Best Picks by Round in 2015 Fantasy Football Leagues

Tyler Loechner@LoechnerNFLFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2015

Best Picks by Round in 2015 Fantasy Football Leagues

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    There are value picks in each and every round of a fantasy football draft, but which players are the best picks of each respective round? We’ll answer that question here.

    The picks assume a 12-team league and a points-per-reception (PPR) format, though it should be noted that most, if not all of these players would be in the same position in standard leagues.

    If you can land a few of these players on draft day, you’ll be well on your way to building a championship team.

Round 1: Marshawn Lynch, 1.08

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    Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch at 1.08 is a steal. Not only has he been one of the top six running backs in fantasy for the past four years, but he’s actually getting better:

    I'm definitely buying Macaroni Lynch shares this year. Since 2011: 6th, 5th, 5th, and 4th best RB in PPR leagues.

    — Tyler Loechner (@LoechnerNFL) August 11, 2015

    Lynch is one of the safest bets in fantasy football, and getting him toward the end of the first round is an excellent value pick.

    It is true that Lynch, now 30, may carry the ball fewer times in 2015 than in previous years, but that has actually been the case for some time now. In 2012, he had 315 carries, followed by 301 carries in 2013 and 280 carries in 2014. Lynch should be in the 275-carry range again in 2015, but that will still give a large enough workload to top 1,250 yards and score 10-12 touchdowns.

    Beast Mode has also been trending upward in terms of receiving production. His receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns have all increased steadily over the past three seasons.

    It’s hard to go wrong with any first-round pick in fantasy, but there’s no value better than Lynch—a top-five fantasy running back waiting for you in the later stages of the round.

Round 2: Justin Forsett, 2.09

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    Baltimore Ravens ball-carrier Justin Forsett is not quite a first-rounder in fantasy, but he should be going closer to the start of the second round, not toward the end.

    He was a top-10 fantasy running back last season and is lining up to be one of the best in the league again this year. However, Forsett is being drafted outside of the top 10 running backs; he’s currently the 11th running back coming off draft boards.

    He is particularly valuable in PPR leagues, which this article assumes, as he is one of the most-targeted running backs in football. Per data from ESPN.com, Forsett was in the top 10 in terms receptions among running backs last year, and some of the players that finished with more catches than Forsett—including Shane Vereen, Pierre Thomas and Fred Jackson—were used almost exclusively as receivers, while Forsett also produced as a runner.

    There’s also the impact Marc Trestman—Baltimore’s new offensive coordinator—will have on Forsett. Remember, Matt Forte carried the ball 266 times and caught 102 passes in Trestman’s offense with the Chicago Bears last season. Forsett's workload may not be as heavy, but it's clear that Trestman isn't afraid to lean on multifaceted running backs.

Round 3: Mike Evans, 3.03

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    It’s far too early to buy into Jameis Winston’s dream in which Winston-Evans turns into the next Montana-Rice, per the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ official site, but there’s no denying that second-year wideout Mike Evans is an elite talent.

    He was able to produce as a WR1 for fantasy owners last year with Mike Glennon and Josh McCown at quarterback. Even if Winston's rookie season is rocky, he should provide Evans with more support at the quarterback position in 2015 than he received last year.

    That’s the main reason why Evans is a good value pick in Round 3. If he was able to produce at the highest level for fantasy owners with a Glennon-McCown handicap, there’s obviously room for him to grow. But he's currently the 12th wide receiver being drafted, which means fantasy owners are approaching Evans as if he will produce at about the same level he did in 2014.

    This isn’t a terrible assumption—Winston is not a sure bet (though it is hard to imagine him being worse than Evans’ quarterbacks in 2014), Vincent Jackson should bounce back to steal some touchdowns from Evans and tight end Austin-Seferian Jenkins will likely player a larger role in Tampa Bay’s offense—but Evans is going at an ideal time in fantasy drafts.

    There is typically a run on wideouts in the second round of fantasy drafts, and then another run toward the end of the third. Evans is being taken in between these two runs even though he should fit squarely in the first group.

Round 4: Julian Edelman, 4.06

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    In PPR leagues, it’s hard to find a receiver that is as reliable as New England pass-catcher Julian Edelman. Sure, he’s unlikely to break out for 175 yards and two scores, but you can take his five-plus receptions and 60-plus yards to the bank every single week.

    Including the postseason last year, Edelman was targeted at least 10 times in 10 of 17 games. That’s impressive in its own right, but Edelman actually got better as the season progressed.

    Over the final nine games of 2014 (again including postseason), Edelman saw at least 10 targets in eight of those games, per data from ESPN.com. He caught an average of just over eight passes per game during that stretch. To put that in perspective: If Edelman’s final nine games of 2014 were extrapolated over an entire 16-game schedule, he would finish the season with 130 receptions—second-most in league history.

    Is Edelman going to have 130 receptions in 2015? Probably not, but 100 is certainly not out of the question.

    With an ADP of 4.06, Edelman is currently the 19th receiving being drafted. That’s a steal considering he should be a borderline WR1 in PPR leagues with potential to finish in the top 10.

Round 5: Travis Kelce, 5.04

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    With Rob Gronkowski going in the second round and Jimmy Graham going in the third, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce should probably be going in the fourth. Instead, he’s slipping into the fifth round of fantasy drafts, making him an excellent value pick.

    Gronkowski going in the second round (or even the end of the first) makes sense, but Kelce is actually closer in value to Graham than people realize. Last year—the year of his emergence—Kelce was the sixth-highest-scoring tight end in fantasy, per FFToday.com. This year—the year Kelce is expected to explode—he has a great chance of finishing as a top-three tight end, or even second behind Gronk.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Kelce scored an average of 0.48 fantasy points per opportunity last year, with an “opportunity” defined as rushes plus routes run. The 0.48 figure was second-best (behind Gronk’s 0.60) among all tight ends that saw at least 60 targets last year.

    And Kelce has room to grow into that statistic. A total of 22 tight ends were on the field more often than Kelce last season, as his 688 snaps ranked 23rd at the position.

    Expect Kelce’s snap total to increase this year, which will lead to more opportunities, and thus more fantasy points. Considering he’s already one of the best at turning opportunities into fantasy points, any increase in playing time will be a huge boon for his fantasy value.

    Fellow tight end Greg Olsen is also a great pick at 5.10.

Round 6: Russell Wilson, 6.02

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    Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson was an elite QB1 option for fantasy teams last year, thanks in large part to his contributions in the running game.

    He rushed for a whopping 849 yards last year and scored six rushing touchdowns. He also threw for a career-high 3,475 passing yards, but only tossed 20 touchdowns passes after throwing 26 in both 2012 and 2013.

    Expect Wilson’s statistics to balance out a bit in 2015. He won’t rush for nearly 850 yards again—and six rushing touchdowns may be a hard milestone to reach two years in a row—but what he loses in rushing points he figures to make up via the air.

    That’s because Wilson now has tight end Jimmy Graham at his disposal, a player that will offer the Seahawks and Wilson a favorable matchup week in and week out. Wilson should have no problem reaching 26 passing scores again this season, and 30 isn’t out of the question.

Round 7: John Brown, 7.11

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    Arizona Cardinals speedster John Brown is listed as the No. 3 wide receiver on Arizona’s depth chart behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but he could very well end up as the team’s most valuable fantasy football wide receiver.

    This appears to be fantasy’s worst-kept secret, however. With an ADP of 7.11, Brown is already going a few slots ahead of Larry Fitzgerald (8.02) and a full four rounds ahead of Floyd (11.06).

    Even though the cat appears to be out of the bag, Brown remains a solid pick at the end of the seventh round. He has bulked up “in an effort to better shed press coverage” and has “drawn offseason raves from everyone within earshot,” notes Rotoworld.com.

    Additionally, pay attention to Floyd’s recent hand injury. Floyd posted on Twitter Wednesday that his stitches have been removed and that progress is being made, but it’s obviously a situation worth monitoring if you’re interested in Brown.

Round 8: Cam Newton, 8.02

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    The season-ending injury to Carolina's No. 1 wideout, Kelvin Benjamin, does not help Panthers QB Cam Newton from a fantasy perspective, but it’s not a death knell. Newton’s legs are the real moneymakers.

    Last year was a down year for Newton, as he finished outside of the top 12 quarterbacks in fantasy leagues for the first time in his career, per FFToday.com. Actually, it was the first time in his career that Newton had failed to finish in the top five in terms of fantasy points.

    There’s a good chance Newton circa 2014 will be the outlier, not the new norm.

    For starters, Newton only played in 14 games last season. He has been a durable player throughout his career—playing in all 16 games during his first three years in the league—so there’s no major cause for concern in that department.

    In addition to missing two games last year, Newton’s lower-than-expected finish can be attributed to his career-low 18 touchdown passes. However, he picked it up down the stretch, throwing 10 touchdowns over his final six games.

    In fact, during those final six games in which Newton played—Weeks 10, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 17—Newton was the third-highest scoring fantasy quarterback, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, according to data from Pro Football Focus.

    Currently being drafted near the start of the eighth round, Newton provides fantasy owners with top-five upside at the quarterback position—a rank he’s achieved in three of his four seasons played.

    Those are good odds for the ninth quarterback being drafted.

Round 9: Anquan Boldin, 9.02

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    With an ADP of 9.02, San Francisco 49ers wideout Anquan Boldin is currently the 41st wide receiver being taken in fantasy leagues. That means he’s being drafted as a backup wide receiver, when, in actuality, Boldin should be considered a strong flex option or WR3 in leagues that start three wideouts.

    Turning 35 this October, every year seems to be the year Boldin will finally slow down. But it just hasn’t happened yet.

    Since joining the 49ers in 2013, Boldin has put up back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. He will line up opposite Torrey Smith this year, and the two players should split targets evenly, giving Boldin a good chance to top 1,000 receiving yards yet again.

    Side note: The ninth round is too early to take a defense, but unfortunately it’s where the Seattle Seahawks D/ST is going.

Round 10: Eric Decker, 10.08

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    A borderline WR2 and strong flex option, New York Jets pass-catcher Eric Decker provides fantasy players immense value toward the end of the 10th round.

    This is especially true when considering that many of the other players being drafted around him—including Tennessee running back David Cobb, San Diego wideout Steve Johnson, Dallas rusher Darren McFadden and Chiefs ball-carrier Knile Davis—are either fliers or handcuffs.

    Decker is obviously not as valuable with Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets as he was with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, but it’s not as if Decker has lost all relevancy. Additionally, Decker now shares duties with Brandon Marshall, a player that will command attention from opposing defenses—particularly in the red zone. This figures to open up additional opportunities for Decker.

Round 11: Brian Quick, 11.07

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    By the 11th round, you are likely drafting fliers or handcuffs. St. Louis Rams wide receiver Brian Quick is the former.

    When healthy last year (Weeks 1-7), Quick was the 32nd-highest-scoring receiver in fantasy. And at times during that stretch, he was solid WR2 material.

    This suggests that Quick has a shot at being a flex option or more for your fantasy squad in 2015—exactly the type of value you should be looking for in the middle of the 11th round.

    The St. Louis offense looks significantly different than it did at this time last year, what with a new quarterback (Nick Foles) and running back (Todd Gurley), but Quick remains the same. He should play a key role in the team's new-look offense.

Round 12: Roy Helu, 12.03

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    As noted in the previous slide, the late rounds of fantasy drafts are typically reserved for fliers, handcuffs, defenses and kickers. In the case of Oakland Raiders running back Roy Helu, he’s both a flier and a handcuff.

    As this article assumes PPR scoring, Helu becomes more valuable because he’s expected to take on the third-down back role for the Raiders.

    ESPN.com Raiders reporter Bill Williamson called Helu the team's "key third-down back" in a recent tweet. Williamson also noted that Helu “has been dealing with extended nagging camp injury,” but the expectation is that he will be back for the regular season.

    All ADP information is from Fantasy Football Calculator. All stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.