Fantasy Football 2017: Skill-Position Rankings and Top Sleepers

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2017

Robby Anderson is receiving little fantasy football attention despite having the perfect role to flourish.
Robby Anderson is receiving little fantasy football attention despite having the perfect role to flourish.Al Pereira/Getty Images

Informed fantasy football participants will discover a bevvy of depth at the skill positions when preparing for drafts. 

As the league continues to purchase more aerial real estate, the surplus of strong quarterbacks has deflated the position's demand. While there's no such movement to wait out wide receivers, the pool is also deeper than ever.

A wider distribution of labor dwindles the supply of workhorse running backs, thus weakening the position's top tiers. Yet more rushers will receive opportunities to contribute, so there's less pressure to secure multiple backs in the opening rounds.

Even tight end has more interesting targets than usual. With a healthy mix of steady contributors and breakout candidates, drafters who pass on Rob Gronkowski won't have to settle for scraps.

Let's run through rankings for running backs, wide receivers and tight ends tailored for standard scoring. Those players can't qualify as true sleepers, but the highlighted players may fall through the seams on draft day. 

         

RB Rankings

1. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

2. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

3. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

4. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

5. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

6. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

8. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

9. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

10. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

11. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

12. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns

13. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

14. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

15. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers

16. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

17. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

18. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

19. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts

20. Bilal Powell, New York Jets

21. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

22. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos

23. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

24. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

25. Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens

26. Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens

27. Paul Perkins, New York Giants

28. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions

29. LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles

30. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints

Sleeper: Samaje Perine, Washington

Samaje Perine is falling down draft boards with Rob Kelley lookling like the Week 1 starter.
Samaje Perine is falling down draft boards with Rob Kelley lookling like the Week 1 starter.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Sleepers usually gain steam during the preseason. Yet the Samaje Perine hype train has stuttered with Rob Kelley grasping a firmer hold of Washington's starting job. As his price tumbles, the rookie makes more sense as an affordable upside gamble.

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, the Oklahoma alum held an average draft position inside the seventh round of 12-team drafts before an underwhelming preseason debut. Despite a better second showing, his stock tumbled into the ninth round and outside the top 100.

Kelley conversely has risen from the eighth to seventh, commanding a No. 74 ADP as of Friday. That's a fair price for the expected starter. According to ESPN.com's Matthew Berry, he was a top-15 fantasy back in standard and point-per-reception formats after usurping Matt Jones for the starting spot in Week 8.

Rob Kelley gradually faded after a red-hot three weeks as Washington's starter.
Rob Kelley gradually faded after a red-hot three weeks as Washington's starter.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

He's also a volume-dependent rusher who accrued 363 total yards in his final five games after a 137-yard, three-touchdown outburst against the Green Bay Packers. He may be the starter now, but that would change after an underwhelming start. Just ask Matt Jones. 

Perine, who posted three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Sooners, is faster, stronger and more agile than Kelley. Opportunity ultimately matters more than ability, so Kelley warrants a higher draft slot barring a sharp preseason turnaround. But sometimes it's wise to bet on talent winning.

While Washington's quick and balanced offense could loft Kelley into a No. 2 fantasy back, Perine would leverage a bigger role into league-changing production. Instead of overpaying for a trendy player, take the newcomer at a discount. 

         

WR Rankings

1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

6. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

7. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

8. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

9. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

10. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

11. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

12. Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots

13. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

14. Terrelle Pryor, Washington

15. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos

16. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

17. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

18. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles

19. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

20. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders 

21. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

22. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions

23. Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams

24. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

25. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

26. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

27. Jamison Crowder, Washington

28. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

29. Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers

30. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

Sleeper: Robby Anderson, New York Jets

Robby Anderson should receive plenty of targets as the New York Jets' top wide receiver.
Robby Anderson should receive plenty of targets as the New York Jets' top wide receiver.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Somebody has to play quarterback for the New York Jets. That person will have to throw the football to someone.

The top wide receiver won't be Brandon Marshall or Eric Decker, who respectively now play for the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. It also won't be Quincy Enunwa, who suffered a season-ending neck injury.

The leading candidate is currently Robby Anderson, who on volume alone should easily obliterate his No. 172 default ranking in Yahoo Sports leagues. 

Even the NFL's worst passing offense should foster at least one decent fantasy wideout. The Los Angeles Rams were unwatchable last year, but Kenny Britt still produced 1,002 receiving yards in 15 games. Enunwa emerged as a bright spot for Gang Green amid quarterback turmoil in 2016, and Anderson can do the same this season. Replicating Enunwa's 857 yards and four touchdowns would make Anderson a solid matchup play.

Anderson will play a bigger role with Quincy Enunwa out for the season.
Anderson will play a bigger role with Quincy Enunwa out for the season.Elsa/Getty Images

Prior to Week 3's preseason bout with the Giants, ESPN.com's Rich Cimini said Anderson is "separating from the rest of the receiving corps" in practice. Jets receivers coach Karl Dorrell noted the 24-year-old's progress to NJ.com's Connor Hughes.

"Robby's definitely improving," Dorrell said. "He's understanding the mindset it takes to be a professional going into his second year in terms of how hard you work at practice, and prepare off the field

Anyone who throws a dart at Anderson should root for Bryce Petty to win the quarterback battle. In their four games together, the wideout caught 17 of 35 targets for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He snagged a reception of 40 yards or more in each contest.

Anderson doesn't need to morph into an elite option to give drafters a strong return on investment. For the minuscule asking price, he will delight them by offering occasional No. 3 receiver or flex appeal.  

            

TE Rankings

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

3. Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

4. Jordan Reed, Washington

5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks

6. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

7. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

8. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

9. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

10. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans

11. Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions

12. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

13. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

14. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

15. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers

16. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Houston Texans

17. Coby Fleener, New Orleans Saints

18. Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers

19. Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills

20. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

Sleeper: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cameron Brate scored eight touchdowns last season, tying Hunter Henry for the most among all tight ends.
Cameron Brate scored eight touchdowns last season, tying Hunter Henry for the most among all tight ends.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Most leagues consist of 10 or 12 teams and one starting tight end. Investing draft capital on a reserve isn't necessary—especially for those who dipped into the top tier—so there's no need to dive deeper than the top-20 rankings for a standard-league sleeper.

Hunter Henry and Jack Doyle are the popular picks who have lost sleeper eligibility beyond the casual groupings. Perennial sleepers who found subdued success last season, Zach Ertz and Eric Ebron are solid value picks who have graduated from such consideration.

Austin Hooper? He's the trendy choice because of his Super Bowl touchdown, but don't go overboard for someone with 25 catches in 17 games including the postseason. Evan Engram, David Njoku and O.J. Howard have the tools to become future fantasy fixtures, but rookie tight ends rarely factor heavily into passing offenses. Leave them for dynasty formats.

By these strict guidelines, Cameron Brate also shouldn't qualify as a sleeper. One would think everyone is wide awake to someone who tied Henry for a position-high eight touchdowns last season. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Kyle Rudolph (10) and Jordan Reed (eight) are the only tight ends who received more targets inside the 10 than Brate's seven, five of which he turned into scores.

Yet he's readily available for a bench slot. Fantasy Football Calculator lists his ADP as the 20th tight end off the board.

Although he developed a strong red-zone rapport with Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers spent a first-round pick on Howard. The newcomer's emergence appears to be scaring drafters away from Brate, but Yahoo Sports' Scott Pianowski isn't worried about Howard stealing the 6'5" incumbent's thunder:

With Howard learning the ropes and putting his run-blocking skills to use, look for Brate to remain a low-level starting tight end for drafters not interested in taking one early.