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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 150 Big Board, PPR: Version 1.0
Preseason Matchup Analysis

PPR | 0.5 PPR | Non-PPR

A d v e r t i s e m e n t

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 Adrian 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 space.

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 a 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 defense/special teams.

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 RB2).

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 production.

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 scores.

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 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.

 PPR Big Board - Top 150
OVR PR Pos Player Risk Tm Age SSI FPts/G FPts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
1 1 RB Adrian Peterson MIN 30 906.6 21.0 84.0
2 1 WR Antonio Brown PIT 27 901.7 22.6 90.5
3 2 RB Le’Veon Bell PIT 23 919.6 19.5 39.0
4 3 RB Marshawn Lynch SEA 29 897.6 19.5 78.0
5 4 RB C.J. Anderson DEN 24 900.0 21.6 86.5
6 5 RB Jamaal Charles KC 28 891.5 19.9 79.5
7 2 WR Demaryius Thomas DEN 27 904.7 21.3 85.0
8 6 RB Eddie Lacy GB 25 861.7 15.0 60.0
9 3 WR Dez Bryant DAL 26 897.6 21.5 86.0
10 4 WR Julio Jones ATL 26 894.4 24.6 98.5
11 5 WR Odell Beckham Jr. NYG 22 897.3 21.4 85.5
12 1 TE Rob Gronkowski NE 26 905.0 18.1 72.5
13 7 RB Matt Forte CHI 29 881.9 18.1 72.5
14 6 WR A.J. Green CIN 27 851.2 18.0 72.0
15 7 WR Calvin Johnson DET 29 883.5 19.8 79.0
16 8 RB Jeremy Hill CIN 22 848.9 19.0 76.0
17 8 WR Jordy Nelson GB 30 818.8 20.6 82.5
18 9 RB Justin Forsett BAL 29 848.8 17.9 71.5
19 9 WR Randall Cobb GB 25 787.4 20.4 81.5
20 10 RB LeSean McCoy BUF 27 801.5 16.9 67.5
21 11 RB DeMarco Murray PHI 27 806.7 16.8 67.0
22 1 QB Aaron Rodgers GB 31 888.0 32.1 128.5
23 2 QB Andrew Luck IND 25 887.0 29.1 116.4
24 10 WR T.Y. Hilton IND 25 757.0 15.4 61.5
25 11 WR DeAndre Hopkins HOU 23 848.8 19.9 79.5
26 12 WR Alshon Jeffery CHI 25 844.1 18.8 75.0
27 12 RB Frank Gore IND 32 807.4 16.4 65.5
28 13 WR Andre Johnson IND 34 750.5 15.5 62.0
29 13 RB Ameer Abdullah DET 22 795.2 16.5 66.0
30 14 RB Lamar Miller MIA 24 801.4 12.5 50.0
31 14 WR Jordan Matthews PHI 23 763.7 14.5 58.0
32 15 WR Amari Cooper OAK 21 775.7 15.5 62.0
33 16 WR Jarvis Landry MIA 22 751.8 13.8 55.0
34 2 TE Jimmy Graham SEA 28 867.1 15.1 60.5
35 17 WR Julian Edelman NE 29 749.8 14.9 59.5
36 18 WR Brandin Cooks NO 21 737.9 15.8 63.0
37 15 RB C.J. Spiller NO 28 778.2 15.0 60.0
38 16 RB Melvin Gordon SD 22 807.2 15.0 60.0
39 19 WR Kelvin Benjamin CAR 24 746.4 15.5 62.0
40 3 QB Russell Wilson SEA 23 809.9 28.3 113.2
41 20 WR Mike Evans TB 22 857.1 18.8 75.0
42 17 RB Mark Ingram NO 25 761.8 15.5 62.0
43 18 RB Joseph Randle DAL 23 759.0 13.6 54.5
44 19 RB Latavius Murray OAK 25 741.5 13.6 54.5
45 20 RB Alfred Morris WAS 26 784.4 11.6 46.5
46 21 WR Keenan Allen SD 23 736.7 14.5 58.0
47 22 WR Sammy Watkins BUF 22 742.7 13.1 52.5
48 23 WR Brandon Marshall NYJ 31 740.9 15.6 62.5
49 3 TE Greg Olsen CAR 30 793.7 14.5 58.0
50 4 TE Travis Kelce KC 25 803.7 14.5 58.0
51 24 WR Golden Tate DET 27 683.4 11.5 46.0
52 21 RB Jonathan Stewart CAR 28 745.0 11.9 47.5
53 4 QB Peyton Manning DEN 39 856.6 22.8 91.1
54 5 QB Drew Brees NO 36 835.3 21.2 84.6
55 25 WR Allen Robinson JAC 22 732.4 14.3 57.0
56 26 WR Mike Wallace MIN 29 730.1 15.3 61.0
57 6 QB Ben Roethlisberger PIT 33 874.6 24.2 96.8
58 22 RB Todd Gurley STL 21 800.4 7.8 31.0
59 27 WR Emmanuel Sanders DEN 28 718.7 12.1 48.5
60 23 RB T.J. Yeldon JAC 21 735.5 12.1 48.5
61 28 WR Charles Johnson MIN 26 695.2 12.6 50.5
62 24 RB Carlos Hyde SF 23 681.4 9.3 37.0
63 29 WR Vincent Jackson TB 32 734.1 15.1 60.5
64 25 RB Andre Ellington ARI 26 717.9 14.3 57.0
65 30 WR Anquan Boldin SF 34 703.3 15.8 63.0
66 31 WR Martavis Bryant PIT 23 696.2 17.6 70.5
67 32 WR Roddy White ATL 33 694.6 14.8 59.0
68 33 WR DeSean Jackson WAS 28 671.5 13.4 53.5
69 26 RB Danny Woodhead SD 30 705.9 13.4 53.5
70 7 QB Eli Manning NYG 34 856.0 21.4 85.4
71 27 RB Joique Bell DET 29 636.2 9.4 37.5
72 28 RB Giovani Bernard CIN 23 657.8 9.9 39.5
73 29 RB Shane Vereen NYG 26 636.4 12.5 50.0
74 30 RB Doug Martin TB 26 708.0 12.1 48.5
75 31 RB Chris Ivory NYJ 27 663.8 10.5 42.0
76 8 QB Cam Newton CAR 26 821.3 24.5 97.8
77 34 WR Steve Johnson SD 29 712.2 13.6 54.5
78 9 QB Matt Ryan ATL 30 833.7 24.2 96.6
79 35 WR Jeremy Maclin KC 27 671.9 11.8 47.0
80 36 WR Nelson Agholor PHI 22 682.3 11.8 47.0
81 5 TE Martellus Bennett CHI 28 720.8 10.5 42.0
82 32 RB Rashad Jennings NYG 30 614.2 12.6 50.5
83 37 WR Steve Smith BAL 36 712.8 15.0 60.0
84 38 WR Brandon LaFell NE 28 641.6 11.0 44.0
85 39 WR John Brown ARI 25 722.1 14.5 58.0
86 33 RB LeGarrette Blount NE 28 659.6 13.0 39.0
87 10 QB Philip Rivers SD 33 833.3 19.8 79.2
88 11 QB Tony Romo DAL 35 771.9 22.7 90.9
89 12 QB Matthew Stafford DET 27 791.2 18.2 72.6
90 13 QB Ryan Tannehill MIA 27 793.6 18.7 74.8
91 6 TE Jordan Cameron MIA 27 714.9 14.4 57.5
92 34 RB Duke Johnson CLE 21 686.7 12.6 50.5
93 40 WR Pierre Garcon WAS 29 723.0 14.1 56.5
94 41 WR Davante Adams GB 22 669.5 15.1 60.5
95 7 TE Vernon Davis SF 31 776.1 14.0 56.0
96 35 RB Tre Mason STL 22 636.8 10.5 42.0
97 14 QB Tom Brady NE 38 736.9 0.0 0.0
98 36 RB Arian Foster HOU 29 780.0 0.0 0.0
99 8 TE Tyler Eifert CIN 24 747.4 10.4 41.5
100 42 WR Larry Fitzgerald ARI 32 680.3 12.8 51.0
101 43 WR Eddie Royal CHI 29 649.3 12.3 49.0
102 15 QB Teddy Bridgewater MIN 22 781.6 20.0 79.8
103 16 QB Sam Bradford PHI 27 748.4 18.8 75.1
104 9 TE Delanie Walker TEN 31 711.3 11.5 46.0
105 37 RB Ryan Mathews PHI 27 615.4 8.6 34.5
106 44 WR Breshad Perriman BAL 21 664.3 13.0 52.0
107 45 WR Kendall Wright TEN 25 701.1 14.0 56.0
108 38 RB Isaiah Crowell CLE 22 680.7 7.9 31.5
109 10 TE Jason Witten DAL 33 682.2 10.8 43.0
110 39 RB Devonta Freeman ATL 23 622.3 10.5 42.0
111 40 RB Tevin Coleman ATL 22 618.3 9.9 39.5
112 41 RB Alfred Blue HOU 24 616.3 11.4 45.5
113 46 WR Victor Cruz NYG 28 584.5 6.6 26.5
114 42 RB Reggie Bush SF 30 622.7 12.0 48.0
115 11 TE Antonio Gates SD 35 625.8 0.0 0.0
116 47 WR Rueben Randle NYG 24 705.8 14.5 58.0
117 17 QB Colin Kaepernick SF 27 775.4 21.3 85.1
118 48 WR Brian Quick STL 26 637.7 12.0 48.0
119 49 WR Eric Decker NYJ 28 688.9 12.0 48.0
120 50 WR DeVante Parker MIA 22 563.8 6.3 25.0
121 51 WR Michael Floyd ARI 25 653.5 11.5 34.5
122 43 RB James White NE 23 539.6 7.6 30.5
123 12 TE Kyle Rudolph MIN 25 744.6 13.0 52.0
124 13 TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins TB 22 661.0 6.9 27.5
125 52 WR Terrance Williams DAL 25 618.0 11.3 45.0
126 14 TE Zach Ertz PHI 24 701.0 9.6 38.5
127 44 RB Knile Davis KC 23 649.4 8.4 33.5
128 45 RB David Cobb TEN 22 581.4 6.0 24.0
129 46 RB Matt Jones WAS 22 594.5 9.5 38.0
130 53 WR Torrey Smith SF 26 616.0 10.6 42.5
131 54 WR Marques Colston NO 32 598.4 9.0 36.0
132 15 TE Julius Thomas JAC 27 678.8 9.5 38.0
133 55 WR Markus Wheaton PIT 24 553.7 9.8 39.0
134 18 QB Carson Palmer ARI 35 797.8 20.6 82.4
135 16 TE Owen Daniels DEN 32 599.1 10.8 43.0
136 19 QB Andy Dalton CIN 27 679.7 19.0 76.0
137 20 QB Jay Cutler CHI 32 689.3 18.8 75.2
138 17 TE Josh Hill NO 25 648.5 7.1 28.5
139 56 WR Michael Crabtree OAK 27 624.8 12.0 48.0
140 47 RB Roy Helu OAK 26 609.1 8.3 33.0
141 57 WR Donte Moncrief IND 22 553.5 8.1 32.5
142 58 WR Doug Baldwin SEA 26 581.9 10.3 41.0
143 18 TE Dwayne Allen IND 25 582.6 9.3 37.0
144 48 RB Bishop Sankey TEN 22 680.0 9.8 39.0
145 59 WR Devin Funchess CAR 21 583.0 8.4 33.5
146 49 RB Andre Williams NYG 23 488.1 3.5 14.0
147 50 RB Montee Ball DEN 24 586.7 6.1 24.5
148 51 RB Lance Dunbar DAL 25 565.0 6.5 26.0
149 52 RB Darren McFadden DAL 28 508.8 8.1 32.5
150 53 RB Chris Johnson ARI 29 591.3 8.1 32.5

Top 25:

As much as owners tend to fool themselves into believing there is a consensus No. 1 overall pick or “Big Five” or whatever other label applies in a given year, I’m pretty sure I could make a strong case for AND against my top 12 players getting selected at No. 1 overall. Most owners can make the case for each of these players without my help, so let’s look at the potential obstacles keeping each player from being the best player in fantasy in 2015:

Adrian Peterson – As freakishly talented as he is, it is hard to overly excited about any 30-year-old back that hasn’t played a regular-season game in nearly a year. Making matters worse, Minnesota lost RT Phil Loadholt (Achilles) for the season in its first preseason game, which will either force raw rookie T.J. Clemmings into the lineup or cause new RG Mike Harris to kick back outside to tackle and open up a hole in the interior of the line.

Antonio Brown – Perhaps it is a bit nitpicky, but the likely continued emergence of Martavis Bryant and possibly Marcus Wheaton is probably going to lead to fewer targets and receptions for Brown. His “obstacle” is probably the least worrisome of the group of 12 I’m going to highlight, but owners expecting a repeat of last year’s production are probably going to be a bit disappointed.

Le'Veon Bell – A two-game suspension is a bad deal for any player that is supposed to go in the first 3-4 rounds of a draft, much less in the top five picks overall. The glass-half-full view would be that most backs are going to get hurt or put up a couple of duds anyway over the course of a 15-game fantasy season, so at least owners know right off the top when two of those down weeks are going to come.

Marshawn Lynch – How long can we expect the most physical back in the league to continue absorbing punishment? The loss of C Max Unger (in the Jimmy Graham trade) should not be overlooked when evaluating “Beast Mode”; owners can’t be certain the combination of OL coach Tom Cable and the Seahawks’ running scheme will be enough to power Lynch to his fifth straight season of at least 1,200 yards rushing and 12 total touchdowns.

C.J. Anderson – Denver has as much talent in its backfield as any team in the league, so Anderson is going to need to bring it week in and week out in order to remain the Broncos’ featured runner. He’s talented enough to do so, but pegging his handcuff is another issue as well.

Jamaal Charles – As running backs go nowadays, Charles is a pretty safe selection. With that said, OC Doug Pederson has already stated Kansas City intends to give its top back more rest this season. It’s also questionable whether the Chiefs will experience a net gain or loss as a result of letting C Rodney Hudson walk in free agency and trading for LG Ben Grubbs.

Demaryius Thomas – To what degree will new HC Gary Kubiak’s balanced offensive approach affect him? Can we really expect Thomas to get targeted at least 10 times in 12 of 16 regular-season games or see 39 red-zone targets again this year?

Eddie Lacy – Much like Charles in Kansas City, Green Bay wants to keep Lacy fresh for the long run. Last year, that meant his first 20-touch game came in Week 8 and his first 20-carry game came in Week 12. Through eight games last season, he had a total of four scores. Low touchdown totals plus low touch totals do not typically equal consistent fantasy success, no matter how good the offense is. And let’s not forget that Lacy’s running style makes him a more likely candidate to miss time due to injury.

Dez Bryant – Even if we can assume his immaturity issues are a thing of the past, no other top receiver deals with a more volatile combination of lower-than-expected volume (for an elite wideout), an offense that now prides itself on running the ball and a quarterback that has sustained back injuries in each of the past two years.

Julio Jones – I would not be the least bit surprised if Jones is the best receiver in fantasy this season. With that said, he’s played a 16-game season once in four seasons. His durability is more questionable than any other top receiver on this list.

Odell Beckham Jr. – It’s hard to dub a second-year player as injury-prone and important to note that I don’t think Beckham is at that point yet. However, Beckham has injured both of his hamstrings in his short NFL career and the Giants’ offensive line is likely going to be worse this year than it was in his rookie season. Last year represented a perfect storm for Beckham, so if Victor Cruz successfully returns from his injury, Rueben Randle takes the next step as I suspect he will and Shane Vereen gobbles up throws out of the backfield, then Beckham’s targets figure to take a hit as well.

Rob Gronkowski – The single-biggest fantasy matchup advantage each week, Gronkowski will play his first four games without Tom Brady and has his own well-documented injury history. It’s also difficult to take a tight end in Round 1 simply because of opportunity cost.

Whether you like or dislike the reasoning I have proposed above as to why using a first-round pick on any of the top 12 players is risky business, the fact of the matter is that all 12 also have the potential to carry their teams to the fantasy playoffs. That is why they are – and probably will remain – my top 12 selections throughout the rest of the preseason.

Let’s be clear about one thing: I can easily poke holes in any of the top 16 players on my board – and those are the ones I like the most, so it isn’t overly difficult to do it with players outside that range. Let’s take Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Justin Forsett, for example. Davante Adams will quite likely become a much bigger part of the Packers’ offense this year. Can we honestly pretend that a more involved Adams isn’t going to have a negative fantasy impact on Nelson and mean fewer red-zone looks for Cobb?

Forsett enters 2015 with the promise of having Marc Trestman as his new play-caller – a hire that almost guarantees he will double his previous career in receptions … right? Trestman has publically stated that Baltimore’s offense will remain rooted in the ground game, so owners can probably forget about 80-100 catches from Forsett and hope for more like 60-70, which would actually still be good news for his PPR stock. However, are we really going to put a lot of faith in a journeyman that hit it big with his fourth NFL team in his age-29 season to have another career year in his age-30 season? How much will Buck Allen play? Will Lorenzo Taliaferro be a mere backup, a goal-line vulture or something more? I want to believe more when it comes to Forsett, but I’m not sure I can bring myself to do it. Rest assured, I will wrestle with his place on my boards all preseason long.


I’m going to get ahead of any criticism about overreacting to one great preseason performance. I set the top 50 or so players prior to the start of the first full week of the preseason and I had Ameer Abdullah firmly entrenched as a player in the middle of the third round. The rookie’s upside is obvious, but let’s remember that Joique Bell probably isn’t going to give up goal-line/short-yardage work this season, nor will he be relegated to a strict backup role. I’m planting my flag on Abdullah as a more durable version of what I expect C.J. Spiller to be in New Orleans – a 10-12 carry back that doubles as a high-volume receiver out of the backfield and contribute on returns. Abdullah’s durability is the primary reason he should go a few picks before Spiller.

Jordan Matthews is a player I’m having trouble warming up to so far. In Mark Sanchez’s eight starts last season, the Vanderbilt product posted a 35-559-6 line. In eight games with Nick Foles as the starter, Matthews tallied 33 catches, 313 yards and two scores. In other words, I’m going to need to see some chemistry with Sam Bradford in the preseason in order to treat him like a top-end fantasy WR2. Did he become a better receiver because it took half of a season to feel comfortable in the offense (or for HC Chip Kelly to feel comfortable with him) or was he merely a product of Sanchez’s comfort level with him? I don’t so much question that he’ll be more involved over the course of the season than he was a rookie in light of Jeremy Maclin’s departure, but owners should keep Matthews’ Foles/Sanchez splits in mind before falling all over themselves to burn an early third-round pick to acquire his services.

I didn’t plan on Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce’s fantasy-point averages matching, but it speaks to the fact that I cannot decide which player I like better. As I have stated before, Kelce is the closest thing the NFL has to another Gronkowski-like talent and should be freed from the playing-time shackles he had last season. The departure of Anthony Fasano should also give him significantly more touchdown-scoring upside, but I shudder any time I think about pinning my fantasy team’s hopes on the right arm of Alex Smith. Can he make two receivers/tight ends fantasy-viable? If Kelce is going to live up to being a late-fourth/early-fifth round pick and Jeremy Maclin is going to come anywhere close to living up to his $11 M per year contract, Smith is probably going to need to become a more aggressive downfield passer.

As far as Olsen is concerned, Cam Newton is an inefficient passer, to put it mildly. The Panthers also added 6-4 Devin Funchess in the draft, giving Newton another tall and athletic weapon to use in the red zone. Olsen has never been that much of a touchdown scorer in his career (he’s only topped six once in eight seasons), but he can’t afford to lose many scoring opportunities if he hopes to remain a top-five tight end in Carolina’s conservative offense. Olsen and Kelce’s inclusion in the top 50 has to do with the fact that I trust their ability to perform more consistently like top-five tight ends more than I do any of the players behind them to consistently play at low-end QB1/RB2/WR2 levels.


Two players I doubt will find their way onto my teams are NFC West backs Carlos Hyde and Andre Ellington. The Niners could very well field a 4-6 win team this season and want to emphasize the passing game more while utilizing Colin Kaepernick’s arm strength and running ability as much as possible. The offensive line took a couple of hits in the offseason with the loss of LG Mike Iupati and retirement of RT Anthony Davis. San Francisco also added Reggie Bush, who is still one of the better passing-down backs in the league when healthy. The Niners’ defense is almost certainly going to play like a shell of its former self, eliminating the potential volume Frank Gore benefited from during the Jim Harbaugh regime. In short, Hyde figures to run behind a worse offensive line and doesn’t figure to benefit from volume. His potential to contribute in the passing game will probably be blocked by either Bush, Kendall Hunter or both. I’ll gladly take 10-12 potential games from Todd Gurley in the hopes I get a difference maker in the second half of the season over a player like Hyde that I believe is set up to fail in 2015.

I must admit I am baffled by Ellington’s current 4.08 ADP. I recognize as much as anyone how great it is to land a 20-touch back in the mid-to-late fourth round, but I can’t endorse a player with his injury history or competition for touches. Rookie David Johnson may not be the challenger that most expected him to be early in the season given his injury woes to this point, but Arizona has already named FB Robert Hughes as the short-yardage/goal-line back and signed Chris Johnson. The ex-Titan and Jet would likely not be joining the Bird Gang if he felt he was going to be a true backup, so Ellington’s owners are either looking at a timeshare at best. At worst, Ellington has proven he can’t stay healthy while handling a heavy workload.

It’s easy to forget the ripple effects that occur when players must serve suspensions, especially when those players are quarterbacks. While it is fair to expect less-than-ideal production from Gronkowski and Julian Edelman during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, I expect Brandon LaFell to take the biggest hit for fantasy purposes. Prior to joining forces with the Patriots with the Patriots last year, LaFell was a four-year disappointment in Carolina and never exceeded 50 catches in four years with the Panthers. In 2014, he was a key member of the New England’s Super Bowl run, especially as Brady grew more comfortable with him in the second half of the season. It would be unrealistic to expect similar production with Jimmy Garoppolo under center since the Patriots will probably want to protect their second-year quarterback by relying on the ground game as much as possible. Thus, a slow start almost seems inevitable for LaFell.

To this point, I have been much more negative than positive. That changes now and I’ll do it by making a case for Woodhead, who is already one of the easiest players to root for in the league. Generally speaking, it isn’t great news for all the other backs on the roster when a team spends a first-round pick to address that position, but that is not the case in San Diego. Melvin Gordon has struggled as expected as a pass-blocker and has a ways to go before he can catch up to Woodhead as a weapon in the passing game. It might be unrealistic for the Chadron State product to match what he did in his first year with the Chargers (182 touches – including 76 catches – for 1,030 yards and eight total touchdowns), but he should be a regular target again for a quarterback in Philip Rivers that loves utilizing his backs in the passing game.


The seas are seemingly parting for Eddie Royal to become an every-week fantasy starter in three-receiver leagues. Rookie Kevin White’s shin injury is likely to keep him out at least the first six weeks of the season, if not the entire year. Alshon Jeffery has been dealing with a calf injury of late, which has given Royal a fair amount of time to further strengthen his bond with Jay Cutler. Although Marquess Wilson will take on a more significant role in the Bears’ offense in the likely event White is unable to return, Royal’s ability to play the slot, win in the red zone and chemistry with Cutler are all reasons why he should enjoy his best season since his rookie year in 2008. Three different beat writers for the Chicago Sun-Times each proclaimed Royal as the training camp MVP and/or suggested the ex-Charger and Bronco routinely caught their eye for his ability to repeatedly make big plays. With the Bears likely to emphasize a controlled short passing game and HC John Fox’s reputation for going conservative on offense, it stands to reason a player that can win in tight areas and create yards after the catch like Royal is going to flourish. Much as is the case with the Chargers’ Steve Johnson, I plan on investing heavily in Royal. Needless to say, I expect both players to provide fantasy WR3 numbers.

If Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t operating an offense led by one of the most talented running backs in NFL history (and led by a play-caller that knows how to use him), he’d be a strong candidate to move into the low-end fantasy QB1 discussion. As it is, he might be headed in that direction anyway. The second-year signal-caller completed at least 68 percent of his attempts in each of his final five contests despite having only Charles Johnson as a viable threat. Adrian Peterson is back from suspension, Kyle Rudolph is back from injury and Mike Wallace is ready to prove why his deep speed is a perfect match for Norv Turner’s offense, meaning Bridgewater should feel like a kid in a candy store against some of the weaker defenses the Vikings will face this season.

Another high-end fantasy QB2 prospect I want to make room for is Sam Bradford. There are conflicting reports about how healthy his knee is, but I would advise owners to take the risk associated with him anyway – even if he is held out of preseason action again next week. My ranking for him is over a full round ahead of his current ADP, so I’m buying the risk is well worth the reward in the 10th round area.

Odell Beckham Jr.’s emergence from injured rookie receiver to fantasy game-changer is a story most of us shouldn’t expect to be repeated again anytime soon, so don’t go overboard on what I’m about to say. If there is a player that can reinvent that storyline from this year’s draft (albeit with much less statistical success), it is probably DeVante Parker. The No. 14 overall pick just started jogging a day before the release of this article (Aug. 17), so he’s going to need some time to get in shape. He’s coming off multiple foot surgeries and may not be ready for Week 1 as the team has suggested he would be. In short, there is a fair chance he won’t contribute to fantasy teams at all in September. However, before completely dismissing him, I encourage owners to recall that Parker was considered to be in the same tier as Amari Cooper and Kevin White in this year’s draft class. Furthermore, Parker was lighting up Dolphins’ offseason practices as well before his surgery. In those practices, he reportedly had his way with Brent Grimes, who is one of the league’s most underappreciated and tenacious cornerbacks. Parker is another player I have listed about 1 ½ rounds ahead of his ADP; he almost perfectly embodies the kind of player owners should spend a Round 10-12 pick on because his price tag is so positively disproportional to his talent and the potential fantasy impact he could have.

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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.