As I started typing this up, I realized I would have to break it into two parts. I’ll cover QB and RB today and finish up tomorrow. I generally play in redraft Point Per Reception leagues of 10 or 12 teams and my comments and rankings reflect that preference.
In overview, I stress to draft, or purchase in auction, the players you really want. Don’t be swayed by ADP numbers. These are averages and some shrewd owners in your league probably like the same sleepers you do. If you get greedy and try to steal them, you’ll lose them. Unless you’re in a league that’s very casual, it’s wise to assume you’re competing with some people with the same knowledge level and preparation you have.
Quarterbacks: Unless you’re in a two quarterback or super-flex league, or your league settings prioritize QB scoring, I recommend waiting to draft your quarterback. I can’t remember any time when the QB rankings had a smaller margin between one and 15.
According to recent ADP, Aaron Rodgers is going in the middle of round four in 12 team leagues and Deshaun Watson comes off the board mid-round five. There are quality starting running backs and potential number one receivers available in that range and passing one up is not recommended.
Russell Wilson has been remarkably consistent regardless of the meager talent around him. He has been top three in fantasy QB scoring three out of the last four years. His offensive weapons look thinner than ever, but they’ve never been anything special. If he slides out of round six, he becomes an appealing option. You should have at least five RB/WR by this point, probably six, and can afford to pick a quarterback.
Tom Brady generally goes in round six, about the same range as Wilson. I am not high on him this season, despite him leading the NFL in attempts and passing yardage. First, only one 41 year old quarterback has ever had a good NFL season. Warren Moon had 25 TD passes against 16 interceptions in 1997. Vinnie Testaverde started 15 games in 2004. He threw 17 touchdown passes against a league leading 20 interceptions. Brett Favre and Brady last season are the only 40 year old quarterbacks to post great seasons.
The cherry on top is Brady’s late season performances are already deteriorating. In his five December games, he threw just six TD passes and five of his 8 interceptions last season. He posted his lowest completion rate, Y/G, Y/A and QB rating during December AKA the fantasy league playoffs. Also, fuck Tom Brady.
Cam Newton, like Wilson, is one of the few top ranked fantasy quarterbacks that isn’t well over 30, coming off a serious injury, or playing for a new team. He has the deepest assortment of weapons at his disposal since at least 2013. He’s durable, although any QB who averages 120 rushes a season should give you pause.
I like Drew Brees this season. I think the Saints running game will be hard pressed to match their effectiveness of a season ago and I expect Brees to return to throwing 30+ TD passes. The receiving corps shed some deadwood and upgraded during the off season. The 23 TD’s last season, which I consider anomalous, bring his price down to what I think is acceptable risk for a 39 year old pitcher.
Carson Wentz and Andrew Luck have nice injury discounts baked into their prices this season. Wentz is trending down the ADP as uncertainty about opening day raise concerns and Luck is headed the opposite direction. I own shares of both.
Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo generally come off the board next, followed by Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Jared Goff. I think Stafford is the most dependable. Garoppolo has the highest ceiling. Cousins might be the riskiest. He’s going to a team with much better receivers, but he might throw the ball 50 fewer times in Minnesota. He has scored at least four touchdowns rushing the last three seasons and he will get fewer opportunities this year with Cook/Murray around. Roethlisberger has superior weapons and he’s looking good after several months on the Mason Rudolph Diet, even his brutal home/road splits evened out last season.
I tend to think you would be tempting fate to go with anyone ranked lower as a QB1 and I wouldn’t personally go lower than Garoppolo. No question, a few guys could play their way into QB1 status during the season, hopefully Case Keenum.
Running Backs: I have always prioritized running backs and I always will. The continued embracing of the Running Back By Committee has made lead backs more valuable. Ten years ago, 24 backs rushed 200 times or more. Only 18 backs had at least 200 carries last season. A 25% reduction in ten years. Seven surpassed 290 carries in 2008. Last season, only Le’Veon Bell with 321 carries cleared 290 carries, but it’s safe to assume Ezekiel Elliott would have as well in a full season. They both needed volume to maintain their levels of production last season as Bell’s YPC dropped to 4.0 from 4.9 the previous season and Elliott gave back a full yard of his 5.1 YPC from 2016 last season.
I have Todd Gurley as my top back and top player this year. There is nothing to dislike including not having to play his own defense. I have Bell locked in @ number two. I had Elliott third until today, but the loss of Travis Frederick for an undetermined period of time has me wanting to avoid Dallas entirely now. The WR’s are not NFL caliber; Dak lost some confidence last season; Jason Witten’s retirement somehow caught them napping and their TE situation is arguably 32nd in the NFL now. I just worry about their ability to put points on the board at all this year.
I’m strongly considering bumping both David Johnson and Alvin Kamara over Elliott in PPR leagues now. Johnson had 80 receptions in 2016 and Kamara had 81 last year. I think Kamara can hit the century mark in catches this season and Johnson appears locked in for well over 300 touches. Try hard to secure Chase Edmonds and cuff him to Johnson. He looks really strong and has no competition as backup on that team.
Saquon Barkley looks tremendous so far, but you’re going to pay full price for him. He hasn’t carried the ball in the NFL, he’s nursing a tender hamstring and the Giants haven’t run blocked worth crap since Chris Snee’s knees said no more, please. I’m not saying don’t draft him, but it does take a certain leap of faith. I may wind up not owning him this year.
I have Dalvin Cook next among running backs, which is 2-3 spots higher than most. I love the rumors about him splitting time with Latavius Murray this season and encourage them. IMO, he’s got the perfect skill set for a PPR running back and I will draft him without reservation.
Leonard Fournette is in great shape and they vow to throw him the ball more this season. He showed soft hands and unexpected wiggle in the open field. Losing some mass will help him. He’s built like a Greek God, but he has had numerous injuries and may have a foot condition that’s chronic. Also, Bortles doesn’t scare anybody, but hopefully an improved WR corps will give Leonard fewer loaded boxes this year.
I’m fading Kareem Hunt at this price. Too much worries me about him. He started out awesome and finished strong, but he went nine games without scoring from weeks 4-12, which is wholly unacceptable. The loss of Matt Nagy and the growing pains of a young quarterback mean I’m going to pass unless he falls out of round one.
Melvin Gordon is a bit of a plugger. He finished third in the NFL in carries and will probably need to sustain a high workload to justify his draft position. You must draft Austin Ekeler if you get Gordon and he’s a nice end game option in his own right.
Only ten backs off the board and the dropoff begins shortly, it’s just hard to pinpoint exactly when.
Christian McCaffrey is not going to get 25-30 touches a game is the most unnecessary piece of advice I will impart today. The fact that he had 20 only once last season makes Norv Turner’s prediction seem even sillier. CJ Anderson’s presence is not good news for him, but it’s not terrible, either. Someone will need to absorb some of the workload. The good news is McCaffrey was 10th in scoring in PPR leagues last season and he seems likely to increase his TD total of seven from last season. Not a sure bet, though as Newton is death to RB touchdowns. Both because he steals them himself and also isn’t a great short range passer. The Panthers offense is much better balanced this year, too. I hated that 81 yard dash CMC had last week because it bumped up his price.
I like Devonta Freeman more than most. He has declined in some categories the last three years, but his 35 touchdowns scored over that span are tied with Todd Gurley for most in the NFL. He’s not big and he runs hard, so he accumulates nicks, but he’s a guy who can perform at less than 100%. You really want to get Tevin Coleman if you can pick him up late as a handcuff.
Okay, the dropoff has begun.
Joe Mixon could easily blow up this season, but he’s being drafted like a known commodity and he just wasn’t that good last season. The Bengals O line was a disaster last season, but Mixon also ranked low in elusiveness. His broken tackle rate and yards after contact were also among the worst for starting running backs. He lost some weight and looks quicker this year, but I still can’t trust him at his current price. On the other hand, Giovani Bernard is still there and catching passes and he will never be cheaper as an end game depth option.
Jordan Howard is a tough call. He posted consistent numbers the last two years, but he doesn’t catch the ball much and he is hard to watch. He gets bottled up a lot and breaks a big run every few games. The addition of Matt Nagy makes me a bit more interested, but I expect he’ll make a star out of satellite back deluxe Tarik Cohen instead of making Howard markedly better. Cohen is a real wild card and generally inexpensive. I think he’s a very nice RB3 this season and awesome as a RB4. Matt Nagy loves him and plans to use him all over the field. He had 53 receptions last season and could top 80 this year and be a real factor in PPR leagues.
Two more guys I’m fading at their current ADP’s are LeSean McCoy and Jerick McKinnon. McCoy was especially volatile from week to week. He had four games over 100 yards and four with 25 or less. The offense in Buffalo figures to struggle as they bring Josh Allen up to speed. They were in semi-tank mode last season and could be again this year. That said, he has never been cheaper and he will represent value if he falls far enough. McKinnon has never inspired confidence in me. He has spit the bit repeatedly when he had chances at the number one job and he’s already banged up. I liked Matt Brieda late in San Francisco, but his injury now relegates him to a guy I will keep on my radar.
I like Alex Collins as an RB2 this season. He was a productive back once he took over as the starter last season. He’s not a gamebreaker, but I expect he’ll see enough volume to drive his value this season. The Ravens were very thin behind him last season and added nothing of consequence. The caveat is some fumbling issues that chased him out of Seattle, but seem to be in check now.
Kenyan Drake is a baller. I’m not concerned about Frank Gore or Kalen Ballage taking reps away. At his size, Drake won’t be a high volume rusher anyway. Although he had back to back games of 23 and 25 carries last season and he racked up 234 rushing yards and chipped in another 100 through the air in those contests. He is outstanding in the open field the coaching staff loves him.
I have never really cared much for Jay Ajayi. He’s inconsistent week to week and the sloppy parts of his game that made him fall out of favor in Miami are still present. His pass protection is still an issue at times. The Eagles claim he’s their number one back, but I will avoid him. Perhaps I’ll regret that decision, but Corey Clement is also looming there and Darren Sproles will see a lot of third down work.
I’m leery of the looming time share in Tennessee. Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis seem poised to siphon away enough value from each other to make them both somewhat unattractive at their current ADP.
Royce Freeman looks really solid to me. I try not to be a homer, but his feet, power and opportunity have me sold. He has the potential to be the best RB we’ve drafted since Clinton Portis. I will own many shares.
Mark Ingram will be significantly discounted in most leagues, but he’s still going mid-fifth round in NFFC drafts. Those leagues tend to feature big rosters. It’s easier to carry a guy who will miss the first four weeks when you have a 20 or 26 man roster, but a bit more of a decision with a more conventional 16 or 18 player limit. 75% of Ingram is still better than 100% of most backs.
Lamar Miller and Marshawn Lynch are two backs I’m unlikely to own. Miller is trying to reclaim his burst by coming in lighter this season. He’s fortunate to have just gimpy D’Onta Foreman behind him. Lynch is a non factor in the passing game and the addition of Doug Martin will likely bleed away touches.
I think people probably look at Isaiah Crowell’s situation and feel like it has improved, but I actually think he’s going to be looking for running room behind a much worse offensive line in New York. Pass.
Cleveland simply has too many mouths to feed. Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb figure to get in each other’s way all year as this historically challenged team searches for an identity.
How many reasons to not care for Seattle’s running backs? The O line can’t block anybody. Chris Carson is a physical runner, but his style has also led to injuries and fumbles and I don’t like that combination for a guy who will get met in the backfield by defenders as much as he will be this season. Rashaad Penny appears determined to make his first round selection look like an even worse decision than it was regarded on draft day. Penny had a finger injury that required surgery. No big deal, but he’s also gained 16 pounds since the draft and is now carrying 236 pounds on a 5’11” frame. The defenders in the NFL are a hell of a lot faster than they are in the Mountain West, so this is a baffling decision.
New England backs tend to produce, but sporadically, and Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel are both injured already. James White is having a nice camp, but Jeremy Hill is potentially lurking and if he siphons away goal line carries, you’re in trouble. I will avoid this situation.
Washington is a quagmire with Derrius Guice out for the year. I’m not getting involved.
Marlon Mack is high risk/high reward as the potential lead back in Indy. His job has actually become more secure while he’s been injured as rookie backs Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hynes have put the ball on the ground repeatedly in camp. Four times alone by Hynes.
Detroit is looking like an RBBC at least to start. Kerryon Johnson has three down back potential, but he could cede passing downs to Theo Riddick and goal line to LeGarrette Blount. Not much left in an offense that will huck it up nearly 600 times.
Main running back in Green Bay always sounds good in theory, but Ahman Green was their last fantasy star. Jamaal Williams is a plugger. Aaron Jones is a potential star, but he probably has less chance of realizing his potential than most guys with his ability. I actually like Jones a lot as an end game play and Williams not much at all.
Tampa doesn’t run block very well. Ronald Jones II has not impressed as yet and Peyton Barber is very pedestrian.
I’m probably overlooking somebody. Throw out a name and I’ll give you what I’ve got.
I will post part two tomorrow and cover wide receivers and tight ends and also say a few words about defenses and kickers.
Thanks for reading and good luck in your drafts and auctions.