It's that time of the year when love is in the air. The card stores are an explosion of red and pink hearts with little dudes in diapers shooting arrows. Flower bouquets are everywhere. I'm also guessing that dating website subscriptions go up around this time, as single folks look to find love. Well, I've been looking for love too. But I ain't talkin' 'bout that kind of "love." Instead, I'm talking about the love of players who could help me win a league championship in the world of fantasy football.
Yup, I'm already starting to crush on these fantasy players (20, to be exact) who could produce big-time stats in 2018. I won't be labeling these players as "sleepers" or "breakout candidates," they're just guys who I believe could be great draft bargains, stat-sheet stuffers ... or both. So sit back with a loved one and check out who you might be falling for come next fantasy football season.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: The expectations for Henry are going to be astronomical after he looked like an absolute stud for the Titans in their postseason run. If the team decides to part ways with DeMarco Murray, Henry's draft value is going to skyrocket like post-Super Bowl ratings for "This is Us." In a best-case scenario, he could move up into the second round of 2018 fantasy football drafts.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State Nittany Lions: I don't know where Barkley will land in the draft, and honestly, I don't care ... the dude is going to be a monster. In fact, some NFL scouts think he'll be even better than Ezekiel Elliott. That's some high praise. If I had to guess, I'd project the Browns, Colts and Giants as the three most likely landing spaces. I'd also project Barkley as a top-30 fantasy pick.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans: I loved Watson coming out of college and often compared him to Dak Prescott. Well, he was better than I imagined as a rookie. In fact, he would have scored more fantasy points in a single season than anyone ever if we projected his 2017 numbers over a full campaign. Barring setbacks in his return from a torn ACL, Watson could have his name called in the top 30-40 picks.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Cook, who missed all but four contests as a rookie due to an injured knee, had two top-10 performances in his three full games. Between Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings also finished with a combined 13 top-20 finishes among running backs. With McKinnon scheduled to become a free agent, Cook should be a serious workhorse in his return from a torn ACL.
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns: Gordon, who turns 27 in April, is one of the most gifted wide receivers in the league. In fact, I think he'd be a top-10 PPR wideout across the board had he not missed so much time due to off-field issues. The Browns should have a better quarterback than DeShone Kizer under center next season, so Gordon will be in a nice spot to succeed. There's risk, but it's worth it.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Come on, what would a fantasy man crush list (from me) be without Prescott? People are going to remember how bad he was in the second half of last season, but ignore that he was averaging well over 20 fantasy points per game before Ezekiel Elliott was suspended. Prescott is a motivated dude who will prove the naysayers wrong, and I'll be able to land him in the late rounds.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers: If you're a fantasy fan and you don't love Garoppolo, well, you're not paying attention. He looked every bit like a future star in his five starts last season, and he should have a better cast of characters (including the returning Pierre Garcon) in 2018. Based on a recent Twitter poll, almost 60 percent of voters think Jimmy G will be better than Tom Brady in fantasy in 2018.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins:How can you not like the Drake? He had five top-20 finishes among PPR backs last season, and all of them came in his final nine games (or after the Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi). With Damien Williams set to become a free agent, Drake could wind up being the top back in Miami next season. That assumes the team doesn't add an impact runner as a free agent or in the NFL draft.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: I don't think Smith-Schuster will be a one-hit wonder, and that's coming from someone who has never been shy about pointing out the lack of success many USC wide receivers have had in the pros. He seems to have that "it" factor, and he's in a great spot to produce in Pittsburgh's offense. He ranked 16th or better in five of his final seven regular-season contests.
Derrius Guice, RB, Louisiana State: A projected featured back at the next level, Guice could end up being a fantasy star if he lands with a team that has a clear path to a starting backfield spot. Imagine him in New York as the Giants' lead runner? Or what about in Indianapolis sharing a backfield with Andrew Luck? In a best-case scenario, Guice could push for second- or third-round seasonal draft appeal.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans: Fuller has been prone to injuries as a pro, but how can you overlook the numbers he produced with Watson last season? In fact, he finished as a top-20 PPR wideout in all but one of his four games with the Clemson product under center. In his six other contests, Fuller finished no better than 41st among PPR wideouts and ranked outside of the top 50 five different times.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks need to take some of the burden off Russell Wilson next season, and I doubt they'll add a major impact player at running back after seeing what Carson did as a rookie. With Eddie Lacy becoming a free agent and Thomas Rawls' struggles extending through multiple seasons, I would expect Carson to carry the mail for coach Pete Carroll. He could turn into a nice mid-round bargain.
Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers: Henry missed time due to injuries last season, which limited his overall success and kept him out of the top-12 PPR tight ends a season ago. I do believe that he's on the cusp of a breakout campaign. In fact, I'd be surprised if Henry played in 14 or more games and didn't finish as a top-10 fantasy tight end next season. He'll be a nice pick in the mid to late rounds.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Howard finished his rookie season ranked just 21st in PPR points among tight ends, but he looked good down the stretch. In fact, he ranked in the top 15 in four of his final five contests and was a top-nine performer twice. You have to like his role to increase in Year 2, so the Alabama product is going to be a popular breakout candidate in 2018 fantasy drafts.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers could decide to add an impact player at the wide receiver position this offseason, but for now Funchess is the man atop their depth chart. He had a nice season in 2017, posting eight touchdowns despite playing behind Kelvin Benjamin for part of the year. He also fought through an injured shoulder that could have limited his overall numbers down the stretch.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes has a massive arm and will take over an offense with a ton of talented playmakers. He'll be in the late-round conversation for next season's drafts.
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles Clement showed me something down the stretch of Philadelphia's Super Bowl run. He won't be a featured back, but Clement could be the next Darren Sproles.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans: Davis had a disappointing rookie season overall, but he finished strong and has the tools to be a playmaker in Tennessee's offense. There's big-time potential.
Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins: Someone has to take over as Washington's No. 1 wide receiver, right? And unless the team makes a move at the position, I like Doctson to become that wideout.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Kittle ranked as a top-seven PPR tight end in back to back contests to end the regular season with Garoppolo under center. He'll have late-round appeal.