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Top 225 Big Board, PPR: Version 2.0


Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 8/22/23 |
PPR | Half-PPR | Non-PPR | Superflex | FFPC

As I do every year, 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 about 15 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.

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Football is simple at its very core but a very complex game to evaluate and analyze because 11 men try to work in harmony roughly 60 times per game, while 11 other men make it their job 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 also 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 more than 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, that is still a significant advantage over any analyst that does not consider it at all.

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 has not.

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 to their name have some degree of injury/character/holdout concern. In addition, I have added distinct tiers for this round of Big Boards (represented by the different colors in the "FPos" column).

New this year is a "Vol" column, which reflects the volatility of my ranking. In short, the confidence I have in the player to move into the next tier - be it good or bad.

Over the next two weeks, I will release my second and final round of Big Boards for Half-PPR, Non-PPR, FFPC and Superflex leagues. I will rank at least 225 players for each one and present my final rankings for kickers and defense/special teams as well.

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

 PPR Big Board - Top 225
Rk Pos Player Vol Tm SSI 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
1 WR1 Justin Jefferson MIN 8.6
2 WR2 Ja'Marr Chase CIN 7.1
3 WR3 Cooper Kupp LAR 7.1
4 RB1 Christian McCaffrey SF 7.0
5 WR4 Tyreek Hill MIA 7.0
6 RB2 Austin Ekeler LAC 5.5
7 TE1 Travis Kelce KC 5.3
8 RB3 Nick Chubb CLE 5.1
9 RB4 Bijan Robinson ATL 4.9
10 WR5 CeeDee Lamb DAL 4.7
11 WR6 Davante Adams LV 4.3
12 WR7 Stefon Diggs BUF 3.5
13 WR8 A. St. Brown DET 3.2
14 WR9 Garrett Wilson NYJ 3.2
15 RB5 Saquon Barkley NYG 3.1
16 WR10 A.J. Brown PHI 2.9
17 WR11 Jaylen Waddle MIA 2.9
18 RB6 Tony Pollard DAL 2.9
19 RB7 Derrick Henry TEN 2.3
20 QB1 Jalen Hurts PHI 2.3
21 TE2 Mark Andrews BAL 2.2
22 WR12 Calvin Ridley JAC 2.1
23 WR13 Chris Olave NO 2.0
24 QB2 Josh Allen BUF 1.6
25 RB8 Jonathan Taylor IND 1.5
26 RB9 Joe Mixon CIN 1.5
27 RB10 Aaron Jones GB 1.4
28 RB11 Rhamondre Stevenson NE 1.3
29 TE3 Darren Waller NYG 1.3
30 WR14 DeVonta Smith PHI 1.2
31 WR15 Keenan Allen LAC 1.2
32 RB12 Dameon Pierce HOU 0.9
33 WR16 DK Metcalf SEA 0.9
34 RB13 Jahmyr Gibbs DET 0.9
35 WR17 Tee Higgins CIN 0.9
36 QB3 Lamar Jackson BAL 0.8
37 RB14 Najee Harris PIT 0.8
38 WR18 Tyler Lockett SEA 0.7
39 WR19 Brandon Aiyuk SF 0.7
40 WR20 Terry McLaurin WAS 0.6
41 RB15 Breece Hall NYJ 0.6
42 RB16 David Montgomery DET 0.5
43 RB17 J.K. Dobbins BAL 0.5
44 WR21 D.J. Moore CHI 0.5
45 RB18 Kenneth Walker SEA 0.0
46 WR22 Deebo Samuel SF -0.1
47 QB4 Patrick Mahomes KC -0.2
48 WR23 Diontae Johnson PIT -0.2
49 QB5 Justin Herbert LAC -0.2
50 WR24 Amari Cooper CLE -0.2
51 RB19 Miles Sanders CAR -0.2
52 WR25 Jerry Jeudy DEN -0.2
53 WR26 DeAndre Hopkins TEN -0.3
54 RB20 Josh Jacobs LV -0.4
55 WR27 Drake London ATL -0.4
56 WR28 Mike Williams LAC -0.4
57 RB21 Travis Etienne JAC -0.4
58 WR29 Gabriel Davis BUF -0.5
59 WR30 Courtland Sutton DEN -0.5
60 WR31 Elijah Moore CLE -0.5
61 WR32 Christian Watson GB -0.6
62 QB6 Joe Burrow CIN -0.6
63 WR33 Christian Kirk JAC -0.6
64 WR34 Chris Godwin TB -0.7
65 QB7 Justin Fields CHI -0.7
66 WR35 Mike Evans TB -0.7
67 TE4 T.J. Hockenson MIN -0.7
68 RB22 James Cook BUF -0.8
69 RB23 Cam Akers LAR -0.8
70 RB24 James Conner ARI -0.9
71 TE5 Evan Engram JAC -0.9
72 RB25 Rachaad White TB -0.9
73 RB26 Alexander Mattison MIN -1.0
74 TE6 Dallas Goedert PHI -1.0
75 TE7 David Njoku CLE -1.0
76 WR36 Marquise Brown ARI -1.1
77 WR37 J. Smith-Njigba SEA -1.2
78 RB27 Alvin Kamara NO -1.3
79 WR38 Michael Pittman Jr. IND -1.3
80 TE8 George Kittle SF -1.5
81 TE9 Kyle Pitts ATL -1.6
82 WR39 George Pickens PIT -1.7
83 WR40 Treylon Burks TEN -1.8
84 WR41 Jordan Addison MIN -1.8
85 RB28 Antonio Gibson WAS -1.9
86 WR42 Brandin Cooks DAL -2.0
87 WR43 Kadarius Toney KC -2.0
88 RB29 Javonte Williams DEN -2.0
89 QB8 Trevor Lawrence JAC -2.0
90 WR44 Jahan Dotson WAS -2.1
91 TE10 Pat Freiermuth PIT -2.1
92 QB9 Deshaun Watson CLE -2.2
93 WR45 Zay Flowers BAL -2.2
94 TE11 Gerald Everett LAC -2.2
95 QB10 Geno Smith SEA -2.3
96 WR46 JuJu Smith-Schuster NE -2.3
97 RB30 Devon Achane MIA -2.3
98 RB31 Brian Robinson Jr. WAS -2.5
99 TE12 Juwan Johnson NO -2.6
100 TE13 Jake Ferguson DAL -2.7
101 TE14 Dalton Kincaid BUF -2.7
102 TE15 Dalton Schultz HOU -2.7
103 TE16 Tyler Higbee LAR -2.9
104 WR47 Jakobi Meyers LV -2.9
105 WR48 Michael Thomas NO -2.9
106 WR49 Skyy Moore KC -2.9
107 WR50 Nico Collins HOU -3.0
108 RB32 D'Andre Swift PHI -3.0
109 WR51 Allen Lazard NYJ -3.0
110 WR52 Romeo Doubs GB -3.0
111 RB33 Dalvin Cook NYJ -3.1
112 QB11 Anthony Richardson IND -3.3
113 TE17 Chigoziem Okonkwo TEN -3.3
114 WR53 Quentin Johnston LAC -3.3
115 RB34 Zach Charbonnet SEA -3.3
116 TE18 Hunter Henry NE -3.4
117 RB35 Samaje Perine DEN -3.4
118 WR54 Isaiah Hodgins NYG -3.5
119 TE19 Greg Dulcich DEN -3.5
120 RB36 Tank Bigsby JAC -3.6
121 RB37 Isiah Pacheco KC -3.7
122 QB12 Kirk Cousins MIN -3.7
123 QB13 Russell Wilson DEN -3.7
124 TE20 Tyler Conklin NYJ -3.7
125 WR55 Marvin Mims DEN -3.8
126 QB14 Dak Prescott DAL -3.8
127 RB38 AJ Dillon GB -3.8
128 WR56 DeVante Parker NE -3.9
129 WR57 Michael Gallup DAL -3.9
130 RB39 Khalil Herbert CHI -3.9
131 RB40 Rashaad Penny PHI -4.0
132 WR58 Jonathan Mingo CAR -4.0
133 RB41 Jeff Wilson MIA -4.0
134 TE21 Cole Kmet CHI -4.0
135 RB42 Jerome Ford CLE -4.2
136 WR59 Darnell Mooney CHI -4.2
137 TE22 Luke Musgrave GB -4.2
138 QB19 Tua Tagovailoa MIA -4.3
139 WR60 Alec Pierce IND -4.3
140 WR61 Tyler Boyd CIN -4.3
141 RB43 Tyjae Spears TEN -4.4
142 WR62 Odell Beckham Jr. BAL -4.4
143 QB15 Aaron Rodgers NYJ -4.5
144 WR63 D.J. Chark CAR -4.5
145 TE23 Sam LaPorta DET -4.5
146 QB16 Daniel Jones NYG -4.6
147 RB44 Damien Harris BUF -4.6
148 WR64 Adam Thielen CAR -4.6
149 WR65 Parris Campbell NYG -4.7
150 TE24 Irv Smith CIN -4.8
151 WR66 Puka Nacua LAR -4.9
152 WR67 Rashod Bateman BAL -4.9
153 RB45 Jaylen Warren PIT -4.9
154 WR68 Jameson Williams DET -5.0
155 WR69 Michael Wilson ARI -5.1
156 WR70 Hunter Renfrow LV -5.1
157 WR71 Van Jefferson LAR -5.1
158 RB46 Tyler Allgeier ATL -5.1
159 TE25 Hayden Hurst CAR -5.2
160 WR72 Curtis Samuel WAS -5.2
161 WR73 Robert Woods HOU -5.2
162 RB47 Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC -5.3
163 WR74 Mecole Hardman NYJ -5.4
164 WR75 Rashee Rice KC -5.5
165 WR76 Darius Slayton NYG -5.5
166 TE26 Jelani Woods IND -5.5
167 WR77 K.J. Osborn MIN -5.7
168 WR78 Zay Jones JAC -5.9
169 WR79 Josh Downs IND -5.9
170 RB48 Devin Singletary HOU -5.9
171 QB17 Kyler Murray ARI -6.0
172 RB49 Elijah Mitchell SF -6.2
173 RB50 Jamaal Williams NO -6.2
174 QB18 Derek Carr NO -6.3
175 RB51 Zamir White LV -6.3
176 RB52 Roschon Johnson CHI -6.3
177 RB53 Raheem Mostert MIA -6.4
178 WR80 M. Valdes-Scantling KC -6.4
179 RB54 Deuce Vaughn DAL -6.5
180 QB19 Jared Goff DET -6.5
181 WR81 Kendrick Bourne NE -6.7
182 WR82 D. Peoples-Jones CLE -6.8
183 RB55 Kenneth Gainwell PHI -6.8
184 WR83 Tank Dell HOU -6.9
185 RB55 Ezekiel Elliott NE -7.0
186 QB20 Brock Purdy SF -7.1
187 WR84 Jayden Reed GB -7.1
188 QB21 Jimmy Garoppolo LV -7.1
189 QB22 Jordan Love GB -7.1
190 WR85 Rondale Moore ARI -7.1
191 QB23 Sam Howell WAS -7.1
192 WR86 Marvin Jones DET -7.1
193 WR87 Kyle Philips TEN -7.1
194 RB56 Sean Tucker TB -7.2
195 RB57 Kendre Miller NO -7.2
196 WR88 Chase Claypool CHI -7.3
197 RB58 Joshua Kelley LAC -7.3
198 RB59 Rico Dowdle DAL -7.4
199 QB24 Ryan Tannehill TEN -7.4
200 WR89 Braxton Berrios MIA -7.5
201 QB25 Mac Jones NE -7.5
202 RB60 Gus Edwards BAL -7.6
203 QB26 Bryce Young CAR -7.6
204 RB62 Ty Chandler MIN -7.6
205 RB63 D'Onta Foreman CHI -7.7
206 RB64 Jerick McKinnon KC -7.7
207 WR90 Rashid Shaheed NO -7.7
208 RB65 C. Patterson ATL -7.7
209 WR91 Trey Palmer TB -7.8
210 RB66 Jordan Mason SF -7.9
211 WR92 Josh Palmer LAC -7.9
212 RB67 Chuba Hubbard CAR -7.9
213 QB27 Kenny Pickett PIT -8.0
214 RB68 Evan Hull IND -8.0
215 RB69 Chase Edmonds TB -8.3
216 RB70 Kyren Williams LAR -8.4
217 WR93 Allen Robinson PIT -8.4
218 RB71 Zach Evans LAR -8.5
219 RB72 Keaontay Ingram ARI -8.8
220 WR94 Mack Hollins ATL -9.4
221 RB73 Eric Gray NYG -9.4
222 WR95 Calvin Austin PIT -9.5
223 WR96 A.T. Perry NO -9.7
224 WR97 Jalin Hyatt NYG -10.0
225 WR98 Richie James KC -10.4


PPR | Half-PPR | Non-PPR | Superflex | FFPC

Note: I stopped at 27 quarterbacks and 26 tight ends because so few leagues roster more than that at either position. This also allows the Big Board to provide more running back and receiver options.

Tier 1 (dark blue)

Assuming Tyreek Hill can avoid any further off-field trouble, the top five players on the board are rock-solid foundation pieces for a fantasy football team. The four receivers in this tier all have a realistic shot of topping 1,500 receiving yards, scoring at least 10 touchdowns or both. As far as Christian McCaffrey is concerned, any worry about his durability - or a loss of important touches to Elijah Mitchell - pales in comparison to what his upside is as the most complete running back in the game who enters the season with a firm grasp of HC Kyle Shanahan's offense. While Shanahan is unlikely to run McCaffrey into the ground, we can still dream of what might be possible if CMC handled a steady dose of 25 touches in an offense designed by one of the best play-callers in the game.

It is not as if the top tier lacks question marks, but they don't have many. While Justin Jefferson could theoretically lose some targets to rookie Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson, a case can also be made that their presence only increases his upside. Ja'Marr Chase needs Joe Burrow (calf) to be healthy all year to realize his immense upside. Only time will tell if that happens, but Cincinnati's Super Bowl window is open right now and the team knows it. The Bengals will do everything in their power to make sure Burrow stays on the field.

Cooper Kupp comes with the most risk of the top three wideouts as a 30-year-old receiver - who is recovering from a recent hamstring injury no less - tied to an aging quarterback in Matthew Stafford. With that said, he is averaging well over 10 targets per game since Stafford joined the Rams before the 2021 season. Even though camp reports have been positive on rookie Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson, the Rams could lean on Kupp more than ever this year. No one should be surprised if he leads the league in targets for the second time in three seasons. If he plays all 17 games, he stands a great chance of finishing as the overall WR1.

Tier 2 (yellow)

There was a time that picking in the middle to late part of the first round felt like fantasy managers were constantly working from behind because of the incredible advantage players like Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson or even Priest Holmes gave their managers. Such is not the case anymore, as a late first-round pick often means managers can create an early advantage on their league-mates by pairing a top-five running back with a top-eight receiver. In fact, I chose the No. 11 pick in the 14-team King's Classic on Aug. 12 specifically because I was guaranteed to land two players inside my first two tiers. (I have 18 players in my first two tiers.)

Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Bijan Robinson and Tony Pollard can all make strong cases for being the overall RB1 in fantasy this year. Chubb and Robinson - along with Derrick Henry - are probably the best bets to exceed 300 touches. While Ekeler will almost certainly not score at least 18 touchdowns for a third straight season or come anywhere close to repeating last year's 107 receptions, his TD and catch upside remains very high in what figures to be one of the best offenses in the league. Pollard is a projection to be sure, especially since he is widely expected to have his touches managed more than Ezekiel Elliott in his prime. Pollard's ability to maintain his efficiency will be key, although the Cowboys could help him out in that regard by bumping up his usage in the passing game (101 targets over the last two seasons combined). It will be a disappointing season for his managers if Pollard hovers around the 39-catch mark for a third straight year.

For the sake of maintaining balance as long as possible throughout the draft, however, it is recommended that managers only take one of the aforementioned running backs in the first two rounds and use the other pick to select the best receiver on the board. (That does not mean reaching for someone like Keenan Allen in the second round if there is a massive receiver run, however.) Elite running backs possess the most upside in fantasy year after year, but all but a handful are no longer stable assets anymore. Elite receivers are more stable, more durable as a whole and nearly impossible to acquire via trade during the season. (Perhaps it helps to think of running backs as volatile tech stocks and receivers as mutual funds.) A RB-WR or WR-RB start allows drafters to keep their options open over the next few rounds. A WR-WR start is also advisable in leagues that start three receivers because it enables managers to create an early positional advantage and reduces the risk that comes along with relying so heavily on running backs.

The only way I will start RB-RB for the foreseeable future is if I am certain both backs are getting 300 touches.

The positional advantage alone that Travis Kelce offers makes him worth a mid-first round pick, although I tend to believe the wide gap that existed between him and the rest of the tight ends last season will shrink considerably in 2023. At least in my mind, drafting Kelce would almost lock me into three straight receiver picks after that - assuming a workhorse runner does not slide - to increase the advantage over teams drafting multiple running backs in the first four rounds. The running back position falls off considerably after about the top seven, so it makes sense to push the risk that comes with drafting them back into the middle rounds at that point.

Six of the seven wideouts in this tier are their team's unquestioned alpha receiver, while the seventh (Jaylen Waddle) could draw even with Hill in the next year. Waddle is without question the one receiver from this group that concerns me the most, in part because of how much opportunity he loses to Hill and how dependent he is on Tua Tagovailoa staying healthy. He is a prime example of one of the idioms I repeat in some form every year about backs and receivers: just because all 12 teams in your league need one does not mean there are 12 of them who deserve the title. Waddle could join that surefire WR1 group this year, but he profiles much more as a solid WR2.

Tier 3 (green)

For the risk-taking fantasy manager, this might be the juiciest Tier 3 group we have had in a while. Perpetual first-round draft choice Derrick Henry tends to go in the mid-to-late second round due to age and offensive line concerns, but it should surprise no one if he adds another 300-plus carries to his resume in 2023. Jonathan Taylor, who was granted permission to seek a trade Monday (Aug. 21), may not possess overall RB1 upside, but it is a reasonable bet he would be going in the late first round if he were a happy camper. He can be had in the early-to-mid third round now. New England's addition of Ezekiel Elliott has some managers backing away from Rhamondre Stevenson, but the argument for him is that he was electric last year in a horrible offense. He is now the centerpiece of what should be a much better offense this season. I will go so far as to say Stevenson lasting in the third round is one very good reason why fantasy managers should almost embrace a WR-WR or even a TE-WR start.

Calvin Ridley and Chris Olave are probably deserving of being Tier 2 receivers, although both enter this season with enough question marks - namely the amount of talent that exists on their NFL team - to leave them in this tier. Ridley should be the unquestioned top receiver in Jacksonville in 2023, but is he so much better than Christian Kirk that he will command a 25-28 percent target share? Will he make Evan Engram irrelevant in the red zone? I have my doubts, even though I expect Ridley to be a stud. As far as Olave is concerned, will Derek Carr rely on him as heavily as Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton did? Does he get enough easy short targets? Michael Thomas is back (for now) to earn targets and Juwan Johnson appears to be a favorite of Carr's this summer. Much like every other receiver in this tier, Ridley and Olave are passable fantasy WR1 options but much better WR2s.

This tier features the first two elite options at quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen offer massive upside and are among the handful of quarterbacks fantasy managers want in their lineup when they are staring at a 30-point deficit. My only concern with investing a third-round selection at quarterback is how it affects the team-building process for the rest of the draft. It is not hard to make a case that nine or 10 quarterbacks have elite upside - albeit not as often as Hurts and Allen reach their ceiling. That makes it difficult for me to take a quarterback with a third- or fourth-round pick. I do not question Derrick Henry's ability to give me a positional advantage or Mark Andrews' ability to give Kelce a run for his money. However, if the main difference between Allen or Hurts and my QB10 (Geno Smith) is the former enjoying two more blow-up games, it becomes hard to justify the cost of taking Allen six to eight rounds earlier.

Tier 4 (red)

This tier is full of running backs whose biggest shortcoming might be perceived workload, although most of them may not have much reason to worry. No two years are ever the same, but the Lions found a way to give their running backs 509 touches during a season in which they started 1-6. Detroit will play with a lead much more often this year and there is little question the team believes it upgraded its backfield. So what, the Lions will use their running backs less now? Jahmyr Gibbs will see plenty of high-value touches (i.e. targets) and is more than explosive enough to be efficient with them, but he is not a workhorse by any stretch. David Montgomery may be in line for the heaviest workload of his career and is being drafted as though he is a decent handcuff. The point here is simple: there will be enough work for Gibbs AND Montgomery.

Fantasy enthusiasts seem to believe if they say Jaylen Warren's name often enough that Pittsburgh will give him a chance to overtake Najee Harris. Can you remember a time when the Steelers had a physical back and did not feature him? (Maybe "Fast" Willie Parker near the end of Jerome Bettis' career?) My best guess on the Jets' backfield is that New York will use the first six pre-bye games to ramp up Breece Hall's workload and make him the clear top option after the Week 7 bye. He may be the perfect RB1 for a fantasy team that spends its first three picks at receiver because he should be serviceable during the first half of the season - assuming he is as healthy. If he can be as efficient on limited touches early as he was last year, he could easily put receiver-heavy fantasy teams on his back in November and December.

The receivers in this tier also are largely underappreciated. DeVonta Smith, Keenan Allen, DK Metcalf, Tee Higgins, Tyler Lockett, D.J. Moore, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel may not excite the masses in the same way the 15 receivers ranked above them do, but we have already seen top-10 upside from several of them. Put another way; think about any one of them being the WR3 on an opposing fantasy team. It will happen in many leagues this year and it will not be fun competing against that fantasy team when it does.

Patrick Mahomes may belong at the top of this tier and not the bottom. The most compelling case for him to be ahead of Lamar Jackson (at the very least) is that Mahomes has been more durable. It is a fair point. My mind may change over the next two weeks, but my stance on the two players now is that Jackson will finally be in an offense that embraces his jaw-dropping talent. Mahomes has had that for several years. Jackson has not.

Tier 5 (orange)

Another reason to invest in receivers early is the receivers in this group. Amari Cooper, Jerry Jeudy, DeAndre Hopkins, Drake London, Mike Williams and Christian Watson are among a group of wideouts that scare me. Cooper, Jeudy and Watson have legit competition for top receiver duties on their own team. Hopkins' efficiency metrics in 2022 in addition to his age (31) are concerning. London's overall situation is an issue for him, while Williams seemingly plays at about 70 percent health for about a half of every season. Although it is a collection of receivers I would feel fine about playing as my WR3 if my team is set at every other position, it is a group that comes with plenty of concern relative to where they are drafted. Considering how much later Gabriel Davis, Courtland Sutton and Elijah Moore come off the board, I would rather wait a round or two to grab them and use my fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round pick to address other positions.

If there is such a thing as a "dead zone" for running backs this year, I think it starts in this tier. While Miles Sanders is in line for a heavy workload, it is fair to wonder if Carolina has enough to support him. What he gains in perceived volume, he loses in supporting cast (Jalen Hurts' run threat and the Eagles' offensive line). There have been reports Josh Jacobs will report before the end of the preseason, but he is a player I probably will not have any shares of in 2023. Running backs who report late to camp typically do not fare well, nor do players coming off seasons where they logged nearly 400 touches. Can James Cook handle 200-plus touches? If he can, he is a top-18 running back at worst. Over his last five seasons (four college, one pro), however, he has yet to exceed 140. The odds of a 190-pound back holding up all season is another red mark against him. It would be one thing if he was a Jamaal Charles clone, but he is not.

Last but not least, we have Cam Akers and James Conner. I have zero questions about either one being their team's best back or the volume they should expect, but we should not lose sight of the fact both are running behind porous offensive lines. At least to this point of his NFL career, Akers has not been used much in the passing game (no more than four targets in 29 regular-season games and no more than 13 catches in any of his three seasons). If the Rams struggle to reach seven wins, will Akers not disappoint more often than he impresses? Furthermore, a schedule that begins with the Seahawks, 49ers, Bengals, Colts and Eagles does not bode well for him starting fast. At the very least, it may be difficult for him to save his fantasy week in some of those weeks with a touchdown.

Game script and volume are not concerns for Conner, but it seems as though fantasy managers are assuming Arizona's offense will be good enough to give him red zone chances every week. This is a team that could be relying on Colt McCoy or Clayton Tune at quarterback early and will not feature the pace or wide-open offensive attack it had under former HC Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals could legitimately struggle to score more than one touchdown in each of their first five games (Commanders, Giants, Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals). Factor in Conner's history of missing at least two games in each of his six seasons and it should be enough to push him into RB3 range.

Tier 6 (gray)

After the first five tiers, which should cover the bulk of the first six rounds in most drafts, we want to look for players who stand a realistic chance of blowing their ADP out of the water. Several players in this tier can make a strong case for doing just that. Rachaad White and Alexander Mattison enter the season as the clear top options in their respective backfields, which gives them a significant leg up on the competition. White lacks a great offensive line and does not break enough tackles to suggest he will remain the featured back all season.

Mattison has already proven he is capable of performing like a top back, but a closer look at his big games over his NFL career reveals almost all of his big games coincidentally came against perpetually bad run defenses (Lions, Bears and Seahawks). The Vikings also are not nearly as committed to the running game as they used to be when Mattison first entered the league, so it is not as if he is guaranteed 15-18 touches every week like Dalvin Cook once was. Were it not for his season-opening three-game suspension, Alvin Kamara would likely be in the previous tier. His biggest problem outside of a late start to the season is how many high-value looks he will lose. Kamara was already getting vultured by Taysom Hill last year, but the addition of Jamaal Williams further reduces his touchdown upside.

Whereas I am not crazy about the previous tier of receivers returning great value as WR3s, I love the WR4 upside of this tier. Most will likely say Marquise Brown should not be in this tier, but I will repeat the same thing I just said about Conner: Arizona will likely be relying on Colt McCoy or Clayton Tune at quarterback early and will not feature the pace or wide-open offensive attack it has in previous years. Expectations for Brown should be tempered, as they need to be tempered for the entire offense. With that said, he is a very capable receiver and should be expected to return occasional WR3 value.

The receivers I am most excited about from this group are Jaxon Smith-Njigba and (you guessed it) Kadarius Toney. While Smith-Njigba will not be locked solely into slot duties, he will almost certainly be Seattle's primary option inside. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were already creating enough issues for defenses by themselves, so the thought of putting a player as good after the catch as JSN is going to create real problems. The Seahawks are not going to sneak up on anyone this year, but it still feels as though their offense is being underrated for fantasy purposes. This offense has immense upside now and should be able to support three fantasy-relevant receivers. Those that believe Geno Smith's 2022 season was a fluke likely did not see him play very often. Smith-Njigba should feast against the heavy dose of nickel linebackers and cornerbacks he figures to face this year.

Fantasy football does not always have to be hard. Sometimes, teams give us the answers to the questions on the test. The Chiefs have already told us they believe Toney is their top receiver. While his detractors will almost certainly counter with an appeal that centers on his ability to stay on the field, his durability at a WR4 price tag is far less important than the upside he possesses in a Patrick Mahomes-led offense. It is not hard to find another WR4 option later in the draft or on the waiver wire during the season. It is substantially more difficult to find players who have his kind of upside. While I am concerned about his knee long-term, I think it is far more likely than not that he plays at least 10 games this season. I do not care if that is a low bar because if he is who I (and the Chiefs, for that matter) believe he is, he could easily be the deciding factor in multiple fantasy wins and losses for your team.

Tier 7+

I am prepared to be loud wrong about Samaje Perine, but he seems like one of the most obvious safe mid-round running backs with significant upside. Regardless of how good Javonte Williams looks now, look no further than J.K. Dobbins' initial return to action last year as a cautionary tale. Scar tissue will almost certainly become an issue for Williams at some point this season. At that point, either his effectiveness will likely fall off or he will be forced to miss some time. Even if that does not happen, Perine is probably looking at no worse than a near-even snap and touch split with Williams. Yes, we should expect a healthy Williams to be more productive in that setup, but what are the odds his knee will feel good all year?

There is a reasonably good chance Romeo Doubs outperforms Christian Watson this season. Do I expect it to happen? No, but I refuse to discount the possibility. There are countless examples throughout the history of the NFL of a receiver who operated as a clear secondary option with one quarterback and moved into a lead role due to a change at quarterback. Don't get me wrong: Watson is an athletic freak and a very good player, but how different would the narrative about him be this summer if he did not score a touchdown once every 5.5 touches last year? At some point, fantasy managers have to ask themselves if it is mere coincidence that Jordan Love leans so heavily on Doubs when the two play together. Doubs is the best bet of the receivers in Tier 8 (light green) to outperform his ranking on the Big Board significantly.

Tier 10 (medium orange) boasts a handful of WR5/6 types that have WR3/4 upside and truly shows off how deep the receiver position is. Parris Campbell, Puka Nacua, Rashod Bateman, Hunter Renfrow and Jameson Williams are among a handful of players who could emerge as every-week flex options at some point. Some of the best running back handcuffs in the league appear here as well. Jaylen Warren, Tyler Allgeier and Elijah Mitchell only need one thing to happen to be VERY relevant. If Josh Jacobs does not report soon, Zamir White is likely two or three tiers lower than he should be. Even if Jacobs does report, White is worth prioritizing. The odds he plays all season are slim- be it due to injury, his contract or general dissatisfaction with the direction of the team.

I would be remiss if I did not at least mention three more running backs near the end of my Big Board. It should be a matter of when - not if - Sean Tucker emerges as Rachaad White's partner in crime. Not only is White likely miscast as a potential feature back in Tampa Bay in my opinion, but Tucker is also the kind of back more likely to succeed with the Bucs' offensive line in the state it is right now.

Kendre Miller deserves better than the RB57 spot above, but it is hard to find a path to regular work for him once Alvin Kamara returns from his suspension. If Miller gets a fair shot to overtake Jamaal Williams, he should do it. Considering how much New Orleans paid to get Williams, however, it seems unlikely to happen in 2023.

Rico Dowdle appears to be the frontrunner to replace Ezekiel Elliott as the thunder to Tony Pollard's lightning in Dallas. The reason he is not any higher is simple: he has been plagued by injury during his short NFL career. The presence of Deuce Vaughn also complicates matters for Dowdle, as the Kansas State product should handle his fair share of work in the passing game and steal a few breather-back reps from him. Regardless, Dallas would be wise to give Dowdle most of the "hammer" carries Elliott handled in recent years. Assuming good health, Dowdle could easily finish in the RB4 range.


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.