With just over a week to go before the NFL season opener and
just under two weeks before most of the teams kick off, the time
to talk has passed. As such, allow me to bypass the usual pleasantries
this week and get to the good stuff.
While I will provide the bulk of my analysis this week into this
article, I will add any insights that I think are particularly
helpful to owners in standard, half-point, TFC and FFPC leagues
in those respective Big Boards as the week progresses.
Before I get to the boards, I would like to remind readers about
two key points:
1) 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 four 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.
Please note the different colors to the “Pos” column
below; it is my hope taking this step will allow owners to delineate
where one tier ends (regardless of position) and where another
one begins, essentially using the same concept NFL teams do with
a horizontal board during the NFL Draft. (Although it is not a
perfect example, here is the kind of thing I am talking about
in case the term “horizontal board” is unfamiliar
to you.) When a player at one position interrupts a "run"
at another position, you can generally assume the early part of
that tier has ended. The fact each tier is a different color is
merely to easily separate tiers; there is no hidden message or
anything of that sort.
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
Success Score Index (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 that
percentage 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 - The Value over Replacement Player (VORP)
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
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. This Big Board is designed for leagues which require owners
to start one quarterback, two running backs, three receivers,
a tight end and a flex.
2. "Value" and SSI are tools I use to help me set up
the Big Boards. I do not follow either one blindly, since there
has to be a human component in such endeavors in order to account
for certain "intangibles".
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
There will be those who suggest the absence of Tony Romo will negatively
impact Ezekiel Elliott. I disagree. "Mobile" quarterbacks
tend to keep defensive ends/outside linebackers from crashing down
too hard on inside runs, often allowing runners to exploit cutback
lanes. Dallas has already shown this preseason it will use rookie
Dak Prescott on zone-reads and other designed runs. Combined with
the Cowboys' dominant offensive line, it is hard to imagine how
things could be lining up any better for Zeke.
Picking at No. 12 spot in both of my most important leagues,
I have wavered most of this month on what players I want falling
in my lap at the turn. After much internal deliberation, I'm fairly
certain I will do no worse than some combination of Allen
Peterson and Jamaal
Charles. Or so I thought. ESPN's Adam Teicher pretty
much squashed what enthusiasm I had for Charles just a couple
of hours before I was ready to put my finishing touches on this
Big Board. I was ready to make him my No. 12 or No. 13 pick if
the aforementioned players were all taken ahead of me. Now, I
think we have to look at Charles like an older Le'Veon
Bell in that both will probably be nearly useless in fantasy
for the first 3-4 weeks of the season, with their handcuffs likely
to come off the board in the seventh or eighth round area. I still
very much like a healthy Charles this season, but what makes his
case worse than Bell's is that his return to his "normal" role
is very much uncertain. Week 2 makes him an incredible value in
the second round, but Week 6 makes using anything more than a
fifth-round pick on him hard to swallow. Now, I'm leaning toward
jumping aboard the Eddie Lacy contract-year express.
The first green tier is my high-end question-mark cluster. We
already know about Bell's suspension. After him, we have Allen's
inability to complete a full season in three tries, Lacy's weight
drama and concussion history, Gronk's own injury history as well
as being tied to Jimmy Garoppolo to four games, a much-improved
supporting cast around Hopkins (not to mention his second-half
"fade") and playing for a coach who wants to lean on
the running game, and Bryant losing his quarterback for roughly
half of the season. All of these players could easily find their
way into either one of the first two tiers by season's end if
things go their way, but each "issue" is significant
enough to back off each slightly as well.
The first red tier that begins with Cobb and ends with Donte
Moncrief is where a lot of Zero-RB drafters will be hoping
to snag their final starting receiver in all likelihood, while
those owners who selected a back in the first round will be hoping
they can find that one wideout who can go toe-to-toe with Antonio
Beckham Jr. or Julio
Jones on a somewhat regular basis. Evans at WR12 probably
feels too low to some, but it is worth noting he averaged 16.3
PPR fantasy points in six full games without Vincent
Jackson last year (as opposed to 14 FPPG in eight contests
with him). I'm well aware of Evans' limitless talent and ability
to go off at any moment, but I'm not sure I'm ready to trust a
player whose work ethic has been called into question by his coach
as my WR1. If Jackson endures another injury-plagued season and
Evans is more focused this time around, then he could blow right
past my ranking. The third-year pro is as good of candidate as
any in this tier to play like a fantasy first-rounder, but I like
the idea of my receiver being tied to Andrew
Luck or Aaron
Rodgers a bit more than Jameis
Winston at the moment, which is why T.Y. Hilton and Randall
Cobb are ranked higher.
I am no longer confident in Demaryius Thomas as a low-end WR1.
It's easy for owners to make the case that if he managed a 100-catch
season with a declining Peyton Manning, he should be able to do
so with Trevor Siemian and/or Paxton Lynch, but it ignores the
fact he is no longer in "Peyton's offense". Nor does
it address the fact DT has been a horribly inefficient red-zone
receiver in consecutive years. Can we make the case that Siemian
- a seventh-round pick in 2015 who has never thrown a NFL pass
and will be asked to "manage" games - is going to help
Thomas catch 100 passes again and/or be better inside the 20?
I'm not going there.
Martin's stock has dropped a bit in my mind over the last
couple of weeks as I have started to realize Charles
Sims is probably in line for more work this year. I still
firmly believe Martin could be money at fantasy playoff time,
but the stars could also easily align for Sims as well. Not only
would Sims become the feature back in all likelihood if injuries
strike Martin like they did in 2013 and 2014, but the schedule
is littered with high-powered offenses and I'm not sure Tampa
Bay is equipped to deal with most of them defensively. While that
should allow for plenty of work for Mike
Evans and Vincent
Jackson, it also mean Sims could be primed to improve on last
year's surprising totals.
I feel comfortable with any of the other five running backs in
the yellow tier as my RB2. While any of them could easily ascend
into RB1 territory, each player is probably equally likely to
disappoint as well. Woodhead is probably the safest bet of the
bunch in this cluster, although it took a bit of a perfect storm
for him to do what he did last year. Assuming Melvin Gordon can
carry over his preseason play into the regular season, it's very
likely San Diego won't give Woodhead 178 touches again in 2016.
Forte gets downgraded due to his age and recent injury history,
a presumed lack of goal-line work and the fact New York very much
wants to keep Bilal Powell involved, but he should receive plenty
of volume in the passing game even with Powell stealing a few
targets. Latavius Murray has a great offensive line, but he still
isn't passing the eye test for me. With more talent behind him
this year, I don't think his numbers improve. Hyde could be a
fantasy first-rounder next season IF he can play at least 14 games,
but can we expect that to happen? Recent history suggests the
answer is no, his schedule is brutal over the first 10 weeks of
the season and Vance McDonald is looking like he'll be responsible
for getting defenses to back off the line of scrimmage. C.J. Anderson
is supposedly locked in as Denver's every-down back, but I fail
to see how his situation is any better than Hyde's. Anderson has
arguably a worse offensive line, is not set up for the same kind
of volume and could have Devontae Booker nipping at his heels
if he starts out slow again in 2016.
Giovani Bernard has yet to finish lower than 16th in PPR scoring
in any of his three pro seasons. Jeremy Hill has an 11th- and
20th-place finish to his name, so predicting a top-20 finish for
both doesn't seem like a stretch. Owners who go WR-WR-WR in the
first three rounds could easily make a play to lock up both Bengals
in Rounds 4 and 5, yet it's hard to fall in love with either one
because of the other. This year, I'm going to lean ever so slightly
to Hill because Cincinnati figures to make up for the early absence
of Tyler Eifert as well as the departures of Marvin Jones and
Mohamed Sanu by grinding it out. However, all those missing targets
have to go to somebody, and Bernard seems like the best candidate
after A.J. Green. The problem? With Green, Eifert and Hill all
fair bets for 10 or more touchdowns, there aren't many scoring
opportunities left over for Gio. With a ceiling of about 50 catches,
very few touchdowns and about 12 or so carries per game, he's
probably going to remain in the same mid-RB2 area he has called
home since he came into the league.
I strongly considered putting Derrick Henry over DeMarco Murray
above, but there is always one important little question that
analysts need to know before making such a call (and one we never
have enough information to make in August): When is the change
going to take place (or will it)? If the Titans are truly as enamored
with Henry in the passing game as they say they are, it shouldn’t
take long for the rookie to steal most of the work Dexter McCluster
is supposed to receive. At that point, it becomes a waiting game.
Henry is the future of the Tennessee backfield, but how quickly
does the coaching staff want to make it happen? I felt back in
July the change would come in or around Week 5 as the Titans have
a challenging four-game stretch against upper-level run defenses
to open the season. Murray cannot afford to start slow or get
hurt during this time, because there is a good chance he won't
get his job back if he does. With Tennessee's commitment to the
running game and the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner's surprising proclivity
in the passing game, I believe Henry will outperform his late
seventh-round ADP by at least a full round.
DeVante Parker is very deserving of being considered a breakout
candidate. The problem is his body (and Kenny Stills) doesn't
want to cooperate. Despite new HC Adam Gase doing just about everything
in his power to make sure his second-year "X" receiver
enters Week 1 healthy, last year's No. 14 overall pick seems to
encounter one setback after another. Stills is having a very good
preseason and may be higher on the passing-game totem pole at
the moment, although there is no telling as to whether or not
that is because Parker has missed as much time as he has. His
durability is the only reason why he ranks in the same area as
Josh Gordon - WR4s who owners hope can somehow their recent pasts
to become WR1s or WR2s.
It's always a good thing I get (at least) two shots at this Big
Board thing, because one thing is for certain every year: I fail
to properly assess the few biases I have towards certain players
the first time around. Antonio
Gates was one of the few bright spots in my most important
league last year, yet I had him ranked at No. 111 two weeks ago.
The eight-time Pro Bowler is obviously nearing the end, but can
we really argue with what he did in his 11 games last year (missed
the first four due to suspension)? His 13.5 FPPG in PPR scoring
was seventh at his position, only 0.7 less than sixth-place Greg
Olsen. There's no question he remains Philip
Rivers' favorite red-zone target, and it is worth noting his
final line would have been 81-916-7 on 123 targets if his 11-game
averages held up for 16 games. Is a statistical decline coming
with the return of Keenan
Allen and another year of NFL service? Probably. But does
he deserve to go behind the likes of Tyler
Eifert (could miss the first quarter of the season) or Zach
Ertz (nine TDs in three NFL seasons)? I think not.
Kevin White was one of my early potential breakout-candidate
selections this summer, but something seems amiss in Chicago.
The Bears haven't come close to utilizing him in the deep passing
game and he doesn't look comfortable catching the ball anyway.
Chicago has only used him on bubble screens to this point, which
is problematic because it suggests he still doesn't have a great
grasp on the playbook and bodes poorly for the entire passing
game should Alshon Jeffery miss significant time again this season.
There's always the possibility the Bears are simply waiting to
unleash White on the league in a couple of weeks (and I might
buy that possibility if a noted offensive mind was on staff),
but the histories of HC John Fox and new OC Dowell Loggains suggest
to me he just isn't ready for primetime quite yet.
My only question about Tajae Sharpe is if there will be enough
volume in the Tennessee passing game behind Delanie Walker to
allow the fifth-round rookie to be something more than a WR4 in
fantasy. The FBS leader in catches a season ago at Massachusetts
has the requisite size (6-2) and hands to emerge as the Titans'
top receiver and is well worth a 10th-round price tag. I'm not
sure the Tennessee offense will allow him to become an every-week
WR3 in fantasy, but there's otherwise very little not to love
There are a ton of intriguing players in the 118-140 range of
the Big Board, including Mike
Flacco might be the only better fit for him than Ben
Roethlisberger used to be, but there is so much uncertainty
these days in Baltimore (specifically the roles of Breshad
Perriman and Kamar
Aiken) that I can't go any higher than I have him. Markus
Wheaton has repeatedly campaigned for the outside receiver
role, leaving an opening for Eli
Rogers to take over the slot. I can easily a scenario in which
this development greatly enhances or depresses his final numbers.
Smith's fantasy stock rides on the Niners' decision to ride
with Blaine Gabbert or Colin
Kaepernick. Going with the former means Smith will have to
become more of an intermediate receiver (unlikely), while a nod
to the latter could easily free him up to be Chip Kelly's latest
success story at receiver. Devontae
Booker is one injury (and maybe an extended slow start by
Anderson) away from potential RB2 status, although we can
expect him to get some leash considering he signed a four-year
deal this offseason. Clive
Walford's floor is pretty solid in my opinion, as is his upside.
My only question: If Amari
Cooper takes another step forward, Michael
Crabtree only takes a slight step back and the Raiders play
with the lead more often this season, then where are Walford's
(added) opportunities coming from?
Wrapping up the Top 150, I was surprised to learn I'm only a
little bit higher on Jared
Cook than his most, according to his late 12th-round ADP.
His upside is such - playing with, by far, the best quarterback
he's ever had throwing him the ball - that I'd be willing to move
him up to the same range I currently have Eric
Ebron (No. 127) if I knew for sure Richard
Rodgers wasn't going to be a factor. I like Ryan
Tannehill much more than his QB19 ranking, but Jarvis
Landry seems to be the only constant he has. Yes, Miami has
Carroo and Jordan
Cameron, but how many of those players have generated any
enthusiasm in regards to their ability to stay healthy lately?
I very much like what I saw over the weekend as the Saints worked
C.J. Spiller in with the first team, in much the same fashion
I envisioned them doing so a season ago. I'm encouraged and believe
Spiller is very much worth a late-round pick, but I'm not going
to put a lot of faith in how HC Sean Payton decided to use his
backs in one preseason game. In other words, buy but buyer beware.
Among the few names who just missed the Big Board that I'd still
like to discuss is Philadelphia TE Trey
Burton. He would have easily made the list if the Eagles didn't
already have Zach
Ertz and Brent
Celek ahead of him, but the reason he is worthy of a mention
here is because of the dire situation at receiver in Philly. Burton
is highly versatile - he can play receiver and probably even quarterback
in an emergency - and the case could be made he is the second-best
wide receiver on the team after Jordan
Matthews at the moment, even after the addition of Dorial
Green-Beckham. I also didn't include Jesse
James simply because he will almost certainly become useless
in fantasy if/when Ladarius
Green returns. At the moment, we aren't even privy to whether
or not Green is having ankle problems or prolonged concussion
symptoms. And speaking of Green, he is very much worth a stash
on IR if your league has a spot for that. While there is an obvious
reason why he isn't ranked or getting drafted in most leagues,
he is a potential title-winning pick that can be had for a song.
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.