Our fantastic NFL Nation team made its first run at projected 2017 starting lineups for each team on Monday. For fantasy football players, this is invaluable information and something we need to track throughout the offseason.
I thoroughly examined each of the 32 projected lineups, tweaked our player projections and adjusted my rankings.
Below is a collection of noteworthy and surprising NFL Nation predictions that have relevance to us in fantasy:
Tyrell Williams enjoyed a breakout 2016 season, so it's not surprising to see him among the top three receivers. Benjamin, however, was a bust after signing a four-year, $24 million contract last offseason, but reporter Eric Williams points to a knee injury as the reason for his second-half disappearance. Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense for the Williams duo to work the perimeter, with Keenan Allen in the slot and Benjamin handling situational lid-lifting duties. But with the aforementioned names in the mix, as well as tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, it can't be overlooked that the rookie Williams does not have a clear path to a big target share early on.
The Rams have completely overhauled their passing game during the past two offseasons, which means there are many unproven commodities competing for snaps. Reporter Alden Gonzalez expects 2017 third-round pick Kupp to beat out the competition for the No. 3 gig behind Tavon Austin and Robert Woods. Austin, Woods and Kupp are all 6-foot-1 or shorter, however, which may help fourth-rounder Reynolds see the field a bit, especially near the goal line. Nonetheless, Kupp -- who holds the FBS record for career receiving yards -- is a name to keep in mind late in your PPR drafts.
Higbee was a 2016 fourth-round pick and had been generating some offseason hype following the team's release of Lance Kendricks. Gonzalez expects Everett -- a 2017 second-round pick -- to win this competition. Rookie tight ends generally don't offer much in fantasy, so Everett should only be on your radar in dynasty. This should erase Higbee from your late-round sleeper list.
This one stood out as a pretty big surprise, but the reality is that Miller is the significantly better player of the two. He lined up at wide receiver on 51 percent of his pass routes last season, and still figures to be the team's primary F/receiving tight end. Of course, reporter Jeff Dickerson's prediction suggests Miller may leave the field occasionally for Sims to handle Y/in-line blocking duties. With rookie Adam Shaheen also in the mix, Miller's fantasy ceiling takes a hit, but he's still a TE2 option.
Dickerson indicates the Bears are hoping Wheaton earns this gig, but they may be better off if Wright bounces back after a down year in Tennessee. The 2012 first-round pick caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards in 2013 and is still only 27 years old. With Cameron Meredith and Kevin White atop the depth chart, both Wright and Wheaton are worth monitoring. Wright has more upside in PPR.
Reporter John Keim didn't pull any punches here, noting that Kelley will "be a complementary piece to Perine." That's a surprise to me after Kelley went from an unheralded, undrafted free agent to playing well as the team's lead back in a matter of months. Keim admits this is a competition, but also that the Redskins had Perine fourth at the position on their draft board behind only Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. For now, Perine, Kelley and passing-down back Chris Thompson are worth considering in the middle rounds of your draft. Upgrade Perine and Kelley and downgrade Thompson in non-PPR.
This one is far from a surprise, but it's further confirmation that Powell will lead this committee in 2017. He's an absolute steal in the middle rounds of early 2017 fantasy drafts, especially in PPR formats.
The Jets seem infatuated with Stewart, but they did wait until the third round of the draft before scooping him up. Nonetheless, reporter Rich Cimini expects the rookie to leapfrog Anderson and join Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa as the team's top three receivers. The Jets have the NFL's worst quarterback situation, so there's not much to be excited about here, but Stewart is a name to monitor -- and Anderson a name to fade.
Dixon is suspended for four games, so it's not overly surprising that reporter Jamison Hensley tapped West as the starter. Of course, Dixon was exceptional in limited rookie-season action, whereas West is at replacement level, at best. West will ride early-season volume to a flex-worthy valuation, but Dixon should be considered the heavy favorite to overtake him before the midway point of the season. Meanwhile, newcomer Danny Woodhead will dominate passing downs, which will limit the fantasy upside of both West and Dixon.
This one is as expected, but noteworthy nonetheless. Second-round pick Jones was a much-needed addition to one of the league's worst wide receiver corps. Jones will be the possession complement to deep threat Sammy Watkins, and reporter Mike Rodak's prediction suggests he'll quickly become an every-down player. There's sneaky fantasy appeal here in an offense that has finished in the top 10 in touchdowns each of the past two years.
Panthers running back: Jonathan Stewart over Christian McCaffrey
This shouldn't be cause for much alarm, but as reporter David Newton points out, the Panthers extended Stewart's contract through 2018 earlier this offseason. This suggests he won't simply disappear from the Panthers' offense. Expect Stewart to start games and work early downs and at the goal line. This will limit McCaffrey's carry volume and scoring opportunities, but it still can allow him 200-plus touches. McCaffrey is a solid PPR RB2.
I coupled these two together since the situations are strikingly similar. In both scenarios, each team entered April's draft with a pedestrian lead back (Murray, Hill) and a competent receiving/change-of-pace back (Jerick McKinnon, Giovani Bernard). Cook and Mixon are easily the best talents, but it's reasonable to expect the veterans to play a role, especially early on.
For Cincinnati, this appears to be a bit of veteran deference, as reporter Katherine Terrell has said she expects Mixon to take control of this gig fairly quickly. Additionally, Bernard is still recovering from a torn ACL. Mixon and Cook are the best fantasy picks in their respective backfields, but beware that their usage may be frustrating early on.
As Terrell points out, Ross is still finishing school and recovering from labrum surgery. That suggests he'll start out as a situational deep threat and the team's No. 4 wide receiver behind A.J. Green, LaFell and slot man Boyd. Ross' role may -- and likely will -- increase, but it's possible he's simply a boom/bust producer in a suddenly crowded offense in 2017. He's no more than a late-round lottery ticket in redraft leagues.
The Browns released Gary Barnidge, and reporter Pat McManamon expects Njoku, a raw, 20-year-old prospect, to beat out 2016 fourth-round pick and converted wide receiver DeValve. Tight ends rarely generate much rookie-season fantasy appeal, and that's likely to be the case for Njoku in Cleveland's underwhelming offense.
The unheralded third-round pick Golladay is the favorite to replace Anquan Boldin as Detroit's No. 3 receiver. He's 6-foot-4, 218 pounds and caught 87 passes without a drop at Northern Illinois last year. The Lions operate a conservative, slow-moving, low-scoring offense to protect their horrendous defense, so Golladay is best viewed as a late-round flier.
This isn't a surprise, but it's important information as you consider late-round options at quarterback. Watson is an extremely strong bet to play a lot as a rookie, but as reporter Sarah Barshop predicts, Savage is the heavy favorite to open 2017 as the starter under center. Considering the team's decent group of offensive skill position players, Watson could be a worthwhile waiver add at some point this season. Just don't draft him.
Hurns apparently has been "Wally Pipped." Reporter Mike DiRocco lists Lee as the "starter" opposite Allen Robinson, though all three wide receivers will be on the field when the team is passing (the Jaguars had three-plus wideouts on the field for 85 percent of pass plays last season, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL). Nonetheless, Lee finally stayed healthy and enjoyed a breakout 2016 season. He's the slightly better fantasy pick over Hurns as both he and Robinson enter contract years. Hurns is signed through 2020.
Another one that is hardly a surprise, but still notable. The Patriots handed Burkhead $3.15 million, but he seems destined for a role that is more valuable in real life than it is in fantasy. Gillislee was superbly effective behind LeSean McCoy last year in Buffalo, and he gets the added benefit of a better offensive line and higher-scoring offense in New England. He's squarely in the RB2 discussion, but James White, Dion Lewis and Burkhead will be involved, especially in passing situations.
Before you take that late-round flier on McDonald, keep in mind that it was the previous regime that offered him the long-term extension he signed late last year. The new front office, led by general manager John Lynch, reportedly tried to trade McDonald during the draft, and reporter Nick Wagoner expects him to lose the starting gig altogether. With the likes of Paulsen, McDonald, Garrett Celek and rookie George Kittle involved, don't expect much fantasy value from the 49ers' tight end position this year.
Martin is one of the league's highest-paid running backs and coming off an extremely disappointing season in which he was suspended for four games (with three games to be served in 2017). Nonetheless, he's reportedly looked terrific during the offseason and will return as the team's lead back following his suspension. Martin is now 28 years old, so the suspension and aforementioned rough 2016 make him more of a mid- to late-round flier than an appealing fantasy asset this year. Rodgers, Charles Sims and rookie Jeremy McNichols will compete for reps while Martin is out.
Reporter Jenna Laine predicts that Howard -- the team's first-round pick in the draft -- will quickly move past Brate as the team's starting tight end. Considering the rookie's blocking ability, this is hardly a surprise, but this also doesn't mean Howard will work ahead of Brate in passing situations. I expect targets to be close between these two, and it wouldn't surprise me if Brate ended 2017 with more fantasy points. Both should be viewed as back-end TE2 options.