Carolina Panthers

Value shopping: Grab these top fantasy football sleepers and draft targets

Carolina Panthers talk about Christian McCaffrey touchdown vs. Miami Dolphins

Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey, Alex Armah and Greg Van Roten talk about McCaffrey's 71-yard touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins in their preseason game.
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Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey, Alex Armah and Greg Van Roten talk about McCaffrey's 71-yard touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins in their preseason game.

We kicked off the 2018 fantasy football season with this strategy article. Now it’s time to build on that and lock in sleepers and players to target in the draft.

Quarterback

Waiting on a quarterback is probably the right thing to do – many good options will remain in the drafts’ later rounds. However, if everyone waits, some blue-chip options are worth snapping up earlier. I’d still sign off on Tom Brady (New England) in the fifth round or Drew Brees (New Orleans) in the sixth round. Despite their age (Brady is 41, Brees 39) both are playing at elite levels. Brady has looked the same as ever and Brees should rebound off a moderately down year.

If you wait on a quarterback, Matt Ryan (Atlanta) is likely to go much lower than he should. Ryan disappointed mightily last year, but he’s just a season removed from averaging 309 yards per game with 38 touchdowns. In his second season with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Ryan has many elite skill-position players — including Calvin Ridley, the Falcons’ latest first-round NFL draft pick – surrounding him.

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Running Back

Running backs will go quickly in the drafts. Fear not if you are at the back end of the first round. Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville) and Christian McCaffrey (Carolina) are both solid late first-round picks.

Fournette, who scored 10 touchdowns in 12 complete games last year, looks to be even better this year. He’s 15 pounds lighter and getting mixed into third-down packages more. McCaffrey had an amazing 80 receptions as a rookie, and he’s slated to shoulder even a bigger workload for the Panthers. He’s looked tremendous in preseason action.

Derrick Henry (Tennessee) will no doubt share carries with Dion Lewis, but he nonetheless has the potential for a breakout season. With his size, Henry could easily crack double-digit touchdowns. He also surprised last year with some long runs after Tennessee had tired-out defenses. Henry had fourth-quarter touchdowns last year of 75, 72 and 35 yards.

Rex Burkhead (New England) could drop some in drafts as he’s missed the preseason with what is believed to be a minor knee injury, making him a strong sleeper. Burkhead scored seven touchdowns in his final six regular-season games last year.

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Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (left) is a solid late first-round pick in fantasy football drafts. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com



Wide Receiver

After barely being used over four seasons in Buffalo, Marquise Goodwin (San Francisco) surprised with a near 1,000-yard season last year, and he appears to have a strong connection with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Goodwin will add big plays (he averaged 17.2 yards per reception last year), and he comes in on a roll having finished 2017 as the ninth-best fantasy receiver over the final five games of the season.

Three wideouts were selected in the Top 10 of the 2017 NFL draft and all three busted as rookies – Corey Davis (Tennessee), Mike Williams (San Diego) and John Ross (Cincinnati) combined for zero regular-season touchdowns. However, each look attractive for 2018: Davis is slated to be the Titans’ No. 1 wide receiver; Williams should be busy in the red zone with the Chargers’ tight end Hunter Henry out for the year; and Ross has been elevated to the Bengals’ starting lineup.

Save room at the end of the draft for sleeper wide receivers; there will be numerous options. John Brown (Baltimore) looks completely healthy and has flashed all camp for the Ravens. Anthony Miller (Chicago) should start as the slot receiver for the Bears and was super productive in his final two years at Memphis (averaging nearly 100 receptions and 16 touchdowns per season). James Washington (Pittsburgh) looks like another strong rookie wide receiver selection. The 2017 Biletnikoff Award winner has looked very impressive and should play in three-receiver sets. Cordarrelle Patterson (New England) has looked explosive and could surprise, especially with Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season. Patterson was quoted as saying that Patriots coach Bill Belichick told him “we’re gonna make you the player that you should be” after trading to acquire Patterson.

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Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (right) is tough to defend. Bill Kostroun AP



Tight End

New Bears coach Matt Nagy will bring a version of the Kansas City offense with him, making Trey Burton (Chicago) the team’s version of Travis Kelce. Despite limited starts in four years with Philadelphia, Burton was signed in free agency for big money and should play a large role in the offense.

All signs point to a breakout year for David Njoku (Cleveland) in his second NFL season. Njoku brings a tremendous size-to-speed combination, making him tough to defend. After scoring four touchdowns last year in a reserve role, Njoku will be the Browns’ starting tight end this year. He’s a good target about Round 9 in fantasy drafts.

Alan Satterlee is in his fifth year of writing about fantasy football for The Charlotte Observer. Find him on Twitter at @Speedkills_DFW.

[FANTASY FOOTBALL INSIDER: More tips and insight from Alan Satterlee]

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Fantasy football is played by millions and millions of fans worldwide, but its roots trace back to just three men, in 1962.

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