Tiered Cheat Sheet - Gut Check #229
By Matt Waldman
August 22nd, 2011

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

Tiered Cheat Sheet

I like ranking players in tiers. I don't talk about this like Jene Bramel and Sigmund Bloom, but it's the most sensible way to create a draft list. I also think my cheat sheet will provide you a level of insight into my rankings that you won't see elsewhere.

This cheat sheet has approximately 12 rounds worth of players. The players are tiered into groupings that encompass two rounds. Further, I color code players that I have ranked a fair bit higher or lower than their current ADP:

  • Players highlighted in green I value at least a round or two higher than their current ADP.

  • Players highlighted in red I value at least a few rounds lower than their current ADP.

  • Bolded players are game-changing talents if they stay healthy and get featured like I think. They are what I consider higher-risk, high-reward based on where they're drafted and their fantasy history. I'm going to bold 3-5 per tier.
  • This type of labeling should accomplish two things:

    1. Readers can see where my rankings significantly differ from the ADP roadmap.
    2. Readers can adjust my rankings easily:
    3. Play it safe and limit your picks of highlighted players.

    4. Swing for the fences and pick lots of green-highlighted players and bolded players.

    5. Adjust my rankings by upgrading red-highlighted players and downgrading green-highlighted players.

    I will be interspersing commentary between tiers.

    ADP Key
    Overrated - going much earlier
    Underrated - going later
    Unmarked - within 1-2 rounds of ADP

    Rounds 1-2

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Adrian Peterson - Min
    Andre Johnson - Hou
    Aaron Rodgers - GB
    Arian Foster - Hou
    Calvin Johnson - Det
    Tom Brady - NE
    Ray Rice - Bal
    Roddy White - Atl
    Jamaal Charles - KC
    Hakeem Nicks - NYG
    Chris Johnson - Ten
    Larry Fitzgerald - Ari
    Rashard Mendenhall - Pit
    Vincent Jackson - SD
    Frank Gore - SF
    Reggie Wayne - Ind
    Greg Jennings - GB

    Commentary: Just count the number of non-RBs to RBs and you can understand why I have no issue with drafting non-RBs in the opening rounds when the situation dictates. Calvin Johnson with a healthy Matt Stafford could have the season we've all anticipated since they were initially paired. I think Vincent Jackson and Philip Rivers look like they're playing catch. Late last season and this preseason it looks like Rivers can find Jackson at will. The fact that Jackson's hold out helped Malcolm Floyd come into his own, will make it even more difficult for opponents to attempt to bracket Jackson on a consistent basis. Tom Brady's statistical run during the second half of the season coupled with the maturation of his young skill talent leads me to believe he could have a season that at least approaches (40 Tds) the magic of 2007. Gore was performing at a consistently strong rate before the hip injury and I think Jim Harbaugh's coaching staff is going to make this run scheme click.

    Rounds 2-4

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Mark Ingram - NO
    Dwayne Bowe - KC
    Tony Romo - Dal
    Jermichael Finley - GB
    Michael Turner - Atl
    Brandon Lloyd - Den
    Philip Rivers - SD
    Jason Witten - Dal
    LeGarrette Blount - TB
    Dez Bryant - Dal
    Peyton Manning - Ind
    Dallas Clark - Ind
    Jahvid Best - Det
    Santonio Holmes - NYJ
    Drew Brees - NO
    Antonio Gates - SD
    LeSean McCoy - Phi
    Austin Collie - Ind
    Peyton Hillis - Cle
    Mike Wallace - Pit
    Matt Forte - Chi
    Mike Williams - TB
    Maurice Jones-Drew - Jac
    Miles Austin - Dal
    DeAngelo Williams - Car
    Felix Jones - Dal

    Commentary: Want a stud RB? I like Ingram Best, and Jones as high upside guys. The reason I really value them isn't just their physical talents. They process the game quicker than the average NFL runner. Felix Jones' Sunday night game versus the Chargers is a terrific example. His runs showcased several small adjustments to avoid, run over, or set up the defense. Generally a good runner does one of these things on one productive run. Jones, Best, and Ingram can do multiple things on the same run to create additional yardage. I also really like Jones-Drew and Blount in this tier, but they don't present as high of a risk, which is why they aren't bolded.

    Brandon Lloyd may see fewer targets, but I think he's practically unstoppable on a well-thrown fade route. The only receiver I'd rather have when the ball is up for grabs is Larry Fitzgerald and the reason is that Fitzgerald is bigger, stronger, and otherworldly tougher. Still, Lloyd is a contortionist in the air and in that department there isn't a better receiver in the NFL. Holmes and Collie are players I think will see optimal match ups coupled with a ton of targets everywhere on the field. These guys can play the slot, outside, or make plays in the red zone. Smart route runners with sticky hands and good quickness after the catch win me over. Gates is obvious. He stays healthy and he's the best pick in the draft.

    Rounds 5-6

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Steven Jackson - StL
    Percy Harvin - Min
    Michael Vick - Phi
    Vernon Davis - SF
    Ryan Mathews - SD
    Chad Ochocinco - NE
    Matt Schaub - Hou
    Owen Daniels - Hou
    Ryan Grant - GB
    DeSean Jackson - Phi
    Matt Ryan - Atl
    Aaron Hernandez - NE
    Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
    Santana Moss - Was
    Knowshon Moreno - Den
    Mario Manningham - NYG
    Marshawn Lynch - Sea
    A.J. Green - Cin
    Darren McFadden - Oak
    Steve Johnson - Buf
    Marques Colston - NO
    Brandon Marshall - Mia

    Commentary: I'm souring on Michael Vick, because I believe he's going to be great some weeks and underwhelming during others. He still has real issues handling outside pressure and the quality of his decision-making still drops significantly when he's on the move. I'm still a Ryan Mathews fan and while the presence of Mike Tolbert on the roster probably hurts his upside, I think he still has a ceiling of a runner capable of ranking 8-12 at his position even with his bruising teammate. The risk is the perception of how he's handled injury up to this point of his young career. Aaron Hernandez has wide receiver skills and I know I stand alone among most of the staff with where I have him ranked. Therefore you know he's a swing for the fences. Considering you have several rounds longer to get him rather than where I have him, TE should be a bit of a luxury for you if you see what I'm seeing. If you can start two tight ends, Hernandez is my must-have second starter at the position after a top-tier guy.

    Rounds 7-8

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Joseph Addai - Ind
    Anquan Boldin - Bal
    Matthew Stafford - Det
    Marcedes Lewis - Jac
    Shonn Greene - NYJ
    Wes Welker - NE
    Josh Freeman - TB
    Kellen Winslow - TB
    Chris Wells - Ari
    Jeremy Maclin - Phi
    Sam Bradford - StL
    BenJarvus Green-Ellis - NE
    Nate Burleson - Det
    Ben Roethlisberger - Pit
    Reggie Bush - Mia
    Donald Driver - GB
    Fred Jackson - Buf
    Lance Moore - NO
    Cedric Benson - Cin
    Steve Smith - Car
    Jonathan Stewart - Car
    Tim Hightower - Was

    Commentary: Addai and Bush intrigue me here. Addai is a top-12 back every time he stays healthy. He's been hurt enough in two of his first five seasons that he didn't play enough games to earn RB1 status in fantasy leagues, but he did in the other three. I'm honestly tired of people who don't watch games closely enough (and some who do) disparage Addai as a running back. He's perhaps one of the bigger fan – and analyst – blind spots in football today. Delone Carter is a fine young player, but if Addai stays healthy he's a tremendous value. This weekend Reggie Bush looked like the runner he should have been when he left USC. He's so high-risk due to the knee issues he's repeatedly experienced, but rookie Daniel Thomas is under whelming and Lex Hilliard is slightly above pedestrian. Bush is at just the right spot this year to take a chance. If healthy, he's a great flex-play. I just have a feeling he's going to surprise. In terms of physical-mental upside, Matt Stafford is the best QB prospect I've seen since I started writing the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

    Rounds 9-10

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Mike Tolbert - SD
    Jason Hill - Jac
    Eli Manning - NYG
    Tony Moeaki - KC
    Brandon Jacobs - NYG
    Davone Bess - Mia
    Jay Cutler - Chi
    Greg Olsen - Car
    James Starks - GB
    Sidney Rice - Sea
    Rob Gronkowski - NE
    Willis McGahee - Den
    Mike Williams - Sea
    Brandon Pettigrew - Det
    Michael Bush - Oak
    Jacoby Ford - Oak
    Jimmy Graham - NO
    Pierre Thomas - NO
    Pierre Garcon - Ind
    Daniel Thomas - Mia

    Commentary: I have talked at length about James Starks and Jason Hill. Tony Moeaki was on a great pace to be the top rookie tight end last year before he got hurt. Now healthy and on a team that has only Dwayne Bowe as a versatile receiving threat, and it seems crazy that he's not ranked higher. Jimmy Graham is a great talent, but the Saints don't get beholden to players who don't perform consistently. They don't need to with a quarterback of Brees' considerable talents.

    Rounds 11-12

    Running Backs
    Wide Receivers
    Quarterbacks
    Tight Ends
    Ronnie Brown - Phi
    Derrick Mason - NYJ
    Kyle Orton - Den
    Todd Heap - Ari
    Delone Carter - Ind
    Andre Roberts - Ari
    Mark Sanchez - NYJ
    Lance Kendricks - StL
    C.J. Spiller - Buf
    Mike Thomas - Jac
    Kevin Kolb - Ari
    Tony Gonzalez - Atl
    LaDainian Tomlinson - NYJ
    Mike Sims-Walker - StL
    Donovan McNabb - Min
    Brent Celek - Phi
    Rashad Jennings - Jac
    Kenny Britt - Ten
    Jared Cook - Ten
    Ricky Williams - Bal
    Roy Williams - Chi
    Thomas Jones - KC
    Denarius Moore - Oak
    Marion Barber - Chi
    Danny Amendola - StL

    Commentary: As much as I value Joseph Addai, I think Delone Carter is a fine hedge on that bet. Marion Barber's expulsion from Dallas must have been a wake-up call, because he's running with authority in Chicago. When NFL scouts are saying Barber is going to have a bigger impact that Roy Williams in the Bears offense that's a pretty big statement. Although Early Doucet is splitting time with Roberts as the No.2 in Arizona, Roberts is a better pure receiver despite lacking Doucet's great athletic upside. Not that Roberts can't hold his own as a runner after the catch – he's very good in this area. Denarius Moore is looking like the perfect fit in this Raiders vertical passing attack. This late in the draft, he's a great swing for the fences.

    Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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