1. Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns
Johnson's 61 receptions were eighth most all time for a rookie back and ranked fourth in the NFL at his position last year. He also showed tackle-evading ability as a runner, earning Pro Football Focus' No. 6 "Elusive Rating" among 52 qualified backs. In the spring, Browns beat writers went so far as to suggest new head coach Hue Jackson views Johnson as an every-down back. Even if he doesn't, Johnson will soak up playing time as a passing-game specialist on a team that will play from behind. In non-PPR leagues, don't overlook committee mate Isaiah Crowell, who commonly lasts until the double-digit rounds of drafts.
2. Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets
Forte has finished as a top-12 fantasy running back in four straight seasons and five out of the last six. As a back whose game is built on contact avoidance and all-purpose skills, Forte is a better bet for successful longevity than most "aging" backs (He'll turn 31 in December). A terrific fit for Jets OC Chan Gailey's spread-style offense that goes four wide on a third of its plays, Forte is entering a system that coaxed career-best years out of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in Buffalo, as well as Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell last season. Forte often lasts until the fourth round of drafts. Especially in PPR, he could return second-round value.
3. Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The more versatile 1b to Doug Martin's 1a, Sims is coming off a quiet breakout season in which he averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry and caught 51 passes en route to a top-20 PPR running back finish. Sims provides a stable floor as a flex option that’s usable on a week-to-week basis. He could become a league-winner if Martin goes down. Martin stayed healthy in his contract year last season but missed 15 games over the previous two years.
4. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
This year's tight end field is shallow and falls off in a hurry after the top eight or nine tight ends. It is crucial to find a reliable starter before the late rounds of drafts. Gates is 36 years old but showed he has gas left in the tank by ranking No. 7 in per-game PPR scoring last season. With Keenan Allen back healthy and vertical stretcher Travis Benjamin on board, the Chargers' offense will be as explosive as ever. Gates will gobble up red-zone TDs and is usually available in the ninth and 10th rounds. There's a positional cliff drop after him.
5. DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins
Jackson's Average Draft Position has plummeted following a hamstring-hindered 2015 campaign, while the emergence of Jordan Reed and first-round selection of Josh Doctson have fantasy owners all but forgetting about D-Jax's explosive big-play ability. We've seen him last until the eighth and ninth rounds of drafts, which is where WR4 types commonly go. Jackson has finished as a high-end WR3 or better in five of his last seven seasons. He's a low-risk fantasy pick with week-winning potential every time he suits up.
6. Mike Wallace, WR, Baltimore Ravens
An abominable fit for Minnesota's run-heavy, short-area passing game last season, Wallace's arrow is pointing up in Baltimore, yet no one seems to realize it. We love drafting him in the 13th and 14th rounds. Prior to 2015, Wallace finished as a top-25 fantasy wideout in five straight years. Ravens OC Marc Trestman's pass-happy offense is a far better match for Wallace's skill set with big-armed Joe Flacco at the helm. At present, we like Wallace's chances of beating out Breshad Perriman for Baltimore's vertical-threat role.
7. Tavon Austin, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Although Austin's week-to-week scoring caused fantasy headaches, he enjoyed a quiet breakout season in 2015, finishing as the overall WR29 in PPR leagues and WR25 in standard. The Rams aggressively manufactured touches for Austin en route to career highs in catches (52), all-purpose yards (907), rushing attempts (52) and touchdowns (9). Los Angeles did little to upgrade its pass-catcher corps this offseason but may have improved the quarterback position in a major way by trading up for Jared Goff. While Austin's draft cost is in the WR4/5 range, he's a good bet to return WR3 value and could again push to become a WR2.
8. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
The most dynamic receiver in this year's draft, Coleman has some Odell Beckham to his game as an "undersized" game breaker with an elite combination of speed, explosion and body control. As the No. 15 overall pick, Coleman landed in a near-ideal situation to hog targets with a cast of much lesser-talented rookies and veterans behind him in the pecking order. Quarterback play is a concern, but you should be willing to gamble on Coleman's upside in the middle rounds if you trust Hue Jackson to scheme him the rock.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Ranked as the No. 1 fantasy back in some mainstream circles, Peterson is a player you may want to let your opponent draft this year. He'll be 31 1/2 years old when the season starts and has managed just 61 receptions over his last 31 games. The Vikings are likely to feel more comfortable opening up the offense as they move back indoors for 2016, while Peterson's 2015 late-season struggles are cause for forward-thinking concern. Including the playoffs, aging Peterson reached 4.00 yards per carry in just two of the final eight games.
2. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Increasing inefficiency is never a good sign for an aging receiver, and Thomas' 2015 efficiency plummeted to career lows. Thomas' yards-per-target averages over the last four years: 10.03 (2012); 10.07 (2013); 8.80 (2014); 7.37 (2015). The age cliff can be particularly steep for big wideouts who are also getting old. Thomas turns 29 later this year. With Mark Sanchez or Paxton Lynch under center, quarterback play is an additional concern. We could envision the pendulum swinging to Emmanuel Sanders as Denver's new go-to guy.
3. Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins
A slot receiver with 4.77 speed, Landry met expectations associated with his fifth-/sixth-round average draft position last year on sheer volume, drawing the NFL's sixth most targets but finishing 13th in yards and catching just four TDs. New head coach Adam Gase plans to push the ball to the outside, where breakout candidate DeVante Parker, speedster Kenny Stills and underrated rookie Leonte Carroo will line up. Gase also wants Jordan Cameron more involved. Short on big-play and scoring ability, Landry's value could sink if his usage dips. Even in PPR drafts, Landry doesn't deserve to be going early in the third round.
4. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Annually overvalued, Ertz finally finished as a top-10 tight end last season on the strength of a fast finish in which he averaged nearly nine catches for 113 yards in the Eagles' final four games. (He averaged 3.6 catches and 36.6 yards in his other 11 games.) Never a touchdown scorer, Ertz has yet to find pay dirt more than four times in an NFL season and didn't top six TDs in any of his college years. The Eagles' offense will morph from one of the league's fastest paced into one of the slowest transitioning from Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson. A quarterback controversy is brewing and Nelson Agholor will see more targets.
5. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
We were high on Walker last year as a late-round value pick teeming with opportunity on a bad team that projected to throw the ball more than it planned. Walker paid dividends by leading all tight ends in targets and catches. This year, Dorial Green-Beckham's role will grow, Kendall Wright is healthy, Rishard Matthews adds versatility to the receiver corps and the Titans want to play smashmouth football, trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry in the second round. Entering his age-32 season, Walker is a trap.
6. Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears
Langford ranked dead last in Pro Football Focus' 2015 "Elusive Rating," finishing 52nd out of 52 qualified running backs. He also led all running backs in drops (8) despite ranking 30th at the position in targets. Behind the same line and in the same offense, Langford's yards-per-carry average (3.63) trailed both Matt Forte (4.12) and Ka'Deem Carey (3.70). Langford is viewed as a breakout candidate in some circles following Forte's departure, but fifth-round pick Jordan Howard is a superior inside runner and the coaching staff wants Carey more involved. Langford has the look of a low-ceiling committee back.
7. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Gio has a big name because he can make flashy plays and was an early draft pick coming out of college, but he's never been very good in fantasy. He's yet to finish higher than 16th among running backs in fantasy scoring and simply does not find the end zone due to Jeremy Hill's TD prowess. Having lost Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to free agency and Tyler Eifert to ankle surgery, the Bengals may become more of a power-running team after playing spread ball last year. Hill has a chance to be a value pick. Gio does not.
8. Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens
I was involved in drafts early this summer where Forsett was going in the eighth and ninth rounds. Not only is Forsett entering his age-31 season after averaging a four-year low in yards per carry, but the combination of Buck Allen's late-season emergence and the Ravens’ fourth-round selection of Kenneth Dixon could threaten Forsett's roster spot in Baltimore. Forsett is not a good bounce-back target. I'm not even convinced he should be drafted at all.