"Summer nights and my radio. Well, that's all we need, baby, don'tcha know? We celebrate when the gang's all here. Ah, hot summer nights, that's my time of the year!"
Van Halen's tune was the anthem for those of us who grew up in the 1980s (and loved rock 'n' roll) as school ended and summertime began. Now, summer signifies the start of the fantasy football season, as owners research data, rank players and prepare for the upcoming NFL campaign. This time of the year is also when I release a list of the players who I "love" heading into drafts. These players aren't labeled as sleepers, breakouts or bargains, they're just the guys who I'm crushing on and will be targeting in all my leagues.
You should too.
Rookie running backs: Let's just group them all into one ... whether it's Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Royce Freeman or Sony Michel, I will be targeting first-year runners in drafts. Barkley is a bit of a no-brainer, and he'll cost you a first-round choice. The remaining quartet won't come at such a high cost, but each could lead their respective team in touches and turn into nice draft bargains. Michel could be a real steal as part of the Pats backfield.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Cook, who might have broken out last season had it not been for a torn ACL in his fourth game as a rookie, is coming along well and should be good to go in plenty of time for Week 1. The talented runner was on pace for over 260 PPR points before the ailment. I think that total is well within reach for Cook in an offense that should be dynamite with Kirk Cousins under center. As we get deep into the summer months, Cook could be a first-rounder.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Running backs and Kyle Shanahan have combined to make sweet fantasy music together in recent seasons, as he's produced three top-8 PPR studs at the position since 2015. His latest contribution to the fantasy world should be McKinnon, a strong pass catcher who fits the mold of what Shanahan likes to do with his backfield. I wouldn't be surprised if the versatile back finishes among the top 10-15 PPR backs in his first season with the Niners.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts: Hilton is coming off a disastrous fantasy season due in large part to the fact that Andrew Luck wasn't under center. Assuming the Stanford product returns to the field with no setbacks, it's hard not to like Hilton as a bounce-back candidate. In his previous two years, the talented wideout averaged 144 targets, 80 catches and almost 1,300 yards receiving. I'd bet you can land him as a high No. 2 fantasy wideout in a lot of your 2018 re-draft formats.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Diggs was a summer crush for me last season, and he's staying on the list now that the team has upgraded at the quarterback position with Cousins. Just 24 years old, Diggs already has three years of NFL experience under his belt and could push past the 198.2 PPR points he scored in 2017. He's also entering a contract year, so Diggs will have more motivation than ever to produce.
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns: Gordon finds himself in an offense that's suddenly loaded with playmakers, but I still like him to produce at a high level ... even higher than Jarvis Landry. A physical specimen who led all wideouts in fantasy points in 2013 with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer under center, Gordon is more experienced, mature and has a better quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. Gordon's upside is huge this year. He's a prime-time top-50 overall selection.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: I get it ... Henry lost some luster when the Titans added Dion Lewis. It's true. But that just means he can be a real draft bargain as others fawn over Lewis in their drafts. Remember, Lewis has not been durable overall with a combined 30 games played over the last three years including two seasons when he was active in just seven games. If I can land Henry somewhere in the fifth round as a flex starter, I'll be doing the "Dance of Joy."
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: You might have forgotten after what Nick Foles did at the end of last season, but Wentz was on pace to be one of the three best quarterbacks in fantasy football before he went down with an injured knee. Barring any setbacks, he should be back in time for Week 1 of the 2018 campaign. In that scenario, and considering his current ADP is somewhere in the 10th round, well, Wentz could be a real steal if you like to wait on a signal-caller.
Trey Burton, TE, Chicago Bears: Burton landed with the Bears this offseason, and his contract (four years, $32 million) suggests he'll be a big part of the offense. He's also slated to see the "Travis Kelce" role for coach Matt Nagy, which means far more opportunities to produce than he had while buried behind Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. If you like to wait on drafting a tight end, Burton should be one of the players you're targeting. A top-10 PPR finish isn't out of the question.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers: I am going to put Garoppolo in a group of other quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston, Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott (among others). Why? Well, I can focus most of my attention on other positions (runners and wideouts in particular) because I can wait and still get one of them late. Garoppolo, who I think could be a top-10 fantasy signal-caller, is one of the players I'll look to grab once the "elite" guys are picked.