LANZILLA: Fantasy Football Players to Target and Avoid
Fantasy Football Corner

ESPN fantasy guru Matthew Berry publishes his famous Love/Hate article every year, a guide to the players he claims will over- or underperform their current draft value. I am prepared to follow in Berry’s mold and unleash my treasure trove of fantasy loves and hates to you, my loyal readers.

My love list consists of players I find myself targeting in mock drafts and bumping up my cheat-sheet with each passing day. They are representative of my common draft strategy, which is to wait on quarterbacks and tight ends and use the early rounds to stock up on high-upside running backs and wide receivers. For this reason, you will probably never see me draft Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck at their current values, although I love both players. You will definitely see me avoid mid-level quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning.

There is just not much difference between guys like them, going in the fourth or fifth rounds in snake drafts and in the $25 range in auctions, and the next tier of passers. For quarterbacks I will most certainly draft Matt Ryan, for whom I predict huge things this year, Matthew Stafford or Ryan Tannehill on the cheap or even a veteran like Carson Palmer. At tight end, resist spending anything more than a seventh or eighth round pick or $8 in an auction draft. Yes, this means no Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. As a Patriots fan I love Gronk, but it is absurd that he is being taken over RB1 and WR1 players given his history of injuries.

Graham is a freak athlete, but he is too much of a question mark in Seattle’s conservative offense that loves to feed Marshawn Lynch  near the goal line (of course, unless it is in the Super Bowl … too soon?). Instead, target guys like Travis Kelce of the Chiefs , Julius Thomas of the Jaguars (who I predict will become Blake Bortles’ new best friend), Zach Ertz of the Eagles or Graham’s replacement with the Saints, Josh Hill, my go-to tight end sleeper.

If you are saving at quarterback and tight end, who should you target at running back and wide receiver? At running back, do everything in your power to land a top-four guy (Eddie Lacy, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch , in that order). Don’t panic if you miss out here, though. Solid second-tier guys include Jeremy Hill and LeSean McCoy, and further down the list, Charger rookie Melvin Gordon. I would avoid ho-hum hometown hero Alfred Morris (good luck winning your league with him as your RB1) and Bronco CJ Anderson unless they take a tumble in your draft.

Remember last year when everyone thought Montee Ball would take the fantasy world by storm? Well, he is still in Denver, and so is Ronnie Hillman. I smell the potential of a dreaded timeshare. Although reports out of Broncos camp have been positive so far, Anderson represents an early risk just not worth taking. Another “hate” is DeMarco Murray, a beast last year in Dallas. Now in Philadelphia, he will split carries with the capable Ryan Matthews and will have to try to stay healthy. If he drops a round or $10 in an auction draft below where he currently sits, I’ll think about it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have a heart attack every time he’s on the turf longer than three seconds.

Finally, at wide receiver, my top-pick targets include Dez Bryant (out to prove something after that contract spat), Julio Jones (will continue to grow with Matt Ryan and only needs to score a couple more times a year to be the best in the game), Alshon Jeffery (the man in Chicago now that Brandon Marshall is gone) and Mike Evans (could score 15 touchdowns if Winston lives up to the hype). At the WR2 level, I really love Brandin Cooks, now that Graham and Kenny Stills have left the Saints, and as well as Eagle Jordan Matthews, who I expect will explode with Jeremy Maclin gone. Guys I am wary of include Calvin Johnson (he could bounce back, but he won’t be doing it on my fantasy squad), Emmanuel Sanders (is this the year Peyton loses some of his luster?) and DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins (each with quarterback concerns).

Until next time, fantasy lovers, play on.

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Joe Lanzilla is a rising senior in the School of Foreign Service. Fantasy Football Corner appears every other Tuesday.

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