by Byron Hamilton
There a quite a few players on this list that are perennial fantasy juggernauts each and every season. However, there are some new names that finished towards the top of their position that surprised me a bit. As the season winds down we thought it would be fun to break down each player in the top five at each position to see if we can help you identify those players you may want to keep in mind as you’re drafting your team next year.
#1. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
I’ll admit I was a little worried about Rodgers early in the season. Through weeks two through six he was averaging just over 242 passing yards per game and had three flat out bad games where he threw only four touchdowns to six turnovers. However, he has been on a tear ever since. Rodgers scored at least 26 fantasy points in eight of the last ten games and has finished the season strong. While finishing at the top of the fantasy rankings is nothing new for Rodgers, Cam Newton was taken above him in a ton of drafts this season. I’d consider him your number one quarterback once the 2017 season rolls around.
#2. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
What can you say about Drew Brees that hasn’t been said at this point? This guy is a machine year in and year out. He once again blew by the 4,000-yard passing mark and led the league in passing yards, attempts, and touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also finished sixth in the league with 14 interceptions, which was helped along by his two abysmal performances in back to back weeks where he combined for six picks and no touchdowns. Still, Brees is a non-aging wonder. Which makes me wonder how much longer he can keep this up before we start to see some regression. Either way, he’s surrounded by young talent at receiver and remains one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the game.
#3. Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
Man, talk about a late round gem. Matty Ice was an afterthought in most fantasy drafts this season and came into 2016 with an ADP in the 20s at his position. We saw him selected after players like Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton. Ryan has been a very serviceable quarterback since coming into the league, but he’s not really had that one great season that’s put him among the fantasy elite. That is, until this year. The point difference between Ryan, Brees, and Rodgers is not that large as the three top quarterbacks all fall within a few points of one another. However, the drop off from here on out gets to be fairly substantial. Ryan is definitely among the cream of the crop this season.
#4. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this was a semi-disappointing year for Andrew Luck, which sounds crazy considering he finished within the top five at his position. The Colts just gave Luck the biggest contract in NFL history, which makes sense for the organization. However, the team, in general, is going to struggle as a result. They have no offensive line and a porous defense. At least the latter basically assures the Luck will need to throw a ton if the Colts have a prayer for a championship run, which is great news for fantasy football players. Luck finishes the year at number four even after missing some time due to injury, and that will lock him in as a top three pick at quarterback next season.
#5. Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins
You like that?!? How you like me now?!? Let’s face it, nobody really thought Cousins would finish the season as a top five fantasy quarterback. Heading into the last week of the season Cousins was second only to Drew Brees in passing yards. At this point, it’s hard to figure out what the Redskins are going to do in the offseason. Cousins was essentially auditioning for a contract this season, and he’s earned one in my opinion. He also has a great receiving core that may be in danger of breaking up. Desean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are both in contract years, which would leave only Jamison Crowder left if his counterparts decide to pack their bags. The jury is out as to where Cousins will land next year in fantasy drafts, but I think he’s found a home in Washington
Honorable Mention: Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys
I’m sure this kid will appear on quite a few different year end lists that will be distributed around over the next couple of weeks, and it’s not hard to see why. To say that Dak Prescott’s rookie campaign has been impressive would be an understatement. Sure, he has the privilege of handing the ball off to one of the most dynamic rookie running backs I’ve seen in a long time. That shouldn’t diminish what Dak has been able to do this year, however. There have only been six games this season where the rookie has scored less than 20 fantasy points, and three of those came in the first five weeks when he was still getting his bearings as the starting quarterback. As long as this team stays intact I see Dak as a potential top five pick at the quarterback position next season.
#1. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
Any concerns we may have had surrounding David Johnson can be laid to rest. Some thought that Johnson’s late season surge last year wasn’t enough of a sample size to justify making him the number one running back off the board. Well, they were wrong. While most of the hype around the league has been centered on Ezekiel Elliott, Johnson proved he is as good as advertised. While Zeke finished the season as the leader in rushing yards, it was DJ’s involvement in the passing game that gave him the leg up on the rookie. Johnson finished the season with 2,074 total yards and was the only player to pass that mark. He’s the front runner for the number one overall pick next season in my opinion, especially in PPR leagues.
#2. Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Zeke was No Huddle’s candidate to be the number one fantasy running back way back at the beginning of the season, and it’s not hard to see why after watching this kid play this year. The Cowboys took some criticism after they drafted Elliott in the first round, but it’s almost impossible to argue with that decision now. Zeke finished his rookie fantasy campaign with a league-leading 1,631 rushing yards, which is 363 more yards than the runner-up. What’s crazy to think about is the room for improvement that’s here. Zeke was an excellent receiver in college but wasn’t overly involved in the passing game this season. If he can take that next step as a receiver then the sky is the limit for this kid.
#3. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s a chance Le’Veon Bell could have finished as the number one fantasy running back this season. The fact that he’s third despite sitting out the first three games of the season is incredibly impressive but not too surprising when you consider what he’s done in the past. Bell’s involvement in the Steelers offense is right up there with David Johnson in terms being a threat in all facets of the game. He only had two games with less than 15 fantasy points and is without a doubt one of the best running backs in the league. If he can stay out of trouble I’d peg him as the number two player at his position heading into 2017, particularly in PPR leagues.
#4. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
It’s a shame Shady can’t stay healthy for a full season. If injuries weren’t such a factor I think he could be a top-five running back every year. McCoy still finished as the fourth highest scoring running back despite missing basically two games and being somewhat limited before Buffalo’s bye week. Injuries aside, he was a wrecking ball down the final stretch of the season. McCoy had over 100 rushing yards in four out of the last five games and scored no fewer than 19 fantasy points over that span. It’s hard to put your faith in a player that’s all but guaranteed to miss a few games, but I still see Shady as a top five running back.
#5. DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans
Talk about a resurrection. One bad season with the Eagles and Chip Kelly was all it took for the majority of the fantasy community to drop Murray like a hot skillet. His draft took another hit after the Titans drafted Derrick Henry, and it seemed as if this backfield was destined to turn into a frustrating time share. It seems that all of our worry and concern was for nothing as DeMarco Murray dominated opposing defenses for the majority of the season. He was one of the steals of most drafts as his ADP was sitting around 19 before the season started. You have to assume that Derrick Henry will take on a bigger role in the offense sooner rather than later, so I’m not entirely confident Murray will have this type of season next year. Only time will tell.
Honorable Mention: Melvin Gordon – San Diego Chargers
The number of injuries the Chargers sustained on offense this season was insane. Essentially every one of their big name playmakers was injured at one point or another. The unfortunate season-ending injury Danny Woodhead suffered opened the door for Melvin Gordon to take complete control of the backfield and the second-year breakout candidate proved he was an every down NFL running back after a disappointing rookie season. The fact that Gordon is still the sixth highest scoring running back after missing the last three games of the season is really a testament to how well he played this year. He won’t be flying under the radar next year even if Woodhead makes a full recovery.
#1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Well, there’s no surprise here. Brown was the consensus number one overall pick this season, and he delivered on the investment on every level. The NFL’s best receiver was one of only two players to catch more than 100 passes this season, and his 12 touchdowns were second in the league. Antonio Brown is in his prime and should be the number one receiver taken in fantasy drafts next season.
#2. Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson could be considered this season’s comeback player of the year. He was a touchdown machine after missing all of 2015, and his 14 touchdowns led all wide receivers in the NFL. There were a few weeks where the Packers offense stalled, but Nelson still had at least 12 fantasy points in all but four games this season. He has the fortune of being paired with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and his rapport with Aaron Rodgers is nearly unmatched by any other duo in the NFL. Nelson will be 32 next season, so there’s a chance we see some regression. However, he’s still one of the premier deep threats at the wide receiver position.
#3. Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans was a breakout candidate this season, and he certainly delivered on that designation. After a sophomore season that was plagued by dropped passes and inconsistent play, Evans has developed into an absolute target sponge for the Buccaneers. His insane usage rate made him the most targeted wide receiver in the league and has helped catapult him into fantasy elite territory. I look for Evans to actually take a step forward next season as Jameis Winston continues to develop. He’ll be a top-five wide receiver pick for sure.
#4. Odell Beckham Jr – New York Giants
There was some concern with OBJ earlier in the season as Eli Manning was struggling to get his star receiver the ball. Without those struggles, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness the infamous kicking net fight and the eventual proposal that we were treated to. Beckham is the epitome of a showman, and his antics on and off the field remind me of players like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson (I refuse to call him Ochocinco). OBJ is off to one of the fastest starts for a wide receiver in NFL history, and he’s essentially a lock to finish each season in the top five at his position.
#5. TY Hilton – Indianapolis Colts
Hilton was a pleasant surprise this season. He’s shown flashes of becoming an elite wide receiver but has never been able to put it all together and had to deal with Andrew Luck sitting out for much for last season. Hilton’s finished 2015 outside of the top 20 at the wide receiver position, so his jump into the top five is a testament to what he can do with a healthy quarterback. He improved in every category this season, and I think he’s a top ten fantasy wide receiver moving forward as long as Luck stays healthy.
Honorable Mention: Doug Baldwin – Seattle Seahawks
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised that Doug Baldwin finished right outside of the top five this season. While he finished inside the top ten last year, his numbers were bolstered significantly by an incredible late season run. Baldwin’s yardage increased slightly this season, but his touchdowns were cut in half. Either way, Baldwin seems to be here to stay as a top ten wide receiver in fantasy football. Russell Wilson’s early season struggles with an injury played a big part in Baldwin’s slow start so you can expect him to possibly improve on his numbers from this year.
#1. Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
This season has been one of the most tumultuous years for the tight end position that I can remember. If you were a Travis Kelce owner you can thank your lucky stars you owned this guy down the final stretch of the season. While touchdowns are hard to come by in the Chiefs offense, Kelce compensated by racking up 100 yards or more in six of the final nine games of the season. He seems to have finally emerged as a big time weapons for Alex Smith and was heavily involved in the passing game even with Jeremy Maclin making a late-season return from injury and the emergence of Tyreek Hill. Considering serious durability for players like Gronk and Jordan Reed it’s not crazy to peg Kelce as the number one tight end next season.
#2. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Greg Olsen is the model of consistency. The veteran tight end always seems to finish in the top five at his position and shows no real signs of slowing down. What’s impressive about Olsen’s second place finish is the fact that he was able to put up solid numbers despite the extremely unreliable play of Cam Newton. When you were watching the Panthers this year it was crazy to think that this team was in the Super Bowl just one short year ago. You can expect Carolina to get their former MVP quarterback some protection in the offseason, which would obviously help Greg Olsen out as well.
#3. Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans
Delanie Walker finishing as the third highest scoring tight end pretty much sums up the position for me this season. Walker scores seven touchdowns this year, which is tied for second in the league. However, he only gained 765 yards over the entire season. Last year 765 yards would have been enough for him to finish ninth in the league behind Benjamin Watson. Either way, Walker continued to show his rapport with his young quarterback. That trend should continue as we head into 2017.
#4. Jimmy Graham – Seattle Seahawks
Let’s just face it. Jimmy Graham may never be the playmaker he was with Drew Brees in New Orleans. However, his production this season was definitely encouraging. Injuries were a major issue for Graham last season, and shaky quarterback play from a banged up Russell Wilson didn’t help him out much to start his 2016 campaign. As of now Graham is arguably Wilson’s second biggest playmaker outside of Doug Baldwin, which gives him a considerable amount of value in a typically dynamic offense. He’ll be a top-five pick at the tight end position next season.
#5. Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings
Not to make light of an injury, but Minnesota’s acquisition of Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater’s freak injury was a blessing in disguise for Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota’s plan entering the season was simple. Let Bridgewater manage the game and hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson 20 times a game. If all had gone according to plan I don’t think I would be writing about Kyle Rudolph right now. That being said, Rudolph is a solid tight end with a big body that causes headaches for defenses in the red zone. His performances this season will likely be forgotten once 2017 rolls around, but he still should be a top ten pick at the tight end position.
Honorable Mention: Cameron Brate – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Be honest, before week three of this season who can honestly say they knew who Cameron Brate was or what NFL team he played for? All of the hype regarding a breakout candidate was surrounding Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had some off the field issues that resulted in his dismissal from the team. From there Cameron Brate took the reins on the starting job and didn’t look back. Brate led the league with eight touchdowns this season, so you have to assume he could have snuck into the top five had ASJ not been around. Either way, put Brate down as a top ten tight end pick next season. Tampa Bay lacks reliability in their receiving corps outside of Mike Evans, so I expect him to continue to be a viable option at the tight end position.
I want to thank each and every that takes the time to read our columns. We are truly passionate about fantasy football and love any opportunity to share our opinions with you. As always, hit us up @No_HuddleFFB on Twitter for any questions you might have.