UPDATED 7/15: When I draft, I always have a tier sheet handy. I find that organizing players by tiers is far more beneficial than merely ranking players.
I could rank Odell Beckham Jr. over Julio Jones, but it is impossible to truly predict who will finish better between the two of them. Maybe Jones has fifty more yards on the season then ODB, or maybe Beckham has one more touchdown. Who knows; but I do know that both should finish better than a guy like Alshon Jeffery.
Another reason I prefer tier rankings is that a range of outcomes approach is preferable to just this is what a guy will finish with at the end of the season. Jason Witten and Frank Gore have low end RB1 and TE1 numbers the past two years, but their weekly numbers are not going to help you win your weeks for the most part. In essence, you are looking for a player that has a chance to perform at a weekly level that is higher than a mere replacement level player, even if that replacement level player may have decent looking year-end numbers. Which brings me to my final point, fantasy football, in season long leagues, is about winning weeks, so you need to draft a combination of players where some have high ceiling, while some of high floors. That is how you win.
Tom Brady, Patriots – PFF’s #1 rated QB from 2016 has even more weapons this year with addition of Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and Rex Burkhead. Additionally, Gronk is fully healthy coming into the season, even taking part in a recent WWE wrestling event, and Malcolm Mitchell has a year under his belt and flashed big time last season. This team’s running back core is also built for dump offs and big YAC, not grinding runs. If you feel nervous about his age, very easy to handcuff in MFL10’s and season long leagues with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers – He’s as safe a pick as there is, but you have to hope this offense comes out of the gate hot and not sputtering like they have done the past few seasons. Jordy Nelson did look a bit slower; hopefully he comes out this year looking faster after having two years to fully heal. There is no safer player to draft.
Drew Brees, Saints - Locked and loaded as usual, but loss of Cooks and lack of a reliable tight end does hurt a bit. I like the addition of Alvin Kamara out of the backfield and I think they still add another wide receiver, possibly Vincent Jackson who could be great at stretching the field. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 37 TDs last season, look for that to continue.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks – Showed last year that he can have success as a pocket passer. He will have even better weapons available to him this season with Jimmy Graham fully healthy and WR Paul Richardson ascending. While this team will still roll through the running backs, and attempts won't increase, what he does with those attempts should be even better. He also has a great floor running the ball.
Matt Ryan, Falcons – All of their offensive pieces remain and tight end Austin Hooper could develop into a true weapon. The biggest loss was OC Kyle Shanahan moving on to the 49ers after Ryan had a career year, as his Adjusted Yards/Attempt of 10.1 was the third best of all time behind only Aaron Rodgers in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2013, finishing the season as the QB1. Per PFF, his fantasy points per drop back also skyrocketed to 0.59 after being below the NFL average the prior three seasons. However, there is a reason Ryan was going off the board beyond round 10 last year, and we can probably assume there will be some regression to his mean, but it's hard to best against him after seeing his ceiling and without much change the weapons around him, including a top six offensive line.
Kirk Cousins, Redskins – Arguably an even better receiving core this year with the additions of Terrelle Pryor and a healthy rookie Josh Doctson to go along with Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder. Per ESPN's Matt Berry, last season Cousins threw for either 300 yards or 2 touchdowns in 14 games and the Redskins have the 5th most passing yards in the league since HC Gruden took over the reigns there in 2014. Playing once again for a big contract, Cousins should be once again a reliable weekly starter.
Marcus Mariota, Titans – This team is loaded with weapons and Mariota is by far the biggest beneficiary for fantasy purposes. He now has Erick Decker, to go along with highly touted rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, Rishard Matthews, running back Demarco Murray and tight end Delanie Walker. Not to mention depth pieces in Tajae Sharpe, Derek Henry and Harry Douglas. Last season he averaged more than 21 fantasy points a game and went on a solid run from Week 5 through 12 where he had at least two touchdowns a game, finishing as a Top 12 QB in every week. Per PFF, Mariota also has had the best red zone passer rating in the league over the past two seasons (35.1%); besting both Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. The downside to Mariota is that this team will supposedly still wants to stick to its exotic smash-mouth brand of football and he has ended the past two seasons on IR. Additionally, while they may play in more three receiver sets than in the past (they were near the bottom of the league last year), their pace of play may still remain slow. All that said, if he can stay healthy, he could absolutely blow up in his third season as a top 5 quarterback, especially if starts adding some more yards on the ground. With one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, he should have a Top 12 QB weekly floor, so I’m buying.
Derek Carr, Raiders – Carr has emerged as a legitimate NFL quarterback with very capable weapons in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook and potential rookie Ish Zamora, who has traits of Martavis Bryant. With a top 3 offensive line and the return of Marshawn Lynch, there is a lot to like in this offense. He was a top 10 fantasy quarterback last season no matter your scoring system, finished 7th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, 7th in Football Outsiders DYAR ranking and was the 5th rated passer per PFF. Carr had 28 touchdown and just 6 interceptions in his second season, and also has 81 touchdowns in his first three years of playing, which ranks 4th all time. He is a safe backend QB1 and has the potential to take a major step forward. A 35 touchdown, 4,200 yard season is well within reach.
Andrew Luck, Colts – Why so low on Luck right now? Becuase he is coming off of shoulder surgery and he may not even be near 100% by the start of the season, which is not good, since getting healthy in-season is never going to happen. His shoulder aside, if everyone can stay healthy, there is no reason he can’t finish the year as a Top 5 QB. He played most of the season injured and it showed. Addition of Kamar Aiken gives them a legitimate third receiver and Donte Moncrief (still just 23 years old) is finally going to break out; despite putting up tight end type numbers last year, Matt Harmon’s reception perception methodology still loves him and I do too. Lack of a difference making running back, the shoulder injury and the right side of this offensive line are concerns. I'm only drafting if reports in camp are positive.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills –The key with Taylor is Sammy Watkins, whose foot injury is apparently serious enough that the team just turned down his 5th year option. Outside of Watkins, their only viable receiving threats are rookie Zay Jones (who is injured already) and TE Charles Clay (who has concerning knee issues). They also signed free agent Andre Holmes, so they have a capable, but not overly exciting, trio at this point at least. Also keep in mind, the Bills barley re-resigned Taylor, so it is not inconceivable that we could see pro-ready rookie QB Nathan Peterman sometime this year. Tyrod has a solid floor due to his running ability, finishing first amongst all QBs in runs, yards and touchdowns on the ground, but what is concerning is that "Taylor’s pass attempts per game ranked 35th in 2015 and 33rd in 2016." as noted by PFF analyst Pat Thorman. He has been a Top 10 quarterback the past two seasons due to his running and if Watkins is healthy, Tyrod will finish in Tier 2, if not, this is around his floor.
Cam Newton, Panthers – Additions of rookie RB Christian McCaffrey and RB/WR hybrid Curtis Samuels should help give this team some speed and weapons near the line of scrimmage, which will help since Cam was pretty erratic throwing the ball down the field, although he was also the worst passer the league on throws 5 yards or less as well. While they want to make Cam more of a pocket passer, he will not be able to change the way he has played his whole life in one off-season, especially since he is still coming off of shoulder surgery and can't even throw until mid-June. His transformation is a process that will probably take 2 or 3 years, so expect to see a lot of yards on the ground as usual.
Matthew Stafford, Lions – People hate on Stafford, but he’s a top-level quarterback in an offense that is still built on passing the ball, throwing it on 65% of their plays last season, and especially in the red-zone. Injuries to Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick all worked to hamper what started out as a great season last year, but they are all back healthy in addition to perennial 90+ catch receiver, Golden Tate. After fortifying their offensive line during the off-season, the Lions unfortunatley lost their starting left tackle, Taylor Decker, for at least the first month of the season, while left guard, Laken Tomlinson, is also a question mark, but he is entering his third year and is a former first round pick. This team does have weapons though, with both 3rd round rookie receiver Kenny Golladay and former Packer, Jared Abbrederis, both drawing rave reviews in camp. If all his weapons can stay healthy, and his new offensive line holds up, Stafford should be a top-notch starter this season in fantasy. There is a lot to like here, and the continuity of the offensive scheme and skill players always helps.
Philip Rivers, Chargers – Has a chance to be a Tier 2 QB if his offensive line and wide receivers stay healthy, something that has killed him two years in a row now, and perhaps (stupidly) the reason I don't have him ranked higher now. This offense is loaded with weapons (Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Dontrelle Inman, Melvin Gordon) and is going to be a fun watch. It would probably surprise some people to know he threw the 4th most TDs (33) last season and had the 5th most passing yards (4,386) playing with backups. A true gunslinger, if the skill players stay healthy, this could finally be the year Rivers delivers as a top 5 QB.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys - He had the best offensive line in football and played very well last season, but outside of Dez Bryant, this team lacks any reliable weapons and will still run their offense through Zeke. Their offensive line is also a bit worse on paper this season, although still easily a top 10 unit, and teams will now have a full year to game plan for him. They will open up the playbook for him this year, but that could actually end up being bad for his bottom line, even though it will help him progress in real life. He's going to be over drafted even though I love the talent. He finished as the QB6 last year, but other offenses have reloaded and gotten healthy.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers – Winston has weapons galore, adding Desean Jackson to go along with top notch rookies TE OJ Howard and under rated receiver Chris Godwin. Winston's only issues are the few holes on the offensive line, particularly at left tackle, and his bouts of erattic play. He was PFF's 20th ranked quarterback last season and had a middle of the pack 64.9 QBR rating from ESPN. Coming into his third season, there is hope he becomes more consistent. If you’re betting on upside, he could easily finish in the Top 10 and I have a feeling I will eventually move him up these rankings.