The 2016 Rankings Breakdown

The 2016 Rankings Breakdown

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last updated May 19, 2016

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

We've released our initial rankings for the 2016 fantasy football season, and typically 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 significantly throughout the spring and summer as injuries occur, camp battles develop and rookies (or other young players) emerge.

I’m going to go through the initial rankings and explain my thoughts about each position as a whole. I’ll also discuss why a few specific players are ranked where they are (relative to the General Consensus, or GC, and/or his ADP in 12-team formats).


It’s time for my annual sermon about how deep the quarterback position is in today’s pass-happy NFL. There are a few standouts – Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, who are coming off of career years, and Aaron Rodgers, who is not. Then there’s a tier of four passers (Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger), who stand out from the rest of the pack, which I’d argue includes the quarterbacks ranked #8 (Eli Manning) to #24 (Alex Smith).

I’m generally not going to draft a QB early, but I have no problem with Wilson in the 7th round, Brees/Roethlisberger in the 8th or Palmer in the 10th. Of this group, Wilson and Palmer jump out the most from a value perspective. Looking at early Relative Value, which doesn’t take into account the depth at the position after the #12 QB or a potential streaming strategy, Wilson and Palmer hold 4th and 7th round values, respectively, so they are quality picks at their current ADPs for those owners who want a no-brainer start at QB every week. I would go this route if I weren’t happy with the RB/WR/TE options available to me in the 7th or the 10th round.

After that, I’m looking to target Eli Manning in the 11th or Tyrod Taylor in the 13th. Here’s why:

Manning has finished 10th and 8th in the last two seasons and has five top 10 finishes in the last seven seasons. But it is his splits with Odell Beckham that make him such an attractive pick this year. In 27 games over the past two seasons, Manning has averaged 282 yards and 2.0 TD with Beckham in the lineup. Those are low-end QB1 numbers. To top it off, he hasn’t missed a start in 11 seasons and has the easiest projected strength of schedule.

As for Taylor, he missed a couple of games, which served to depress his season-long numbers. From a production standpoint, there's a lot to like. He only threw for an average of 217 yards per game, but had a 20-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio and his yards per attempt (7.99) was 5th in the league. It’s his ability in the running game that makes him such a good fantasy asset. On average, he rushed 7.4 times per game for 41 yards and 0.29 rush TD. Owners looking for 2014 Russell Wilson or 2015 Carson Palmer should consider targeting Taylor in the 12th or 13th round, especially if Sammy Watkins’ foot injury turns out to be a non-issue.

Finally, don’t forget about the Angry Tom Strategy from 2015. For neophytes, that was our plan to draft a then-suspended Brady along with a later round QB with a good opening schedule – last year it was Palmer – to get owners by for the first four weeks. Well, a court has reinstated Brady’s suspension, so it looks like he’ll actually miss the first month of the season this time. His ADP is still hanging tough in the 9th round, which is too rich for my blood. But if it falls into the 10th-12th as the summer wears on, then I’ll be happy to use the Angry Tom Strategy again in 2016. Both Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr have three good matchups in the first four weeks, but Taylor or any of the passers ranked #15 or later would work.

Running Backs

There’s definitely some uncertainty at the top of the RB rankings. LeVeon Bell is my top-ranked back, but he’s coming off of MCL and PCL repairs. Of the two, the PCL is more concerning, but our injury expert Russell Manalastas expects Bell to be limited in camp but ready for Week 1. In late-April, Bell tweeted out a video of himself dunking a basketball, though it should be noted that he injured his right knee, not his left. Regardless, it looks like his rehab is going as expected.

Moving down the standard ranks, David Johnson has a short resume and Ezekiel Elliott has no NFL resume at all, but they are both talented backs in great situations. Todd Gurley will be the workhorse for the Rams, though he isn’t too active in the passing game, so his PPR value takes a hit. Finally, to round out the top 5, Adrian Peterson keeps chugging along but is entering his age-31 season and is bound to slow down at some point.

If I have to draft a RB in the first two rounds, I’d be more inclined to pass on these 1st round running backs for a stud receiver and then target Lamar Miller or Devonta Feeeman in the 2nd round. Freeman looks like a particularly good value as he comes in as my #2-ranked running back in PPR formats, though Miller is no slouch. (Receptions, receptions, receptions.) If Jamaal Charles (ACL) is 100 percent, he’d be a good 2nd round option as well.

There continues to be good value at the position as we get into the 3rd/4th round (and later). Mark Ingram, LeSean McCoy, Doug Martin, Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Anderson all have top 5 potential in standard formats. Add Matt Forte, Dion Lewis and Danny Woodhead to that list in PPR.

I’m particularly high on Woodhead, who finished as the #3 PPR RB last year and was #12 in that format back in 2013, when he was playing for then-OC (and now returning OC) Ken Whisenhunt. He’s going near the 5th/6th turn in early MFL10 (PPR best ball) drafts, which is pretty amazing given his recent track record. He’s the ideal target for the “wait on RB” crowd, especially in PPR formats.

There are a number of quality running backs still on the board well into the 5th, 6th and even the 7th round. It appears Ryan Mathews will be the workhorse for new HC Doug Pederson, who helped coordinate a run-heavy approach under Andy Reid in Kansas City. In the 24 games over the past three seasons where Mathews has at least 10 carries, he has averaged 87 total yards and 0.50 TD, or 13.4 PPR points per game. Those are solid RB1 numbers. Sure, he has a long injury history, but at the cost of a 5th or 6th round pick, I’ll bite on that upside.

In addition, DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, Jonathan Stewart, Jay Ajayi and Frank Gore figure to see 250-plus touches for their respective teams. Along with Woodhead, PPR owners can target Dion Lewis, Duke Johnson, Giovani Bernard, Charles Sims, Theo Riddick and Shane Vereen well into the middle rounds.

I’ll be drafting my first running back somewhere in the 2nd through 5th round, depending on the format. In PPR leagues, I’d have no problem drafting three or four receivers before targeting Woodhead, Bernard, Mathews, Gore, etc. in the 5th and 6th rounds.

Wide Receivers

Owners can’t go wrong with any of the top three receivers – Antonio Brown, Julio Jones or Odell Beckham – early in the 1st round. I’d take all three before drafting a running back, no matter the format.

The receiver ranks are pretty solid into the 2nd round. Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen and Jordy Nelson should all see a boatload of targets. If Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signs with the Jets, both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will move up significantly in my rankings.

Allen and Golden Tate get a significant boost in PPR formats as both are solid bets to surpass 100 receptions. Allen was on pace for 134 catches last year before going down with an injury while Tate is likely to step into WR1 targets now that Calvin Johnson is retired. He had 99 catches for 1,331 yards in 2014 and racked up another 90 catches last year.

We’ll need to keep an eye on Julian Edelman and Sammy Watkins, who are both dealing with foot injuries. There seems to be more optimism surrounding Edelman at the moment. Watkins was coming in inside my top 10 before news of his injury broke, so he will move up quickly if it looks like he’s going to be ready for training camp.

I’m pretty low on Amari Cooper relative to my peers, but he finished as a low-end WR2 last year in PPR formats and a WR3 in standard leagues. It’s no sure thing that he progresses in 2016. Since 1990, 11 rookie wideouts have gained 1,000 yards, and eight of 10 who played the following year saw their PPG decline in year two. As a group, the PPG of those 10 declined by 15 percent. I like him as a player, but his ADP (WR9, 2.06 in early MFL10s) is way too high for me. Meanwhile, his teammate, Michael Crabtree, is looking like a great value in the 7th round.

At this point, three rookies – Corey Coleman, Sterling Shepard and Laquon Treadwell – are ranked inside my top 50, though given their respective ADPs, I’m only likely to end up with Shepard on any of my fantasy teams.

Tight Ends

Once again the tight end position consists of Rob Gronkowski and a lot of other dudes, though free agency made the position significantly deeper than usual. Coby Fleener (Saints), Ladarius Green (Steelers), Dwayne Allen (Colts) and Zachary Miller (Bears) were all impacted positively this spring via free agency (or trade in the case of Miller, who benefits greatly from the departure of Martellus Bennett).

Given the depth at the position, I would not recommend drafting Gronk in the 1st round. From an RV standpoint, he’s coming in as a late 2nd round value. Considering owners can get baseline (TE12) production in the 10th round or later via Allen, Antonio Gates or Miller, Gronk doesn’t hold quite as much value as he did in year’s past. Even if you prefer Fleener, Green or Ertz, who are going in the 8th, compare the difference between Gronk and those three (66 FP in PPR formats, on average) to the difference between, say, A.J. Green (275 FP) and the top WR available in the 8th round (Steve L Smith, 196 FP). That’s a difference of 79 fantasy points, so you’re better off going WR in the 1st and TE in the 8th rather than the other way around.

I’ll be targeting a tight end in the 8th-10th range, looking to snag Delanie Walker, Zach Ertz, Fleener, Green, Allen or Gates at that point in the draft, though I’d be fine with Miller later on given his performance late last season. He showed a really nice rapport with Jay Cutler.

I can’t remember a year when this many tight ends had legitimate top 5 potential.

That’s where we stand at this point in the offseason. Things can and will change as injuries and camp battles create opportunity for playing time and production. Hopefully you’ll find our analysis and tools valuable enough to become a subscriber. Our Early Bird Pricing ($24 for the entire season) is going on now.

Filed Under: Preseason, 2016

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