Yup, as long as folks have been a-pickin’, clocks have been a-tickin’. Fortunately, we have draft tiers to help us at those stressful moments.
Grouping players into tiers at their respective positions doesn’t solve all of life’s problems, but it does help drafters choose from a variety of options. If you can quickly see that, for example, a desirable tier of RBs is about to run dry while there are several WRs left in a comparable tier, the decision might turn into something of a no-brainer.
Of course, how players should be grouped, and in fact how they should be ranked, period, is a matter of no small debate. Here is my stab at tiers, with a default to half-PPR scoring (note that I’ve also embedded my overall rankings at the bottom of the post, which will update as things progress between now and the start of the regular season).
Saquon Barkley, Giants; Alvin Kamara, Saints; Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Any of these three would be fine No. 1 overall picks. In addition to having the requisite upside in yards and TDs, they each catch a ton of passes, which is key to fantasy RB supremacy.
David Johnson, Cardinals; Le’Veon Bell, Jets; Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Each has been a top RB in the past and could easily return to the summit, but notable concerns drop them here. Elliott, of course, is staging a holdout and as long as he remains unsigned, no one would be blamed for avoiding him in the first round, while Johnson and Bell disappointed in 2018 and now are in new offenses.
James Conner, Steelers; Joe Mixon, Bengals; Nick Chubb, Browns; Dalvin Cook, Vikings
By all means, put these guys in a completely different order — strong cases can be made for and against all of them — but the main point is that most fantasy players won’t want to leave the first two rounds without at least one from the first three tiers.
Kerryon Johnson, Lions; Aaron Jones, Packers; Todd Gurley, Rams; Leonard Fournette, Jaguars; Devonta Freeman, Falcons; Damien Williams, Chiefs; Chris Carson, Seahawks; Josh Jacobs, Raiders; Marlon Mack, Colts; Derrick Henry, Titans; Mark Ingram, Ravens; Melvin Gordon, Chargers
A big group of high-end to very solid RB2 candidates, all of whom are well-positioned to submit RB1 seasons with some favorable developments in terms of health or work in the passing game. Then there’s Gordon, whose holdout appears more concerning than that of Elliott, and who thus takes a greater tumble, at least for now.
James White, Patriots; Sony Michel, Patriots; Phillip Lindsay, Broncos; David Montgomery, Bears; Tevin Coleman, 49ers; Miles Sanders, Eagles; Latavius Murray, Saints; Kenyan Drake, Dolphins; Tarik Cohen, Bears; Lamar Miller, Texans
If you have only one RB by the time you get this far, these players could bail you out with nice contributions. Most are expected to lead committees, while Murray is obviously behind Kamara but inherits the fantasy-friendly Ingram role for New Orleans.
Royce Freeman, Broncos; Rashaad Penny, Seahawks; Austin Ekeler, Chargers; Matt Breida, 49ers; Jordan Howard, Eagles; Duke Johnson, Texans; Nyheim Hines, Colts; Darrell Henderson, Rams; Kalen Ballage, Dolphins; Dion Lewis, Titans; Adrian Peterson, Redskins; Peyton Barber, Buccaneers; Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers; LeSean McCoy, Bills
Here we see lesser halves of committees who should still have sizable roles, plus some shaky starters.
Derrius Guice, Redskins; Damien Harris, Patriots; Ito Smith, Falcons; Chris Thompson, Redskins; Mike Davis, Bears; Jaylen Samuels, Steelers; Carlos Hyde, Chiefs; Tony Pollard, Cowboys; Justice Hill, Ravens; Justin Jackson, Chargers; Jalen Richard, Raiders; Devin Singletary, Bills; Alexander Mattison, Vikings; Giovani Bernard, Bengals
The final group of players who appear to have stand-alone value, even if most of them need an injury to someone ahead of them on the depth chart (or in the case of Guice, a full return from injury) to attain major significance. Pollard has been shooting up the board, and will continue to rise as long as Elliott waits to see if Jerry Jones blinks first.
Julio Jones, Falcons; Davante Adams, Packers; Odell Beckham Jr., Browns; DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
As with the Tier 2 RBs, these players can be placed in any order, really, although few would give Beckham the top spot. His potential for a gigantic season keeps him in this group, while the other three look like extremely safe picks after the initial wave of Tier 1 RBs.
Michael Thomas, Saints; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers; Tyreek Hill, Chiefs; Mike Evans, Buccaneers
The second half of the no-doubt WR1 contingent, with Evans somewhat of a distant fourth.
Keenan Allen, Chargers; Amari Cooper, Cowboys; Antonio Brown, Raiders; Stefon Diggs, Vikings; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Brandin Cooks, Rams; Adam Thielen, Vikings; Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Allen, Cooper and Brown would have more separation from the rest of this group except the first two are dealing with injuries that cloud their Week 1 availability, while the latter — I mean, yeesh.
Robert Woods, Rams; D.J. Moore, Panthers; Kenny Golladay, Lions; Chris Godwin, Buccaneers; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Calvin Ridley, Falcons; Cooper Kupp, Rams; Josh Gordon, Patriots
Here is the meat of the WR2 contingent, with Gordon crashing the party after the NFL recently granted him eligibility. That knocked Edelman, whose value is largely dependent on volume, to this tier.
Jarvis Landry, Browns; Tyler Boyd, Bengals; Allen Robinson, Bears; A.J. Green, Bengals; Robby Anderson, Jets; Mike Williams, Chargers; Will Fuller, Texans; Alshon Jeffery, Eagles; Sammy Watkins, Chiefs; Curtis Samuel, Panthers; Christian Kirk, Cardinals; Corey Davis, Titans
Best off as WR3s but should keep teams afloat as WR2s, if that’s how drafts unfold. Green is usually a WR1 but is expected to miss several games with an ankle injury.
Sterling Shepard, Giants; Marvin Jones, Lions; Dede Westbrook, Jaguars; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals; Anthony Miller, Bears; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers; Geronimo Allison, Packers; Donte Moncrief, Steelers; Courtland Sutton, Broncos; Dante Pettis, 49ers
Drafters should make a point of dipping into this group in the mid-rounds to take advantage of its tantalizing upside.
Golden Tate, Giants; Michael Gallup, Cowboys; DeSean Jackson, Eagles; Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos; Devin Funchess, Colts; Jamison Crowder, Jets; Albert Wilson, Dolphins; John Brown, Bills; Keke Coutee, Texans; Kenny Stills, Dolphins; Tre’Quan Smith, Saints; Tyrell Williams, Raiders; DK Metcalf, Seahawks
Mostly ticketed for secondary roles, these receivers offer intriguing potential for either volume (Sanders, Crowder, Coutee) or big plays (Gallup, Jackson, Funchess, Williams, Metcalf).
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
As noted elsewhere, the gap in per-game scoring last year (minimum 10 games played) between Mahomes and the second-best QB was greater than the gap between that No. 2 guy and No. 12.
Deshaun Watson, Texans; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Baker Mayfield, Browns; Matt Ryan, Falcons
Mayfield showed enough as a rookie, particularly in terms of downfield aggression and accuracy, that it’s not hard to slot him in to this elite crew, particularly with Cleveland’s addition of Beckham.
Carson Wentz, Eagles; Cam Newton, Panthers; Jameis Winston, Buccaneers; Jared Goff, Rams; Lamar Jackson, Ravens; Russell Wilson, Seahawks; Kyler Murray, Cardinals; Andrew Luck, Colts
The rest of the strong top-12 QB candidates include a few (Winston, Jackson, Murray) who are not for the faint of heart. Hey, if they don’t work out, there should be perfectly adequate replacements on the waiver wire in most leagues. Luck is poised to leap back up to Tier 2 at the first sign of really positive news regarding his ankle injury.
Drew Brees, Saints; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Tom Brady, Patriots; Josh Allen, Bills; Philip Rivers, Chargers; Mitchell Trubisky, Bears; Kirk Cousins, Vikings
The depth at QB shows up here, as any of these players would not shock with a top-6 season, even if Allen and Trubisky don’t get there in the prettiest of manners.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers; Sam Darnold, Jets; Andy Dalton, Bengals; Matthew Stafford, Lions; Derek Carr, Raiders; Marcus Mariota, Titans; Nick Foles, Jaguars
Acceptable starters in two-QB leagues. Darnold is rapidly picking up steam as a breakout candidate.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins; Joe Flacco, Broncos; Eli Manning, Giants; Case Keenum, Redskins
The last of the QBs set to begin the season as starters (although Keenum hasn’t quite locked that down).
Dwayne Haskins, Redskins; Josh Rosen, Dolphins; Daniel Jones, Giants; Ryan Tannehill, Titans; Drew Lock, Broncos; Taysom Hill, Saints; Blake Bortles, Rams; Jacoby Brissett, Colts
Names to know, and possibly to keep on speed-dial in deep leagues.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs
I get the excitement over George Kittle, but he’ll need to do it a second time before he can truly come at the crown. Other than that, there’s no one all that close to Kelce.
George Kittle, 49ers; Zach Ertz, Eagles
Ertz has been slowly drifting further behind Kittle, with an increasing sense that his targets are likely to drop a bit this season.
Evan Engram, Giants; O.J. Howard, Buccaneers; Hunter Henry, Chargers; Jared Cook, Saints
For those who can’t stomach the prices of the top three TEs but are looking for some separation at the position, this is the group to target.
Vance McDonald, Steelers; Eric Ebron, Colts; Jordan Reed, Redskins; David Njoku, Browns; Austin Hooper, Falcons; Delanie Walker, Titans; Mark Andrews, Ravens
In the world of fantasy TEs, it starts to get shaky kind of quickly, as evidenced here. These players are still good bets to deliver low-end TE1 numbers, but drafters shouldn’t reach for them.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings; Trey Burton, Bears; Jack Doyle, Colts; Jimmy Graham, Packers; Greg Olsen, Panthers; Chris Herndon IV, Jets
Players best viewed as solid TE2s. Herndon would be higher but he is set to start the season on a four-game suspension, which effectively keeps him shelved until Week 6, given the Jets’ Week 4 bye.
Dallas Goedert, Eagles; T.J. Hockenson, Lions; Darren Waller, Raiders; Noah Fant, Broncos; Gerald Everett, Rams; Tyler Eifert, Bengals; Hayden Hurst, Ravens
Back-end TE2s, but certainly with potential for more, especially for Goedert, if Ertz goes down with an injury.
Ian Thomas, Panthers; Benjamin Watson, Patriots; Geoff Swaim, Jaguars; Jordan Thomas, Texans; Cameron Brate, Buccaneers; Jason Witten, Cowboys; Ricky Seals-Jones, Cardinals; Matt LaCosse, Patriots
A grab-bag of veterans and youngsters with ill-defined roles. Watson is likely to be New England’s top TE when he returns from suspension in Week 5, but LaCosse could have a chance to steal the gig with a strong early-season showing.
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