Early fantasy football rankings: highly volatile
After several weeks of due diligence, running the numbers and situations through our exhaustive forecasting process, our initial 2011 fantasy football materials are live. This includes our time-proven Cheat Sheets, full stat projections, PPR rankings, Keeper League rankings, Auction Values & our full suite of Full Impact Custom Scoring Tools (our stats, your league rules).
The landscape of this year's off-season is different than that of any past off-season. Because the NFL players & owners currently do not have a collective bargaining agreement in place, we find ourselves in June with no free agency period to date. Players with 4, 5 and even 6 years of accrued service remain in limbo as to what their status will be.
From a technical standpoint at 4for4, we have kept all players on their 2010 NFL teams until we know the terms of free agency. In nearly all cases, especially as the labor dispute drags out, the majority of free agents will be as likely to stick with their 2010 team as move to any other. There are a few special cases (Kevin Kolb, Mike Sims-Walker etc), but until we know the 2011 rules players stay on 2010 teams.
Our yearly rankings process starts with a detailed assessment of the fantasy depth charts for each team. With extremely limited player movement to date, we have far more speculative situations than we would normally have when initial rankings are released. As such, the rankings and projections are sure to change much more in 2011 as the pre-season continues than in a normal work year.
Below I will highlight several unique depth chart situations heading into 2011, and dig into how things shook out in the initial rankings.
NOTE: the lists below are far from complete, but are intended to lend some insights into the initial rankings process & the fantasy football landscape.
- QBs likely on new teams: Matt Moore, Tarvaris Jackson, Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger & possibly Kyle Orton
- QBs likely to return: Matt Hasselbeck, Alex Smith, Rex Grossman
- Teams Likely to add QBs: Cardinals, Vikings, Bengals, Titans
- Michael Vick outscores Aaron Rodgers in total points, even after assuming Vick will miss a couple of games. While Vick will likely outscore Rodgers on a per game basis, Rodgers is a much safer pick to get through 16 games.
- Matthew Stafford is a health risk after playing only 3 games last season but has a very high ceiling in a pass-first system with a lot of weapons.
- We gave the early season nod to Tim Tebow over Kyle Orton. We may not know how this will shake out until the start of the season, but we think at the end of the day the Broncos need to find out what they have in Tim Tebow. Tebow has tremendous fantasy upside due to his legs and would likely crack the top 10 if Orton gets moved.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick is a big winner in this year's NFL draft as the Bills failed to draft a QB. Fitzpatrick is a very safe QB2 with no real competition on the roster. Like the Broncos & Tebow, we believe the Bills are committed to seeing what they have in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
- The rookies rankings are highly speculative and have everything to do with how many games we can expect each rookie to play. Christian Ponder appears to have the most organizational support as a week 1 starter and will be in a relatively good position.
- Andy Dalton may end up a week 1 starter due to Carson Palmer being serious about retirement. But he could also lose Chad Ochocinco (wants trade), Terrell Owens (not expected back), and Cedric Benson (likely FA).
- McNabb should get a starting gig, but no one knows where. It could even be in Washington. We aren't convinced that John Beck will be a starting quarterback this year. We expect Rex Grossman to resign and could see a bigger move made. No Washington QB is desirable from a fantasy perspective.
- Arizona's QB is most likely not on their roster. Kevin Kolb & Kyle Orton are the hotly linked teams, but both could fall through leaving Arizona with Max Hall, John Skelton & Derek Anderson (not pretty).
- QBs who could unretire: Brett Favre (unlikely)
- RBs who could move: Reggie Bush, Brian Westbrook, Willis McGahee, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Darren Sproles, DeAngelo Williams
- RBs likely to return: Ahmad Bradshaw, Cedric Benson
- Rookies waiting their turn: Ryan Williams, Jacquizz Rodgers, Alex Green
- Arian Foster comes in as RB1 and the rest of the pack isn't really close.
- Peyton Hillis will have Montario Hardesty back, but should still see enough work to be a very good RB2.
- DeAngelo Williams is likely not returning to the Panthers, but he could. Where he goes will greatly affect the value of not only Williams, but also Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson.
- Mike Tolbert is a good value in early drafts. He will still get plenty of work in San Diego and Darren Sproles will likely head elsewhere.
- Anything could happen in Miami with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both free agents. Don't expect Daniel Thomas to be asked to carry the load himself.
- The Saints are flush with running backs. Mark Ingram should get the early down work in a great offense, but if Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory can stay healthy don't expect a massive workload for Ingram. Reggie Bush could be back but will need to sign a new, cheaper deal.
- The Patriots added two rookies (Shane Vereen & Stevan Ridley) to their tandem of BenJarvis Green-Ellis & Danny Woodhead. Roles will likely change on a game-by-game basis. While we think the Patriots will have a good running attack, we don't recommend anyone relying on a single Patriots RB.
- With the drafting of Ryan Williams, a once bad situation for Beanie Wells & Tim Hightower gets worse. A new QB will help, but we're not excited about any of them.
- Joseph Addai could return to the Colts. If not, expect the Colts to add a piece.
- Ryan Grant & James Starks will battle in Green Bay camp for carries and could be used together in a committee. Much will depend on the health of Grant, coming back from a serious ankle injury.
- WRs who could move: James Jones, Sidney Rice, Lance Moore, Steve Smith (NYG), Laurent Robinson, Santana Moss, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Steve L Smith (CAR), Mike Sims-Walker, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jacoby Jones, Malcom Floyd, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Steve Breaston
- Roddy White may not catch 115 passes this year with the addition of rookie Julio Jones, but he remains an elite fantasy option.
- Vincent Jackson should be a stud in 16 games with Philip Rivers. We don't know if Malcom Floyd will return as the #2.
- Austin Collie was putting up #1 fantasy WR numbers before getting hurt last year. His ranking reflects significant risk, but substantial reward. Reggie Wayne is 32. Pierre Garcon will be a value if Collie or Wayne goes down.
- Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are both free agents. One or both could return to the Jets.
- The Bengals offensive system is a mess. A.J. Green will certainly lock up a starting spot. Terrell Owens wont be back. Chad Ochocinco wants out and HC Marvin Lewis has long since grown tired of Chad. Ochocinco's departure will clear the way for younger players like Jerome Simpson & Jordan Shipley. All rankings will go up with an Ochocinco trade.
- Mario Manningham will be a steal if Steve Smith departs or is forced to start the season on the PUP list. Both possible.
- Kenny Britt is a great talent, but a rookie QB and off-field distractions could hurt Britt's 2011 campaign.
- Terrell Owens could end up anywhere. He was a borderline WR1 for the better half of last season. He'll likely be a bargain late in drafts again in 2011.
- Santana Moss could resign in Washington, but why? Anthony Armstrong could have real value along with rookie Leonard Hankerson if Moss leaves & the Redskins find a QB.
- The Rams are loaded with injury prone WR2s. Whoever stays healthy between Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander & Donnie Avery could emerge as a draft day steal. Danny Amendola should have the slot role locked down.
- Greg Little appears to be the top candidate for WR1 duties in Cleveland by default. We wouldn't trust him in year 1 any more than you'd trust a guy like Mohamed Massaquoi.
- James Jones is a free agent in Green Bay. His departure could push Jordy Nelson into a WR2 role, and the third target after Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley.
- Steve L Smith wants out of Carolina but we don't see why the Panthers would want to get rid of him and be left with David Gettis and Brandon LaFell as targets for #1 overall pick Cam Newton.
- Sidney Rice could leave Minnesota, leaving Percy Harvin atop the depth chart.
- Antonio Gates is the clear cut #1 and is expected to be fully recovered from his plantar fasciitis.
- Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley and Dallas Clark slot in behind Gates as the next tier. After these 4, the position is extremely deep.
- Jeremy Shockey could benefit from a move to a less crowded Carolina offense with OC Rob Chudzinski known for getting his TEs involved, but don't consider him a fantasy option (age, health, bad offense etc).
- Jimmy Graham will be given every opportunity to emerge as a top fantasy TE this season with the departure of Shockey.
Eagles rookie Alex Henery has a great leg and is expected to replace David Akers. Henery is a top option on the league's most explosive offense but will likely be overlooked on draft day. Akers value will be highly dependent on his eventual landing spot.
- Nnamdi Asomugha's eventual landing spot will get a significant boost while the Raiders drop in the defensive power rankings.
- Detroit looks to be a young defense on the rise under 3rd year HC Jim Swartz, building on 2nd year DT Ndamukong Suh and rookie Nick Fairly.
Feel free to send over any comments or questions on the rankings to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please refrain from drunken tirades (you know who you are).