Players who one fantasy guru drafted most heading into 2017

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Tennessee Titans receiver Rishard Matthews is among a group of 2016 breakout players who are coming surprisingly cheap in 2017 fantasy drafts. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Wallet 2017: Rishard Matthews and the Regression Police

Rishard Matthews was the No. 13 receiver in fantasy last year. He’s currently the 49th wideout off the board this summer. He turns 28 in October.

Cameron Brate was the No. 6 tight end last year. He’s being drafted as TE19 these days. He’s 26.

Tyrell Williams was a difference-maker last year, spiking up to WR14. Drafters are not sold; he’s the WR42 for the fresh year. Williams is 25.

Adam Thielen got up to WR30 last year, but the crowd says WR46 in draft season. He’s 27.

So it looks like this year’s What’s In My Wallet once again starts with a fade of the Regression Police.

Obviously we need to skate to where the puck is headed, not where it’s been. There’s a logical case for these players to fall behind last year’s production. But I suspect the Regression Police are overrating the risk associated; applying an overcorrection. All of these players offer the potential to buy in at a reasonable price, with obvious upside — last year’s stats — in the realistic range of outcomes.

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Matthews is probably getting docked because the Titans added hotshot rookie Corey Davis (the fifth pick in the draft) and veteran red-zone wizard Eric Decker. Alas, Davis has been hurt much of the summer and Decker’s also had a quiet camp (to go with an extensive injury history in recent seasons). At minimum, I expect Matthews to be Tennessee’s most reliable target early in the year. Let’s hope for a quick start, we’ll figure out the rest later.

Brate’s ADP took an instant tumble when the Bucs drafted Alabama TE O.J. Howard in the first round. Quick, name all the rookie tight ends you regret drafting over the years? It’s a position that has a steep learning curve. Brate’s not much of a blocker and that’s actually a feature for our fantasy tight ends, not a bug. I give him a good chance to keep most of last year’s haul. Jameis Winston loved his big target over the middle.

Like Matthews, Williams is screened by other big names in Los Angeles. Keenan Allen is back, injury baggage and all. Rookie Mike Williams was a premium draft choice, shortly after Davis. But given Allen’s injury resume and the fact that Williams is already hurt, why are drafters kicking Williams to the curb? You’re punching a mostly-upside ticket when you sign up Tyrell Gazelle.

There are reasonable reasons to be cool on Thielen. Maybe you prefer Stefon Diggs, or maybe you don’t want to link up with Sam Bradford. I consider this a case of the generic (Thielen) being more fantasy-interesting than the name brand (Diggs). Thielen snagged 75 percent of his targets last year, he made plenty of downfield plays (14.0 YPC), the Vikings rewarded him with a big contract, and now Thielen’s going to work in the slot, where the coverage is easier to beat. The Fantasy Crowd would rather take Randall Cobb (arrow points in wrong direction), Jeremy Maclin (Baltimore’s offense could be a train wreck), John Brown (ongoing health concerns), or Corey Coleman (no resume yet) — stances I can’t get behind.

Consider the hook, and tell me on Twitter (or in the comments) if you agree or disagree. Here are some quick hitters for other repeating Pianow purchases.

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Russell Wilson Last year was the first time in five years he took a fantasy loss, not that a QB11 season should cripple anyone. Knee and ankle problems wasted Wilson for two months. He’s healthy now, and receiving group is better. Seattle’s mediocre offensive line will probably open up the offense. (Most of my Wilson angles were discussed in last week’s Bryant/Baldwin Spin Doctors.)

DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard Late-round lottery tickets, as I’ve been fading Old Man Marshawn Lynch all summer.

Isaiah Crowell He’s not a zero in the passing game, and the Browns should have one of the better offensive lines in the game. New QB DeShone Kizer might poach a few rushing touchdowns, but his athleticism should also improve Crowell’s rushing lanes. Normally you would flee from a running back from a presumed-losing team, but I suspect the Browns will be stubborn with their rushing game plan in most weeks.

Titans Defense — The first thing you ask on any defense: “is the team any good?” Tennessee looks like the clear favorite in the weak AFC South, especially wth Indianapolis and Jacksonville having terrible camps. The Texans should be heard from, but their offense has red flags at every position.

James White — To be fair, I have a moderate amount of every primary Patriots back other than Dion Lewis. I wish I had a strong lean to any of these guys. But White’s an easy punch in PPR leagues, given his knowledge of the offense, strong 2016 haul, and ability to run the ball, if needed.

Greg Olsen, Jason Witten — Anyone can get hurt in the NFL, and sometimes it feels like every tight end slips on the banana peel eventually. But there’s something reassuring about the run of full seasons Olsen and Witten keep giving us.

Robby Anderson — I fully understand not wanting to draft into a horrible offense like the Jets, but when you get Anderson as a cheap depth guy — say your WR5 or WR6 — who am I to say no? Hopefully Josh McCown can stay healthy for half the year. I also scored a fair amount of Quincy Enunwa, before the injury. As much as I like early drafts — let’s reward those who can connect dots ahead of time — you have to deal with the injury pitfall, too.

Travis Kelce — My early-round picks are often a simple grab for best-player available, not sweating particular positions (though I usually take QB out of that equation, since the position is so deep). Kelce became my Break Glass In Emergency pick in a host of third rounds. Last year’s TD count is probably the low end of his range, and I fully expect the yardage to be in the same neighborhood. Look at how the Chiefs unlocked Kelce over the final three months of the year.

Derrick Henry — It’s not a strict fade of DeMarco Murray because I’m invested there, too — running behind the best offensive line in football is a lovely thing. The key to Henry is this — can he get enough volume to become a viable RB2 or flex option even if Murray never gets hurt? I think that’s in play, but this can be a tricky call — consider what we expected from Bilal Powell and Charles Sims early last year (Powell did rally, but only in December). I also understand those who run from Henry because of his size and upright running style. I see a league-winning upside here, so I punched some tickets.

Zach Ertz — Everyone knows him as the player who generally goes off late in the season. This year, Ertz will be the player going off down the seam, taking advantage of Jordan Matthews’s departure.

Rob Kelley — They don’t all have to be superheroes. Kelley isn’t fat, either, but he is the clear starter in a proven, bankable offense. Samaje Perine did nothing to scare us this summer. Kelley is a perfect RB3, and you could even slot him at RB2 if you loaded up at other spots.

Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton — It’s their “boring veteran” years, a type of player I’ve gravitated towards for three decades. We’re not trying to market our team or make the biggest social splash, we just want the numbers. Rivers and Dalton are working with their best supporting casts ever, at least on paper, and Stafford isn’t held back by a game-script ambush back. If Detroit is going to move the ball and score, he has to be the pointman.

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