The NFL stands for "Not For Long", which means that the plate tectonics of fantasy football drafts are still shifting under our feet. We put together a full series detailing our tiers at each offensive position earlier in the preseason. Here are the major changes to our tiers as we reach the end of the preseason.
Bloom: Matt Ryan is red hot and has moved into his own tier as QB6, ahead of Michael Vick, who reminded everyone just what makes him so risky. You can still land him in the fifth round of drafts, but it is far from a sure thing.
Andrew Luck has moved into the spot vacated by Ryan in the Mid QB1 with moderate-to-high risk tier with Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III after an outstanding preseason. He is still going as many as three rounds after Romo and two after Griffin, so keep targeting him as your QB2, or QB1 if you are the last to take a starter.
Hello, Russell Wilson! Wilson dazzled the football world with his preseason week 3 performance and he is making a big splash in fantasy drafts. I have him in the same "Unproven Low QB1 with mid QB1 upside" tier as Jake Locker. The running ability and guts to constantly test defenses downfield are there, just like they are with Locker. Consider Wilson an excellent late-round QB2 target.
Joe Flacco has moved into the "Steady with low end QB1 upside" tier with the Ravens showing an inclination to run a more up-tempo pass offense. Josh Freeman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Schaub are still there (with Schaub as the clear #1 in the tier), but Carson Palmer has dropped to the "Possible low end QB1 with bust risk" tier with Christian Ponder because of the injury problems in his wide receiver corps.
Bramel: I agree with Bloom. The strong play of Matt Ryan has pushed him into my second tier of quarterbacks, just outside the four in my elite tier. If you're looking for extreme single game upside and can fade the risk, Cam Newton and Michael Vick are your targets. If you're looking for a little more consistency and a higher weekly floor, take Ryan.
Andrew Luck has clearly risen relative to his peers, but I'm not ready to slot him higher than QBBC status. And I'd be very careful before considering Russell Wilson in a QB1 tier. There will be plenty of ups and downs with both. Wilson looked great in the third preseason week, but it's a mistake to draft a risky player at his ceiling projection. Make sure you're getting him at his expected value (or below) unless you're willing to assume the added risk.
Bloom: Maurice Jones-Drew has plummeted from Elite RB1 with mid-risk to his own "High Risk RB2" tier after Frank Gore in the 4th/5th round range. We have to grapple with the possibility that Jones-Drew does take this thing all the way into the 11th week of the regular season. Even if he shows up today, he probably won't be the starter to open the season and I expect Rashad Jennings to get at least 30% of the work the regular season.
Speaking of Jennings, he is now rocketing up the board into the 8th/9th round range and the "exciting RB3 tier", with his value ticking up every day that Jones-Drew is absent. David Wilson has also joined that tier with the first-team reps and big plays he has been getting in the preseason.
Isaac Redman is in a freefall after the activation of Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP and his battling of hip/groin problems. He's lasting well into the double-digit rounds in some drafts. He's gone from "High Floor RB2s with conditional upside" to a "Lottery Ticket RB4". I still wouldn't spend a pick on Rashard Mendenhall.
Stevan Ridley's value has equalized after Shane Vereen's bid was slowed down by an injury. Ridley has looked impressive in the preseason and he is in the "High Floor RB2s with conditional upside" tier, making him worth a 7th/8th round pick.
The Washington running back situation is fantasy football's own illustration of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: "The more precisely Mike Shanahan's preferences are determined, the less precisely the Redskins running back to own is known in this instant, and vice versa" Basically, you should consider Roy Helu no longer an "exciting RB3". Alfred Morris has risen merely "Worth a Roster Spot", and Tim Hightower has, too. They are all "Lottery Ticket RB4s", with Morris being the one you want to own for week 1.
The luster has worn off of Kevin Smith after he suffered an ankle injury in week 3 of the preseason. He is still an "exciting RB3", but he's closer to the bottom of that tier. Any running back that makes the roster is "Worth a Roster Spot".
I suppose you could still call Jahvid Best a "Lottery Ticket RB4", but he's a one dollar scratch-off at best. More like a spent scratch-off ticket you grab off of the ground to see if someone accidentally missed a winner.
Cedric Benson is worth a lot more than a mere roster spot as the lead back for the Packers. I wouldn't take him before the 10th round, and I'm seeing him go as early as the fifth. Still, he is an "exciting RB3" in theory. I just can't get excited about him in practice.
Bramel: Call it stubbornness, but I'm generally trusting my first impressions of most of the running backs in the RB2 and above tiers. Maurice Jones-Drew is an exception here, but I try not to react strongly to any news from training camp. It's the later tiers that get the shuffle treatment as I push players, no matter how risky, up my board based on possible ceiling.
With that in mind, I'm loving Rashad Jennings, Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure as possible RB3 targets any time after the 7th / 8th round. Jennings has always shown talent and the Jones-Drew situation is ugly. Both Williams and Leshoure have struggled statistically in their preseason games, but they look very comfortable in pads and do not seem to be favoring their previously injured legs. There are issues with the offense in Arizona and Leshoure has a suspension to serve, but both look more talented than many others in their respective tiers.
Target a Washington running back if you like, but it's a waste of a roster spot unless you like chasing down lineups on Sunday morning. None of the Washington backs are talented enough to fuss over.
Bloom: Julio Jones has moved into a tier all by himself as the #2 overall wide receiver in the second round. Let's call it "Next Calvin?"
Justin Blackmon has elevated himself with a good dress rehearsal game. He's out of "Potential Producers in Theory" tier and in the bottom of the "WR3 with strong WR2 upside" tier, around the 9th/10th round.
The flight of Austin Collie has encountered some turbulence. He was in "WR3 with strong WR2 upside" tier two weeks ago, and then dropped into the "Potential Producers in Theory" tier. Now that he is likely to be cleared for week 1, he's back in that WR3 tier, but you know exactly what you are getting into.
I would probably have Vincent Brown in my WR3 tier if he was healthy today. After breaking his ankle, he's only worth a pick in leagues with 20+ roster spots, or an IR spot for injured players. Since the injury, we've also learned that Brown was going to be featured in the pass offense. He has technically moved up to the "Upside Bench Play" tier, but with delayed gratification.
Sidney Rice is ending up on a lot of my teams lately. It was encouraging to see him get back on the field, but the emergence of Russell Wilson is a lot bigger reason why Rice is on my target list. Wilson will keep plays alive and make bold throws for Rice to climb the ladder and do his thing, where Matt Flynn is a more conservative quarterback. Move Rice up from "Upside Bench Play" to "WR3 with strong WR2 upside"
I already had Mike Wallace in the "Potential WR1 with questions" tier and fully expected him to show up before the season started. His questions about the disappearing act and his football shape/proficiency in the new offense persist, but I would still take Wallace in the fifth.
Darrius Heyward-Bey has jumped up a few tiers on my board even though I am not completely sold on him. With a healthy Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, he was in the "Potential Producers in Theory" tier. With both nursing injuries, Heyward-Bey is a WR3 with WR2 upside. Rod Streater and Juron Criner are also "Bench Flyers" now.
Brian Daboll came from the New England coaching tree, and Matt Cassel flourished with Wes Welker in the slot during his year as the starter for the Patriots. Now it appears that Dexter McCluster is playing that Welker short and intermediate route out of the slot role, and Cassel has looked his way frequently. He joins the likes of Davone Bess, Danny Amendola, Doug Baldwin, and Earl Bennett in the "PPR bye week/injury plays" tier, although McCluster has the highest ceiling of the group.
Laurent Robinson wasn't on any fantasy rosters at this time last year, because he wasn't on an NFL roster. He made noise as the Cowboys third receiver, but there was no suitable candidate for that role when Robinson left for Jacksonville in free agency. Now we know the most likely #3 for Dallas, and he's actually on the roster. Dwayne Harris could even start early in the season if Miles Austin can't stay healthy. He's a "Bench Flyer".
Bramel: I'm just as biased toward my first instincts and earlier tier decision with the wide receiver position. Unless there's something obviously different – a change in my perception of talent (either way) or a clearly different look to the offense than I expected – there's too much vanilla route combinations and defensive game planning in preseason to push me off my earlier expectations.
I've moved Miles Austin down (durability question), Reggie Wayne up (Andrew Luck even more poised than expected), Torrey Smith up (improved route running, expected wider route tree), Titus Young up (cemented every-down duty), Denarius Moore down (durability question) and Sidney Rice up (fewer QB and durability questions), but otherwise made only minor adjustments to my top 30-40 receivers within their previous tiers.
You can read our earlier extended thoughts on the tight end tiers here and our most recent tight end rankings here.
Bloom: Jason Witten's "Strong TE1 with high risk" designation should be dialed down to medium risk in light of the diagnosis that he will not need surgery for his lacerated spleen. He should probably be going very close to Jermichael Finley in drafts again.
The Russell Wilson tide lifts more than Sidney Rice's fortunes. Kellen Winslow could be an interesting bench play/early season waiver wire pickup with Wilson at the helm. He's no longer "Boring Bye Week/Injury Filler" material. Winslow isn't quite a sure "Low-end TE1 with Steady TE1 upside", but if the Seahawks use him enough, he will be.
Bramel: I think Aaron Hernandez has joined Antonio Gates as draftable just outside the elite tier. Those two have clearly separated themselves from Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley and Jason Witten. I'm not sure I share Bloom's optimism on Winslow. Put him on your waiver watch list, but there are better upside options to consider.
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