Fantasy Football 2017: Memorize these players if you want to start your season strong

By Alex Butler  |  Aug. 18, 2017 at 9:44 AM
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Aug. 18 (UPI) -- We all want to begin the fantasy football season with a great team, so here are some players due to start the year strong.

Starting your season 1-3 is hard to come back from. Kicking the year off 0-4 is torture. You want to get out of the gate with at least a couple of wins through the first quarter of the season and set yourself up for a great stretch run.

Although you won't be able to control if your best players suffer brutal injuries, you can set yourself up for success by picking up players who have slack in their schedule.

These tactics are also useful in acquiring new talent. If you take advantage of an easier schedule with a player, you can sell his stock to another team while his value is still high. If you do this, target big-name talent that has not performed, possibly due to a tough schedule early on.

While you should already be familiar with the top fantasy players going into the season, you should also get comfortable with the less-heralded names because they can end up winning you your fantasy football league.

Here are some targets to keep an eye on in your draft if you want an edge against the completion at the start of your season.

These players have the highest frequency of facing defenses that ranked in the top 10 for fantasy points allowed to their respective position last season in their first four games of 2017.

Running Back

1. Christian McCaffrey, 2. Todd Gurley, 3. C.J. Anderson

While it shouldn't be the first time you've heard Christian McCaffrey's name this offseason, it should be the first time you've seen him top a list for this reason. In 2017, the Panthers start their season facing three defenses in the first four weeks who ranked as the 10 most generous defenses in 2016 at giving up fantasy points to running backs. Carolina begins its season battling the San Francisco 49ers, a defense that gave up the most points to the position last season. The Panthers' next game is against the Buffalo Bills, the team that gave up the fourth-most points to the position. In Week 3, the Panthers play the New Orleans Saints, a defense that allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs.

If you drafted Todd Gurley last year, you were undoubtedly disappointed. But the good thing about a down year for this Los Angeles Rams running back is that his draft stock has tanked. This year you can get 2015 Pro Bowler as an RB2. His early season schedule should also make you smile. Gurley begins the 2017 season as the Rams' workhorse and with a game against the Indianapolis Colts, a team that allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the position in 2016. The Rams battle the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and the ever-charitable San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. This is the kind of pick that you don't talk up heading into your draft. Keep your love for Gurley quiet and pounce on him as his slips in your draft.

The Denver Broncos might have brought in Jamaal Charles this offseason, but C.J. Anderson could still be the main man here. He had a career-low 4.0 yards per carry in 2016, but played in just seven games. He still found the end zone four times. Look for Anderson to take advantage of some early season matchups in Denver's schedule. If he starts out hot, he would be a great piece to move to another team in Week 4 or Week 5. Denver begins the season against the Los Angeles Chargers, a team that allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs in 2016. The Broncos also face porous rush defenses in Week 3 and Week 4 in the Bills and Oakland Raiders, respectively.

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) watch a replay of a 42-yard catch he made in the fourth quarter of in a Wild Card round game against the Detroit Lions in the NFL playoffs on January 7 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI

Wide Receiver

1. Doug Baldwin, 2. T.Y. Hilton, 3. Pierre Garcon

He might not scream "No. 1 wide receiver," but Doug Baldwin is as steady as it gets from a top target standpoint. Baldwin, 28, has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He also has 24 combined touchdown grabs in his last three seasons. This year, Baldwin and the Seattle Seahawks begin the season against the Green Bay Packers, a team that allowed the most fantasy points last season to opposing wide receivers. The Seahawks' next game is against the 49ers (fifth-most points allowed in 2016). Seattle's Week 4 bout is against the Tennessee Titans. That secondary allowed the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers in 2016. Baldwin is a great WR2 and can easily fill your WR1 void if you draft a running back early.

Much of the Indianapolis Colts' offensive potential hinges on the health of No. 12, Andrew Luck, but T.Y. Hilton is extremely talented and should have value regardless of when his quarterback is able to throw to him. Obviously his value increases with the talented gunslinger, but a beatable early season slate makes Hilton a great second-round target in deeper leagues. The Colts begin their season facing the Rams, the fourth-most charitable defense to wide receivers last season, in terms of fantasy points allowed. The Colts face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, a team that allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. Indianapolis' Week 3 contest is against the Browns. Cleveland allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers last season.

Stay with me here, but Pierre Garcon has value heading into your 2017 fantasy football campaign. Garcon had a 1,000-yard effort last year with the Washington Redskins and now he's with the San Francisco 49ers. Though the 49ers' quarterback situation is not ideal, Garcon will have fantasy football value. He can be had for a very cheap price and has a favorable early schedule against the likes of the Panthers, Rams and Cardinals. Like Anderson, I can see Garcon being a sell-high type player heading into Week 5. If he shows up through the first four weeks, you might be able to package him with a running back and upgrade at either position. Garcon should be able to find at least WR3 status early in the season.

Tight End

1. Charles Clay, 2. Jermaine Gresham, 3. Martellus Bennett

If you are in a league where you have to start a tight end, listen up. The guys in this section are mostly streaming options, with the exception of Bennett, who should provide consistent value throughout the 2017 season.

Buffalo Bills tight end Charles Clay could be a fringe TE1 early on with a favorable schedule. Clay's first two games come against the New York Jets and Panthers, who ranked as the No. 9 and No. 2 defenses most likely to give up fantasy points to tight ends last season. His Week 4 matchup is against the Atlanta Falcons, a team that allowed the sixth-most points to tight ends in 2016.

Jermaine Gresham has "streamer" written all over him. The Cardinals tight end doesn't score a ton of touchdowns but I expect at least a couple through the first four weeks of the season. The Cardinals have a very favorable schedule through the first three weeks of the season with games against the Detroit Lions, Colts and Dallas Cowboys, all defenses that ranked in the top 10 for points given up to tight ends last season. The Cardinals also have some uncertainty about who its No. 2 wide receiver is this season, making it possible for the offense to lean a little more on this Carson Palmer check down.

Out of these three options, Martellus Bennett certainly has the highest draft price, but he might be worth it. I'm expecting a top-10 year at the position for the veteran, who now has Aaron Rodgers tossing him passes. Bennett has never been afraid of the end zone, as he has 26 scores in his last five seasons. I'm expecting him to be a reliable option in Green Bay, as Rodgers won't always be challenged to forced the ball to his outside speedsters. The Packers face two defenses in the first four weeks that had trouble covering tight ends last season in the Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals. Bennett should get you some much-needed points from the position every week, but especially early on as he tries to form a bond with Rodgers.

Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Carson Palmer warms up before the Cardinals-Oakland Raiders game on August 12 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI

Quarterback

1. Russell Wilson, 2. Matt Ryan, 3. Carson Palmer

This wont be a surprise after pumping up Baldwin, but Russell Wilson also has a great early season schedule for the Seahawks. Seattle faces the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, a team that allowed the seventh-most points to opposing quarterbacks last season. The Seahawks battle the 49ers in Week 2, a team that allowed the eighth-most points to the position. Seattle faces the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, the fifth-most giving secondary last season in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. In Week 4, Seattle battles the Colts, who tied with the Packers in 2016 for fantasy points allowed to the position. Wilson enters the 2017 season healthy and should get better production out of the backfield to balance this attack. He'll also provide more value outside the pocket with a healthy lower body. He could end up being a top-3 quarterback through the first four games of the season, making him a bargain at his current average draft position.

The secret is out about Matt Ryan. The 2016 NFL MVP put it all together last year for a historic season. This year, he gets all of his weapons back and starts the year out against the porous secondaries owned by the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. He is not a bargain at his current average draft position, but if you are deciding between Ryan and a quarterback not on this list, his early slate should tip the decision in his direction. That, and the fact that he is throwing the ball to superhuman Julio Jones.

Arizona Cardinals star Carson Palmer looked like an aging quarterback in 2016. Palmer threw for a career-best 35 scores against just 11 interceptions two seasons ago. He also passed for a career-best 4,671 yards and completed 63.7 percent of his passes. But poor offensive line play led to Palmer getting sacked 15 more times in 2016. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has also commented on the fatigue of Palmer's arm late last season. This year, Arians has kept a closer eye on the lethal limb of the 37-year-old. Palmer is rested and primed for a comeback season for the Cardinals. He gets to face the Detroit Lions in Week 1, a defense that allowed the third-most points to opposing quarterbacks last season. In Week 2 he gets the Colts, before facing off with the 49ers in Week 4. Palmer should be a top-10 quarterback through the first four weeks. If you draft the veteran, you should have an auxiliary option on your bench. Because of the ease of the schedule for the Cardinals at the beginning of the year, you will know early if this is Palmer's comeback year or if his time in Arizona is nearing an end.

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