In my view, fantasy rankings are taking a linear thought process to an inherently fluid and non-linear concept. I often find there's a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like "why do you have player-x at No. 12 but player-y at No. 15?" I don't think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do I believe we learn anything of use or substance about the players in the discussion.
With that school of thought established, I do believe that using tiers by position helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing a few spots difference in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. It provides more actionable information for fantasy owners to use during drafts, specifically in terms of helping us imagine the range of outcomes for players from both a season-long and weekly standpoint. We get too caught up in where we think a player will rank at the end of season, but tiering can help remind us that the goal soon enough will be all about constructing teams that are best set to win us one week at a time.
NOTE: If you're looking for a cheat sheet based on my tiered rankings, you can find it in a Google Doc through this link.
A step off the elite tier, these passers are all locked-in high-end QB1s. Last season was the first in which Russell Wilson finished outside the top-10 in quarterback scoring since entering the league. Injuries sapped Wilson of his usual effectiveness, especially on the ground where he registered a career-low 72 rushes for 259 yards. Additionally, Wilson's 3.8 touchdown rate from 2017 represented another low watermark in his time in the NFL. His career average sits at 5.6 percent and he's cleared 6.3 percent three times in five years. Assumed progression back to his career norms make Wilson a tempting proposition to break ranks with Late Round Quarterback drafting tenants.
All three of these quarterbacks offer week-in-week-out starting potential. Matt Ryan, last season's QB2 and reigning NFL MVP, falling to Tier 3 may seem controversial but this would be more in line with his career expectations. The Falcons offense scored 71 more points than any other team last year. Even mild regression will certainly dig into Ryan's output. On the flip side, count me in on Cam Newton bouncing back this year. His attempts will go down slightly, but he'll still take off especially considering rookie running back Christian McCaffrey as a transformative figure in this offense.
I'm extremely comfortable leaving drafts with either of Cousins or Dalton as my top fantasy quarterback. In all honesty, they are probably my preferred targets as soon as the 10th round. Cousins might even be under-ranked here considering he's finished as the QB8 and QB5 the last two years. Andrew Luck will moonwalk to a top-five, and potential career best season ... if he's healthy. However, that if seems to necessitate more and more bold font by the day.
Andy Dalton's placement here might seem generous but one must consider his history and the offense constructed around him. Dalton has QB5 (2013) and QB9 (2015 - points per game) seasons on his resume and just like in those years the Bengals have collected an enticing group of pass catchers around him. Cincinnati goes four deep with skill-set and diversity at wide receiver with A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and John Ross, in addition to red zone mammoth tight end Tyler Eifert and two pass-catching backs in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. The offensive line departures are the only thing that can hold Dalton back, but if you know how to accurately quantify that into statistical projections you're a better analyst than me.
Tier 5 holds players likely to keep pace with QB1s but all have at least some hint of questions. Jameis Winston and Eli Manning are especially tempting considering the passing offenses built around them. For Winston, the question is can he take the next step and For Manning, it's about how much of one he's lost. Tyrod Taylor is still a nice streaming target but fell a couple tiers and likely lost access to his weekly ceiling in the wake of the Sammy Watkins trade in the middle of a troublesome preseason.
I like all of these players this season but Carr (QB6) and Roethlisberger (QB10) are no-goes at their current single-digit round ADPs. The Raiders finished 15th in rushing play percentage last year and the team's offseason moves signal that Oakland wants to run the ball more. Still, fantasy drafters are making a bet Carr takes a statistical jump. Roethlisberger's ADP always seems overinflated by his "real life" NFL value and accomplishments. His 2014 season where he led the league in passing yards, chucked 30-plus touchdowns and finished as the QB5 represent a career outlier.
Tier 6 is made up of the high-priority streamers. Don't move heaven and Earth to draft these players but be ready to plop them in your lineup in favorable matchups. It would not surprise me to see Palmer out-kick this ranking, but last year's 4.4 touchdown rate is more in line with his career expectations than the 6.5 he posted in 2015. Rivers feels too low and he does go off the board more in the QB13 range of drafts. However, my worries for fantasy are more about volume than his performance. I expect the Chargers to be a good team, thus leading to less negative pass-heavy game scripts, this year and new head coach Anthony Lynn oversaw a Bills offense that finished second in run play percentage last year. Therefore, I only have Rivers projected for 562 pass attempts, but his skill-position players are so good on paper that I'm confident he'll have big weeks as a streamer.
These four passers offer the potential for solid fill-in weeks as streamers but they shouldn't be on draft speed dial. Sam Bradford actually intrigues me a bit as a QB2 option. The Vikings have a sneakily good set of weapons and he played well in his first season with Minnesota. Brian Hoyer will have games where he'll be appealing as a desperation streamer with the 49ers, likely to be forced into pass-heavy game scripts. DeShone Kizer will have his rough moments as a rookie but his rushing ability will give him a viable fantasy ceiling as a streamer. He took off eight times in his first two preseason games.
Johnson and Bell are the top assets in fantasy football and should go off the board at picks one and two in every draft this summer. Their ability to produce RB1 and WR2 caliber numbers offer an unfair weekly ceiling/floor combination that's impossible to pass up even if you prefer to build anti-fragile teams and fade early running backs. Both players averaged over 50 yards receiving per game last season.
All of these running backs have all the ingredients for a RB1 finish this season. Depending on your preference and draft strategy, target them all in late Round 1 or early Round 2. The riskiest of the bunch is Jordan Howard, simply due to the offense he plays in. The Bears have the most unsettled quarterback situation and murkiest offensive outlook, both of which helped to sink Todd Gurley last season. Howard caught less than 60 percent of his passes last season and could see another back eat into his receiving workload, as well.
The RB4 spot is aggressive for Devonta Freeman, and two spots higher than his positional ADP on the consensus FantasyPros collection. Freeman has 11 touchdowns and 50-plus catches in back-to-back seasons. He has a secure receiving and red zone role on an offense bound for regression, but still a likely top-five unit.
Elliott would be in a tier below Bell and Johnson regardless, but now that Elliott-only tier falls below the large group of RB1s in light of his suspension. We simply cannot lock in the same type of passing game volume for Zeke like we can for Bell and Johnson. His 40 targets ranked 31st at the position last year. That should and could come up this year but Elliott and the Cowboys also have concerns regarding their ability stay on their ultra run-heavy preferred script as consistently this year (Warren Sharp notes they have one of the top-10 most difficult schedules in addition to the loss of some two starting offensive linemen. Should he indeed miss six games with his suspension, Zeke becomes a late-second early-third round pick for me, but taking him is your own personal call. His obvious risk comes with major potential reward in the most crucial weeks of the fantasy season. Not only will you need to construct a roster sensitive to his absence, but you'll need to decide if a partial season of Zeke is worth more than a potential 16 games of the backs from Tier 4. I know my answer.
The rankings for Miller, Crowell and Gurley looks optimistic, but I never find myself drafting them at their mid-second to early-third round ADPs. All three are attached to offenses with shaky quarterback play and questionable scoring upside. However, all offer enough receiving and rushing workloads to keep their weekly floors afloat. The same could be said for Leonard Fournette, although his receiving workload may be in greater doubt than his three peers. The question is really just how many games will Jacksonville win, and therefore keep Fournette involved as the offensive centerpiece.
On the other hand, the rankings for Montgomery and McCaffrey are aggressive, and could easily be a side effect of "shiny object syndrome." Montgomery appears to be in a pristine position. The Packers ranked 29th in rush attempts last season, the lowest ever for any Mike McCarthy-led offense, after finishing 16th or higher in each of the previous four seasons. After an offseason of praise and a locked-in receiving role, Montgomery has a direct path to a tantalizing ceiling and safe floor if he holds the Packers lead job. At worst, he's a rich man's Theo Riddick, but at best, you're looking at a poor man's David Johnson. I've settled on being cool with McCaffrey���s asking price. I'm confident he will be the centerpiece of Carolina's offense as a transformative presence. Disregard the history of Panthers receiving backs and lock-in 50 catches with room for much much more.
If you're looking for a floor play in this tier, Danny Woodhead is the only one to reasonably project in such a role. The rest have enough questions to make their range of outcomes wide, despite appeal. Lynch may be the most controversial placement, considering he goes much higher in drafts, but it's not a stretch to call him the biggest unknown in the NFL this season.
Mixon looked much more appealing two months ago, but Giovani Bernard's healthy emergence and Jeremy Hill's presence as a potential goal-line vulture have his value suddenly in question. He'll have no weekly floor until that changes, despite obvious talent to usurp the backfield entirely. Doug Martin looks primed for a big year once he returns from suspension, as long as he retains the featured back role in a budding Bucs offense. Bet on that being the case with how good he looks this offseason.
Peterson might legitimately be washed up as a 32-year-old back who ran poorly amid injuries in 2016, but has double-digit touchdown upside in New Orleans. Coleman will explode if Devonta Freeman gets hurt but has a questionable weekly floor with his yards per reception and rushing touchdown total set to regress. Gillislee lost ground in the Patriots running back group after a long absence with a hamstring injury, but like others in this tier, he offers great touchdown potential. Conversely, overall offensive questions for the Ravens and Colts (sans Luck) have the ceilings for West and Gore in doubt, despite being likely locks for 200-plus touches.
Ameer Abdullah has emerged as one of the more polarizing fantasy picks of late because so many observers love his talent. The Lions continue to insist he's their feature back but is no lock for goal line work and there's no reason to assume he takes receiving duties from Theo Riddick. He'll have to live off big plays in a pass-heavy offense with that sort of role. He's a clear pass at his current fifth-round ADP.
Rob Kelley suddenly has the Washington starting gig all but locked up after Samaje Perine's poor summer. I've been targeting McFadden in the eighth-round, even if I draft a wide receiver-heavy rosters that doesn't include Zeke. People seem to like Bilal Powell but I feel better just going with a #NeverJets approach this fantasy season. Rawls and Burkhead have much more momentum in their backfield races coming off the preseason and are far too cheap right now.
- Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
- Matt Forte, New York Jets
- Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
- Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
- James White, New England Patriots
- Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
- LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
- Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins
- Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
DeAndre Washington is one of the best double-digit round picks this season. Not only does he likely have some value on his own as a pass-catcher, he also looks like he's earned the No. 2 job behind Marshawn Lynch. If Lynch cannot regain his pre-2015 form, succumbs to injury or simply must share the load, Washington has quite the appeal in a great offense. Jonathan Williams has similar appeal, as Mike Gillislee had some standalone value last season, and Williams would explode if McCoy went down.
Not much controversy here, but just like in 2016, A.J. Green belongs in the first tier with the big three. Green was in the middle of a career-year, averaging 96 yards per game before going down with an injury in Week 10. I'm not overreacting to Beckham poassibly missing a game or two to start the year.
It sounds strange to say that Michael Thomas feels like the safest bet in this bunch. Thomas will not only be the primary target, but also the top red zone threat on a Drew Brees-led voluminous pass offense. Even if he doesn't have the pure target upside of other players in this tier, he possess a strong season-long and weekly floor. Erase your expectations held by what Brees receivers have produced in the past; the team has never had a receiver like Michael Thomas before.
This tier of players offers more volatility from a season-long or weekly perspective than the receivers in the first two groups. Bryant's concerns lie with a lack of forecastable targets on the level of Tier 1 players, but he's always maintained an elite touchdown rate to counter balance that. Dez should finish the year as a Top-12 wide receiver but fits best on a team that already has one receiver on the roster, over one that starts with a running back.
Stefon Diggs is the one player I don't want to leave a draft without this season. He's my favorite true breakout receiver, though you could argue that already happened with an 84-catch season in 2016. He offers both a weekly floor as the Vikings' top short to intermediate receiver with a ceiling brought on by superstar talent. There is no better value in fantasy than Diggs right now, who currently sits priced below his floor in FantasyPros Consensus ADP.
Larry Fitzgerald epitomizes this tier, which is mostly floor plays at the wide receiver position. He has WR11 and WR19 finishes on his ledger the last two seasons. The veteran has less competition for targets this year than he did in either of the two prior.
Tier 5 offers wide receivers more volatile than the secure, high-floor weekly plays of the group that preceded it. Tyreek Hill is one of the more polarizing players in fantasy this year but he should have issues clearing 70 receptions and comes with week-winning potential each game. As long as you construct a receiver group with some safe plays to accompany him, he is fairly valued at a WR17 draft cost (Fantasy Football Calculator).
Terrelle Pryor's WR14, mid-third round ADP is quite generous and he'll need chaos to occur in order to pay off that value. Yet, with Jordan Reed and Josh Doctson already hurt, that chaos scenario could already be in the works. Pierre Garcon is priced below his floor in drafts and should snare 80 catches in a voluminous role this year in his sleep.
Outside of Kelvin Benjamin and Davante Adams, these are weekly floor plays at the wide receiver position. Benjamin isn't a sexy pick by any means, but he offers cheap access to touchdown juice and target volume in an offense that should bounce back. Snead is a 100-target lock in a Drew Brees passing offense who thrived in different roles each of his first two seasons.
Sammy Watkins cratered from WR13 to WR29 here. Once one of my favorite picks this year, it's hard to find reasons to be optimistic about this move in how it affects his fantasy stock. We have no reason to believe Jared Goff is a competent quarterback and changing teams last minute is no help, either. I currently project watkins for a 69-998-4 stat line.
Crowder has breakout potential but the passing attack is crowded. Maclin should be the top target on a pass-first team and is crazy overlooked in drafts. Moncrief should be ranked higher but his floor collapses without Andrew Luck on the field.
It is in Tier 8 that the depth of the wide receiver position becomes truly realized. All of these players would be comfortable WR3 starters on any fantasy squad. Tyrell Williams is one of the most appealing players to draft right now. Chargers first rounder Mike Williams is behind the eight ball after dealing with a back injury this summer, leaving Tyrell with a direct line to the No. 2 gig. He's underrated in real life and in fantasy.
John Brown simply needs to get and stay healthy, but struggled through another multi-week absence this summer with a quad injury. Chris Hogan is the biggest beneficiary workload-wise in the aftermath of the Edelman injury. He should eclipse 90 targets this year and showed big-play potential in 2016.
Tier 9 holds a variety of once again appealing, but slightly more volatile week-to-week assets. All of these players could push for 90 to 120 targets and have the potential to out-kick their ADPs. Marvin Jones and Tyler Lockett are both post-hype candidates with volume concerns this year. Yet, regardless of how you view their talent levels, we have categorical proof both offer spike week potential based on their NFL resumes. Matthews, Britt and Thielen are all priced below their season-long floor if they play 16 games.
The receivers here are more appealing than their ADP or rankings intimate. Ginn and Stills offer week-winning upside with craterous floors, although both are in line for more target volume than the community appears to account for. Davis and Doctson have breakout potential in up and coming offenses, with the talent to capitalize, but training camp injuries could slow them both down. Kenny Golladay rode a steady drumbeat through the offseason to an excellent preseason debut, but it remains to be seen just how often he'll be on the field with the Lions. Cooper Kupp could easily land 70 catches as the big slot receiver and Goff's favorite target in Los Angeles. I'd like to draft all these players in the double-digit rounds this year. Coleman moved up a tier after getting healthy and showing well with Kizer in the preseason but he has an awful lot of downside in his range of outcomes.
There is some real appeal still with players all the way down in Tier 11. Sterling Shepard looks less sexy than he did one year ago today due to a veteran newcomer, but we should not be surprised if he manages to carve out a bigger role than currently projected because he's that good of a player. Jones, Beasley and Anderson offer some semblance of season-long floors in PPR formats. Kendall Wright could be the favorite to lead the Bears in targets after Cameron Meredith's tragic injury if he's the team's primary slot receiver.
- Kevin White, Chicago Bears
We're officially out of the draftable range in a traditional redraft leagues but you should still monitor all of these players. We should all be 100 percent comfortable saying we are in "believe it when we see it" mode with Kevin White. With nothing but blind faith to go on there, count me out of any optimism for him in the wake of Meredith's injury.
The only true unfair advantage at the tight end position, Rob Gronkowski is still as appealing as ever. When he was on the field last year he was as dominant as ever. Gronk cleared 90 yards and/or scored a touchdown in four straight games before getting injured against the Seahawks. His vertical usage was on the uptick too, as he averaged 21.6 yards per reception. The reality that the Brandin Cooks addition could only free up more space in the middle of the field for Gronk is simply terrifying for opposing defensive coaches.
Reed is another one of those players who we should not be surprised if either of his range of outcomes comes to pass. If it's Week 6 and Reed is the clear TE1 and in pure dominant form, we should not be surprised. If he's on IR by then, we should not be surprised. Kelce and Olsen are favorites to lead their teams in targets but don't offer the same season-long ceiling of Reed or Gronkowski.
Both of these tight ends are just a tick off the second tier due to their lack of projectable volume. However, Graham and Eifert both offer strong weekly ceilings and are true difference makers. Eifert, in particular, has developed into one of my favorite draft targets. His injury worries regularly cause him slip to the seventh round but he's one of the few NFL players with 12-plus receiving touchdowns in his range of outcomes.
The last tier of no question, every week tight end plays. Walker, despite his team's additions at wide receiver, should still lead the Titans in overall targets. Rudolph led all players at the position in that stat last season.
Tier 5 holds players who could match the output of an every-week TE1, but don't project that way at first blush here at season���s beginning. Jack Doyle is incredibly appealing. He posted a 78.7 percent catch rate and collected three targets inside the 10-yard line in 2016. However, his outlook would be incredibly dubious and would drop a tier if Andrew Luck is not in the picture. Jordan Matthews exit leaves the middle of the field all to Ertz in Philadelphia.
Despite the addition of O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate should retain a big role in the Bucs passing game. Brate saw 66.7 percent of his 2016 targets when lined up in the slot, per Next Gen Stats. Austin Hooper is the top sleeper tight end this season. A strong college prospect in line for a major bump in opportunity in a strong offense, don't be shocked if Hooper vastly out-performs his ADP.
Tier 7 holds the top waiver-wire speed dial tight ends. Cook and Fleener were disappointments for owners who expected 2016 breakout campaigns but both players posted big fantasy weeks at times last season. They both remain in strong offenses to do so again this year, with Fleener staying in New Orleans and Cook moving from Green Bay to Oakland. Austin Seferian-Jenkins might well be the best passing game weapon the Jets have right now, for whatever that's worth, but he won't be available until his early season suspension ends and therefore should not be drafted. The Steelers made a late move to snag Vance McDonald from the 49ers. McDonald has big-play and seam-stretching ability that this offense needs but doesn't have much target meat to pick off the bone after Brown, Bell and Bryant get fed.
Engram is in line for the best chance to buck the trend of rookie tight ends needing a slow burn to get going at the NFL level. The Giants offense should be quite voluminous for pass-catchers this year. Antonio Gates will not completely cede the tight end duties to second-year darling Hunter Henry. He'll offer dart throw touchdown appeal for streaming owners. The Ravens desperation for receiving weapons could make Watson redraft viable this year.