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 am 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 over my competition. 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 cannot happen? Of course not. With that said, I will stack
my success (and the success of many of my readers) against anyone
else's 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
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 more than 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.
Fantasy football is a stock market game, and the job of an analyst
is to identify when stocks are 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 15 years. While
some of the processes have changed in that time, the main goal
The Success Score Index (SSI) below is powered
in large part by my target and carry predictions. 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. 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 next to their name have some degree of injury/character/holdout
concern. In addition, I have added distinct tiers for this final
round of Big Boards (represented by the different colors in the
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
While each of them has at least one potential wart, the first
nine players on the Big Board are rock-solid foundation pieces
for any fantasy team. For four of the top five running backs,
their major blemish is their injury history. The lone exception
of that group (Jonathan Taylor) is almost guaranteed to see significantly
less volume than last year. Joe Mixon is an excellent bet to score
at least 16 touchdowns for a second straight year behind a much-improved
offensive, but his involvement in the passing game remains in
question. What happens if the Bengals decide to rely more heavily
on their passing game this season? The Chargers made significant
upgrades this offseason, almost to the point where we have to
believe Ekeler will lose some work because they will be in positive
game script much more often.
Managers of Justin Jefferson and Cooper Kupp do not have a lot
to worry about, but they are not perfect fantasy options either.
While the Vikings' new offense is expected to air it out much
more often and use Jefferson in the same way the Rams use Kupp,
the biggest threat to his path to finishing as the overall WR1
in 2022 is Kirk Cousins' tendency to rely on Adam Thielen in the
red zone. (New HC Kevin O'Connell appears
to be on board.) Irv Smith returns to steal some targets after
missing all last season as well.
Allen Robinson's addition should make the Rams a better offense
this season, but he is going to be a major thorn in the side of
any manager expecting Kupp to come close to repeating his historic
2021. Kupp had 13 TDs on 37 red zone targets last year and nine
scores on 18 targets inside the 10. Those numbers are coming down.
While the 29-year-old can afford can take a bit of a hit when
it comes to his opportunities, fantasy managers cannot afford
him to return to his pre-2021 production when they are using a
top-five pick on him. It is just as likely he finishes outside
the top five at receiver as he finishes inside it with Robinson
as his sidekick.
CeeDee Lamb is a dark-horse candidate to lead the league in targets.
The primary concern is why he did not do a bit more last season
considering Amari Cooper was playing hurt for most of it. Somewhat
amazingly, Lamb has yet to finish with a pro game with more than
nine catches. That should change in 2022, but his emergence -
at least the kind of jump some are expecting - is not a lock.
Najee Harris' status as a bell-cow running back is not in question.
His biggest concerns: 1) Pittsburgh did not dramatically improve
its offensive line, 2) Mitchell Trubisky may not check down as
often as Ben Roethlisberger did and 3) the Steelers seem intent
on cutting back his snaps (not necessarily his touches, however).
With that said, UDFA Jaylen Warren is making enough of an impression
this month that he could eat away at Harris' workload, which is
arguably Harris' biggest fantasy strength right now.
Fantasy managers can make a strong case for Ja'Marr Chase and
Davante Adams as first-round picks and are entirely justified
in drafting them there. The same can be said for Stefon Diggs.
There are also obvious concerns: Chase scored 18.3 percent of
his 304.6 fantasy points in his historic four-touchdown effort
against the Chiefs in Week 17. There is also this
little tidbit. Derek Carr is not near the downgrade from Aaron Rodgers that some think he is, but he is nonetheless a step down
from the Packers' quarterback. Adams is the top option in Las
Vegas without question, but Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow give
Carr the kind of options Rodgers begged for a couple of years
ago. Diggs' target share is safe, but is it possible that Gabriel
Davis and Dawson Knox cap his touchdown upside?
The rest of the tier (Aaron Jones, Travis Kelce and Derrick Henry)
also have strong cases to make to be first-round picks, but I
think this is about the point of the draft where the concerns
are more legitimate and less nitpicky. By now, most of the fantasy
world has seen what Aaron Jones' splits are with and without Davante
Adams playing. What those splits do not account for is how much
more Green Bay trusts A.J. Dillon than it did during those Adams-less
Kelce should still be plenty effective at age 32, but history
and logic are working against him. Even the most elite of tight
ends tend to decline at Kelce's age, first and foremost (history).
Logic dictates that Kelce will play fewer snaps as he gets older
and Kansas City attempts to keep him fresh for December and January.
Henry is a certified stud who may be a lock for 20-plus touches/week
again in 2022. With that said, many running backs tend to fall
off at his age (28) and the history of age-28 backs - especially
recently - finishing inside the top 12 at their position is not
If I knew for a fact that Leonard Fournette was going to remain
the primary back on passing downs all season long (thereby holding
off rookie Rachaad White), he would find a spot close to Najee Harris in the previous tier. Travis Etienne has been too good
in camp - and is far too explosive - to not have a meaningful
role in Jacksonville. With that said, James Robinson is a trusted
asset in pass protection and will play more snaps than many expect,
even as he continues to fully recover from last year's Achilles
Breece Hall and Javonte Williams fittingly appear near the bottom
of this tier. Both possess league-winning upside. Both players
also have formidable competition for touches in their backfield
(Michael Carter and Melvin Gordon, respectively). It would be
a mistake to assume either Carter or Gordon will just fade away
by Week 4, but I would rest easier rolling the dice on Williams.
While I think Hall will eventually get a chance to establish himself
as the clear leader in the backfield by late October or early
November, the overall situation in Denver is more conducive to
fantasy success. If I had to bet on one player from this group
becoming a first-round selection in fantasy next season, my pick
would be Williams (closely followed by Hall).
This group contains a fair amount of potential league-winners.
My stance on Allen Robinson has been the same since the start:
he has top-10 upside. There is some potential that his week-to-week
consistency may be a bit lacking with Cooper Kupp still likely
to be a target hog, but most people are not drafting Robinson
as anything more than a WR2 anyway. Doubters can choose to believe
one of two things in regards to his upside for 2022: either Robinson
is in decline at age 28 or he regains the form that made him "quarterback
proof" before last year. Remember, he is about to play with
the best quarterback he has ever played with and will be a big
part of the best offense he has been on entering his ninth season
as a pro.
Having two running backs inside my top 18 at the position from
the same team scares me … a lot. With that said, AJ Dillon
theoretically offers low-end standalone RB2 value and has a relatively
safe floor, yet he comes with incredibly massive upside if Aaron Jones misses time. What the public seems to be missing is that
he is poised to assume at least some of the receiving upside -
created by the departure of Davante Adams - that people are assuming
will go directly to Jones. Dillon did not consistently become
a regular factor in Green Bay's offense until Week 8 last season
and still finished with 34 catches (on 37 targets). HC Matt LaFleur
has consistently told reporters all summer that he sees Jones
and Dillon as starters. In fact, he reminded us of that Monday
(Aug. 22) when he told reporters Jones and Dillon are "two
of the premier backs in our league … they can do anything."
Aaron Rodgers recently made similar comments suggesting it has
to be about getting the best 11 players on the field and that
Jones and Dillon were among them.
Whereas Dillon's ceiling may not be fully realized until the
second half of the season, Cordarrelle Patterson's ceiling may
cave in around the same time. However, I see that more as a probability
than a strong possibility. Tyler Allgeier will almost certainly
cut into Patterson's workload as the season progresses, but HC
Arthur Smith's decision to keep Patterson as fresh as possible
this preseason suggests to me that Atlanta wants Allgeier to absorb
the "heavy" runs and utilize the 31-year-old in a similar
fashion as last season. It seems utterly ridiculous to me that
the industry wants to put a player with 588 career offensive touches
(846 if we include kick and punt returns) into the customary "he's
too old" box. It's not Patterson's fault that it took until
his age-30 season for a coaching staff to use him correctly. He
signed a two-year contract this offseason and I fully expect him
to produce both seasons.
D.J. Moore can make every bit as strong of a case to move into
Tier 3 as Allen Robinson. While Baker Mayfield may not be Matthew
Stafford, he is the best passer Moore has worked with in Carolina.
His biggest help AND hindrance may be the health of Christian McCaffrey. A healthy McCaffrey should increase Moore's touchdown
upside (his career-high in that department is four) but lower
his target share and catch totals. Another injury-plagued season
for McCaffrey likely means more overall opportunity for Moore
but reduces the team's chances of visiting the red zone regularly.
The recent history of 49ers' running backs keeping their job
from one year to the next has not been good, but it seems as though
HC Kyle Shanahan believes Elijah Mitchell is a near-perfect fit
for his system. Even if San Francisco employs a committee attack
- as was rumored earlier this month - this offense figures to
run the ball around 500 times to keep the pressure off Trey Lance
and complement its defense. There should be more than enough opportunity
for Lance to get his 100-150 carries and Mitchell to match or
exceed last year's 207. The goal this time should be to reduce
the number of times Mitchell carries the ball 20 times (which
he did six straight games to end the regular season and begin
the postseason). Deebo Samuel should see some occasional work
in the backfield, but the biggest difference this year should
be the health of Jeff Wilson. Shanahan trusts him. His health
should give Mitchell a better chance to hold up in Year 2.
I am at a loss when it comes to the public perception of T.J. Hockenson. We are talking about a player who started 2021 out
on fire and ended it with six double-digit fantasy efforts in
his final seven games before a hand injury ended his season in
Week 13. Yes, the Lions added D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams,
but how much does that matter if Jared Goff - who has seemingly
morphed into more of a caretaking quarterback who is hesitant
to stretch the field - does not take advantage of their speed?
Hockenson was Goff's primary target for most of the time he was
healthy last season. What are the odds that Chark and Williams
do more to free up Hockenson (and Amon-Ra St. Brown) than take
a bunch of targets away from them?
Drafting Gabriel Davis at or around the fourth round and/or WR25
seems silly. There is a distinct possibility he will not live
up to his draft cost. There is also a distinct possibility his
touchdown efficiency will continue and he is a poor man's Allen Robinson in that he is in a good offense and offers the kind of
size and contested-catch ability no one else on the roster possesses.
Short of a complete offensive ineptitude (which is a possibility
for the Bears), it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Darnell Mooney does not enjoy a 25 percent target share. Let us assume
that Chicago is not quite the offensive train wreck in 2022 that
it was in 2021 and throws the ball more often under new OC Luke
Getsy (the Bears attempted 542 passes last year). Even with a
disinterested and injured Allen Robinson around to absorb 66 targets
last year, Mooney still attracted 140 looks in 2021. Can we expect
that number to go down with Velus Jones set to replace Robinson?
Quarterbacks will be the focus of this tier simply because there
are four of them in it (as opposed to two in the first five combined).
I have a slight hesitation with Jalen Hurts being my QB3, if only
because so much of his early production last year - when he was
a volume passer - was a result of negative game script in the
second half of games. The other side of this conversation regarding
Hurts is that Philly gave him an alpha receiver in A.J. Brown.
Hurts also appears to be the team's primary running threat near
the goal line. Comparing his situation to either Lamar Jackson
or Kyler Murray's, the simple reality is that Hurts has his alpha
and operates behind a very good offensive line. Baltimore is hoping
Rashod Bateman becomes an alpha, while Murray will not have DeAndre Hopkins for six games.
James Conner is ranked much lower here than probably anywhere
else, in all likelihood. Some of that has to do with a brutal
schedule that has Arizona playing the Rams and Eagles without
Hopkins AND the Saints, Rams (again) and Bucs after he gets back.
That alone could make it almost impossible for Conner to approach
18 total touchdowns again. Here are some other reasons why:
1) Arizona's offensive line could be worse than it was last year
(when he averaged 3.7 yards per carry),
2) Conner received 18 opportunities from the 1-yard line last
year and scored 10 times (both occurrences will be nearly impossible
3) Eno Benjamin is a real threat to steal at least some work from
him in the passing game.
Almost 35 percent of his fantasy production last season came
as a result of scoring a rushing touchdown (second only to Damien Harris' 42.8 among top 50 running backs). That is another level
of efficiency that will be hard to repeat.
That will do it for this week. Even though the rankings will
be different next week (I will likely be focusing on 0.5 PPR or
standard leagues at that point), I will focus more on the late-round
players that are typically going after pick 100.
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.