The process of improving at one’s craft is – or
should be – an endeavor that never truly ends.
It has occurred to me over the years that I typically win the
waiver wire in most of my leagues, no matter how high the stakes
have been. There are exceptions, of course, especially when injuries
and/or suspensions strike quickly and leave more holes in a roster
than an owner can realistically expect to fill in a short period
of time. So why change a good thing? Quite simply, because the
old way – while still successful – wasn’t delivering
the results I had become accustomed to in the first few years
of the Big Board era. During this past offseason, I have come
to believe that my slow starts are mostly a function of not doing
a good enough job of taking the best player on the board or the
one I believe in the most and my fast finishes are largely the
result of my ability to recognize talent. In theory, if I can
spot identify a player like C.J. Anderson or even Branden Oliver
before anyone else does, I should rarely be in a position where
I need to insert them into my lineup immediately, right? In case
you couldn’t tell, my self-congratulatory praise above isn’t
so much a humble brag as it is an indictment that I haven’t
done the best job of practicing what I preach when setting up
the Big Boards.
One of my biggest shortcomings in recent years has been overvaluing
opportunity, especially as it relates to the running back position.
Opportunity means something entirely different for someone like
Peterson than it does for Toby
Gerhart or Zac
Stacy. Opportunity for Peterson means he may go from 325 carries
to 375 (just throwing numbers out there, folks). Opportunity for
Gerhart and Stacy last year meant each player was going to start
Week 1 and on a very short leash. It was for reasons like that
(and others) that I wanted to revamp the way I evaluated fantasy
players in 2015. You have already seen some of the changes (such
as the four-game projections
versus the full-season projections of yesteryear) and some are
behind the scenes that you won’t get to see due to lack of column
Long story short, the behind-the-scenes work involved meticulously
grading and assigning certain weights to several attributes that
I feel are critical to fantasy success at that position. The end
result of that work is the eighth column in each of my Big Boards
this year: success score (SS). Without giving away too much of
the formula, talent was the No. 1 attribute at each position and
job security also appeared at all four positions, getting more
of the percentage at running back than at any other position.
Why? Some of the more notable reasons are because it is a position
that experiences a ton of turnover and also because it is a position
where coaches do not hesitate to “ride the hot hand”,
sometimes with little to no provocation.
Although I expect to tweak the system (as in adjusting the percentage
weights I have assigned at each position) over the coming weeks
and years, I believe I have something worth keeping here. I will
also place a higher priority on pushing players up the board that
I really believe in. Fantasy football is fun when your team is
winning, but winning with a group of players that you believed
in on draft day and taking the bulk of that team to a fantasy
title makes it extra special. I plan on bringing back the “Value”
column for my final set of Big Boards in two weeks because I think
it does a good job of quantifying certain things like how much
“value” a quarterback loses when the scoring format
goes from six points per passing touchdown to four points or how
tightly bunched a certain position group is.
I’m not going to pretend as if I have accounted for every
possibility. It’s an impossible task in a sport that features
11 men on each side of the ball trying to work in perfect harmony.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it rarely ever happens and breakdowns
occur on virtually every play.
Before I get to the boards, I would like to remind readers about
two key points:
1) I doubt you will find another draft board like this one and
further doubt you will find a similar set of rankings anywhere
else. The standard the industry uses to measure accuracy among
analysts is overall scoring, but I am more concerned with projected
consistency and matchups. Consistency tends to lead to big fantasy
numbers at the end of the season and championships while inconsistency
and bad matchups at the wrong time usually lead to frustration.
Someday, I hope the industry catches on to my way of thinking.
Until then, I’ll try to win as many titles as possible and
help you do the same.
2 ) Much like the past three seasons, I want to provide readers
with a clear risk sign. If a player is a moderate risk –
be it due to injury, off-field, etc. – you will see a
next his name. If I feel a player is a severe risk, you will see
next to his name. While I feel like I have accounted for each
player’s “risk” with their spot on the Big Board,
you may be more or less inclined to deal with that risk than I
am. This is just another way of helping you take a look at the
board and quickly identifying which players stand a good chance
to frustrate you at some point this season.
Note: For this
first set of Big Boards, I have chosen to stop at 150 players.
Next week, I will release my first Big Boards for 0.5 PPR leagues
as well as The Fantasy Championship and FFPC Big Boards I promised
last week. In the final set of Big Boards in two weeks, I will
rank 200 players and present my final rankings for kickers and
Let’s revisit the color-coding system before we start:
Red – A very difficult matchup.
For lower-level players, a red matchup means they should not be
used in fantasy that week. 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 a
Yellow – Keep expectations
fairly low in this matchup. For lower-level players, a yellow
matchup is a borderline start at best. For a second- or third-tier
player, they can probably overcome the matchup if things fall
right. For the elite players, expect slightly better than average
White – Basically, this matchup
is one that could go either way. In some cases, I just don’t
feel like I have a good feel yet for this defense. Generally speaking,
these matchups are winnable matchups for all levels of players.
Green – It doesn’t
get much better than this. For non-elite players, the stage is
basically set for said player to exploit the matchup. For the
elite player, this matchup should produce special numbers..
OVR – Overall Rank
PR – Position Rank
FPts – Fantasy points scored
FPts/ G – Fantasy points/game
Success score (SSI) – The sum of several position-specific
attributes that I feel are important to fantasy production, weighted
and scored. A perfect score is 1000, but it may help to move the
decimal point one spot to the left and think of each score as a
percentage. It may also help to think of the final score as the
likelihood that player will produce at the level I have projected
him if his current environment stays roughly the same as it is now.
Just so you know what you are getting yourself into, here are some
of the attributes I weighed and scored at each position:
Quarterback – Talent,
job security, four-game stat projection, red-zone projection (how
often I believe the quarterback will either throw or run the ball
himself inside the 20) and the degree to which I believe his offense
is conservative or will play that way because of an elite defense.
Running back – Talent,
job security, durability, four-game stat projection, three-down
back (based on projected snaps) and the run-blocking prowess of
his offensive line.
Wide receiver – Talent,
job security, four-game stat projection and projected red-zone
Tight end – Talent, job
security, projected red-zone scores and projected targets in relation
to his peers at the position.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
One final note:Over the next
two weeks, I will be “quality controlling” my projections
(basically double-checking my numbers, such as not having one
defense projected to intercept 15 passes through four games while
another has just one), so my next set of Big Boards (in two weeks)
could look different – particularly at the bottom –
than they currently do. As with all things that are worth doing,
this process takes time and needs to be constantly revised as
more information about depth charts and injuries becomes available.
What I can assure you is that my final set of Big Boards will
be the most comprehensive draft-day tool anyone in your league
will have at their disposal.
As much as owners tend to fool themselves into believing
there is a consensus No. 1 overall pick or “Big Five”
or whatever other label applies in a given year, I’m pretty
sure I could make a strong case for AND against my top 12 players
getting selected at No. 1 overall. Most owners can make the case
for each of these players without my help, so let’s look at
the potential obstacles keeping each player from being the best
player in fantasy in 2015:
Peterson – As freakishly talented as he is, it is hard to
overly excited about any 30-year-old back that hasn’t played a
regular-season game in nearly a year. Making matters worse, Minnesota
lost RT Phil Loadholt (Achilles) for the season in its first preseason
game, which will either force raw rookie T.J. Clemmings into the
lineup or cause new RG Mike Harris to kick back outside to tackle
and open up a hole in the interior of the line.
Brown – Perhaps it is a bit nitpicky, but the likely continued
emergence of Martavis Bryant and possibly Marcus Wheaton is probably
going to lead to fewer targets and receptions for Brown. His “obstacle”
is probably the least worrisome of the group of 12 I’m going to
highlight, but owners expecting a repeat of last year’s production
are probably going to be a bit disappointed.
Bell – A two-game suspension is a bad deal for any player
that is supposed to go in the first 3-4 rounds of a draft, much
less in the top five picks overall. The glass-half-full view would
be that most backs are going to get hurt or put up a couple of
duds anyway over the course of a 15-game fantasy season, so at
least owners know right off the top when two of those down weeks
are going to come.
Lynch – How long can we expect the most physical back in the
league to continue absorbing punishment? The loss of C Max Unger
(in the Jimmy Graham trade) should not be overlooked when evaluating
“Beast Mode”; owners can’t be certain the combination of OL coach
Tom Cable and the Seahawks’ running scheme will be enough to power
Lynch to his fifth straight season of at least 1,200 yards rushing
and 12 total touchdowns.
C.J. Anderson – Denver has as much talent in its backfield
as any team in the league, so Anderson is going to need to bring
it week in and week out in order to remain the Broncos’
featured runner. He’s talented enough to do so, but pegging
his handcuff is another issue as well.
Jamaal Charles – As running backs go nowadays, Charles
is a pretty safe selection. With that said, OC Doug Pederson has
already stated Kansas City intends to give its top back more rest
this season. It’s also questionable whether the Chiefs will
experience a net gain or loss as a result of letting C Rodney
Hudson walk in free agency and trading for LG Ben Grubbs.
Demaryius Thomas – To what degree will new HC Gary Kubiak’s
balanced offensive approach affect him? Can we really expect Thomas
to get targeted at least 10 times in 12 of 16 regular-season games
or see 39 red-zone targets again this year?
Eddie Lacy – Much like Charles in Kansas City, Green Bay
wants to keep Lacy fresh for the long run. Last year, that meant
his first 20-touch game came in Week 8 and his first 20-carry
game came in Week 12. Through eight games last season, he had
a total of four scores. Low touchdown totals plus low touch totals
do not typically equal consistent fantasy success, no matter how
good the offense is. And let’s not forget that Lacy’s
running style makes him a more likely candidate to miss time due
Dez Bryant – Even if we can assume his immaturity issues
are a thing of the past, no other top receiver deals with a more
volatile combination of lower-than-expected volume (for an elite
wideout), an offense that now prides itself on running the ball
and a quarterback that has sustained back injuries in each of
the past two years.
Julio Jones – I would not be the least bit surprised if
Jones is the best receiver in fantasy this season. With that said,
he’s played a 16-game season once in four seasons. His durability
is more questionable than any other top receiver on this list.
Beckham Jr. – It’s hard to dub a second-year player as injury-prone
and important to note that I don’t think Beckham is at that point
yet. However, Beckham has injured both of his hamstrings in his
short NFL career and the Giants’ offensive line is likely going
to be worse this year than it was in his rookie season. Last year
represented a perfect storm for Beckham, so if Victor Cruz successfully
returns from his injury, Rueben Randle takes the next step as
I suspect he will and Shane Vereen gobbles up throws out of the
backfield, then Beckham’s targets figure to take a hit as well.
Rob Gronkowski – The single-biggest fantasy matchup advantage
each week, Gronkowski will play his first four games without Tom
Brady and has his own well-documented injury history. It’s
also difficult to take a tight end in Round 1 simply because of
Whether you like or dislike the reasoning I have proposed above
as to why using a first-round pick on any of the top 12 players
is risky business, the fact of the matter is that all 12 also
have the potential to carry their teams to the fantasy playoffs.
That is why they are – and probably will remain –
my top 12 selections throughout the rest of the preseason.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I can easily poke holes in any
of the top 16 players on my board – and those are the ones I like
the most, so it isn’t overly difficult to do it with players outside
that range. Let’s take Jordy
Cobb and Justin
Forsett, for example. Davante
Adams will quite likely become a much bigger part of the Packers’
offense this year. Can we honestly pretend that a more involved
Adams isn’t going to have a negative fantasy impact on Nelson
and mean fewer red-zone looks for Cobb?
Forsett enters 2015 with the promise of having Marc Trestman
as his new play-caller – a hire that almost guarantees he
will double his previous career in receptions … right? Trestman
has publically stated that Baltimore’s offense will remain
rooted in the ground game, so owners can probably forget about
80-100 catches from Forsett and hope for more like 60-70, which
would actually still be good news for his PPR stock. However,
are we really going to put a lot of faith in a journeyman that
hit it big with his fourth NFL team in his age-29 season to have
another career year in his age-30 season? How much will Buck Allen
play? Will Lorenzo Taliaferro be a mere backup, a goal-line vulture
or something more? I want to believe more when it comes to Forsett,
but I’m not sure I can bring myself to do it. Rest assured,
I will wrestle with his place on my boards all preseason long.
I’m going to get ahead of any criticism about overreacting
to one great preseason performance. I set the top 50 or so players
prior to the start of the first full week of the preseason and
I had Ameer
Abdullah firmly entrenched as a player in the middle of the
third round. The rookie’s upside is obvious, but let’s remember
Bell probably isn’t going to give up goal-line/short-yardage
work this season, nor will he be relegated to a strict backup
role. I’m planting my flag on Abdullah as a more durable version
of what I expect C.J.
Spiller to be in New Orleans – a 10-12 carry back that doubles
as a high-volume receiver out of the backfield and contribute
on returns. Abdullah’s durability is the primary reason he should
go a few picks before Spiller.
Jordan Matthews is a player I’m having trouble warming
up to so far. In Mark Sanchez’s eight starts last season,
the Vanderbilt product posted a 35-559-6 line. In eight games
with Nick Foles as the starter, Matthews tallied 33 catches, 313
yards and two scores. In other words, I’m going to need
to see some chemistry with Sam Bradford in the preseason in order
to treat him like a top-end fantasy WR2. Did he become a better
receiver because it took half of a season to feel comfortable
in the offense (or for HC Chip Kelly to feel comfortable with
him) or was he merely a product of Sanchez’s comfort level
with him? I don’t so much question that he’ll be more
involved over the course of the season than he was a rookie in
light of Jeremy Maclin’s departure, but owners should keep
Matthews’ Foles/Sanchez splits in mind before falling all
over themselves to burn an early third-round pick to acquire his
I didn’t plan on Greg
Olsen and Travis
Kelce’s fantasy-point averages matching, but it speaks to
the fact that I cannot decide which player I like better. As I
have stated before, Kelce is the closest thing the NFL has to
another Gronkowski-like talent and should be freed from the playing-time
shackles he had last season. The departure of Anthony
Fasano should also give him significantly more touchdown-scoring
upside, but I shudder any time I think about pinning my fantasy
team’s hopes on the right arm of Alex
Smith. Can he make two receivers/tight ends fantasy-viable?
If Kelce is going to live up to being a late-fourth/early-fifth
round pick and Jeremy
Maclin is going to come anywhere close to living up to his
$11 M per year contract, Smith is probably going to need to become
a more aggressive downfield passer.
As far as Olsen is concerned, Cam Newton is an inefficient passer,
to put it mildly. The Panthers also added 6-4 Devin Funchess in
the draft, giving Newton another tall and athletic weapon to use
in the red zone. Olsen has never been that much of a touchdown
scorer in his career (he’s only topped six once in eight
seasons), but he can’t afford to lose many scoring opportunities
if he hopes to remain a top-five tight end in Carolina’s
conservative offense. Olsen and Kelce’s inclusion in the
top 50 has to do with the fact that I trust their ability to perform
more consistently like top-five tight ends more than I do any
of the players behind them to consistently play at low-end QB1/RB2/WR2
Two players I doubt will find their way onto my teams are NFC
West backs Carlos Hyde and Andre Ellington. The Niners could very
well field a 4-6 win team this season and want to emphasize the
passing game more while utilizing Colin Kaepernick’s arm
strength and running ability as much as possible. The offensive
line took a couple of hits in the offseason with the loss of LG
Mike Iupati and retirement of RT Anthony Davis. San Francisco
also added Reggie Bush, who is still one of the better passing-down
backs in the league when healthy. The Niners’ defense is
almost certainly going to play like a shell of its former self,
eliminating the potential volume Frank Gore benefited from during
the Jim Harbaugh regime. In short, Hyde figures to run behind
a worse offensive line and doesn’t figure to benefit from
volume. His potential to contribute in the passing game will probably
be blocked by either Bush, Kendall Hunter or both. I’ll
gladly take 10-12 potential games from Todd Gurley in the hopes
I get a difference maker in the second half of the season over
a player like Hyde that I believe is set up to fail in 2015.
I must admit I am baffled by Ellington’s current 4.08 ADP.
I recognize as much as anyone how great it is to land a 20-touch
back in the mid-to-late fourth round, but I can’t endorse
a player with his injury history or competition for touches. Rookie
David Johnson may not be the challenger that most expected him
to be early in the season given his injury woes to this point,
but Arizona has already named FB Robert Hughes as the short-yardage/goal-line
back and signed Chris Johnson. The ex-Titan and Jet would likely
not be joining the Bird Gang if he felt he was going to be a true
backup, so Ellington’s owners are either looking at a timeshare
at best. At worst, Ellington has proven he can’t stay healthy
while handling a heavy workload.
It’s easy to forget the ripple effects that occur when
players must serve suspensions, especially when those players
are quarterbacks. While it is fair to expect less-than-ideal production
from Gronkowski and Julian Edelman during Tom Brady’s four-game
suspension, I expect Brandon LaFell to take the biggest hit for
fantasy purposes. Prior to joining forces with the Patriots with
the Patriots last year, LaFell was a four-year disappointment
in Carolina and never exceeded 50 catches in four years with the
Panthers. In 2014, he was a key member of the New England’s
Super Bowl run, especially as Brady grew more comfortable with
him in the second half of the season. It would be unrealistic
to expect similar production with Jimmy Garoppolo under center
since the Patriots will probably want to protect their second-year
quarterback by relying on the ground game as much as possible.
Thus, a slow start almost seems inevitable for LaFell.
To this point, I have been much more negative than positive.
That changes now and I’ll do it by making a case for Woodhead,
who is already one of the easiest players to root for in the league.
Generally speaking, it isn’t great news for all the other
backs on the roster when a team spends a first-round pick to address
that position, but that is not the case in San Diego. Melvin Gordon
has struggled as expected as a pass-blocker and has a ways to
go before he can catch up to Woodhead as a weapon in the passing
game. It might be unrealistic for the Chadron State product to
match what he did in his first year with the Chargers (182 touches
– including 76 catches – for 1,030 yards and eight
total touchdowns), but he should be a regular target again for
a quarterback in Philip Rivers that loves utilizing his backs
in the passing game.
The seas are seemingly parting for Eddie Royal to become an every-week
fantasy starter in three-receiver leagues. Rookie Kevin White’s
shin injury is likely to keep him out at least the first six weeks
of the season, if not the entire year. Alshon Jeffery has been
dealing with a calf injury of late, which has given Royal a fair
amount of time to further strengthen his bond with Jay Cutler.
Although Marquess Wilson will take on a more significant role
in the Bears’ offense in the likely event White is unable
to return, Royal’s ability to play the slot, win in the
red zone and chemistry with Cutler are all reasons why he should
enjoy his best season since his rookie year in 2008. Three different
beat writers for the Chicago Sun-Times each proclaimed Royal as
the training camp MVP and/or suggested the ex-Charger and Bronco
routinely caught their eye for his ability to repeatedly make
big plays. With the Bears likely to emphasize a controlled short
passing game and HC John Fox’s reputation for going conservative
on offense, it stands to reason a player that can win in tight
areas and create yards after the catch like Royal is going to
flourish. Much as is the case with the Chargers’ Steve Johnson,
I plan on investing heavily in Royal. Needless to say, I expect
both players to provide fantasy WR3 numbers.
If Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t operating an offense led by
one of the most talented running backs in NFL history (and led
by a play-caller that knows how to use him), he’d be a strong
candidate to move into the low-end fantasy QB1 discussion. As
it is, he might be headed in that direction anyway. The second-year
signal-caller completed at least 68 percent of his attempts in
each of his final five contests despite having only Charles Johnson
as a viable threat. Adrian Peterson is back from suspension, Kyle
Rudolph is back from injury and Mike Wallace is ready to prove
why his deep speed is a perfect match for Norv Turner’s
offense, meaning Bridgewater should feel like a kid in a candy
store against some of the weaker defenses the Vikings will face
Another high-end fantasy QB2 prospect I want to make room for
is Sam Bradford. There are conflicting reports about how healthy
his knee is, but I would advise owners to take the risk associated
with him anyway – even if he is held out of preseason action
again next week. My ranking for him is over a full round ahead
of his current ADP, so I’m buying the risk is well worth
the reward in the 10th round area.
Beckham Jr.’s emergence from injured rookie receiver to fantasy
game-changer is a story most of us shouldn’t expect to be repeated
again anytime soon, so don’t go overboard on what I’m about to
say. If there is a player that can reinvent that storyline from
this year’s draft (albeit with much less statistical success),
it is probably DeVante
Parker. The No. 14 overall pick just started jogging a day
before the release of this article (Aug. 17), so he’s going to
need some time to get in shape. He’s coming off multiple foot
surgeries and may not be ready for Week 1 as the team has suggested
he would be. In short, there is a fair chance he won’t contribute
to fantasy teams at all in September. However, before completely
dismissing him, I encourage owners to recall that Parker was considered
to be in the same tier as Amari
Cooper and Kevin
White in this year’s draft class. Furthermore, Parker was
lighting up Dolphins’ offseason practices as well before his surgery.
In those practices, he reportedly had his way with Brent
Grimes, who is one of the league’s most underappreciated and
tenacious cornerbacks. Parker is another player I have listed
about 1 ½ rounds ahead of his ADP; he almost perfectly embodies
the kind of player owners should spend a Round 10-12 pick on because
his price tag is so positively disproportional to his talent and
the potential fantasy impact he could have.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.