Last year reinforced a valuable yet painful lesson: No matter
how much running backs should rule the day in fantasy football,
they have - for the most part - been surpassed by wide receivers.
Part of what makes us all human is the fact we show bias. I have
played fantasy football for nearly 20 years and running backs
have always been central to my draft-day plans. It's a philosophy
that has allowed me to win roughly three times as much money as
I have invested into this hobby over the years. While running
backs are arguably more important than ever due to the scarcity
of every-down workhorses nowadays, the league has emphasized passing
and most coaches now believe it is better to spread the punishment
one runner used to receive among two or three backs. These shifts
in philosophy are unlikely to change, no matter how much some
of us believe such changes are/were unnecessary and possibly even
Last year was bizarre even by
modern standards, but some offseason research has made it
painfully clear owners who choose to pin their hopes of winning
fantasy titles on running backs are doing so at their own peril.
Let's be clear this admission is not an endorsement of going WR-WR-WR-WR
in the first four rounds of non-TFC or FFPC drafts, but rather
an acknowledgement that elite receivers tend to hold their value
pretty well all season long. How often does a receiver that goes
undrafted in fantasy and become a WR1? It seems for every Miles
Austin or Odell
Beckham Jr. (remember, he missed the first four games of his
rookie year due to a hamstring injury), there are at least five
or 10 running backs that come out of the woodwork to power fantasy
teams to championships. Last year alone, James
White (fourth), Tim
Hightower (sixth), Javorius
Allen (eighth) and Bilal
Powell (ninth) powered their fantasy teams to the title by
finishing inside the top 10 in PPR scoring over the
final five weeks of the season. Now look at the
receiver positon. Many of us are quite familiar with the names
Marshall and Julio
Jones. In fact, I can only spot three players - Ted
Ginn Jr. (16th), Kamar
Aiken (17th) and Tyler
Lockett (18th) - inside the top 20 over the final five weeks
of the season who went undrafted in most leagues, none of whom
who actually "carried" their fantasy teams.
I'm quite confident the system I introduced last year to grade
players is one other analysts will try to duplicate in coming
years. My biggest mistake last year was my unwillingness to deviate
from the belief that a strong running back corps was the easiest
way to a fantasy title. That bias meant I barely broke even in
2015. While the position should return to "normal" levels
in the coming years as some future studs play their final year
of college football this year, receivers are probably going to
dominate the early rounds of fantasy drafts for the foreseeable
My system, which I have labeled the Success Score Index
(SSI), involves meticulously grading and assigning certain
weights to several attributes that I feel are critical to fantasy
success at that position. Iím not going to pretend as if
I have accounted for every possibility; itís an impossible
task in a sport that features 11 men on one side of the ball trying
to work in perfect harmony and 11 men on the other side trying
to interrupt it. Just because it is an impossible task, however,
doesn't make it worth doing. Someone is going to win your league
this year, so the title might as well go to the person weighing
as many relevant factors as possible in his analysis.
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, Iíll try to win as many
titles as possible and help you do the same.
2 ) I'll include the risk signs you have become familiar with
in recent years when I release my final Big Boards in a couple
of weeks. For now, owners can take solace in the fact the SSI
I use to help me set my values below accounts for the attributes
I feel are most important for a fantasy player at his given position.
Among the areas I consider at each position are durability and
job security, so don't think the absence of
means I didn't account for such risk factors.
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
FPts/ G – Fantasy points/game (over first
SSI – Although you will not see it featured
in the Big Boards this week or next, SSI is 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.
Value - After a year away, standard deviation has
returned to the Big Boards. "Value" is essentially using
the VORP (Value over Replacement Player) concept for a two-RB, three-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 30th-ranked and 42nd-ranked player, respectively,
to better account for the vast number of leagues that feature flex
spots. Whereas I used point averages as my basis for value in past
seasons, I am using SSI for it 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, aggressiveness
of the offensive scheme, durability, offensive line play and difficulty
Running back – Talent, job
security, durability, percentage of team's backfield touches and
Wide receiver – Talent, targets/game,
scheme fit and the quality of quarterback play.
Tight end – Talent, importance
to the team in the red zone, targets/game, scheme fit and the
quality of quarterback play.
1. For this first set of Big Boards, I have chosen to stop at
150 players. Later this week, I will set up the first non-PPR
Big Board. Next week, I will release my first Big Boards for 0.5
PPR leagues as well as The Fantasy Championship and FFPC Big Boards.
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
2. 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. Thanks in advance for your patience.
3. As noted earlier, this Big Board is designed for owners drafting
in leagues who need to start one quarterback, two running backs,
three receivers, a tight end and a flex.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
Most of us are familiar with the rationale that roughly half of
the players in the first round bust every year. While the term "bust"
means different things to different people, a bust to me is a player
who you drafted to start but can't start due to the loss of his
job or woeful production. In most cases, I'd rather use the word
"disappointment". Either way, I'm going to spend the bulk
of my time in this week's piece focusing on some of the players
that have somewhat significant gaps between where I rank them and
their current ADP. Most of my analysis will be more of the quick-hitting
variety in the coming weeks, although I plan on mixing in some more
thought-provoking comments as well.
If each of them stay healthy, I don't question my first four
picks. Julio Jones and Dez Bryant both have dealt with foot injuries
recently, which is why they slot in behind Antonio Brown and OBJ.
Otherwise, all four of them should be exactly what owners want
in a fantasy first-rounder: players who will deliver consistent
numbers, have favorable schedules, enjoy a few elite performances
throughout the year and score at least 10 touchdowns.
David Johnson probably scares me more than any other player in
the top 12, but no running back is a safe pick anymore, as we
discovered last season. Johnson's upside is obvious and played
out before our eyes late last season; there's a reason he's projected
to be the top fantasy back in the league (I'm far from the only
one who believes it is possible). Last week, HC Bruce Arians finally
dispelled the notion of a committee or the hot-hand approach he
hinted was possible earlier in the summer. The most frightening
part of Johnson isn't the threat of a committee, but his schedule.
Then again, I can find fault in any of the other first-round backs
such as Elliott (unproven, rookie wall), Miller (can he withstand
250-plus carries and 300-plus touches), Gurley (lack of involvement
in passing game, dreadful supporting cast), Peterson (age, Jerick
McKinnon threatening to steal more looks in the passing game)
and Bell (four-game suspension, recent injury history). As far
as I'm concerned, everything I just said about the other elite
running backs makes Johnson the least of a lot of potential evils.
Barring injury, Hopkins isn't going to "bust". However,
one only has to look at what happened to his consistency once
the Texans started rolling in the second half of last season.
If Bell wasn't opening the season on suspension, Rob Gronkowski
didn't have four games without Tom Brady and Keenan Allen could
stay healthy for a full season, Hopkins would probably be slotted
behind all three. As it is, I think he's a mid-tier WR1 who will
perform at a level just off the pace of the seven receivers listed
Bell is perhaps the most interesting player on the board this
summer. His suspension has dropped him from a surefire top-five
pick to the beginning or middle part of the second round. I've
already noted his shortcomings above, but is there going to be
any other running back you want leading your team onto the virtual
playground starting in October? The onus of the Steelers' offense
is going to fall on Brown and Bell even more than it has in years
past, particularly if Ladarius Green is unable to play. The fourth-year
back is money in the bank when he's on the field and his injuries
are hardly chronic. With that said, don't invest in Bell unless
you are serious about securing DeAngelo Williams as well. I found
out over the weekend I will be choosing 12th (yet again) in one
of my two 12-team high-stakes leagues and I am strongly leaning
toward taking Bell with one of my two picks at the turn. As such,
I am committed to burning a sixth-round selection on Williams
if I do. Think about it this way: Is a second- and a sixth-rounder
too much to spend to acquire perhaps the best fantasy back in
the land? I don't think so.
I'll be the first to admit I may have Jordy Nelson too low, but
31-year-olds coming off ACL tears are a tough sell for me, especially
when they enter the next season with as little practice time as
he will have this summer. His connection with Aaron Rodgers is
undeniable, but how often do owners like taking a player sight
unseen after such a significant injury? That could very well be
the case this year, and I'm not willing to invest a second-round
pick into such a player.
For some reason, I have seen Devonta Freeman going in the first
round of some recent big-money PPR drafts. Unless those same owners
are predicting a season-ending injury to Tevin Coleman sometime
in the next month, good luck getting bang for your buck on that
selection. It seems as though every other week Atlanta is promoting
Coleman, but the
real comment that should make owners take notice was made
by RB coach Bobby Turner in mid-July: "When it comes down
to it, the one difference is the flat out long speed of Tevin
Coleman.Ē The Falcons have talked all offseason about reducing
Freeman's workload, which only adds more weight to Turner's suggestion.
If the "one difference" between the starter and his
backup is the latter's "long speed", it is only fair
to assume that same player may have a decent chance to bypass
the starter on the depth chart.
Most seem to agree Carlos Hyde only needs to stay healthy for
a full season in order to be considered as good, if not better,
than any of the running backs listed ahead of him. The problem
is the third-year back has never stayed healthy for an entire
season, dating back to his days at Ohio State. Add to that one
of the most difficult schedules for a running back and the fact
he has never finished with more than 16 catches in a season at
Ohio State or San Francisco, and there are plenty of reasons to
believe he will disappoint. Look no further than what LeSean McCoy
did on the ground under Chip Kelly in 2013 as to what is possible
if Hyde is able to withstand 300-plus carries.
Whereas I can see either side on the Hyde debate, I cannot support
Alshon Jeffery as a second-round fantasy pick at all. One of the
reasons Bears GM Ryan Pace did not sign him to a long-term deal
this offseason was his inability to stay healthy, and another
was the likelihood Chicago already has the player who will replace
him as the team's No. 1 option this year or next in Kevin White.
Lest we forget the Bears lost renowned play-caller (and quarterback
whisperer) Adam Gase to Miami in the offseason and still has Jay
Cutler under center - a combination (when combined with Jeffery's
soft-tissue injury history) which should make more nervous. Owners
can point to last year's production (when he able to play) all
they want; John Fox's teams are among the most conservative in
the league year in and year out and rarely feature enough passing-game
volume to make two receivers relevant in fantasy (excluding the
Peyton Manning years in Denver, of course). There's a better chance
Jeffery and White cancel each other out than the former making
the latter an afterthought.
A former teammate of Jeffery's, Matt Forte, is the next player
I expect to disappoint. The longtime Bear is in an offense perfectly
suited for his talents, so what gives? The ninth-year veteran
will turn 31 in December, but age is only one of the factors I
expect to keep him from matching his third-round ADP. As of this
writing, Forte has not participated in team drills in over two
weeks due to a balky hamstring he strained before the start of
camp. Even if his supporters choose to overlook the fact it is
rarely even a good sign for an older back to suffer a soft-tissue
injury in the preseason, there is the issue of what his ceiling
actually is. Bilal Powell was signed a contract nearly identical
to Forte's one day after the former Bear signed his deal, and
he is a threat to Forte's touches regardless of what the general
public's perception is. Khiry Robinson is considered the frontrunner
for goal-line work. If Forte isn't going to be an option for the
Jets near the stripe, he needs to be guaranteed a heavy percentage
of work between the 20s in order to justify his ADP. He doesn't
Both C.J. Anderson and Thomas Rawlscould be great value
picks in the fourth round, but I'm not sure either one will be.
Maybe I'm just a scorned 2015 Anderson owner, but doesn't it seem
like Devontae Booker is shaping up to be this year's Ronnie Hillman?
Anderson should have more job security than last year given his
new contract too, but his penchant for getting dinged (and not
playing particularly well when that is the case) is a bit of a
concern. If/when Booker begins to make strides as a pass-blocker,
look out. The rookie is more explosive than Anderson and has already
drawn substantial praise for his work as a receiver, meaning Anderson's
owners could be in for another wild ride.
Christine Michael is no stranger to generating offseason hype;
making the transition from puff-piece superstar to regular-season
contributor has been a bit more difficult. While we won't know
if Year 4 is going to be any different for another few weeks,
the early returns suggest Seattle is finally ready to buy what
he is selling. HC Pete Carroll told Seattle Times reporter Bob
Condotta following the Seahawks' preseason opener "when Rawls
comes back, it'll
be a 'little 1-2 punch that we are really excited about'".
Rawls had durability and character questions during his college
days and did little to erase doubts about the former when he suffered
his season-ending ankle injury as a rookie last year. (Yes, pretty
much every back in the league would have been injured on that
play.) As explosive as Rawls is, his owners can't afford to see
him split early-down work if they want him to live up to his fourth-round
ADP, especially since rookie C.J. Prosise was drafted for the
purpose of being the primary back on passing downs.
There are two players I can safely say will not end up on my
teams this year, barring a completed nosedive in draft stock:
Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews. I have Benjamin ranked as
a mid-to-late sixth round value, while his ADP is in the late
third round. The No. 28 overall pick in the 2014 draft is being
selected this summer as if he is a healthy receiver in tip-top
shape whose production as a rookie wasn't highly dependent on
negative game scripts when in fact none of those things are true.
Carolina is more likely to spread the wealth in the passing game
than it is to feature one receiver. Benjamin is yet another player
coming off a serious injury and has struggled with his conditioning,
to HC Ron Rivera. The hope is he can reach 30-35 snaps by
the end of the preseason, which is not exactly the kind of fitness
level to begin a season one wants from a WR2.
Matthews was the 17th-ranked receiver last season and needed
a huge finish in order to hit that mark. He failed to top 1,000
yards as a lead receiver in a Chip Kelly offense, so why should
we expect him to perform at a WR2 level in a more methodical attack?
Granted, the gap between his ADP and my rank isn't nearly as wide
as it is with Benjamin, but we already know the new coaching staff
thinks Matthews' best spot is in the slot. Philadelphia's most
dangerous formation is using "12" personnel (one back,
two tight ends and two receivers) because it allows the team to
use both Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, but such a formation obviously
doesn't allow for Matthews to play inside. I just don't see much
upside with a player like Matthews, especially when players like
Sterling Shepard and Corey Coleman are available three rounds
Let's wrap it up by discussing perhaps the most overvalued player
in the draft at the moment: Josh Gordon. I barely have him in
the top 100, while his ADP sits at 6.02. As a whole, fantasy football
owners tend to be indifferent - or flat-out ignorant - in regards
to realizing how difficult it is to play in the NFL, especially
after a prolonged absence. Gordon's talent is not in question
here, but let's face facts. He has played a total of five games
over the last two seasons and did not play at all last year. In
2014, he returned from a 10-game suspension and was largely unimpressive.
While I hope he remains on track in terms of straightening out
his life, he's likely one misstep away from a year-long suspension
and will enter this season four games after everyone else. Let's
not forget Cleveland figures to field a run-heavy offense or that
Robert Griffin III has never shown the ability to make more than
one receiver relevant in fantasy for any length of time. The Browns
obviously aren't going to ignore Coleman when Gordon returns,
and they plan on drawing up a few plays for Terrelle Pryor each
game. And there is also Gary Barnidge, who figures to remain a
key part of the red-zone offense even if he can't match last year's
breakout campaign. Gordon was once a premier talent in the league
and might again reach those heights, but I think his current ADP
can be attributed partly to Joe Q. Public's lack of appreciation
about how much good fortune he'll need to produce before midseason.
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.