Gut Check No.310 - Non-PPR Tiers Update 8/22

Matt Waldman's updated tiers for standard (non-ppr) leagues before the biggest draft weekend of the year. 


You're still playing in a non-PPR league??? Yeah, me too. But I'm old school. I still regard my cellphone with great suspicion.   

If you haven't figured it out by now, my wiring is a little different. So are some of my thoughts on fantasy football. 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. 

I 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 are 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 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.  If you are in a PPR league, check out my first run of PPR Tiers 

Tier 1

Strategic Thoughts: If you're thinking about using the Upside Down Strategy, it is a viable option for standard leagues where starting lineups allow at least one more receiver than runner and there's a tight end option. In this case, you'll want to loosen up the boundaries between the first 3-5 tiers for wide receivers and tight ends. My tiers are based a lot on my projections and some VBD principles, which means runners in the early rounds will have more value on my board. However, I'm not that fanatical about maintaining the orthodoxy of the structure below -- especially when opting for the Upside Down Strategy. Keep this in mind. 

Giovani Bernard is a pivotal player in this tier. If you're picking at the turn, Bernard should be available and paring him with either a second back or a wide receiver/Jimmy Graham should be a strong start to a draft. Still, the Bengals' RB is more Brian Westbrook than Ray Rice in terms of his use in an offense until he proves otherwise to his team and the addition of Jeremy Hill indicates that Cincinnati is not buying the Rice idea. 

Just remember that the Ravens and Titans tried to "rock block" Rice and Chris Johnson with Willis McGahee and Lendale White, respectively. I'm not sold on Hill long-term, but the rookie is a worthy note of caution.

Speaking of McGahee, the former Raven had 12 rushing touchdowns as the primary goal line back in 2009 -- the year Ray Rice ascended to top-five status as a fantasy runner. Keep that in mind before thnking gloom and doom for Le'Veon Bell because of LaGarrette Blount.

I don't see a ton of difference between the final four backs in this tier and the first three of the next tier, so if you're thinking Graham or a wide receiver in the first round, I'm with you on that idea.    

 Tier 2

Strategic Tip: Cecil Lammey discussed Manning's outlook on the 8/21 live episode of The Audible. One of his salient points was that Manning would probably throw 45 touchdowns this year and while it's a dip from last year's record-breaking numbers he's still by far the No.1 fantasy option at quarterback. I agree and a point I want to add that will aid in your decision to consider Manning early is the ground game. 

Lammey explained that the Broncos will be using a lot of two and three tight end sets and Denver will be more run-heavy than 2013. While these sets will be more run-oriented, don't think for a hot second that Manning won't throw from them -- especially to the likes of Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Julian Thomas, or even Virgil Green. This wrinkle should earn Manning some easy play action touchdowns when teams are expecting a big dosage of Montee Ball

If the second-year runner gets hurt, the potential for Manning to repeat his 2013 production grows -- especially with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer to the recieving mix. In this case, my current projections for Manning may have him marked as slightly overrated, but he still has the greatest upside of any fantasy option this year.  

 The three backs leading off this tier could easily finish as RB1s this year, which means I could take one of them and a receiver or tight end from Tier 1 or Tier 2 and have a strong opening pair of picks. There's not much drop off from Tier 1 when it comes to the first three rows of Tier 2. 

 Tier 3

Strategic Tip: There are four running backs in this tier I think are underrated according to ADP, which means you'll likely land land a quality RB2 from this tier 2-5 rounds later than this spot if you are opting for the UDD strategy. If you go this route, Drew Brees and Rob Gronkowski make nice options to consider if you opted for two receivers early.

But personally, if you can land one of these receivers--or even two from Tier 3--in the next two rounds, you should find a solid tight end with upside and an underrated quarterback. If you're worried about QB play (you shouldn't, but if I haven't convinced you this summer that's fine), wait another round for Matthew Stafford. if you must get an early passer.

But be warned, I'm less enthusiastic about some of the "safer" quarterbacks that my peers like... 

The fact that Shane Vereen is a "safe" option among Patriots running backs is scary. If you're going UDD, the fear should be buffered somewhat because you're going to pick 4-6 more backs in the next group of rounds anyhow. But if Vereen is part of an early-RB strategy, it's a big risk-reward.

So is Lamar Miller, because as much as I like his talent and have concerns about Knowshon Moreno's health I think the Dolphins organization's confidence in the young back from the University of Miami has been as firm as a limp handshake. UDD acolytes, take Miller and don't look back, but if you're trying to mix and match and your next back will be joining your team somewhere after the sixth round, there's heightened risk. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that fantasy enthusiasts who are propping up the Banana Republic of Randall Cobb are smelling the fumes of Antonio Brown's career year in Pittsburgh. In terms of ability, I'm buying it. But let me ask you a question . . . would Brown be nearly as productive in Pittsburgh if Jordy Nelson was a Steeler?

I think Nelson would out-do Brown and I think you should take the free money your competition is handing out by selecting the talented Cobb over the best receiver in Green Bay.  

 Tier 4

Strategic Tip: The only running back in this tier that isn't underrated is rookie Bishop Sankey; at least four of the other five options you can take later. It makes Stafford, a wide receiver, or a tight end appealing. Even if you think I'm bat-guano crazy for having Vernon Davis above Julius Thomas, then go ahead and take the Broncos tight end here, knowing that you'll have backs to choose from a round later. 

Aaron Rodgers is a fascinating case here. It's unlikely he'll be available as low as the fourth round, but I've seen my share of leagues where the mindset on quarterbacks is so similar that owners outsmart themselves and leave a guy like Rodgers on the board. If this is the case, then Rodgers presents top-three upside -- especially if Eddie Lacy misses time. 

Despite concerns I have about Robert Griffin (I'm flip-flopping, more later) and the Giants offensive line, Pierre Garcon and Victor Cruz are both quick-hitting route runners with skill after the catch and it provides a layer of bust-proofing to their exteriors. They might not be WR1s, but there's a chance these two could drop another round in some drafts--and I think they're fine value where they are now. 

 Tier 5

Strategic Tip: The RBs from the tiers above should be available--some of them avaialble another round or two longer. It gives you some choices at running back and you can now add Chris Johnson to the mix. However, if you took a tight end and/or quarterback and still need that third receiver, Percy Harvin, Torrey Smith, and Michael Floyd are hard to resist here. 

If you see that your competition is waiting on quarterback and you fear missing out on the 3-5 options that you would feel comfortable as your starter due to a position run then Nick Foles is a fine option here. I'm not sold on Foles' ability long-term the way I am with the like of Wilson, Cutler, or Rivers, because Foles still exhibits the Brain Freeze Gene when pressure reaches the pocket, but Chip Kelly's offense and LeSean McCoy's running mitigate the frequency of these high-risk scenarios that Foles would otherwise face without them. 

If you skip receivers this round, there are guys I like but they are higher risk: Kenny Stills and Emmanuel Sanders to name two. It's easy for both to get lost in the shuffle of their prodigious offenses.

Note Jonathan Stewart making a late-August climb up my board. I ain't scared--his ADP is low enough that I don't mind dropping the big fella at the curb if he incurs another leg injury. However, I'll be kicking myself if Stewart--who should be available for at least (AT LEAST) a few rounds later--has a a strong year and I watched him look that good against the Chiefs defense and was too chicken to take the chance.  

 Tier 6

Strategic Tip: If you're one of the rare fantasy owners in a league where you can trade picks, I would have little problem trading a 3rd, 4th or 5th round pick for some 6th, 7th, and 8th round picks and selecting a couple of players from these tiers. You'll see me taking the four quarterbacks in this tier in a lot of drafts--and there's a lot of play in terms of rounds they're available to mix and match them well.

Wilson, Rivers, and Cutler will be available as often as 3-4 rounds later, but if you're the player in this tier with the most upside to reach the top-five , I think Brady has a chance to rebound. However, the boom-bust factor with Brady is still there due to the offensive line, youth at receiver, and recent injury concerns from the corps. 

Golden Tate is poised for a big year. He won't be a WR1, but I think he can be a near-top-15 talent. Mike Wallace (for the first time I'm staying this ever...get ready) is underrated this year in an up-tempo offense that should afford him some strong games, but you can get both oftetimes in round 7 and there's a nice collection of options at that position usually sitting there. 

I'm also warming to Eric Decker not having a poor season. How's that for an endorsement? I know, but considering that I like him more than Michael Crabtree is a bit of a surprise even to me. If you didn't take Gronkowski or Graham and you're having pangs of regret, I think Jordan Cameron and Jordan Reed are the two best mid-round candidates with upside to crack the top-three at the position this year.  

 Tier 7

Strategic Notes: I'm waiting on quarterbacks from Tier 6 to fall closer to their ADPs because I'm too wear of these fantastic, but troubled talents in this tear. Newton didn't look fully back from the foot injury and the receiving corps is workmanlike. Griffin is fast becoming the NFL's Evel Knievel trying to cover the Snake River with every foray from the pocket and we may have seen the best of the Washington quarterback as an athlete when he wa a rookie. There's still hope for him as a passer, but he needs to stop showinig us how tough he is. 

Luck will be a surprise to many, but the combination of Hakeem Nicks looking more like Anquan Boldin may one day look when the wheels fall off; Reggie Wayne not playing a preseason game; and the offensive line still an issue, I don't see Luck reaching that statistical upside that he's capable of reaching one day. He's still going to be running for his life and not earning enough time to win consistently in the vertical game.  

Jason Witten and Greg Olsen represent that "last bastion" of safe tight end picks, the fact that Heath Miller, Zach Ertz, Jared Cook, and Ladarius Green all meet my standards for having similar value -- if not greater upside -- makes a pick for Olsen and Witten feel like settling. I'm sold on Ertz and Green the most -- wait on them unless you fear you don't know when your competition might pull the trigger. The "safety hatch" player if you miss on Ertz and Green is Heath Miller. The Steelers are allowing Roethlisberger to improvise more and it will mean Miller should earn more check-down targets, too.

 Tier 8

Strategic Tip: Running backs and receivers in this tier are risk-reward plays and you should be able to pick quarterbacks and tight ends I listed as underrated from previous tiers at this point. 

Some quick notes about some of these guys: 

  • I upped the reception totals for Kelvin Benjamin and he is a nice swing for the fences here. 
  • The same can be said for Justin Hunter. I just wish it was Cam Newton throwing the ball to the Titans receiver. 
  • Brandin Cooks still has issues making the big play in the vertical passing game. Unless he beats his man due to a blown coverage or he has 3-4 steps, don't count on a lot of receptions in tight coverage down field. He still needs work in this area and I'm not sure it will ever come. 

 Tier 9

Mark Ingram II remains a safe pick here. I like his upside even if I prefer Khiry Robinson by year's end. I'd take a chance on Danny Amendola or Tavon Austin, here too. 

 Tier 10

The most underrated player in this tier might be Mike Williams. He's holding off Robert Woods and the Bills like his work in the red zone. Keep an eye on Luke Willson for your waiver wire if tight end is an issue for your team. It might not happen this year, but he's making strides and he's a fine athlete. I can see him surprising in this offense. 

I wouldn't bail on Odell Beckham just yet, either. At this late in the game, Beckham could reap dividends despite being the goat of Giants training camp. Michael Crabtree had injury issues as a rookie and still managed 45-625-2 in 12 games. 

 Tier 11

Strategic Tip: The rest of these tiers are either the late rounds or first-tier free agents. I'll be writing a piece about compliing preseason free agent list that will be available the first of the week.

 Tier 12

 Tier 13

 tier 14