The Anatomy of Fantasy Football Rankings August 29, 2012  |  gregsauce

First of all, my sincere apologies to those of you who mistakenly found yourself here due to the words “anatomy” and “fantasy” in the title. Because this is a family website (and because roughly 50% of NFL players are never-nudes), I can’t deliver the uncompromising visual dissertation on NFL-player body parts that you desire. I wish you no ill will if you click away to continue your quest, but if you have some time to kill, why not stay a while and read about my fantasy football rankings? The MRIs of Adrian Peterson’s knee ligaments and Hollywood headshots of Rob Gronkowski’s chiseled jaw will still be there when you’re done here. Fantasy rankings, on the other hand, are fleeting and that’s what I want to talk about first.

The first thing I want any set of rankings to be is up-to-date. To be fair, what I really want my rankings to be is accurate, but they can’t be accurate if they’re not up-to-date, so leave it to my friend the transitive property to come to the rescue and allow me to stand by my original statement. Where was I?… Up-to-date rankings! In the fake football world, old information is bad information. Would you dare draft Maurice Jones-Drew in the first round right now? Absolutely not, but you might have done so if you drafted a couple months ago when MoJo’s holdout was only a minor concern. Football is an unpredictable game and the best rankings remain fluid through the draft season, adjusting for every preseason performance and injury note.

The trickiest part of compiling fantasy rankings is throwing all the positions into the overall rankings mush pot. Positional rankings are far more useful in general because as the draft progresses, team need will eventually trump any value manifested in the overall rankings. Still, a quality set of overall rankings is very useful in the early rounds and there are things we rankers can do to maximize their value.

To start, we can utilize Value Based Drafting (VBD) to zero in on which non-running backs are viable early-round picks. Some rankers piece VBD values together in their head and others geek out with formulas and spreadsheets. At the end of the day, we’re all simply trying to figure out when it’s correct to stray from the status quo of starting the draft by selecting two running backs.

In addition to VBD, we can examine the depth of each position on the whole to evaluate which positions are worth targeting early. For example, the depth at wide receiver this season has been well documented and like my colleague Denny Carter, I will not own Calvin Johnson this season. Simply put, I would much rather invest a first-round pick in an elite running back or quarterback and put my wide receiving corps together in rounds 3-9. This is reflected in my rankings with Megatron ranked #10 overall, but the chances of him slipping that far in drafts are slim.

Ultimately, the overall rankings exist as a general plan for how to draft a winning fantasy team. My rankings and my plan for this season are based on the following tenets:

1. Running backs start to get scary in the second round.

Blame this on the running-back-by-committee epidemic that has swept through the NFL over the past few years. With so many backs splitting carries, the rushers with “featured” roles are more valuable than ever. Hence, Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden are my #4 and #5 players overall, despite their respective effort and durability concerns. Meanwhile, running backs with immense talent upside like Jamaal Charles and Doug Martin are high in my rankings because I expect them to make the most of their opportunities, whether they are splitting touches with a teammate or not.

2. In addition to wide receiver being deep overall, the tiers are relatively large.

This means that there are a lot of great values to be had at WR in the mid-to-late rounds and also that there is a lot of redundancy at WR in those spots. If you want to draft a wideout in the third round, but you miss out of Hakeem Nicks and Greg Jennings, one of A.J. Green, Percy Harvin, Brandon Marshall, and Steve Smith (CAR) will probably still be available and provide similar value. Furthermore, there’s a decent chance that one or two of them will slip to the fourth round. I’ll stop harping on this point eventually, but you can and should wait on wide receiver this season.

3. Tight end is deep, but there is a steep drop-off after the top-4 or top-5 (depending on how you feel about Vernon Davis).

The TE position is basically a “choose your own adventure” in 2012. You can invest an early pick in Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Aaron Hernandez, or maybe Vernon Davis. If you do, it’s important to regard your selection as more of a general pass-catcher than a tight end, meaning you should prioritize drafting wide receivers even less and focus on grabbing running backs and a quarterback with your other early picks. If you miss out or avoid the top-5 tight ends, your plan can be summed up with one word: wait. You wait for one of the mid-tier TEs to slip a round or two past their ADP and pounce on the value, or you wait to be one of the final teams to select a starting TE and use all your early picks on RB, WR, and QB.

4. Quarterback is also deep, but drafting one in the first two rounds is viable because of the depth at WR and the risk attached to every RB after the top-6.

I don’t advocate taking Aaron Rodgers ahead of Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, or Darren McFadden and I wouldn’t take Brady or Brees ahead of Matt Forte. Otherwise, I have no problem taking a QB in the first or second round. There is one minor caveat to this strategy, though: If you take a quarterback in Round 1, taking a running back in Round 2 is virtually a requirement. Unless you want your RB1 to be Ahmad Bradshaw or Fred Jackson, you can’t afford to pair your first-round QB with a WR or TE in the second round. Note that this strategy works the other way, too. If you draft Graham or Gronk with one of your first two picks, you can’t afford to take a QB with your other top pick without digging yourself a serious hole at running back.

5. Missing out on a top-5 QB isn’t the end of the world.

As NFL offenses continue to skew towards the passing game, the gap between the upper- and lower-tier quarterbacks will continue to shrink. This allows us as fantasy managers to wait on QBs just like we wait on TEs. Either you wait for a clear value on a QB in the Vick-to-Cutler range, or you wait even longer and assemble a quarterback committee from the likes of Palmer, Schaub, RGIII, Freeman, Fitzpatrick, Luck, Flacco, Wilson, Dalton, and Locker. Employing a QBBC strategy will allow you to stock up on running backs, wide receivers, and maybe an upper-echelon tight end early in the draft.

6. Defenses and kickers are irrelevant.

Last, but not least, we need to talk about the last positions you should ever fill in a fantasy draft. The plan behind my rankings hinges on the fact that you will only draft running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, and tight ends until the final two rounds. Then and only then is it justifiable to draft a defense or kicker. Furthermore, when drafting a defense or kicker, do so with the knowledge that you will happily drop either for one with a better matchup in any given week during the season. When I draft a fantasy defense, I care much more about their matchups in the first three or four weeks than their ranking or ADP. This is why most of my teams this season have ended up with the Bengals defense and their opening schedule of @BAL, vs. CLE, @WAS, @JAC, vs. MIA, and @CLE. Baltimore is the scariest of those offenses and defensive matchups don’t get much better than four games against Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Miami in the five weeks after that.

In conclusion, the general plan with these rankings is to prioritize running backs early and remain flexible otherwise. Hopefully you can lock up your starting RB spots early so you can take advantage of the value at the other positions after Round 3. After the first five or six rounds, you can shift your focus from overall rankings to team need and look for values in the positional rankings. As always, be mindful of drafting tiers and what positions your opponents have left to fill, as those factors will inflate or suppress the value of certain positions at different points in the draft. Without further ado, check out my personal rankings below. I will be updating them often leading up to opening night.

Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyPros

19 Responses

  1. rich says:

    Our QB’s get 6 pts. for any TD also. How would this change your overall board? I have the #5 pick, 12 team, and am looking at both Rodgers and Brady.

    • gregsauce says:

      Rodgers and Brady are both fine picks in that format, but understand that the value of passing TDs goes up for all QBs, so the relative difference in value between the top QBs and the QBs in the 7-12 range doesn’t change much. You can still take a running back in the first round if it fits your draft plan better.

  2. gregsauce says:

    Seems like a fair trade in a vacuum as I like Mathews more than MJD and Marshall more than Britt. I’d pull the trigger as long as you believe Britt can keep his head on straight and his body on the field because he Mathews are likely to have more value than the players you’re giving up beyond this season. Ultimately, you’re getting the best player in the deal (Mathews) and that’s what matters.

  3. Anthony says:

    Greg, In a 14 team league with standard categories, would you trade MJD + Marshall for Ryan Mathews + Kenny Britt? My other RB are SJax, David Wilson, Best, Pierre Thomas, while my other WR are Decker, Fitzgerald, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Randall Cobb.

  4. y4rivera says:

    Thanks for all the help man. I have one last question. Would trading Nicks for Jordy be a good move? I noticed you and Chet have Jordy ranked higher but the staff ranking has Nicks higher. Sorry for all the questions.

    • gregsauce says:

      Yeah, I would make that deal in a heartbeat. Nelson is the best WR in Green Bay and I like him a lot more than Nicks. (This is assuming their keeper costs are relatively equal.)

  5. y4rivera says:

    Calvin will cost 54 next season while Chris will cost 47. It goes up 5 every year. I figured over the next couple seasons Chris was the better value. After 2 or 3 years I don’t think either will be kept at those prices. I know some leagues they would command those prices but in this league the top guys go around the 40 to 50 range.

  6. y4rivera says:

    I just traded Mega for CJ2k. Looking at my team was that a good move? 10 team keeper
    Qb. Cam
    Rb. CJ2k
    Rb. Forte
    Wr. Cruz
    Wr. Nicks
    Wr. Percy
    Te. F.Davis
    Flx. Charles
    Flx. D.Murray

    • gregsauce says:

      Seems fine to me for this season. Megatron is a slightly better keeper going forward than Chris Johnson, though. Starting both NYG wide receivers might be frustrating for you at times if Eli Manning has a bad game.

  7. Randy says:

    In a one player keeper league. Should I keep MJD and roll the dice that he comes back and plays well, or Vick and roll the dice that he stays healthy? Thanks!

    • gregsauce says:

      At this point, I’d keep Vick. There’s no telling when MJD will be back on the field or even what team that will be for. Vick is risky, but at least you know he’ll be on the field in Week 1.

  8. trick dad says:

    Graham and Gronk were mid-late round picks last year…TE is unpredictable and has high turnover…WAIT!

  9. Frank says:

    The numbers for adp don’t seem right. 15 adp for Fred Jackson?

  10. y4rivera says:

    Would giving D.Murray and Roddy for McCoy be a good deal? I would have McCoy and McFad at rb and Trent at flex. I would move Maclin to Roddy’s spot and Wallace is my other receiver.

    • gregsauce says:

      I think you’re overpaying. The gap in value between McCoy and Murray is a lot less than the value of Roddy White.

  11. Robert says:

    Hey Greg…in a standard league + return yards (1pt/20yds, 6pt/TD), would you move Darren Sproles, Antonio Brown (assuming he’ll still be the main PR), and Randall Cobb up in your rankings? If so, how much?

    • gregsauce says:

      Sproles would be my #14 RB in that format, between Ryan Mathews and Fred Jackson. Antonio Brown would be my #16 receiver, between Dez Bryant and Wes Welker. Cobb would move up a few spots for me, from my #54 WR to somewhere in the 48-51 range, but I’m don’t project him to be especially involved in Green Bay’s offense. There are too many proven mouths to feed (Jennings, Nelson, Finley) and you’d be getting most of your value from Cobb on returns. He’s still a nice value play in that type of league, though.

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