For better or worse, the dramatic rise of daily leagues has changed the landscape of fantasy sports forever.
There was a time when fantasy players would be stuck with the team they selected for an entire season. Remember that?
You know, like two years ago.
Despite the abundance of ways to play fantasy sports in these modern times, assembling the crew of misfits you call your friends to draft for an old-fashioned yearlong league remains one of life’s great pleasures.
At least until one of those idiots grabs that sleeper tight end you had been waiting three rounds to select just in front of your turn in the draft.
Oh, the humanity.
This guide is not a complete cheat sheet for serious players. There’s plenty of resources for that.
But this one is free, so don’t complain.
It’s just another source of information, which you never can have too much of when preparing for a fantasy draft.
We will look at a key fantasy player on each NFL team. In some cases, it will be an obvious choice. In other cases, it might be a sleeper.
It won’t be Robert Griffin III. No one needs that.
So good luck to everyone as draft day approaches.
Oh, and if you’re in one of my nine leagues, please stop reading.
Arizona Cardinals, Andre Ellington, RB
The Cardinals are fascinating in that they have piled up wins over the past few years without any fantasy studs.
Larry Fitzgerald still is supremely talented, but age and a revolving door at quarterback have hurt his production. His numbers with Carson Palmer under center last season would have projected to a good season.
Can you count on Palmer playing a full schedule? Probably not. That leaves the running back situation, which has been further clouded by the late signing of Chris Johnson.
Ellington should get a chance to carry the load, but he averaged 3.3 yards per carry last year and hasn’t proven durable enough to be a workhorse. He can catch the ball, but so can Johnson and rookie David Johnson.
So Ellington is a player to watch for the wrong reasons. Let someone else overdraft him and deal with the headache of trying to pick which three times this season he will post good numbers.
Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones, WR
Jones has become one of the league’s best receivers and might be on the verge of his best season.
Jones played 15 games last season and drew 163 targets. The only disappointment was his six touchdowns. That number will improve.
Several publications tab Jones as the No. 1 receiver. While that might be optimistic, it’s not crazy.
The Falcons overhauled their coaching staff, but it doesn’t take a genius to come up with the strategy of, ‘Hey, throw it to that guy who’s tall, blazing fast and catches everything.’ Roddy White still is a reliable target, but isn’t a hindrance to Jones’ numbers.
Baltimore Ravens, Justin Forsett, RB
Ray Rice’s suspension and Bernard Pierce’s issues with ball security and injuries helped open the door for Forsett last season, but Forsett’s ability kicked down that door.
He had shown flashes of ability over his six seasons in the league. Nothing, though, to indicate his breakout performance in 2014.
Forsett was spectacular at times, ripping off runs of 20 or more yards 17 times. DeMarco Murray did that 15 times. No other ballcarrier had more than nine.
A change in offensive systems means a departure from the zone-blocking scheme in which Forsett has been most comfortable during his career.
There is a caveat, though. He is a capable receiver, and new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman loves getting the ball to his backs in the passing game. See Matt Forte’s 177 catches over the past two seasons for proof.
Forsett was eighth among running backs in fantasy points last year, so little suggests there will be much of a decline. Even though Forsett hits the dreaded running back age of 30 this year, he hasn’t taken the type of abuse that would make him most susceptible to a dramatic decline.
Buffalo Bills, LeSean McCoy, RB
Rex Ryan has a lot of tools at his disposal, in the backfield and at wide receiver. The organization didn’t give up a potential young star in Kiko Alonzo to acquire McCoy as part of a platoon, however.
Several players will see carries, but McCoy will have plenty of opportunities to run with and catch the ball.
In addition to a questionable quarterback situation, Ryan and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman have proven track records in keeping the ball on the ground. Ryan’s teams ran the ball 49.2 percent of the time over his six seasons in New York. Roman’s 49ers offenses finished third, seventh, third and ninth in rush attempts over the past four seasons.
McCoy is slipping in drafts, which is understandable considering his preseason hamstring injury and the presence of Fred Jackson, Karlos Williams, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown in the backfield. Don’t panic, though. If McCoy slips too far in your draft, get him.
Carolina Panthers, Greg Olsen, TE
Olsen has been a reliable security blanket for Cam Newton. A season-ending injury to top receiver Kelvin Benjamin makes Olsen more than that entering the season.
Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery are not No. 1 receivers, and while Devin Funchess might be one day, he’s not ready to take on that responsibility.
Combined with a dearth of fantasy threats at the position, that makes Olsen a top-three tight end. He should improve on his 84-catch, 1,008-yard season.
Another reason to love Olsen: He has not missed a game since his rookie season of 2007 and has scored at least five touchdowns in every season since 2008.
Chicago Bears, Matt Forte, RB
Forte is leaving fantasy owners with a dilemma. He has been productive the past few seasons and worth every bit of his lofty asking price, particularly in point-per-reception leagues with his 102 catches last season.
He’s still almost certain to go in the first round, but it’s going to be difficult for Forte to replicate the production from last season.
First off, he has said it’s not his goal to catch 100 passes again. Even if he was eyeing a run at breaking his record for catches by a running back, it might not be plausible in the system of new offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Gase’s Broncos unit ranked 23rd at targeting running backs, and while some of that was Peyton Manning’s ability to push the ball downfield, Gase and John Fox will look to get Forte more involved in the running game than he was last season when he barely surpassed 1,000 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry, his lowest mark since 2009.
He also turns 30 this year and, unlike Forsett, is a prime candidate to fall off the 30-year-old cliff.
Cincinnati Bengals, A.J. Green, WR
Running back Jeremy Hill is an immense talent, but is being overdrafted in many leagues. While he was a reliable workhorse back late in the season, Gio Bernard is too talented to allow Hill to get the overwhelming majority of the touches.
At times late in the season, both players posted strong fantasy numbers in the same game. With a player going as high as Hill is in some cases, however, a shared backfield is scary.
If he starts slipping to late in the second round, grab him. But the better value might be in A.J. Green. An early-season injury slowed production, but there aren’t many more talented wideouts.
Green is in a great situation as an elite receiver in a contract year playing in an offense without a solid No. 2 option. Playing with such a strong run game might help take some of the pressure off Green and open more space in which to operate.
He could provide first-round production with a mid-to-late second-round price tag.
Cleveland Browns, Duke Johnson, RB
This won’t be the league’s worst team, but it’s probably the worst fantasy situation.
Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are capable of posting serviceable numbers, particularly behind what should be a good offensive line. Neither has been able to establish himself as a go-to running back, and multiple reports out of Cleveland indicate frustration with the position.
Johnson has battled injuries in camp, which is good for prospective fantasy owners. Just let his stock fall and hope to grab him late in your draft. He has the most big-play potential of any of the team’s running backs.
At worst, Johnson will be a threat in the passing game as a rookie. If Crowell and West continue their pursuit of mediocrity, Johnson could be the feature back by the end of the season. Johnson might be of particular value in dynasty leagues.
Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo, QB
Sure, you’ve heard plenty of jokes about his performance in big games. Perhaps you have told a few.
But fantasy football is all about putting up statistics in the regular season, and Romo has been consistent by that measure. He entered last season injured but finished ninth in scoring among quarterbacks.
That was in a season in which DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards. The Cowboys still will run the ball plenty behind a sturdy offensive line, but Romo is worth a midround pick.
Romo will “vulture” touchdowns from his running backs with a bunch of 1-yard scoring passes to Dez Bryant.
He’s being selected as the No. 12 quarterback on average in online drafts. That means in a 12-team league, you could let every other team draft a starting quarterback and wind up with Romo after loading up at other positions.
Denver Broncos, C.J. Anderson, RB
The kind of hype that surrounds Anderson typically would lead savvy fantasy owners to run for the hills. It might be warranted in this case, however.
There are several reasons to believe Anderson will be a fantasy superstar this season. The Broncos want to lean on the running game to keep Peyton Manning fresh late in the season after he faded last year.
Anderson proved capable of handling the workload. After he carried the ball just 17 times for 82 yards through Week 9 last season, he totaled 158 points over eight games the rest of the season. That was more than Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray or Jamaal Charles over that span, though Bell and Murray played one fewer game.
Anderson has a new coach in Gary Kubiak who brings one of the league’s best run-blocking schemes. Despite all these positives, the average draft position aggregator at fantasypros.com has Anderson as the seventh running back off the board and No. 12 overall pick.
If that’s the case in your draft, hope for a late first-round pick and consider Anderson a steal.
Detroit Lions, Ameer Abdullah, RB
Abdullah has his work cut out to seize the starting job with Joique Bell returning as a reliable ballcarrier. Abdullah, however, immediately can claim the touches Reggie Bush left behind when he went to San Francisco.
Sooner rather than later, he will take on a more prominent role in the offense. Abduallah is too explosive, and Bell still is working back from knee and Achilles injuries.
If you’re in a league with Lions fans, forget it. The excitement around Abdullah is out of control in the Motor City. That excitement is starting to spread, so beware of Abdullah’s stock rising too much and eliminating all value from the pick.
Green Bay Packers, Eddie Lacy, RB
The Green Bay passing attack gets plenty of attention. Aaron Rodgers is as productive as it gets, and he spreads the ball around to several receivers who have fantasy value.
But the team’s lead running back is the player who is going highest in drafts, typically in the top five.
While the top of the draft is as cloudy as it has been in recent years with question marks surrounding all of the top running backs, Lacy might be as safe as it gets among the elite rushers.
Lacy has plenty of running lanes with defenses worried about the pass, and he takes advantage. He’s also adequate in the passing game and is reliable at the goal line.
“Safe” isn’t an exciting word for fantasy owners. Several candidates have higher ceilings if you’re picking in a spot in which Lacy would be a consideration.
If you’re the type who would rather keep your money under the mattress than invest in the stock market, Lacy is your guy.
Houston Texans, Cecil Shorts III, WR
Here is a player whom we might be out on our own limb talking about. This is a deep sleeper.
Shorts is not being selected in most drafts, ranking as the No. 72 receiver based on ADP in deeper leagues. But he might be worthy of consideration with your final pick.
Shorts was productive in spurts for the Jaguars and now gets a fresh start in Houston. He will slide into a secondary receiver role opposite DeAndre Hopkins, who will draw defensive attention taking over for Andre Johnson as the No. 1 guy.
Shorts is not going to put up monster numbers, but leagues often are won with late-round picks who end up providing productive weeks when pressed into action. Don’t be surprised if Shorts has a better-than-expected season.
Indianapolis Colts, Andre Johnson, WR
Plenty of mouths must be fed in the Indianapolis passing game, and Johnson is downright ancient at 34.
Fine, then don’t draft Johnson. I’ll take him.
He has been one of the most productive pass-catchers in league history despite not playing with an elite quarterback. Now, he will see targets from Andrew Luck.
T.Y. Hilton is a good player and should see more opportunities playing opposite Johnson, but Hilton is going two rounds ahead of Johnson on average. It wouldn’t be shocking if they post similar numbers this season, making Johnson better value.
Either way, you’ll want to grab some piece of this passing attack. The Colts might put up video game-type numbers.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Julius Thomas, TE
There aren’t a lot of great tight ends to choose from entering this season. While Thomas might be the most physically gifted of the group, he comes with risk unless he falls deep in your draft.
Thomas will go from catching passes from Peyton Manning to working with Blake Bortles after signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Jaguars. That’s not a recipe for fantasy success to begin with, but it only gets worse when a preseason hand injury is considered.
While Thomas should be able to play by the season opener, the injury is scaring off many fantasy owners. That could create value.
Thomas drew rave reviews for his training camp work before the injury, and Bortles will need to throw when the Jaguars are attempting to come back from early deficits.
Thomas has been coming off the board sixth among tight ends. If he falls much further, there could be value.
Don’t be suckered into over-reaching for the Jaguars’ other major offseason addition. T.J. Yeldon represents the future for the Jaguars but maybe not the present. The coaching staff sounds committed to getting touches for all of Jacksonville’s running backs, which is scary for a team that might struggle to run the ball.
Kansas City Chiefs, Travis Kelce, TE
Alex Smith is what he is. He’s an effective quarterback within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage who is cautious when it comes to pushing the ball downfield.
That’s probably bad news for Chiefs fans, but great news for fantasy owners looking for a tight end after Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Kelce had a productive season despite splitting snaps with Anthony Fasano last year. Now, he has the position to himself and has Jeremy Maclin on the outside to clear space a season after the Chiefs receivers failed to score a single touchdown.
You’ll have to pay a steep price for Kelce, but he should reward owners with a good season just behind the top three at the position.
Miami Dolphins, Lamar Miller, RB
Potential Miller owners who were concerned about a timeshare with Jay Ajayi have to be encouraged by the negative reports coming out of Dolphins camp about the rookie’s struggles with pass protection.
It appears Miller, last season’s ninth highest-scoring running back in standard leagues, is set for an even bigger workload this year. He is typically coming off the board as the No. 14 running back, offering outstanding value.
The one bit of caution on Miller is how much the Dolphins chose to pass last season on third- and fourth-and-short. If that is an indication the coaching staff doesn’t trust Miller and the running game in those situations, it could impact his fantasy value at the goal line.
Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson, RB
Will Peterson return from nearly an entire missed season to his familiar spot as the best back in the league, or will the time away negatively impact his performance?
The former is probably the better bet, but most fantasy owners won’t get to make that decision. Peterson typically is going with the top pick in drafts, so unless you’re picking there, it’s probably safe to focus most of your studying elsewhere.
Is it an easy decision for those picking first? No. Peterson has taken a lot of abuse and is starting to reach the point where most running backs dramatically decline. He is a freak athlete, though. It’s likely he will not disappoint those who snatch him up.
New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, TE
Discussion has swirled in fantasy circles about whether Gronk should be taken with the No. 1 pick. It’s not as crazy as you might think.
With his consistent production and Jimmy Graham’s move to a run-first offense, Gronkowski is as clear-cut a best player at a position as there is in fantasy football. His owners are starting every week with a lead over their opponent at one position.
It is a massive risk, but sometimes that’s what it takes to win your league. Would I have the guts to do it? No. But Gronkowski has to be a consideration for anyone picking in the second half of the first round. That is particularly true if Tom Brady gets his suspension reduced in federal court.
New Orleans Saints, Josh Hill, TE
Another deep sleeper. Opinions vary widely about Hill, who steps into Graham’s role as the Saints’ top tight end.
He won’t post Graham-type numbers. He is, however, capable of being a productive target for Drew Brees.
In some leagues, Hill is not being selected. If your draft is winding down and he still is on the board, snatch him up. The potential reward is too high to not take a chance.
New York Giants, Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Beckham was the breakout star of 2014, dominating secondaries to the point of carrying many fantasy teams to championships.
He had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the first four games. Those numbers included some ridiculous plays that made Beckham a sensation.
So why are fantasy players not drafting him in the first round? For some, it’s the Giants’ addition of Shane Vereen and return of Victor Cruz. Both will take targets from Beckham.
Beckham is a supremely talented receiver who probably will cause you to throw a tantrum at some point if you pass on him. But with a borderline first-round price tag and increased defensive attention, it might be better to let him go.
New York Jets, Brandon Marshall, WR
Is it possible a No. 1 wide receiver who loses his starting quarterback during training camp needs to be moved up your draft board? Yes, if that starter is Geno Smith.
Marshall is the Jets’ top target and could see more targets from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick than he might have if Smith hadn’t had his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room.
New York’s offense might get conservative at times this season, but as long as Fitzpatrick is taking snaps, he will get the ball to Marshall. Fitzpatrick targeted him five times in less than a half in the second preseason game, completing four passes.
With Marshall falling into the sixth round of some drafts, he could be underrated.
Oakland Raiders, Amari Cooper, WR
Derek Carr threw the ball all over the field last season as the Raiders consistently were behind in games. There’s not a lot of reason to believe that will change.
While Oakland is accumulating good young talent, the team doesn’t appear ready to make a giant leap forward. If Carr does keep airing it out, that’s great news for Cooper.
The long history of disappointing seasons for rookie wide receivers was reversed in a big way last season. Expect Cooper to continue that trend.
His play has drawn nothing but rave reviews from Oakland, particularly from Carr. Expect the young quarterback to give Cooper plenty of opportunities to make plays.
Philadelphia Eagles, Sam Bradford, QB
An emerging fantasy strategy involves filling a roster and then piecing together the quarterback position throughout the season using a combination of late-round picks and waiver-wire acquisitions.
Streaming quarterbacks can be scary, but it also can be effective. Those looking to employ it might want to think about drafting Sam Bradford, who typically is coming off the board at No. 18 at his position.
He has been given the reins to a potent offense and could pay big dividends. But what about when he inevitably gets hurt? You didn’t invest much in him and were planning to piece together the position for much of the season anyway.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Fantasy players will want to grab a piece of this potent offense. Pittsburgh will be involved in shootouts all season.
Sure, you can invest first-round picks on either Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown. Both will pay dividends, though Bell will miss the first two games because of a suspension.
The often-overlooked member of the explosive unit is the one who touches the ball on every play. Roethlisberger finished tied for the league lead in passing yards last year and was sixth in standard fantasy scoring among quarterbacks.
St. Louis Rams, Tre Mason, RB
There’s a reason the Rams used an early first-round pick on Gurley despite a serious knee injury. He will be a home run threat who can be a game-changer for a team that lacks a true playmaker.
That is great for the future. For fantasy purposes, Gurley is a frightening proposition. He is coming off the board in the early rounds and is likely to miss action early in the season.
A better option, if you must have a piece of this running game, is to grab Mason at a discounted price. He is going outside the top 100 in most drafts and will be the featured back for at least the start of the season.
Don’t expect Gurley to jump into a workhorse role when he takes the field, either. He will be eased into the lineup, keeping Mason relevant well into the season.
San Diego Chargers, Melvin Gordon, RB
The long national nightmare of waiting on the breakout season of Ryan Mathews appears to be over, as the Chargers have moved on to the next, next LaDainian Tomlinson.
Gordon is a big-play threat out of the backfield, but his fantasy value will be limited by his shortcomings in the passing game. That could be a problem on a team that likes to throw the ball a lot.
Expect Danny Woodhead to get plenty of touches as Gordon learns the finer points of playing the position in the NFL. Gordon likely will be a better real-life player than fantasy asset this season. His third-round price tag feels high.
San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, QB
This franchise could be headed for disaster. The dismantling of a team that was a contender two years ago has left more question marks than answers in the Bay Area.
It’s probably a situation fantasy owners want to avoid unless you have a strong opinion about Kaepernick’s potential to have a bounceback season.
There is almost no risk in selecting him, as he is available late in most drafts. Do you want to go into the season relying on him as your starter? Definitely not.
But you could do worse than the former UNR star when looking for a backup quarterback with upside.
Seattle Seahawks, Jimmy Graham, TE
Graham has a chance to have a major impact on the field, while simultaneously seeing his fantasy value take a big hit.
He will be counted on to block more in Seattle’s run-first offense, a scheme that hasn’t utilized the tight end a lot.
That was before Graham was in town, though. Russell Wilson will find ways to get Graham the ball, particularly at the goal line. His targets almost certainly will go down, however, which will depress his value.
Graham still is going at the beginning of the third round, which might be optimistic. He will make this offense better. That doesn’t necessarily translate to fantasy production, though.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Evans, WR
There are reasons to fear regression after a great rookie season for Evans. Increased attention from defensive coordinators and catching passes from a rookie quarterback are chief among them.
On the flip side, Evans’ ability to make plays in traffic should provide Jameis Winston with the confidence to throw it up when in doubt and give him a chance to make a play.
Another factor that gives hope to Evans owners is the presence of veteran offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Last season, the offense never recovered after Jeff Tedford took a leave of absence for medical reasons just before the start of the regular season and never returned. Koetter should provide stability and new ideas for how to get Evans the ball.
Tennessee Titans, David Cobb, RB
Bishop Sankey was about as disappointing as a fantasy player can be last season. Though he remains atop the depth chart, he hasn’t done much during the preseason to indicate the results will be much different this season.
Cobb could take over as the feature back early in the season, which makes his price tag as the No. 46 running back in an average draft cheap.
Washington Redskins, Jordan Reed, TE
Be prepared for the headache that comes with drafting Reed when you have to hope he’s healthy each week.
With Niles Paul’s season-ending injury, Reed will start the year as the No. 1 tight end for the Redskins. His lack of competition, combined with his skills, make him a potential starter for your fantasy team.
Drafting Reed should be reserved for owners with patience and a lot of free time to browse the waiver wire each time he gets injured. If he stays healthy, he’s a steal. Oh, forget it, it’s not worth it.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj
ADAM HILL’S TOP 50 PLAYERS
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
2. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
3. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
4. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos
5. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
6. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
7. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
8. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
9. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
10. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
11. Matt Forte, RB, Bears
12. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
13. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
14. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
15. DeMarco Murray, RB, Eagles
16. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
17. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
18. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills
19. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
20. Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens
21. Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
22. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
23. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
24. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
25. Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
26. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
27. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
28. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
29. Frank Gore, RB, Colts
30. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks
31. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
32. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
33. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers
34. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
35. Andre Johnson, WR, Colts
36. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
37. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
38. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
39. Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles
40. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
41. Drew Brees, QB, Saints
42. Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers
43. Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
44. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs
45. DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins
46. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
47. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
48. Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills
49. Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots
50. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs