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Top 175 Big Board, PPR: Version 1.0

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 8/10/21 |
PPR | Half-Point PPR | Non-PPR | Superflex

Football is simple at its very core but a very complex game to evaluate and analyze because 11 men are asked to work in harmony approximately 60 times per game, while 11 other men are being asked to disrupt that harmony. 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, every player needs some help to accomplish his goal. That is part of what makes football so great and part of what makes it so highly unpredictable. The violence of the game - even by the tamer standards now - adds another element to the equation that is difficult to quantify.

Regardless, it doesn't mean we should not try. Over the last month, I have evaluated the weekly matchups for 500-plus players. Analyzing matchups alone requires me to make 8,000 "decisions". That is not a humble brag. 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. Even if my grading process is only 70 percent accurate, that is still a significant advantage over any analyst that does not consider it at all. I like to believe that even if readers believe my process is flawed for whatever reason, they can appreciate how much thought has been put into that opinion.

How much thought, you ask?

For example, Allen Robinson lined up on the left side of the formation 409 times, on the right side 298 times and in the slot 245 times last year. Since the majority of defensive coordinators tend to have their cornerbacks stick to one side as opposed to following a particular receiver, Robinson's ability to match up and defeat each of the defensive backs in those spots should be considered. I do that for each player who projects to stand inside the top three of his team's depth chart, and all of that information is factored into my projections. While how often Robinson lines up in a certain spot will inevitably change from last year, it's unlikely the way he is deployed will change all that much in this fourth year under HC Matt Nagy.

Fantasy football is a stock market game, and the job of an analyst is identifying when stocks may be poised to skyrocket or ready to tank. While last year's results help fantasy managers/analysts set the table for the following season, they are merely a starting point. Fantasy rankings and drafting need to be predictive, not reactive. I have taken this approach for more than 10 years. While some of the processes have changed in that time, the main goal has not.

The Success Score Index (SSI) below is powered in large part by my target and carry predictions that have been featured in this space over the last few weeks. As always, the matchup grades 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.).

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 average production.

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 of players.

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.

Note: Players with a next to their name have some degree of injury/character/holdout concern.

Over the next two weeks, I will release my first Big Boards for Half-Point PPR and standard leagues as well as Superflex and FFPC Big Boards. 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 teams.

Here is the scoring system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:

 PPR Big Board - Top 175
Rk Pos Player Tm Age SSI 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
1 RB Christian McCaffrey CAR 25 12.60
2 RB Ezekiel Elliott DAL 26 6.77
3 RB Austin Ekeler LAC 26 5.99
4 RB Nick Chubb CLE 25 5.97
5 RB Dalvin Cook MIN 26 5.93
6 RB Alvin Kamara NO 26 5.91
7 WR Davante Adams GB 28 5.66
8 RB Saquon Barkley NYG 24 5.61
9 RB Derrick Henry TEN 27 5.49
10 TE Travis Kelce KC 31 5.21
11 RB Aaron Jones GB 26 5.09
12 RB Joe Mixon CIN 25 5.09
13 WR Tyreek Hill KC 27 4.97
14 RB Najee Harris PIT 23 4.88
15 RB Jonathan Taylor IND 22 4.54
16 TE Darren Waller LV 28 4.53
17 RB Antonio Gibson WAS 23 4.51
18 WR DeAndre Hopkins ARI 29 4.41
19 WR Calvin Ridley ATL 26 3.41
20 WR Stefon Diggs BUF 27 3.24
21 RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC 22 3.20
22 TE George Kittle SF 27 3.07
23 WR DK Metcalf SEA 23 2.24
24 RB Chris Carson SEA 26 1.89
25 RB David Montgomery CHI 24 1.69
26 WR A.J. Brown TEN 24 1.63
27 WR Allen Robinson CHI 27 1.51
28 WR Terry McLaurin WAS 25 1.41
29 RB J.K. Dobbins BAL 22 1.12
30 WR Keenan Allen LAC 29 1.02
31 WR Justin Jefferson MIN 22 0.93
32 QB Patrick Mahomes KC 25 0.86
33 WR Robert Woods LAR 29 0.58
34 WR Mike Evans TB 27 0.44
35 WR CeeDee Lamb DAL 22 0.38
36 RB D'Andre Swift DET 22 0.33
37 QB Josh Allen BUF 25 0.24
38 WR Amari Cooper DAL 27 0.11
39 QB Kyler Murray ARI 24 0.11
40 RB Travis Etienne JAC 22 0.05
41 WR Cooper Kupp LAR 28 0.03
42 WR Chris Godwin TB 25 -0.33
43 RB Myles Gaskin MIA 24 -0.36
44 WR Julio Jones TEN 32 -0.37
45 WR Tyler Lockett SEA 28 -0.43
46 QB Dak Prescott DAL 28 -0.86
47 WR Adam Thielen MIN 30 -0.93
48 WR Tee Higgins CIN 22 -0.93
49 WR Ja'Marr Chase CIN 33 -1.19
50 QB Lamar Jackson BAL 24 -1.22
51 TE Mark Andrews BAL 25 -1.24
52 RB Josh Jacobs LV 23 -1.25
53 WR D.J. Moore CAR 24 -1.31
54 QB Ryan Tannehill TEN 33 -1.41
55 TE Kyle Pitts ATL 20 -1.42
56 RB Chase Edmonds ARI 25 -1.44
57 WR Diontae Johnson PIT 25 -1.44
58 RB Miles Sanders PHI 24 -1.46
59 QB Aaron Rodgers GB 37 -1.50
60 WR Chase Claypool PIT 23 -1.60
61 WR Courtland Sutton DEN 25 -1.73
62 TE T.J. Hockenson DET 24 -1.87
63 QB Russell Wilson SEA 32 -2.12
64 WR Brandon Aiyuk SF 23 -2.20
65 RB Darrell Henderson LAR 23 -2.33
66 RB Mike Davis ATL 28 -2.50
67 RB Kareem Hunt CLE 26 -2.57
68 RB Trey Sermon SF 22 -2.59
69 RB Michael Carter NYJ 22 -2.60
70 WR Jerry Jeudy DEN 22 -2.63
71 WR Tyler Boyd CIN 26 -2.63
72 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 24 -2.63
73 RB James Robinson JAC 23 -2.65
74 RB Javonte Williams DEN 21 -2.72
75 RB Damien Harris NE 24 -2.83
76 WR D.J. Chark JAC 24 -2.84
77 QB Tom Brady TB 44 -2.85
78 WR Odell Beckham Jr. CLE 28 -3.21
79 WR Robby Anderson CAR 28 -3.31
80 TE Noah Fant DEN 23 -3.37
81 WR Michael Gallup DAL 25 -3.37
82 TE Dallas Goedert PHI 27 -3.45
83 TE Robert Tonyan GB 27 -3.58
84 TE Jonnu Smith NE 25 -3.59
85 WR Antonio Brown TB 33 -3.67
86 WR Mike Williams LAC 26 -3.71
87 WR Elijah Moore NYJ 26 -3.93
88 WR Kenny Golladay NYG 27 -3.93
89 QB Justin Herbert LAC 23 -3.93
90 QB Matthew Stafford LAR 33 -3.97
91 WR Deebo Samuel SF 25 -4.00
92 WR Darnell Mooney CHI 23 -4.09
93 WR Jarvis Landry CLE 28 -4.13
94 WR Curtis Samuel WAS 24 -4.32
95 RB Kenyan Drake LV 27 -4.36
96 RB Melvin Gordon DEN 28 -4.44
97 WR Marvin Jones JAC 31 -4.51
98 RB Raheem Mostert SF 29 -4.57
99 WR Michael Thomas NO 28 -4.58
100 TE Mike Gesicki MIA 25 -4.59
101 TE Logan Thomas WAS 30 -4.60
102 WR Laviska Shenault JAC 22 -4.62
103 RB Gus Edwards BAL 26 -4.78
104 WR Will Fuller MIA 27 -4.81
105 RB Zack Moss BUF 23 -4.83
106 TE Irv Smith MIN 23 -4.89
107 RB Ronald Jones TB 24 -4.90
108 RB Jamaal Williams DET 26 -5.09
109 QB Joe Burrow CIN 24 -5.13
110 QB Trevor Lawrence JAC 21 -5.14
111 RB Giovani Bernard TB 29 -5.15
112 WR DeVonta Smith PHI 22 -5.17
113 RB James White NE 29 -5.19
114 RB Devin Singletary BUF 23 -5.31
115 WR Terrace Marshall Jr. CAR 21 -5.33
116 QB Jalen Hurts PHI 23 -5.35
117 TE Evan Engram NYG 26 -5.36
118 TE Tyler Higbee LAR 28 -5.37
119 QB Trey Lance SF 21 -5.40
120 WR Cole Beasley BUF 32 -5.42
121 QB Carson Wentz IND 28 -5.45
122 TE Adam Trautman NO 24 -5.48
123 RB Nyheim Hines IND 24 -5.58
124 WR Rondale Moore ARI 21 -5.61
125 QB Ryan Fitzpatrick WAS 38 -5.66
126 WR Brandin Cooks HOU 27 -5.69
127 TE Gerald Everett SEA 27 -5.70
128 RB AJ Dillon GB 23 -5.86
129 WR Michael Pittman Jr. IND 23 -5.96
130 RB J.D. McKissic WAS 27 -5.96
131 WR Bryan Edwards LV 22 -6.00
132 RB David Johnson HOU 29 -6.01
133 WR Parris Campbell IND 24 -6.07
134 TE Blake Jarwin DAL 27 -6.11
135 WR Jaylen Waddle MIA 22 -6.14
136 RB Latavius Murray NO 31 -6.21
137 QB Sam Darnold CAR 24 -6.23
138 WR Rashod Bateman BAL 21 -6.30
139 WR Corey Davis NYJ 28 -6.35
140 WR DeVante Parker MIA 28 -6.36
141 RB James Conner ARI 26 -6.39
142 WR Russell Gage ATL 25 -6.40
143 TE Anthony Firkser TEN 26 -6.49
144 WR T.Y. Hilton IND 31 -6.51
145 TE Jared Cook LAC 34 -6.60
146 QB Tua Tagovailoa MIA 23 -6.62
147 RB Tarik Cohen CHI 26 -6.64
148 WR Nelson Agholor NE 28 -6.65
149 WR Amari Rodgers GB 21 -6.65
150 RB Leonard Fournette TB 26 -6.74
151 RB Tony Pollard DAL 24 -6.78
152 RB Darrynton Evans TEN 23 -6.79
153 TE Cole Kmet CHI 22 -6.83
154 RB Kenneth Gainwell PHI 22 -6.84
155 QB Matt Ryan ATL 36 -6.89
156 TE Rob Gronkowski TB 32 -7.00
157 QB Kirk Cousins MIN 32 -7.01
158 TE Eric Ebron PIT 28 -7.09
159 TE Hunter Henry NE 26 -7.11
160 WR Gabriel Davis BUF 22 -7.16
161 QB Justin Fields CHI 22 -7.18
162 WR Marquez Callaway NO 23 -7.21
163 WR Jakobi Meyers NE 24 -7.21
164 QB Baker Mayfield CLE 26 -7.33
165 WR Henry Ruggs III LV 22 -7.35
166 WR Marquise Brown BAL 24 -7.36
167 QB Daniel Jones NYG 24 -7.40
168 WR A.J. Green ARI 33 -7.49
169 TE Mo Alie-Cox IND 27 -7.60
170 WR Kadarius Toney NYG 22 -7.64
171 TE O.J. Howard TB 26 -7.85
172 WR Mecole Hardman KC 23 -8.00
173 WR Sterling Shepard NYG 28 -8.05
174 QB Derek Carr LV 30 -8.06
175 WR Jamison Crowder NYJ 28 -8.11

Half-Pt PPR Big Board | Non-PPR Big Board | Superflex

There is a degree of certainty at the top with McCaffrey and Elliott. Both are virtually guaranteed 300-plus touches in good offenses with heavy involvement in the passing game and more than sufficient usage near the goal line. After that, it becomes a game of pick your poison. Let's take a look:

Austin Ekeler - Forgetting for a second that he dealt with a serious injury last season, Ekeler offers a relatively safe floor with what most expect to be heavy usage in the passing game. The offensive line may be the best the Chargers have fielded since LaDainian Tomlinson was in his prime. The problem is there is no guarantee he will see a lot of work near the goal line or more than 10-12 carries per game.

Nick Chubb - As perhaps the best pure runner in the league running behind perhaps the best offensive line in the league, the only real question with Chubb is to what degree Kareem Hunt will cut into his workload. If HC Kevin Stefanski utilizes him as he did following Chubb's return from a knee injury in Week 10 (when he was the RB5), fantasy managers will be thrilled. Something to keep in mind with Chubb: in the nine games (including playoffs) he finished and Cleveland won last year, Chubb averaged 20 fantasy points. In the five losses or non-finished games, he averaged 12.2. Betting on Chubb this year is also a bet on an improved Browns' defense.

Dalvin Cook - The two-time Pro Bowler should be considered a lock to go No. 2 at worst, right? Not in my opinion. There are reasons to doubt his situation. The offensive line took a few hits this offseason, including but not limited to offensive line coach Rick Dennison and the retirement of OC Gary Kubiak. Presumptive starting LT Christian Darrisaw (groin) practiced with the team for the first time as a pro just last week. Longtime backup Rashod Hill is expected to start the season as a result. The Vikings are expected to start another rookie (Wyatt Davis) at right guard, while neither LG Ezra Cleveland nor C Garrett Bradbury has done enough to be considered better than average as run blockers. Perhaps the worst thing for Cook is he is coming off a season in which he averaged 25.4 touches and has a lengthy history of shoulder injuries. He is such a good runner that he still has overall RB1 upside, but he comes with a lot more risk than anyone wants to admit.

Alvin Kamara - Fantasy managers seem to be ignoring how much is working against Kamara right now. No one knows who his quarterback will be, and neither one (Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill) is likely to default to him nearly as often as Drew Brees did. The No. 1 receiver (Michael Thomas) could miss half of the season and the defense should be expected to take a small step back in 2021. The fantasy industry as a whole seems to believe that will lead to more touches and reliance on Kamara, but it seems unlikely HC Sean Payton will ask Kamara to shoulder more of the load when he has yet to average 13 carries per game in any of his four seasons.

Saquon Barkley - This one won't take much time. I believe Barkley will be entrusted to carry the load by Week 3 at the latest, but I can't ask each of you to accept the same level of risk that I am. If you agree with that thinking and believe he will ball out for the better part of the final 15 weeks, then I would not hesitate taking him as early as No. 5.

Derrick Henry - Tractorcito's continued lack of contributions in the passing game limits his upside to the point where he almost needs to average about one touchdown per game to make up for it. His other problems: the Titans lost OC Arthur Smith to Atlanta AND the arrival of Julio Jones. While Jones' arrival will make his job easier for the most part, it would be foolish for new OC Todd Downing to ask Henry to run another 350 times when he has two of the top 15 or 20 receivers in the league. Can Henry score 20 touchdowns in this offense? Sure. Can we expect him to handle another 400-plus touches without incident again? I am not so sure. Can we expect Downing to pick up where Smith left off? That is another dangerous assumption to make.

An argument can be made that Darren Waller has the most going for him among all tight ends. Entering his age-32 season, Travis Kelce is pushing the age limit that tends to mark the beginning of the end for tight ends - even for the elite ones. Despite turning 29 next month, Waller is only entering his third year of true NFL service after having played a bit role in 22 games from 2014-18. Derek Carr raves about his work ethic and Las Vegas still lacks an alpha receiver that could potentially ruin Waller's bid for a target share around 30 percent. The main concern with him is the same as it is for any stud receiver or tight end: will Waller be featured in the red zone as much this year as he was in 2020? Last year, only Davante Adams (28) saw more targets inside the 20 than Waller (22), while his 11 targets inside the 10 ranked seventh overall. In 2019, those target totals were 11 and four, respectively. Those meaningful targets are not in question with Kelce, and he plays in a much better offense with a much better quarterback to boot. Waller's ranking above is evidence I believe the Raiders will continue peppering him in the red zone. If that happens, no one should be surprised if he is the first tight end off draft boards in 2022.

Terry McLaurin somehow continues to fly under some radars despite WR29 and WR20 finishes in his first two NFL seasons. He has managed this despite catching passes from Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. (In case you are wondering, all of those men are currently either backups or out of the league.) Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be anyone's idea of a significant upgrade, but he has consistently shown the ability (or willingness) to turn one of his receivers into a star. Steve Johnson, Brandon Marshall, DeVante Parker and Eric Decker are among the wideouts who have benefited from a touch of Fitzmagic. The 38-year-old called Washington "the best situation Ive ever been in or the best situation that Ive ever gone into as the guy" last month, and McLaurin is likely one of the main reasons he felt compelled to make such a comment. In his last four situations as "the guy" (2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019), five receivers have topped 112 targets and four have tallied at least 125 (high of 156). If McLaurin was able to attract 134 targets in 15 games last year from conservative and/or questionable quarterbacks like Smith, Haskins, Allen and Heinicke, it is scary to think what he might be able to do with an aggressive quarterback like Fitzpatrick who has experienced some recent success throwing downfield.

It is one thing if fantasy managers have boosted CeeDee Lamb up and knocked Amari Cooper down their draft boards due to reports about Cooper's offseason foot concerns. It is another thing entirely if those same people have basically ignored Cooper's foot issues and anointed Lamb as the new alpha dog in Dallas. In Dak Prescott's four healthy games last year, Cooper was the overall WR1 (with a league-high 51 targets) and Lamb (27 targets) was the overall WR17. Even after accounting for small sample size and Lamb's growth from Year 1 and Year 2, that is a significant gap for Lamb to make up. Lamb's role (primary slot) isn't expected to change. In fact, Michael Gallup is expected to work inside more often in 2021. Lamb coming off the board as a potential fantasy back-end WR1 in the third round is not a problem. What is a problem is if managers take him a round earlier in the same range as players like Calvin Ridley or Stefon Diggs. Dallas has three very good receivers, so it would be a mistake to expect one of them to consistently outshine the others.

Chase Claypool probably has not received quite as much attention from fantasy managers as he deserves so far this summer. His rookie resume suggests he was (and is) a somewhat inconsistent performer with a high ceiling and low floor. The key word in the previous sentence is "rookie." Last year, people were hyping DK Metcalf as a potential second-year fantasy stud due in large part to his size (6-3, 230) and speed (4.33). Claypool, who is one inch taller, about 10 pounds heavier and a tenth of a second slower than Metcalf, actually outperformed the Ole Miss product when we compare their rookie years. Claypool finished as the WR22 despite occasionally sharing time with James Washington early and getting some rest late in the season so he could - in HC Mike Tomlin's words - avoid the rookie wall. Neither of those factors appears to be an issue heading into 2021, leaving a heavier emphasis on running the ball as the only legitimate excuse as to why he won't be better as a sophomore. One thing to keep an eye on with Claypool: attitude MAY be an issue. Bob Labriola of the team's website noted that Claypool's "diva quotient increased consistently over the course of his rookie season" back in March. It is an interesting note in that someone from the team website said it and suggests it was easy for regular observers to notice. Other reporters have since hinted his practice effort runs a bit hot-and-cold.

It makes me proud to see my SSI has James Robinson, Javonte Williams and Damien Harris so close together because they are very similar backs in similar situations. The one thing that separates the three is Robinson's potential upside in the passing game, even with Travis Etienne around. Overall, he probably has the least amount of actual upside because Laviska Shenault would probably fill the Etienne role if the rookie got hurt AND he could lose his job to Etienne if the team falls in love with the first-round pick's big-play ability. Williams should be serviceable in the passing game and is the future at running back in Denver, but it is asking a lot for him to overtake Melvin Gordon completely at any point before November barring injury. Mike Boone could also vulture a few opportunities. Harris is capable of much more than he showed last year, but New England appears fixated on maintaining a division of labor in its backfield even though Harris proved he was a capable receiver in college. Harris has huge touchdown upside if the Patriots defense returns to form (it should), the line plays up to its talent level (it should) and Mac Jones replaces Cam Newton fairly early (good luck with guessing when that will happen).

Common sense would dictate that Robert Tonyan and his fantasy managers should prepare for significant regression. After all, there have only been 46 instances of tight ends scoring 10 touchdowns in a season in league history. Only eight times has a tight end caught as many or fewer passes as Tonyan did in 2020 (52), although five have occurred in the last 10 years (zero times from 2016-19). The fantasy industry seems to be stuck on Tonyan's sky-high catch rate (88.1 percent) and TD rate (one per every 4.7 catches). OK? Of course we should expect a decline; those are nearly impossible numbers to maintain. However, are people so beholden to last year's stats that they cannot imagine a world where that kind of reliability (no drops on 81 targets over the last two seasons) leads to more targets the following season? Maybe Aaron Rodgers doesn't play at an MVP level again this year, but is he going to throw less to Tonyan in the red zone this year after the former undrafted free agent caught 10 of his 11 targets inside the 20 and all seven of his targets inside the 10? If there is one mid-round tight end worth betting on to vastly outperform his ADP, it would be one tied to a quarterback like Rodgers with something to prove again (like Rodgers). Rodgers defies logic in many ways, so it is OK to expect another "unreasonable" season from Tonyan this year - even if he falls short of last year's 11 TDs.

Trevor Lawrence may be the best quarterback prospect to come out of the draft since Andrew Luck, but you would never know it based on how often his name is mentioned in fantasy circles or the media versus how often Trey Lance and Justin Fields are discussed. Admittedly, Jacksonville isn't quite the media market that San Francisco and Chicago are, but fantasy managers should not let a lack of pub sway them away from the No. 1 overall pick. He will start the opener, has more rushing upside than most believe and has a stable full of legitimate weapons. Lance may have more upside because he is a dual-threat in a Kyle Shanahan offense. Fields may also have more upside considering how explosive he is as a runner. Neither one has a starting job locked up and there is no guarantee either player will start before November. I believe Lance will be a league-winner type, but fantasy teams have to get to the dance first to take advantage of that. Lawrence should end up being a nice drive down the fairway that allows fantasy managers to tap in for a birdie or par most weeks. That is worth a lot in fantasy, especially for managers who wait until the 10th round or after to take a quarterback.

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.