Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!




 Log In  | Sign Up  |  Contact      




 

Top 225 Big Board, PPR: Version 2.0


Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 9/3/21 |
PPR | Half PPR | Non-PPR | Superflex | FFPC

Allow me to reluctantly engage in a bit of a humble brag before we get into the heart of what I believe is the best draft-day tool around. (Yes, I'm biased.) I have been playing in money leagues for more than 20 years and in high-stakes leagues ($1,000-plus entry) for over 10 years. I have played in those high-stakes leagues during the leanest of times, and I did so in part because I knew I had an advantage my competition did not. Does it always result in a championship? Of course not. However, I win roughly one of every six leagues I enter and have never had a season in which I lost money. Does that mean it can't happen? Of course not. With that said, I will stack the success my approach has allowed me to enjoy against anyone else and their draft approach in the industry.

*****************

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 does not 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". 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 (and there is reason to believe that is selling it short), 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 the amount of detail that went 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. Also, I have added tiers for this final round of Big Boards (represented by the different colors in the "Pos" column).

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

 PPR Big Board - Top 225
Rk Pos Player Tm Age SSI 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
1 RB1 Christian McCaffrey CAR 25 12.22
2 RB2 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 26 6.85
3 RB3 Aaron Jones GB 26 5.92
4 RB4 Derrick Henry TEN 27 5.90
5 RB5 Nick Chubb CLE 25 5.86
6 WR1 Davante Adams GB 28 5.84
7 RB6 Dalvin Cook MIN 26 5.79
8 RB7 Austin Ekeler LAC 26 5.78
9 RB8 Alvin Kamara NO 26 5.78
10 TE1 Travis Kelce KC 31 5.59
11 RB9 Saquon Barkley NYG 24 5.28
12 RB10 Jonathan Taylor IND 22 5.10
13 WR2 Tyreek Hill KC 27 4.97
14 RB11 Najee Harris PIT 23 4.66
15 RB12 Antonio Gibson WAS 23 4.56
16 WR3 Calvin Ridley ATL 26 4.27
17 TE2 Darren Waller LV 28 4.16
18 RB13 Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC 22 4.03
19 WR4 DeAndre Hopkins ARI 29 3.99
20 RB14 Joe Mixon CIN 25 3.54
21 WR5 Stefon Diggs BUF 27 3.24
22 TE3 George Kittle SF 27 3.07
23 WR6 DK Metcalf SEA 23 2.24
24 RB15 Chris Carson SEA 26 1.89
25 RB16 David Montgomery CHI 24 1.82
26 RB17 James Robinson JAC 23 1.70
27 WR7 Allen Robinson CHI 28 1.61
28 WR8 Justin Jefferson MIN 22 1.56
29 WR9 A.J. Brown TEN 24 1.52
30 WR10 Keenan Allen LAC 29 1.30
31 WR11 Terry McLaurin WAS 25 1.04
32 QB1 Patrick Mahomes KC 25 0.79
33 WR12 CeeDee Lamb DAL 22 0.76
34 WR13 Robert Woods LAR 29 0.49
35 QB2 Josh Allen BUF 25 0.35
36 RB18 D'Andre Swift DET 22 0.18
37 WR14 Chris Godwin TB 25 0.15
38 WR15 Amari Cooper DAL 27 0.11
39 QB3 Kyler Murray ARI 24 0.07
40 WR16 Mike Evans TB 28 0.07
41 WR17 Cooper Kupp LAR 28 -0.06
42 WR18 Tyler Lockett SEA 28 -0.43
43 WR19 Tee Higgins CIN 22 -0.48
44 WR20 Julio Jones TEN 32 -0.52
45 RB19 Myles Gaskin MIA 24 -0.55
46 RB20 Gus Edwards BAL 26 -0.69
47 TE4 Mark Andrews BAL 25 -0.86
48 WR21 Adam Thielen MIN 31 -0.93
49 RB21 Javonte Williams DEN 21 -1.09
50 TE5 T.J. Hockenson DET 24 -1.26
51 WR22 D.J. Moore CAR 24 -1.31
52 RB22 Chase Edmonds ARI 25 -1.34
53 RB23 Josh Jacobs LV 23 -1.36
54 TE6 Kyle Pitts ATL 20 -1.42
55 WR23 Diontae Johnson PIT 25 -1.44
56 QB4 Lamar Jackson BAL 24 -1.45
57 QB5 Dak Prescott DAL 28 -1.46
58 QB6 Aaron Rodgers GB 37 -1.47
59 WR24 Jerry Jeudy DEN 22 -1.69
60 WR25 Ja'Marr Chase CIN 21 -1.75
61 RB24 Miles Sanders PHI 24 -1.83
62 RB25 Damien Harris NE 24 -1.86
63 WR26 Chase Claypool PIT 23 -1.98
64 QB7 Russell Wilson SEA 32 -2.08
65 QB8 Ryan Tannehill TEN 33 -2.09
66 RB26 Kareem Hunt CLE 26 -2.11
67 WR27 Brandon Aiyuk SF 23 -2.20
68 RB27 Mike Davis ATL 28 -2.27
69 WR28 Courtland Sutton DEN 25 -2.40
70 RB28 Trey Sermon SF 22 -2.43
71 WR29 Tyler Boyd CIN 26 -2.49
72 QB9 Tom Brady TB 44 -2.61
73 WR30 Corey Davis NYJ 28 -2.65
74 WR31 Robby Anderson CAR 28 -2.72
75 WR32 Odell Beckham Jr. CLE 28 -2.80
76 WR33 Marvin Jones JAC 31 -2.84
77 QB10 Jalen Hurts PHI 23 -2.88
78 TE7 Noah Fant DEN 23 -2.99
79 TE8 Robert Tonyan GB 27 -3.10
80 WR34 JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 24 -3.25
81 RB29 Darrell Henderson LAR 24 -3.30
82 WR35 Antonio Brown TB 33 -3.30
83 WR36 Mike Williams LAC 26 -3.31
84 QB11 Justin Herbert LAC 23 -3.35
85 TE9 Logan Thomas WAS 30 -3.41
86 TE10 Dallas Goedert PHI 27 -3.41
87 WR37 Elijah Moore NYJ 26 -3.44
88 RB30 Raheem Mostert SF 29 -3.44
89 WR38 Darnell Mooney CHI 23 -3.53
90 WR39 Michael Gallup DAL 25 -3.58
91 TE11 Jonnu Smith NE 26 -3.59
92 WR40 D.J. Chark JAC 24 -3.69
93 QB12 Matthew Stafford LAR 33 -3.89
94 WR41 Kenny Golladay NYG 27 -3.93
95 RB31 Kenyan Drake LV 27 -3.99
96 WR42 Deebo Samuel SF 25 -4.00
97 RB32 Michael Carter NYJ 22 -4.05
98 WR43 Jarvis Landry CLE 28 -4.19
99 WR44 Curtis Samuel WAS 25 -4.32
100 RB33 Giovani Bernard TB 29 -4.33
101 RB34 Melvin Gordon DEN 28 -4.45
102 RB35 Ronald Jones TB 24 -4.50
103 WR45 Michael Pittman Jr. IND 23 -4.54
104 WR46 Marquez Callaway NO 23 -4.59
105 TE12 Mike Gesicki MIA 25 -4.64
106 WR47 DeVonta Smith PHI 22 -4.72
107 RB36 James Conner ARI 26 -4.73
108 RB37 Ty'Son Williams BAL 23 -4.73
109 WR48 Michael Thomas NO 28 -4.87
110 WR49 Brandin Cooks HOU 27 -4.88
111 RB38 Jamaal Williams DET 26 -4.93
112 RB39 Devin Singletary BUF 24 -4.94
113 WR50 Jaylen Waddle MIA 22 -4.95
114 QB13 Joe Burrow CIN 24 -5.03
115 WR51 Cole Beasley BUF 32 -5.05
116 RB40 Zack Moss BUF 23 -5.21
117 WR52 Laviska Shenault JAC 22 -5.25
118 RB41 AJ Dillon GB 23 -5.27
119 RB42 Sony Michel LAR 26 -5.29
120 WR53 Bryan Edwards LV 22 -5.32
121 TE13 Gerald Everett SEA 27 -5.32
122 TE14 Evan Engram NYG 27 -5.36
123 QB14 Trevor Lawrence JAC 21 -5.39
124 RB43 Nyheim Hines IND 24 -5.47
125 QB15 Trey Lance SF 21 -5.51
126 WR54 Rondale Moore ARI 21 -5.56
127 WR55 Jakobi Meyers NE 24 -5.61
128 RB44 Rhamondre Stevenson NE 23 -5.66
129 TE15 Tyler Conklin MIN 26 -5.68
130 TE16 Tyler Higbee LAR 28 -5.68
131 WR56 Terrace Marshall Jr. CAR 21 -5.70
132 QB16 Justin Fields CHI 22 -5.71
133 WR57 Will Fuller MIA 27 -5.75
134 RB45 Tony Jones NO 23 -5.95
135 WR58 Sterling Shepard NYG 28 -6.00
136 WR59 Russell Gage ATL 25 -6.03
137 QB17 Matt Ryan ATL 36 -6.04
138 WR60 Parris Campbell IND 24 -6.07
139 QB18 Kirk Cousins MIN 33 -6.07
140 RB46 J.D. McKissic WAS 28 -6.13
141 QB19 Sam Darnold CAR 24 -6.13
142 RB47 James White NE 29 -6.14
143 QB20 Tua Tagovailoa MIA 23 -6.14
144 RB48 Kenneth Gainwell PHI 22 -6.33
145 QB21 Carson Wentz IND 28 -6.41
146 RB49 Ty Johnson NYJ 23 -6.45
147 WR61 DeVante Parker MIA 28 -6.46
148 TE17 Blake Jarwin DAL 27 -6.57
149 WR62 Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 26 -6.58
150 TE18 Hunter Henry NE 26 -6.59
151 TE19 Jared Cook LAC 34 -6.60
152 WR63 Emmanuel Sanders BUF 34 -6.66
153 TE20 Rob Gronkowski TB 32 -6.72
154 TE21 Austin Hooper CLE 26 -6.78
155 RB50 Tony Pollard DAL 24 -6.78
156 WR64 Mecole Hardman KC 23 -6.79
157 TE22 Cole Kmet CHI 22 -6.83
158 TE23 Anthony Firkser TEN 26 -6.86
159 RB51 Leonard Fournette TB 26 -6.89
160 WR65 Nelson Agholor NE 28 -6.92
161 WR66 A.J. Green ARI 33 -7.29
162 TE24 Eric Ebron PIT 28 -7.32
163 WR67 Henry Ruggs III LV 22 -7.35
164 WR68 Randall Cobb GB 31 -7.40
165 QB22 Baker Mayfield CLE 26 -7.46
166 WR69 Jalen Reagor PHI 22 -7.46
167 QB23 Zach Wilson NYJ 22 -7.50
168 WR70 Van Jefferson LAR 25 -7.62
169 TE25 Zach Ertz PHI 30 -7.64
170 WR71 Gabriel Davis BUF 22 -7.71
171 QB24 Derek Carr LV 30 -7.77
172 QB25 Daniel Jones NYG 24 -7.84
173 RB52 Tevin Coleman NYJ 28 -7.89
174 WR72 Nico Collins HOU 22 -7.93
175 QB26 Ryan Fitzpatrick WAS 38 -7.93
176 RB53 Darrynton Evans TEN 23 -7.94
177 QB27 Jameis Winston NO 27 -7.95
178 TE26 Adam Trautman NO 24 -8.10
179 TE27 C.J. Uzomah CIN 28 -8.27
180 RB54 Wayne Gallman ATL 26 -8.27
181 TE28 Juwan Johnson NO 24 -8.30
182 WR73 Rashod Bateman BAL 21 -8.38
183 TE29 Chris Herndon MIN 25 -8.43
184 TE30 Jimmy Graham CHI 34 -8.43
185 WR74 Tyrell Williams DET 29 -8.47
186 TE31 Brevin Jordan HOU 21 -8.49
187 WR75 Amon-Ra St. Brown DET 21 -8.50
188 WR76 T.Y. Hilton IND 31 -8.59
189 WR77 Kadarius Toney NYG 22 -8.64
190 WR78 D'Wayne Eskridge SEA 24 -8.68
191 QB28 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 39 -8.70
192 TE32 O.J. Howard TB 26 -8.70
193 WR79 Jamison Crowder NYJ 28 -8.76
194 TE33 Jacob Harris LAR 24 -8.81
195 RB55 Mark Ingram HOU 31 -8.82
196 RB56 Phillip Lindsay HOU 27 -9.04
197 RB57 Devontae Booker NYG 29 -9.15
198 RB58 Alexander Mattison MIN 23 -9.15
199 WR80 Christian Kirk ARI 24 -9.20
200 RB59 David Johnson HOU 29 -9.21
201 WR81 Darius Slayton NYG 24 -9.21
202 RB60 Chuba Hubbard CAR 22 -9.28
203 WR82 Quez Watkins PHI 23 -9.31
204 RB61 Justin Jackson LAC 26 -9.33
205 RB62 Rashaad Penny SEA 25 -9.34
206 RB63 Larry Rountree III LAC 22 -9.63
207 RB64 Darrel Williams KC 26 -9.77
208 WR83 Tre'Quan Smith NO 25 -9.81
209 WR84 Marquise Brown BAL 24 -9.86
210 QB29 Teddy Bridgewater DEN 28 -9.97
211 RB65 Carlos Hyde JAC 30 -10.00
212 RB66 Boston Scott PHI 26 -10.22
213 RB67 Salvon Ahmed MIA 22 -10.66
214 WR85 Josh Palmer LAC 21 -10.74
215 WR86 Quintez Cephus DET 23 -10.79
216 QB30 Mac Jones NE 22 -10.79
217 WR87 KJ Hamler DEN 22 -10.84
218 WR88 Donovan Peoples-Jones CLE 22 -11.03
219 RB68 Tarik Cohen CHI 26 -11.20
220 RB69 Marlon Mack IND 25 -11.96
221 RB70 Eno Benjamin ARI 22 -12.16
222 WR89 Dyami Brown WAS 21 -12.26
223 TE34 Harrison Bryant CLE 25 -12.35
224 WR90 Sammy Watkins BAL 28 -12.87
225 RB71 J.J. Taylor NE 23 -13.05


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



Quarterbacks

I admittedly don't discuss quarterbacks very often in August, but this rookie class is probably going to make us talk about them.

- Trevor Lawrence should be considered the safe play of the group, albeit one with a ton of upside. He should be considered a decent bet for at least 3,800 yards passing and at least 300 yards rushing (remember the 17th game changes things a bit here). That is a statistical combination that has happened only 35 times in league history (five times last year). The question for him is how often Jacksonville visits the end zone and if the line can protect him well enough so he can hold up all season. There are enough concerns with the Jaguars to dial back the enthusiasm to a high-end QB2 level.

- Trey Lance has all the makings of a league-winner. The only thing he truly lacks is the guarantee of a starting job right away. Yes, he will look like a rookie who played just over a year at the FCS level at times. However, he will also eventually be at the controls of an offense that has one of the best receiver-tight end trios in the league and incredible rushing upside. He will also have a coach in Kyle Shanahan whose scheme can typically create easy throws. If the last few years has taught us anything, it is that "cheat code" quarterbacks are worth their weight in gold. Putting a "cheat code" quarterback in an offense run by Shanahan just seems like, well, cheating.

- Justin Fields has the same kind of upside Lance does from a fantasy perspective and a trio of receivers and tight ends that are on par with what the North Dakota State product has. He also does not know when he will be named the starter, but where he falls short of Lance in fantasy is that HC Matt Nagy is not in Shanahan's class, nor is Chicago's offensive line on the same level as San Francisco's. Fields has the athleticism to make things happen and will overcome the Bears' shortcomings on occasion, but asking him to do so without paying for it physically over the course of the season may be too much.

- Like Lawrence, Zach Wilson can feel reasonably good about his chances of starting Week 1. The Jets upgraded their offensive line in a big way this offseason and even gave the second overall pick some legitimate weapons. The reason he falls where he does on the Big Board is simple: while Wilson can run, New York did not draft him to complement the running game in the same way the three aforementioned rookies will. The Jets wanted a quarterback, first and foremost. In today's fantasy game, a quarterback doing most of his damage from the pocket typically needs to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 30 TDs to have a chance at crashing the top 10 party. He may be able to do the former, but the latter will be a tall task even if Corey Davis and Elijah Moore stay healthy and ball out.

Running Backs

Aaron Jones has finished as a top-five back (total points) in each of the last two seasons. In 2019, it was the result of an incredible touchdown rate (one touchdown for every 15 touches). In 2020, he fell to No. 5 in part because he missed two games. While his touchdown rate fell considerably (one TD per 22.5 touches), he averaged 0.9 yards per carry more and was a slightly bigger part of the passing game on a per-game basis. Green Bay will have more viable offensive weapons surrounding Aaron Rodgers this season, but the departure of Jamaal Williams (and subsequent promotion of AJ Dillon) could allow the Packers to deploy Jones in the same kind of way the Saints use Alvin Kamara. I am not saying Jones has 80-catch upside like Kamara, but there also isn't much reason for Green Bay to overuse Jones as a runner when Dillon should prove to be one of the better grinders in the league in short order. As such, expect Jones' carry average to drop slightly (was 14.8 in 2019 and 14.4 in 2020) and his average number of catches per game (3.1 and 3.4, respectively) to increase slightly. While the loss of a carry or two per game and the addition of a catch or two doesn't sound like much on the surface, we know the value of a target (not even a reception) is worth roughly 2.7 times more than a carry in PPR leagues. While I don't think he gets there, Jones could push for overall RB1 honors in 2021.

My ranking process (at least in terms of how the Big Board is sorted) relies on my inputs into formulas and letting the calculations do their thing. I mention this because it is a coincidence that Saquon Barkley, Najee Harris and Antonio Gibson are bunched together at what would be the top of the second round in 12-team leagues. However, it does reflect how I feel.

- If Barkley is good to go and looking like his old self by the end of September, then anyone who was able to draft him in the 10-15 range may have stolen Christian McCaffrey's only true rival. The problem is Barkley himself has said he does not know when he expects to be back to his pre-injury form. The Giants also intend on doing right by him long-term, which is the right play in reality but frustrating for his fantasy managers. I expect New York's line to play significantly better this year if only because there should be fewer problems with the offensive line coach this time around. Barkley at full health has already proven he can overcome line issues, but if he is in any way worried about his knee, he will need all the good line play he can get. There still appears to be some uncertainty if he will suit up Week 1, which means New York will likely take a couple more weeks after that before featuring him. To this point, Barkley has not been involved in any 11-on-11 work, which means we need to work under the assumption that anything we get from him in fantasy in September is a bonus.

- Harris has the clearest path to a monster workload of the three backs, and I would argue he is the odds-on favorite of the three to finish with the most receptions (assuming Barkley is eased in). Pittsburgh's offensive line issues have been well documented, but it is also important to remember that poor line play was not the only reason the team struggled mightily in the running game in 2020. The Steelers seemingly stopped using pre-snap motion and shifts AND relied so heavily on the short passing game that defenses stacked the box naturally (maybe just not in the way we think of it). That should not happen under new OC Matt Canada. Harris is also no stranger to generating yards after contact, so not every run that should be 1-2 yards will end up being a 1-2 yard run. A 350-touch season is not out of the question, especially given how favorable the Steelers' running back matchups are. We have to go back to 2010 (Steven Jackson) to find the last time a running back had that kind of workload and failed to average 16 PPR fantasy points per game. There is a distinct chance I will move him ahead of Barkley in the coming days.

- Gibson may have the most upside of the bunch. However, his problems are twofold, and it is hard to see either one becoming less of an issue anytime soon. His first issue is the continued presence of J.D. McKissic (and maybe even the continued rise of Jaret Patterson). The Football Team can talk all they want about getting Gibson more involved as a receiver, but he needs to stay in the game over McKissic on third down and in two-minute situations for it to really matter. Without that kind of work, he's probably looking at 50-catch upside. While 50 catches for a running back is nothing to sneeze at, it falls well short of the talk coming from the team about using Gibson in the same way Carolina uses McCaffrey. The second issue could be Gibson's toe injury from late last season. The last report about him rehabbing his toe was in early June and he seems to be moving well this preseason, but it seems odd that a toe that was still something of a concern six or so months after the injury happened is now a complete non-issue.

Anyone desperately looking for another bell-cow back may have had his or her prayers answered Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 24) when Travis Etienne landed on IR with a foot injury that will end his season. The first-round rookie had surprisingly not seen much time on the field during the preseason, but draft capital was helping to keep his fantasy stock afloat while James Robinson typically hung around until the seventh or eighth round. Etienne's absence would seem to be just the break that Robinson's fantasy managers were hoping for, but that enthusiasm could be a bit premature. Carlos Hyde's presence should limit the monster volume Robinson saw in 2020, while a player like Laviska Shenault could easily handle some of the "matchup weapon" work that was supposed to go to Etienne. Robinson still warrants a substantial leap into the third-round area, but fantasy owners are advised not to expect a repeat of last year. The problem for fantasy owners who want him is that I don't expect Robinson to make it out of the second round very often in drafts.

A quick word about the Rams' recent trade for Sony Michel: there has already been much speculation that Michel is the back to own in fantasy over Darrell Henderson. That may very well end up being true in December, but such analysis suggests Michel can fit seamlessly into a completely different offense (Sean McVay's variation of the West Coast offense) after three years in Josh McDaniels' version of the Erhardt-Perkins offense. Learning a new language is tough no matter how smart and dedicated someone is, and that is exactly what Michel must do over the next month or so. It is unlikely Michel will be comfortable enough with everything by the end of September to steal the occasional snap on passing downs. Henderson's fantasy value undoubtedly takes a massive hit, but it is hard to imagine Michel being anything more than an early-down grinder (or flex play for fantasy purposes) after missing all of the preseason work running backs typically get.

It is easy to be a prisoner of the moment when a player looks good in the preseason, especially against another team's reserves. It is also easy to do the same against a first-string defense that is expected to struggle. What is clear to me after watching a pair of the Saints' exhibition games, however, is that Tony Jones has a lot more juice than Latavius Murray. So when the ESPN Monday Night Football crew rather nonchalantly offered up the nugget at the beginning of the New Orleans-Jacksonville preseason game (on Aug. 23) that HC Sean Payton told them that Jones would be the No. 2 back as of today, it was worth noting. With the Saints likely not wanting to overuse Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas likely to miss the first month or so of the season, it was always going to be likely that the No. 2 back - that most of us assumed would be Murray - was going to get more work than usual. Maybe Murray gets the veteran nod to begin the season, but I would not count on it. The difference between him and Jones is stark. At 224 pounds, Jones can handle the "Murray role" and offers more big-play potential than the 31-year-old. Barring an injury to Jones in the next week or two, I will be drafting him in the double-digit rounds regularly or adding him as a free agent wherever possible.

Wide Receivers

Calvin Ridley has emerged as my favorite "value" pick in the first two rounds. While it would be unreasonable to expect him to blow up in the same way my value pick from last year (Davante Adams) did, Ridley is a good bet to lead the league in targets. Even if new HC Arthur Smith is moderately successful (and especially if he is not) in establishing a more balanced offense, it could happen. The fourth-year pro managed a 31 percent target share in the seven games Julio Jones didn't play last year and posted 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns on 143 targets despite playing most of the season on a bad foot. Ridley creates ridiculous separation and will now have the opportunity to work with a play-caller who accentuated A.J. Brown's skill-set. The presence of green and white on his matchup grid is partly a nod to his talent, but it also suggests he isn't facing too many high-end corners (Tre'Davious White in Week 17 may be his toughest potential matchup).

One of my many pet peeves with analysis in the industry is how much the people giving it rely on the previous season. Last year obviously accounts for something - and it means more when a team is bringing back every key player and coordinator - but it borders on ridiculous when a player's outlook the following year is basically a summary of last year. Was Tyler Lockett inconsistent in 2020? Damn right, he was. Did he accumulate 35.6 percent of his targets and 80 percent of his touchdowns in three games? Right again. The problem with relying on last year is the Seahawks moved on from Brian Schottenheimer and hired Shane Waldron to run the offense. While acknowledging that not everything Sean McVay touches turns to gold or everyone that works for him is a boy genius, Waldron was hired to bring a bit of the Rams' offensive flair to the Pacific Northwest. Among the many things that should mean includes more tempo, more pre-snap movement and more short passes. One of the biggest criticisms of Schottenheimer's offense was that it was slow and predictable (as in if defenses could take away the long ball, they were able to bottle up the offense). That should not happen if Waldron can do what he was hired to do, and it should mean more volume for the key offensive players. It should come as no surprise if Lockett finishes much lower than WR8 this year but ends up being a much more reliable option.

Landing Odell Beckham Jr. or Marvin Jones as a WR3 probably isn't going to make fantasy managers feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it would be far from surprising if either one or both end up making that investment pay off over the next few months. While there is not much of a need for Cleveland to change its run-centric offense, it would be a mistake to believe OBJ's presence will not make it more dynamic and vice versa. At this point, fantasy managers would be happy with a full season from him. The thing is, that is probably all Beckham needs to do (stay healthy, that is) to be worth the investment in the sixth or seventh round. Jones continues to be the last Jacksonville receiver drafted even while it appears he will be Trevor Lawrence's top target. Fantasy managers can only hope his ADP remains in the double-digit rounds for another two weeks because he is shaping up to be an extreme value if he can stay healthy. He showed the ability to work as the primary receiver in an offense at the end of last season when he took over for an injured Kenny Golladay and drew at least 10 targets in five of his final eight games with the Lions.

Tight Ends

I want to like Logan Thomas more than I do this year. After all, there were times he reminded me of Travis Kelce at the end of last year. He rarely left the field and ran more routes (609) than any other tight end. The problem I have is Washington has considerably more offensive weapons in 2021 than it did in 2020 and now has a quarterback who is a bit of a gunslinger. The first part of that last sentence is more troubling for Thomas than the second though. For example, Curtis Samuel could double the target total of last year's second-place finisher in targets at receiver behind Terry McLaurin (Cam Sims, 48). A repeat of last year's 110 targets is highly unlikely, so Thomas will need to make up for the decreased volume by either running deeper routes (which would almost certainly lead to a lower catch rate and more week-to-week volatility) or catching more touchdowns (which is incredibly hard to predict). Another top-five finish is not out of the question, but it is difficult to find an avenue that it could happen barring a rash of injuries to the three or four of the tight ends listed ahead of him.

The second half of the 2019 season happened, showing people what Tyler Higbee is capable of when he has massive volume working in his favor. It is almost as though fantasy managers want to believe he is a thing so much that they are trying to speak it into existence. For questions like this, it helps to attempt drawing up a realistic path to whatever finish people expect for the player in question. If we assume the Rams average 35 pass attempts (595 attempts in a 17-game season), we can probably assume Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp will combine for at least 15 targets per game. Van Jefferson should be good for at least four and DeSean Jackson should be in line for at least three. The running backs should take at least five more. This leaves about eight to distribute among the tight ends, which would be great news for Higbee if the Rams had a pair of in-line blockers behind him on the depth chart. Jacob Harris may not realize his vast potential for a few years, but it is clear he is already a mismatch weapon. Brycen Hopkins was drafted a year ago in part to replace Gerald Everett, so assuming he will contribute nothing on offense is ill-advised. The point is simple: if I am too low on any of the non-Higbee target projections (i.e. Jefferson proves worthy of five-plus targets per game), then it will become very difficult for Higbee to get any kind of real volume. Higbee may improve on last year's 44-521-5 line thanks to the arrival of Matthew Stafford, but a top-10 finish seems unlikely considering how many other dynamic weapons the new quarterback has at his disposal.


Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2256 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.