Health- and Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

I’m reprising this exercise from last year because I think it’s useful to identify potential breakouts and upside plays.

There are essentially four variables that determine a player’s value: (1) Health; (2) Skills; (3) Team Context; and (4) Role. Of the four, (1) and (4) are most subject to dramatic change, so I’ve eliminated them for the purposes of these rankings.

In the first table, I assume every player were guaranteed 16 games. In the second, I’ve ranked the top-20 QB, RB, WR and TE irrespective of roles, i.e., assuming everyone had an equal number of basic opportunities. For QBs, that’s 550 passing attempts, for RBs, that’s 250 carries, for WRs and TEs, that’s 130 targets. (I’m assuming a full PPR format.)

Health-Neutral Rankings

1 Deshaun Watson Le’Veon Bell Antonio Brown Rob Gronkowski
2 Aaron Rodgers David Johnson Odell Beckham Travis Kelce
3 Carson Wentz Todd Gurley DeAndre Hopkins Zach Ertz
4 Russell Wilson Ezekiel Elliott Julio Jones Jordan Reed
5 Cam Newton Saquon Barkley Michael Thomas Greg Olsen
6 Andrew Luck Alvin Kamara Keenan Allen Evan Engram
7 Tom Brady Kareem Hunt Davante Adams Jimmy Graham
8 Jimmy Garoppolo Leonard Fournette A.J. Green Tyler Eifert
9 Jared Goff Dalvin Cook T.Y. Hilton Delanie Walker
10 Drew Brees Melvin Gordon Mike Evans Trey Burton
11 Matthew Stafford Devonta Freeman Doug Baldwin Kyle Rudolph
12 Pat Mahomes LeSean McCoy Amari Cooper O.J. Howard
13 Ben Roethlisberger Christian McCaffrey Juju Smith-Schuster George Kittle
14 Marcus Mariota Jerick McKinnon Allen Robinson Jack Doyle
15 Kirk Cousins Kenyan Drake Josh Gordon Vance McDonald
16 Phillip Rivers Jordan Howard Alshon Jeffrey Eric Ebron
17 Dak Prescott Joe Mixon Tyreek Hill Austin Hooper
18 Matt Ryan Dion Lewis Adam Thielen David Njoku
19 Alex Smith Jordan Howard Stefon Diggs Cameron Brate
20 Derek Carr Ronald Jones Demaryius Thomas Ben Watson

Several players see significant boosts: Deshaun Watson goes from No. 3 to the top overall QB, Andrew Luck jumps from No. 11 on my actual board (he’d be higher in 12-team 1-QB format, but my projections have to account for superflex and 2-QB leagues, too) to No. 6, and Ben Roethlisberger to No. 13 from 15.

At RB, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson move ahead of Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman slots at No. 11, and Dion Lewis jumps to No. 18 from No. 21.

At WR, Josh Gordon (accounting for mental health), Alshon Jeffrey, Doug Baldwin and Allen Robinson are the biggest risers. Reliable types like Adam Thielen drop slightly.

Finally at TE, Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert get major boosts as they did last year.

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Let’s take a look at the Opportunity-Neutral Ranks. These eliminate not only health (you can’t have opportunities without it), but also the hard-to-predict whims of coaches and coordinators:

Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

1 Deshaun Watson Alvin Kamara Antonio Brown Rob Gronkowski
2 Aaron Rodgers Le’Veon Bell Odell Beckham Travis Kelce
3 Cam Newton David Johnson Julio Jones Zach Ertz
4 Russell Wilson Todd Gurley Davante Adams Jordan Reed
5 Lamar Jackson Saquon Barkley Juju Smith-Schuster O.J. Howard
6 Andrew Luck Christian McCaffrey T.Y. Hilton Jimmy Graham
7 Carson Wentz Kareem Hunt Tyreek Hill Greg Olsen
8 Drew Brees Devonta Freeman Brandin Cooks Tyler Eifert
9 Tom Brady Dalvin Cook Doug Baldwin David Njoku
10 Pat Mahomes Jerick McKinnon A.J. Green Kyle Rudolph
11 Marcus Mariota Ezekiel Elliott Michael Thomas Evan Engram
12 Tyrod Taylor Leonard Fournette Marquise Goodwin Delanie Walker
13 Jimmy Garoppolo Melvin Gordon Josh Gordon Trey Burton
14 Jared Goff Aaron Jones DeAndre Hopkins Vance McDonald
15 Ben Roethlisberger LeSean McCoy Mike Evans George Kittle
16 Alex Smith Rex Burkhead Alshon Jeffrey Eric Ebron
17 Dak Prescott Kenyan Drake Amari Cooper Jack Doyle
18 Matthew Stafford Mark Ingram Keenan Allen Austin Hooper
19 Kirk Cousins Sony Michel Allen Robinson Cameron Brate
20 Mitch Trubisky Dion Lewis Adam Thielen Ben Watson

You’ll notice the running QBs dominate – give them sufficient passing volume, and the stationary QBs simply can’t compete. Moreover, running QBs are at greater risk of injury, and this eliminates that variable too. While that risk is real, and running QBs lose attempts when they elect to take off rather than check down, the list still gives you an idea of what would happen if due to game script the running QB had to throw an inordinate amount, e.g., 2015 Blake Bortles who finished as the No. 3 fantasy QB. You might also notice I put Lamar Jackson at No. 5 – he’d be a monster with 550 attempts given his rushing skills.

At RB, a few players jump up – Alvin Kamara would be No. 1 overall if he tied for the league-lead in carries – he’s not only a prolific pass catcher, but he was also the league’s most efficient runner on the ground last year and playing in an elite offense.  I avoided putting third-down specialists like Theo Riddick or Tarik Cohen in the rankings as there’s virtually no way they’d see that kind of early-down workload. I included Christian McCaffrey (No. 6) though, given his coach’s innumerate proclamations. Aaron Jones, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel also get significant bumps.

At WR, Juju Smith-Schuster checks in at No. 5 – he’ll regress on a per-play basis obviously, but he’s a bigger red-zone target than Antonio Brown, and made massive plays all of last season. Big-play threats like Tyreek Hill and Marquise Goodwin would also push for the league yardage title if they saw that many targets. DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen are volume guys, so they fall accordingly.

Finally, at TE, it’s similar to the health list with Tyler Eifert and Jordan Reed seeing the biggest boosts. David Njoku showed enough last year, that he’d be interesting if they got him the ball.