The Gut Check No.302: PPR Tiers

Waldman's PPR tiers include ADP, overvalued, undervalued, and strategic recommendations for your draft. 

About My PPR Tiers

If you don't know by now, I have a reputation for views on players that differ from the norm. Even so, my rankings accuracy is still very high by industry standards over the past 3-5 years and where I have performed best dovetails nicely with the strategy I write about the most: Upside Down Drafting.  

However, my tiers are formatted by my projections and I embed a variety of notations within them so you can tailor this information to a number of different strategies. I will be writing more about strategic angles than explaining where I ranked specific players. 

Have have grouped players into 14 tiers of rounds and picks. The first six tables each cover one round and the next eight tables cover two rounds for a total of 22 rounds of players in a 12-team league format. Feel free to adjust as you wish for smaller or larger leagues.

The notations within each table offer a shorthand for Average Draft Position (ADP) and my ranking of each player:

  • ADP is listed next to each player in parenthesis. For example, Le'Veon Bell (14) is the 14th overall pick in drafts as of July 5th ADP.
  • Players with normal fonts are have a ranking from me that coincides with their ADP. I consider them safe plays. 
  • Italicized players are slightly overvalued if you agree with my ranking vs. their ADP. 
  • Players bolded and italicized are overvalued by more than a round between rounds 1-6 and more than two after round 6.
  • Underlined players are slightly undervalued if you agree with my ranking vs. their ADP. 
  • Players bolded and underlined are undervalued by more than a round between rounds 1-6 and more than two after round 6. 

These notations give fantasy owners ample opportunity to plan: When to lay back and when to pounce when it comes to certain players and/or positions. I'll offer a variety of strategic tips as I discuss each tier.  

Tier 1

Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

The first round has seven backs, four receivers, and one tight end, but only one undervalued player in this tier and that's Pittsburgh's running back. A running them that you'll notice as you go through these tiers is that I believe quarterbacks are overvalued, which means strategically that I recommend that you wait on them unless the slightly overvalued passers drop to a pick that's lower than their ADP and they become a reasonable value.

Last year, I earned Peyton Manning in two leagues when the majority of my competition decided to wait on passers. This is an important example of a tip: If you maintain ADP data and notations that show how you value a player versus his ADP then you can make smart adjustments on the fly.

As you can see, not all the backs in my first tier match the ADP's first tier, but all of my wide receivers are matches. I have Bell has a mid-to-late first-round value that you can often draft at the beginning of the second round. The second tier also offers safe picks at RB in addition to two more underrated options at the position that you should be able to acquire 1-4 rounds later.

If you're not firm on acquiring two running backs in the first two rounds then a receiver or Jimmy Graham is arguably a safer beginning if you have mid-round or late-round draft spot.  

Tier 2

Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Wide receiver continues to offer safe picks in the second tier. The third round also offers underrated options who are often available in the fourth round. There are also two more underrated picks at running back in the third round tier that ADP values a round later. 

It's another reason why Jimmy Graham is a quality pick in the mid-to-late first round in PPR and other league types where his fantasy WR1-like production can offer a distinct advantage every week, especially if you go heavy early on at RB and WR. One of the reasons is positional demand.

If you shop early at WR while everyone else is shopping at RB you can build a powerful starting lineup. Considering that more than 50 percent of the running backs with top-24 ADP don't earn that position during the season (often greater than 50 percent turnover at RB1), if you hit on one mid-round back after drafting stud receivers, you can build a high-scoring team out of the gate with just one quality starter RB that you hit on with your picks after the fourth round. .

This leads to another strategic tip. Dominating your draft seems like the most risk-free way to build a winning fantasy team. It's certainly the most convenient: You don't have to depend on trades or waiver wire picks to build a winner. However, this is the ideal outcome in most competitive leagues.

In case you haven't lived much life yet, our existence can be fantastic but it's still often rife with circumstances that are far from ideal.

A strategy were you go heavy early in the draft at one of the two most liquid positions on the trade market (WR or RB) and with some fundamentally sound negotiating skills, you should be able to build a consistent, high-scoring starting lineup that can win in the postseason if you don't hit on the mid-to-late round picks at the position you've waited on. 

Still, you can also take a balanced approach at RB, WR, and TE based on my projections and tiers and still not be position-poor in your starting lineup regardless of which position is your first pick.

Tier 3

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

If my rankings prove accurate enough, you should be able to acquire two low-end RB1s, and two low-end WR2s in rounds 2-5:

Whether you're in a start-two RB league or a flex league, I'd be pleased with this beginning. There's still enough QB1 value that unless Manning, Rodgers, or Brees falls to the tiers I have them listed, I'm waiting on passers. 

Leading with or receiver in the first round also works: 

The underlying theme of both routes is taking two high-volume receivers with proven quarterbacks; one runner likely to earn a high volume of touches and another with at least strong PPR potential; and either a high-volume tight end or receiver in a prolific offense. I'll only consider a big-play receiver as my third receiver, but not one of my first two.

Here's a way to pick backs early where you play the ADP to your advantage with the 11th pick:

If you trust my value of the early round backs, you can take the lesser value of Lynch or Foster and stll get Bell and a closely comparable Jennings or Jackson. Once again, you're aiming for high-volume runners and receivers in offenses with veteran quarterbacks. If you pick a player like Cameron, who does not have a proven quarterback then make sure its the only player in your opening six rounds who has that kind of volume risk. Otherwise, opt for Jennings and take Witten the followinground.

The common strategic link is safe picks: high-volume runners that are focal points of the offense; high-volume receivers that make their living in the short and intermediate passing game, and high-volume tight ends with red zone opportunities and athleticism to stretch the deep-intermediate seam. You can veer away from this with one of the six picks, but anything more heightens your risk in the early rounds.  

Tier 4

Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

As we progress through the early rounds, running back has a lot of safe plays in the third round (Stacy, Morris, Bush) and even a two reasonable choices (Mathews and Spiller) that some might consider slight reaches. Wide receiver is the position where you could flip-flop players and tiers and make consecutive picks where the earlier choice isn't projected as high as the next and it still evens out (for example, take Keenan Allen or Randall Cobb in the third and follow with Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White,or Victor Cruz in the fourth).

A reasonable argument against Jimmy Graham might be the potential value in the fourth round with Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis. Other than a healthy Gronkowski and Julius Thomas--who is often gone by the third round--Cameron and Davis have the best combination of safety and upside.

Even so, there are some questions about them that have owners balking at a tight end this early. Losing Josh Gordon has fantasy owners split on Cameron: Do the Browns lean on him more or does the team lack the surrounding talent to prevent defenses from shackling him?

Brian Hoyer may not be Matt Ryan, but his style of play (a good timing passer with some mobility and pocket presence) places the Browns' quarterback in a similar stylistic spectrum. I'm projecting Hoyer as the starter for most, if not all year. I realize this could change dramatically by August, but as it stands today a full season with Hoyer makes me optimistic that the Browns will be successful at feeding Cameron the way Matt Ryan sans a healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones fed Tony Gonzalez.

The opposite concern is part of Vernon Davis' story. Does the return of Michael Crabtree, the addition of Steve Johnson, and the twilight fireworks of Anquan Boldin mean there are too many mouths to feed for Davis to maintain elite production in San Francisco? 

Despite playing the entire year in 2011 and 2012, Johnson seems like he's now a leg/groin injury waiting to happen after managing the injury the past couple of years and missing four games in 2013. I'm concerned this is not a fair assessment of Johnson's health history, but I won't lie -- I think about it. 

The fact that beat writer Matt Maiocco has the under on 60 receptions for Johnson as the No.3 receiver his year isn't a stunning development. Johnson and Brandon Lloyd are competing for this role and I have them split for a combined 55 catches 705 yards and 3 touchdowns. If one earns the role without a significant time share, I'd be more concerned about Lloyd robbing Davis of red zone targets.

Johnson has been a decent bet for 6-7 scores when he sees enough targets to catch 70-80 passes, but I'd still get on Davis as the most likely option in the passing game to reach double-digit touchdown based on his skill, established rapport with Kaepernick, and Johnson's injury history and likelihood of seeing a reduced role in San Francisco compared to Buffalo.  

 Tier 5

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

The fifth round is a tipping point where quarterbacks in the elite tier sometimes fall and you have a chance to capitalize. Last year for me it was Manning. This year, it could be Rodgers or Brees. If you've picked safe, high-volume players early and a quarterback with 40-touchdown upside drops beyond his ADP this is a good spot to take your shot. 

Although I have Brees and Stafford in Tier 6, their value is high enough that I wouldn't be against taking either player in the fifth because it's still decent value compared to their overall ADP. Just remember with Stafford that if you don't see much difference between him, Robert Griffin, and Foles, it's better to hold off. One of the reasons that I'd make this adjustment with at least Rodgers and Brees is my confidence in receivers that I have as fifth-round values that are often available 1-4 rounds later: Nicks, Sanders, Stills, and Tate.

All three are playing with excellent passers and are in prime position to benefit from a prolific offense or superstar opposite them. These have great value as WR3s and WR4s or make worthwhile risks as high-end WR2s that can be functional WR1s for your squad if you're super-strong elsewhere or at least until you can trade your depth at other positions to acquire a true No.1.

Even if you dominate your draft, it's best to adopt a mindset that you're building the foundation of your team in August and not a finished product. This includes considering how picks not only give you talent for your starting lineup, but contingency plans for trades.

Which position do you prefer to hunt for in free agency if you must? Which position would you rather acquire via trade and pay the premium to get what you need? Based on my experience,wide receivers of playable value are more likely to hit the free agent market early in the year than runners, but fantasy owners often ditch reserve runners during the first month of the season that become viable starters due to injuries. 

The problem with hunting for runners on waivers early in the year is that it can eat up roster space. If you're insistent on RB prospecting of waivers early, I'd always consider some of these playable receivers that get dumped because you might find by Week 5 that you now have enough depth at WR to trade some of them for a runner of your choice if your prospecting of backs doesn't pan out. 

Speaking of backs, Tiers 5-6 also has some solid PPR value with a likely RB2 ceiling, but nonetheless helpful: Tate, Gore, Sproles, Thomas, and Woodhead.  

Tier 6

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Another reason that I like veering away from receivers in rounds 4-6 is that many of my players valued in that 4-6 range are available in the seventh round or later. You can arguably get one -- if not two -- of Tate, Nicks, and Stills and earn 1-2 potential WR2s or solid WR3s in Marvin Jones Jr, Greg Jennings, Terrance Williams, and Steve Smith. It means rounds 4-6 are good spots to consider non-receivers.

If you waited on a quarterback, Tier 7 is the place you'll get the safest bang for your buck with Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, and Colin Kapernick. Personally, I'd wait until the end of round eight and take either Russell Wilson or Philip Rivers.

If you are in a flex-league and have a high concentration of starter talent at one or two positions -- say tight end and receiver - you might be tempted to take a chance on a back like Khiry Robinson, who has starter potential but his system isn't likely to give him a feature role. I'd recommend you consider taking two of these quarterbacks with back-to-back picks.

I'd try to take a receiver or another tight end like Jordan Reed in the seventh, and then add Wilson and Rivers in the 8th and 9th rounds. Perhaps you miss on a committee back with talent that earns a greater role due to injury, but Wilson and Rivers still have offenses that could propel them to strong QB1 production (Jay Cutler, too). Adding a tight end like Reed or even Rudolph or Gates have enough upside that you could consider dealing your depth at receiver, tight end, and/or quarterback for a productive starter at running back. 

When it comes to flex lineups this contigency thinking is valuable on draft day. 

Tier 7

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Tier 8 marks a point where there will often be a greater volume of players -- especially receivers and tight ends -- from higher tiers still on the board. You also begin to see where the tight end position transitions from solid, safe, lower-upside plays at the beginning of Tier 8 to higher-risk, high-upside plays at the end of the tier and most of Tier 9.

Although there are some receivers of value on the board, many of them young players earning larger roles, rookies, or journeymen earning a shot to start. This is not the point where I want to be seeking receivers that I must rely on as starters. However, I would be open to finding a potential, QB1/QB2, RB3, or TE1.  

TIER 8

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

The players that appeal to me most in these two tiers are Cutler (if Wilson and/or Rivers aren't on the board) and Hopkins. But keep in mind that in addition to Wilson and Rivers, Khiry Robinson and Deangelo Williams offer starter upside this late and will also be available. 

TIER 9

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Let's experiment with going RB-heavy after the fourth round to see what I've been talking about looks like. 

RB-Heavy in a flex league with option of 3-4 RBs, 4-5 WRs, and 1-2 TEs (5th pick):

  1. Pick 5: RB Matt Forte (5)
  2. Pick 20: RB Doug Martin (20)
  3. Pick 29: RB Alfred Morris (28) or C.J. Spiller (31) or Andre Ellington (34)
  4. Pick 44: WR Percy Harvin (44) or WR Roddy White (46)
  5. Pick 53: RB Rashad Jennings (57) or Ben Tate (55) or WR Michael Floyd (53)
  6. Pick 68: TE Jason Witten (69) or QB Robert Griffin (67) or Kendall Wright (71) or Marques Colston (73) or Steven Jackson (74)
  7. PIck 77: WR Emmanuel Sanders (76) or Terrance Williams (84) or Golden Tate (81) or TE Jordan Reed (88)
  8. Pick 92: QB Russell Wilson (94) or RB Darren Sproles (93) or Danny Woodhead (94)
  9. Pick 101: QB Philip Rivers (106) or Jay Cutler (101) or WR Hakeem Nicks (104) or WR Riley Cooper (101) or WR Dwayne Bowe (102) 
  10. Pick 116: WR Marvin Jones Jr (128) or WR Kenny Stills (129) or Ben Roethlisberger (117) or Devonta Freeman (118)
  11. Pick 125: WR Steve Smith (143) or WR James Jones (141) or RB Chris Ivory (125)

Here are some combinations that I like from these options: 

Even if you don't play in a flex league where multiple tight ends or four backs aren't part of a starting lineup option, these six teams provide a good example of the potential depth one can acquire and sell (if needed) if receiver doesn't work out. 

TIER 10

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Now let's try a WR-Heavy start. 

WR-Heavy in a flex league with option of 3-4 RBs, 4-5 WRs, and 1-2 TEs (5th pick):

  1. Pick 5: WR Calvin Johnson (4) or WR Demaryius Thomas (8)
  2. Pick 20: WR Alshon Jeffery (21) or WR Jordy Nelson (23)
  3. Pick 29: WR Pierre Garcon or TE Rob Gronkowski (30_
  4. Pick 44: WR Percy Harvin (44) or WR Roddy White (46) or RB Shane Vereen (47) or RB Toby Gerhart (48)
  5. Pick 53: RB Rashad Jennings (57) or Ben Tate (55) or Trent Richardson (56) or Frank Gore (58) or Joique Bell (59) or Ray Rice (60)
  6. Pick 68: RB Steven Jackson (74) or TE Jason Witten (69) or Emmanuel Sanders (76)
  7. PIck 77: RB Maurice Jones-Drew (83) or RB Pierre Thomas (77) or RB Darren Sproles (93) or TE Jordan Reed (88)
  8. Pick 92: QB Russell Wilson (94) or RB Darren Sproles (93) or RB Danny Woodhead (94)
  9. Pick 101: QB Philip Rivers (106) or QB Jay Cutler (101) or RB Khiry Robinson (107) or RB Deangelo Williams (114)
  10. Pick 116: RB Deangelo Williams (114) or RB Devonta Freeman (118)
  11. Pick 125: WR Steve Smith (143) or WR James Jones (141) or RB Chris Ivory (125) or TE Martellus Bennett (127)

Here are some combinations that I like from these options: 

 

Considering there are high-upside backs still available in the draft, I'd feel comfortable with a lineup that has this kind of firepower at wideout. I woudl seriously consider doubling up on quarterback with Wilson and Rivers/Cutler only because it is difficult for other teams to find a quality starter as the season progresses. If you can acquire depth at two of WR, TE, and QB then you'll have more flexibilty to acquire a RB with a trade. 

The final four tiers still offer a lot of upside, but quarterback isn't a position that I'd include here. This is the time to acquire promising understudies or contributors capable of out-performing their projected role. You'll notice that a lot of the tight ends I like are (UD) = underafted ADP. 

If I were you, I'd transition all the undrafted labels next to players and create your own preliminary waiver wire list. You can use this if you draft with enough lead time before the season that your league offers free agency during August and you need to make roster adjustments to due preseason injuries. 

It's also a helpful practice to keep the list and determine which players on your list match with what you're reading in Footballguys' Game Recaps and our Upgrades-Downgrades Report. 

TIER 11

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

I'll be keeping an eye on Anderson, Starks,and Sims at running back. If Blount, Brown, or Hyde drop enough, I'll snap them up, too. I'll take Helu or Carey a tier early at this point in the draft. You're seeking talent and upside at this point so reaches aren't that egregious if they're in a position to contribute early.

Lance Moore and Andre Roberts are two nice bye-week options capable of WR2 fantasy production in spurts. Doug Baldwin could be significantly undervalued if he continues to display the knack for making big plays on a high percentage of his targets as he did in 2013. If Pittsburgh or Washington needs to use them more, both can deliver. Marqise Lee is a sexy pick, but I want to see him make the catches he didn't make at USC before I buy into him. 

TIER 12

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

TIER 13

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

TIER 14

  Plain Type = Safe  Italics = Slight Overvalue  Bold Italics = Overvalue  Underlined = Slight Undervalue  Bold Underline = Undervalue

Players that I expect to be fast-risers in August if they continue to flash what they have in camp include: Carlos Hyde, Jordan Matthews, Theo Riddick, Kenbrell Thompkins, Martavis Bryant, Brandon Lloyd, Jarvis Landry, and Christine Michael. Some might elevate their stock to the 10th to 12th round as contributors/handcuffs. Others could rise to the point that they're inside the 10th round if an injury strikes. 

The things I'm seeking from these players during camp:

  • Are they playing mistake-free football (no route errors, drops, fumbles, missed protection assignments, etc.)
  • If they have a day with mistakes, do reports indicate that they adjust and that mistake-filled practice was an anomaly? 
  • Who are these players facing in camp? 
  • Are coaches saying something unusual or specific when giving praise to the player? 
  • Regardless of talent, is their potential role one that will make them a fantasy contributor?

I'll update these tiers at least once in August. Stay tuned. Next week: Non-PPR Tiers.