1. Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay Packers
A 6-foot, 221-pound “Offensive Weapon” coming out of Stanford, Montgomery was hailed as a future running back by draft analysts in 2015 and indeed landed there beginning in Week 6 last season. The No. 16 overall fantasy back from that point forward, Montgomery displayed surprisingly adept and physical inside running skills while finishing the season with elite rushing (5.94 YPC) and receiving (7.91 YPR) efficiency. Over the last two decades, Montgomery is one of just seven running backs to top 5.0 yards per carry (minimum 80 attempts) and 8.0 yards per reception (minimum 50 catches) in their first two NFL seasons, joining Jamaal Charles, Clinton Portis, Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew and Joique Bell. Montgomery is the heavy favorite for feature back work in Green Bay’s high-scoring attack.
2. Danny Woodhead, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Over his last three healthy seasons, Woodhead has posted PPR fantasy finishes of RB3, RB12 and RB23. Signed to a three-year, $8.8 million contract by the Ravens, Woodhead practiced without limitations coming off a torn ACL during OTAs and has a chance to earn a major passing-game role on a team that seems likely to struggle running the ball and has a league-high 345 available targets from last year’s roster. Most notably gone are TE Dennis Pitta (hip) and FB Kyle Juszczyk (49ers), who vacated 123 combined catches in high-percentage dump-off roles for which Woodhead is now ticketed. Woodhead is 32 years old with a scary injury history, but he offers PPR-monster potential if his health cooperates.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints
You probably didn’t expect to see the greatest runner of our generation on a “sleepers” list, but early fantasy drafters have definitely slept on him. The Saints boast a top-five run-blocking line, and New Orleans sports the best offense in which Peterson has ever played. While Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara will have roles in the Saints’ backfield, a healthy Peterson is the best pure runner on the team. By all accounts, Peterson’s burst and agility returned at OTAs/minicamp. He’s this year’s LeGarrette Blount.
4. John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
After exploding for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns as a 2015 second-year pro, Brown’s third NFL campaign was ruined by chronic leg pain and fatigue resulting from a sickle-cell complication Cardinals doctors now say is fixed. Brown also had a cyst removed from his spine after the season. “I was sleeping too much. I couldn’t eat right,” Brown said in May. “My body just wasn’t in it.” Both Carson Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians remarked at OTAs that Brown is back to his old self, describing him as “stronger” and “more explosive.” With Michael Floyd long gone, Brown has a great chance for upward mobility with an opening in Arizona’s No. 2 receiver role behind Larry Fitzgerald. Brown enters his contract year as the favorite for deep targets in Arians’ vertical passing attack.
5. Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Despite sharing time with Dwayne Allen and logging only 68% of Indy’s offensive snaps, Doyle finished fifth among NFL tight ends in red-zone catches (9) and ninth in red-zone scores (4) last season. New GM Chris Ballard performed team tape reviews after getting hired in January and came away impressed enough with Doyle to pay him over $6 million per year. The Colts then traded away Allen and committed to Doyle as their top tight end. Doyle’s snap rate should soar into the 90% range this season, and he is capable of emerging as the top possession target and No. 2 option behind T.Y. Hilton in a high-scoring offense quarterbacked by Andrew Luck.
6. Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
A physical slot receiver at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds with 4.45 speed, Enunwa broke through as a third-year pro with nearly 900 yards on 105 targets despite operating in a complementary role behind Brandon Marshall. Marshall is gone to the Giants, and Eric Decker was cut. While Enunwa isn’t a comfortable pick considering the sorry state of the Jets’ quarterback room, he does offer target-vacuum potential on a tanking team that will spend all of 2017 playing from behind. Enunwa is an ideal late-round sleeper.
7. Jonathan Williams, RB, Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ loss of Mike Gillislee vaulted Williams into Buffalo’s No. 2 back role, duties which Gillislee parlayed into last year’s RB28 fantasy finish, even as LeSean McCoy missed just one game. McCoy has battled chronic hamstring injuries over the past two seasons. With dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor returning, first-year OC Rick Dennison will undoubtedly keep Buffalo’s run-first mentality in place. The Bills have ranked second in the league in rushing attempts in back-to-back seasons, while Dennison hails from the Gary Kubiak-Mike Shanahan coaching tree, which has emphasized the outside-zone game with downhill, one-cut backs. In contrast to shifty playmaker McCoy, Williams is a 6-foot, 220-pound one-cut runner with a realistic opportunity to siphon occasional goal-line carries and perhaps even explode as a fantasy league winner should Shady go down.
8. DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders
A bet on Washington is a bet against 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch, who sat out the entire 2016 season casting himself as a pseudo-celebrity after appearing entirely washed up the last time he played. Washington offers a useful fantasy floor because we know he’ll be involved on passing downs. If Lynch misses any time, Washington could step into the lead-back role in a productive Raiders’ offense.
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley landed near the top of our players-to-avoid list last year for similar reasons, and he reappears on that list this season. The Rams are littered with borderline-NFL players throughout their offensive starting lineup, and Jared Goff showed no reason for hope during his abysmal rookie year. Over Gurley’s last 24 games, he has averaged 3.43 yards per carry with just one performance above 90 rushing yards. There is a reason he’s begun drawing comparisons to Trent Richardson.
2. Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are changing their offense under head coach Adam Gase, morphing into a run-first team that takes shots downfield and doesn’t pepper Landry with targets in the slot. In Gase’s first season with Miami, 35 targets and 16 receptions were shaved off Landry’s 2015 totals, and his usage dipped over the course of the year. That wasn’t by accident. Never a big-yardage or touchdown threat, Landry’s fantasy value has been the product of volume to this point. If he keeps losing volume, he’ll keep losing value.
3. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Not only do free agent receivers tend to struggle in their first years in new locales, Jeffery carries a worrisome history of soft-tissue injuries with at least four games missed in three of his first five NFL seasons. Carson Wentz was a far superior between-the-numbers passer as a rookie, and Jeffery will operate on the perimeter. There are much stronger ways to invest your third- and fourth-round picks.
4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan isn’t going to be a legitimately bad fantasy quarterback this year, but he played far above his head in 2016. In 2017, he’s a point-chasing fantasy pick. Ryan’s TD rate (touchdowns/pass attempts) was nearly two full percentage points above his previous career high, and 2.6% above Ryan’s prior career average. Before last season, Ryan had never finished better than the fantasy QB7. In addition to inevitable statistical regression, concerns include OC Kyle Shanahan’s departure for San Francisco, top receiver Julio Jones’ long-bothersome foot and an increasingly talented defense that appears primed for liftoff, which would allow the quick-strike Falcons to dial back their offensive aggressiveness.
5. Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
Shepard was a prime regression candidate to start the offseason after flukily scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie. His outlook became even more bleak when the Giants signed Brandon Marshall and then drafted Evan Engram in the first round. Shepard’s target share is going to take a colossal hit, rendering him a better real-life player than fantasy player this year.
6. Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, White missed his entire rookie year with a stress fracture in his left tibia and then suffered a season-ending “fibular spiral fracture” with “severe ankle ligament damage” in the same leg in Week 4 last season. Over the last two decades, six first-round receivers have caught fewer than 20 passes through their first two NFL seasons: Yatil Green, R. Jay Soward, A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods, Marcus Nash and White. The Chicago Tribune reported White has had to re-align his stride after two catastrophic injuries to the same leg, while there have been whispers White still struggles to run routes. The Bears force-fed White nine targets per game in Weeks 1-4 last year, but he averaged an anemic 5.19 yards per target and appeared far slower on tape than his 4.35 pre-draft timed speed would suggest.
7. Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos
Put simply, it’s doubtful Charles has anything left. While Charles’ big name will appeal to less-savvy drafters, his fantasy outlook is dim. On the wrong side of 30, Charles has torn both of his ACLs as a pro and underwent surgery on both of his knees following the 2016 season. C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and perhaps even rookie De’Angelo Henderson are better bets for 2017 touches.
8. Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Already set to compete for targets with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, Travis Benjamin and Melvin Gordon, No. 7 overall draft pick Williams was an unlikely year-one fantasy contributor. His odds were further reduced when Williams suffered a herniated disc in his back following the draft. Let your opponent waste a late-round pick on this star-crossed rookie.