The Rankings Breakdown
We've released our initial rankings for the 2013 fantasy football season, and as usual they require some explanation. Our process is arduous and time tested, and while it provides a good starting point, these rankings can and will change throughout the spring and summer as injuries occur, camp battles develop and rookies (or other young players) emerge.
In a recent discussion with our Executive Editor Josh Moore, I referred to the projections process as a trip through the wilderness complete with trails that dead end (ill-conceived ideas), dangerous animals (busts) and even buried treasure (sleepers). I have found my way through the wild and now have a tale to tell.
To start, I'd like to discuss a few players at each position that are either relatively high or low when compared to their ADP rank. I'll go position by position and attempt to explain why they are where they are. (Note: For this section, we're using 12-team ADP and a standard scoring format.)
Let's start with the…
Thanks to the return of Peyton Manning and the arrival of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the QB position is (suddenly) ridiculously deep. How much have things changed? Just two seasons ago, Tony Romo (whose production has been pretty consistent) was the #6 QB off the board in the 3rd round. This year, he's the 12th QB and is being drafted in late 7th/early 8th. This is a player who has finished in the top 11 in five of the last six seasons and in the top 7 in three of the last six.
This is a key spot for such a productive player since the 12th starter in a 12-team draft will often slip until the 8th or 9th rounds since no one is very interested in drafting a backup QB without at least one backup RB and WR in place. So in a league that requires 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR and 1 TE, the earliest one can expect a backup QB to be drafted would be the 9th round. That means that a savvy owner (like you) could load up on RBs, WRs and even a TE in the first seven or eight rounds and then snag Romo (or whoever slips to the #12 spot) as their QB.
Even if an unconventional owner unexpectedly drafts a second QB, there are still plenty of options to fill that QB spot, either with a fairly trustworthy veteran (i.e. Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton or Joe Flacco) or a QBBC featuring two or three fantasy backups. In fact, this season we'll be featuring a weekly article from C.D. Carter (Twitter: @CDCarter13) that will focus on just that -- streaming quarterbacks.
Now let's take a look at the QBs we're relatively optimistic about...
Through Week 14 of the 2012 season, Josh Freeman had thrown 25 TDs and only eight interceptions, and was fantasy football's #11 QB heading into the final three games. Unfortunately, he threw just two TDs (against nine interceptions) against the Saints, Rams and Falcons to close the season, and now he doesn't seem to have the full confidence of his head coach. However, the Buccaneers don't have any better options on the roster and 25 year old Freeman has shown enough to keep the starting job. Having him at #16 is fair.
Ben Roethlisberger's losses (Mike Wallace, possibly Heath Miller) are a bit worrisome, but the Steelers still have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and they drafted Markus Wheaton to give Big Ben another weapon in the passing game. The addition of the versatile LeVeon Bell at RB doesn't hurt either. Roethlisberger has finished in the top 13 in fantasy PPG in each of the last four seasons, so he's a proven commodity provided he can stay healthy.
Colin Kaepernick started 10 games for the 49ers and his per game averages project to 356 fantasy points, which would be enough for the #2 QB ranking in 2013. Packers DC Dom Capers' failings notwithstanding, I don't think he'll be quite as productive on a per game basis after defensive coordinators have had an offseason to study his tendencies, but he still is a good bet to finish in the top 6. He's right there in a tier with Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Peyton Manning.
We have Carson Palmer at #19, which is reasonable since he has finished in the top 18 in three of the last four seasons and has averaged a ranking of 19.8 in fantasy PPG over the same span. I like his prospects playing for new HC Bruce Arians with a talented receiving corps that features Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and TE Rob Housler. The Cardinals often find themselves in garbage time and Palmer should be able to make the most of it. His situation has improved and he can still get the ball where it needs to go.
Now for a few QBs we're relatively pessimistic about…
Philip Rivers did show some life down the stretch in 2012, tossing 1.8 TDs (against just 0.7 INTs) in the final nine games after a 1.4/1.3 ratio in the first seven games. The main reason we should be interested in the Week 9 to Week 17 stretch is because that's when Danario Alexander joined the offense. He breathed new life into the Chargers passing game, so perhaps Rivers will be able to bounce back in 2013. He's a player who could rise in these rankings if he has a good offseason. One thing's for sure, he'll lead the league in yelling at the refs.
Ryan Tannehill is a popular sleeper pick at QB given his relatively solid rookie season and the addition of Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller in the passing game. Still, he was #32 in fantasy PPG last season, so we aren't expecting any miracles in South Florida even with an improved receiving corps.
Counting the playoffs, Joe Flacco's per game averages equate to #13 QB numbers, but fantasy owners were unable to enjoy his postseason production. It's unclear how the Ravens intend to account for the loss of Anquan Boldin, who was huge down the stretch for Flacco and the Baltimore passing offense. Despite the elite contract, we're not so sure that he's an elite quarterback.
The position that seems historically to be the most "in demand" on draft day looks to be relatively deep this season. Four teams that were fantasy deathtraps in 2012 -- Pittsburgh, Arizona, Jacksonville and Green Bay -- now figure to have solid or fringe fantasy RB2s in LeVeon Bell, Rashard Mendenhall, Maurice Jones-Drew and Eddie Lacy. Still, the early rounds will be dominated by the position so it will be good to grab at least two starters in the first three or four rounds.
Here are a few RBs that we're fairly high on…
Chris Ivory and LeVeon Bell's ADPs may just need to catch up with recent events. Bell obviously landed in a good spot in terms of potential workload, and it sounds like the team has already decided that the starting gig is his provided he doesn't fall flat on his face. Ivory's ADP also figures to rise as drafts account for his likely new job as the Jets' RB1. Here are my thoughts about Ivory after the trade was in place:
Like Michael Turner, Lamont Jordan and Chester Taylor before him, the 25-year-old Ivory is one of those RBs that the fantasy community has been hoping would get an opportunity to start, and now he'll get his chance. He was limited to 27 games in four college seasons due to injury, and was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He has averaged 5.1 YPC in his career, though he has struggled with injuries in the NFL as well. In his rookie season, due to injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, Ivory got a few starts and had some success. In 13 career games where he has received at least 10 touches, he's averaged 78 total yards, 0.38 TD and an impressive 5.2 YPC. That production equates to #16 RB-type numbers. New Orleans has not thrown the ball his way very often -- he has just three catches in his career -- but he did score on a 76-yard swing pass in preseason of his rookie year so he has some pass-catching ability. Mike Goodson is pretty good in the passing game, so we're expecting Ivory to be a two-down back in New York, which will limit his upside. If he continues to make big plays running the ball, the team may try to get him the ball more often in the passing game as well. Consider him a low-end RB2 until we know who is going to be the third-down back in 2013. Ivory's arrival kills most of Goodson's sleeper potential.
Shane Vereen and Andre Brown are probably the best of the "backup" RBs in 2013. Vereen came on towards the end of last season, and given the fact that the now-departed Danny Woodhead finished as the #25 RB in 2012, we see no reason why Vereen won't assume his role in the Patriots' potent offense.
Meanwhile, in New York, many believe that David Wilson is destined for great things in the Giants offense, but his upside will be limited by the very effective Brown, who actually out-gained Wilson on a per carry basis in 2012 and should enjoy nearly all of the goal line work. We wouldn't be surprised if either Brown or Vereen finish the season in the top 25.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the #19 RB last season, but the Bengals drafted the first RB off the board -- Giovani Bernard. The Law Firm is still the RB1 in Cincinnati, at least for now, but depending on how quickly he can make his mark, Bernard may be taking a sizable bite out of BJGE's touches by midseason. This situation appears to be devolving into an ugly RBBC.
Do I really need to explain why I don't trust Ryan Mathews? He has talent, but has been unable to stay healthy. With the addition of Danny Woodhead, Mathews is unlikely to have a big role in the passing game, and that hurts his upside. He's not a bad RB3, but if I'm forced to draft him as a starter, I'd be worried…very worried.
While we do love Marshawn Lynch, his DUI case has us a bit hesitant to burn a first rounder. A suspension would put a serious dent in his fantasy value.
In St. Louis, there seem to be two factions forming in the fantasy community -- one around Isaiah Pead and the other around rookie draft pick Zac Stacy. But what about Daryl Richardson? He averaged 4.8 YPC (which was better than Steven Jackson's 4.1 YPC) and had nine times as many touches as Pead. People say Pead proved himself late in the season, but all I see is five carries for 21 yards in Week 17. Sure, he's going to have a sizable role, but with the addition of Stacy, this looks like a muddy RBBC in 2013.
Like the quarterback position, the wide receiver ranks look incredibly deep heading into the 2013 fantasy season. The top WR movers (Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola) landed in solid-to-good situations and their departures have created opportunities for young receivers on their old teams. Dwayne Bowe and Larry Fitzgerald should enjoy upgrades at QB and there are a number of up-and-coming wideouts (i.e. Josh Gordon, Cecil Shorts and T.Y. Hilton) who look primed to become dependable fantasy starters.
The way the season is shaping up, it looks like fantasy owners will be able to ignore the WR position for the first four rounds, loading up on RBs and perhaps a TE like Jimmy Graham, and then snag three viable WR starters in 5th-8th rounds. There is only a 28-point difference between our #12 WR (Jordy Nelson) and our #36 WR (Mike Williams).
Brandon LaFell is a player that I touted last season as a sleeper and if not for injuries that cost him three games, he would have emerged as a viable fantasy WR3. His per game averages prorate to 54-833-5 which equate to #35 WR numbers. As it happened, he finished #48, so having him ranked at #48 doesn't seem like a stretch at all. He's entering his fourth season, plays with a good QB and the WR1 on his team (Steve L Smith) isn't getting any younger. The newly acquired Domenik Hixon is a small concern, but LaFell should continue to see real-world WR2 targets in 2013.
Whenever I write about Lance Moore I feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." Every year, Moore is overlooked in fantasy drafts, and nearly every year he performs as a fantasy starter. He was the #20 WR in 2012, and has finished in the top 35 in four of the last five seasons. He's still the clear WR2 in one of the league's most potent passing attacks and at 30 years old, he's still in his prime. He's not a sexy upside pick, but I'd be very happy to get Moore as my WR3 in the 8th or 9th round.
Torrey Smith finished as the #23 WR in 2012 and Anquan Boldin and his 112 targets are now in San Francisco. I have no idea why he's the #28 WR off the board in current drafts, but it probably says something about the depth at the position. He should be a solid WR2 this year.
Marques Colston finished as the #12 fantasy WR in 2012, right behind Wes Welker and ahead of Victor Cruz. His situation is unchanged (great offense and QB) and like teammate Lance Moore, he'll be 30 years old this season. There's no reason to believe he won't be a mid- to high-end WR2 again in 2013.
Vincent Brown broke his ankle last summer and never was able to return to game action in 2012. The teams had high hopes for him last season, and there is now a quiet buzz growing around him again. There are few concerns: Is the ankle ready to go? Will Philip Rivers bounce back? And can Brown beat out Malcom Floyd to be the team's WR2? This is a player to watch, but right now there are too many questions to rank him in the top 60.
Danny Amendola should have a nice season, provided he can stay healthy. In fact, we have him projected for 94-1071-6, which is a fine season. He does hold more value in PPR, but in standard formats, he may struggle to get enough yardage (and TDs) to justify his 5th round ADP.
We're generally not fans of receivers who change teams unless they're going to see an upgrade in offensive scheme and/or QB, and Mike Wallace won't enjoy either in Miami. Ben Roethlisberger is better than Ryan Tannehill, and although Wallace is going to have plenty of opportunity to make plays, he will have to quickly develop a rapport with his QB if he hopes to finish as a solid fantasy WR2 in a deep year.
Depending on the status of Rob Gronkowski, the tight end position seems to have one (or two) studs before dropping off to three or four solid, every week starters. After that, it looks like a crapshoot from TE7/TE8 to TE20.
We recommend securing Gronkowski (if healthy) or Jimmy Graham early on. If not, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten or Dennis Pitta look pretty good in the 6th/7th rounds. After that, owners can probably wait until the 12th-14th rounds and get one or two serviceable starters to provide baseline TE value.
Greg Olsen was the #6 TE in 2012 even though he had to cope with his wife's difficult pregnancy throughout most of the season. For some reason (the departure of TE-friendly OC Rob Chudzinski?), he is currently going #13 in early drafts. Mike Shula takes over as OC, and while his late-90s Tampa teams didn't feature the position, he didn't exactly have a Greg Olsen to work with. I doubt he reduces Olsen's role in the offense -- why fix something that isn't broken? That would be like installing a zone-blocking scheme when your primary running back has thrived in a power scheme. (Sorry, Raiders fans.)
Over the last 19 games, Fred Davis has averaged 6.9 fantasy points, which would have been the 11th-highest average in 2012. The problem is that he has only played 19 games in two seasons. (He missed four games in 2011 due to suspension after failing multiple drug tests.) His Achilles is obviously a concern, but he's still in a good situation and is on a one-year contract so motivation shouldn't be a problem. He expects to be cleared for full contact soon, so hopefully he'll be able to develop a rapport with Robert Griffin III -- the two weren't exactly clicking last season. Davis is a talent, and talent usually wins out.
Add Brandon Myers to the long list of semi-reliable TEs that will be available in the middle or late rounds. He was 9th in standard formats (6th in PPR) in 2012 and is heading to a good situation in New York. In the last five seasons, the top Giants tight end has averaged 2.7-36-.33, which isn't bad considering that we're talking about Kevin Boss (2008-2010), Jake Ballard (2011) and Martellus Bennett (2012). That works out to 5.6 fantasy PPG, which would have equated to #14 TE numbers in 2012. Myers is a better receiver than any of those players and his weakness (only 4 TD catches in 2012) should be offset by Eli Manning's propensity to throw to his tight end in the redzone. Giants TEs have averaged 5.0 TDs per season, so Myers should be able to build on that given his skill set. He looks like an upside TE2 in standard formats.
Jermaine Gresham has been a serviceable fantasy starter over the past few seasons because he has seen plenty of snaps and targets. That may change with the addition of first round draft pick Tyler Eifert. The Bengals intend to utilize a lot of two-TE formations, so Gresham's snaps may stay consistent even though his targets may not. And ultimately, it's the targets that matter.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old Antonio Gates finished outside the top 10 for the first time since his rookie season in 2003. He saw just 5.3 targets per game, which is well off his average from 2004-2011 (7.2 TPG). Between his recent injury history, the struggles of Philip Rivers, and his age, there's not a lot to like about Gates in 2013. He did catch a TD in three straight games to close the year, so a bounce back season is not out of the question -- it just seems unlikely.
There is perhaps no mystery more confounding than the 49ers' usage of their talented tight end, Vernon Davis. When Colin Kaepernick took over in Week 11, Davis saw eight targets en route to a 6-83-1 outing against the Bears. After the game, Davis said that it "felt like somebody took the handcuffs off." Unfortunately, Davis saw just 17 targets in the next seven games (!!!) before busting out against Atlanta (5-106-1) and Baltimore (6-104) in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, respectively. Kaepernick actually targeted Davis less (3.9 TPG) than did Alex Smith (5.1 TPG). He has the talent to be a top 5 fantasy TE, but the team hasn't shown the willingness to give him the targets. While Delanie Walker's departure could help, Anquan Boldin's arrival does not. At his 7th-round price, Davis is just not worth the headache.
So that about wraps up my explanation of our initial rankings. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@4for4_John) and maybe I'll answer the most interesting questions in a Rankings Mailbag. I'm also planning a PPR-centric piece about those players who have significantly higher (or lower value) in that format.
One thing's for sure -- it feels good to be out of the woods.