15 players to target in fantasy football drafts in 2017

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Fantasy drafts are rapidly approaching (or are already underway). That means one of the most frequent questions asked to us analysts is "what round should I take PLAYER X" in? This is hard to say, because no two leagues will draft the same way, as they'll be filled with a different makeup of unique human beings with their own valuations of players. Some leagues are full of people who study fantasy religiously all summer. Others are made up of casual coworkers who will draft entirely based off the rankings in the draft room.

Nevertheless, below I highlight one player in each round (1 through 15) based on NFL.com average draft position (ADP) who I'm completely comfortable with selecting. Now, before you flood the comments and my mentions on Twitter with cries of "SO AND SO WILL NEVER LAST THAT LONG RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE," know that NFL.com's users skew more casual. There are an estimated 59.3 million people who will be playing fantasy this year, and not all of them are "experts." Moreover, this list isn't meant as a round-by-round draft guide. These are just players I like in their respective rounds. Those of you who expect these players to go earlier than their listed round in your league should consider the player's inclusion on the list a seal of approval from me to draft them when you deem appropriate.

All right, enough blathering on. Let's get to the real reason you're here. Below are 15 players to target in fantasy football drafts this fall. Enjoy. My mentions await your displeasure @AlexGelhar.

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1

Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers


Rather than heaping praise on one of the consensus top picks, I wanted to shine a little light on Melvin Gordon. After failing to score a touchdown as a rookie, Gordon hit paydirt 12 times in 13 games in 2017, finishing as the RB8 in standard leagues. He'll return as the team's bell cow this fall with little competition for touches. Also working in Gordon's favor is the revamped offensive line and the arrival of Anthony Lynn (a former RBs coach in Buffalo) as the team's head coach. Even if his touchdown totals regress in this loaded offense, Gordon's volume is undeniable and he'll be the featured back in a high-scoring offense. He's a great pick at the back end of Round 1 with a safe floor.

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2

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints


Michael Thomas surprised plenty with his rookie performance, notching 92 receptions, 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. Now, we're all left wondering what he'll do for an encore. With Brandin Cooks moving to New England via trade, Thomas is the unquestioned No. 1 option in a Saints passing attack that has finished second in the league in pass attempts in each of the past two years. Drew Brees doesn't have a history of pummeling one receiver with targets, but Thomas should see over 20 percent of the looks with plenty coming in the red zone. He led the team in that space with 19 looks last year.

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3

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks


I listed Doug Baldwin among my must-own receivers earlier this summer, so let me once again wax poetic about his merits -- especially if he falls to the third round. Baldwin's target share in Seattle is consistent (22, 21, 22 percent, respectively since 2014) even as the team's pass attempts have increased in each of those seasons (454, 489, 567). He's delivered back-to-back top-10 fantasy finishes in both standard and PPR formats while expanding his game beyond the slot. In 2015, 95 percent of Baldwin's yardage (1,011) and 93 percent of his touchdowns (13) came from the slot, per Next Gen Stats. In 2016, those percentages fell to 59 for yardage (662) and 57 for touchdowns (four). Baldwin proved he could win outside, posting a 78 percent catch rate and 15.36 yards per catch average when lined up out wide. The Seahawks passing attack could take off this year, and Baldwin is in a great place to ball out yet again.

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4

Terrelle Pryor, WR, Redskins


By now you likely know Washington lost over 200 targets with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson departing in free agency this spring. Yes, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed remain and will see plenty of looks, but make no mistake -- Terrelle Pryor is the team's No. 1 wide receiver. He's a capable downfield threat who will absorb Jackson's old role, while also being a prominent option in the red zone. Somewhere around 120 targets is a reasonable projection for Pryor, and he should be able to do plenty of damage with opportunities in the Redskins offense. Pryor certainly could have a lower floor with so many mouths to feed in Washington, but his ceiling is that of a top-10 fantasy wide out and is worth chasing in the fourth round.

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5

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings


If your roster construction follows a similar path to the one I'm sort of building in this piece (RB-WR-WR-WR), then Dalvin Cook is an excellent high-upside RB2 to target here. While Latavius Murray was on the PUP list briefly, Cook went out and wowed in practice and on the preseason field. He's a multi-talented back who should lead this running back group in touches with ease. He may lose out on a few scoring opportunities to Murray near the goal line, but Cook's upside in a sneakily dangerous Vikings offense is tremendous.

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6

Frank Gore, RB, Colts


A good way to insulate a fantasy squad from the risk of a high-upside youngster like Cook is to back up that pick with a stable veteran. There hasn't been a more stable veteran in fantasy than Frank Gore, who has amassed more than 1,200 total yards for 11 STRAIGHT YEARS. The Colts may need to rely on Gore even more in the early portions of the season with Andrew Luck's timetable for returning from shoulder surgery still murky. Gore isn't likely to win you many weeks on his own, but he'll rarely burn you with a goose egg in the stat sheet.

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7

Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints


I know it might seem a little bit like we're forming an AARP contingent in this fantasy backfield with these last two picks, but Adrian Peterson is just two years removed from a 1,400-yard, dominant campaign. The reason he falls this far is due to the crowded committee he's now a part of in New Orleans. If the A.D. of old emerges, this pick is a total steal. If he's a role player alongside Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, then at least he can have some flex value and you didn't waste too high of a pick on an aging committee member.

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8

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings


The Stefon Diggs hype train among fantasy analysis is close to careening off the tracks judging by how high he goes in "expert" mocks, but in more casual leagues the Vikings wideout is coming at a huge discount. On the surface, arm chair analysts can poke a lot of holes in the case for Diggs being a dominant fantasy receiver: Sam Bradford is his quarterback, he's smallish, he's been hurt a bunch, the Vikings offense isn't that great, etc. However, when you look more closely, Bradford played quite well last season and Diggs just missed 1,000 yards in only 13 games. Now fully healthy with a better offensive line and running game around him, Diggs could truly break out in fantasy this year.

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9

Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers


Much like with Diggs, Garcon is criminally underrated by more casual players. When it comes to finding valuable later-round wide receivers, volume is what to chase, and Garcon should be swimming in targets this year. With no legitimate options alongside him, it'd be an upset if Garcon doesn't ecplipse 150 targets. That total would put him in the top 12 among wide receivers in targets in each of the last five years. During that span, only six wideouts of 60 to reach that threshold of targets failed to finish as at least a top-24 wide receiver. A WR2 in Round 9? Give me that all day, please and thanks.

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10

Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins


While the fantasy community assumed Samaje Perine would immediately enter Washington and steal the starting job from Rob Kelley, it appears Kelley had other plans. Slimmed down and playing well, "Fat Rob" appears set to hold onto his leading role in this backfield for awhile. He'll still lose passing down work to Chris Thompson, but a starting running back on a high-scoring offense is a nice piece to add to any fantasy roster in the double digit rounds, especially in standard scoring leagues.

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11

Kenny Britt, WR, Browns


I've written about Kenny Britt so many times this summer I could probably do this in my sleep, but here's the long and short of why he's an elite late-round option. Last year, Britt managed over 1,000 yards and five touchdowns with Case Keenum and Jared Goff slinging him the rock and no other reliable threat in the passing game. In Cleveland he'll presumably have an upgrade at quarterback but most definitely has an upgrade in terms of the talent around him thanks to Corey Coleman, David Njoku, and Duke Johnson / Isaiah Crowell. Another 1,000-yard season is well within reason for Britt, and in the later rounds, that's hard to ignore.

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12

Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers


While it could be tempting to draft one of the top tight ends early, more often than not waiting on the position is the right strategy. Antonio Gates hanging around the Chargers for one more year has allowed Hunter Henry to slide down draft boards. While he might go earlier than the 12th round in some leagues, his touchdown-upside makes him a huge value here. If you miss on Henry, other late-round options to target include Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Coby Fleener.

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13

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals


Whether or not you believe in Andy Dalton as a fantasy passer speaks to how closely you follow both the game of football and fantasy. Everything that could go wrong for Dalton last year did. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert got hurt. The running game stalled. His offensive line fell apart. As a result Dalton posted a career-low 3.2 touchdown rate. In 2015, prior to injuring his thumb Dalton was on pace to finish as a top-five fantasy quarterback. Now, he's coming at a steep discount despite having an influx of new talent, Joe Mixon and John Ross, and a healthy Green/Eifert. As JJ Zachariason of NumberFire noted, when both Green and Eifert are healthy Dalton has a touchdown rate of 5.59 -- that would have been the eighth-highest mark in the league last year.

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14

Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals


The Bengals backfield is a mess. The team drafted Joe Mixon in the second round, but Giovani Bernard has recovered quicker than expected from a torn ACL last year, and the drum beat keeps building that Jeremy Hill could remain the starter for awhile. All of this makes it totally worth throwing a late-round dart at Bernard. Hill has struggled mightily the last two years and Mixon is still a rookie. Bernard could at the very least slide into the third-down/hurry-up role, if not more. Plus, we've seen him lead this backfield before, so if injuries hit this unit he could be a steal.

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15

Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins


I've been pumping up Kenny Stills as a deep sleeper all offseason, but the arrival of Jay Cutler could really help solidify Still's credentials as a later-round flier. Stills expanded his game under Adam Gase, but remains a dangerous downfield threat: eight of his nine touchdowns came from outside the red zone in 2016, with four coming from 40-plus yards out. Cutler has a cannon for an arm and likes to chuck the rock deep. Miami figures to remain a run-first operation, but Stills' chances of getting close to his 2016 touchdown total got a bit better with Smokin' Jay now under center.

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