Last updated Sept. 3.

At a certain level, fantasy football drafts are all about opportunity cost. Sure, Player X is a star and you can expect big things from him, but if you take him in the first round, you are passing on Player Y and all the players at other, possibly shallower, positions.

It’s why drafting a quarterback early in one-QB leagues is often not the best plan. If you take a quarterback in the first round and a running back in the seventh, that combination probably isn’t going to work out as well as taking a running back in the first and a QB in the seventh. Because useful quarterbacks tend to be available in the later rounds of such leagues, there is a much lower opportunity cost to passing on them early compared to other positions.

This is one reason that tiering players on your draft list can be helpful: It gives you a good sense of the opportunity cost of your decisions at every point on draft day.

If you take Running Back E in the third round, leading to the fourth-round selection of Wide Receiver F, is that likely to be a higher-scoring duo than if you go with Wide Receiver E in the third and Running Back F in the fourth? Well, if you think there’s a big gap between RBs E and F — meaning they should be in different tiers — whereas you don’t think all that much separates WRs E and F and thus have them in the same tier, then you have your answer. But wait! The last player left in a tier of tight ends you absolutely love has fallen to the fourth round, and one of your major priorities was to get one of those guys. Fine, then it’s time to pivot and go with a TE.

Speaking of pivoting, let’s end the introduction and get to the fun stuff: the tiers! Please note that the player rankings from which these groupings derive default to .5-PPR formats. Those rankings will update frequently until the regular season kicks off.

(Here are the individual positional rankings for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, and catch up on everything in our draft cheat sheet.)

Quarterbacks

Tier 1

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs; Josh Allen, Bills; Kyler Murray, Cardinals; Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Russell Wilson, Seahawks

Prescott’s health (and appearances on “Hard Knocks”) will need to be monitored, but for now I’m keeping him in this quintet of players who I think have the best shots at finishing tops among QBs.

Tier 2

Lamar Jackson, Ravens; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Justin Herbert, Chargers

These QBs are just a hair below the top tier, which would include Jackson if I weren’t quite as concerned about his chances of getting sidelined again by the NFL’s coronavirus protocols.

Tier 3

Tom Brady, Buccaneers; Ryan Tannehill, Titans; Matthew Stafford, Rams; Joe Burrow, Bengals; Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

The last of the QBs who can be considered safe to return high-end production.

Tier 4

Jalen Hurts, Eagles; Justin Fields, Bears; Trey Lance, 49ers

If the previous tier could be described as “safe,” this trio has risk/reward written all over it. If you don’t mind drafting another QB later as an insurance policy or to hold the fort until Fields or Lance actually gets the starting job, it could be a risk well worth taking.

Tier 5

Matt Ryan, Falcons; Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins; Baker Mayfield, Browns; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Kirk Cousins, Vikings; Derek Carr, Raiders

If you’re the type to wait at QB — then wait some more — these options could keep you afloat while the rest of your starters do the real damage.

Tier 6

Zach Wilson, Jets; Carson Wentz, Colts; Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos; Jameis Winston, Saints; Sam Darnold, Panthers; Mac Jones, Patriots; Daniel Jones, Giants; Jared Goff, Lions

The final group of QBs more or less are guaranteed starting jobs, thus giving them value in two-QB and superflex formats.

Tier 7

Tyrod Taylor, Texans; Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers; Taysom Hill, Saints; Drew Lock, Broncos; Andy Dalton, Bears; Jacob Eason, Colts; Jordan Love, Packers; Gardner Minshew II, Eagles

Job security is a major issue here, but some of these QBs could be hot commodities if they manage to reach and/or stay on the field.

Running backs

Tier 1

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers; Dalvin Cook, Vikings

McCaffrey arguably belongs in his own tier, but I’ll include Cook here because he is locked into the second overall draft spot in so many formats.

Tier 2

Alvin Kamara, Saints; Jonathan Taylor, Colts; Derrick Henry, Titans; Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

You can expect these RBs to go in the top half of the first round of many drafts, except perhaps Taylor, on whom I am higher than most.

Tier 3

Saquon Barkley, Giants; Aaron Jones, Packers; Antonio Gibson, Washington; Austin Ekeler, Chargers; Joe Mixon, Bengals; Najee Harris, Steelers; Nick Chubb, Browns

RB1 types with clear paths to potential top-three status. Barkley would be at least one rung higher if not for questions about the pace of his recovery from knee surgery.

Tier 4

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs; D’Andre Swift, Lions; Chris Carson, Seahawks; Darrell Henderson, Rams; David Montgomery, Bears; James Robinson, Jaguars; Javonte Williams, Broncos; Miles Sanders, Eagles; Kareem Hunt, Browns; Josh Jacobs, Raiders; Gus Edwards, Ravens; Damien Harris, Patriots; Raheem Mostert, 49ers

Here are your prime RB2 candidates for drafters who don’t want to wait long to fill that lineup spot.

Tier 5

Chase Edmonds, Cardinals; Trey Sermon, 49ers; Mike Davis, Falcons; Myles Gaskin, Dolphins; AJ Dillon, Packers; Jamaal Williams, Lions; Melvin Gordon III, Broncos; Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers; Zack Moss, Bills; James Conner, Cardinals

If you’re excited by what you see here, then congratulations! You have an ideal mind-set for a zero RB draft.

Tier 6

Tony Pollard, Cowboys; Michael Carter, Jets; Damien Williams, Bears; Kenyan Drake, Raiders; Devin Singletary, Bills; Sony Michel, Patriots; Nyheim Hines, Colts; James White, Patriots; Giovani Bernard, Buccaneers; Tevin Coleman, Jets; Ty Johnson, Jets; Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers; Ty’Son Williams, Ravens

These RBs project to be on the shorter end of time shares but provide nice combinations of stand-alone value and upside in case of injuries.

Tier 7

J.D. McKissic, Washington; David Johnson, Texans; Darrel Williams, Chiefs; Alexander Mattison, Vikings; Boston Scott, Eagles; Carlos Hyde, Jaguars; Chuba Hubbard, Panthers; Wayne Gallman, Falcons; Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots; Rashaad Penny, Seahawks

Handcuffs and pass-catching specialists — plus a couple of obligatory stabs at the uninspiring situation in Houston — mark this tier.

Tier 8

Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles; Devontae Booker, Giants; Samaje Perine, Bengals; Malcolm Brown, Dolphins; Justin Jackson, Chargers; Tony Jones, Saints; Phillip Lindsay, Texans; Mark Ingram II, Texans; Alex Collins, Seahawks; Latavius Murray, Saints; Jerick McKinnon, Chiefs; Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins; Mekhi Sargent, Titans; Justice Hill, Ravens; Chris Evans, Bengals; Marlon Mack, Colts; Joshua Kelley, Chargers; La’Mical Perine, Jets; Eno Benjamin, Cardinals; Matt Breida, Bills

An assortment of stragglers in 12-team drafts, the prospects of these backs should undergo plenty of volatility as injuries, training camp reports and preseason performances shake things up.

Wide receivers

Tier 1

Davante Adams, Packers; Tyreek Hill, Chiefs; Stefon Diggs, Bills

Just as tight end has a “big three” (see below), the wide receiver contingent is led by this triad of top-notch pass-catchers, all of whom deserve to go in the first round.

Tier 2

Calvin Ridley, Falcons; DK Metcalf, Seahawks; Justin Jefferson, Vikings; A.J. Brown, Titans; DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals

Great bets to return WR1 numbers, these five should not fall past the second round and could go in the first in full-PPR formats.

Tier 3

CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys; Keenan Allen, Chargers; Allen Robinson II, Bears; Terry McLaurin, Washington; Cooper Kupp, Rams; Robert Woods, Rams; D.J. Moore, Panthers; Amari Cooper, Cowboys; Chris Godwin, Buccaneers; Tyler Lockett, Seahawks; Tee Higgins, Bengals; Mike Evans, Buccaneers; Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

It’s so hard to come up with an exact order for this group of excellent WRs. What’s much easier is resolving to avoid sketchy RBs as long as these guys are still on the board.

Tier 4

Julio Jones, Titans; Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals; Chase Claypool, Steelers; Jerry Jeudy, Broncos; Diontae Johnson, Steelers; Odell Beckham Jr., Browns; Tyler Boyd, Bengals; Robby Anderson, Panthers; Adam Thielen, Vikings; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers; Michael Gallup, Cowboys

We start to transition here toward players who probably fit better as WR2s or high-end WR3s on fantasy squads.

Tier 5

Deebo Samuel, 49ers; Courtland Sutton, Broncos; Corey Davis, Jets; Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars; Brandin Cooks, Texans; Devonta Smith, Eagles; Will Fuller V, Dolphins; Marvin Jones Jr., Jaguars; Kenny Golladay, Giants; Antonio Brown, Buccaneers; D.J. Chark Jr., Jaguars; Jarvis Landry, Browns; Mecole Hardman, Chiefs; Michael Pittman Jr., Colts; Michael Thomas, Saints; Henry Ruggs III, Raiders; Elijah Moore, Jets; Rondale Moore, Cardinals; Mike Williams, Chargers

These receivers can fit the WR3/WR4 bill either through volume or big-play ability. Michael Thomas is the exception; drafters will have to wait until he gets healthy and hope he is still on good terms with New Orleans at that point.

Tier 6

Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins; Jakobi Meyers, Patriots; Darnell Mooney, Bears; Curtis Samuel, Washington; Marquez Callaway, Saints; Marquise Brown, Ravens; Sterling Shepard, Giants; DeVante Parker, Dolphins; Terrace Marshall Jr., Panthers; Emmanuel Sanders, Bills; Russell Gage, Falcons; Tyrell Williams, Lions; Bryan Edwards, Raiders; Jalen Reagor, Eagles; Parris Campbell, Colts; A.J. Green, Cardinals; Sammy Watkins, Ravens; Randall Cobb, Packers; Nelson Agholor, Patriots; Cole Beasley, Bills; Jamison Crowder, Jets

As everyone knows, the WR position is deep, but here we see it finally start to thin out into players whose range of outcomes include as much negative as positive.

Tier 7

Dyami Brown, Washington; KJ Hamler, Broncos; Donovan Peoples-Jones, Browns; Tre’Quan Smith, Saints; Josh Palmer, Chargers; Byron Pringle, Chiefs; Christian Kirk, Cardinals; Gabriel Davis, Bills; Nico Collins, Texans; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers; Quez Watkins, Eagles; Zach Pascal, Colts; Rashard Higgins, Browns; DeSean Jackson, Rams; Darius Slayton, Giants; D’Wayne Eskridge, Seahawks; Demarcus Robinson, Chiefs; Quintez Cephus, Lions; Mike Strachan, Colts; Keelan Cole Sr., Jets

I could have added more names here, but you get the idea. At this point, you’re taking a stab at someone who might emerge as a top-three receiving option on his team.

Tight ends

Tier 1

Travis Kelce, Chiefs

The gold standard at his position, worth strong first-round consideration, Kelce has only his age (31) as even the slightest red flag.

Tier 2

Darren Waller, Raiders; George Kittle, 49ers

If you missed or passed on Kelce and still want to put some distance between your team and others’ at TE, you’ll want to snag one of these two.

Tier 3

T.J. Hockenson, Lions; Mark Andrews, Ravens; Kyle Pitts, Falcons

Hockenson should easily lead his team in targets and Andrews could do the same. Pitts, a rookie taken fourth overall in April’s draft, is much more of an unknown quantity but is positioned for a big role right away.

Tier 4

Logan Thomas, Washington; Noah Fant, Broncos; Jonnu Smith, Patriots; Robert Tonyan, Packers; Tyler Higbee, Rams; Hunter Henry, Patriots

There is a distinct gap from the previous tier to this one, and drafters who missed out on the top six wouldn’t be blamed for skipping this group entirely and taking their chances with perhaps two from the next.

Tier 5

Dallas Goedert, Eagles; Mike Gesicki, Dolphins; Cole Kmet, Bears; Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers; Evan Engram, Giants; Zach Ertz, Eagles; Austin Hooper, Browns; Gerald Everett, Seahawks; Jared Cook, Chargers; Anthony Firkser, Titans; Eric Ebron, Steelers; Hayden Hurst, Falcons; Adam Trautman, Saints; Blake Jarwin, Cowboys

This is another tricky crew to put in order, but at the end of the day it may not matter much, given that TE scoring traditionally flattens by the time you get this deep into the position.

Tier 6

Jordan Akins, Texans; Dan Arnold, Panthers; Chris Herndon IV, Vikings; Tyler Conklin, Vikings; Mo Alie-Cox, Colts; C.J. Uzomah, Bengals; Dawson Knox, Bills; Jacob Harris, Rams; Donald Parham Jr., Chargers; Dalton Schultz, Cowboys; Juwan Johnson, Saints; O.J. Howard, Buccaneers; Jimmy Graham, Bears; Harrison Bryant, Browns; Will Dissly, Seahawks; Brevin Jordan, Texans; Jack Doyle, Colts

Hey, some leagues require two TEs or are just really deep, you know? It actually would not be a shock to see a couple of names here become mainstays of mainstream lineups this season.