The 2015 Rankings Breakdown
I’ve just returned from the around-the-world trip that was my reward for being named FantasyPros’ Most Accurate Expert of 2014. Not really. To be clear, I did win the accuracy competition, but I didn’t go on an around-the-world trip. Someday...
Anyway, we've released our initial rankings for the 2015 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 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). When discussing a specific player, I may put his difference ranking in parenthesis to illustrate how high (or low) he is relative to the GC column. A player with a (+4) means that we’re four spots higher on him (in standard formats) than the consensus.
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 – Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning, if you trust his old bones – but there are only 14 projected fantasy points separating our 5th-ranked QB (Drew Brees) and our 13th-ranked signal caller (Colin Kaepernick). Considering there’s a four-round difference between the two players in their current ADP, prospective fantasy owners may be better served using that middle round pick on another position.
The quarterbacks in the #5-#12 range are going a round or two later than their counterparts in previous years, so that means the fantasy community is acknowledging the relative depth at the position in one-quarterback leagues.
There are even intriguing names in the #15-#18 range. How do you like Joe Flacco (+5) with new OC Marc Trestman calling plays and a couple of talented rookies (Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams) to throw to? What about Carson Palmer (+3), who has averaged 277 yards and 1.8 TD (#12 QB numbers) in his last 15 games? Sam Bradford (-1) is the likely starter in Chip Kelly’s offense, which is a role that, on averagw, has yielded high-end QB2 numbers over the last two years. There’s also Teddy Bridgewater, who played well down the stretch as a rookie and has a host of weapons to throw to with the addition of Mike Wallace and the (hopefully) healthy Kyle Rudolph at tight end. The threat of Adrian Peterson in the running game will surely open things up for Bridgewater and Co., right?
I’m also apparently high on Alex Smith (+7), who has finished #13 and #18 in the last two seasons but is the 24th quarterback off the board. Unexciting? Yes, but with the addition of a bona fide receiver in Jeremy Maclin, the emergence of TE Travis Kelce and the always-dangerous Jamaal Charles, it’s possible Smith will offer baseline (#12 QB) numbers at a dirt-cheap 15th-round price.
Last year, I was unabashedly in love with Russell Wilson’s value as an 8th/9th round pick, and this year Ryan Tannehill (+3), Eli Manning (+3) and Colin Kaepernick (+2) are shaping up as the best prospects to fill that role. I really like the direction the Miami offense is headed with the addition of DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, and OC Bill Lazor seems to know what he’s doing. Odell Beckham and OC Ben McAdoo have breathed new life into Eli’s fantasy prospects, and change at the coordinator position may also mean good things for Kaepernick, who is (supposedly) going to be allowed to use his legs more often in 2015.
Finally, Tom Brady is ranked #28 QB based on his projected production over a 12-game span, but he’s going to hold more value than that. Depending on how far his ADP drops, it should be a viable strategy to draft Brady and then pick up someone like Palmer in the 13th round. Start Palmer against the Saints, Bears, 49ers, Rams and Lions, and then ride an angry, chip-on-his-shoulder Tom Brady the rest of the way.
The top end of the running back rankings isn’t as appealing as it has been in recent years, largely due to LeVeon Bell’s three-game suspension. The viability of a suspended Bell as a 1st round pick will be a hotly debated topic this summer. It’s difficult for most owners to imagine scraping by at the position for the first three weeks while their 1st round pick serves his time, but I think the Steelers’ acquisition of a still somewhat effective DeAngelo Williams makes a Bell/Williams combo a potential winner. After all, the idea is to have a championship-caliber team, though the margin of error is smaller in leagues that allow fewer than six teams in the fantasy playoffs.
Adrian Peterson should be back with a vengeance. Speaking of chips on shoulders, he has one, and he also has an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner that won’t be afraid to use him. LaDainian Tomlinson saw 20.9 touches from 2007-09 with Turner calling the plays for the Chargers. Peterson should set a career high in catches; Tomlinson averaged 2.9 receptions per game in that same span, but caught a combined 112 passes from 2007 to 2008. Peterson is on the wrong side of 30, but as we all know – he’s an athletic freak.
Most of the usual suspects show up in the top 10. In addition to Peterson and Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles are all solid 1st round picks. I have some concerns about Arian Foster (health), Matt Forte (new regime, fewer catches) and LeSean McCoy (questionable role in the passing game), but the touches should be there.
As I look down the rankings, I see that I’m particularly high on Frank Gore (+6) and Justin Forsett (+4). My love is even more pronounced in PPR formats. I laid out the case for Gore earlier this spring and Forsett is shaping up as a fantastic PPR play now that Trestman is calling the plays in Baltimore. Forsett should easily set a career high in catches after Trestman helped to manufacture total 176 receptions for Forte in 2013 and 2014. Given my affinity for Gore and Forsett, I can envision a draft strategy that would revolve around nabbing these two players at or near the 3/4 turn. The strategy would be specifically effective in PPR formats since both players should see a larger role in the passing game, and it would allow owners to draft a couple of stud receivers (or Rob Gronkowski, if available) at the 1/2 turn.
In fact, if the plan backfires and a Gore/Forsett combo is not available, there is surprising strength in the running back ranks deep into the 4th and 5th rounds. Alfred Morris, Jonathan Stewart [article], Joique Bell, Andre Ellington and C.J. Spiller [article] jump out as quite-viable RB2 types. LeGarrette Blount (14.4 touches in his last 15 games with the Patriots) and Joseph Randle (6.7 YPC last season and a ton of opportunity in a great offense) look like terrific values once the draft hits the middle rounds.
Of course, to be high on certain players, I have to be low on others. While I do like Carlos Hyde’s (-3) chances for a big role now that Gore is gone, I’m a bit worried about how much Reggie Bush (and possibly Kendall Hunter) will eat into his touches, especially in the passing game. Mark Ingram was fantastic last season, but the team has a history of divvying up the carries and that’s something that didn’t happen in 2014 due to Khiry Robinson’s arm injury. Will a healthy Robinson limit Ingram’s upside?
The talented Melvin Gordon (-3) should step into a major role for the Chargers, but the team has a couple of capable backs in Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead. Specifically, Woody is likely to create some workload headaches due to his ability in the passing game and in the two-minute drill. (This also makes him a RB2 threat in PPR formats.) I also like the talent of Mr. Latavius Murray (-3), but the team’s offseason actions at running back (signing Roy Helu and Trent Richardson, trying to sign DeMarco Murray) indicate that they aren’t completely sold on the Murray they already have on the roster. I still like his upside, but there are safer backs available in the 4th round.
Those owners playing in PPR formats (or those not afraid to avoid the running back position early on in standard drafts) are going to find no shortage of elite options in the 1st round. Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant are going solidly in the first 12 picks, which means that Demaryius Thomas (my #2 receiver) could very well be there at the 1/2 turn. Owners drafting late in the 1st could potentially pair him with Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Mike Evans (+3) and then look to draft a couple of the aforementioned running backs at the next turn.
Those owners who do draft a running back in the 1st round will find some attractive receiving options in the 2nd and 3rd round, as Evans, Green, Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb are regularly available into the late 2nd, and Emmanuel Sanders (+3) into the middle of the 3rd. Sanders was the #7 receiver in standard formats last year and Wes Welker is no longer in the fold, so he’s a very safe option near the 2/3 turn. There is a fairly significant drop off in dependability to the next few players (T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, etc.) I’d very much like to get two of my top 12 wideouts in 2015.
You’ll find I’m pretty high on several old-timers. I love that boring production. Steve L Smith (+18) was the #20 receiver last year, Torrey Smith is gone and “Senior” is now playing for Marc Trestman. Sure, he’s old, but he’s a near-lock to lead the team in targets if he can stay healthy. Larry Fitzgerald (+9) had a substandard 2014, but that was largely due to Arizona’s quarterback issues. Fitz averaged 5.3 catches for 81 yards and 0.33 TD in six games with a healthy Carson Palmer under center.
Someone has to catch the ball in New Orleans now that Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills are gone. Those duties will mostly fall to Cooks, but the Saints are going to need Marques Colston (+16) as well. Colston was the #32 receiver last year with Graham and Stills in the lineup.
Finally, as repeat subscribers know, Anquan Boldin (+12) is a regular favorite of mine. He has a nice rapport with Colin Kaepernick and has finished as the #15 and #23 receivers in his two seasons with the 49ers. The team signed Torrey Smith to be the deep threat, but Boldin figures to continue as Kaepernick’s security blanket over the middle.
On the flip side, I’m not crazy about Keenan Allen (-8) though I think he could very well be a serviceable WR2 – the rankings are pretty tight in the #21-#30 range. I think Michael Floyd (-9) is being overdrafted due to the (incorrect) notion that Fitzgerald has nothing left.
I’m generally not a fan of receivers changing teams, unless they’re getting a promotion. That’s not the case for Mike Wallace (-11) who may actually take a backseat to Charles Johnson in Minnesota when it comes to targets. I’m also a bit low on Brandon Marshall (-4) and significantly low on Percy Harvin (-14) for the same reason.
The tight end ranks look quite top-heavy, with Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen as the handful of players more likely than not to finish in the top five at the position.
What intrigues me about the position in 2015 is Josh Hill (+7), who likely takes over for Graham as the starter in New Orleans. He was highly effective in limited targets last year and is my #8 tight end despite the fact that I’m only projecting him to produce two-thirds of Graham’s output in the same offense. (In other words, he has upside even from my ranking.) Delanie Walker (+5) was the #9 TE last season but was 5th in targets among tight ends despite missing a game. I’m currently higher on Walker than Hill, but that could change if Hill has a good summer.
Notice the logjam from #9 to #13. These are talented tight ends who could finish in the top five if things break their way, but they each come with some caveats. Jason Witten’s role has been diminishing over the past two seasons and Gavin Escobar is vulturing his redzone targets. Zach Ertz should be good, but he only played 50% of the snaps last season and that’s not enough playing time to make me completely comfortable. Jordan Cameron gets a system upgrade in Miami, but he has a history of concussions. Jordan Reed has similar injury concerns. Finally, Julius Thomas has a ton of talent, but he’s also struggled with injuries and is about to experience what it’s like to have Blake Bortles as his quarterback instead of Peyton Manning.
When pondering a possible draft strategy, I suspect I’ll have some shares of Gronk and Graham early and a lot of Hill/Walker late.
So that’s where we stand at this point in the offseason. The rankings 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 member. Our Early Bird Special ($24 for the entire season) is going on now.