The twists and turns then start coming, though, and if it’s not a great idea at that point to look only at the non-crossed-off names on your top 200 list (how’s that for old-school imagery?), it’s even worse to plan on taking specific players in later draft rounds. You could easily get sniped on all those players, and you still have the pesky issues of filling out your starting lineup and trying to get good value on all your picks.
Okay, the lineup part isn’t that hard, but how does one consider that good value was had more often than not? Why, by using tiers, of course! Grouping players by similar ranges of outcomes can help you decide which positions to address as you navigate through drafts.
It’s not just a matter of deciding you need to take the last quarterback in a given tier as opposed to one of six wide receivers left. It’s helpful to decide how much of a gap there is between tiers within a position, because that can provide some guidance on draft strategy without locking on individual players.
For instance, if you think there’s a huge drop-off after the first tier of tight ends, you might want to target that position aggressively, probably with a second-round pick. If you look at your fourth tier of running backs and really like your options, that could encourage you to be patient at that position and scoop up value elsewhere in the early rounds.
Because I am here to help, I am listing my tiers at RB, WR, QB and TE. Please note that I am defaulting to half-PPR and that my rankings will update regularly, particularly now that we’re finally getting reports from full practices at training camps. As such, I have embedded my rankings at the bottom of this post so you can see my latest adjustments.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers; Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys; Saquon Barkley, Giants
McCaffrey arguably belongs in a tier by himself, given how he dusted the field last season. But you may have noticed that 2020 does not bear much of a resemblance to 2019, and it would not be a shock if any of these three finished at No. 1.
Alvin Kamara, Saints; Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs; Dalvin Cook, Vikings; Derrick Henry, Titans
These players will probably fill out the top seven in many drafts apart from full-PPR formats where a Michael Thomas could elbow his way in. With the outlooks for Kamara and Cook clouded a bit by possible holdouts, you wouldn’t be crazy to take Henry over them.
Joe Mixon, Bengals; Kenyan Drake, Cardinals; Josh Jacobs, Raiders; Miles Sanders, Eagles; Nick Chubb, Browns; Aaron Jones, Packers; Austin Ekeler, Chargers
It’s not always desirable to pick near the end of the first round, but this year offers the attractive prospect of coming away with one, or better yet two, of these backs, any of whom have the talent and opportunity to finish atop this group.
James Conner, Steelers; Chris Carson, Seahawks; Jonathan Taylor, Colts; Melvin Gordon III, Broncos; Todd Gurley II, Falcons; David Johnson, Texans; Mark Ingram II, Ravens; Raheem Mostert, 49ers; Kareem Hunt, Browns; Antonio Gibson, Washington; Leonard Fournette, Jaguars; Cam Akers, Rams; Le’Veon Bell, Jets
Two of these — the rookies Taylor and Akers — are definitely not like the others, as we mostly have an assortment of veterans who may not have their coaches’ trust or their bodies’ cooperation to continue in the workhorse roles they’ve enjoyed in the past. Draft these players as RB2s (or simply bypass them for other positions in Rounds 3-5), and hope they prove to have a lot left in the tank.
James White, Patriots; J.K. Dobbins, Ravens; Phillip Lindsay, Broncos; David Montgomery, Bears; D’Andre Swift, Lions; Devin Singletary, Bills; Zack Moss, Bills; Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers; Jordan Howard, Dolphins; Latavius Murray, Saints; Tevin Coleman, 49ers; Tarik Cohen, Bears; Matt Breida, Dolphins
Here we see members of various time-shares who could emerge as the top option. In general these backs should be viewed as needing just one obstacle to be removed (such as a lack of work in the passing game or at the goal line) to have a clear path to an RB1-type workload.
Boston Scott, Eagles; Chase Edmonds, Cardinals; Kerryon Johnson, Lions; Alexander Mattison, Vikings; Darrel Williams, Chiefs; Tony Pollard, Cowboys; Marlon Mack, Colts; Duke Johnson, Texans; Chris Thompson, Jaguars; Nyheim Hines, Colts; Darrell Henderson, Rams; Sony Michel, Patriots; A.J. Dillon, Packers
I try not to leave drafts without at least two players from this exciting group, full of potential league-winners if the guys ahead of them go down.
Darrynton Evans, Titans; Joshua Kelley, Chargers; Devine Ozigbo, Jaguars; Malcolm Brown, Rams; Damien Harris, Patriots; Bryce Love, Washington; Benny Snell Jr., Steelers; Giovani Bernard, Bengals; James Robinson, Jaguars; Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars; Carlos Hyde, Seahawks; Jerick McKinnon, 49ers; Justin Jackson, Chargers; Frank Gore, Jets; Darwin Thompson, Chiefs; Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers; Brian Hill, Falcons
Those who love to spend their late-round picks on lottery tickets, undervalued talents and other long-shot plays at RB will see some tempting draft targets in this mishmash of backups and role players.
Michael Thomas, Saints; Davante Adams, Packers
If you’d rather not make the extremely obvious move of picking Thomas first among WRs, the only plausible alternative is Adams, who has very little apparent competition in Green Bay.
Julio Jones, Falcons; Tyreek Hill, Chiefs; DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals; Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
The only minor quibbles here could be less-than-completely-ideal target shares or touchdown totals.
Kenny Golladay, Lions; Allen Robinson II, Bears; Mike Evans, Buccaneers; D.J. Moore, Panthers; Adam Thielen, Vikings; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers; Odell Beckham Jr., Browns; Calvin Ridley, Falcons; Amari Cooper, Cowboys
All these players have shown within the past couple of years that they have the stuff of which WR1s are made, and only Thielen, who turns 30 on Aug. 22, has any age concerns.
A.J. Brown, Titans; D.J. Chark, Jaguars; Robert Woods, Rams; Cooper Kupp, Rams; Terry McLaurin, Washington; Tyler Lockett, Seahawks; D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks; Courtland Sutton, Broncos; DeVante Parker, Dolphins; Keenan Allen, Chargers; Marquise Brown, Ravens; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Stefon Diggs, Bills; Michael Gallup, Cowboys; Will Fuller V, Texans
This ludicrously deep crop of rock-solid WR2 candidates, with the requisite potential for more, is the reason so many draft analysts are advising a strong start at RB before hitting WR in Rounds 3-5.
Jarvis Landry, Browns; Tyler Boyd, Bengals; Marvin Jones, Lions; Brandin Cooks, Texans; Deebo Samuel, 49ers; Jamison Crowder, Jets; Sterling Shepard, Giants; Julian Edelman, Patriots; A.J. Green, Bengals; Christian Kirk, Cardinals; Preston Williams, Dolphins; CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys; John Brown, Bills; Diontae Johnson, Steelers
The depth continues with these top-two options on their respective teams, who provide a mix of safety (Landry, Jones, Crowder) and upside (Kirk, Williams, Johnson)
Anthony Miller, Bears; Emmanuel Sanders, Saints; Darius Slayton, Giants; Jerry Jeudy, Broncos; Henry Ruggs III, Raiders; DeSean Jackson, Eagles; Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers; Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars; Golden Tate III, Giants; Mike Williams, Chargers; Sammy Watkins, Chiefs; Parris Campbell, Colts; Robby Anderson, Panthers; Jalen Reagor, Eagles; Mecole Hardman, Chiefs; Allen Lazard, Packers
We’ve arrived on shakier ground, and none of these players should be any higher than your team’s WR3.
Corey Davis, Titans; Randall Cobb, Texans; Michael Pittman Jr., Colts; Alshon Jeffery, Eagles; Curtis Samuel, Panthers; Breshad Perriman, Jets; N’Keal Harry, Patriots; James Washington, Steelers; Justin Jefferson, Vikings; Steven Sims Jr., Washington; Kenny Stills, Texans; John Ross, Bengals; Miles Boykin, Ravens; Russell Gage, Falcons
You’ll want to stash these WRs on your bench and see if the positive scenarios that are realistic in their cases play out.
Hunter Renfrow, Raiders; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals; Tre’Quan Smith, Saints; Van Jefferson, Rams; Josh Gordon, Seahawks; Auden Tate, Bengals; Olabisi Johnson, Vikings; Andy Isabella, Cardinals; Dede Westbrook, Jaguars; Kendrick Bourne, 49ers; Danny Amendola, Lions; Cole Beasley, Bills; Scott Miller, Buccaneers; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers; Chase Claypool, Steelers; Denzel Mims, Jets
Those in deep leagues could eventually find themselves choosing from these WRs, all of whom appear no better than third, if not fourth, in their teams’ pecking orders.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens; Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Not a ton needs to be said here, except that it would not be crazy at all to take either in the second round (and that’s coming from someone who almost always prefers to wait at QB).
Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Kyler Murray, Cardinals; Deshaun Watson, Texans; Russell Wilson, Seahawks
This quartet rounds out a Big Six of QBs worth considering in the early-ish rounds, after which there’s a gap to the next lot.
Matt Ryan, Falcons; Josh Allen, Bills; Tom Brady, Buccaneers; Matthew Stafford, Lions; Drew Brees, Saints; Carson Wentz, Eagles
Strong candidates to post starter-worthy numbers, with Jones the biggest wild card.
Cam Newton, Patriots; Daniel Jones, Giants; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Ryan Tannehill, Titans; Jared Goff, Rams; Baker Mayfield, Browns
If you really want to wait at QB, you wouldn’t be risking a ton on these players for a potentially very good reward.
Joe Burrow, Bengals; Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers; Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars; Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers; Kirk Cousins, Vikings; Derek Carr, Raiders
The last of the guys you’d want as starters in 2QB or superflex leagues.
Tyrod Taylor, Chargers; Drew Lock, Broncos; Philip Rivers, Colts; Sam Darnold, Jets; Dwayne Haskins, Washington
The last of the guys clearly set to begin the season as starters, with Taylor the most likely to lose his job but also the most likely to put up QB1-level points because of his rushing ability.
Nick Foles, Bears; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins; Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins; Mitch Trubisky, Bears; Justin Herbert, Chargers; Jameis Winston, Saints; Jalen Hurts, Eagles; Andy Dalton, Cowboys; Robert Griffin III, Ravens; Marcus Mariota, Raiders; Taysom Hill, Saints; Jacoby Brissett, Colts
These QBs have legitimate chances to start for most of the season or at least to rack up points if they get some starts.
George Kittle, 49ers; Travis Kelce, Chiefs
As with QB, there’s a no-brainer top two at TE, and then there’s everybody else.
Mark Andrews, Ravens; Zach Ertz, Eagles
Everybody else, in this case, happens to include a no-brainer duo after the top two.
Darren Waller, Raiders; Evan Engram, Giants; Hunter Henry, Chargers; Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers
The dreaded mid-round group that so many analysts are urging to avoid. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I’d rather roll the dice on one of these guys in a league with deep enough benches to allow me to draft another TE later on.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins; Tyler Higbee, Rams; Hayden Hurst, Falcons; T.J. Hockenson, Lions; Austin Hooper, Browns
You can feel fairly confident penciling in anyone here as a starter.
Chris Herndon, Jets; Noah Fant, Broncos; Jared Cook, Saints; Dallas Goedert, Eagles; Jonnu Smith, Titans; Jack Doyle, Colts; Irv Smith Jr., Vikings; Eric Ebron, Steelers; Blake Jarwin, Cowboys; Ian Thomas, Panthers
I’d be willing to hold out until this tier before taking my first TE, but then I’d want to dip into it twice, if possible.
Gerald Everett, Rams; O.J. Howard, Buccaneers; Tyler Eifert, Jaguars; Will Dissly, Seahawks; Greg Olsen, Seahawks; Jimmy Graham, Bears; Jordan Akins, Texans; Dawson Knox, Bills; C.J. Uzomah, Bengals; Darren Fells, Texans; Dan Arnold, Cardinals; Logan Thomas, Washington; Vance McDonald, Steelers; Kyle Rudolph, Vikings; Cameron Brate, Buccaneers
It’s hardly out of the question that two or three members of this tier could burst into the top 12, but good luck predicting who they’ll be. Fine, here’s a bold prediction: Eifert stays healthy for the second year in a row and uses his role as a pass-catching specialist to remind everyone of how highly regarded he was not too long ago.