Every year about this time, there are plenty of folks in the
fantasy industry who call it "ridiculous" to put much
stock into analyzing potential matchups. While none of these folks
have every aimed their arrows directly at me when they say this,
it pains me a little bit. Why? It's bad advice.
Let me begin by saying their rationale is understandable. We
don't know what November and December holds. For that matter,
most of us don't even know what Week 1 holds. Just because
a lot changes between now and then doesn't mean we shouldn't try
to predict the future with what we know at the moment. After all,
it is our job as owners to predict the future the best we can.
Fantasy football is a stock market game, and our job as analysts
is identifying when stocks may be poised for an increase or ready
to tank. The schedule is one of the most assessable, easy-to-understand
tools we have at our disposal to warn us of when impending doom
may hit or success may be forthcoming. The trick is understanding
how offseason additions and subtractions - both from a coaching
and personnel standpoint - on defense can affect what offensive
players do this year. A lot of folks don't have
the time or desire to do this. I've done it for roughly 10 years,
and I'm pretty certain I owe a great deal of my success to it.
Having said that, it's important to understand my PMAs have never
been about ranking players based solely on projected matchups,
but rather using it as a (small) part of my evaluation. In fact,
the schedule is worth no more than 10 percent of my grade at any
position and among the last of the five to seven factors I consider
at each spot. The schedule alone does not make Odell Beckham Jr.
or David Johnson an elite player at their position. My PMAs have
always been about using matchup analysis to help unearth potential
gems in the middle-to-late rounds.
Circling back to the original premise, Week 16 is not the time
to find out Beckham will almost certainly be shadowed by Patrick
Peterson. Owners should know that before they draft him. Does
that mean OBJ is not a top-five fantasy pick? Of course not. It
means owners should know the odds are somewhat unfavorable Beckham
is going to be an elite player during their league's championship
week before they choose him. If that sounds like more detail than
one should consider, perhaps are getting an idea how much thought
I put into this.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of good analysis in the fantasy
industry. However, analysis without giving a second thought to
potential matchups is incomplete, just as if a financial market
analyst on TV didn't mention the history of the CEO in his/her
second-quarter recommendation of a stock and based his/her opinion
only on "recent trends." Like the stock market, fantasy
football is full of plenty of moving parts, and it is important
to be able to account for as many of the important variables as
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming
I am still fine-tuning my updated Success Score Index
(SSI), which involves meticulously grading and assigning
certain weights to several attributes that I feel are critical
to fantasy success at that position, so that score will not appear
on the first round of Big Boards this week or next. It is the
number that allows me to compare apples to oranges across the
positions. I also am not finished yet with scoring averages for
each player, although I anticipate that will be included with
the SSI for the second round of Big Boards starting in two weeks.
For all of those unfamiliar with my Big Boards, allow me to explain
the color-coding system before we start:
Red 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 For lower-level
players, he 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 This one that could
go either way. In some cases, I just dont feel like I have
a good feel yet for this matchup. Generally speaking, these matchups
are winnable for all levels of players.
Green 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
Note: 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 (TFC) and FFPC Big Boards. In the final set of Big
Boards over the following two weeks, I will rank 200 players and
present my final rankings for kickers and defense/special teams.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
RB: Jacquizz Rodgers, Darren McFadden,
Rex Burkhead, dirty Andre Washington, Jalen Richard, Giovani Bernard,
Chris Thompson, Donnel Pumphrey, Marlon Mack, Kyle Juszczyk, Shane
Vereen, Joe Williams and Latavius Murray
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kenny Golladay,
Breshad Perriman, Nelson Agholor, Marqise Lee, Josh Doctson, J.J.
Nelson, Braxton Miller and Devin Funchess
TE: Jason Witten, Austin Seferian-Jenkins,
Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Jared Cook, Evan Ingram, O.J. Howard
and Charles Clay
Since I don't check ADPs before setting my Big Boards, I'm sure
my rankings will shake each of you to your very core. Since I
believe each of the players I have listed below are ranked considerably
lower than I have seen from the few mock drafts I have either
seen or taken part in, I will spend my time this week addressing
the ones I feel are the most noteworthy.
- Ezekiel Elliott checks in at No. 6 and will remain there until
the NFL decides whether to suspend him or not. Given his matchups
during the fantasy playoffs (at least two of them), he may remain
at this ranking regardless. A two-game suspension would probably
push him back to No. 9.
McCoy is probably the best bet outside the top three running
backs to break into that group the season, but back-to-back years
with hamstring injuries makes me believe he isn't going to be
able to play all 16 games yet again. Devonta
Freeman has remained healthy to this point in his career,
plays on a more explosive offense, is younger and has a softer
schedule. For all of those reasons, I'll slightly lean with him
over McCoy, who is also a prime target for touchdown regression
after scoring 14 times in 2016. However, even if he loses 4-5
touchdowns and bumps his reception total to 60-plus - a very likely
possibility - the effect should be negligible. The real reason
for concern with McCoy is his age (29) and the aforementioned
First-Round Worthy: Michael Thomas' floor
and position in the Saints high-powered offense makes him
a reliable WR1.
Thomas established a pretty high floor last year and the automatic
assumption is he can only benefit with Brandin
Cooks now in New England. Owners hoping for such a scenario
to play out will be betting against 11 years of wide receiver
history under HC Sean Payton and QB Drew
Brees. With that said, his production doesn't figure to go
down either unless the Saints' running game absolutely bludgeons
opponents, which is a possibility but not a likelihood given,
among other things, the continued question marks on defense.
Thomas' floor last year was first-round worthy, and so I'll take
that over the age of DeMarco
Murray (never mind the threat of Derrick
Henry stealing a few more carries), the capped workload
Gordon, the lack of dominance Todd
Gurley has shown since the midpoint of the 2015 season and
the rollercoaster ride that was the second half of Ajayi's 2016
season (less than three yards per carry in three of eight games,
two total touchdowns and an average of 12.4 fantasy points per
game even with his 206-yard explosion against a weak Buffalo defense
in Week 16).
I'm also of the belief A.J.
Green will post WR1 numbers at the end of the season but return
to his inconsistent ways of doing so, which is why Thomas slots
above him as well.
- Until Andrew Luck is cleared to throw a football (and not just
a tennis ball), expectations for T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief
need to be dropped accordingly. Under normal circumstances, I
would probably plug Hilton in around No. 19, while a healthy Luck
would be a strong consideration in the sixth round. However, these
are not normal circumstances, and so it would be wise to assume
Luck may need September to serve as his preseason.
As many long-time readers already know, I put a fair amount of
weight into probable individual matchups and durability. Over
the years, I have placed less and less emphasis on individual
matchups as it has become clear most offensive coordinators will
move their stud wideouts around the formation while most defensive
coordinators tend to leave their stud cornerbacks in one spot.
There are occasions when one or both scenarios do not end up playing
out like that, and most of them seem to be playing out in the
NFC East this year.
Barring unforeseen preseason injuries, Bryant will begin his
season facing shadow coverage from Janoris Jenkins (Week 1) and
Patrick Peterson (Week 3) with a side of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris (Week 2). His schedule right around or during the fantasy
playoffs isn't much better: Josh Norman (Week 13), Jenkins again
(Week 14) and the Legion of Boom (Week 16). Bryant was already
a bit of a risk coming into this season based on his recent injury
history - he's missed 10 of 32 games over the last two years -
but Dallas' growing reliance on using the slot receiver in between
the 20s and this season's schedule makes Bryant a longshot to
return WR1 value. Bryant lined up in the slot 22.8 percent of
the time last year, so he could save his fantasy value somewhat
by keeping that up. However, the team has Cole Beasley in there
most of the time (85.4 percent in 2016) and drafted Ryan Switzer,
who will reportedly "complement" and not back Beasley
up, so Bryant may not be able to escape all the aforementioned
cornerbacks as much this season.
Pryor does not have the same durability concerns as his other
two NFC East counterparts and should be a fine WR2 for his owners
for the first half of the season. Unfortunately for him, the meat-grinder
of a schedule that splits almost equally at the beginning and
end of the year for Bryant hits Pryor all at once in the second
half of the season. I gave Pryor the benefit of the doubt in road
games against New Orleans (Week 11) and Dallas (Week 13) because
neither defense should have a cornerback capable of checking him
- although I expect both secondaries to be improved over last
year by that point - but there is no getting around the other
six matchups. Over that time, he will either see plenty of the
following: Richard Sherman, Xavier Rhodes, Janoris Jenkins, Jason Heyward or Jason Verrett, Patrick Peterson and Aqib Talib or Chris Harris.
The real stunner here is probably Jeffery, although it shouldn't
be. His injury history is lengthier than Bryant's, plus he faces
one of the most brutal pre-bye stretches of any receiver this
season. All the same after aforementioned cornerbacks who will
be checking Pryor in the previous paragraph late in the season
will be doing so against Jeffery, with an added helping of Josh Norman.
Let it be said all three of these receivers are more than talented
enough to win their fair share of these battles, but that's not
really the point. Fantasy football is sometimes as much about
avoiding what we know can and should be difficult matchups, even
if it flies in the face of a player's talent. Can Bryant, Pryor
and Jeffery high-point a ball in the end zone, catch four passes
for 55 yards and finish with a 5-75-1 line against any of the
cornerbacks mentioned so far? Of course they can. That's why they
are where they are on the list despite the fact they would be
lower if they were average talents. When you subscribe to my line
of thinking, you are in part acknowledging - like I do - that
players such as Bryant, Pryor and Jeffery will not be able to
consistently churn out productive box-score numbers against the
level of competition they are facing in 2017.
- Nestled in between Pryor and Jeffery on my list is Jarvis Landry
at No. 68. I know it's sacrilegious to rank a player guaranteed
for 90 catches in the sixth round, but what if I told you that
has a good chance of not happening? The first clue of a possible
reduced role for Landry in 2017 is the fact Miami did not attempt
to extend his contract this offseason. Here's what else might
be working against him:
1) Beginning with Week 5 last season (the week Jay Ajayi emerged
as the clear starter) and the running game started to become the
focal point of the offense, Landry averaged 7.2 targets, 5.3 catches,
63.4 yards and 0.25 touchdowns. Those numbers were spiked by his
performances in two of the Dolphins' three losses over that stretch
- games in which he averaged 13 targets, 10 receptions and 81.5
yards. In his other 10 games, Landry averaged six targets,
4.3 catches and 59.8 yards.
2) Jay Cutler befriended exactly one "slot receiver"
during his days in Denver and Chicago, Eddie Royal. While the
process of a quarterback figuring out who his No. 1 guy isn't
exactly a science for fantasy owners, Cutler has favored bigger
receivers throughout his career, especially those who can get
downfield and take advantage of his strong arm. Based on the aforementioned
contract talks alone, the Dolphins' brass has shown their hand
in terms of what they want their offense to be: a physical running
team with DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills gouging the defense
3) Julius Thomas may only be able to play 10 to 12 games per
year, but he is also a threat to Landry because they will be fighting
for the same kind of targets (within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage).
- As I mentioned above, I don't check ADPs before setting my
Big Boards, so I can only assume I am among minority when it comes
to ranking Sammy Watkins outside of the top three rounds (No.
40, to be precise). As a dynasty owner of his since he came into
the league - before trading him this summer - I feel I am well-qualified
to know what he brings and doesn't bring to a fantasy team. (In
his rookie season, I won the title in large part because he played
all 16 games. In the following two years, I did not. While there
were other extenuating circumstances that contributed to my non-title
runs over the last two seasons, having Watkins available for only
20 games over that time did not help my cause.) If he plays 14
games this season - in a contract year, no less - he will probably
make this ranking look silly. But foot problems are no joke, and
upside is only good if it stays on the field. I think WR20, which
is where I have him, is the perfect spot for him considering his
injury history and upside. Ditto for my WR18 (Keenan Allen) and
WR21 (Martavis Bryant).
- I can't imagine I'll be holding any shares of Marshawn Lynch
after draft season wraps up. As I discussed last week in Workload
Projections - AFC, players who miss a season for whatever
reason need time to shake off the rust, running backs over the
age of 30 and were injured throughout their last season of action
are bad investments. Needless to say, all three apply to Lynch.
It's highly probable Lynch start off the season on fire given
how "rested" he is, but can we really expect him to
sustain it? It's also highly probable Lynch's 2015 injury-plagued
season was a sign of his career workload catching up to him. Lynch's
"job security" - as the big back in what should be a
very good offense again - is the only thing keeping him from being
- Putting Mike Gillislee inside the top 50 feels so much like
a reaction to LeGarrette Blount's franchise-record breaking 2016
season, especially because Rex Burkhead looms as a potential and
realistic threat to his overall workload. However, as the frontrunner
for early-down and goal-line work on what may be the best offense
in the NFL this season, it's not hard to project him for 1,000-plus
yards and 10-plus touchdowns. Those numbers are RB2-worthy in
any format in any season, even if I fully expect him to be as
inconsistent on a weekly basis as any player with the potential
to amass those kind of numbers can be. By now, we should know
the drill with Patriots' running backs - one I don't imagine is
going to change much this year: one game will feature Gillislee,
the next one could be all about James White and the next could
be a Burkhead game. Were this a "normal" team, Burkhead
would be my favorite for fantasy stardom, but HC Bill Belichick
himself said he sees Burkhead as a "four-down player,"
which is good for his real value but essentially makes him the
new-and-improved Brandon Bolden for fantasy purposes, at least
until Gillislee gets hurt.
- If there are some particular themes I will be trying to follow
throughout each of the Big Boards I build this month, they would
probably be good players on good teams (as opposed to good players
on bad teams), valuing durability even more and keeping an even
closer eye on age this year. Jordan Reed will be gone before the
64th pick in most drafts. That's OK. Hitching your wagon to a
severe injury risk at a position that requires one starter means
you will probably have to draft another player at that position.
Roster space is limited in most leagues, so carrying a second
tight end to protect yourself against your first pick at the position
is a poor use of roster space since tight end is almost, without
fail, the lowest scoring of the four key positions in fantasy.
The sixth round is a good time to bet on players like Reed, who
is almost certain to miss multiple games during the course of
- Get it out of your system now: there's no way any self-respecting
analyst can put Spencer Ware in the seventh round. (Oops.) Ultimately,
training camp and the preseason will determine how things get
divvied up in September, but Kareem Hunt is going to be a BIG
problem for any owner hoping they can count on Ware to replicate
last season's numbers. It may take until late October or early
November before we notice much of a shift in the Kansas City backfield,
but I feel pretty certain Hunt will out-produce Ware. To what
degree, I don't know. What I do know is that my ranking on the
rookie is aggressive and one which I think will pay off for owners
around fantasy playoff time. Whether or not he turns out to be
the 26th overall running back at the end of the season doesn't
matter to me (and it shouldn't to you either). If he's a playing
like a high-end RB2 in November and December, he's going to be
worth the sixth- or seventh-round draft choice you invested in
him. Of course, readers will take all of this as a slight to Ware,
but I assure you it is not. If Hunt happens to get hurt during
the preseason or somehow lands in the doghouse, I will have no
problem moving Ware inside the top 40.
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.