A d v e r t i s e m e n t
At this point of the preseason, it is time to stop talking and
start drafting. In other words, I’ll save my latest brilliant
introduction for another time.
For those of you familiar with my Big Boards, feel free to scroll
down past my three key points and begin there. You will notice
I have tweaked the position column to reflect the tiers I believe
each player falls in this season.
For those readers just learning about the wonderful world of
Preseason Matchup Analysis, welcome to the program. (Where have
you been?) After talking about some of the more relevant issues
concerning fantasy owners in Big Board Versions 1.0
and 2.0, it’s
about time we get started on the good stuff. Before we set the
draft boards for the final time this summer, here is the essential
information to start your quest toward fantasy glory:
Loyal readers already know my stance on the importance of value
when it comes to drafting, but most fantasy analysts fail to quantify
it. As it relates to my Big Boards, I define "value"
using the VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) concept for a two-RB,
two-WR league, which essentially allows me to compare apples and
oranges. At QB and TE, the value reflects the standard deviation
from the 12th-ranked player at the position – the last starting-caliber
player at the position. At RB and WR, the value reflects the standard
deviation from the 24th-ranked player. As I have mentioned many
times over the years, "value" in drafting is key. Need
has to outweigh value on occasion, but for the most part, it can't
hurt to take the best player left on the board. Understanding
the delicate balance of realizing a player is too good to pass
up and knowing exactly when the last spot in your likely Week
1 starting lineup needs to be filled often separates the great
drafters from the very good ones.
Beyond using “value” to ease the process of setting
up a draft board, analyzing the playoff matchups and common sense
has to enter into the conversation as well. A perfect example
of the latter is Jimmy Graham, whose PPR value should make him
a top-five player on all three boards. While Graham certainly
brings a huge advantage to his fantasy teams almost every week,
no number cannot account for the economic principle of “opportunity
cost” – the loss of potential gain from other alternatives
when one alternative is chosen – in real-time when owners
pass on an elite running back to draft Graham. A simple number
value also cannot account for the drastic falloff in value at
running back after the established top options are drafted, usually
by the end of the first round. Smart drafting also involves supply
versus demand. Every year, there are not nearly enough quality
running backs to occupy 24 starting spots in 12-team leagues.
Before I get to the boards, I would like to remind readers about
a few key points:
1) They are not going to look like many other draft boards you
see. My method of evaluating fantasy players relies heavily on
projected consistency and matchups, not overall fantasy point
total projections. All too often, fantasy owners and even the
so-called "experts" get hung up by the final numbers.
Don't get me wrong, I want all my players to have 300+ points
at the end of the season. But as the old saying goes, "It's
not about the destination, it's about the journey"; if my
RB1 gives me seven spectacular performances along with six duds
during the regular season, there's a fairly decent chance I may
end up 7-6. I don’t want that and neither should you.
2) I will push a player down my
board if feel he is a health risk or if I simply don’t/can’t
trust him. If you take the time to break down each
position I provide below, you will notice that I don’t follow
the point totals or averages to a tee. (Think of the average and
value I provide for each player as a starting point for my rankings.)
Outside of trust issues, I will push a player down my board –
despite a higher average or overall point total – if I believe
he will simply be less consistent throughout the season or if
his playoff schedule appears treacherous.
3) Much like the past two seasons, I want to provide readers with
a clear risk sign. If a player is a moderate risk – be it
due to holdout, injury, off-field, etc. – you will see a
next his name. If I feel a player is a severe risk, you will see
next to his name. While I feel like I have accounted for each
player’s “risk” with their spot on the Big Board,
you may be more or less inclined to deal with that risk than I
am. This is just another way of helping you take a look at the
board and quickly identifying which players stand a good chance
to frustrate you at some point this season.
As I stated earlier, I have taken the additional step on the final
set of Big Boards to designate players to their “fantasy
position”. Keep in mind that just because there may be 12
teams in your league, it doesn’t mean there are 12 players
worthy of being designated as a QB1, RB1, WR1 or TE1.
QB1/RB1/WR1/TE1 – A player
I am comfortable starting every week, regardless of matchup.
1/2, 2/3, 3/4 (All positions) –
A player that can occasionally post numbers with a player in the
tier above him, but is usually either too inconsistent to be considered
in that tier or has a poor track record of staying healthy.
QB2/TE2 – A bye-week or matchup-based
quarterback or tight end.
RB2/WR2 – A back or receiver
that can post RB1/WR1 numbers with high upside, but has an obvious
flaw that makes him less consistent than a RB1 or WR1.
RB3/WR3 - Usually is an inconsistent
“splash” player that can win his fantasy team with
a huge performance, but is best utilized when the matchup is right.
RB4/WR4 – Usually a steady,
lower-upside option that can be spot-started and used as a bye-week
fill-in. In some cases, he is a high-upside player blocked by
two top-level players in front of him.
RB5/WR5 – Usually a “handcuff”,
but a player who is on the roster generally to keep the ship from
sinking due to injury.
RB6/WR6 – Extreme longshots
due to any number of factors, but with enough talent to be viable
at some point in fantasy.
Let’s revisit the color-coding system before we start:
Red – A very difficult matchup.
For lower-level players, a red matchup means they should not be
used in fantasy that week. For a second- or third-tier player,
drop your expectations for them at least one grade that week (i.e.
from WR2 to WR3). For elite players, expect them to perform one
level lower than their usual status (i.e. RB1 performs like a
Yellow – Keep expectations
fairly low in this matchup. For lower-level players, a yellow
matchup is a borderline start at best. For a second- or third-tier
player, they can probably overcome the matchup if things fall
right. For the elite players, expect slightly better than average
White – Basically, this matchup
is one that could go either way. In some cases, I just don’t
feel like I have a good feel yet for this defense. Generally speaking,
these matchups are winnable matchups for all levels of players.
Green – It doesn’t
get much better than this. For non-elite players, the stage is
basically set for said player to exploit the matchup. For the
elite player, this matchup should produce special numbers..
OVR – Overall Rank
PR – Position Rank
FPts – Fantasy points scored
FPts/ G – Fantasy points/game
Value - Read *** below
***In addition to discussing value above, there is one other note
regarding the numbers in the “value” column: numbers
that are bolded reflect positive values while the italicized numbers
are essentially negative. (For the more statistically-inclined,
the former values are on the right side of the bell curve while
the latter values are on the left side.)
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
Every year brings about a plethora of players that spark debate
and, thus, are difficult to rank as some owners are more willing
to overlook an injury, immediate job threat or some other factor
that makes their fantasy stock volatile. For me, the first wave
of questionable players begins in the late teens and the second
wave starts somewhere in the early-to-mid 30s on every board. Obviously,
there will be several players that will perform at a near-elite
or elite level after the first 2 ½-3 rounds, but owners must
realize that just about every player after that point has a significant
flaw in their fantasy resume. I apologize in advance for not addressing
all 165 or so players individually, but I figured it would be beneficial
to take a closer look into 15 of the more interesting cases. I hope
that by presenting an argument for and against each player, I can
generate some thought as you likely debate the same questions in
your drafts. Since my goal is to allow each of you to decide how
to handle each dilemma, I will let my Big Boards speak as to how
I have chosen to answer in most cases.
Alfred Morris, WAS
The case for: As the bellcow in
the Washington backfield, Morris should be a near-lock for 250-plus
carries in what should be a drastically improved offense. He is
the team’s unquestioned short-yardage and goal-line back and new
HC Jay Gruden has kept many of the same zone-blocking scheme principles
that allowed him to flourish under former HC Mike Shanahan and
OC Kyle Shanahan. Morris has averaged 4.7 YPC on 611 attempts
over his first two seasons and found the end zone seven times
last year despite the fact his team finished 23rd in scoring.
The case against: Morris is the
rare case in today’s game in that he is essentially a featured
back that is considered below average as a receiver. While it’s
not exactly an impossible hurdle to overcome in terms of his fantasy
value and certainly didn’t keep him from being productive in the
Shanahan & Son offense over his first two seasons, there is significant
reason for concern now that Gruden figures to dial up substantially
more pass plays than the Redskins did in 2012 or 2013. Roy Helu
is not an immediate threat to his job, but the University of Nebraska
alum has established himself as a fine blocking and receiving
option in the passing game.
RB Bishop Sankey, TEN
The case for: The first running
back selected in May’s draft is a bit of a high-end combination
of the two men he is competing against: Dexter McCluster and Shonn
Greene. The rookie is more than capable in the passing game (like
McCluster) and an adept inside runner (like Greene). It could
even be argued that he is superior to both players in each regard.
Handpicked by the Titans to help fill the void left behind by
Chris Johnson, Sankey seems to be a solid bet to assume a significant
workload if/when Greene succumbs to another knee injury or McCluster
fails in his bid to become new HC Ken Whisenhunt’s new Danny Woodhead.
Tennessee also boasts one of the most talented offensive lines
in the league.
The case against: Whisenhunt’s recent history and success
using a three-man backfield attack in San Diego. Although more
than a few have questioned Sankey’s overall skill set, there
is little question he is the most complete back on the Titans’
roster. As a result, about the only thing holding him back appears
to veteran deference, which is presumably what is keeping him
from already being named the starter. In a worst-case scenario
for Sankey, Greene somehow manages to stay healthy all season
long and/or holds onto the short-yardage and goal-line roles while
McCluster steals more than half of the receptions out of the backfield.
C.J. Spiller, BUF
The case for: Few backs in the league operate in space better
than Spiller, who posted four 100-yard games, averaged 4.6 YPC
and managed to rush for 927 yards despite being dogged by a high
ankle sprain for a good chunk of last season. Buffalo was the
most run-heavy team in the NFL last year and stands a good chance
at maintaining that distinction again in 2014 as the Bills continue
to utilize an up-tempo attack under second-year HC Doug Marrone
and OC Nathaniel Hackett. Spiller has at least 33 receptions in
each of his last three seasons and ranked second in the league
with nine runs of at least 20 yards a year ago.
The case against: Marrone and Hackett
simply don’t care to or know how to use Spiller correctly. While
there is little question that Fred Jackson is very good in all
aspects of the passing game, it is hard to believe the coaching
staff feels as if the Bills are a more dynamic offense with Spiller
on the sidelines on the majority of passing downs. Buffalo has
shown some signs of getting Spiller to the perimeter more often
than it did last year during this preseason, but a big-play back
that comes off the field on third downs and inside the red zone
is virtually guaranteed to be inconsistent in fantasy. Barring
an injury to Jackson, Spiller’s current role is unlikely to change.
Trent Richardson, IND
The case for: Arguably the most
scrutinized player in fantasy since his trade from Cleveland last
fall, Richardson is a power back with solid receiving skills that
operates in one of the most talented offenses in the league. Pro
Football Focus gave the third-year pro a 49.3 “elusive rating”
in 2013, slightly ahead of fantasy stalwarts such as LeSean McCoy
and Eddie Lacy. With Andrew Luck directing an offense that is
loaded with receiving options capable of spreading the field and
only the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw capable of putting any pressure
on his starting job, Richardson is a good bet to continue receiving
consistent touches, even in games where he struggles to gain yards.
The case against: While many have
suggested that Richardson is struggling this preseason, I have
actually been quite impressed by his ability to maximize most
of his runs. However, there within lies the problem. Even the
best backs in the league cannot consistently be asked to create
yards after contact when they are continually getting hit at the
line of scrimmage or in the backfield. The Colts may have made
it a priority to get the ground game going in the offseason, but
they did little in the way of adding personnel to upgrade it.
Indianapolis managed to find a bit of a rushing attack in 2013
when it turned to Donald Brown in part because he is able to get
to the hole faster; they may end up doing the same thing with
Bradshaw this year.
Emmanuel Sanders, DEN
The case for: In Denver’s high-powered
offense, there is virtually no chance Sanders will ever attract
a double team. The ex-Steeler is arguably a better deep threat
than the departed Eric Decker, has Peyton Manning as his quarterback
and can play the slot if necessary. Following Wes Welker’s third
concussion in less than a year, it may be that ability to play
the slot that leads to his ability to post WR2 numbers this year
as opposed to 2015, when it was assumed he would take over for
Welker full-time in the slot.
The case against: There is no guarantee
– even after Welker’s most recent concussion – that he will just
disappear off the fantasy map. Welker defined slot receiver play
for this generation in a lot of ways, so if he can play, Sanders
will remain outside in the Decker role in this offense. Additionally,
it shouldn’t be assumed that Sanders will just inherit Welker’s
gaudy 2013 numbers against a much more difficult schedule nor
should owners expect Denver to match its historic numbers from
a season ago. A healthy Montee Ball could easily allow the Broncos
to lean on the run more often, which would also cater to their
Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX
The case for: Jones-Drew finally looks healthy after two injury-shortened
seasons and showed it last weekend in the Raiders’ preseason
game versus Green Bay. Oakland signed him to a three-year free-agent
deal (while only offering a one-year to incumbent starter Darren
McFadden) in large part because it could not trust McFadden to
stay healthy…and rightfully so. It would be irresponsible
to suggest MJD is back in his prime – because he is clearly
not – but the UCLA alum somehow managed to record 1,117
total yards and five touchdowns at far less than 100 percent with
Jacksonville last season even though the Jags’ offensive
line was arguably as porous as the one he will run behind now.
The case against: The offensive line didn’t get much of
an upgrade in the offseason and, despite chronic hamstring issues,
McFadden isn’t exactly a scrub. One of the assumptions I
made during my projection of the Raiders was that MJD would be
“Mr. Inside” to McFadden’s “Mr. Outside”.
If that is truly how it plays out, Oakland could turn into a lighter
version of Buffalo Bills West, with the caveat being the Raiders
will simply ride whichever back is running well on that day and
not make substitutions based on down, distance or situation.
Ben Tate / RB
Terrance West, CLE
The case for: Pure and simple,
running backs that operate in an offense run by a Shanahan typically
produce. In this case, the Browns will probably have no choice
but to run the ball more than they pass simply because they possess
so few receiving weapons. With Josh Gordon unlikely to make an
impact anytime soon – if it all this season – a solid offensive
line and a defense capable of keeping games close, Cleveland will
have no issues giving one back 20-25 carries on a regular basis
if the running game is clicking.
The case against: I don’t question that Tate will be productive
in Shanahan’s offense, but I do have significant doubts
about his ability to make it through the season reasonably healthy.
Furthermore, West is a younger (and less beat-up) alternative
the coaching staff loves and there is more than anecdotal evidence
to suggest that Shanahan loves nothing more than making a star
out of a late-round draft choice. (My advice: don’t press
your luck hoping to land West at or near his ADP if you draft
Tate. Take him in the next round or two at the latest and your
flex spot should be in good shape for most of the season.)
QB Tony Romo, DAL
The case for: I frankly cannot
remember the last time that a team entered a season so devoid
of defensive playmakers. In other words, as bad as the Cowboys’
defense was last season, this season could be even worse. Romo
could easily lead the league in passing attempts as a result and
he has enough high-quality targets that he could potentially set
some career-high passing totals along the way. Dez Bryant is as
good as receiver as there is in the NFL, Terrance Williams is
a solid deep threat (albeit with inconsistent hands), Jason Witten
is a near-lock for 70-plus catches and DeMarco Murray is no slouch
out of the backfield either.
The case against: Even though the back surgeries he has undergone
the last two off-seasons have reportedly been minor, trusting
Romo to be my QB1 scares me. On one hand, he could lead the league
in virtually every meaningful passing category if he can play
all 16 games. On the other hand, most people that have actually
experienced back surgery will tell you there is nothing “minor”
about it. Owners need to remember that Romo suffered his herniated
disc on a play in which he awkwardly torqued his body late in
the season, so perhaps his recipe for long-term success isn’t
throwing the ball 600-plus times in 2014. Unfortunately, his defense
may not give him that choice.
Cam Newton, CAR / QB
Robert Griffin III, WAS
The case for: Fantasy owners love
their mobile quarterbacks and it is hard to find two that do it
much better than Newton and Griffin. Newton may have lost most
of his receiving corps from last season, but already has a strong
rapport with Greg Olsen and has become fast friends with 6-5,
240-pound rookie Kelvin Benjamin. Griffin has easily the best
supporting cast he has enjoyed entering his third season and a
coach that will undoubtedly let him use it. Pierre Garcon has
evolved into a complete receiver, DeSean Jackson threatens defenses
downfield like few others can and Jordan Reed has all the tools
to quickly become a top-shelf tight end.
The case against: Newton has nothing to prove from a talent perspective.
But even if we roll with the assumption he has a better receiving
corps than last season, the same cannot be said about his offensive
line. Making matter worse, just about the time he was cleared
to play following offseason ankle surgery, he suffered a hairline
fracture to his rib. For a player that has taken 467 hits in three
seasons as a runner and passer – more than twice as many
as the next closest quarterback – any upper-body injury
is a concern. As for RG3, it is hard not to make a semi-big deal
out of his preseason struggles. His inability to slide properly
may seem like a minor flaw to the casual observer, but it is part
of a bigger problem. Griffin continues to say he is learning to
protect himself, but will he make the transition quickly enough
so that his slight frame can withstand a full season?
Mark Ingram / RB
Khiry Robinson, NO
The case for: HC Sean Payton has
said just about every offseason since the Saints won Super Bowl
XLIV that he wants his team to run the ball more often, but what
has usually transpired is that New Orleans falls back on Drew
Brees’ right arm. Robinson’s emergence – along with the departure
of Darren Sproles – has potentially opened the door for Payton
to follow through on his wishes. Ingram appears as healthy now
as he has been at any time in his pro career and wants to be more
involved in the passing game while Robinson appears even quicker
and more explosive than he did during his late-season run in 2013.
The case against: Payton may want to run the ball more often,
but he said nothing in regards to leaning more heavily on one
back. Worse yet, Ingram may be No. 1 on the depth chart and still
the least desirable fantasy back in New Orleans. Ingram’s
durability is a big question mark, but as long as he is running
ahead of Robinson, it seems next to impossible to count on either
one enjoying much in the way of fantasy success.
Ladarius Green, SD
The case for: Green is one of a
handful of new-age tight ends that might as well be an oversized
wide receiver. He teased us with a three-game run from Weeks 11-13
when he caught nine passes for 206 yards and two scores, hinting
at the kind of production he is capable of in even a regular part-time
role. Antonio Gates has been injury-prone in recent years and
turned 34 in June, making it likely that Green should be more
involved in the offense.
The case against: One of the reasons I had Gates and Green ranked
next to each other on previous Big Boards was because I expected
Gates to start off this season fairly strong before Green emerged
late. That may still happen, but the Chargers seem to be less
enthused about using Green than his fantasy owners. Trust goes
a long way in the quarterback-receiver relationship (or tight
end in this case) and Gates has built that up over many years
with Rivers. Green’s time will come at some point –
perhaps following a Gates’ injury – but San Diego
is convinced that it will win games running the ball and throwing
high-percentage short passes, neither of which suits Green’s
most obvious strengths at the moment.
Matt Cassel, MIN
The case for: Another quarterback that has more talent at his
disposal this year than he ever has, Cassel may have found his
fit in new OC Norv Turner’s vertical offense. Cordarrelle
Patterson may still be evolving as a route-runner, but he is dynamite
in the open field. Kyle Rudolph gives Cassel more than just a
short-area security blanket with his ability to get downfield
and 2013 de facto No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings is still hanging
around, even if he has fallen to third in the pecking order. And
let’s not forget Adrian Peterson, who probably scares opposing
defenses as much as any back in the game. Defenses have long stacked
the box against Peterson, so it will be interesting to see how
long they continue that tactic if Cassel carries his preseason
play into the regular season. If opponents continue using eight
defenders to stop Peterson, Cassel will have a lot of talented
options facing single coverage.
The case against: The Vikings have an extremely challenging schedule
to begin the season, meaning Minnesota could legitimately turn
to rookie Teddy Bridgewater if Cassel continues along the 1:1
touchdown-to-interception ratio that he has posted over the last
three seasons. If Cassel simply limits his turnovers in 2014,
there are plenty of reasons to believe he could finish as a top
15 fantasy quarterback. Will he get that chance after facing the
Rams, Patriots, Saints, Packers, Falcons and Packers over the
first five weeks of the season?
PPR Big Board
| Non-PPR Big Board
| K & D/STs
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Doug Orth has written for FF Today
since 2006 and has been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He has hosted USA Today’s hour-long,
pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday over the
past two seasons and appears as a guest analyst before and during
the season on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” as well
as 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). Doug is also a
member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.