Football is simple at its very core but a very complex game to evaluate
and analyze well because 11 men are being asked to work in harmony
roughly 60 times per game, while 11 other men are being asked to
create chaos. Pro football is not pro basketball in that a team
can clear out one side of the court when things break down and the
offense can still score. Pro football is not pro baseball in that
one player can defeat a pitcher and eight fielders by timing his
swing just right. Even as great as Barry Sanders was, he never beat
a defense all by himself. In football, a player always needs help
from at least one teammate to accomplish his goal. That is part
of what makes football so great and part of what it makes it so
highly unpredictable. The violence of the game - even by the tamer
standards in this day and age - adds another element to the equation
that is difficult to quantify.
Regardless, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Over the last 1
1/2 weeks, I have evaluated the weekly matchups for 500-plus players.
Analyzing matchups alone requires me to make 7,500 "decisions".
This is not meant to be a humble brag of any kind. 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.
I like to think that even if readers believe my logic is flawed
for whatever reason, they can count on the fact that much thought
has been put into that opinion.
Fantasy football is a stock market game, and our job as analysts
is identifying when stocks may be poised for an increase or ready
to tank. While last year's results help owners/analysts set the
table for the following season, they are merely a starting point.
Fantasy rankings and drafting need to be predictive, not reactive.
This is the approach I have taken for more than 10 years. While
some of the processes have changed in that time, the main goal
Speaking of changing processes, the Success Score Index
(SSI) below is moving away from an attribute-based algorithm
and one centered around
my target and carry predictions that have been featured in
this space over the last two weeks. As always, the matchups 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.). Long story short, I am
much more confident in the product.
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
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:Players with a
next to their name have some degree of injury/character/holdout
concern. Players with a
next to their name have a higher than normal chance of losing
their job at some point during the season.
Later this week, I will set up the first non-PPR Big Board. Next
week, I will release my first Big Boards for 0.5 PPR leagues as
well as The Fantasy Championship (TFC) and FFPC Big Boards. In
the second and final round of Big Boards near the end of the preseason,
I will rank at least 200 players and present my final rankings
for kickers and defense/special teams.
Here is the scoring
system that I used to rank the players in the PPR format:
One of the simplest ways to win consistently in fantasy football
is to grab more players from (likely) winning teams and/or explosive
offenses than every other owner. The conundrum we face at the
top of this board is trying to split hairs between three running
backs who are each likely to amass at least 200 carries, 80 receptions
and score 12-18 touchdowns. A critic will say Kamara is a hyper-efficient
player who doesn't see enough volume to go No. 1, McCaffrey may
or may not be his team's top choice at the goal line and Barkley
has a below-average supporting cast. The truth is we can find
flaws in every player or his situation. But getting back to our
original point, most owners would agree: if a defense can find
a way to bottle up Barkley this year, the Giants will struggle.
Is this what happened to him at the end of last season? Or did
it have more to do with the level of defenses he was facing? Despite
possessing a high floor as his team's offensive centerpiece, he
may not have quite the ceiling he did as a rookie.
As the summer has progressed, most of the concerns anyone had
about McCaffrey have disappeared. My primary worry with him is
no longer his workload - OC Norv Turner has already spoken on
that subject - but rather his touchdown upside. McCaffrey did
not score his first rushing touchdown until Week 8. His season
did not really start taking off until Cam Newton's shoulder started
becoming an obvious issue. What happens if/when Newton is ready
to resume running the ball 8-10 per game again? When most offenses
average over 30 passing attempts - Newton averaged 33.6 in 2018
even with his bum shoulder - and the quarterback keeps the ball
on another 10 plays, it's hard for the running back to get the
number of carries most owners want to see from their stud runner.
If McCaffrey's goal-line work is compromised in any way - six
of his seven rushing scores last year came from four or fewer
yards out - then owners hanging onto last year's fantastic finish
could be left wanting.
With Kamara, we've seen his "downside" already. As
a 202-touch running back in his rookie campaign, he was the overall
RB3. As a 275-touch player in his sophomore season, he was the
overall RB4. We have also witnessed how dominant he can be as
the primary option during Mark Ingram's season-opening four-game
suspension a year ago. HC Sean Payton doesn't sound like he has
any intention of making Kamara a featured back - he has repeatedly
referred to keeping his third-year back within the "optimal
range" of touches to preserve his health - but what if Latavius Murray can't adequately replace Ingram? Or better yet, what happens
if Murray is an upgrade over Ingram and allows Kamara to be even
more involved in the passing game? There's a very good combination
of strong run defenses and high-scoring offenses on the Saints'
schedule this season, making it possible - if not likely - that
Kamara reaches a 13:5 or 13:6 run/catch ratio (208 carries, 80-96
receptions over a 16-game season). If that sounds like too many
carries for Kamara, ask yourself this question: if New Orleans
comes anywhere close to repeating last year's 471 rushing attempts,
wouldn't it make sense for Kamara to tote the rock on at least
44 percent of them?
Most folks are going to believe Elliott's landing spot is holdout-related.
They'd be wrong. There are two major issues and neither of them
is something he can do much about, assuming he stays out of what
most people consider trouble. The first is his recent workload.
Elliott became the sixth running back (seventh instance) since
2010 to amass 380 touches in a season - he touched the ball 52
more times in the playoffs for good measure - and not a single
one of those backs came reasonably close to matching their performance
from the previous year. Taken one step further, there have been
13 players (16 instances) since 2005 of a player amassing 380-plus
touches the previous season at 27 years of age or younger. Only
LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and Adrian Peterson in 2009 came remotely
close to repeating their success. The other concern with Elliott
is that he is probably one strike away from another league suspension.
Maybe he's done with getting himself into compromising situations,
and good for him if that's the case. But as we've seen on a number
of occasions, the NFL isn't always predictable when it comes to
punishment and the off-field indiscretions they decide to pursue.
It is appropriate Bell, Cook and Gurley got bunched pretty close
together. Each back has overall RB1 upside but comes with considerable
risk. With Bell, did his year away from the game rejuvenate his
body or will he be a step slow? Will he end up being more of a
creation of the Steelers' willingness to feed him the rock behind
one of the best offensive lines in the business or will his patient
style play well outside of Pittsburgh? Cook has monster upside
in an outside zone-run scheme and has already flashed his big-play
potential despite running behind a below-average offensive line
in his two-year career. But how can we possibly ignore the fact
he's missed 17 of a possible 32 games? Even non-fantasy players
know the downside with Gurley, so we'll only talk about his upside.
Even after trimming five touchdowns, two carries per game and
two catches per game from his 2018 production, Gurley should still
remain a top 10 back even if he only plays 14 games again. While
most of the fantasy public seems to still be running away from
him, I'll be more than happy to live with the risk that comes
with him as my likely RB2 at or near the turn.
It's a passing league now, buddy!
Kelce, Hill and Beckham form an interesting cluster in the mid-second
round area on my board. Kelce is being perceived by many as a
borderline first-round pick. If he was a guarantee to repeat last
year's production, he'd likely have a spot in that area above.
There are at least three problems that come along with drafting
players at one-starter positions that high:
1) The main reason he is valued so highly is
mostly recency bias. As much as most owners don't want to face
reality when it comes to such things, most players don't follow
a career year with another one;
2) There are only so many running backs locked
into 250-plus touches and capable of scoring 10-plus touchdowns
AND only so many 100-catch receivers capable of 10-plus scores.
Once those players are gone, owners are left scrambling for players
they hope can reach those benchmarks at those positions;
3) Whereas it's less of a big deal to draft
the back that turns out to be the overall RB4 at No. 1 overall,
owners almost need their first- or second-round tight end to be
the overall TE1. If a player such as Hunter
Henry or O.J.
Howard finishes within a point or two per game of Kelce, the
difference will most likely be significant when comparing that
the second-round running back/receiver of the Howard/Henry owner
to the Kelce owner's fifth-round RB2/WR2.
One under-discussed topic this year has been Beckham's lack of
durability. Since the start of the 2017 season, he suffered a
high-left ankle sprain that caused him to miss the season opener
and was knocked out for the season with a fractured left ankle
four games later. Last year, he missed the final four games with
a quad bruise. He's played all 16 games only once in five seasons,
although he probably would have a second full campaign under his
belt had he not been suspended in Week 16 of the 2015 season.
If his only issue was less-than-ideal availability, he would probably
still be worth a first-round fantasy pick. New OC Todd Monken
and HC Freddie Kitchens have the personnel to open things up and
go crazy in the passing game if they want, but will they? How
long will it take before the personalities of Baker Mayfield and
Beckham clash? Again, it might seem pointless to some readers
to worry about such things, but these are the kind of potential
problems owners should briefly consider. Fantasy drafts are fraught
with risk, so doesn't it make sense for owners to ensure their
first two picks come with as little as possible?
As discussed earlier, trying to predict when the NFL will hand
out discipline and what statement it is trying to send by suspending
a player has become, well, unpredictable. In my warped little
mind, I'd rather deal with the risk that comes with Gurley's knee
than pray Hill's family issues don't resurface. The talent and
the supporting cast in Kansas City is undeniable, but when owners
consider only a month or so ago that Hill was facing the prospect
of substantial league discipline - and a possible release from
the Chiefs - it's more risk than any owner should have to deal
with prior to the middle of the second round. It's the only reason
he's not in my top 10. With that said, it's also impossible to
rank Hill much lower than he is above because he possesses overall
Busting one heck of a cluster
When ranking over 300 players - there will be more once there
is more time to enter values for the lower-priority players in
the coming weeks - it is inevitable there will be clusters at
one particular position. One such notable cluster begins at the
2-3 turn at running back above. Starting with Mixon at No. 22
and going through to Henry at No. 28, undoubtedly about half of
those seven players will be worthy and the others will bust. Some
would argue Mixon doesn't belong in this group and should be ranked
higher; it's a fair opinion, but what is he guaranteed this year?
A new offensive system led by a neophyte play-caller who wants
to mix in Giovani Bernard more often than the previous regime
did? The offensive line is arguably in about the same shape as
it was last season, and let's not forget Mixon has missed two
games in each of his first two seasons. Gordon's landing spot
on the Big Board is somewhat the product of his current holdout
status, but it is also durability-related. He is coming off a
12-game campaign and has missed at least two games in three of
his four years as a pro.
Kerryon Johnson's stock is set to skyrocket after Detroit parted
ways with Theo Riddick. Nevertheless, it seems the Lions' coaching
staff is dead-set on preserving him, so owners need to set a reasonable
expectation for him in terms of his work as a rusher. Chubb's
main drawback is the expected return of Kareem Hunt to steal carries
late in the season. Of course, there is no guarantee Hunt will
provide anything more than insurance, so this could be much ado
about nothing. At the very least, daring owners should be able
to enjoy the ride for the first half of the season while buying
themselves some time to find a fallback option if Hunt is able
to force a split backfield in December. It appears Atlanta OC
Dirk Koetter is going to try to keep at least some parts of the
outside zone/quarterback bootleg scheme that former OC Steve Sarkisian
inherited from Kyle Shanahan. For those that may not remember,
Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene under Shanahan and hasn't
been quite the force since he left for San Francisco - although
injuries have played a critical role in that. With the Falcons'
passing offense poised for another huge year and no back like
Tevin Coleman around to share carries with, one has to think Freeman
has a clear path to 220 carries and 50 catches if his health cooperates.
Fournette and Henry probably deserve to be clumped together as
well. Fournette has legitimate first-round upside. He has seen
his stock fall to the point where it is no longer near as prohibitive
to deal with his injury concerns. IF Henry can play all 16 games
and proves he can handle the 20 carries he is expected to get
on a weekly basis, it is quite possible he leads the league in
rushing. Then again, how much are owners willing to plant their
flag on the possibility his explosive December is the new normal
for him? And let's not forget his minimal contributions in the
passing game. One-trick backs like Henry - Michael Turner is a
solid recent example - occasionally overcome the lack of receiving
numbers to make them worth a high draft pick, but they also typically
come from high-scoring offenses. Tennessee does not exactly profile
as one at the moment.
Where are the other elite tight ends besides Kelce?
Both Kittle and Ertz figure to get caught up in a numbers game
on their own team. Yes, both players will remain their respective
quarterback's favorite targets. That much is unlikely to change
anytime soon. The problem is both players benefited from good
health personally last season while the rest of their teammates
struggled to stay on the field. At the end of last season, Kittle
really only had Dante Pettis as a legitimate threat to his target
share. Since then, the 49ers have added Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd
and more committee backs than any team should be allowed to have
- all of whom can contribute in the passing game. If there is
a blessing in disguise, however, it might be that all the new
talent should free up Kittle to get more work done in the red
zone after scoring only five times on 88 catches in 2018 - only
two of which came inside the 20.
Last season, only one Philadelphia receiver (Nelson Agholor)
played all 16 games. Unfortunately, he proved unworthy of being
a capable second wideout. Enter DeSean Jackson, who is still one
of the premier deep threats in the league at age 32. (More on
him in a bit.) Philadelphia also re-fortified its running game
and added another playmaker in JJ Arcega-Whiteside. In other words,
there probably isn't going to be another 156 targets available
for Ertz. Make no mistake about it though; Ertz will remain the
most heavily targeted player in this offense because of the connection
he and Wentz have, but owners should expect it to be more in line
with the 112-, 106- and 110-target totals he had the three previous
It's a passing league now, buddy! (Part Two)
Almost regardless of format, there is an annual discussion of
when quarterbacks should come off the board. This board should
be a good representation of where they should start getting drafted,
especially in leagues where passing touchdowns are worth four
points (reflected in the rankings above). Actually, the case could
be made to wait one more round, but the Big Boards have always
been about value and the fifth round is about the time where it
starts making sense to take one of the best at the position after
first addressing the core of a fantasy team with running backs
Regarding the actual players, some of the more savvy readers
might be able to tell Mahomes is not my overall QB1. It's not
a "hot take" (don't believe in them) or a bold prediction.
Rather, it's a nod to the belief that Watson is in position to
approach the level of efficiency he enjoyed before injuring his
ACL as a rookie and an acknowledgment Mahomes probably isn't going
to repeat last season. QB3 (Aaron Rodgers) and QB4 (Carson Wentz)
shouldn't come as a terrible surprise either considering the former
should benefit from Mike McCarthy no longer being around and the
latter should benefit from his upgraded supporting cast - assuming
he can stay healthy.
Beyond that, many will likely be shocked at Kyler Murray at QB5
in the sixth-round area and Cam Newton at QB6 in the seventh.
Let's be clear about something: owners often underestimate the
value of a "running quarterback" in leagues that reward
four points per passing touchdown and six points for a running
TD. Both Murray and Newton are capable of running for 6-10 scores.
Will they? Who knows? However, even at eight rushing scores, that
gives the aforementioned quarterbacks a one-point-per-game advantage
over some of their competition over the course of a 16-game season.
When we consider both quarterbacks are also capable of throwing
for 4,000-plus yards, it becomes a big deal.
Wide of the mark?
Some of the receivers located in the sixth-round area are sure
to draw some criticism, particularly Samuel, DeSean Jackson and
maybe even Westbrook and Miller. (And, of course, A.J. Green doesn't
look right in the sixth round.) It's fair to question each one.
Samuel hasn't come all that close to putting together a full season,
playing eight games as a rookie and 13 in 2018. However, the last
five games of 2018 - when Newton was at his worst physically or
not playing - Samuel saw at least eight targets three times and
averaged 11.5 PPR points. With a full offseason and a clean bill
of health for the first time as a pro, Christian McCaffrey occupying
the attention of the front seven on just about every play moving
forward and D.J. Moore serving as the primary focus of the opposing
secondary, Samuel should have ample opportunity to enjoy the occasional
spiked week while maintaining some degree of consistency as a
player who was targeted eight times per game during his aforementioned
The appeal of Westbrook to most owners - especially those who
don't watch much college football - has probably worn off a bit
after two years in Jacksonville. But should he actually be commended
for what he has done to this point? After all, his quarterbacks
after two years in the league have been Blake Bortles, Chad Henne
and Cody Kessler. Even if Nick Foles is nothing more than an average
quarterback in 2019, it's hard to imagine Westbrook not being
his favorite target when the other options are deep threat D.J. Chark and Chris Conley. If OC John DeFilippo falls in love with
the passing game as much in Jacksonville as he has in his previous
stops as a play-caller, Westbrook has 80-catch upside.
Owners need to forget most of what they think they know about
Jackson; it could be argued that he hasn't had a combination of
the proper usage and a great quarterback since his first stint
with the Eagles. He somehow finished as the overall WR42 in total
points last year despite missing four games and averaging seven
fewer snaps than Chris Godwin. Per Pro Football Focus, both Wentz
and Jackson have done their best work over the course of their
careers on hitch, out and go routes, which makes it unsurprising
the duo has established a quick connection and been the talk of
training camp so far. While I suspect he will remain a hit-or-miss
fantasy option, his current price tag is going to allow owners
to ride out the valleys in their flex spot.
If Jackson seems like a slight reach at the end of the sixth
round, then Miller figures to be considered a ridiculous one.
That's fine, let's revisit this conversation in a few months when
he hopefully hasn't had to play through a dislocated shoulder
that he aggravated "maybe
five or six times" last year. Even with that working
against him, the Memphis product missed only one game, still caught
61 percent of his targets and led the team with seven receiving
touchdowns on only 33 catches. As the primary slot option with
a Steve Smith-like skill-set, he could give Allen Robinson a run
for his money as the best receiver in Chicago.
By now, most people understand the deal with Green. It appears
pretty certain he will be out at least through Week 2 and maybe
longer with torn ligaments in his ankle, but that's only one factor
working against him. The 31-year-old has missed at least seven
games in two of the previous three seasons, making it hard to
trust he will stay healthy in 2019 when he will be asked to hit
the ground running without participating in the bulk of training
camp. And let's say he returns by Week 3. While true "shadowing"
happens much less nowadays often than most people realize, Green
figures to draw primary coverage from the likes of Tre'Davious White (Week 3), Joe Haden (Weeks 4 and 12), Jimmy Smith (Weeks
6 and 10), and Jalen Ramsey (Week 7) during the fantasy regular
season. The reward for sticking with Green through that gauntlet?
Denzel Ward, Stephon Gilmore and Xavien Howard in the fantasy
playoffs. No thanks.
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.