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Evaluation by Association: 2017 Edition

Ranking NFL offenses as units and identifying valuable fantasy assets from each

This article started in 2015 as a two-part series called "Being a Fantasy Elitist" and then continued last year with the same title as this one. I've gotten a number of requests to dust off the format, re-rank the offenses, and provide actionable recommendations that apply to this year. But first, let's start with the same passage as last year, a lesson in "you are judged by the company you keep."

A man wished to purchase a donkey, and decided to give the animal a test before buying him. He took the donkey home and put him in the field with his other donkeys. The new donkey strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.

Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner. When the owner asked how he could have tested the donkey in such a short time, the man answered, "I didn't even need to see how he worked. I knew he would be just like the one he chose to be his friend."

We should strive to avoid drafting players on bad offenses, especially early in fantasy drafts, because they're going to be weighed down by their "friends" (in this case, teammates). It's not earth-shattering to say that when a team scores very few points, its players tend to score fewer fantasy points than those with a similar opportunity on higher-scoring teams.

Now that we have the basics, let's get into the tiers. Outside of using our own Matt Bitonti's offensive line rankings, these rankings are solely my own and opinion-based. For quarterbacks, I multiplied the score by three because of the position's importance to the whole offense. And for scripts, I multiplied by 0.5 because that's an unpredictable item with plenty of week-to-week variance. And because I don't want to provide an article without actionable advice, I've chosen my favorite player from each team factoring in their current ADP.

Feel free to reach out to me at either hester@footballguys.com or @RyanHester13, but just know that a half-point here, a full point there isn't going to change too much. These rankings are more of a litmus test than something to treat as gospel.

The Cream of the Crop

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
1 NE 5 3.5 5 3 5 5 34.0 Brady at the helm; Belichick driving the bus; Gronkowski joined by Cooks; seemingly better every year.
2 GB 5 2.5 6 3 4.5 4 33.0 In 2016 the DAL OL was the "cheat code" rating; this year it's the GB pass-catchers. Loaded.
2 PIT 4.5 5 5 4 3.5 4 33.0 Give Roethlisberger the 5 and they're #1; Bell-Brown-Bryant - who cares about the TE spot?
4 NO 5 3 4 3 5 5 32.5 Possible that every pass-catcher is underrated? Possible the RB score is worse because of Peterson?

These teams are elite offenses, but their fantasy production is spread around in different ways. For instance, in Pittsburgh, the distribution of non-quarterback fantasy points is largely going to LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. But in Green Bay, there are three viable wide receivers, a great tight end, and a dual-threat running back. As a general aside, knowing how teams distribute their production is key in fantasy analysis as well. How often do we see a more talented player lacking a superior opportunity?

Favorites by ADP

The "IF" Tier

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
5 ATL 4.5 5 4.5 4 2.5 3 31.0 Coaching philosophy; execution; and play-calling the only questions marks - albeit big ones.
6 WAS 4 2 4 5 4 4 29.0 Might be overrating Pryor and Crowder. But they've both been playmakers in smaller roles before. RBs are weak.
7 DET 4 4 4 3 4 3 28.5 With any luck regression they won't be able to play slowly to mask their poor defense.
7 ARI 3.5 5 2 4 5 4 28.5 If you think Palmer is in for a bounce-back year Arizona jumps Washington ahead of them.

As the header suggests, this tier is full of conditional statements. Will Atlanta's inevitable regression be normal or catastrophic? Will Kirk Cousins continue to be a franchise quarterback in the non-contract-tag sense of the phrase? Will Detroit put the proverbial air back into the ball? Will Carson Palmer stay upright and David Johnson stay healthy?

Washington seems overrated here, but the pass game has been a fantasy asset in consecutive years. And the run game is still a near-zero, leaving plenty of red zone work for Kirk Cousins and his receivers.

Favorites by ADP

This Could Go Either Way, Part I

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
9 DAL 3.5 5 3 5 3 2 27.5 The lowest team with two 5's - which makes sense since they're at less important positions.
10 OAK 4 2.5 5 2 3.5 3 26.5 Cooper & Crabtree plus new addition Cook get top billing here over Carr.
10 NYG 3.5 2 5 4 3.5 3 26.5 This time last year a "4" in Scripts but decreased to a "3" with what we know about their defense (it's good).
12 TEN 3.5 4 3.5 4 3 2 26.0 Scripts rating low because they still do want to run more than pass and avoid shootouts. Mariota emerging.
13 IND 4 2.5 3.5 2 4 3 25.5 QB rating goes down to "1" with no Luck (get it?) - which would make them third-worst on this list.
14 LAC 4 3.5 4 2 2 3 25.0 Anthony Lynn a downgrade from Mike McCoy but Rivers and plenty of pass-catchers highlight a solid O.

If I were to do this exercise after the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see two of these teams in either of the tiers above and four of them below. But figuring out which teams might go which direction is a very difficult task. It's worth mentioning that the Dallas score here is obviously with Ezekiel Elliott. They're more like a 1.5 at RB(s) without him, meaning they'd be in the next tier.

Favorites by ADP

This Could Go Either Way, Part II

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
15 CAR 4 2.5 2 3 3 3 24.0 When will Newton be 100%? Who is he throwing to? Maybe didn't factor in McCaffrey enough here.
16 CIN 3.5 3.5 4 1 3 3 23.5 If Hill weren't on the team the RB rating might oddly be higher. The OL is one of just four with a "1."
16 TB 3.5 3 4 2 3 2 23.5 Won more games when they played close to the vest/run-first at end of last season.
18 SEA 4 2.5 2.5 1 3.5 2 22.5 A good QB can overcome a lot; if Wilson can still have success if he ca stay upright and healthy behind this bad OL.
19 BAL 3 2.5 3 2 3.5 3 21.5 Led NFL in pass attempts last two seasons; too bad the QB isn't efficient enough to produce at an elite level.

Last year, I had Carolina 5th, Cincinnati 22nd, Tampa Bay 18th, Seattle 13th, and Baltimore 20th. That's a wild way to get to an average placement of 15.6. This year, they're all right next to each and average 16.8.

Favorites by ADP

  • Carolina: No interest in anyone at current ADP
  • Cincinnati: Andy Dalton (124, QB17); Honorable Mention to Joe Mixon (44, RB17)
  • Tampa Bay: Cameron Brate (163, TE20)
  • Seattle: No interest in anyone at current ADP; but Russell Wilson (61, QB6) is close if you feel stuck to taking quarterback early
  • Baltimore: Jeremy Maclin (98, WR40) - I'm high on Maclin; colleague Jason Wood is not

Pick Your Spots

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
20 CLE 1.5 3 2.5 5 4 3 20.5 The elite OL and neutral game scripts (at least improved from last year) are reasons to like Crowell.
21 BUF 2 4 1 4 4 2 20.0 When you're relying on a 36-year-old receiver - you're probably not in good shape; when he retires - you're worse.
22 KC 2 2.5 3 3 3.5 2 19.0 If TE was separate from WR here KC might have been a "1." Hill and no one else. Kelce TE1 and WR1.
22 MIA 2 3 3.5 2 3.5 2 19.0 2016 Miami found success when running and playing slow; Cutler might make WRs more relevant.
22 SF 1.5 2.5 1 4 5 4 19.0 Kyle Shanahan makes San Fran the lowest-ranked team to have a "5." Not much else to discuss.

From Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton to an elite wide receiver in A.J. Green to a PPR dynamo like Danny Woodhead, these teams all have attractive assets but are limited as entire units. Related, I can't quit you, Cleveland (if you control-F my name in those links, you'll be tempted to make fun of me a month or two from now if Kenny Britt and DeShone Kizer are laughably bad; please don't).

Favorites by ADP

Buyer Beware

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
25 PHI 2 1 2.5 4 2 3 17.0 Big year toward determining if Wentz and Pederson are good; if Jeffery is elite WR1. RBs are a huge weak spot.
25 HOU 2 3 1.5 2 3.5 2 17.0 When RB and coach are the strengths - it may not be the most productive unit. Countdown to Watson on.
27 DEN 1.5 2 3.5 2 4 1 16.5 Mike McCoy brings a history of success; QBs do not. Thomas and Sanders have plenty to overcome.
27 CHI 1.5 3 2.5 3 2 3 16.5 Not much else around Howard; total rebuild mode.
29 LAR 1 3 1.5 3 4 3 16.0 Sean McVay has plenty of work to do with mostly just Gurley to do it. Will be interesting to see if Watkins meshes.
30 MIN 2 2.5 3.5 1 2 1 15.5 Good thing they have a great defense; Diggs wildly underrated and incredibly versatile; Cook off to great start.
31 JAX 1.5 3 3 2 1.5 1 14.5 1.5 at QB might be generous considering Henne vs. Bortles is reportedly a coin-flip right now.

Even though they're ranked 30th here, if there's any team 20th or worse with the best chance to crack the top-15 in next year's version of this, it's Minnesota. The "2" for Sam Bradford may be too harsh, and there are rumors of their offensive line improving. Plus, they have two emerging skill players (more on those below).

There are still some great talents here. Just beware that you don't overpay for them and don't expect many high-ceiling weeks. As the comments suggest, Carson Wentz can vault Philadelphia into a top-half unit almost entirely on his own merits if things go right. 

Jacksonville is a disastrous situation right now. The fact that Blake Bortles and Chad Henne is even a "battle" makes them the worst offense in the NFL, considering what comes next can hardly qualify as an NFL team.

Favorites by ADP

  • Philadelphia: No interest in anyone at current ADP
  • Houston: No interest in anyone at current ADP
  • Denver: No interest in anyone at current ADP
  • Chicago: No interest in anyone at current ADP
  • Minnesota: Stefon Diggs (65, WR30) and Dalvin Cook (45, RB18) may both destroy those ADPs, especially Diggs
  • Jacksonville: No interest in anyone at current ADP

A League of Their Own

Rank Team QB RB(s) WRs/TE OL OC Scripts Total Comments
32 NYJ 0.5 2.5 1 1 3 1 9.5 18 teams in the league have more than 9.5 points with their QB alone. This is a disaster of epic proportions.

Favorites by ADP

  • Is this team a joke? Bilal Powell on check-downs, Robby Anderson on sheer target volume (even if he only catches about half of the passes due to inaccuracy), but even those guys are far from appealing.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com