Players to target in fantasy football leagues

Sleepers, breakout candidates to add to your lineup


Chloe Blodgett

Students watch the Vikings-Steelers game cheering for their fantasy football team. Sept. 17

Raphy Gendler and Sam Orloff

With the fantasy football season in full swing, take a look at players who Echo analysts think will have big seasons to propel your team to the championship.


Raphy: Drew Brees (New Orleans)- #9 threw 32 touchdowns and led the league in passing yards last season, so where’s the love for the Saints veteran? He hasn’t thrown fewer than 30 touchdowns since 2007. He has been a top-eight fantasy quarterback for each of the last 10 seasons. Last season, only five quarterbacks scored more fantasy points than Brees: one is Tom Brady, who is suspended four games. One is Blake Bortles, whose 35 touchdown passes will be hard to replicate. Brees is a solid player with a high floor and high ceiling.

Raphy: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo)- Other than the two games he missed last year, Taylor scored fewer than 10 fantasy points only once. With another year of experience under his belt, he could emerge as a clear top-10 QB. With potential for 18 points per week consistency, Taylor could become a regular starting quarterback.

Sam: Derek Carr (Oakland)- When it comes to a solid fantasy football quarterback the two most important features are: a strong offensive line and good targets. The Oakland Raiders are the double whammy. With receivers like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked 2nd in the NFL for pass-blocking, Carr and the Raiders offense will be dangerous. Carr can provide a plethora of touchdowns and passing yards and is another high-value pick.

Running Backs

Raphy: Lamar Miller (Houston)- Miller has the potential to far surpass expectations and be a top-5 fantasy player. With eight touchdowns in each of his past two seasons in Miami, the fifth-year back will have the clear starting role in the run-heavy Texans offense. Look for Miller to get 200 or more carries and score double-digit touchdowns.

Raphy: Frank Gore (Indianapolis)- A 12 year league veteran, Gore doesn’t have the speed or durability he used to. At age 32 last season, he still racked up 260 carries. Gore is likely to touch the ball well over 200 times, which will make him reliable as a number two running back or Flex, a steal at his current ADP of about 75 on ESPN — the eighth round in 10 team leagues.

Sam: Melvin Gordon (San Diego) and Eddie Lacy (Green Bay)- Both Gordon and Lacy have come off of rough seasons, yet Gordon and Lacy, for different reasons, have the potential to rebound this year. In the case of San Diego, teams will be forced to key on quarterback Philip Rivers, leaving Gordon with a tremendous amount of upside. Lacy was out of shape last year, but after losing weight in the offseason, he should be a much better fantasy pick.

Sam: Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas)- If there was one player I would point to as the most likely breakout star, it would be Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is running behind what is arguably the best offensive line in the entire NFL. Additionally, with quarterback Tony Romo out for much of the season, Dallas has even more incentive to run the ball. Elliott will be worth the first round pick, regardless of any questions regarding his status as a rookie. His upside is greater than any other running back on the board.

Wide Receivers

Raphy: Brandin Cooks (New Orleans)- The third year wideout, currently ranked 13th among receivers at ESPN, has top-5 upside. He scored nine touchdowns last season and racked up more than 1,000 yards. In his third year in the league, look for a few big games and consistent week-to-week production. Only 22 years old, Cooks should benefit from being a primary option in the Saint offense.

Raphy: Torrey Smith (San Francisco)- There are a lot of question marks surrounding the 49er deep threat, but he’s the primary option for the passing game, and has big play potential. His deep game makes him a decent flex option.

Sam: Allen Robinson (Jacksonville) and Allen Hurns (Jacksonville)- Allen Robinson, Jacksonville’s top receiver is poised for another year of big numbers. Last year, as NFL receiving touchdown co-leader, Robinson proved that he has chemistry with quarterback Blake Bortles. If Robinson is unavailable, his partner in crime Allen Hurns is a deep option. Regardless, expect Jacksonville’s receiving corps to be a fantasy football goldmine.

Sam: Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina)- The Carolina Panthers appeared in the Super Bowl 50, and they did it all without their best receiver. Even coming off of a torn ACL, Kelvin Benjamin is easily quarterback Cam Newton’s top option. If Carolina looks at all like it did last year, Benjamin will be a valuable asset for fantasy teams.

Tight Ends

Raphy: Coby Fleener (New Orleans)- Remember Jimmy Graham? The Seahawk front office paying his $40 million salary sure does. When Graham was dominating defenses (and goalposts) a guy named Drew Brees was throwing him the ball. Fleener now comes to New Orleans with an opportunity to be the go-to tight end in Brees’ offense. After sharing the role with Dwayne Allen in Indianapolis, Fleener provides tremendous upside in Brees’ offense — look for him to triple his 2015 touchdown total.

Sam: Eric Ebron (Detroit) – Ebron is a solid late round tight end. A combination of good health and good opportunities makes Ebron an especially attractive pick. With superstar Calvin Johnson retired, Ebron is likely to receive more passes, and it is very likely that he will take a major step forward this season. Additionally, expect Ebron to score more touchdowns this year, with more activity in the red zone.

Defense/Special Teams

Raphy: Minnesota Vikings- O.K., this is mostly hometown bias. We’ve suffered enough, let me have this one. However, the Vikings, who were drafted 13th among defenses at ESPN, are a great start in deeper leagues. The purple people eaters allowed the fifth-fewest points in the NFL last season, and have the same key players as last year’s NFC North champion team. Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith should anchor a top-10 defense.
Sam: Oakland Raiders – No defense is perfect, and at first glance the Raiders’ defense may look unappealing compared to some of the other available options. But like the rest of the team, they are young and full of potential. For example, the fifth overall pick of the 2014 draft, Khalil Mack is one of the top young defensive players in the NFL. The Raiders have also worked to fill a questionable secondary by drafting safety Karl Joseph. All and all, the Raiders’ defense is a worthwhile option in the later rounds.