It’s early in the off season, and these rankings will likely take on a different form as we approach the start of the NFL season, but in an effort to map the journey, we’ll take a few days to give you a look at the top of each position and who we think is rising and who we think is falling. If you’re looking for overall rankings, our initial rankings will be posted at the links in the header this week as well.
- DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – The man they call “Nuke” has one of the most diverse skill sets in the league. He has the kind of speed / size combinations that defenses fear, and his ability to make difficult, timely catches, is second to none. Even double teamed, and with no name backups throwing him the ball, Hopkins is consistently at the top of the wide receiver rankings. He’s the top dog and it’s not even particularly close.
- Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints – Thomas proclaimed that he was uncoverable last year in one of the more memorable moments of the 2019 season, and judging by how often he was open for future hall of famer Drew Brees, it would seem he was correct. The thing that gives Thomas an “elite” label is his consistent production; he seems to put up points nearly every week. While Drew Brees historic career is waning, he and Thomas are still one of the best QB/WR tandems in the entire league.
- Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers – Last year, Adams began to creep into some of the industry experts top 5, but it still felt like his skills were being undersold. He’s be called TD dependent, or feast-or-famine, and any number of other things that would suggest he’s a product of his environment. I’ll tell you that’s just patently wrong. While he certainly gets a boost for being one of the leagues best red zone weapons for a QB who has the ability to find him on any given play, he also benefits from being immensely talented on a pass first team.
- Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – With the whole world seemingly against Jones as an elite fantasy receiver, he quietly went out there and put to bed the idea that he can’t score touchdowns. We discussed it last year how it was incredibly unlikely he continued to be held out of the endzone, and true to form, we expect another excellent season out of Julio. The emergence of Calvin Ridley as a solid #2 only makes things easier for the uber-talented Julio.
- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mike Evans quietly produced one of his finest seasons in the NFL, finishing with more than 1,500 receiving yards and 8 TDs. His 17.7 yards per catch mark was the best of his career, and somehow he still feels overlooked on many rankings lists. Now, Tampa has a competent coaching staff and no foreseeable quarterback controversy, and I expect Evans to pick up right where he left off. While the 1,500 yards is his ceiling, expecting double digit touchdowns could produce top 3 season if the planets align.
- Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers – With the departure of Antonio Brown, Juju becomes the top target in a passing attack that seems to churn out elite wideouts year in and year. Of course, there’s always the fear that without insulation, Smith-Schuster may fold a bit, but I’m confident that he’ll step up and partially fill the shoes left behind by Brown. I’m not ready to put him in the elite class yet, but the sheer number of targets he can expect should help overcome any growing pains.
- Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings – I admit that I was wrong in expecting Thielen to regress. Despite a new offense and quarterback, Thielen hardly missed a beat, compiling a career best stat line, aided by a monster target share that led to 158 targets. There has been nothing to suggest he can expect less than the 25% or so target share he saw last year, so even a slight regression in attempted passes shouldn’t impact his ability to produce. With a solid catch rate of between 65-70% there’s a good chance Thielen sees in excess of 100 catches again in 2019, and another top 10 finish on his resume.
- Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders – While I’m certainly concerned about his landing spot, I’m not ready to declare him unsuitable for a WR1 spot. It’s certainly obvious that the Raiders have plenty of dysfunction, and the transformation of Amari Cooper was something to behold, but even that Oakland coaching staff has to recognize Brown’s skill as being tantamount to any success. Expect a top 5 finish in targets, but maybe a bit less of an efficient stat line in the end. Selecting Brown any earlier than this is a crap shoot, and I’ll probably avoid him myself, but I won’t suggest that being in Black and Silver will have any impact on how great a receiver Brown is.
- Odell Beckham, Cleveland Browns – Much like Brown, our concerns over OBJ have little to do with his skills and more to do with his specific situation. He’ll immediately leapfrog the receiving corp to become the top option in that Cleveland offense, but it’s fair to admit that Baker Mayfield plays a very different type of football than Eli Manning did. I don’t expect him to spend as much time forcing the football to Odell, and with an elite slot guy in Jarvis Landry, and an excellent red zone weapon in TE David Njoku, I can see Beckham’s bottom line taking a pretty sizable hit. He’ll still finish as a top 10 WR most weeks, but don’t expect him to challenge for the top spot like he’d done in previous seasons.
- Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings – Much like his battery-mate Adam Thielen, Diggs put up a career year in 2019, and that was in spite of nagging injuries that cost him a game and slowed him down late in the year. While we’re concerned about Diggs ability to stay healthy, the track record shows Diggs can expect nearly 10 targets per game (his career average) and that alone is good enough to include him on this list. Given that he and Thielen have been able to coexist as elite fantasy receivers for years, and that Diggs has managed to score 7-9 TDs a year despite not playing a full 16 games yet, and you see how Diggs deserves the lofty place among the top 10. We fully expect another 100 receptions, 1,100 yards, and a potential 10 TDs to help the Minnesota tandem achieve what very few offenses can; two top ten finishes.
As with everyone of our Either Or series articles, we’ll be drafting in a 12 team format. If you’re not drafting in 12 teams, this article can still be useful in terms of coaching you on your decision making. Knowing what you’re looking for can be a boon when you’re on the clock in the middle rounds and the guys you hoped would be there have been drafted. Up until now, we’d done mostly middle to late picks, but we’ll review what we’d do from the 1st overall pick, but in the 7th round of your draft.
As always, our picks until this point are as follows:
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Stefon Diggs
- Joe Mixon
- Alex Collins
- Golden Tate
- Pierre Garcon
At this point in the draft, with three running backs and three wide receivers, I have the kind of flexibility to draft either need (QB or TE) or value (WR or RB). A quick review of my roster shows that my team is weakest at the WR position, with Diggs being a high end WR2 and the Tate and Garcon pair both being volume dependent WR2s themselves, further presenting a conundrum for the 2nd pick at the turn.
In this mock, the following ten players are the highest ranked on the Dr’s draft board for the 7th round:
- Emmanuel Sanders, WR – DEN
- Jamison Crowder, WR – WAS
- Kyle Rudolph, TE – MIN
- Robert Woods, WR – LAR
- Randall Cobb, WR – GB
- Cooper Kupp, WR – LAR
- Kirk Cousins, QB – MIN
- Ronald Jones, RB – TB
- Duke Johnson, RB – CLE
- Marquise Goodwin, WR – SF
It’s not hard to see that the value in this round clearly lays with the wide receiver position. With only one TE in Kyle Rudolph, one QB in Kirk Cousins, and one RB in Ronald Jones, there’s very little going on that excites me as I build my roster.
The Case For QB
I’m going to eliminate Kyle Rudolph right out of the gates, as I think I can get some good value in the next few rounds out of guys like Jack Doyle and George Kittle. Instead, I’ll toy with the idea of adding Cousins to establish my QB groups as “above average”. I don’t consider Cousins as an elite option, but pairing him with Diggs is also attractive in my opinion. Some will tell you that it makes your team more inconsistent, although the effects are negligible, but I’ll make the argument that a high end pairing like this makes you more productive week to week.
If I skip Cousins, I’m looking at Matt Stafford, Andrew Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger as my starter; none of whom are particularly exciting at their current draft round. What Cousins provides is steady back end QB1 performances with a chance to surpass that with the weapons he has now. It’s a difficult decision, but one that’s made easier with Diggs on the roster.
The Case For RB
But with the depth so shallow at the running back position, it’d be almost silly to pass up one of the highly touted rookie backs that has seemingly fallen to me in the 7th. While Jones hasn’t impressed all that much in camp so far, he’s a more talented back by far than Peyton Barber, and should assume a lot of the starting role by the end of the regular season. With three capable backs on the roster already, adding a guy who needs some seasoning wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Beyond him are backs that I don’t find myself clamoring to own, with the third-down-triumvirate of Duke Johnson, Tarik Cohen, and Chris Thompson looming as roster albatrosses. Adding ROJO as my fourth back begins to look far more appealing when you consider the alternatives.
The Case for WR
Still, the best value in the round is in the WR position. With so many target hogs available, it seems almost like a no brainer to add one as a depth piece and swing at high upside high risk guys at the other positions later. The argument that having an advantage at one position over your competition is a widely maintained one, and it’s one that we preach here at the Office.
Inside the position, there’s several questions as well. The noise in San Francisco has been that Marquise Goodwin has supplanted Garcon as the top dog in that offense. It’s a bit of a handcuff to select him in hopes that one or the other breaks out as a WR1. Meanwhile, Kupp, Crowder, and Woods all factor in as high volume guys with 90 reception ceilings within reach. None of them should be high yardage guys, and aside from a handful of TDs should largely remain relevant thanks to volume. In a PPR format, a bench guy with 140 targets is a huge value.
It’s a difficult one for sure, but with the depth at the QB and TE positions, and the relative lack of depth at the wide receiver position, I’d go with Cooper Kupp at this point. With the noise in LA being that Kupp and Goff have formed a special kind of chemistry, it seems that his team-lead in target share last year was not a fluke. I’m not keen on owning both SF receivers, and Cobb is an injury risk despite his ceiling with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. The most difficult decision was between Kupp and Crowder, as he also looks like his QB’s favorite target. Both should be high volume guys, but Kupp has proven he can do it while Crowder has only shown flashes.
Skipping ROJO means that I’ll have to be smart in adding my 4th and 5th options at RB, but with Kerryon Johnson trending up and Zeke anchoring the position, I’m in a far better spot with the WR pick than going with a RB.
In a new weekly article, the DR. will look at the middle rounds of the draft and help you form a strategy when you’re not sure who to draft. We’ll dive into what drives our decision making, and give you an advantage on draft day. For each of these exercises, we’ll run a random Draft Wizard draft and use the results to formulate our ideas.
The real difficult decisions can start as early as round 4. At this point, you’re likely to have two running backs and a wide receiver (or vice versa) and you’re looking at a draft board of players that feature massive ceilings but profile as potential busts.
In this scenario, we’ve got a roster consisting of Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon, and Odell Beckham Jr, and we’re drafting 6th in Round 4. Here’s a quick look at who’s available:
- T.Y. Hilton
- Stefon Diggs
- Demaryius Thomas
- Golden Tate
- Amari Cooper
- Alshon Jeffery
- Allen Robinson
- Russell Wilson
- Jarvis Landry
- Juju Smith-Schuster
It’s interesting that this area of the draft is nearly devoid of RB’s, and I’d suggest preparing for this trend. 2018 seems to be a RB heavy first round so guys may go a little earlier in the 2nd and 3rd as teams try and avoid starting with a poor stable of backs.
To start with, I’ll re-iterate I won’t advocate drafting a QB this early. While I generally like Russell Wilson (I think he and Aaron Rodgers are in a tier by themselves), there is far more value in the later rounds at QB.
Speaking of value, my plan in these rounds is hitch my wagon to players who offer the highest floor. All of these guys have potential WR1 talent, but I’d rather avoid the pitfalls that many of these names represent. For that reason I’ve already scratched off T.Y. Hilton, Amari Cooper, and Golden Tate. All of them are fantastic players, but they all have consistency issues. Tate and Hilton both tend to end the year with great looking numbers, but both tend to do most of their damage over a handful of weeks, leaving owners frustrated with the numerous “bust” weeks. Cooper is intriguing but after last years debacle I’m out on him.
What We’re Left With
Of course these decisions are made in a “snap” manner, so the research you’re doing now should help you determine very quickly who you like the best. I’ve narrowed my decision down to Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson and Demaryius Thomas.
While I do like Landry and Juju, neither of them are the top dog in their respective offenses, and I’m not spending a pick this early on a teams #2.
Allen Robinson: While Robinson certainly put together two fantastic years in Jacksonville, the issue in Chicago is opportunity. Last year the Bears threw an anemic 473 times. While that number may jump up this year, expecting Robinson to return to the 150 target mark is unreasonable. Still, he represents the best option they have, especially in the red zone, and a sizable target share should be expected. Projections: 65 receptions, 1,000 yards, 7 TDs.
Stefon Diggs: Thielen may have stole the show last year in Minnesota, but I still consider Diggs as the top receiving option in this offense. With the potential for 550+ attempts for Cousins, Diggs and his big play making ability could be on display regularly. Factoring into the decision as well is Diggs high catch rate. Expecting him to maintain his career catch rate average of 68% means even maintaining his target share (roughly 7 targets per game) would result in an 85 catch, 1,100 yard season with 5-7 TDs.
Demaryius Thomas: Denver threw the ball a surprising number of times last year given it’s issues at QB, and the addition of Case Keenum shouldn’t do anything to drop that number. It’s also interesting to note that Thomas hasn’t received fewer than 140 targets in a single year since 2011; he’s probably the safest bet for volume in the 4th round. While Keenum is no safe bet to continue throwing the football as well as he did last year, Thomas should be targeted heavily again this year, probably closer to the 150 mark. Given his consistency, projecting him around 90 catches for 1,100 yards and 6 TDs is conservative and very realistic.
The Decision – Demaryius Thomas, WR – DEN
This was a tough one, but while Diggs and Robinson represented a ceiling that Thomas likely won’t crack at his age, he provides the safest floor of all three. With the sheer volume he’s experienced, and an upgrade at QB, he’s a safe bet for a high end WR2 finish, with very little risk involved.
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).