So, I was one of 24 fantasy analysts fortunate enough to be invited
to participate in the inaugural King's Classic at the Pro Football
Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, over the weekend. (What a great time!
Better yet, #KingsClassic was a trending on Twitter at one point
on Saturday.) I promise to share details in the coming weeks because
the event figures to become a fixture in the industry in the years
ahead. But for now, I have other business to attend to - namely
delivering a Big Board to meet and exceed the expectations of my
audience despite having less than a full day to devote to it..
For all of those unfamiliar with my Big Boards, allow me to explain
the color-coding system before we start:
SSI (Success Score Index) - A single number that
reflects a score based on meticulously grading and assigning certain
weights to several attributes that I feel are critical to fantasy
success at a position. It is the number that allows me to compare
apples to oranges across the positions.
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
White This one can go either
way, but I favor the player over the matchup. In some cases, I
just don’t feel like I have a good feel yet for this matchup.
Generally speaking, these matchups are winnable for all levels
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:This week, I will
release my Top 200 Big Boards for PPR, standard and 0.5 PPR leagues.
In the coming days, I will present my final rankings for kickers
and defense/special teams as well. Next week will feature Top
200 Big Boards for The Fantasy Championship (TFC) and the Fantasy
Football Players Championship (FFPC). The colors in the "Pos"
represent the tiers in which I have placed each player.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
The first round remains mostly unchanged from the first PPR Big
Board two weeks ago. And as far as I'm concerned, owners can take
the names of any of the top eight receivers, pick them out of a
hat and have a decent chance at lining them up in the order they
could finish in 2018 barring injury. If owners get at least one
of them and a first-round running back, they should off to a great
start. Thus, let's begin with the biggest movers and shakers right
outside the high-rent district.
It's going to take a full season for me to be convinced Christian McCaffrey will be given a Devonta Freeman-like (or better) role
in the Carolina backfield. With that said, setting a draft board
is as much about predicting what will happen as it is about what
could happen. McCaffrey could very well finish with over 200 carries
and nearly 100 targets. If that happens, he will almost certainly
be a first-round pick in fantasy next year. If he doesn't, let's
remember he wasn't a bad second-round selection as a rookie despite
seeing only 197 offensive touches. It bears repeating he scored
on both of his carries inside the 5 last season, while four of
his six catches inside the 10 went for touchdowns as well. While
McCaffrey may not have appeared to be a good bet to top his seven
offensive TDs from 2017 earlier this summer, it's not hard to
imagine him pushing for 10 as a sophomore. Oh, but that offensive
line thank goodness Cam Newton still offers a more than
viable run threat to make the backside pursuit think twice about
crashing down on McCaffrey too hard.
Sometimes opportunity is created because of talent, while other
times a lack of competition on the roster essentially forces a
player to become a featured performer. In a way, Alex Collins
has both factors working in his favor. While Collins is not an
elite talent by any stretch, he is just the kind of physical,
hard-nosed runner with enough explosiveness that a defensive-minded
team like the Ravens want to embrace. Buck Allen seems entrenched
as a change-of-pace back who can spell a back on occasion, but
Baltimore seems to understand that is all he is. Kenneth Dixon
was supposed to push Collins in training camp this year, but injuries
and suspensions have clouded
his standing with the team. Unless Gus Edwards, De'Lance Turner
or Mark Thompson are poised to make some noise over the final
two weeks of the preseason, Collins has essentially no competition
entering the season. OGs Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis return from
season-ending injuries as well, giving one of the more physical
backs in the league an even better opportunity to thrive. One
stat I mentioned a couple weeks ago bears repeating here: Collins
became the featured back in Week 8 last season. His 16-game pace
stats over that stretch were 282 carries, 1,103 rushing yards,
12 touchdowns, 44 receptions and 344 receiving yards - good for
260.7 PPR fantasy points and an RB8 finish.
There may not be a more polarizing player inside the top two
rounds than Jerick McKinnon. By now, most of us know or have heard
the criticisms: he doesn't have good vision and/or anticipate
holes very well, he's never done "it" before for a full
season, he's too small, he couldn't "hold off" Matt Asiata or Latavius Murray for the full-time gig when he had his
"opportunity," San Francisco can get out of his contract
after one year, etc. At this point, it almost feels like most
in the industry is reaching on excuses to pass on a lead running
back in a system run by Kyle Shanahan, who handpicked the player
and asked the front office to pay him like a top-five player at
his position. Look, it's not like there isn't a shred of truth
to some of those negatives, but some of them have been hammered
home so much and so long that it feels as if they have to be true
at this point. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there
isn't a ton of difference between McKinnon and McCaffrey - the
biggest separator being McCaffrey runs between the tackles better.
If McCaffrey was a decent second-round value to owners last year
and wasn't used properly, imagine what McKinnon's upside is with
a coach with the reputation of Shanahan has who will make sure
he sees roughly 230 to 250 touches.
Outside of the first three rounds
There simply hasn't been enough discussion this summer about
Chris Hogan. Over the first half of the season (through Week 8),
he was the WR10 - between Michael Crabtree and Jarvis Landry and
ahead of the likes of Julio Jones and Davante Adams. Rob Gronkowski
is still "injury-prone." Julian Edelman is "injury-prone"
and set to serve a four-game suspension. Danny Amendola left for
Miami. Brandin Cooks was traded. The one receiver who is expected
to contend for targets has been released (Jordan Matthews). Even
Malcolm Mitchell is gone. If Hogan is making out of the fourth
or even fifth round in fantasy drafts, he is an incredible value.
I suppose the case can be made he also hasn't done "it"
over a full season, but I'm not sure three years in Buffalo, one
year getting used to the heavily nuanced offensive playbook in
New England (2016) and an injury-shortened season in 2017 really
count as being given a chance. I believe he's one of six receivers
who could legitimately score 10 touchdowns this season.
What are the chances Jimmy Graham was just beat up last year?
If there is still a year or two of the elite athleticism he showed
in New Orleans left in his body, it's not out of the realm of
possibility he could make a run at Gronkowski and Travis Kelce
for TE1 honors. One of the more lazy narratives pushed out regarding
Graham's prospects for this season is that Aaron Rodgers doesn't
look for tight ends. Really? Somehow, over the course of his career
of not looking for tight ends, two have scored eight touchdowns
in a season. I guess that must mean the legendary group of Donald Lee, Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett were supposed to attract 100 targets
while Rodgers was also busy feeding the likes of Donald Driver,
Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, James Jones and Randall Cobb. The simple truth is none of the aforementioned six tight
ends ever had the resume or athleticism Graham does. Green Bay's
receiving corps has arguably accomplished less coming into a season
since Aaron Rodgers took over the starting job for good in 2008.
In four of the five full seasons Graham has played, he has scored
at least 10 touchdowns (the one exception was when he played through
injury in 2016 and finished with six). Should we really expect
Graham to do less with arguably the best quarterback in the league
in an offense where Davante Adams is the only receiver to consistently
get it done over the last two years?
Before this season, I didn't think it was possible for a player's
value to increase after his suspension was announced. It seems
as though Mark Ingram may be doing just that. Ingram carried roughly
a fifth-round ADP prior to the announcement of his four-game suspension
in large part because it became clear Alvin Kamara would be the
1A back in the offense while Ingram would serve as the 1B. For
fantasy leagues in which the postseason starts in Week 14, Ingram
will not be allowed to participate in 33.3 percent of the regular
season. Let's suppose his owners use him in Week 5 prior to his
bye and posit he has a reduced role in that game because he will
be coming off a month-long layoff. This means owners may not get
any value from their fifth-round pick until Week 7 or 8 - when
the Saints visit Baltimore and Minnesota. Do owners really think
they will get an RB2 effort from the complementary half of a backfield
committee in those games? I've laid out a pretty realistic scenario
in which Ingram doesn't approach last year's value until at least
Week 9 - against what should be a dominant Rams' defensive line.
Yet, Ingram's current ADP is 4.12.
(To drive home this point further, let's use the results
from the King's Classic - Blanda Division that I participated
in over the weekend. Ingram went 4.07 in the snake draft and for
$25 in the auction.) Let's put the latter into some perspective
because it is the one that feels the most outrageous. McKinnon
went for $23. Kenyan Drake went for $25. Despite what anyone thinks
about how many games LeSean McCoy will play this year, he went
for $25. Collins went for $24. Each of these backs would seem
to have a pretty clear path to lead-back duties, at least 200
- if not 250-plus touches - and could be available all season.
I'm not sure I would be bullish on Ingram this season even if
Kamara wasn't around, but to treat a player who we know will miss
most of the first six weeks of the season as an RB2 is asking
for a headache.
Running backs with significant question
The preseason often acts as its own little stock market. Players
and can move up a round or so on some boards based on a good game,
while others can slip a round or more based on injury information
or any other number of circumstances. Such is the case for Rex Burkhead, who was moving into fourth-round territory as recently
as last week. As luck would have it, a report about a "slight
tear" in his right knee sends owners into a bit of a panic,
although it is supposed to be an injury he can play through and
not something that will keep him from practicing. With New England,
a "slight tear" can mean anything from a legitimate
sprain that can heal fully in a couple of weeks to an actual tear
of one of the less "important" ligaments in the knee.
Depending on your risk tolerance, this news either creates a buying
opportunity or is the final nail in the coffin when it comes to
avoiding the Patriots' backfield in the first half of fantasy
Sometimes the best play in a muddled backfield is taking the
last one on the board, especially if he already has an established
role in the offense. While folks dream of Burkhead becoming a
plus-version of Mike Gillislee or Sony Michel mimicking Kamara,
James White would appear to be locked into about 60 catches and
40-50 carries. I specify "locked into" because that
should be his floor; if Michel and Burkhead continue to struggle
with injuries, I think it's pretty clear Jeremy Hill isn't going
to run the ball 25-plus times per game. The bigger point to be
made here is White might as well be Tom Brady's favorite
running back. In an offense that that relies so heavily on
"easy" passes to the running back, slot receiver and
tight ends, White isn't going away.
I'm starting to warm up to the possibility that Jamaal Williams
will emerge as the lead back in Green Bay. As much as fantasy
football owners hate it, the starting running back job in most
NFL cities is often decided by which one of the contestants is
the most durable and can be trusted the most to protect his quarterback
against the blitz. The answer to both of those questions in Green
Bay appears to be Williams. It goes without saying that even if
the Packers don't utilize the running back much inside the red
zone this year, their starting running back is still going to
have a ton of value. I want that guy to be Aaron Jones, but his
opportunity to stake his claim to the job may have been sabotaged
the moment the league handed him a two-game suspension. It also
did not help his cause when he suffered a hamstring injury early
in camp. If Jones has seen a first-team rep this preseason, I
haven't seen it. Ty Montgomery will be involved, but it seems
as though Green Bay has settled on him serving as a movable chess
Peyton Barber is finally picking up steam as a likely Week 1
starter in Tampa Bay. As much as the pundits are crushing Ronald Jones at the moment for averaging less than a yard per carry,
people need to understand running backs with such ridiculously
low averages are almost always small-sample marks and usually
reflect how poor the line play was when he was in the game. Jones
is not dancing in the backfield and generally getting what he
can/should on. If anything, he's done well to gain 11 yards on
his 12 preseason carries. And as for him being a liability in
the passing game, he has seen two targets. One was thrown at his
feet and the other was one in which the quarterback led him into
the direct path of a linebacker. While coaches want to see their
backs make those catches, they are hardly unforgettable errors.
HC Dirk Koetter has said all along he expects Barber to be the
starter and is hoping his backfield tandem can eventually replicate
(or at least mimic) what Ingram and Kamara have going on in New
Orleans. I still ultimately expect Jones to be the better fantasy
player at the end of the year, but owners should have a quality
flex option if they invest in Barber.
Well, hello Adrian Peterson! Fantasy football isn't worth playing
unless I can rest my championship hopes on a 33-year-old running
back coming into camp in late August. (OK, I'll admit that's a
bit overly dramatic.) And frankly, there's not much recent evidence
he's going to be able to hold up for a full season. With that
said, he didn't sign with Washington on Monday to share carries,
making him a bit of a waiver-wire gift for early drafters and
zero-RB advocates. Unlike his time in Arizona, Peterson should
benefit from a strong offensive line and more positive game script.
The largest downside to Peterson is he may not be a great fit
for an offense with Alex Smith as the quarterback. (The
Washington Post does a fine job of explaining why.) Another
huge downside is a brutal schedule. All in all, Peterson projects
to be a high-volume back for as long as he can absorb the punishment,
although I clearly prefer Chris Thompson in a PPR setup. If I
know owners like I think I know them, he's probably not lasting
until the 98th pick in most drafts.
Outside the top 100
Ranking players who have very few flaws outside of health/durability
issues is one of the most difficult tasks for owners each season.
Upside doesn't score points in fantasy unless it's on the field.
When owners/analysts don't get to see much evidence of potential
upside in the form of preseason action with such a player, the
positive reports coming out of camp for said player tend to ring
hollow. However, we've seen John Brown be productive before. Would
it be all that surprising if he doesn't emerge as Joe Flacco's
favorite target? Brown is exactly the type of player owners need
to target in the later rounds because there isn't much stopping
him from becoming his team's most dangerous weapon in passing
game, he doesn't require a lot of volume to make a big impact
on a fantasy box score and he doesn't have any real competition
for his job. Owners may recall Flacco was at the helm in 2016
when three of his pass-catchers (Steve Smith, Mike Wallace and
Dennis Pitta) topped 70 receptions. There isn't a lot stopping
Michael Crabtree and Brown from doing the same this year.
No one wants a 35-year-old back. I get it. The problem is Miami
has one and he isn't ready to retire. Almost regardless of how
good Kenyan Drake looks, Frank Gore is probably going to see at
least 125 carries. He's well-regarded for his ability to pick
up the blitz and makes a living running between the tackles. Much
like Larry Fitzgerald, Gore has reached a point where we probably
need to see a noticeable physical drop-off in his play before
we declare his usefulness in fantasy over. This is not to say
he is going to be a regular starter in fantasy, but let's also
not forget one of the major reasons Drake lasted until the third
round in 2016 was because of his lack of durability. Did one five-game
stretch change that? At the moment, I have Drake and Gore separated
by 26 carries and 21 targets. If Gore ends up being named the
goal-line back (which I have not assumed) due to his ability to
run inside, the gap between the two becomes that much thinner.
In most drafts, there are 10 rounds of separation between the
two. Gore may not be a player that helps owners take home a league
title, but I'd be willing to bet he helps owners get there by
being a very capable flex option. Gore is available late in drafts
almost without fail. Not bad for a potential bye-week fill-in
with the upside to be a potential low-end flex.
More longshots and enough with
the running backs
About the only thing holding me back from ranking Anthony Miller
higher is the presence of a red zone threat (Allen Robinson),
a dynamic weapon out of the backfield (Tarik Cohen) and a highly
athletic tight end who could do a pretty good job of imitating
Travis Kelce in the passing game (Trey Burton). Can Mitch Trubisky
keep all three of those players reasonably involved and make room
for a fourth? That remains to be seen, and not something I'm willing
to bet on in from such an inexperienced quarterback. I have no
question we will see flashes of greatness from Miller, who I suspect
will bump Taylor Gabriel from the starting lineup sooner than
later. If Robinson were to get hurt early again this year, Miller
could become a 100-target, every-week starter in fantasy shortly
Ben Watson needs to be getting drafted with more regularity.
Prior to last season when Coby Fleener became an afterthought,
a New Orleans tight end hadn't finished lower than 15th in PPR
leagues since Jeremy Shockey in 2010 (25th) - and that was due
in part to an up-and-comer named Jimmy Graham, who finished 27th.
Watson has an ADP of 14.03 and is the 24th tight end coming off
the board on average. I have him as my TE18 and that feels too
low. Prior to last year, owners could generally count on at least
4,800 passing yards and 30-plus touchdowns from Drew Brees. Isn't
there the slightest possibility with Ingram taking a lesser role
in the offense and pass-catching weapons galore that the Saints
revert to a more pass-heavy team in 2018 against a schedule that
figures to stop the run reasonably well? If so, there's going
to be enough at the fantasy table for Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Kamara and Watson to get their fill.
Let's wrap this thing up with a few more of my favorite late-round
targets at receiver:
John Ross is a younger and more technically savvy version of
DeSean Jackson in my opinion. Whether or not that matters in Cincinnati
is another story. Still, we've seen Marvin Jones and Brandon LaFell
enjoy good years with Andy Dalton throwing the ball, so we've
seen production before from A.J. Green's sidekicks - players with
less talent and speed than Ross. It's hard seeing Ross being a
red zone threat with Green and Tyler Eifert around, but he should
be able to deliver a few splash weeks.
Keelan Cole refuses to go away, even when the Jags continue to
put obstacles in his way. Thought to be stuck behind "starters"
Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief, the Kentucky Wesleyan product
receiving the "majority" of starter reps in training
camp alongside Lee. Dede Westbrook and second-round pick D.J. Chark have also stood out, according to First Coast News' Mike
Kaye. Cole appeared to be on equal footing as Lee by the end of
the season and it's hard to find any teammate or reporter say
something negative about him. Jacksonville appears content with
a "catch by committee" approach to begin the season,
but it really feels as if it's only a matter of time before Cole
and (possibly) Westbrook force their way into starting jobs.
Geronimo Allison "has quietly established
himself as the teams No. 3 receiver," per Ryan
Wood of The Green Bay Press-Gazette. As I have said many times
over the years, Aaron Rodgers can make three receivers viable
in fantasy. Wood notes in the aforementioned article Allison "
is always in the right place, and his combination of size (6-3)
and sure hands make him a reliable target." While no one
should ever expect a player to replicate the season James Jones
had in 2013 (64 catches, 14 TDs), Allison reminds me a bit of
him. Stash him as a WR5/6 for the first two to three weeks and
see if he hits.
While making his mark as a return specialist in college, Christian Kirk also overcame sub-par quarterbacking at Texas A&M to
become one of the top receivers in school history. He's making
quite an impression in his new (old) home of Arizona and may be
making a play to start opposite Larry Fitzgerald in the opener.
I gave Kirk an NFL comp of a "slightly quicker Sterling Shepard"
in April and believe that still to be an accurate representation
of what he is capable of moving forward. Of course, that is not
to say he'll draw 105 targets and finish with 65 catches and eight
touchdowns like Shepard did as a rookie, but Kirk should emerge
from the pack he finds himself in at the moment (J.J. Nelson,
Chad Williams and Brice Butler) before long.
Taywan Taylor was a player I picked up in the deepest of my leagues
last year because the talent was undeniable. With Rishard Matthews
blocking his path to the lineup, Eric Decker presumably more trustworthy
in Corey Davis' absence than a "little slot guy" like
Taylor and a coaching staff married to a philosophy that did not
really suit its personnel anymore, Taylor's opportunity to make
a move up the Titans' depth chart was stunted. This year, it would
seem Tennessee is embracing an offense more willing to embrace
the passing game. It hasn't hurt Taylor's case that Matthews has
yet to practice this summer. Meanwhile, Taylor has been running
with the first team in camp and is coming off a game over the
weekend in which he showed just how much explosiveness he has.
One would have to assume if the reason behind Matthews' continued
non-participation in camp isn't revealed soon, Taylor will open
the season as a starter and have a great shot to keep a substantial
role in the offense even if/when Matthews returns. Like John Brown
earlier, these are the kind of lottery tickets owners should want
to scoop up in the final rounds.
Make the Le'Veon Bell owners in your league really upset and
pick up James Conner. If Bell breaks down as my research suggests
he will, Conner could pay off in a huge way. He's not the talent
Bell is, but his game has made noticeable strides in the last
year. He is the clear handcuff in Pittsburgh and one Bell injury
away from potentially being a top 10-15 back in fantasy.
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.