As in the real NFL draft, maximizing value is critical to success in fantasy football. Every year, there are players who inexplicably are drafted far lower than their expected production warrants. But there also certain players I think are due for a big season whom you should draft higher than their average draft position (ADP) just to get them on your team. Combining those two concepts made narrowing this list to 10 players a very difficult exercise, but the result is my list of fantasy players you need on your team this season.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
If you can draft Graham with an early third-round pick in a 12-team league, you should do it every time. I am very high on Graham's ability and think he is light-years ahead of every other tight end available (other than a healthy Rob Gronkowski, of course). I would strongly consider drafting him at the turn between Round 1 and Round 2. Having him in your starting lineup is like being allowed to start another high-end wide receiver; it's a tremendous advantage.
This year, I believe the right move is to wait on taking your top fantasy quarterback. There are enough to go around, so there is no reason to be anxious. But with Luck, I am willing to take him higher than where he is currently going. I expect him to lead one of the league's best offenses in his second season behind a better offensive line and with more experience under his belt. Also, look for Luck to supplement his passing output with quite a bit of scrambling yardage and short touchdown runs.
I am surely in the minority, but the only quarterbacks I prefer over Luck for fantasy are Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Luck will be one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL very soon, and he will be elite for fantasy owners even sooner.
I love Williams this year in Carolina. As evidenced by the show he put on in Week 17 last season (210 yards rushing on 21 carries), Williams still has plenty left in his tank. He has not had to endure a heavy workload in some time, but he still moves almost as well as he did when tearing up the league a few years back. Even in 2011, Williams averaged a whopping 5.4 yards per carry -- and he has never averaged less than 4.1 in any season. The Panthers are looking to lean more on a conventional running game this season, and I don't think Jonathan Stewart is the man for the job. Even though Williams might not garner a lot of short touchdowns with Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert around, grab Williams a round before his ADP and, by Week 3, you will be starting him every week. This guy can still play.
Finley is my next target at tight end behind Graham and Gronkowski. He is in an elite offense, is dripping with talent and is at a pivotal point of his career (as for Kenny Britt below, this is the final year of his contract). That tends to light a fire under immensely talented players. Finley could be the Packers' best red zone option, as well, especially with Jordy Nelson's injury situation.
As I mentioned last week in an article detailing the Saints' rushing attack, I have high hopes for Ingram this year. His health is better than at any previous point of his career, and I feel as if having Sean Payton calling the plays again in New Orleans will pay off well for Ingram's fantasy production. He should score plenty of touchdowns, but also realize that Ingram has noticeably more value in standard scoring leagues versus PPR scoring. Let's not forget so quickly why many of us were so high on Ingram when he was coming out of Alabama.
Britt is a very talented player who has put up big numbers (when healthy) in this league, but he is at a crossroads in his career. Due to become a free agent after this season, Britt can make himself a lot of money if he plays up to his talent level this season. The Titans now have a lot of weapons on offense, and even though their quarterback situation is worrisome, the offensive line is vastly improved. The asking price for Britt, who could easily be a WR2 if everything goes right, is minimal right now. Take a shot on him because he has huge potential.
I am expecting a lot from Chicago's offense under Marc Trestman. Trestman's quick-hitting West Coast offense may not be the most natural fit with Cutler, who is best throwing deep downfield and improvising. But Cutler put up big numbers in Mike Shanahan's West Coast scheme in Denver and has a far better supporting cast in Chicago now than he did last year. The offensive line is clearly better and the addition of Martellus Bennett is huge. And of course, Cutler can make any throw and is an above average runner as well. Cutler very well could end up as a QB1 when all is said and done.
Currently the Ravens are the 10th D/ST coming off the board, but I see this unit as one of the best five defenses in the game in 2013. They are vastly improved at nearly every defensive area from last season. You should always wait on selecting a defense in fantasy, but it's probably worth it to grab Baltimore's a round or two before you would usually pull the trigger on this position. Elvis Dumervil should aid the pass rush and Terrell Suggs will be back healthy and motivated to prove he is still an elite pass-rusher.
James certainly will be more attractive in PPR formats, but he is an explosive player and I imagine Jim Harbaugh spent time this offseason finding more ways to get him involved in the offense. With Michael Crabtree out of the equation for a while, there are more pass targets to go around and James is very capable of producing big plays both as a runner and in the passing game. Expect James to see many more passes thrown his way in 2013, but he also could get 8-to-10 rushes per game in the NFL's best rushing attack.
This outrageous ADP will correct itself and soon you won't be able to select Broyles this low in any draft. By all accounts, Broyles' recovery has gone extremely well and he should be a major part of Detroit's pass-happy offense in Week 1. Of course Calvin Johnson will dominate targets, but there are more than enough scraps for Reggie Bush and the sure-handed Broyles, who is a superb route runner. Matthew Stafford will love this guy. But of course there's one obvious caveat. Can stay healthy?