With sleepers, break-out candidates, busts, rookies, veterans, underrated players and overrated players constantly being analyzed as we get ready for fantasy football to start, we're going to simplify this a bit. Here is the one player at each position primed to finish with the most fantasy points in 2017:
Defense - New England Patriots
Current ESPN positional ranking: 7th
The thing that often gets overlooked when selecting a defense is the importance of picking one who also has a good offense. The Jaguars’ defense is going to be very good this year, but do I trust that Blake Bortles or Chad Henne will avoid putting the defense in tough spots? Absolutely not. Tom Brady and the Patriots rarely turn the ball over and seem to boast a positive turnover margin every season. The lack of established pass rushers is concerning, but a strong linebacker corps and the best secondary in football gets to play Tyrod Taylor, Jay Cutler and some combination of Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty in six of their 16 games. It doesn't get much easier than that.
Kicker - Blair Walsh - Seattle Seahawks
Current ESPN positional ranking: 15th
Alright, so this one is as much of a crapshoot as any. However, the strength of a team’s offense is still important to consider. Teams that never move the ball to their opponents’ side of the field will leave kickers (and subsequent fantasy owners) frustrated. Justin Tucker and Stephen Gostkowski are always good options, but this will be the year of
Roberto Aguayo Blair Walsh. Seattle isn’t always great in the red-zone, and Walsh is motivated after leaving Minnesota in humiliating fashion. Walsh turns back the clock to his brilliant rookie season (2012) and leads all kickers in 2017.
Tight End - Jordan Reed - Washington Redskins
Current ESPN positional ranking: 2nd
The least volatile position in fantasy football might be tight end. While one or two tend to drastically outperform expectations each season, the five-headed monster of Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham have had a stranglehold on the position for the past few years. With all five currently ranked in ESPN’s top six, I expect that trend to continue. I’ll give the nod to Jordan Reed though, who should be the primary beneficiary of DeSean Jackson’s and Pierre Garcon’s exit from Washington. Kirk Cousins will be throwing aplenty as he looks for a new contract, and in the process, Reed will post the first 10-touchdown, 1,000-yard season of his career.
Wide Receiver - Amari Cooper - Oakland Raiders
Current ESPN positional ranking: 11th
In the minds of most, there’s a huge drop-off after Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones. 2017 is going to be the year Amari Cooper enters this elite tier. Odell is the rare exception who exploded onto the scene his rookie year, but Brown and Jones didn’t emerge as superstars until their fourth year in the league. Cooper, who is now entering his third season, will break out one year ahead of schedule. The Alabama alum combines great size, speed, route-running and physicality to overwhelm his opponents. Playing in a dynamic Oakland Raider offense alongside MVP contender Derek Carr, Cooper is looking for his third straight 70+ catch, 1,000-yard season. He will easily blow past these numbers en route to a 105-catch, 1,500-yard, 12-touchdown season. You heard it here first.
Running Back - Jay Ajayi - Miami Dolphins
Current ESPN positional ranking: 8th
It might seem ludicrous to pick against David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell, but just hear me out. For starters, no running back has led the position in scoring back-to-back seasons since Priest Holmes did it in 2002 and 2003. Assuming the trend holds true in 2017, David Johnson won’t finish first this year. For Le’Veon, he has appeared in 18 of Pittsburgh’s last 32 regular season games. Having only played all 16 games once in his four-year career, you have to think he will miss a few games in 2017. Enter Jay Ajayi, who is coming off a monstrous 2016 campaign. Playing in Adam Gase’s run-first scheme, Ajayi had three separate 200-yard games in 2016 and runs with a punishing style that will boost his touchdown total. Add in the fact that Jay Cutler – the King of the check down to the running back for a 4-yard gain (1.4 points in a PPR league!) – is the quarterback in Miami, and when it’s all said and done, Ajayi will finish as the No. 1 fantasy running back this season.
Quarterback - Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
Current ESPN positional ranking: 3rd
Much like the tight end position, quarterback has been a pretty stable one over the past few years. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have dominated the position, and that should hold true in 2017. Despite winning the MVP award last season, Matt Ryan still had fewer fantasy points than Rodgers and Brees. That doesn’t bode well for any of the 29 starting quarterbacks hoping to outscore Rodgers, Brady and Brees in 2017. While Rodgers and Brady should have no problem putting up monstrous numbers, I’m going with the man responsible for five of the nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. Backed by a Saints defense incapable of stopping a cold, let alone an NFL offense, Brees will be in plenty of high scoring games. Expect another 5,000-yard, 35+ touchdown campaign as Brees finishes No. 1 among quarterbacks for the first time since 2012.
Image Sources: Sporting News, Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports, Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports, Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports, Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports, Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports,