ESPN’s NFL Fantasy Football TOP 15 Overall Projections

PROJECTED 2017 SEASON STATS
1. Le’Veon Bell, Pit RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 261 1268 4.9 7 75 616 2 317.4
2017 Projections 303.6 1398.6 4.6 9.8 81.3 669.4 3.8 368.6
2017 Outlook: Bell was suspended for four games to start the 2016 season but still managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Bell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn’t injured or limited (25 of his past 28 total). During those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. The heavy usage allowed him a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season. There’s little reason to expect the 25-year-old to play a reduced role in 2017. His off-field antics are a concern, but Bell is too good to pass on early in the first round of your draft.
2. David Johnson, Ari RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 293 1239 4.2 16 80 879 4 407.8
2017 Projections 307.1 1229.7 4.0 11.6 77.8 782.2 4.1 368.5
2017 Outlook: Johnson’s breakout 2016 campaign was the highlight of a comeback year at the running back position. Fantasy’s top-scoring running back accrued 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). He carried the ball inside the opponent’s 5-yard line 22 times (second most). Johnson’s pedestrian rushing efficiency (4.2 YPC, including 1.6 after contact) is far from ideal, but he more than made up for it with volume; Johnson registered a top-10 fantasy week during a position-best 75 percent of his outings. Johnson is in his prime at age 25 and positioned well to again see 22-24 touches every week.
3. Antonio Brown, Pit WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 155 106 1284 12.1 12 3 9 0 307.3
2017 Projections 159.3 107.7 1420.1 13.2 7.6 4 22.3 0.1 302.2
2017 Outlook: How high were expectations for Brown last season? His 106-catch, 1,284-yard, 12-touchdown season was widely regarded as a letdown. Brown missed a game, but still topped wide receivers in fantasy points for the third consecutive season. He finished top-five in targets, receptions and receiving yards for the fourth straight year. Brown turns 29 this year, so he still figures to have a few years of top-end production left in the tank. Ben Roethlisberger’s top target and fantasy’s most consistently dominant wide receiver should be off the board early in the first round of your draft.
4. Julio Jones, Atl WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 129 83 1409 17.0 6 0 0 0 259.9
2017 Projections 142.2 95.7 1434.4 15.0 7.4 0 0 0 284.1
2017 Outlook: Jones missed two games with a toe injury, but still managed to finish sixth among wide receivers in fantasy points last season. Jones’ target share dipped a bit, but Matt Ryan’s top target thrived in the breakout offense of the year. Despite eclipsing eight touchdowns in a season just once in his career, Jones has finished as a top-11 fantasy receiver during four of the past five seasons. Durability continues to be an issue for Jones, as he’s missed at least one game during four of his six NFL seasons. The Atlanta offense will surely come back to earth a bit this season, but 28-year-old Jones is arguably the game’s best talent at the position. Select him in the middle of the first round.
5. Odell Beckham Jr., NYG WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 169 101 1367 13.5 10 1 9 0 296.6
2017 Projections 159.8 97.4 1312.4 13.5 8.1 0 0 0 276.5
2017 Outlook: Beckham’s 2016 season started slowly, but he ended up posting career bests in both targets (167) and receptions (101). Beckham has now managed at least 91 receptions, 1,305 yards and 10 touchdowns during each of his first three pro seasons. He’s finished as a top-seven fantasy wide receiver each of those years. Beckham is known more for his highlight reel catches, but he also ranked seventh in the NFL with 15 end zone targets last season (up from 11 in 2015). The 24-year-old superstar is just getting started and should only benefit from New York’s offseason addition of Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram. Beckham is a low-risk, high-ceiling pick early in the first round of fantasy drafts.
6. Mike Evans, TB WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 175 96 1321 13.8 12 0 0 0 304.1
2017 Projections 159.5 86.8 1202.1 13.8 8.7 0 0 0 260.2
2017 Outlook: Evans was terrific during his first two years in the NFL, but he took his game to a new level in 2016. Evans paced the NFL with 170 targets, a league-high 20 of which came in the end zone, and ranked top-six in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. A 6-foot-5 downfield weapon, Evans has ranked top-10 at the position in average depth of target each of his first three seasons in the NFL, which justifies his substandard 54 percent catch rate. Fantasy’s No. 4-scoring wideout was consistent but not dominant, posting only four top-10 fantasy weeks, which tied for ninth. The additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will take some heat off of Evans and won’t cost him many targets and scoring opportunities. Evans is a solid WR1.
7. LeSean McCoy, Buf RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 234 1267 5.4 13 50 356 1 298.3
2017 Projections 240.8 1191.6 4.9 7.4 51.7 416.5 1.7 264.4
2017 Outlook: McCoy turns 29 this summer, but his age and hefty career volume of work didn’t seem to slow him in 2016. Far from it, in fact. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years and, thanks in part to elite run blocking, his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy posted a top-10 fantasy week during 53 percent of his 15 outings (sixth best) and finished fourth at the position in fantasy points. McCoy also caught an incredible 50 of 55 targets (91 percent). Buffalo won’t be quite as run heavy with Rex Ryan gone, but McCoy is an explosive lead back in an offense that ranked seventh in touchdowns per game last year. He’s a quality RB1 option.
8. A.J. Green, Cin WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 100 66 964 14.6 4 0 0 0 186.4
2017 Projections 151.6 96.1 1312.7 13.7 7.6 0 0 0 273.1
2017 Outlook: The Bengals’ 2016 season was marred by injuries and Green was caught up in the onslaught. After posting at least 1,000 receiving yards during his first six seasons, Green caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four scores in 10 games in 2016. He finished an NFL-best 70 percent of his 10 starts as a top-30 non-PPR fantasy receiver. He’s finished top-nine at the position in PPR during three of the past five seasons, but has missed a total of nine games due to injury over the past three seasons. Green turns 29 years old this year and remains one of the best and most heavily targeted wideouts in the league.
9. Jordy Nelson, GB WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 152 97 1257 13.0 14 0 0 0 304.7
2017 Projections 140.5 92.2 1276.5 13.8 9.9 0 0 0 279.4
2017 Outlook: Considering that he missed his entire age-30 season with a torn ACL, it was fair to wonder just how effective Nelson would be in 2016. It turns out the answer was ‘very,’ as Nelson caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to finishing second among wide receivers in fantasy points. Nelson’s seven top-10 fantasy weeks were second-most at the position and he finished 35th or better during all but two of his 16 outings. Nelson has finished second, third, 13th and fourth during the past four seasons in which he’s appeared in all 16 games. He scored 13-plus touchdowns during three of those campaigns. Nelson’s age (32) is enough to knock him down a few spots, but he’s still a quality target near the first/second-round turn.
10. Devonta Freeman, Atl RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 227 1079 4.8 11 54 462 2 284.1
2017 Projections 202.3 858.9 4.2 9.5 52.2 446.9 3.3 259.6
2017 Outlook: Freeman registered 57 fewer touches in 2016 than he did when he led all running backs in fantasy points in 2015, but the dynamic young back produced only 32 fewer fantasy points. Freeman posted a healthy 4.8 YPC, thanks, in part, to terrific blocking (3.2 yards before contact per attempt ranked seventh) and high-value carries (his 16 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line ranked fifth). Freeman ranked ninth in rushing yards and fifth in receiving yards at the position. He posted seven top-10 fantasy weeks. The presence of Tevin Coleman, departure of Kyle Shanahan and some offensive regression to the mean will lead to a statistical step back for Freeman, but he’s still a back-end RB1 option in all formats.
11. T.Y. Hilton, Ind WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 156 91 1448 15.9 6 0 0 0 273.8
2017 Projections 146.8 84.1 1292.6 15.4 7.4 0 0 0 258.2
2017 Outlook: Following four years as essentially a solid No. 2 fantasy receiver, Hilton took his game to a new level in 2016. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound playmaker caught 91 of 153 targets for 1,448 yards, all of which were career highs. Hilton averaged 9.5 yards per target (10th best) and finished as a top-10 fantasy receiver during 38 percent of his outings (sixth best). Hilton isn’t a great source of touchdowns, averaging exactly six per season since entering the league, but he makes up for it with heavy volume and high-end efficiency in the Colts’ pass-heavy, Andrew Luck-led offense.
12. Melvin Gordon, LAC RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 254 997 3.9 10 41 419 2 250.6
2017 Projections 295.7 1196.6 4.0 6.9 42.6 341.3 1.9 245.9
2017 Outlook: Gordon enjoyed a breakout 2016 season, but it would’ve been even better if not for a season-ending hip injury suffered in Week 14. Gordon entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was limited to 3.9 YPC on the season but was good after contact (his 2.0 YAC ranked 16th). Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. Gordon is entering his prime years at age 24 and will again be the clear feature back for an emerging Los Angeles franchise. Select him in the second round of your draft.
13. Michael Thomas, NO WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 122 92 1137 12.4 9 0 0 0 255.7
2017 Projections 131.9 94.2 1171.6 12.4 8 0 0 0 258.7
2017 Outlook: Thomas was fantasy’s No. 7 wide receiver despite missing one game as a rookie. The Ohio State product caught 77 percent of his targets (third best among wideouts) and averaged 9.5 yards per target (ninth). He posted an impressive nine top-30 fantasy weeks during his final 13 games of the season. New Orleans’ second-round pick from 2016 is obviously in the WR1 mix, especially with Brandin Cooks gone, but keep in mind that a Saints wide receiver has exceeded a 20 percent target share only once during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era (Thomas averaged a 20 percent share as a rookie). Nonetheless, Brees will back under center in 2017, so the 24-year-old Thomas is a great bet for a huge second season.
14. Jordan Howard, Chi RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 252 1313 5.2 6 29 298 1 230.1
2017 Projections 273.4 1245.5 4.6 8 31.8 258.8 1.4 236.7
2017 Outlook: Howard opened his rookie season third on Chicago’s depth chart, but it didn’t take the intriguing fifth-round pick long to work his way into workhorse duties. The big man ranked 11th in the league in carries, but his terrific effectiveness (5.2 YPC, 2.2 YAC) allowed him the second-most rushing yards. Howard’s hands (position-high eight drops) are a concern, but he still managed 48 targets and averaged a healthy 10.3 yards per reception. Touchdowns may elude Howard in Chicago’s underwhelming offense, but the 22-year-old emerging star will push for 20 touches every week. Upgrade him slightly in non-PPR.
15. DeMarco Murray, Ten RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 293 1287 4.4 9 53 377 3 293.8
2017 Projections 248.4 1088.6 4.4 8 43.5 310 1.8 239.7
2017 Outlook: Following a rough year in Philadelphia, Murray reassumed his spot as one of the game’s top tailbacks with 1,664 yards from scrimmage in Tennessee last year. Murray averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry despite facing an average of 8.1 in-box defenders (fourth highest). Murray ranked third at the position in carries and sixth in receptions, which helped him to his third top-six fantasy season in four years. Once labeled as injury prone, Murray has missed one game in the past three seasons. Murray is now 29, and Derrick Henry’s role only figures to expand, but the veteran remains the lead back and a three-down contributor in one of the game’s most run-heavy offenses.
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