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Five team-crippling fantasy football draft mistakes owners will make in 2017

If you think Ezekiel Elliott will perform as well as he did in 2016, think again. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)
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Nobody’s infallible. Heck, even Bill Belichick accidentally smiles at the occasional news conference. Fantasy football is made difficult enough by injuries, depth-chart shenanigans and the never-ending reverberations of the NFL media echo chamber, all of which cause myriad fantasy mistakes. Don’t exacerbate your problems by succumbing to big, easy-to-avoid errors.

Here are five mistakes fantasy owners will make in 2017:

1. Drafting only according to position. The single variety of question I get asked most on Twitter goes something like: “What position should I take in the first round?” or “Should I skip RBs in the first couple rounds?” or “When should I draft a QB?” Positional strategies abound in fantasy football, with fancy names like “Zero-RB” and “Zero-WR” and “Early-TE,” and I encourage you to ignore them all. If you’re dead-set on getting a first-round RB, does that mean you’ll pass up Antonio Brown for DeMarco Murray? I wouldn’t! Last year, locking in on early-round WRs “because they’re safer” might’ve netted you DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson. Gross! (There’s a reason this year I’m calling that duo The Human Centipede.) Don’t make up your mind on positions before you enter the draft room. Your board consists of players, right? Draft players!

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2. Believing rookie RBs will perform like they did in ’16. Before last season when Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard did it, name the last time rookies finished first and second in rushing yards. (Right! Never!) And since that’s the last thing we saw, now there’s a tendency to look at this year’s class — Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook — as can’t-miss kids. But there’s a mountain of historical evidence that says even highly-drafted rookie RBs don’t always (or even usually) dominate in their first years. Ask folks who drafted Melvin Gordon, Jonathan Stewart, C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews out of the chute.

Hey, I like bright, shiny objects, too. But taking those rookie RBs as second-round picks is too rich for my blood, and there may actually be value in some of their veteran counterparts you can pick up in the mid-to-late rounds, such as Stewart, Latavius Murray and Jeremy Hill.

3. Imagining every guy returning from surgery will immediately be great. Every player’s injury is different. Every player’s rehab is different. Jordy Nelson recovered from his 2015 torn ACL and posted the No. 2 WR season in fantasy. Jamaal Charles lumbered under the weight of his 2015 torn ACL and had 14 touches. There’s a laundry list of guys coming off major surgeries whose risk we must factor, including Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck, Ameer Abdullah, Cam Newton, Keenan Allen, Latavius Murray, Eric Decker, Danny Woodhead and Tyler Eifert. I’m not saying don’t draft these players. I’m just saying don’t ignore the risk. If you’re in a league where it’s not always easy to replace a fantasy starter with someone from your waiver wire, valuing these guys at their healthiest peaks can burn you.

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4. Assuming one Patriots RB will soak up all of LeGarrette Blount’s TDs. Blount was incredible for fantasy in ’16 but has moved on from the Super Bowl champs and will ply his wares under the yoke of more modest expectations in Philly. Last year in New England, he led the NFL with 18 rushing TDs, 12 of which came from inside an opponent’s 3-yard line. He leaves behind a squadron of potential inheritors: Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White and Dion Lewis.

So far, the market wildly prefers Gillislee: On average, he’s an early-fourth-round pick, while the others aren’t being drafted until the final rounds. The Patriots may again be among the league leaders in goal-line rush attempts (they had a whopping 31 last year), but why assume they’ll all go to one man? The last time New England had such a multifaceted backfield (in 2014), Shane Vereen had seven goal-line rush attempts, Jonas Gray had six, Stevan Ridley had five and Blount had three. Until I know for sure he’s the every-week goal-line option, I’m scared of Gillislee at his current ADP, and am intrigued by a late-round gamble on the others.

5. Reaching for players on truly bad teams. The NFL changes from year-to-year more than any league. Last season, the Cowboys went from 4-12 to 13-3 and the Panthers went from 15-1 to 6-10. But two franchises seem predestined to fail in ’17: the Jets and the 49ers.

We’re talking bad rosters, bad quarterbacks, complete rebuilds … and a clear incentive to finish with a poor record and partake of next year’s supposedly solid crop of draft-eligible QBs. So while players such as Pierre Garcon and Carlos Hyde and Bilal Powell have talent and are draftable at the right price — heck, anyone is draftable at the right price — try not to bend yourself into a pretzel convincing yourself that “someone on those teams will get touches, why not those guys!” Last year, that logic led to Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken being “sleepers.” I’d rather own players on teams that’ll, y’know, score touchdowns.

Christopher Harris is a former fantasy writer for Vice Sports and ESPN and currently runs, where you can find his 2017 ranks, his daily podcast, his 193-page 2017 Player Profile Almanac. You can follow him on Twitter @HarrisFootball.