Every year I run an article where I examine the what I consider to the be the most rewarding same team pairings in fantasy football. The idea, if you’re not familiar, is that by adding high tier quarterbacks with elite wide receivers or running backs you give yourself a larger share of the available points. Of course, this works best with high scoring offenses.
Last year I missed the mark a little bit with my go to; Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, as both disappointed. Luckily I planned well enough that it didn’t impact me too much (I won the league after all), but the same risks exist for any strategy as some guys just don’t show up.
But this year presents a different challenge, as the number of elite quarterbacks have dropped precipitously and the number of sure fire fantasy studs is at a questionable level. Let’s begin:
Earl Round Pairs ( Most Difficult To Manage)
Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams: Adams is finally getting the respect he deserves, ranking 7th among wide receivers. Pairing the #7 WR with the #1 QB is a healthy strategy regardless of what team they play for, but getting extra point for yards and touchdowns shared has this pairing at the top of list. Still, it’ll cost you two of your first four picks to assemble this pairing.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown: While the jury seems to be out on Roethlisberger every year in the off season, Big Ben grinds his way to a top ten finish at the position. What’s NEVER a question is how good Brown will be when he’s on the field. The easy answer is that Brown is the safest pick in fantasy, but it will require you have a top 3 or 4 pick.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas: Despite still playing at a high level, Brees has sort of slipped behind Thomas and Alvin Kamara as the top targets in the New Orleans offense. That in no way diminishes his ability to produce in fantasy, and I’d argue is a better option than both Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but that’s a different article all together. Getting Michael Thomas, though, is the hard part. His ADP of 15 will mean drafting 1-5 will preclude you from drafting him unless you get lucky. If you do get lucky, a 6th or 7th round pick will land you Brees, who’s ADP of 69 is criminally low.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: Draft Brady at your own risk, but if you’re confident that the off season malaise in New England won’t affect Brady’s ability to perform then have at it. The truth is that Rob Gronkowski could set records this year as the only reliable pair of hands left for Brady to chuck it up to. Sure, Edelman will be back in 4 games and Hogan has shown he can play with Brady, but Gronk should see the end zone 10-15 times this year on top of a ton of yards. Grabbing him in the 3rd round to pair with Brady in the 7th gives plenty of time to add skill players besides.
Middle Round Pairs (Easier To Coordinate)
Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin: This one isn’t as impactful in terms of fantasy because Wilson tends to supplement his passing stats with his legs. Unfortunately for this exercise, his rushing statistics can’t be taken into account. Still, Doug Baldwin is one of the leagues best slot receivers, and as a 4th round pick has a lot of value regardless. Without Jimmy Graham in the red one, he may even see a few more looks there. This one may not be the sexiest pair on the list, but they may be the most effective.
Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz: It may seem strange to see another WR/TE combo, but the fact is Wentz and Ertz seem to share a brain in the red zone, meaning a ton of points are up for grabs between the two of them. While Alshon Jeffrey may be the #1 wide out on the team’s depth chart, the true number one is Ertz. if you miss out on Gronk but you want a stud tight end, pair a 4th round Ertz with a 7th round Wentz and reap the benefits.
Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs: Wait, you say. This should be Thielen and Cousins! I’m here to tell you, not so fast. Now, I can see a scenario like in Denver years back with multiple 1,000 yard receivers, but the guy I’m targeting is Diggs in the late 4th round. He was excellent last year even though he wasn’t the top target for the Case Keenum led Vikings. Now, he has Cousins tossing the ball to him. A classic gunslinger, Cousins’ game best fits the strengths Diggs brings to the table. This is one of the least expensive pairings you can get as a 4th and a 10th gets you both players.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones: You may have to spend a 2nd round pick on Jones, but the wait on Ryan is a bit longer than the other QB’s on this list. As the QB13, he’s being drafted in the 11th round, and I’d argue his value is sky high this year as a bounce back candidate. If you’re like me, and you see more value in grabbing high end skill players to pair with the later round QB, Matt Ryan is a slam dunk. Have him and Julio, and you’ll reap the rewards for all those yards.
Odell Beckham and Eli Manning: If you’re nervous about drafting either of these guys, I’d say you’re hardly alone. Beckham is an otherworldly talent when he’s right, but the combination of recent injury woes and an inability to stay level headed means he may fall towards the end of the first round. What I will say is that if you manage Beckham, Manning is a wonderful pairing if you waited a bit long on your QB. In the 16th round of drafts (current ADP is 152) Manning presents a conundrum. He was awful last year but much of it could be logically blamed on the terrible circumstances around him. With healthy weapons, an upgraded offensive line, and an elite RB to draw the attention, and Manning could be a surprise top 15 QB this year.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen: Allen proved last year that when he’s healthy, he’s every bit the stud we thought he was. Rivers remains one of the most under appreciated QB’s in fantasy, and his ADP of 112 presents tons of value. Without Hunter Henry, even more weight will be given to Allen, meaning these two could hook up for a ton of points.
Honorable Mentions: Derek Carr and Amari Cooper (a new coach could help get these two back on track). Jared Goff and Brandin Cooks (it’s a new look for Goff, but Cooks could be his go to early and often). Jameis Winston and Mike Evans (This requires a bounce back year for both, but not guaranteed). Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis (There’s so much talent between these two, it’s hard to imagine both of them laying duds this year).
So maybe I’ve beaten a dead horse a bit on the bounce back and sleeper picks for QB’s… after all how many are really going to get drafted? Still, there has to be a line in the sand for elite QB1 options and the rest of the group. Who (aside from Joe Flacco… who I will refrain from including in this article) has the potential for a breakout, top 10 season?
Least Risk: Philip Rivers – Los Angelas Chargers – Rivers slots in on my ranks around the 14th spot, meaning he only has to leap four of the QB’s ahead of him. While age is certainly a concern amongst gunslinger type QB’s like Rivers, there’s little evidence that he’s slowing down. It’s clear that, despite the return of Keenan Allen and excpected return of Travis Benjami, LA is committed to giving Rivers more weapons as they drafted one of the best wide outs in the 2017 draft in Mike Williams. Coupled with a capable run game, Rivers is locked and loaded for a massive year.
A Little Risk: Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans – If you’re convinced that the Titans are going to ease Mariota back into the playbook following his season ending injury, then by all means, pass on the talented QB. Adding Corey Davis doesn’t seem like they’re committed fully to a run-first scheme, although they certainly want to remain balanced. The upside through the air is modest at best as Mariota still conforms to the NFL game, but his ability to make yards on the ground keep defenses honest and give him space to work. Don’t be alarmed if he starts slow, he’ll be well worth the pick by the end of the season.
Most Risk: Andy Dalton – Cincinnatti Bengals – We’ve heard this one before; Andy Dalton is poised to break out. It certainly doesn’t help having to play fantastic defenses in the ACF North but with John Ross and AJ Green, Dalton has two exceptional burners, and newly aquired RB (via the draft) Joe Mixon rounds out an already formidable backfield capable of catching passes. It may be a bit of a stretch as we can expect a boring, balanced offense in Cincy, but I won’t be surprised if he catches lightning in a bottle to push that top 10 group.
- Andrew Luck
- Aaron Rodgers
- Russell Wilson
- Ben Roethlisburger
- Peyton Manning
- Drew Brees
- Matt Ryan
- Tony Romo
- Eli Manning
- Tom Brady
- Ryan Tannehill
- Matthew Stafford
- Cam Newton
- Phillip Rivers
- Colin Kaepernick
- Joe Flacco
- Carson Palmer
- Derek Carr
- Jay Cutler
- Alex Smith
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Andy Dalton
- Blake Bortles
- Sam Bradford
- Marcus Mariota
- Jameis Winston
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Brian Hoyer
- Geno Smith
- Josh McCown
- Robert Griffin
- Matt Cassel
- Nick Foles
Colin Kaepernick – Reports of the discontent in San Fransisco are overshadowing the progress that Kaep has made in the pocket as a passer. Despite a tumbling ADP, Kaepernick continues to rise on my board, especially considering his ability to make plays with his legs. It may not always be pretty but he’ll finish as a top 15 QB you can get at a discount.
Derek Carr – The hype train was slightly derailed recently when fears surround the injury sustained to his finger had many wondering if he’d be ready for week 1 of the season. Back at practice and getting to work with his new #1 in Amari Cooper, Carr’s injury won’t be an impact, and he has the tools and weapons to find himself in the top 15 QB’s.
Marcus Mariota – He may end up over valued by inexperienced drafters due to the buzz surrounding Mariota, but he’s already impressed coaches and team mates with his ability and work ethic. He’s jumping up on my board, and I’m beginning to feel he’s what Cam Newton was expected to be in the NFL,
Tom Brady – In spite of his performances after similar issues (see his 2007 stats after spy gate for an example) Brady’s attention may be too focused on his legacy as he fights the 4 game suspension from the deflated football… thing. I’m not insinuating he’ll be terrible, but he could begin to fall down draft boards with fears that he won’t be elite for all 12 of the games he’s availbale for.
Jay Cutler – They added Kevin White, he still has Alshon Jeffrey and Matt Forte, and you’re wondering why I think he’s a down? Jeffrey is a great athlete, but he’s a throw and go type WR who’s strength is pull down a jump ball. White may have more upside in the long run, but this team will hurt for a route runner early and Cutler struggles when he throws into coverage. I expect an rough season for Cutler without Marshall on the roster.
Andy Dalton – This offense isn’t any better than the previous year when Dalton was expected to jump into the conversation for top teir QB’s. Instead, he constantly disappointed, and this team didn’t do enough in the off season to mask his deficiencies. They will likely lean heavily on the run with two solid backs, so Dalton is unlikely to show much more than last year.
As the NFL’s dog days settle in, we long for the hooplah that surrounded the draft. We pray to the football gods that a wacky Chip Kelley roster move falls in our laps. We ask that we never have to hear the words “deflated football” again in our lives. Instead we’re left reading reports of how every disappointing player is wowing in whatever camp is being participated in or how backup quarterbacks everywhere are competing to take the starting gig.
So, inspite of my fears that this is far to early to look at the NFL’s fantasy landscap, I’ll begin breaking down the pieces each NFL franchise may showcase come your very own Fantasy draft day. We’ll examine each teams skill positions and rank them from 32 to 1.
Without further adue… drum roll please!
32. Cleveland Browns
No other franchise in the NFL has swung and missed on a QB more than the Cleveland Browns. The most important position on the field, QB is the one position every NFL team focuses on, but Cleveland has a depth chart that has 35 year old journey man Josh McCown on top of their failed experiment of Johnny “football” Manziel. On top of that, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were brought in to bolster a dismal WR corps, but achieved nothing but making them more mediocre. Despite having a solid stable of RB’s on the roster, this offense is so disfunctional I’d be surprised if they had room to run. Worth Drafting: Dwayne Bowe is a risky pick, but at least he’s his teams #1 option. Isaiah Crowell should be a top 20 back unless Duke Johnson impresses early. I wouldn’t waste a pick in the first 5 rounds on this team.
31. New York Jets
In a similar fashion to Cleveland, the Jets experimented with Geno Smith, and decided that Ryan Fitzpatrick would give them the best chance to win. No fantasy owner would agree. Brandon Marshall is a marquee name, and Fitzpatrick didn’t kill Andre Johnson’s value in Hou, so he may still be worth a pick, but beyond him Decker and Kerley should prove to be inconsistent. Chris Ivory is a steady back but with the addition of Ridley and Zac Stacy, who knows which guy will lead the team. Worth Drafting: I’m sure someone in your league will draft Ryan Fitzpatrick; don’t be that guy. Marshall is an intriguing pick as the Jets haven’t had a goal line guy for a while and they may lean heavily on him, not a WR1 but could have value if he falls. Ivory quietly put together a decent season last year, so I’d think he’ll come out of the gates on top, but I wouldn’t waste and early pick. Ridley and Stacy are both risky, and may only be valuable as a handcuff if it becomes more clear before the season starts who is the #2.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is a team on the rise, but will still suffer short term as Blake Bortles and his young WR’s become aclimated to the league. Bortles has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but as young as this offense is, he’ll struggle with consistency. TJ Yeldon will likely carry the torch at RB, and should be worth a middle round pick, especially in keeper formats. At WR things are a little murky. There won’t be a huge number of passes to go around, so a big week followed by a zero could have fantasy owners screaming. Julius Thomas should still be a top 10 TE even in this offense. Worth Drafting: Bortles is a project and should be drafted with this in mind. Yeldon has a chance to come out and put up good fantasy numbers, watch carefully as the team may announce him starting over Gerhart before the season starts. Marquise Lee has the most upside of the WR corps but it’s Julius Thomas as a saftey blanket for the young QB who warrants the highest value.
29. St. Louis Rams
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Nick Foles is going to be able to handle the lack of protection that St. Louis has been famous for. He won’t have Chip Kelly’s schemes to protect him either, so I have very little faith that Foles will return to a top 15 QB. Todd Gurley looks to be a generational talent, but inuries should limit him in year one, and Tre Mason is a solid but unspectacular RB for fantasy purposes. WR is a soft spot here with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt being marginal at best atop the depth charts. Jared Cook could be the one fantasy expection with nearly 700 yards last year. At a shallow TE position, he could be worth a pick. Worth Drafting: Foles was average in Philadelphia’s offense, so I expect him to be worth a late round QB2 or bench spot pick. Todd Gurley should be drafted with the understanding he won’t contribute early, and likely valued too high in keeper leagues. Kenny Britt as a depth WR or Tavon Austin as a hold your breath flier would be later rounds and Jared Cook could be cheap points at the TE position.
28. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has some great tools, but he’s still a bit raw when it comes to the NFL game. I don’t expect him to have much fantasy impact early. Bishop Sankey disappointed his NFL owners along with the fantasy world, so they went out and got David Cobb in the draft. Cobb should eat into Sankey’s carries early, but there’s no garuntee that either will see much success. A ton of talent at WR, it’s a crap shoot with who to pick. Kendall Wright should put up solid numbers but with a rookie QB inconsistency could hurt his value, but I’m a firm believer in Delanie Walker and expect him to repeat with a top 10 TE season. Worth Drafting: Mariota should be drafted as a bench QB only. Walker is a safe bet to put up good numbers, and Dorial Green-Beckham as a flier pick could reap huge rewards with his freakish athleticism. Delanie Walker has a lot of value in the red zone, and should be counted on as a top TE in a shallow field.
27. Buffalo Bills
Matt Cassell is a slight upgrade on paper over E.J. Manuel, but he’s not good enough to elevate the offense into the middle of the pack. The biggest question in this offense is LeSean McCoy. He had a ton of touches last year for Philadelphia and could’t put together a season worthy of being a top pick last year. Now he’s wearing a bills logo and things should only be tougher for him. Sammy Watkins is a stud, but opposing teams will be focused on the talented wideout even more now. I’m intrigued by Charles Clay as well. The converted back has tools to make him a mismatch, but Cassell can’t be counted on to keep his numbers up either. Worth Drafting: I’d stay away from either QB unless in a 2QB format league. LeSean McCoy should be counted on to touch the ball 15-20 times a game, but is a huge risk at his current ADP. Sammy Watkins is a no brainer, but Charles Clay is the toughest to put your finger on. In the later rounds sure, if overvalued due to his success in Miami last year, I’d look elsewhere.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is a fine talent, but he’s young and he’s taking over for a team that allowed 52 sacks last season. Mike Evans was a revelation and Vincent Jackson is still a deep threat, but Doug Martin is still a question mark. If the team can’t use him to spell Winston, there could be some growing pains early. I’m not convinced that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins failure to turn into a fantasy option was a result of a terrible passing game. Winston may help revive his prospects. Worth Drafting: Mike Evans will be an early pick based on his athletisism and high ceiling. Vincent Jackson is going to regress eventually, but he’s still worth a WR3. Winston should outperform Mariota in terms of fantasy, but he’s a project that may not reach his hype. Sefarian Jenkins could fall to late in the draft and I’d say he’s a steal there.
25. Washington Redskins
What a mess this organization has become as Dan Snyder wants nothing more than to torment the fans of his storied franchise. Robert Griffin may not have the backing of his Head Coach but ownership has ensure he’ll get the first crack at the job this year. His talent is undeniable, his mental toughness is. If he’s playing his game, defenses can’t defend all of the areas he can attack, adding value to their small but quick recievers. Garcon is a valuable volume reciever when the football is in the air, and DeSean Jackson can still torch a secondary. Two talented TE’s in Jordan Reed and Paul Niles provide nice targets for Griffin but damage each others value significantly if both are healthy. Worth Drafting: Despite not passing the eyeball test, Griffin had a few solid performances down the stretch that show he might be able to turn this thing around. He may be worth a flier if you think so to. Alfred Morris is as boring a pick as they come, but he’s a safe bet to touch the ball 15 times a game. Garcon may have more value in PPR leagues, but DeSean Jackson has shown he can be a difference maker regardless of who is throwing the ball. Injuries derailed Reed’s season and allowed Niles Paul to showcase his skills, but Reed is the more complete fantasy player and warrants a TE2 pick.
24. Houston Texans
Sure, they have Arian Foster who when healthy is among the best at his position. But they lost Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins is being asked to step into his shoes. Last year he was a stud, compiling WR1 numbers with an anemic passing offense. Adding Brian Hoyer may give them a better chance to win, but he’s not going to light up the score board, and this could hurt the WR’s. Jaelen Strong could be a sneaky pick if teams take Hopkins out of games as Cecil Shorts is really only there to stretch the feild. Worth Drafting: Arian Foster should still be considered one of the best in the game, but age and injury concerns could hamstring a fantasy team. DeAndre Hopkins is buzzing now that he occupies the number one spot, but I’m not sure that he’s ready to be the man yet. Jaelen Strong as a rookie has the tools to outperform a flier pick if your filling out your bench.
More than any other position, the QB position feels the least amount of fluctuation as starting gigs are usually wrapped up before the NFL draft. With the two rookies sliding into starting spots, lets see where our QB’s stand in terms of Fantasy Rankings in our Way Too Early Rankings.
- Andrew Luck – IND
- Aaron Rodgers – GB
- Peyton Manning – Den
- Russell Wilson – Sea
- Drew Brees – NO
- Ben Roethlisberger – Pit
- Matt Ryan – Atl
- Tom Brady – NE
- Cam Newton – Car
- Ryan Tannehill – Mia
- Eli Manning – NYG
- Tony Romo – Dal
- Philip Rivers – SD
- Matthew Stafford – Det
- Carson Palmer – Ari
- Colin Kaepernick – SF
- Joe Flacco – Bal
- Andy Dalton – Cin
- Jay Cutler – Chi
- Derek Carr – Oak
- Alex Smith – KC
- Teddy Bridgewater – Min
- Sam Bradford – Phi
- Robert Griffin III – Was
- Blake Bortles – Jax
- Nick Foles – StL
- Jameis Winston – TB
- Marcus Mariota – Ten
- Brian Hoyer – Hou
- Ryan Fitzpatrick – NYJ
- Josh McCown – Cle
- Matt Cassell – Buf
- Derek Carr – A young team with some exceptional weapons, Carr could very well vault himself into the top 15 conversation.
- Blake Bortles – Jacksonville seems committed to creating an offensive culture that will see Bortles succeed. He certainly has the intangibles.
- Alex Smith – He may have shown age last year, but I think cleaning the slate with his receiving core could work wonders for Smith this year.
- Tom Brady – We’ve seen Brady play with a chip on his shoulder, but at 38 and facing a possible suspension, Brady may not be worth his draft day value.
- Nick Foles – If Sam Bradfords fall from grace was any indication, St. Louis could be a bad spot for Foles. They also have a brutal schedule for QB’s fantasy production.
- Drew Brees – Age is certainly a factor here, but losing Jimmy Graham and the news that New Orleans is looking to dial back on the reliance of the passing game could see Brees dropping out of the top 10.
With the first overall pick, the Tampa Bay Bucaneers select… QB Jamies Winston *queue the applause*.
Just like that, the first round of the 2015 NFL draft got underway. On day one we saw 10 skill positions find their first NFL immediately impacting the fantasy landscape surrounding several NFL players. As Zac Stacy so elequently put it on twitter: “yikes”.
What do these picks mean for the teams making them? Keep reading to find out.
Jameis Winston-QB / Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay had two talented WR’s that put up good fantasy numbers in rookie Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. What Tampa Bay lacked on offense was a steady QB under center. What Winston means to this team is that at some time down the road, consistency will develop and those guys will continue to beat defenses down the side lines. More importantly, it could open up the field for oft-maligned RB Doug Martin. Martin has had to deal with a sub par offensive general and constantly stacked boxes. I expect him to bounce back this year with an added focus on a QB who should be able to contribute.
Marcus Mariota-QB / Tennessee: I’m not sure that Mariota has the tools to be a good fantasy QB right away. Physically he’s gifted but he’s not your prototypical pocket passer, and with the issues Tennessee had keeping it’s QB’s healthy last year, Mariota is going to have to be doing a ton of scrambling. May have some value late, but I imagine inconsistinceny will keep him from being relevant right away. Expect some down weeks out of Wright and Douglas.
Amari Cooper-WR / Oakland: Oakland needed a WR to pair with QB Derek Carr, and they grabbed the best one on the board. What Cooper lacks in speed, he makes up for in crisp route running, good body control, and the ability to beat defensive backs. He’ll make an immediate impact as the defacto #1 receiver in an offense that had too many 2’s and 3’s.
Kevin White-WR / Chicago: This is a perfect marraige of player and team. Chicago has had most success when Jay Cutler can use his big arm to hit long, physical recievers down the side lines. To replace Brandon Marshall, the Bears snagged Kevin White who’s size and speed match up perfectly across from Alshon Jeffery. Expect Mike Evans kind of numbers.
Todd Gurley-RB / StL: I’m not sure this wasn’t just a pick and pray selection hoping Gurley pans out at number 10. His ACL injury clouds his ability to contribute this year, but when healthy he should be a workhorse back. In contrast, Zac Stacy, an in-vogue pick last year has aske to be traded, and if so could throw a wrinkle in elsewhere.
DeVante Parker-WR / Mia: A raw talent with elite skills, Parker won’t be asked to do too much in an Miami Offense that has two solid WR’s in Landry and Stills, and a top end pass catching TE in Cameron. A late grab and stash candidate, would only be relevant in fantasy terms if there were an injury ahead of him.
Melvin Gordon-RB / SD: I like this pick in the same vein as Chicago’s Kevin White pick. What SD likes out of it’s backfield is a quick, shifty back that can play in both running and passing downs. Most experts have pegged Gordon as the early “offensive rookie of the year” leader and in San Diego he should have plenty of opportunities to touch the football.
Nelson Agholor-WR / Phi: So much for the “future to Tennessee for Mariota” tade. Agholor makes a ton of sense to a Philly team that hadn’t replaced DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin but still found a way to win games. The big question will be who starts under center. Mark Sanchez hurts any one’s fantasy value in terms of consistency, but who knows if Sam Bradford would be any better in Chip Kelly’s offense. Expect power outages along with huge fantasy weeks.
Breshad Perriman-WR / Baltimore: Not a big physical receiver, Perriman has + speed (ran a sub 4.3 40) and will slot in nicely where Torrey Smith left. Paired with Joe Flacco’s monster arm, expect moderate fantasy numbers mostly in bunches.
Phillip Dorsett-WR / Idianapolis: Small and speedy, Dorsett may make the Colts a more formidable offense, but it does him no favors to be buried on an offense with TY Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief and Dwayne Allen eating up a chunk of the passes. With as deep as the talent pool is and as many sleeper candidates as there are, Dorsett won’t be on my draft watch list.