Remember how I said last
week my overall Big Boards were not going to change significantly
over the remainder of the preseason barring injuries?
Yeah, so last weekend happened. (Yet another reminder as to why
it is foolish to sink more than a few dollars into this hobby
until after the third full week of the preseason has finished.)
Three fairly high-profile fantasy players (Spencer Ware, Julian Edelman and Cameron Meredith) going down in a matter of a few
days stirs the pot for a lot of big changes on the NFL teams they
play for and a slew of minor changes in the overall rankings.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with my color-coding system, allow
me to explain it 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 RB2).
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.
Two other items require an explanation:
1) Success Score Index (SSI) -
This score is an apples-to-oranges number I arrive at after meticulously
grading and assigning certain weights to several unique attributes
to each position that I feel are critical to fantasy success.
2) Please note the different colors to the “Pos”
column below; I am taking this step to allow owners to delineate
where one tier ends (regardless of position) and where another
one begins, essentially using the same concept NFL teams do with
a horizontal board during the NFL Draft. The fact each tier is
a different color is merely to easily separate tiers.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the TFC PPR format:
Be aware these rankings are for PPR leagues which award four
points for passing touchdowns and start one quarterback, two running
backs, two receivers, a tight end and two flexes.
If there was some good news to come out of this weekend, it might
be none of the top 18 players coming off the board in most drafts
were not affected negatively by the aforementioned injuries. The
case could be made Rob Gronkowski might see a bit of a bump, but
the risk-reward with him is already uncomfortable as it is. Gronk's
dominance has and probably will continue to be well-chronicled,
but even 12 games out of him the season probably makes him worth
his ranking on this board. (I'm sure you'll be happy to know that
is exactly what I have been projected for.) Anything less than
that probably means he should be dropping to the Ezekiel Elliott
portion of the board.
I am admittedly high on Brandin Cooks. I believe his presence
brings the deep ball back to the New England offense, but I wasn't
projecting him for a lot of volume before and I'm not sure I will
now even with Edelman's injury. I think he has around 12-touchdown
upside, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes with around
70 catches and 1,050-1,100 yards. Thus, where you choose to rank/value
him is almost entirely dependent on whether or not he can reach
his touchdown upside.
Now comes time for the elephant in the room. I've been aggressive
with Kareem Hunt's projection
(obviously pre-Ware injury) and ranking all summer long. NFL Network's
Daniel Jeremiah has likened him to Chester Taylor, while I gave
him a high-end NFL comp of Ray Riceprior
to the draft. Perhaps the best part of the rookie's game is
that he doesn't fumble (one on 722 total touches over his last
three years in college) and forces a lot of missed tackles with
his surprising combination of power and agility. Obviously, it
takes a special set of circumstances in order to bump up a player
from No. 5 on my draft prospect list to No. 1 among rookie running
backs, but I believe that is exactly what we have here. Kansas
City has attempted no fewer than 411 rushes in any of HC Andy
Reid's four seasons at the helm. In three of those seasons, one
running back has seen at least 49 percent of the carries. It'd
be stunning if Hunt doesn't beat that number by at least a few
percentage points this season.)
Better yet, Reid has been a head coach for 18 seasons and placed
a running back inside the top 16 in PPR scoring 14 times (including
nine top-10 finishes and five top-fives). The four exceptions
include Jamaal Charles' 2015 season in which he was lost for the
season in Week 5, LeSean McCoy's rookie year in 2009 in which
he shared touches with Brian Westbrook for half a season, a three-headed
backfield in 2003 and, in 2000, when Duce Staley missed 11 games.
It's a long way of saying if Reid's main back stays healthy and
isn't in an obvious timeshare - which does not appear to be the
case now - he is probably going to be a high-end RB2 at worst.
One player who made a fairly significant leap from my last submission
is Keenan Allen. Jordy Nelson is one of the latest examples of
a player performing well about a year after an ACL surgery (Allen's
2016 season-ending injury), while we can probably acknowledge
kidney lacerations (Allen's season-ending 2015 injury) is probably
not an injury we are likely to see again from him. (Let me be
among the first to say the fantasy industry needs to do a better
job at acknowledging and/or recognizing "injury-proneness"
and probably stay within the realm of soft-tissue injuries and
concussions when doing so.) Ultimately, when it is time to make
a pick, what is a better option in the third-round area: a receiver
we are confident will produce if/when healthy (like Allen) or
one who is "luckier" with injuries and hope will produce
(such as Allen Robinson and maybe even DeAndre Hopkins). Even
with more weapons than he may have ever had at his disposal, Philip Rivers trusts Allen and will get him the ball.
There is an obvious danger in hoping older receivers can do it
for one more year, but based on how late and how often I've been
getting Larry Fitzgerald in the MFL25s I'm currently doing, it
would appear most believe there is no way the 34-year-old receiver
can do it again. I'm going to keep the analysis simple on this
one: beyond David Johnson's likely 120 targets, where are the
other 480 or so targets going to go in Arizona? There is no question
Carson Palmer trusts Fitz more than any other Cardinal receiver,
and it seems foolish to believe a wideout capable of 100 catches
in his age-32 and age-33 season will "hit the wall"
in his age-34 season. We know to expect a second-half fade from
him at this point, so he's best viewed as a high-end WR2 or a
low-end WR1 if you decided to go RB-heavy in the first three rounds.
T.Y. Hilton is undoubtedly a very good receiver, but the fact
he continues to come off the board in the second and third round
of drafts is shocking to me. Less than two weeks before the start
of the season, we still have no idea when Andrew Luck will be
ready. Would we continue to value Jordy Nelson as a first-round
pick if Aaron Rodgers was hurt? Probably not. I suppose 12 games
from Luck and Hilton together are better than 16 from whichever
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback will be throwing to Allen Robinson,
but let's not pretend Hilton is a lock for 1,200 and eight scores
with Scott Tolzien under center for anywhere from 25 to 50 percent
of the season.
The loss of Edelman will likely hurt New England less than a
similar injury would affect most teams, but that doesn't mean
we can just assume Tom Brady won't see his production drop off
at least a little bit. It's the very reason I now have Brady and
Aaron Rodgers neck-and-neck for the top quarterback in fantasy.
I still believe Brady has the edge based on what should be a ridiculously
easy schedule from Weeks 11-16. However, I believe there are now
enough solid third-round options at running back and receiver
- assuming you follow this board and not ADP - to probably push
both players back a bit and into the fourth round, at least in
this format where passing touchdowns are worth four points.
I'm still not sure if I can fathom the notion of counting on
Carlos Hyde as anything more than a flex option given his injury
history, the quality of his offensive line and his brutal second-half
slate, but he is easily in the best shape I've ever seen him.
If anyone could promise me 13 or 14 games from Hyde this year,
I'd be willing to bet will live up to this ranking.
Staying in San Francisco, I needed to find a way to bump up Pierre Garcon as well. Considering I have consistently had him pegged
in the neighborhood of 140 targets since I wrote my Opportunity
Knocks - NFC article a few weeks ago, I needed to see verification
of the 49ers backing up that optimistic projection and I feel
like I got that in the dress rehearsal against the Minnesota Vikings.
Garcon is a poor bet to score more than five or six touchdowns
and his second-half schedule is a bear, but HC Kyle Shanahan can
scheme offense about as well as anyone in the league. Owners should
be thrilled if they can land a potential 90-100 catch player such
as Garcon as a WR3 in the sixth-round area, and owners shouldn't
hesitate viewing or drafting him in the same way they do Golden
Tate as a high-floor WR2.
What if I told you there was a player being drafted by some as
a top-20 running back who played for a team that has very little
hope of winning more than two games, sports a porous offensive
line, may not have a viable threat at receiver and is stuck in
a potential timeshare with an older teammate with a more proven
track record and similar skill set? Our mystery man is Bilal Powell,
in case you hadn't already figured it out. Opportunity is often
king in fantasy football and it appears as if Powell has some,
but there seems to be an assumption he's: a) he's locked into
the starting job and b) Matt Forte is little more than a handcuff.
Let me first point out 62.6 percent of Powell's carries and 56.9
percent of his rushing yards in 2016 came in the final four weeks
of the season after Forte was essentially shut down. It also bears
mentioning 48.1 percent of his fantasy points came over that stretch.
Three of the defenses - New England being the exception - ranked
somewhere between the most charitable defenses against PPR running
backs (San Francisco) and 14th (Miami). Along with Buffalo, those
three teams ranked among the five worst against PPR running backs
over the final five weeks of 2017.
In theory, I understand why Powell could succeed and live up
to a potential fifth-round fantasy draft choice. But let's look
at it from another perspective: do we know for sure he will start
and see 180 carries? I'd say no. Can we assume he'll average 5.5
yards per carry again with little to no threat in the passing
game to take defenders out of the box? I'd say no. Can we assume
he'll get goal-line work? I'd say no. Can we trust a first-time
play-caller to feature the running backs in the passing game?
I'm not sure. Can we assume a potential one- or two-win team like
the Jets won't just play the kids in December, especially considering
their front office has already essentially thrown in the towel
for this season? I'm not sure. I'm sure I could ask more questions,
but the point is this: a fifth-round draft choice spent on Powell
is basically a hope that every game will be "garbage time"
and/or an acknowledgment his owners know the answers to all of
these questions and can them answer in a way that benefits Powell.
Give me someone like Rob Kelley two rounds later who actually
has a shot to score touchdowns on a semi-regular basis, runs behind
a good offensive line and is situated in an offense that can run
against light boxes. And while it didn't factor into my overall
grade at all, I would be somewhat concerned Powell was playing
well into the third quarter of the team's dress rehearsal against
the New York Giants, as Forte received the bulk of the work in
the first half. Even if that was an intentional move by the Jets'
coaching staff to see were Forte was from a fitness standpoint,
"starting" running backs in the NFL do not play deep
into the third quarter in any preseason game. All I'm saying is
I'm not buying a Jet - much less any one player dealing with this
much uncertainty - in the first five or six rounds if I don't
Let's talk about Kevin White. (Do we have to?) At this point,
White is a do-not-draft player for most owners, and that is an
understandable response. With Cameron Meredith done for the foreseeable
future, however, White will have a grand opportunity now to realize
the potential and talent that had evaluators ranking him favorably
to Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker three drafts ago. One tibia
(2015) and one fibula (2016) stress fracture later, and we have
a player who is running out of chances to live up to the No. 7
overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. I suppose the odds are just
as good Kendall Wright ends up as the featured target in Chicago
- he did enjoy his best season as a pro under OC Dowell Loggains
with Tennessee in 2013 after all - but the Bears' front office
is going to want to see White at least have a chance to realize
his potential if he is healthy enough to do so in 2017. Before
you dismiss him for whatever reason, remember he drew some Andre
Johnson comps coming out of West Virginia. I realize I have him
listed a lot higher than most people are going to draft him, so
just keep him in mind when your draft board begins to look light
on potential high-upside options.
Rivers has led three offensive drives this preseason. The
result: three touchdowns. Again, I think we all know better than
to put too much weight on such small-sample occurrences in what
are otherwise meaningless games, but that is about as good as
it gets regardless. Having said that, I didn't need to see Rivers
do his thing this summer. His recent history plus a healthy supporting
cast (especially Keenan Allen) has me believing he could be a
top-five fantasy signal-caller this season. The defense should
be good enough this season that Rivers doesn't need to go into
shootout mode all that often, but what he has done over the last
two years with backup receivers and constant upheaval on the offensive
line is nothing short of amazing. What's even more impressive
is the fact he hasn't missed a game since becoming the starter
in 2006 or thrown for fewer than 29 touchdowns in any of the last
four years. Speaking of Chargers who will likely outperform their
draft position, take a late-round stab at Travis
Benjamin. He alone may be the reason - assuming all of Los
Angeles' other receivers stay healthy - why Rivers makes a run
to be the No. 3 or No. 4 overall fantasy quarterback. He's going
to be a cheaper option than someone like Ted
Ginn Jr., who I also like, and possesses a similar skill set
with better hands. He will be a target of mine in each of my aforementioned
More Patriots: Chris Hogan is the most likely receiver to "benefit"
from Edelman's absence, but let's get something straight right
now: no one Patriot is going to absorb 159 targets or even come
close to it. Hogan, Danny Amendola and Cooks will all get their
turns in the slot, but New England also has three pass-catching
backs - one of which has even played slot in an emergency during
a playoff game (Rex Burkhead). I'm not sure I can buy Hogan as
a WR3 yet with everyone else healthy, but if Gronk needs time
off at some point, then I could see it. If Malcolm Mitchell wasn't
consistently dealing with knee problems, he would stand to benefit
too, but he and Amendola have not shown enough durability to justify
a fantasy draft choice in most normal-sized leagues. So if you
are asking where Edelman's targets go, my best guess is they will
be get split into five or six different directions.
Speaking of Burkhead, go ahead and take a 12th-round plunge on
him. Why? (Why not?) Because he has the best combination of size
and skill set in New England's backfield. He's definitely worth
a shot in that range in best-ball leagues, and I'd be willing
to bet he'll flirt with flex value a time or two (or more) this
I don't plan on investing in multiple tight ends in most of my
leagues this year, but if I land on an "injury-prone"
one such as Jordan Reed or Tyler Eifert, I will be following it
up with a pick of Austin Hooper a few rounds later. The subject
of "missing targets" (those a team has to replace the
season before) is worth discussing in this case, as Matt Ryan
- under Shanahan - targeted the tight end position 98 times in
2015 and 83 in 2016. Levine Toilolo and possibly Josh Perkins
will probably soak up a few of those in Year 1 under new OC Steve
Sarkisian, but the bulk will go to Hooper. About the only reason
I'm not willing to go much higher with Hooper than I already have
him is because the consistency may be a bit lacking, especially
with a heavy emphasis being placed on getting the ball in the
red zone to Julio Jones and three or four other players vying
for looks near the goal line. A 50-catch, six-score season is
probably within reason for the second-year tight end if everyone
stays healthy. And if injury strikes either Jones or Mohamed Sanu,
that might be a bit on the low end.
Do yourself a favor and spend a late pick in the 12th or 13th
round on Christopher
Carson. There really isn't much question who the best back
in Seattle has been this preseason, and it's not as if any of
the supposed top three options in Seattle have proven to be all
that durable. I know I have him ranked low, primarily because
I don't pretend to know how committed HC Pete Carroll is to Eddie
Lacy or how much more patience he has with Thomas
Rawls and C.J.
Prosise continually in the trainer's room. I think a strong
case can be made for Carson to go as early as Round 11 in 12-team
In closing, I'd like to share a few of the other late-round players
I will be targeting over the next 1 1/2 weeks:
Next: FFPC 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.