
Defense – Minnesota Vikings
From a statistical point of view, the Houston Texans had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. They allowed a league-best average of 301.3 yards per game, they were pretty good on third downs, and they were in the top third in points allowed. They were the 2nd toughest team to pass against and they were pretty solid against the rush. On the other hand, the Patriots allowed the fewest points by far which is really what matters in the NFL. This doesn’t mean that these defenses are the greatest options for fantasy players. Houston’s defense finished 18th in fantasy points while the Pats D finished 8th.
From a fantasy point of view, it was the Kansas City Chiefs that put up the most fantasy points on defense. You might be surprised to know that Minnesota, Arizona, Tampa Bay, and the New York Giants were also in the top 10. It makes a little more sense when you see that the Chiefs, Bucs, and Giants averaged over 1 interception per game while the Cardinals and Vikings scored big in the sacks department. The fact that these defenses were able to force a few fumbles goes further to explain how these defenses scored more fantasy points than some of the other stout defenses. In other words, it is all about the big plays. Forcing teams to go 3 and out is good but it’s not as good as forcing fumbles, picking off passes, and sacking the opposing quarterback.
This year will likely see Kansas City’s defensive fantasy production drop off as they face some pretty tough competition but they still look like a good top 3 fantasy defense. Arizona should be right up there too but I’m expecting Minnesota’s defense to pile up the sacks and turnovers on their way to being 2017’s most productive fantasy defense.