Football is simple at its very core but a very complex game to evaluate
and analyze well because 11 men are being asked to work in harmony
roughly 60 times per game, while 11 other men are being asked to
create chaos. Pro football is not pro basketball in that a team
can clear out one side of the court when things break down and the
offense can still score. Pro football is not pro baseball in that
one player can defeat a pitcher and eight fielders by timing his
swing just right. Even as great as Barry Sanders was, he never beat
a defense all by himself. In football, a player always needs help
from at least one teammate to accomplish his goal. That is part
of what makes football so great and part of what it makes it so
highly unpredictable. The violence of the game - even by the tamer
standards in this day and age - adds another element to the equation
that is difficult to quantify.
Regardless, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Over the last two
weeks, I have evaluated the weekly matchups for 500-plus players.
Analyzing matchups alone requires me to make 7,500 "decisions".
This is not meant to be a humble brag of any kind. Each year,
my goal is to give those who put their faith in my evaluations
the confidence they have the best draft-day tool at their disposal.
I like to think that even if readers believe my logic is flawed
for whatever reason, they can count on the fact that much thought
has been put into that opinion.
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. While last year's results help owners/analysts set the
table for the following season, they are merely a starting point.
Fantasy rankings and drafting need to be predictive, not reactive.
This is the approach I have taken for more than 10 years. While
some of the processes have changed in that time, the main goal
Speaking of changing processes, the Success Score Index
(SSI) below is moving away from an attribute-based algorithm
and one centered around my target and carry predictions that have
been featured in this space over the last two weeks. As always,
the matchups are included in the algorithm. SSI allows me to compare
apples to oranges across positions. Perhaps just as importantly,
I have been able to eliminate most of the guesswork across different
scoring systems (PPR, standard, etc.). Long story short, I am
much more confident in the product. SSI also helps me set me tiers,
essentially giving me (and you) a vertical and horizontal board
in one place.
Moving forward, I am including my fantasy-point projections
as well. For those of you interested in my actual individual player
projections, please tweet
or email me.
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 is the most difficult one a player can face. 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 an RB2).
Yellow For lower-level players,
he is a borderline start at best. For a second- or third-tier
player, the slight edge goes to the defense in what is essentially
a toss-up. For the elite players, expect slightly better than
White This one can go either
way, but I favor the player over the matchup. In some cases, I
just don’t feel like I have a good feel yet for this matchup.
Generally speaking, these matchups are winnable for all levels
Green For non-elite players,
the stage is set for a player to have a productive day. For the
elite player, this matchup could produce special numbers.
Black Player is either
on a bye week or is expected to miss due to injury or suspension.
Note:Players with a
next to their name have some degree of injury/character/holdout
concern. Players with a * next to their name
have a higher than normal chance of losing their job at some point
during the season.
Later this week, I will release my first Big Boards for The Fantasy
Championship (TFC) and FFPC. In the second and final round of
Big Boards near the end of the preseason, I will rank at least
200 players and present my final rankings for kickers and defense/special
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the Half-Point PPR
There is risk attached to every single pick in every single fantasy
draft. With that said, there may be more risk inside the first
three rounds this year than in any season in recent memory. Most
folks were quick to anoint Ezekiel
Elliott as their No. 1 overall pick given how much of a supposed
lock he is/was for a huge workload in an offense geared around
him. Since his situation and the amount of risk he carries even
before considering his holdout were addressed at length in
this space last week, the only other pertinent information
to add at this point is that Zeke becomes even less likely to
make an early-season contribution the closer we get to the season.
If either he or the team caves roughly two weeks before Week 1,
feel free to disregard the last sentence. If the contract stalemate
continues past the final preseason game, then owners are probably
going to have to get familiar with Darius
Morris and/or Mike
Weber as well as rookie Tony
Pollard in Week 1 and Week 2. The opponents in those weeks?
Giants and Redskins. While both teams have the personnel to make
things difficult for the running game, neither opponent appears
capable enough offensively to force the Cowboys away from pounding
the rock. If Elliott doesn't report until around Sept. 1, then
just about anything he gives fantasy owners in those games should
be considered a bonus not exactly the profile we want in a first-round
Most of what was just said about Elliott applies to Melvin Gordon
as well. While there seems to be optimism that Elliott will report
sooner - presumably because Jones caved into Emmitt Smith (not
sure one event that happened 26 years ago means a similar conclusion
will occur, but whatever) and Dallas has made him the centerpiece
of the offense - there is growing concern the Chargers' bell-cow
is prepared to wait this thing out as long as possible. Whether
that's the way it ends up playing out or not is another story.
There is the threat of a trade that doesn't exist with Elliott,
but that seems like a longshot as well since most of the potential
suitors have either addressed the position (Houston, for example)
or made it clear they don't believe using a ton of resources to
"fix" the position (Tampa Bay HC Bruce Arians said as
much recently). The big difference between the two situations
would seem to be the Chargers are a prime Super Bowl contender,
theoretically making it hard for Gordon to sit out very long when
the championship window may be closing within the next year or
two. Especially given his propensity for missing multiple games
and Los Angeles' depth at the position, there's more risk than
meets the eye with Gordon. Austin Ekeler is a very well-rounded
back who can do what needs to get done. Justin Jackson proved
he was up to the task late last year as well, and the team reportedly
loves him. In short, what's to keep OC Ken Whisenhunt and HC Anthony
Lynn from reducing Gordon's workload from previous years? In other
words, Gordon is unlikely to move up much in my rankings even
after he reports.
Good Lord, Antonio Brown. Even by his usual look-at-me standards,
his current situation seems over the top. There has been so much
information leaked about him in the last week (frostbitten feet,
unable to find suitable helmet type of the 34 available to him,
his retirement threat, noticeably playing with his phone during
position and team meetings, etc.) that it's almost impossible
to believe he can function away from the field without supervision.
What Brown is capable of doing on the field is a plateau most
players will never reach. Many people have probably been exposed
to at least one or two clips of him showing off a work ethic that
has been praised by many. But is he worth the headache anymore,
especially now at 31 years old with Derek Carr throwing him the
rock? Will Carr take the same kind of chances throwing to Brown
that Big Ben did? There are certain types of players that fall
under the category of acceptable risk - Todd Gurley, Dalvin Cook
and Nick Chubb among them - and there are players like Brown,
who has a tendency to make everything about him. When a player
is just as likely to blow up for 180 yards and two touchdowns
as he is to force a trade over some kind of slight or completely
bail out on his team during a playoff chase, well, that makes
him the opposite of a must-have. The end of the third round is
an odd place to rank him, but he's earned it. Players such as
Keenan Allen and Stephan Diggs boast similar catch upside and
far less risk.
Accepting applications for the RB1 class of 2020
There may be no back in today's game that inflicts more punishment
on defenders than Chris Carson. My top two fears with him to begin
the summer were the amount of injury risk he possesses due to
his aforementioned physicality and the looming threat of Rashaad Penny. HC Pete Carroll did little to allay my concerns, suggesting
he wanted Carson and Penny to form a "one-two punch"
before adding "I don't know who's one and who's two, it doesn't
matter to me." For the second straight year, however, Carson
has reportedly been the clear top back in camp, which makes it
a little easier to like him. Assuming owners can get past the
injury risk he carries due to his running style, his floor is
considerably higher than most backs. Seattle is one of the best
bets to run the ball 500-plus times again in 2019. In other words,
even if Penny wrestles the lead job away from him at some point
- which seems unlikely given that Carson has been the clear lead
dog since the beginning of last season - the Seahawks' massive
running-game volume will probably allow Carson to be a high-end
flex. In today's NFL, it's a rarity to have one team to run the
ball enough to allow both backs to push for 200 carries. That's
not the end of the good news. Carroll has stated multiple times
that he expects the running backs to catch more balls this year.
To that end, Carroll recently told Sirius XM NFL Radio that Carson
"may have the best hands on the team," has "great
catching range" and "will catch the ball more this year,
for sure. More Carroll:
"We'll play him more on third downs because he is such a
capable guy. As a young starter a year ago, we didn't want to
put too much on him. But he's worked throughout the offseason
to become that, so he's going to make himself a well-rounded player."
Consider for a second that Carson missed two games and still
ran for 1,151 yards last season on 247 carries. If he maintains
anything close to that pace over 16 games in 2019 and manages
to nearly double last year's 24 targets, owners might be on the
verge of getting low-end RB1 value out of a player getting drafted
anywhere from the late third to the sixth round. Carson's schedule
isn't overly favorable for him to reach that summit, but his expected
volume should more than make up for it.
If evaluators can look past the lack of big-play ability,
the team that drafts Montgomery is going to land a highly versatile
back capable of stealing the opponent's soul late in games. He
runs with impressive power and is going to win the physical head-to-head
battle with a linebacker much more often than he will lose it.
There are elements of Marshawn
Lynch and Kareem
Hunt in his game.
Much like Penny's presence is enough to scare Carson's fantasy
owners, Mike Davis is no small obstacle when it comes to Montgomery
becoming the next rookie runner to make an immediate big splash.
Davis may be one of the top five backup running backs in the league
and would be a more than passable starter if he was ever asked
to become one. Let's also be clear that Davis may be the only
reason why Montgomery doesn't match Jordan Howard's workload from
last year (270 touches). He may not need it though. First and
foremost, Montgomery is sure to see more work as a receiver, giving
him more "easy yards." Secondly, the rookie figures
to waste little time proving he is one of the league's better
backs in terms of breaking tackles and picking up yards after
contact - it would be a surprise if he's not. Last but not least,
what if Chicago takes another step offensively this season? Perhaps
the ceiling for the Bears' lead back isn't just nine touchdowns
(Howard's total in each of the last two years). There will likely
be plenty of folks suggesting Montgomery makes a nice fifth-round
pick in fantasy drafts over the next month. Yeah, he sure would.
With 40-catch and 10-plus touchdown upside, he shouldn't be making
it out of the third round anymore.
The Boston Herald's Kevin Duffy noted Monday, Aug. 12, that RB
getting many reps in practice this summer. On the surface,
that wouldn't seem to be an overly big deal in fantasy since the
rookie wasn't going all that high in most drafts anyway. However,
let this be another reminder that fantasy research isn't always
about keeping track of what's going on with a given player, but
also what is going on around that player. Earlier this summer,
multiple outlets reported Harris was having a strong offseason.
Depending on the source now, he's either dealing with a thumb
injury or just hasn't been all that impressive. What does it all
The first potential implication is New England is willing to
start the season in roughly the same fashion it ended 2018, that
is, with Sony Michel receiving the bulk of early-down reps and
James White handling the passing downs. But is it really going
to be that easy? Is it really ever that easy with New England?
Remember, it wasn't long ago HC Bill Belichick loved Rex Burkhead's
ability to contribute on every down. The Patriots brought back
Belichick favorite Brandon Bolden as well. There is a microscopic
chance all five make the final roster simply because NFL teams
don't carry five running backs AND a fullback (James Develin will
make the team barring something unforeseen). White's role is probably
the only one that is pretty much set in stone, although Michel's
hold on the starting job should be pretty tight considering the
disparity in talent between him and the other backs.
Circling back to Harris, fantasy titles are often decided by
attrition. In other words, fantasy teams led by the likes of Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt were most likely rolling for the better
part of last year before C.J. Anderson and Damien Williams sealed
the deal for owners in the fantasy playoffs. How many fantasy
owners of Gurley and Hunt had their hands on Anderson and/or Williams?
The point is using a draft pick on a back like Harris should not
be made with the idea he will fill in a flex spot (obviously it's
great for his owners if he does), but rather an investment in
a high-end fantasy backfield that could lead to potential RB1
production if Michel's knee continues to be an issue. The main
question is this: how much faith does any owner have in his/her
ability to predict whether Belichick does? IF Michel gets hurt
and IF Harris is asked to take over the same role, Harris will
more than live up to his draft spot. But will Harris start the
season as Michel's main backup? It's not fun to stash a back thinking
he's the obvious handcuff only to find out there was nothing obvious
Has Dante reached his peak?
Entering the summer, it seemed clear Dante
Pettis was going to enter the season as the 49ers' top receiver
and everyone else was going to fall in line after that. A funny
thing happened along the way though. Pettis has enjoyed a solid
training camp according to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco,
but he should
be stepping up and making more plays. Maiocco was tough but
probably fair in his assessment of the wide receiver depth chart
in San Francisco, making it clear the team does not have a No.
1 or classic No. 2 receiver, but rather a bunch of "2.5s and 3s."
He also clears up any potential confusion by reminding his readers
plays the X (split end) in HC Kyle Shanahan's offense and Pettis
plays the Z (flanker). Other reports within the last week that
Goodwin is running as the starting X, while Kendrick
Bourne has overtaken Pettis as the Z - at least temporarily.
Shanahan told reporters after the preseason opener that he wanted
to see Pettis "compete," further indicating Pettis has nothing
wrapped up. Maiocco also predicted at the start of training camp
that Trent Taylor
would be the team's
leading receiver - in terms of receptions - so there must
have been at least a hint of doubt inside team headquarters about
Pettis for some time. Of course, Taylor was later discovered to
have suffered a Jones fracture, which will make him a question
mark for Week 1, further muddying the waters.
There has been recent speculation that Shanahan's desire to see
Pettis "compete" has to do with his ability (or perhaps inability)
to defeat press coverage. (Anyone who saw Pettis emerge toward
the end of last year understands he has little trouble creating
separation once he gets off the line of scrimmage.) Meanwhile,
6-0, 215-pound Deebo Samuel and 6-4, 230-pound Jalen
Hurd are showing "the
kind of aggressive mentalities" Shanahan is seeking. Per Shanahan:
(Hurd and Samuel are) both big guys, big targets. They have
strong hands who can defeat holding. When guys are on them, theyre
not thrown off their routes as much."
That comment may have only been meant as praise for the rookies,
but it sure appears as if the coach wants the 6-1, 195-pound Pettis
to show some more feistiness as well. At this point, it's hard
to know if he's a value where he's listed or a reach.
Help on the way in Houston
One of the more obvious weaknesses of any team - especially among
those expected to field the best offenses this season - was the
backup running back position in Houston, especially after the
Texans released D'Onta Foreman. So while it's generally pretty
hard to get overly excited about a trade for a running back involving
a conditional fourth-round pick, this is one case where it makes
sense to be a bit intrigued.
Let's start with the most obvious consequence first. Johnson
is among the better receiving backs in the league. Houston talked
up the possibility of throwing more often to its running backs
earlier this offseason, so it goes without saying this move would
seem to indicate HC Bill O'Brien is serious about making that
a reality. Some may recall the Browns never seem to be shy about
using him out of the slot, which could in handy if normal slot
receiver Keke Coutee continues to struggle staying healthy.
Speaking of Coutee, the trade has a profound effect on him. One
of the most important things analysts and owners can do to help
themselves project a player who has switched teams and how his
arrival affects his teammates is by figuring out where everyone
does their best work. Most people know Will Fuller is the team's
primary deep threat, while DeAndre Hopkins does most of his damage
in the intermediate area of the field. Most slot receivers (Coutee
included) do the bulk of their work underneath and are tasked
with moving the chains. That's going to be where Johnson lives
as well, meaning Coutee's chances of experiencing a huge second-year
jump are now in serious jeopardy.
Taking more of a long-term view, Lamar Miller's contract expires
at the end of the season, while Johnson's deal lasts until the
end of the 2021 campaign. Johnson has long expressed the desire
to be used more, and his contract (he agreed to a four-year extension
with Cleveland worth $16.3 million last June) is actually quite
reasonable for a team that will have to think about extending
Deshaun Watson in the near future. While a healthy (and motivated)
D'Onta Foreman would have been a viable threat to Miller's workload,
there's no question an all-purpose back like Johnson could steal
the job. Will it happen in 2019? I doubt it, but not because he
can't. It is very possible, however, that O'Brien uses this season
to figure out if Johnson can be his next bell-cow.
The (tight) end is in sight
Considering how much owners seem to bemoan the lack of good tight
ends in fantasy, there seems to be a solid market developing in
terms of back-end TE1 options. Darren Waller has been on my radar
for a while. If he falls on his face this due to some other reason
than injury, HC Jon Gruden and Derek Carr will have no one else
to blame but themselves. However, there are several others. Delanie
Walker is risky simply because he is 35 years old and coming off
a serious injury. Those are reasonable excuses to pass on him,
as is Tennessee's run-heavy offense. With that said, even the
most run-heavy teams attempt well over 400 passes. Until further
notice, Marcus Mariota's favorite target is Walker. With the arrival
of Adam Humphries, Walker's days of seeing 100-plus targets are
probably over. That's fine. Draft him as a "safe" TE2
and pair him with a "risky" upside option such as the
injury-prone Vance McDonald or the player most likely to suffer
touchdown regression in Eric Ebron.
The Mark Andrews
hype train has been rolling for a while, and the frenzy has been
fueled by overwhelmingly positive reports from The
Athletic's Jeff Zrebiac and the team's website. The main concern
here is Baltimore figures to be among the lowest volume passing
teams in the league. A secondary (but perhaps more important)
concern may be the emergence of rookie Miles
Boykin. At 6-4 and 220 pounds with jaw-dropping athleticism,
Boykin oozes red zone upside and makes for an inviting target
for a quarterback with inconsistent accuracy like Lamar
Jackson. With that said, Andrews is a rare breed in that he
is a big-play tight end, so he doesn't need a ton of volume to
make his owners happy.
Considering Walker was just discussed two paragraphs ago, owners
may be thinking a recommendation of Jordan Reed is coming from
someone living about five years in the past or who has yet to
be burned by him. Reed is reportedly healthier now than he has
been in years. The difference this year from previous seasons
is no one in 12-team leagues should need to rely on him as an
every-week starter. Very few tight ends can legitimately make
the claim they can be their team's leader in targets in catches.
Reed can. That's a big deal when we're talking about a player
consistently getting drafted as a TE2. Owners who miss out on
the top eight or so tight ends could very well draft Walker and
Reed after Round 10 and feel reasonably good about the position.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.