We are in a golden age of fantasy football. The amount of information available has never been greater, and for the true fantasy nerds among us, this is a glorious time to be alive. My Twitter feed is filled with writers breaking down statistical minutiae, finding creative ways to mine value from drafts, and searching for predictive numbers in all sorts of nooks and crannies. If you’re looking for nuts-and-bolts fantasy analysis, though, you’ve come to the wrong place.
This piece won’t include any examination of opportunity-based touchdown regression or yards before contact. Because for all of the hardcore fantasy analysis populating the internet these days, one factor is often missing: fun. At its core, fantasy football is supposed to be a good time, and that’s why I annually put together the Most Fun Fantasy Team Fake Money Can Buy, a squad designed to maximize your enjoyment on Sundays.
This team is full of boom-or-bust options designed to thrill. It’s built for holy shit moments and highlights that make defenders look silly. If you’re seeking out advice on how to grind out fantasy wins, you’re best going elsewhere. This group has all the subtlety of a flamethrower.
As I’ve done in years past, I’m constructing this roster using an auction budget of $200, with the individual player values coming from the averages at FantasyPros. I’m also using standard roster size and non-PPR scoring. I can’t promise that this team will be consistent, efficient, or the best path to taking home a fantasy championship. I can promise that it will ensure your Sundays this fall aren’t boring.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: $10
When building this team each year, I rarely pencil in my quarterback first. Breathtaking feats of athleticism are typically associated with players whose primary job is to run, jump, and catch, making the QB position somewhat of a fun fantasy afterthought. Consider Deshaun Watson the exception.
From the moment Watson took the field for the Texans, replacing Tom Savage after one of the most hapless halves of offensive football you’ll ever see, he proved himself to be one of the league’s most thrilling players. Everything about the Houston offense just felt different. Watson’s ability to scurry around the pocket and elude pressure alleviated the team’s offensive line woes. His pass-making precision unlocked the full magic of DeAndre Hopkins, and his arm strength allowed Will Fuller to emerge as a dangerous downfield threat. Watson transformed an offense that could barely function into one of the NFL’s most entrancing attacks. It was nothing short of alchemy.
What truly made Watson’s rookie season remarkable, though, is that his impact went beyond invigorating the Texans. His weekly acts of wizardry altered the very experience of being a football fan. Watson was the most compulsively watchable rookie quarterback in years. His penchant for extending plays and conjuring massive chunks of yardage played a large role in that, but more striking was his fearlessness in raining terror on opposing defenses. Every time he uncorked a throw down the field, it seemed as if the only proper response was to leap out of your chair. His 19 touchdown passes in 2017 are tied for 12th most among rookie QBs since the merger. Watson played in only seven games.
The Clemson product tore his ACL during a practice in early November, which came as devastating news for anyone who cares about the NFL. The sigh you probably let out while thinking about that injury is the only reminder you need about how fun it will be to have Watson back.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants: $42
One of the best feelings in fantasy football is making the right bet on the next superstar. When the bidding war for Barkley begins in your league, enjoy being in the thick of it, going back and forth for the right to cheer on the sport’s next big thing. It’s possible that Barkley will step in and immediately stampede defenders, emerging as the league’s top back. And the mystery surrounding this can’t-miss prodigy’s potential is a massive part of his allure.
It also doesn’t hurt that this version of the Next Great Running Back is one of the most ridiculous athletes to ever enter the NFL. Barkley’s 4.4-second 40-yard dash time is impressive enough without context, and that’s before considering that he weighs 233 pounds. Barkley has the fourth-best speed score—the Football Outsiders metric that takes both speed and size into account—of any player since 1999. And his 41-inch vertical leap puts him in the 96th percentile among running backs.
Guys like Barkley don’t come around often, and this is your chance to get in on the ground floor. When Saquon Mania takes full effect in Week 3, you’ll be happy to be among the lucky group who get to enjoy the rewards in fantasy.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints: $49
There are certain NFL players who just see the game differently. The way they both take in and process information is so distinct that it makes me want to view the sport through their lens. These days, Alvin Kamara is at the top of that list. The way he shakes defenders in the open field and finds the perfect path into tiny creases of space suggests a power to slow down time itself. It’s downright mystical.
From a fantasy perspective, nothing about Kamara’s staggering rookie production was a fluke. He has a knack for embarrassing would-be tacklers every time he touches the ball. Even if his lofty per-carry average (6.1) from last season falls back to earth, Kamara should still be among the most show-stopping players on the planet. With New Orleans backfield mate Mark Ingram suspended the first four games of this year for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, Kamara will get every opportunity to shine as both a runner and receiver.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: $27
The Minneapolis Miracle will likely go down as the grandest moment of Diggs’s career, but the specifics of that play weren’t all that different from what he does every week. Despite standing just 6 feet tall, Diggs was the only receiver in football to corral more than 60 percent of his tight-window targets in 2017, per NFL next-gen stats. He routinely posterized corners on 50-50 balls, making contested catches from every imaginable angle.
The utter domination Diggs displays with a scrawny frame just doesn’t make sense. That makes it all the more amazing to watch, especially coupled with his status as one the league’s best route runners and his membership in the Always-Open Club. When Diggs is healthy, there aren’t many receivers with a more complete game.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers: $22
Fantasy football is at its most fun when the guys on your roster are having fun, too. I’m not sure that any NFL player is living a more joyful life than Smith-Schuster. Every aspect of his persona, from his impossibly adorable dog to his hanging out at Coachella to his continued video-game exploits, warrants his inclusion on this team . Oh, and he also racks up stats.
With JuJu, it’s this simple: We got an actual news cycle out of him riding a bike, having said bike stolen, and then finally getting his driver’s license. I need 100 more NFL stories like that every day, and it seems like JuJu will eternally be the person to give them to me.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears: $21
I’ll readily admit that this is a Bears homer pick. I’m not apologizing. Robinson was cruelly ripped away from NFL fans last season after tearing his ACL in Week 1, and considering the glut of great receivers around the league, it’s no surprise that he’s now getting lost in the shuffle for fantasy purposes. It’s worth remembering, though, just how productive Robinson has been in the past, even with Blake Bortles throwing him the ball. He’s among the most capable jump-ball receivers in the game, a big-bodied target who plays even larger than his imposing 6-foot-3 frame.
Robinson is an unceasing touchdown machine. Even when he’s paired with a relative question mark in second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, it’s a safe bet that the wideout will deliver a steady stream of How the hell did that happen? scores this season.
George Kittle, TE, 49ers: $3
Kittle is the perfect low-risk lottery ticket to round out this starting lineup. The Niners were able to scoop up the Iowa product in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, despite his monster showing at the combine. At 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, Kittle ripped off a 4.52-second 40-yard dash and 132-inch broad jump. He’s a special athlete who can stretch opposing defenses in every way, and while his usage wasn’t consistent as a rookie, the flashes you’d hope to see were on display.
In Year 2, Kittle should get an entire season’s worth of work with Jimmy Garoppolo in an offense tailored to his skill set. The Niners love moving tight ends around and using them to disguise offensive concepts. Kittle is the tight end drafted outside the top 10 at the position who could finish the season in the top five—all while putting together a highlight package of roasted safeties and crushed cornerbacks.
Jaguars Defense: $3
I’m not even sure how you’d make an argument for anyone else. The joy of a fantasy defense comes from its propensity for chaos, and that’s exactly what Jacksonville brings. Yannick Ngakoue is a strip-sack touchdown waiting to happen; Calais Campbell is a football nerd’s dream; and Jalen Ramsey is on the back end, talking shit for all of eternity. These Jaguars are the NFL’s reigning kings of cool.
Will Fuller, WR, Texans: $7
Fuller was billed as a burner who could torch defenses at will when he came into the league in 2016. With Watson under center in Houston, that billing has become reality. There are few safer bets to be a staple of the RedZone Channel this season. Fuller’s extra gear combines with Watson’s let-it-rip mentality to form a perfect recipe for pyrotechnics. And any ideal fantasy team contains the possibility of regular QB-WR double touchdowns.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: $4
Any play involving Cohen has a chance to be the most ridiculous in the NFL in a given week. If that seems like a stretch, well, let’s go to the evidence:
Cohen turns the ordinary into the spectacular, and this year he’ll be part of one of the more creative, forward-thinking offenses in football. Cohen will see opportunities all over the field as a receiver and runner. An uptick in touches means an increased likelihood of him doing something absurd.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs: $1
A quarterback with a missile attached to his right shoulder and little regard for his limitations is playing in an Andy Reid offense that also features tight end Travis Kelce, receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, and running back Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs offense is the most fascinating unit in the NFL, and Mahomes’s potential is at the heart of its intrigue.
Corey Davis, WR, Titans: $8
Aside from Marcus Mariota, no member of the Titans stands to benefit from Tennessee’s transition to a Kyle Shanahan– and Sean McVay–inspired offense under new coordinator Matt LaFleur more than Davis. Second-year breakout candidates are perfect high-reward bets to make in fantasy, and few have Davis’s pedigree and penchant for making ridiculous catches.
Nick Chubb, RB, Browns: $3
Go look for Barkley’s closest athletic comparisons, and you’ll see that Chubb’s physical profile is in the same rarefied company. At 5-foot-11 and 227 pounds, Chubb is built like the players currently ruling the NFL, and his draft position this spring suggests the Browns view him as their back of the future. If Cleveland’s offense takes a significant step forward, Chubb could break out as an unexpected fantasy gem.
D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers: $0
The prospect of Cam Newton playing with an above-average wide receiver is exciting. Moore, a rookie, will immediately become the most talented target Newton has had in years. The Maryland product should have every chance to become the focal point of Carolina’s passing game.