This year, there seems to be an unusually high number of valuable players, who for one reason or another, injury in some cases and suspension in others, will miss games to start the year. Drafting these players is not without risk, especially for those guys whose season openers are being postponed due to injury, but can also put you in prime position at the end of the season. Of course, for the games at the end of the year to be meaningful, you have to rack up enough wins, so it would probably not be a good idea to load up on these guys. But draft and stash one or two of them on your bench, and by the end of September, your lineup should be in great position.
QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots
This one is obvious. Brady will miss the first four games of the season for his Deflategate suspension. That means a potentially top 5 QB is slipping in drafts to the 7th round or later in most drafts. If you take Brady, you’ll have to draft another QB like Phillip Rivers or Eli Manning a few rounds later to fill in for the first month of the year. But, once Brady is back, expect his usual output. He still has Gronk, he still has Edelman, and he should be more motivated than ever.
RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s not like Bell is sliding in drafts. He’s still going in the top 3 in most drafts, even with his two game suspension, but just a reminder of how good he is: He had more receptions than Rob Gronkowski and more rushing yards than everyone not named DeMarco Murray. In PPR leagues, this guy should go first overall, and in standard leagues… even with the suspension, he could first overall.
RB – Arian Foster, Houston Texans
The biggest dice roll in the entire draft. Here we have one of the most talented RBs in the league, a regular top 5 fantasy RB, who also happens to be very injury-prone. Just about anyone who has benefitted from having Foster before, has also been subject to his fragility. Last year was relatively tame, in terms of injury, and he still missed three games. Initially, it was thought Foster would miss the first half of the season with a groin injury, but now word is it might only be a couple weeks, and he’ll be back before October. Well, if that’s the case, we have a top 5 RB going in middle of the draft. A few things to point out though. First, there is no guarantee once Foster returns to the field that he’ll remain healthy. Second, his QB is Brian Hoyer. This is the ultimate risk/reward pick. If you had your draft a few weeks ago – I really have no idea why you would have it that early – you could’ve taken Foster in a double digit round, with no risk attached. Now, it will probably take a 5th round pick, and maybe even higher, depending on your draft.
WR – Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
If we are to believe everything we read, then White will not miss any games to start the year, and does not belong on this list. Anyone who’s ever played fantasy football though, knows that lingering by Roddy White’s name is almost always a ‘Q’ providing just enough doubt to drive a fantasy owner insane. White seems to live on the injury report, but more often than not, he plays. It seems that some of those injuries may finally be catching up to the aging WR, as he is coming off elbow surgery. It would not be shocking if the Falcons held White out for the first week or two. I’m not in love with Roddy White this year, but he is almost falling into the 100s, and is one of the most consistent WRs around. He will get plenty of catches and push 1K yards as usual. Some people point out that new OC Kyle Shanahan has a history of basically keying in on the top WR, Julio Jones in this case, and neglecting everyone else. That could certainly happen, and Julio is obviously good enough to warrant that type of attention. But White has been a favorite target of Matt Ryan’s for the duration of Ryan’s seven year career. There’s not a lot of upside in selecting White, but there is reliability.
WR – Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
And on the other side of the coin, here is the polar opposite: a boom-or-bust home run hitter, who has top 20 upside and lots of risk. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you, Martavis Bryant, yet another Steeler suspended for the start of the season because of substance abuse! Bryant, it was just announced, will miss four games. For a primer on why Bryant is worth a long look, read on. If you’re too lazy, I’ll give a short summary: he’s a physical freak of nature, a 6’4 giant with 4.4 speed, and once he became active for the final nine weeks of the season, he racked up 8 TDs and over 500 yards. Not amazing stats. The TDs are impressive, and the yards are hit-or-miss: 40, 83, 44, 143, 11, 23, 109, 31, 44, 21. One week, he’d catch a 94 yard bomb, the next he’d barely catch one pass. The thinking is that with a year under his belt, he was only a rookie last year, he will have a better rapport with Big Ben and in turn, be more consistent. Between the suspension and the usual smokescreen preseason BS, many people will avoid Bryant altogether and his stock should plummet a couple rounds. That’s great news for those of us who are high (no pun intended here, with Bryant…) on Bryant’s skill set, and believe he is ready for a breakout campaign.
TE – Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
There’s no risk here at all. The only downside is that you have to use up a bench spot for four weeks on a TE. But the decrepit Gates proved last season he still has plenty of game. He didn’t crack the century mark in any games, but he had 12 TDs. That’s more than anyone, except Dez, Jordy, and Antonio Brown – the very best pass-catchers in the league. The 35-year old Gates will miss four games for a PED suspension (no wonder he was good again), and from week 5 on, could be a top 5 TE again. If you’re patient enough using a roster spot on an aging TE for the first month of the year, you could end up with one of the top TEs in fantasy.