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.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – As long as Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are healthy, Big Ben will put up numbers, at home at least. Those road splits are real and can kill you without other options at the ready. The return of Martavis Bryant and addition of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster will hopefully cure those clunker road games, but Big Ben has finished as a Top 10 QB just once in the past seven years and Top 12 just twice. He is also guaranteed to miss at least 2 or 3 games, making him a frustrating quarterback to own as your QB1, but a great one as your backup for those plus home games.
Andy Dalton, Bengals – This team reloaded with weapons by adding dynamic RB Joe Mixon and stud WR John Ross. The key here is health, something Tyler Eifert and Ross have had a hard time with, not to mention passing down specialist Gio Bernard may miss the start of the season with a knee injury. He’s had runs of fantasy dominance that usually pitters out and kills you when the injury bug hits. Expect a fast start to the season, but with one of the worst offensive lines in the league (particularly at the tackles and right guard), it could get ugly quick, especially if Eifert and Ross can't stay healthy,. As Scott Barett from PPF mentioned, when under pressure Dalton's passer rating is just 57.1, which ranked seventh-worst last year, and "since he entered the league, Dalton ranks 14th-worst in passer rating when under pressure, among all 39 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts over that stretch." If everyone stays healthy, Dalton could easily end up being a 2QB league steal, if not, he could end the season shell shocked.
Eli Manning, Giants – Tying your QB to Odell Beckham Jr. is never a bad idea especially with the additions of Brandon Marshall, rookie TE/WR Evan Engram to go along with second year phenom, Sterling Shepard. I’m not sold on Paul Perkins, and think we could see a healthy dose of Shane Vereen in a pass catching role. This offensive line is a real worry, but with all these weapons, the best way to over come that is pass and pass quickly and they have the receivers to do that. My biggest worry is Eli himself, he has shown signs of decline and has to start making accurate throws again, but this is a pass first offense with a lot of great weapons. Last season the Giants threw the ball on over 62% of their plays. That number could actualy go up this year to 65%+.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins – The offensive line should be better, but he’s just a guy for fantasy most weeks, who is better used in plus matchups in DFS rather than drafted in season long.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals – Completion percentage, yards, TDs and big games were all down last year, partially due to a depleted offensive line and receiving core. The offensive line should be okay this season, with right guard being their only glaring weakness, but they didn’t do anything to upgrade their receiving core in any meaningful way. We have to hope John Brown can stay healthy this year in his battle against Sickle Cell, as he is a great receiver who they need. I wouldn’t be surprised if they signed a receiver like Vincent Jackson, who would add some much needed size on the outside. My biggest issue, is in this deep drop offense that HC Arians loves. Can Palmer stay healthy?
Joe Flacco, Ravens – Flacco has never been counted on as a weekly starter, and in DFS you are really trying to predict those few “Wacko for Flacco” weeks on the cheap. There are major deficiencies on this offensive line outside of Stanley and Yada, and there are question marks with the skill players as well. With Dennis Pitta and his 86 catches done for the year it remains to be seen if Maxx Williams can finally step up in year 3 or if Ben Watson can return to form at the age of 37 coming off of an Achillies tear. The team at least has a strong receiving core with the addition of Jeremy Maclin to go along with Mike Wallace and potential breakout player, Breshad Perriman. The biggest addition though may be Danny Woodhead, who despite turning 32 and coming off injury, appears to be playing well in early pre-season practices. Intriguing second year running back Kenneth Dixon also seems to be showing well, although he still faces a four game suspension to start the season. All in all, it's a mixed bag of old, injured and unproven players. If things break right, the Ravens will have a great offensive unit, especially leading the league last year, passing on 66% of their plays. But the wheels could also fall off at any time, as it seemingly does every year.
Carson Wentz, Eagles – Wentz could easily outplay this ranking and is a prime candidate to move up my board once we get into the pre-season. They have surrounded him with legitimate weapons this year in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to compliment Jordan Mathews in the slot and Zach Ertz at tight end. As a rookie he threw the ball a ridiculously 38 times a game, and without a true foundation running back, that can certainly be the case again this year. Volume is king in fantasy (as we have seen with Blake Bortles), despite some serious mechanical flaws.
Sam Bradford, Vikings – Bradford is regarded as a bust, but a closer look shows signs of life. Since coming into the league Bradford suffered a slew of early season fluke injuries and has also had the same offensive coordinator once in successive years, last year was no different, joining the Vikings as the season was set to begin and then losing OC Norv Turner during the middle of the season. Yet, as PFF's Pat Thorman mentioned on Twitter, Bradford set career highs in completion percentage, adjusted yards per pass attempt, touchdown to interception percentage and passer rating all behind the league’s 4th worst pass blocking offensive line. This season, Bradford knows the offensive scheme, has a upgraded set of weapons and a (slightly) upgraded offensive line. He is a great late QB2 steal for those waiting until the 15th round to grab their second quarterback in two quarterback or superflex leagues.
Alex Smith, Chiefs – Two words: Alex. Smith. He’s not like a box of chocolates, you know what you are going to get. Although last year was a down year both in terms of TDs and rushing yards, even for him. If you are looking for 20 passing TDs, 2 rushing and about 400 yards on the ground, he is your man.
Trevor Siemian, Broncos – Still has to beat out Paxton Lynch for the starting job. While he played okay last season, he still had a QBR of just 55 and a negative seven DVOA, a metric by Football Outsiders that represents value per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. Reason for pessimism is the lack of talent at both tackle positions. Reasons for optimism is that last year was essentially his rookie season, he has three great receivers in Thomas, Sanders and rookie Carlos Henderson to go along with two quality veteran running backs in CJ Anderson and Jamaal Charles. New OC Mike McCoy should help him develop and he loves to push the ball downfield.
Blake Bortles, Jaguars – The defense is great, which should keep them from playing behind as often and the drafting of RB Leonard Fournette signals they plan to take the ball out of Bortles hands and control the clock. All of this means less passing and less garbage time for Bortles, who usually only starts pointing up points in fourth quarter garbage time. Offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, took over mid season and is back with the team again. Under him the Jaguars improved their rankings in several categories including: time of possession (30th to 13th), goal-to-go efficiency (15th to fourth) and red-zone efficiency (16th to fifth). The Jaguars rushing attack also improved under Hackett from 30th in yards (72.6) to fifth (124.8) in rushing yards per game, 26th (3.79) to 13th (4.35) in yards per rush and from 32nd (38) to first (112) in rushes of four-plus yards. In his previous stint with the Bills in 2013, they ranked second in the NFL in rushing. So you get the picture, if all goes well this receiving core and Blake Bortles is going to be a tough weekly fantasy play. If everything falls apart, it will be catch-up and garbage fourth quarters again.
Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson, Texans – A brutal offensive line and neither of these guys is going to light it up, even if Watson has a Dak like rookie season. While Will Fuller and Braxton Miller could both take a big step forward this year, DeAndre Hopkins play last year was a bit concerning. It was not all Brock’s fault, just mostly. All this said, if Watson ends up winning the job, I'd be comfortable moving him up a tier.
Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky, Bears - This team is a mess and it's not clear who will end up being the starter. There is serious dysfunction in this organization right now and I wouldn't be surprised if HC John Fox got fired sometime during the season. The Bears do have a decent interior line, but both tackles are a concern. The weapons here are also suspect. Kevin White looked horrible last season during his short stint healthy and they let Alshon Jeffery walk. I'm higher than most on slot WR Kendall Wright and WR Cameron Meredith looked pretty good last year, but most of his damage came out of the slot, so he will have to prove he can be an outside receiver as well. This offense will run through RB Jordan Howard.
Cody Kessler, Browns - Played better than most expected last season and could end up being a capable game manager this year behind a much improved offensive line, which is a top 3 unit now. The losses of TE Gary Barnidge and WR Terrelle Pryor does hurt though, as I believe that Kenny Britt is a slight downgrade from Pryor and it remains to be seen how quickly TE David Njoku can transition to the NFL game. There is no denying Njoku is a freak athlete and has a bright future, but the transition to tight end in the NFL from college is not always easy. Barnidge could have provided a veteran safety blanket for Kessler and a great mentor for Njoku. Nonetheless, the key here for Kessler is second year receiver Corey Coleman. If he has a great off-season, and can emerge as the lower case version of Odell Beckham Jr that many expected, Kessler has a chance to put up consistent numbers especially if they get RB Duke Johnson more involved in the screen game. The biggest wild card is stud WR Josh Gordon who has yet to be reinstated and there is still a chance the Browns trade him away. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer was my favorite in the draft, but ideally he sits and learns for a year, something even his college coach at Notre Dame stated. Then again, he could also prove doubters wrong and be this seasons Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott. I love what the Browns are building and this team has weapons, especially if Gordon returns and Coleman emerges, but it is probably a year until it all comes together. Has a chance to move up the rankings a tier, possibly two, if everything breaks right.
Brian Hoyer, 49ers – He is the 49ers starter, but I just don’t see the weapons for him to be reliable even though he is familiar with the HC Shanahan offense from his time in Cleveland, where he didn’t run it very well. Fortunately for him, Matt Ryan didn't run the Shanahan offense very well either his first year, which is known to be tough to pick up.
Jared Goff, Rams – Everybody hates him and has written him off as a total bust, but I’m not one of those people. He came from playing in a juvenile offense in college, but that doesn’t mean he’s not talented, he just needs time. Although I will concede that I’m not sure if one year is enough time and Sean Mannion was a third round pick in 2015, so he is viable as well. The Rams did upgrade their offensive line, signing PFF's second best graded left tackle, Andrew Whitworth from the Bengals. The bigger concern this year is his receiving core, which is a great unknown. Robert Woods and Tavon Austin have both shown flashes but have yet to live up to their draft hype, while rookies Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds might just end up being the better options. The Rams do have intriguing second year tight end Tyler Higbee and the other Mike Thomas, to go along with stud rookie tight end Gerald Everett, so there are weapons here, it just might take another season or two to all come together.
Josh McCown, Jets – He should start until he gets hurt, which is probably week 2.
Paxton Lynch, Broncos – If he wins the starting job, swap him with Siemian.
Colin Kaepernick – I’m not sure he finds a home this year. Perhaps he lands in Seattle as Wilson’s backup.