The process of improving at one’s craft is – or
should be – an endeavor that never truly ends.
It has occurred to me over the years that I typically win the
waiver wire in most of my leagues, no matter how high the stakes
have been. There are exceptions, of course, especially when injuries
and/or suspensions strike quickly and leave more holes in a roster
than an owner can realistically expect to fill in a short period
of time. So why change a good thing? Quite simply, because the
old way – while still successful – wasn’t delivering
the results I had become accustomed to in the first few years
of the Big Board era. During this past offseason, I have come
to believe that my slow starts are mostly a function of not doing
a good enough job of taking the best player on the board or the
one I believe in the most and my fast finishes are largely the
result of my ability to recognize talent. In theory, if I can
spot identify a player like C.J. Anderson or even Branden Oliver
before anyone else does, I should rarely be in a position where
I need to insert them into my lineup immediately, right? In case
you couldn’t tell, my self-congratulatory praise above isn’t
so much a humble brag as it is an indictment that I haven’t
done the best job of practicing what I preach when setting up
the Big Boards.
One of my biggest shortcomings in recent years has been overvaluing
opportunity, especially as it relates to the running back position.
Opportunity means something entirely different for someone like
Peterson than it does for Toby
Gerhart or Zac
Stacy. Opportunity for Peterson means he may go from 325 carries
to 375 (just throwing numbers out there, folks). Opportunity for
Gerhart and Stacy last year meant each player was going to start
Week 1 and on a very short leash. It was for reasons like that
(and others) that I wanted to revamp the way I evaluated fantasy
players in 2015. You have already seen some of the changes (such
as the four-game projections
versus the full-season projections of yesteryear) and some are
behind the scenes that you won’t get to see due to lack of column
Long story short, the behind-the-scenes work involved meticulously
grading and assigning certain weights to several attributes that
I feel are critical to fantasy success at that position. The end
result of that work is the eighth column in each of my Big Boards
this year: success score (SS). Without giving away too much of
the formula, talent was the No. 1 attribute at each position and
job security also appeared at all four positions, getting more
of the percentage at running back than at any other position.
Why? Some of the more notable reasons are because it is a position
that experiences a ton of turnover and also because it is a position
where coaches do not hesitate to “ride the hot hand”,
sometimes with little to no provocation.
Although I expect to tweak the system (as in adjusting the percentage
weights I have assigned at each position) over the coming weeks
and years, I believe I have something worth keeping here. I will
also place a higher priority on pushing players up the board that
I really believe in. Fantasy football is fun when your team is
winning, but winning with a group of players that you believed
in on draft day and taking the bulk of that team to a fantasy
title makes it extra special. I plan on bringing back the “Value”
column for my final set of Big Boards in two weeks because I think
it does a good job of quantifying certain things like how much
“value” a quarterback loses when the scoring format
goes from six points per passing touchdown to four points or how
tightly bunched a certain position group is.
I’m not going to pretend as if I have accounted for every
possibility. It’s an impossible task in a sport that features
11 men on each side of the ball trying to work in perfect harmony.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it rarely ever happens and breakdowns
occur on virtually every play.
Before I get to the boards, I would like to remind readers about
two key points:
1) I doubt you will find another draft board like this one and
further doubt you will find a similar set of rankings anywhere
else. The standard the industry uses to measure accuracy among
analysts is overall scoring, but I am more concerned with projected
consistency and matchups. Consistency tends to lead to big fantasy
numbers at the end of the season and championships while inconsistency
and bad matchups at the wrong time usually lead to frustration.
Someday, I hope the industry catches on to my way of thinking.
Until then, I’ll try to win as many titles as possible and
help you do the same.
2 ) Much like the past three seasons, I want to provide readers
with a clear risk sign. If a player is a moderate risk –
be it due to 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.
Note: For this
first set of Big Boards, I have chosen to stop at 150 players.
Next week, I will release my first Big Boards for 0.5 PPR leagues
as well as The Fantasy Championship and FFPC Big Boards I promised
last week. In the final set of Big Boards in two weeks, I will
rank 200 players and present my final rankings for kickers and
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
Success score (SSI) – The sum of several position-specific
attributes that I feel are important to fantasy production, weighted
and scored. A perfect score is 1000, but it may help to move the
decimal point one spot to the left and think of each score as a
percentage. It may also help to think of the final score as the
likelihood that player will produce at the level I have projected
him if his current environment stays roughly the same as it is now.
Just so you know what you are getting yourself into, here are some
of the attributes I weighed and scored at each position:
Quarterback – Talent,
job security, four-game stat projection, red-zone projection (how
often I believe the quarterback will either throw or run the ball
himself inside the 20) and the degree to which I believe his offense
is conservative or will play that way because of an elite defense.
Running back – Talent,
job security, durability, four-game stat projection, three-down
back (based on projected snaps) and the run-blocking prowess of
his offensive line.
Wide receiver – Talent,
job security, four-game stat projection and projected red-zone
Tight end – Talent, job
security, projected red-zone scores and projected targets in relation
to his peers at the position.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the non-PPR format:
One final note:Over the next
two weeks, I will be “quality controlling” my projections
(basically double-checking my numbers, such as not having one
defense projected to intercept 15 passes through four games while
another has just one), so my next set of Big Boards (in two weeks)
could look different – particularly at the bottom –
than they currently do. As with all things that are worth doing,
this process takes time and needs to be constantly revised as
more information about depth charts and injuries becomes available.
What I can assure you is that my final set of Big Boards will
be the most comprehensive draft-day tool anyone in your league
will have at their disposal.
Because I have covered a number of players in the PPR section, I’m
going to limit the discussion in standard scoring to a handful of
players that I feel are more heavily impacted one way or the other
when receptions are taken out of the mix.
Top 25: I imagine the most eye-catching
part of my initial top 25 figures to be the relatively low rankings
of DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy. I have zero confidence Murray
will: 1) last the entire season, 2) not feel the effects of coming
off such a high-usage season if he somehow makes it through all
16 games again and 3) not cede more carries to Ryan Mathews than
many expect. In regards to McCoy, you’ll get no argument
from me he is (was?) one of the most elusive runners of his generation.
HC Rex Ryan and OC Greg Roman have talked up McCoy’s abilities
as a receiver and even suggested he could become the third back
to post 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in league history, but
Roman’s history with another very capable receiving back
in Frank Gore in another conservative offense suggests otherwise.
Both backs (Murray and McCoy) are what I like to classify as “RB1/2”
on my final set of Big Boards. In other words, I feel both will
be capable RB1s for owners that go with a receiver in the first
round, but more ideally suited to be RB2s for owners that want
the satisfaction that comes along with locking up two backs that
are likely to surpass 250 carries.
26-50: My high ranking of Gore
depends heavily on the Colts utilizing him as their primary goal-line
back. Assuming a high touchdown total for a running back on a
pass-heavy team is a dangerous assumption to make, so I can understand
any owner that doesn’t want to bet on the aging Gore or
the Indianapolis offensive line holding up its end of the deal.
I’m also less than thrilled about putting much trust into
a 32-year-old back that has accumulated so many carries during
his long NFL career. Ultimately, I expect the Colts to find a
way to keep him productive all season long, whether that means
he gets the Ahmad Bradshaw treatment in the passing game on the
days when the run isn’t working or scores a pair of short-yardage
touchdowns on the days when the Colts don’t need to run
the ball much.
One of the best trades I made during the middle of last season
in my most important league was trading Mike Wallace (along with
Eddie Lacy) right around my league’s trade deadline in Week
8 as part of a six-player deal to acquire Le’Veon Bell.
At the point of the season, it was becoming obvious Wallace’s
fantasy value was abnormally touchdown-dependent. I mention that
story here because I wonder if Mike Evans won’t disappoint
a bit this season. Somehow, the Bucs are going to have to find
a way to bump up Evans’ 123 targets from a season ago while
also making sure to keep Vincent Jackson involved and utilizing
Austin Seferian-Jenkins more often in the red zone. Never mind
the likelihood that Tampa Bay is likely to field a conservative
offense initially to protect rookie QB Jameis Winton and its less-than-stellar
defense. I have no question Evans is the real deal; I do question
the Bucs’ ability and willingness to pepper him with targets
each and every game.
51-100: One player I am certain
I will not be drafting over the next few weeks is Emmanuel Sanders.
Yes, it is never a good idea to bet against a receiver in a Peyton
Manning-led offense, but someone is going to take a hit in production
as the Broncos move to a more balanced offense and my bet is that
player will be Sanders. One of the best arguments in favor of
Sanders suggests that with Julius Thomas no longer around, there
are plenty of targets to be had to make up for the potential loss
of overall pass attempts. I would argue that the combination of
Owen Daniels and Virgil Green will combine for more targets than
Thomas. The Broncos should also play with the lead more often
than not, further cutting into his potential production. The ex-Steeler’s
late-third round ADP (according to Fantasy Football Calculator)
suggest owners expect him to finish with around 80 catches, 1000-plus
yards and 6-8 touchdowns. I'd be willing to bet that is his absolute
ceiling in 2015 and I have yet to mention that Denver wants to
get Cody Latimer more involved as well. Demaryius Thomas and his
$14 M per year contract isn’t coming off the field unless
he needs a blow and the Broncos plan on utilizing more two-tight
formations than they have in the past. Add it all together and
the odds are stacked against Sanders coming anywhere close to
the standard he set last season.
101-150: More than anything, I
watch all the preseason games I do in hopes that a handful of
players will either show marked improvement from the season before
or that some player on the roster bubble will deliver the kind
of performance that makes it impossible for the coaching staff
not to take notice. I saw the former over the weekend from Alfred
Blue, who looked considerably lighter on his feet than he did
as a rookie. I’m not suggesting he is on the verge of operating
as the Texans’ feature back while Arian Foster rehabs from
groin surgery, but I’m betting he will break more than one
run for longer than 21 yards (he had one such run on 169 carries
last year) and average more than 3.1 YPC. Blue is not overly athletic
or explosive, but his offseason work showed up in Houston’s
exhibition opener. A week ago, I would completely dismissed the
notion that Blue was going to be the Texans’ lead back for
the first half of the season. Now, I think there is a realistic
chance of that happening. Chris Polk and perhaps Jonathan Grimes
could end up playing key roles on passing downs, but I saw enough
over the weekend to convince me Houston is in capable hands with
Blue as the early-down thumper.
Since I suggested that I have no faith in DeMarco Murray staying
healthy all season, it follows that I would have a fairly high
opinion of the back that would step in for him in his absence
– Ryan Mathews. Obviously, I know better than to believe
Mathews would take the fantasy world by storm, effortlessly handling
20-plus carries per game in Chip Kelly’s offense in such
a scenario. However, a regular dose of 8-10 touches when Murray
is healthy and the promise of potentially 2-4 games as a featured
back when Murray is sidelined makes Mathews worth an eighth- or
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman each had a grand opportunity
to seize control of the Atlanta backfield in training camp, but
the hamstring epidemic that has wiped out their depth chart has
made it a virtual certainty the duo will begin the season splitting
carries. It’s a shame too, since a lead back in a Kyle Shanahan
offense is almost always worth investing in for fantasy purposes.
Coleman’s big-play potential should still make him the favorite,
although it is fair to wonder if his physical running style will
allow him to stay healthy for any length of time at the pro level.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.