Fantasy football is back. Money and bragging rights are squarely on the line.
To those unfortunate souls who have already drafted and ended up with Jordy Nelson, I feel your pain. I own both Nelson and Aaron Rodgers in a keeper league.
For everyone who has drafts yet to come, your secret weapon is here. I have assembled a list of the top 150 fantasy players for the upcoming season based on performance over the last two to three seasons, projected volume for this season, and health during the preseason. If utilized properly, these rankings are sure to land you a spot in the playoffs.
There have been many injuries this preseason that are factored into my rankings even though the player who suffered the injury is not out for the season. I’ve documented injuries to both offensive and defensive players this preseason, and the full list of injuries can be found here. If you see that there are injuries missing, please let me know so I can update the list (@mrosekNFL).
Rather than discussing all 150 players, many of whom are ranked similarly to the general public opinion, I felt this article would be more useful if instead I focus on players that I am high or low on relative to their current ADP on ESPN and Yahoo. The link to my full big board with position rankings can be found here. These rankings are for standard scoring leagues.
Before getting into the players I’m buying/selling, I must emphasize that drafting is all about value, and value is determined by how the other owners in your league view a player.
I’m fully aboard the Stevie Johnson bandwagon, but only because I can get him for a cheap price. If his ADP spiked to the mid 40s tomorrow, I would no longer be on the bandwagon. However, his current ADP resides between 130-170, depending on the site, which I am more than happy to take advantage of.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am much lower on LeSean McCoy than many seem to be, but if he falls into the 30s, I’ll take a chance on him. I am selling him because of where he is being valued, not because of how I think he will perform in a vacuum.
It is also important to remember that where you rank a player is not equivalent to where you would end up taking them. If you have the 20th pick, the odds that the 19 picks before you align perfectly with the top 19 players on your board are very slim.
To project where you would actually take a player based on their rank, my general rule is to add 20% (multiply the rank by 1.2). If you have a player ranked at 20, you can reasonably expect to take that player if he falls to 24.
Now, on to the guys who are going to decide fantasy leagues this season. All ADP values are as of Aug. 28, 2015.
RB Jeremy Hill: 11 (my rank) // Projected Draft Slot (PDS = my rank * 1.2): 13
ESPN ADP: 18 // Yahoo ADP: 14
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After the consensus top five RBs (Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Adrian Peterson), there are few sure things at the RB position. Hill has as good of a chance to finish as a top ten RB as anyone after the top five guys, and for that reason I have him 11th overall.
Hill’s ranking is just as much about his offensive line as his talent as a player. The Bengals offensive line was one of the league’s best last season, led by LT Andrew Whitworth, Pro Football Focus’ top graded OT. Cincinnati drafted O-Lineman in both the first and second round to add to an already stout line.
Gio Bernard will be involved, but this is Hill’s show. He will get enough touches, especially near the goal-line, to be the consistent starting RB in the lineup you need to win your league.
WR DeAndre Hopkins: 21 // PDS: 25
ESPN: 35 // Yahoo: 33
With Andre Johnson now in Indianapolis, Hopkins is the unquestioned WR1 in Houston. He’s going to be catching passes from Brian Hoyer and potentially Ryan Mallett, so his QB play will be less than optimal.
Despite the lackluster QB options the Texans possess, the future is bright for Hopkins. He is by far the best pass catcher on the Texans’ roster and a good bet to finish among the league leaders in targets. He was targeted 127 times last season and is sure to absorb some of Johnson’s 147 targets.
In 2014, Hopkins averaged almost 10 yards per target (1,210 yards on 127 targets). He could easily surpass 150 targets next season if he stays healthy. The upside is there. If you go RB early, Hopkins is a low-end WR1 option that you can get with your third, and maybe even fourth pick, depending on league size.
WR Jordan Matthews: 28 // PDS: 34
ESPN: 39 // Yahoo ADP: 41
Matthews is in a similar situation to that of Hopkins. The Eagles’ WR1 from 2014 (Jeremy Maclin) is now on a different team (Chiefs). Maclin was targeted 143 times last season, while Matthews was targeted 103 times.
Matthews is slated to be the new WR1 in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense and should receive a decent chunk of Maclin’s targets. He does some of his best work in the slot and subsequently won’t always put up huge yards per catch averages. What he will do is score touchdowns in one of the fastest-paced offenses in the league.
Among WRs who saw at least 50 targets in 2014, Matthews finished ninth in the NFL in touchdowns per target. His 6’3, 215 lb frame allows him to be a dangerous red zone threat. Philly will still run the ball, but Matthews will put up points in 2015.
TE Travis Kelce: 35 // PDS: 42
ESPN: 58 // Yahoo: 49
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Kelce is a freak. He has athleticism that is rivaled only by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at the TE position, which he used to average 7.5 YAC/reception last season, an incredible number considering Gronkowski averaged only 5.6.
The Chiefs’ offense is never going to be a fantasy goldmine, but Kelce doesn’t need it to be. He just needs the ball. With Anthony Fasano no longer a Kansas City Chief, 2015 will be a breakout year for Kelce.
RB Ameer Abdullah: 37 // PDS: 44
ESPN: 82 // Yahoo: 84
As you get later into the ADP numbers, kickers and D/ST start to pop up due to the limited length of 8 team drafts. This flaw in the ADP rankings has inflated Abdullah’s ADP a bit. With that being said, Abdullah is an absolute steal where he is being taken.
At the 2014 NFL Combine, Abdullah showcased mind-blowing short area burst and quickness. Abdullah’s 3-cone, jumps and shuttles were off the charts, and it shows on tape. His ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces is already among the NFL’s best.
Some have compared him to Cincinatti Bengals RB Giovani Bernard, but that might be selling Abdullah a bit short. Both were drafted in the second round, and Bernard was better in the 10- and 40- yard dash at his combine, but the explosiveness and agility Abdullah possesses are matched by few players in the NFL.
Joique Bell is still in Detroit, and his presence is depressing Abdullah’s ADP. Bell may steal touches from Abdullah to start the season, but this situation seems destined to play out how the RB situation did last year in Cincinatti. Bernard started the year as the RB1, got hurt, and then talented second round pick Jeremy Hill took his opportunity and ran with it.
Bell has had more surgeries than I can count, and Abdullah is a special talent. As long as he doesn’t fumble (my biggest concern of his coming out of college), Abdullah’s primary hurdle to fantasy dominance in 2015 is the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff. Take him as your RB3 with confidence.
RB Doug Martin: 53 // PDS: 64
ESPN: 80 // Yahoo: 99
There are several kickers and D/ST listed above Martin on the yahoo.com ADP list, so 99 may not be an accurate indication of where he is actually being drafted. Even if it significantly lower than 99, Martin is still a good value on both sites.
Martin lost weight this offseason, something that almost always benefits an RB. In losing weight, he may not absorb hits quite as well, but he will be more shifty and won’t get hit as much or as hard.
The Buccaneers drafted two offensive lineman in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet both appear ready to help improve what was one of the worst units in the league in 2014. Combine an improved line with one of the league’s easiest schedules (the NFC South is going to be the worst division in the NFL again), and 2015 is shaping up as a bounce-back year for the Muscle Hamster.
RB Duke Johnson: 71 // PDS: 85
ESPN: 115 // Yahoo: 125
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Johnson is the leading rusher in University of Miami (FL) history. Yes, you read that right. To put it lightly, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are place-holders. Johnson has missed some time in camp due to a hamstring injury, and the injury forced me to move him down my board a bit, but this job is Johnson’s to lose as long as he’s healthy.
The Browns have one of the top offensive lines in the league. LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio and C Alex Mack are as good of a threesome as any in the NFL. The holes should be there in the running game, and Johnson is by far the best pass-catching RB on the Browns roster.
Even though he’s playing in a mediocre offense, the opportunity to grab a potential starting RB as late as Johnson is going is a no-brainer.
Update: Duke Johnson suffered a concussion last night (8/29) in the Browns third preseason game. Due to the unfortunate setback I moved him down to 88th overall.
WR Anquan Boldin: 72 // PDS: 86
ESPN: 120 // Yahoo: 106
Boldin is the definition of a solid WR2. Boldin doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world, but also has one of the highest floors. It could be coming soon, but Boldin has been so good the last few years that it’s difficult to imagine much fantasy regression in 2014.
Torrey Smith is now a 49er, but Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson no longer are. Boldin should see at least as many targets as he did in 2014 (131) and could easily see more, given the 49ers will likely be playing from behind a lot in 2015. You can load up on RBs early knowing you can snag Boldin later.
TE Tyler Eifert: 77 // PDS: 92
ESPN: 131 // Yahoo: 122
Eifert is a talented player who hasn’t yet had the chance to fully showcase his ability at the NFL level. In 2013, he was overshadowed by the presence of Jermaine Gresham, and last year, he only played one game due to injury.
Gresham is now an Arizona Cardinal, and the TE snaps are Eifert’s for the taking. He should see a healthy volume of targets in 2015 and easily outperform his ADP. If you can’t get your hands on Gronk, Kelce, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen or Martellus Bennett, take Eifert.
WR Stevie Johnson: 79 // PDS: 95
ESPN: 170 (max number) // Yahoo: 130.4
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Out of all the players on this list, Johnson may be my favorite deep sleeper for the 2015 season. He was extremely efficient last year in San Francisco but only played 305 snaps. He is now locked in as the co-WR1 with Keenan Allen in San Diego.
Many would call Johnson the WR2 in San Diego. After breaking down Johnson’s and Allen’s statistics over the past two seasons, it appears as though Allen and Johnson are actually quite close in skill level.
That’s not to say that Allen’s established chemistry with QB Phillip Rivers won’t lead to him having better numbers than Johnson in 2015, but I’d much rather have Johnson in the late rounds than Allen in the 45-55 range. Knowing Johnson (among a few others on this list) will be available late can allow you to pass on WRs early and ensure you come away with enough depth at RB.
RB Ronnie Hillman: 83 // PDS: 100
ESPN: 138 // Yahoo: 118
This pick is all about upside. The RB in a Peyton Manning-led offense is always put in a position to succeed, and Hillman is the clear backup to C.J. Anderson. Hillman has been praised for his work in practice and the preseason as of late, and if Anderson gets hurt or does not perform, Hillman will be an extremely valuable fantasy asset.
WR Eddie Royal: 84 // PDS: 101
ESPN: 133 // Yahoo: 117
Royal sustained a minor hip injury in practice this week, which forced me to drop him a few spots on my board. Despite the injury, I love Royal this year. Brandon Marshall is now a New York Jet, and Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are both dealing with injuries.
Royal has played with Jay Cutler before and has drawn rave reviews in camp. Yet again, efficient WR changing teams are underrated. It happens every year. Last year it was Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin. This year its Royal and Stevie Johnson.
RB Arian Foster: 42 (my rank)
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Foster suffered a serious groin injury this offseason that required surgery. The outlook on Foster’s injury is not quite as bad as was initially believed, and his ADP is rising as a result. If Foster can get healthy in time for the fantasy playoffs, he will be an invaluable asset. If you can get him in the mid 50s, take him.
TE Martellus Bennett: 55 – Bennett would be on the list above, but his ADP isn’t far behind where I have him ranked. I’m buying Bennett for the same reasons I’m buying Eddie Royal, and Royal is currently nicked up, which further adds to Bennett’s value. Bennett should be targeted heavily all season long and has a very realistic chance to finish as a top five TE.
WR Allen Robinson: 62 – Robinson was a favorite of mine coming out of Penn State and is a physical presence on the outside at 6’3, 210 lbs. He injured his foot last season and was only able to play 10 games.
Foot injuries are not to be taken lightly, and it’s certainly possible he may suffer another lower leg injury next season. If A-Rob is able to stay healthy for a full 16 games, he should have a big season as the clear WR1 on the Jaguars. Julius Thomas has missed a significant portion of camp with a broken hand which should free up more red zone targets for Robinson.
RB Ryan Mathews: 70 – Mathews should see six to 10 touches a game even when DeMarco Murray is healthy and be the rare handcuff who has standalone value. If Murray goes down, Mathews will be a fantasy force. Take him as your RB3/4.
RB Khiry Robinson: 107 – Sean Payton likes to involve multiple RB when he has more than one healthy back, and Khiry Robinson is one of two currently healthy Saints’ RB. C.J. Spiller underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on August 14th and should be ready for Week 1, but his health is a question mark. If Robinson does manage to gain a significant share of the workload, he will be a viable RB3/FLEX candidate.
RB LeSean McCoy: 26 // PDS: 31
ESPN ADP: 15 // Yahoo ADP: 19
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McCoy wasn’t efficient last year in the Eagles’ offense, so there’s little reason to think he will improve in the anemic Buffalo offense. While Rex Ryan has stated publicly he wants to give Shady plenty of touches, McCoy has suffered multiple injuries this offseason and has missed a significant amount of practice time. Don’t pay for the McCoy from 2013. He is a different player now and should be evaluated as such.
RB Melvin Gordon: 48 // PDS: 58
ESPN ADP: 31 // Yahoo ADP: 41
I wasn’t as big of a Gordon fan coming out of college as many were, including the San Diego Chargers. I had him ranked as the fifth best RB in the class behind Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah.
Montee Ball, Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill and many others were able to put up big numbers in the Wisconsin offense and were disappointments in the NFL. Gordon has more physical talent than any Wisconsin RB to enter the NFL in my lifetime, but the trend is concerning. Gordon has the tendency to stop his feet at the line of scrimmage, is regularly stuffed for little or no gain and isn’t great at catching the ball or in pass protection.
Danny Woodhead is back healthy and is an excellent pass-catcher, while Branden Oliver is a solid player in his own right. There’s a very good chance Woodhead and Oliver command a significant portion of the RB workload in San Diego next season. If that ends up the case, I’d rather not be the one who spent a pick in the 30s on Melvin Gordon.
WR Julian Edelman: 69 // PDS: 83
ESPN: 41 // Yahoo: 55
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Julian Edelman has been a reliable WR2 over the past few years, and his ADP reflects that valuable consistency. Unfortunately for Pats fans, Edelman has been sidelined for much of camp with an ankle injury.
Bill Belichick never has (and never will be) forthcoming with injury-related information, so the severity of Edelman’s injury is uncertain. Regardless, Edelman’s absence is concerning. Combine the injury with the possibility that Tom Brady may miss the first four games, and you get a player who is being overvalued, particularly on ESPN.
WR Davante Adams: 76 // PDS: 91
ESPN: 54 // Yahoo: 110
Adams’ Yahoo ADP doesn’t appear to reflect the Jordy Nelson injury, while the ESPN ADP does. Personally, the mid-50s is too rich for my liking. Adams will absorb many of the targets Nelson would have seen, and his ADP has spiked for good reason. I moved him up my board as well, but in the public eye he has passed many receivers who are far more talented.
For example, Adams has passed Jarvis Landry in ADP on ESPN. Landry is a superior player and in all likelihood will receive a similar number of targets. Playing in the Packers offense is certainly enticing, but only to a point.
If Adams falls, take a chance on him. Don’t be the guy to reach for him.
Update: Randall Cobb left Saturday’s preseason game with a shoulder injury. By all reports the injury is a minor one. If the injury ends up being more serious than initially believed, move Adams up 15-20 spots.
WR Vincent Jackson: 129 // PDS: 155
ESPN ADP: 59 // Yahoo ADP: 70
Jackson’s ADP is about right…if it were 2012. He is coming off one of the worst seasonsof his career and is the clear WR2 in a below-average offense.
Take a chance on a younger, higher upside WR2 in a better offense (Terrance Williams, Marvin Jones) before you take V-Jax. Depth at RB is far more valuable than adding V-Jax as a WR4/5. He is still draftable, but only at the right price.
WR Roddy White: 150 // PDS: 180
ESPN: 94 // Yahoo: 82
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White falls into the same boat as Jackson. He’s a WR2 (at best) on his team in the twilight of his career, and his health seems to be declining by the day. White had his knee drained multiple times over the past few months and just recently had elbow surgery. GM Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons’ front office know White is fading, drafting Justin Hardy and signing Leonard Hankerson as insurance. Take White as a late round flier and nothing more.
RB Matt Forte: 16 (my rank) – Forte didn’t make the list above because I still think he can be a useful fantasy player when taken with realistic expectations. However, people who are taking him at his 11th overall ADP on ESPN are likely to be disappointed next season.
Forte has played significantly more snaps (2658) than any other RB over the past three seasons (2012-2014). The next closest RB is LeSean McCoy (2393), and we saw how that turned out last season.
To make matters worse, Marc Trestman is no longer calling plays in Chicago, so Forte is bound to see regression in the pass-catching department. I’ll take him if he falls into the early 20s, but I’ll pass on Forte before then.