Fantasy Sports is a $7 billion industry with more than 59 million participants. On average, players spend $556 in a given 12-month period on league-related costs, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Yes, many people are serious about this.
Football is king when it comes to fantasy sports. With the NFL season just starting, participants are full of hope of winning their league and stunting on their friends. And there is a little-known secret for capturing the championship, the prize and bragging rights.
The key to winning is not in getting the best players. It is finding the gems that people overlook. It is filling out the roster with productive players to compensate the top end players you certainly grabbed high in the draft.
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t win you a championship. But Zay Jones will.
So, here is a breakdown of the players who will make the difference between playoffs and going home, between winning it all and having to get a Justin Bieber tattoo on you leg.
Many like the strategy of snatching up the running back high in the draft. Doing so usually means missing out on the top quarterbacks. If you want Arizona’s David Johnson or Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Ball, and all the points they rack up, that means you are not getting elite quarterbacks like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers or New England’s Tom Brady.
But that’s fine because there are other quarterbacks who are nearly as productive but fly under the radar.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Already a decent scoring quarterback last year, Winston is armed with new weapons. The Bucs added dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, a specialist known for catching long touchdowns, and drafted one of the best tight ends to come out of college in a long time in OJ Howard. That’s in addition to receiver Mike Evans, who is primed to emerge as one of the best in the game, and a veteran running back in Doug Martin who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Winston has the tools to be a top-5 fantasy quarterback. So if you have him and the stud running back you drafted early, you’re in great shape.
Eli Manning, New York Giants: Manning has always been a serviceable quarterback when it comes to fantasy. This year he could join the elite.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall make up possibly the best wide receiver tandem in the league and most defenses just do not have the personnel to guard them both. Beckham Jr., one of the NFL’s most popular players, will start the season on the shelf with an ankle injury. But once he and Marshall get going, Manning should put up big numbers throwing to those two.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: Mariota has improved both seasons he has been in the league. New additions in Eric Decker and draft pick Corey Davis give him some quality targets. The Titans improved passing game plus Mariota’s known ability to run the ball could mean a lot of points from the University of Oregon product.
Many are expecting Mariota could make the jump from fringe quarterback to a must-start in fantasy.
WILD CARDS: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams; Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles; Deshone Kizer, Cleveland Brown.
If you are smart, you got a top quarterback with your first-round pick. The truth is, most of the top 10 producers in fantasy are quarterbacks. And since quarterbacks are the most protected players on the field and involved in every play, they are much more reliable for their production than a running back.
That’s why you can’t go wrong getting a top-flight QB. And if you did, you didn’t necessarily sacrifice your chance at a good running back. Here are a few sleepers who can give you big years.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs: With Spencer Ware going down to an injury, many think that the chiefs running game will be heavily depleted. They will turn to little known rookie running back Kareem Hunt to anchor their run game and the chiefs run heavy offense will give Hunt plenty of opportunity to be one of the most productive running backs in the league this year.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears: Nobody knows who rookie Tarik Cohen is yet but that is sure to change this coming season. With Jordan Howard anchoring the offense as the workhorse power running back, Cohen will quickly become lightning to his thunder. Giving the bears a dynamic duo at running back.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore is aging, even though he’s still an effective back; the Colts are in a transitional period. They will begin to phase Gore out, Mack will take carries from Gore right away and is going to be someone to watch this season. WILD CARDS: Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins; Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
You had your eye on Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Beckham Jr. early in the early rounds, but your friend scooped them up. You were going to draft the best receiver available. Then Antonio Brown went. Then A.J. Green. Next thing you know, you’re scrambling for answers at wide receiver. Get your hands on one of these players. You should be fine.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers: Coming off a one-year ban, many have forgotten about Bryant. But he will be a huge target for Ben Roethlisberger. With Brown on the other side of the field, drawing lots of attention, the road is paved for Bryant to get a lot of targets. And with his speed and size, he is a big play threat — which means big chunks of fantasy points.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings: Thielen got a bunch of looks last season while top receiver Stefon Diggs dealt with an injury. This year Diggs is back and Thielen may get less targets than last season. But the sure-handed receiver will still get targeted quite a bit by quarterback Sam Bradford, who already has a rapport with Thielen. Plus, the Vikings might be pretty good.
Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills: With top wide receiver Sammy Watkins traded to the Rams, and the retirement of Anquan Boldin, the rookie receiver will have a chance to grow into the No.1 one receiver role for the Bills. He set the all-time record for receptions while at Eastern Carolina University. If Tyrod Taylor stays healthy, Jones could become an immediate go-to guy.
WILD CARDS: Corey Coleman, Cleveland Browns; Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons; Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
You may have rounded out your roster with top players at every other position. Without addressing your need for a tight end. The top tier players like Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce are gone. Don’t worry though, pick up one of these players and you will be just fine.
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers: Though second on the depth chart last season behind future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, Henry still topped all tight ends in touchdown receptions. With father time starting to catch up to Gates, Henry looks to take a huge step forward in 2017.
Evan Engram, New York Giants: Giants cut their top tight end from a year ago, Will Tye. The shocking move may have opened the door wide open for Engram, the Giants’ first-round pick. With Beckham Jr. and Marshall drawing attention on the outside, Engram should have room to work the middle.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford is the highest paid player in the league and the only hope for the Lions to be any good. He is going to throw it a lot. That means plenty opportunities for Ebron. He could be especially important in the red zone.
WILD CARDS: Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts; David Njoku, Cleveland; Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
Keep in mind, you don’t have to draft some of these players. Use the excess on your roster to offer up some trades, especially if one of these players are on another team’s bench.
And if one of these sleepers are somehow free agents in your league, you’d be wise to snatch them up quick.