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Top-10 receivers, rookie runners lead list of players I'm targeting

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Michael Thomas a fantasy stud for Saints (0:54)

Michael Thomas led the Saints in targets last season. Field Yates and Matthew Berry see Thomas as having a stellar season as the No. 1 pass catcher for Drew Brees. (0:54)

Some fantasy analysts will tell you if you’re not finishing first in your league, then it might as well be last. The premise is understandable, that one should do whatever it takes to win, and if that means taking a few chances with draft picks or trades that might not pan out and could reduce your team to rubble before Halloween, then so be it. The win is the thing. The thing is, in the myriad drafts I’ve already taken part in, whether they counted or not, I’ve been cautious. It showed in my oft-misinterpreted “Do Not Draft” article, as I avoided risky players with early picks, and it shows here as I detail some of the players consistently showing up on my many teams.

Really, what better way to establish a list of players whom I like or am targeting than to check my many teams and find repeat names? I’ve drafted first, last and in between and while my favorite spot is definitely first, because securing the safe, reliable Arizona running back David Johnson and then grabbing the best available at the Round 2/3 turn is optimal, I also have had no issues picking last in the first round and eagerly snatching up a pair of the best available there, which tends to be a pair of wide receivers detailed below.

Whatever the case, thank you for following along this busy August as we examined the many tiers of the big three positions -- and many have changed, so check out the constantly updated Insider Cheat Sheet -- as well as draft strategy, players to avoid based on their current values, many breakouts and the preseason weekend wraps. It’s a lot. And now, it’s about time for the games to count. I’ve still got a few drafts to go, and here are players that I’ll likely keep targeting, based on my patterns over the past month.

Quarterback

Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz

Well, I’m clearly not going to budge on my directive to avoid quarterbacks in the early rounds, and it seems I’ve really been waiting a while. Why not? There’s tremendous depth and these first three fellows specifically could easily end up as top-10 fantasy quarterbacks. Two of them actually did last season. For some reason, people don’t expect repeat performances. For leagues that start two quarterbacks, my strategy this season has been not to reach for a top guy early, but to insure I’m getting two of the top 15 options, even if neither is considered a definite top-10 guy, and Wentz and Rivers fit the mold.

Running back

Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Danny Woodhead, Rob Kelley, Terrance West, Mike Gillislee, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson Jr., Thomas Rawls, Jacquizz Rodgers, Marlon Mack, Chris Carson, De'Angelo Henderson

OK, so that’s a lot of names. First of all, and perhaps subliminally, I do have some level of concern for most every top-10 running back in ESPN ADP other than David Johnson, LeSean McCoy and Gordon. With Le’Veon Bell, it’s more injuries, more suspensions and this ill-timed holdout (as if there is ever a good time). Devonta Freeman just got really rich, and his backup might be as good as he is. Jay Ajayi had nearly half his 2017 rushing yards in three games. DeMarco Murray was awful two seasons ago. Jordan Howard doesn’t catch passes. Todd Gurley, well, I don’t need to tell you. I’d still draft all of them, but what I keep doing is avoiding them and taking wide receivers. Gordon is a notable exception.

After that, I find it odd how the pass-catching options are slipping in drafts since pretty much all these drafts for me have been PPR versions. Two years ago, Woodhead was a top-five PPR option, and he’s capable of duplicating the performance. He’s also capable of missing many games, but the risk in Round 7 is hardly the same as it is if Ajayi or Gurley struggle. Powell will catch 70 passes for the Jets. McCaffrey could do this for Carolina. And Johnson should see improvement as well, even as I do like Crowell.

Those who have followed my work for years know I’m generally not the one recommending rookies, but talent and opportunity have collided for a slew of these guys. The minute the Chiefs drafted Hunt, I was basically all in because I didn’t think Spencer Ware was good enough to hold him off. That situation changed this weekend, but I’ve got shares of Hunt everywhere and was willing to reach a few rounds. Now I’ll really need to reach and it might still be worth it. Frankly, I doubt I’ve ever ranked five rookie running backs among my top 20 at the position, but I’m doing it. And later on I like these sleeper rookies in Indianapolis, Seattle and Denver.