2016 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Rankings, Sleepers and More

by Kevin Roberts
on August 27, 2016

The 2016 fantasy football season is coming at us fast, as just about every league is preparing to conduct its draft this week or next. Week one will be here before we know it, and there is a lot to digest before you can decipher what will make up the perfect roster.

More than anything, a successful fantasy draft starts with simply being aware. It’s important to stay on top of all of the latest injuries and roster movement, as camp battles are being decided in the final two weeks of preseason play.

Naturally, now is a very fluid time in the fantasy year, as players you may have dubbed sleepers are about to lose their roles or a big injury could completely change how you view an entire team.

One way to combat the preseason challenges is to merely play daily fantasy football leagues once week one starts, but everyone still usually has a family/friends/work league they would like to dominate. While every fantasy football season brings us something different, we’re here to get you ready to crush your draft and churn out a winning season in 2016.

From our favorite players in our rankings to sleepers, busts and some value plays to target later in your draft, we’ve got your guide for the 2016 fantasy football season. Let’s get to it:

2016 Fantasy Football Rankings

Quarterbacks

  1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
  2. Cam Newton (Panthers)
  3. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
  4. Andrew Luck (Colts)
  5. Drew Brees (Saints)
  6. Carson Palmer (Cardinals)
  7. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
  8. Blake Bortles (Jaguars)
  9. Eli Manning (Giants)
  10. Tom Brady (Patriots)

Key Notes

With Jordy Nelson back in the fold, Eddie Lacy in better shape and Jared Cook potentially providing an upgrade at tight end, Green Bay’s passing game could be as dangerous as ever.

Cue A-Rod, who has been a top-five regular during his career and was able to finish 7th among fantasy passers last season in a “down” year.

Luck fell off the map last year, in a season that turned into an ugly turnover-a-thon. It went from bad to worse, as he lacerated his kidney and went on season-ending injured reserve in a quickly forgettable season for the Colts. He still has the talent and supporting cast to return to dominance, however, and we’re banking on precisely that with the likes of Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett stepping into bigger roles.

Blake Bortles was amazing last year, but he’s due for regression as defenses tend to adjust. I still think he’s a top-10 passer, however, as Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas still make up one of the league’s deadliest passing attacks. Balancing things out with new rusher Chris Ivory should only help keep Bortles inside the top-10 this year.

The rest of this top-10 makes pretty good sense, save for Tom Brady beating out some very compelling options in the final spot. It’s fair to question that ranking, too, seeing as Brady won’t be playing the first four games of the year due to suspension. However, Brady should return with a vengeance and with the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman at his disposal, he will be as sharp as ever. He won’t crack the top-5 thanks to four less games than his fantasy counterparts, but he’ll still be a guy you’ll want to own for the 12 games to does suit up in.

Glaring Omission

While I still like Kirk Cousins plenty going into 2016, there is a lot that leads to keeping him outside of our top-10 after finishing 2015 as fantasy’s 8th best quarterback. He’s in a contract year and has a loaded offense – both facts that support a massive year – but the former could also backfire and it’s tough to gauge whether or not his killer 2015 campaign was a fluke or not.

Cousins is still worth drafting if you’re streaming quarterbacks or drafting late, but banking on him as an elite QB1 is all of the risky.

Running Backs

  1. Todd Gurley (Rams)
  2. Adrian Peterson (Vikings)
  3. David Johnson (Cardinals)
  4. Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys)
  5. Le’Veon Bell (Steelers)
  6. Eddie Lacy (Packers)
  7. Jamaal Charles (Chiefs)
  8. Lamar Miller (Texans)
  9. LeSean McCoy (Bills)
  10. Devonta Freeman (Falcons)

Key Notes

Gurley was such a menace as a rookie last year that he finished 2015 as fantasy football’s 5th best rusher, despite not truly starting until week five. What’s more to consider?

He was awesome last year, and he still wasn’t even a full year removed from a brutal knee injury. Now the key piece to the Rams’ offensive puzzle, he’s destined for fantasy greatness again in 2016. Elite running backs with locked in roles are also falling by the wayside, so targeting someone like Gurley is crucial at the top of your draft.

There is understandable skepticism surrounding Cowboys rookie rusher Ezekiel Elliott, but we’re all going to laugh at the cynicism when it’s all said and done. The reality is Zeke is a versatile bruiser who can move the pile, find the end-zone or turn a short catch into a long gain. Working behind one of the biggest and nastiest offensive lines in the NFL, Elliott is destined for fantasy stardom in year one and you’re going to wish you drafted him.

There is a big shift in power inside the top 10 running back rankings, but it should make plenty of sense. Le’Veon Bell loses some upside thanks to a three-game ban to start the year, but he’s such a monster that he still has a very good chance to return top-5 results in just 13 contests.

Creeping up behind Bell is a resurgent Lacy, who was regarded as The Fat Man last year, but has returned to Titletown in the best shape of his life. He’s looked like a beast all summer and as long as he can keep James Starks at bay, he could enjoy his best season to date.

That probably won’t be the case for the explosive Jamaal Charles, who tore his ACL last year for the second time in his impressive NFL career. He was on his way to another amazing year, though, and remains a threat to dominate while still in his prime. Andy Reid offenses tend to feature one versatile back, and the silver lining is Charles has come back successfully from this devastating injury before. We’re dropping him down to 7th here, but he’s still a guy you’ll want on your fantasy squad.

The biggest drop here comes from Freeman, who free falls from the top spot. He was fantasy football’s #1 running back in 2015 and as good as he was, he was a total shocker. Defenses will see him coming this year and the Falcons also expect to get talented rusher Tevin Coleman more involved. Freeman should drop off a bit in terms of production, but he’s still a viable top-10 fantasy back.

Glaring Omission

Doug Martin is far and away the “gasp” omission in our top running backs list, as he was a total monster in 2015, finishing as fantasy’s #3 rusher. That was impressive, but The Muscle Hamster got paid this offseason and history tells us running backs who get the big bucks experience regression, whether it be immediate or gradual.

Martin should still be solid enough, but we’re concerned he may settle now that he’s got his cash, plus it’s never easy to match (let alone top) career years. Tampa Bay’s passing game likely improving also could take a good amount of carries out of his hands, while shifty change-of-pace back Charles Sims could also prove to be an issue.

Wide Receivers

  1. Antonio Brown (Steelers)
  2. Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants)
  3. Julio Jones (Falcons)
  4. DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)
  5. J. Green (Bengals)
  6. Dez Bryant (Cowboys)
  7. Brandon Marshall (Jets)
  8. Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)
  9. Mike Evans (Buccaneers)
  10. Allen Robinson (Jaguars)

Key Notes

There isn’t much reason to talk about the top spot. Antonio Brown has been a total machine and with Martavis Bryant serving a year-long suspension, this dude is going to get fed. He should be the top wide receiver off the board in every single draft, if not the top overall player.

Most of this list is self explanatory, as the top wide receivers usually are very reliable and we’re not seeing a ton of candidates that realistically are going to surpass these 10 guys. That being said, it’s worth noting that we’re high on the likes of Green, Bryant and DT – while a lot of fantasy football experts may not be.

Bryant is out for blood after a ridiculously awful 2015 season that saw him miss time with a foot injury and Dallas as a whole stink up the joint. He’ll be back in top form and ready to crush skulls. The same goes for Green, but for different reasons. The Bengals could start the year without the services of top tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu both fled in free agency. Green may notch the most receptions in his career.

DT is another guy we love, despite many thinking he’ll struggle. We get that his touchdowns were down in 2015 and his quarterback play is shaky, but that was the case last year and he still finished as fantasy football’s 12th best wide receiver with over 1,304 yards. The talent and role are still there and we think he’ll be targeted like crazy. He won’t be a top-5 guy, but he’s still an elite option that should crack the top-10.

Glaring Omission

The top-10 is pretty standard at the wide receiver position, but there are three guys who should drop out after exceeding expectations in 2015. They are likely to be Eric Decker, Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald.

DT and Dez returning to the top-10 are largely the reason for that, but this trio went above and beyond what anyone expected in 2015 and their numbers should see a mild dip, at the very least. All three remain viable top-25 options, but don’t expect them to carry your team.

Tight Ends

  1. Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
  2. Jordan Reed (Redskins)
  3. Greg Olsen (Panthers)
  4. Tyler Eifert (Bengals)
  5. Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
  6. Julius Thomas (Jaguars)
  7. Antonio Gates (Chargers)
  8. Delanie Walker (Titans)
  9. Gary Barnidge (Browns)
  10. Jimmy Graham (Seahawks)

Key Notes

We’re definitely a tad concerned of Reed’s concussion history, but if he can stay healthy again in 2016, he’s primed for #1 contention behind The Gronk. The usual suspects round out most of this top-10 list, as Eifert, Olsen, Kelce, Walker, Gates and Barnidge were all awesome in 2015 and should be good to great again in 2016.

The surprise here is oddly Jimmy Graham, who wasn’t consistently elite in his first season in Seattle and could very well experience a severe drop-off after tearing his patellar tendon last year. That being said, he’s one of the most talented tight ends in the league and is still a major asset for a Seahawks offense that gravitated more towards the passing game later in 2015. If that’s even remotely the case in 2016, Graham could be a big value pick.

Glaring Omission

A lot of people are extremely high on Coby Fleener going into this year, and it makes sense with him expected to take on a big role in a high-powered Saints passing offense. Still, he’s always struggled with blocking, awareness and drops throughout his career, so we find it tough to trust him as a truly elite option. He could still hover inside the top-15, but we’d rather have these 10 guys ahead of him in 2016.

Kickers

  1. Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
  2. Steven Hauschka (Seahawks)
  3. Mason Crosby (Packers)
  4. Justin Tucker (Ravens)
  5. Chandler Catanzaro (Cardinals)
  6. Graham Gano (Panthers)
  7. Dan Bailey (Cowboys)
  8. Blair Walsh (Vikings)
  9. Adam Vinatieri (Colts)
  10. Chris Boswell (Steelers)

Key Notes

The usual suspects are here, as Gostkowski seemingly is the top fantasy kicker every year and the guys behind him are at least generally in contention for the top-5 or at least the top-10. The only real surprise is we’re dropping Gano down a bit, as the Panthers could experience a Super Bowl hangover and it’s likely he doesn’t finish as the #2 fantasy kicker again.

Glaring Omission

Kickers are tough to trust to being with and the position is pretty fluid, so we’re going to bypass Josh Brown going into 2016. He’s been accused of domestic violence and is suspended for one game to start the year, so it wouldn’t be at all shocking if he’s out of a job very soon. Either way, we’re keeping him outside of our top-10 kicker rankings.

Team Defenses

  1. Seattle Seahawks
  2. Denver Broncos
  3. Arizona Cardinals
  4. Carolina Panthers
  5. Houston Texans
  6. Kansas City Chiefs
  7. Los Angeles Rams
  8. Cincinnati Bengals
  9. New York Jets
  10. Minnesota Vikings

Key Notes

There aren’t any real surprises here. We’re assuming the Chiefs will still be stout even if Justin Houston misses a good chunk of the year, while J.J. Watt figures to be fine after back surgery this summer and the Texans should be a tough defense, too.

Denver probably still has the best overall defense going into 2016, but their murky quarterback situation is bound to put them in some tough spots. They were also too healthy last year and that just doesn’t happen two years in a row. Instead, Seattle should rise up to the top spot and Denver drops to #2.

Glaring Omission

The teelers were inside the top-10 last year, but it’s tough to envision that happening in 2016. They do have a growing defense and can sack the quarterback, but their secondary does not look good on paper. They’re going to have to be just as good at rushing the passer and may need to force more turnovers to stay inside the top-10 and we like these other defenses a little better.

The Patriots are almost always a top-10 threat, too, but they’ve lost a lot of key players over the last two years – namely stud pass rusher Chandler Jones. They’re really good at replacing talent and getting the most out of their system, but I don’t see a top-10 finish out of them in 2016.

Top Fantasy Sleepers

Okay, so you know who our favorite top shelf players are. Little of that information or insight is over the top “new”, but it’s there if you needed it. Now it’s to the fantasy football sleepers section. To keep it light, we’ll point out our favorite sleeper at each position.

Our definition of a sleeper is a player who hasn’t really “made it” yet in the NFL, but to us feels like a lock to produce at a solid level in 2016:

Quarterback: Marcus Mariota (Titans)

We already saw what Mariota was capable of in flashes as a rookie last year and in 2016 the ceiling may pop off. A big, accurate passer who can shred defenses with his arm of legs, Mariota is a fantasy owner’s dream. His receivers need to step up and he needs better pass protection, but he’s destined to rise up in year two and his upside is obvious.

Running Back: Carlos Hyde (49ers)

Hyde is another guy we’ve really only seen glimpses of what he can do and now that Chip Kelly is running San Francisco’s offense, we think he’s in for a huge year.

Kelly’s running backs do well and now he has a versatile guy who actually fits his system perfectly. If Hyde can stay healthy, he’s going to have a career year.

Wide Receiver: Donte Moncrief (Colts)

We think Indy’s passing game will come back to life with Luck healthy and dialed in this year, and Moncrief could be a huge reason why. Now that the loafing Andre Johnson is out of town, Moncrief will see a consistent base of targets each week and his big-play ability will be on full display.

Tight End: Jared Cook (Packers)

Cook isn’t even officially Green Bay’s starting tight end, but he’s too explosive to not eventually garner a huge role in the Packers’ passing game. The Packers simply haven’t had a tight end this talented since Jermichael Finley and it’s really worth wondering what Cook can do now that he finally has an elite quarterback tossing him passes. The sky really could be the limit.

Players to Avoid (Busts)

This list could go on forever, but even naming fantasy football busts can be hit or miss. Still, the reality of injuries and regression exists and we need to at least consider it every single year.

Is this the year Adrian Peterson finally drops off? Who could be this year’s Andrew Luck? Will Rob Gronkowski get hurt again? These are the kinds of questions we need to think about when deciding which fantasy players to avoid in 2016.

That doesn’t mean every red flag translates into a bad year or bypassing a quality player in your draft, but checking every box is certainly advised. Here are our key fantasy players to avoid – one per main position:

Quarterback: Blake Bortles (Jaguars)

We’re not totally down on Bortles. Heck, he’s still in our top-10 quarterback rankings for 2016. However, if you’re drafting him to be a top-5 guy, we think he’s going to fall just shy of expectations. Jacksonville should be a little bit better this year, but that actually could work against him, as a ton of his production last year came in “comeback mode”.

Running Back: Jeremy Langford (Bears)

Langford has some talent and figures to be Chicago’s feature back to start 2016, but we’re worried about a guy who isn’t great at making people miss bulking up this summer. That could slow him down and limit his big-play ability, a part of his game that already wasn’t overly impressive. He could be fine, but those that are hoping for a top-10 season are woefully reaching this season.

Wide Receiver: Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)

Much in the vain of Bortles, this isn’t a condemnation of Fitz in 2016. He should still be rather good, but cracking the top-15 should prove difficult for the second year in a row.

He’s one year older and Arizona’s offense has a lot of mouths to feed. With Michael Floyd healthy to start 2016 (unlike last year) it’s possible Fitz doesn’t have the prominent role we witnessed in 2015. He’ll be fine, but he probably won’t be elite.

Tight End: Coby Fleener (Saints)

We noted Fleener as a potential sour grape in the tight end rankings, and he’s really the top sleeper we’re not enamored with. Last year Josh Hill was an interesting sleeper for New Orleans, too, and then Ben Watson ended up destroying the league. We don’t necessarily trust the Saints, but we have even less trust for Fleener.

Fleener has size and speed, but the mental game has never been there. From blocking to catching, Fleener has just never “got it” and it’s fair to say he never will. He’ll score here and there and if he keeps a big role he should be a viable threat in random weeks, but we don’t buy the elite breakout season many pundits are pedaling.

ADP Data (Value)

We’ve run through the top elite options, some fun sleepers to consider and some options you may be best off avoiding. The last thing we want to do is point to some awesome value in fantasy football drafts. Regardless of how you expect these guys to pan out, the fact that they can be had later in drafts makes them interesting fliers at the very worst.

Value is what can rule fantasy football quite often, so stacking up on guys who could pay off later, and not necessarily right away, can be your ticket to a huge year. Let’s go over the best pure values in each round, per the :

  • Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears (Round 3)
  • Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos (Round 3)
  • Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers (Round 4)
  • DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans (Round 4)
  • Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks (Round 5)
  • Drew Brees, QB, Saints (Round 5)
  • Matt Jones, RB, Redskins (Round 6)
  • Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (Round 6)
  • Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals (Round 7)
  • Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals (Round 7)
  • Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens (Round 8)
  • Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars (Round 8)
  • Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars (Round 8)
  • Derek Carr, QB, Raiders (Round 9)
  • Torrey Smith, WR, 49ers (Round 9)
  • Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (Round 10)
  • Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (Round 11)
  • Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans (Round 13)
  • Jared Cook, TE, Packers (Round 13)
  • Will Fuller, WR, Texans (Round 14)

This is a long list of guys that can be had at arguable value, and it’s no shock the quarterback position dominates the value spectrum. The position is just insanely deep and if you can help it, it pays to wait and draft your guy (or two passers) later in the draft.

Being able to get Wilson and Brees in round five is great considering we like them as top-5 threats, but waiting one round longer for Brady, two rounds longer for Palmer or taking a shot on Romo/Stafford/Mariota in rounds 10 or later displays that value more than anything else.

Starting up top, though, Jeffery and DT are two flat out stud wide receivers who could easily return first or second round value. You can get them in round three or later, depending on the draft.

Hyde and Murray have the potential to be total monsters at running back this year, giving you first round upside in round four or later. Murray has at least actually been an elite producer in the past, too, and has looked awesome this summer.

Matt Jones, Jared Cook and Will Fuller are all breakout candidates, respectively, while you’re getting nice value on guys like Eifert, Forsett, Thomas, Carr and maybe even Torrey Smith. There is more value to be had, but these are the main guys that stick out.

On top of targeting some of these values, be sure to stock up a few young players – namely talented rookies that could vie for bigger roles and help you win games later in the year.

On the flip-side, here are some guys being overdrafted right now:

  • Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (Round 2)
  • Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers (Round 2)
  • J. Anderson, RB, Broncos (Round 3)
  • Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks (Round 3)
  • Arian Foster, RB, Dolphins (Round 5)
  • DeAngelo Williams, RB, Steelers (Round 6)
  • Josh Gordon, WR, Browns (Round 6)

We still think all of these guys could be awesome fantasy options in 2016, but the value should be right. The more the value aligns, the more balanced and reliable your fantasy squad will be. That should also help promote better upside, as well.

Charles is absolutely a threat to return first round value, but you’re barely getting him one round later than you did a year ago and he’s coming off of a torn ACL. That’s not ideal. The same goes for Nelson, who wasn’t even a first or second round lock going into 2015. He’s also coming off a knee injury and for whatever reason, his 2016 fantasy value remains inflated. If he can drop to round three or four, that’s the area to target him.

We’re not in the business of over-paying for running backs who aren’t super proven or don’t have major red flags. Anderson and Rawls are both fresh off of big injuries and could be in committees, while Anderson was a total bust in 2015. All three of these guys could easily be monsters, but I’d like to target Anderson and Rawls a round or two later and Foster’s Average Draft Position has climbed a bit too far for my liking. The guy is coming off of a popped Achilles, and that’s a very tough injury to come back from.

D-Will and Gordon are two more questionable picks inside the first six rounds. Williams is being insanely over-drafted here, as he’s not even Pittsburgh’s starter after the first three weeks. That’s Le’Veon Bell’s job. Unless you’re banking on Bell dying, you can’t spend that early of a pick on a backup or handcuff. There is too much talent to be had at this point in drafts.

The case is similar for Gordon, who not only is suspended for the first four games of 2016, but we have no clue if we can trust him. One more mistake will probably mark the end of his NFL career, while there are other questions such as whether or not he’ll establish reliable chemistry with Robert Griffin III, get back to his elite 2013 level or even remain with the Browns (trade coming?). We just don’t know any of that, so taking a stab at him in round six feels a bit premature. Preferably waiting until about round 8 may be more ideal.

Closing

Like every year, the biggest thing for fantasy football is making sure you’re caught up on the major offseason changes, whether it be schematic shifts, changing player roles, injuries or anything else that can greatly impact the production of players and their teams.

Research is key, and then gauging value and deciphering a strategy is also suggested so you can go into your fantasy football draft fully prepared. We tend to target our quarterbacks in the middle to late rounds due to the insane depth of the position, and value top shelf running backs and wide receivers above all else.

That’s not a new, groundbreaking strategy by any means. It’s just a bread and butter approach that keeps the basic in front of you so you’re assuming less risk and stockpiling your roster with quality “outs” in the event your early picks get hurt or for whatever reason don’t pan out.

Along with that, it’s also important to not restrict yourself to any specific strategy. The Zero RB or Zero QB Theory (or any other draft theories you can name) are sexy and can be helpful, but you don’t want to miss out on value due to sticking to a tunnel vision draft philosophy.

Put in the time and research, develop a fluid strategy, not the ADP and value of your favorite targets and react accordingly to the constantly evolving makeup for the draft scene. It sounds intense, and in most drafts, it truly is. Hopefully our 2016 fantasy football draft guide gets you headed in the right direction. Either way, good luck in your draft this year!

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