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.)
|1||Pat Mahomes||Todd Gurley||DeAndre Hopkins||Travis Kelce|
|2||Deshaun Watson||Saquon Barkley||Odell Beckham||George Kittle|
|3||Aaron Rodgers||Ezekiel Elliott||Julio Jones||Zach Ertz|
|4||Cam Newton||Alvin Kamara||Juju Smith-Schuster||Rob Gronkowski|
|5||Andrew Luck||Christian McCaffrey||Davante Adams||O.J. Howard|
|6||Baker Mayfield||Melvin Gordon||Antonio Brown||Evan Engram|
|7||Russell Wilson||David Johnson||Michael Thomas||Hunter Henry|
|8||Matt Ryan||Le’Veon Bell||Mike Evans||Jared Cook|
|9||Carson Wentz||Damien Williams||A.J. Green||Vance McDonald|
|10||Kyler Murray||Joe Mixon||Adam Thielen||David Njoku|
|11||Dak Prescott||Dalvin Cook||T.Y. Hilton||Greg Olsen|
|12||Lamar Jackson||James Conner||Keenan Allen||Delanie Walker|
|13||Mitch Trubisky||Nick Chubb||Stefon Diggs||Mark Andrews|
|14||Josh Allen||Devonta Freeman||Amari Cooper||Austin Hooper|
|15||Marcus Mariota||Aaron Jones||Sammy Watkins||Jimmy Graham|
|16||Jared Goff||Leonard Fournette||Kenny Golladay||Jack Doyle|
|17||Jameis Winston||Kenyan Drake||Brandin Cooks||Kyle Rudolph|
|18||Jimmy Garoppolo||Derrick Henry||Robert Woods||Eric Ebron|
|19||Kirk Cousins||Sony Michel||Mike Williams||Trey Burton|
|20||Ben Roethlisberger||Marlon Mack||Alshon Jeffery||Jordan Reed|
*posted pre-Tyreek Hill news. Move Hill to No. 9.
Several players see significant boosts: all the running QBs and Aaron Rodgers move up from their actual rankings. At RB, Todd Gurley shoots up from No. 13 to the top overall spot, while Devonta Freeman goes from No. 18 to No. 14. Sony Michel jumps to No. 19 from No. 24 too.
At WR, Odell Beckham checks in at No. 2 (from 6), while A.J. Green moves up fives spots to No. 9. Sammy Watkins and Alshon Jeffery also see significant boosts.
Finally at TE, Rob Gronkowski (in the unlikely event he plays), Hunter Henry and Greg Olsen see spikes.
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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:
|1||Pat Mahomes||Alvin Kamara||Odell Beckham||Travis Kelce|
|2||Deshaun Watson||Saquon Barkley||Tyreek Hill||George Kittle|
|3||Russell Wilson||Christian McCaffrey||DeAndre Hopkins||O.J. Howard|
|4||Cam Newton||Todd Gurley||Mike Evans||Rob Gronkowski|
|5||Lamar Jackson||Melvin Gordon||Julio Jones||Evan Engram|
|6||Kyler Murray||Ezekiel Elliott||Juju Smith-Schuster||Zach Ertz|
|7||Josh Allen||Damien Williams||T.Y. Hilton||Hunter Henry|
|8||Aaron Rodgers||David Johnson||Sammy Watkins||David Njoku|
|9||Baker Mayfield||Joe Mixon||Davante Adams||Dallas Goedert|
|10||Andrew Luck||Dalvin Cook||A.J. Green||Jared Cook|
|11||Dak Prescott||Aaron Jones||Mike Williams||Vance McDonald|
|12||Carson Wentz||Le’Veon Bell||Michael Thomas||Mark Andrews|
|13||Mitch Trubisky||Devonta Freeman||Tyler Lockett||Gerald Everett|
|14||Matt Ryan||Kenyan Drake||Amari Cooper||Eric Ebron|
|15||Marcus Mariota||James Conner||Brandin Cooks||Trey Burton|
|16||Jared Goff||Darrell Henderson||Adam Thielen||Greg Olsen|
|17||Philip Rivers||Nick Chubb||D.J. Moore||Jimmy Graham|
|18||Drew Brees||Jaylen Samuels||Calvin Ridley||Jordan Reed|
|19||Jimmy Garoppolo||David Montgomery||Robby Anderson||Chris Herndon*|
|20||Ben Roethlisberger||Carlos Hyde||Josh Gordon||Delanie Walker|
*suspended four games
At QB, Russell Wilson, who’s held down by his run-heavy scheme, moves to No. 3. In fact, all the running QBs see major boosts, with Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Josh Allen all cracking the top six. All three would be monsters if they saw the same number of passing attempts as their more stationary counterparts.
At RB, Alvin Kamara checks in at the top spot. Give him the same number of carries as the workload heavyweights in a top offense, and he could have a season for the ages. Incidentally, Kamara is 5-10, 215, so it’s not inconceivable the Saints would lean on him more and make Latavius Murray into more of a traditional backup. Todd Gurley also shoots up, as does his backup, Darrell Henderson who would be a monster with a full workload should Gurley never regain full health. (Note, I didn’t rank pass-catching specialists like Tarik Cohen or James White — obviously, they would be huge with 250 carries, but it’s so unlikely that would ever happen, I omitted them. One could argue Henderson is in that category, but he’s 5-8, 208 (fairly stout) and had 200-plus carries last year in college.) Backups in top offenses like Jaylen Samuels and Carlos Hyde also cracked the top 20.
At WR, Beckham takes the top spot. He’s behind five receivers on the actual cheat sheet only due to health concerns and the guaranteed massive workload of players like Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins. Take away Beckham’s risk and their added opportunities, he’s the top player now that he’s paired with Baker Mayfield. Take away Tyreek Hill’s suspension risk and give him as many targets as Hopkins, and I’m taking Hill ahead of him too. Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Tyler Lockett, D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, Robby Anderson and Josh Gordon (assuming he’s re-instated) all crack the top-20 over volume guys like Stefon Diggs and Keenan Allen.
At TE, I put Rob Gronkowski at No. 4 — he’d still be great if he plays, but O.J. Howard is in his prime and might have as much upside at this stage given the same number of opportunities. Gerald Everett makes an appearance as does the Jets Chris Herndon, but it’s nearly impossible Herndon sees that many looks, given his four-game suspension.
Finally, just to show the flip side of this exercise, I did a quick top-20 highest floor players. Floor drafting makes sense only in the early rounds, so I didn’t bother ranking tight ends beyond the top five:
|1||Pat Mahomes||Ezekiel Elliott||DeAndre Hopkins||Travis Kelce|
|2||Baker Mayfield||Saquon Barkley||Davante Adams||Zach Ertz|
|3||Andrew Luck||Christian McCaffrey||Michael Thomas||George Kittle|
|4||Matt Ryan||Alvin Kamara||Juju Smith-Schuster||O.J. Howard|
|5||Cam Newton||Nick Chubb||Julio Jones||Evan Engram|
|6||Russell Wilson||Joe Mixon||Mike Evans||N/A|
|7||Deshaun Watson||Le’Veon Bell||Adam Thielen||N/A|
|8||Dak Prescott||David Johnson||Keenan Allen||N/A|
|9||Jared Goff||Damien Williams||Antonio Brown||N/A|
|10||Aaron Rodgers||Melvin Gordon||T.Y. Hilton||N/A|
|11||Carson Wentz||Derrick Henry||Odell Beckham||N/A|
|12||Mitch Trubisky||James Conner||Stefon Diggs||N/A|
|13||Philip Rivers||Dalvin Cook||Amari Cooper||N/A|
|14||Ben Roethlisberger||Marlon Mack||Brandin Cooks||N/A|
|15||Drew Brees||Josh Jacobs||Robert Woods||N/A|
|16||Jimmy Garoppolo||Aaron Jones||Kenny Golladay||N/A|
|17||Kirk Cousins||Leonard Fournette||Jarvis Landry||N/A|
|18||Derek Carr||Todd Gurley||A.J. Green||N/A|
|19||Tom Brady||Kenyan Drake||Tyler Boyd||N/A|
|20||Matthew Stafford||Devonta Freeman||Mike Williams||N/A|
*posted pre-Tyreek Hill news. Move Hill to No. 11.
This shuffles the deck quite a bit. Gone are the running QBs like Jackson, Murray and Allen, to be replaced by codgers like Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Even Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford show their ugly mugs. For QBs, the usefulness in this exercise is solely for QB-flex or 2-QB leagues where floor actually matters. Baker Mayfield shoots all the way up to No. 2. If he was that good last year as a rookie with terrible rceivers, it’s hard to see him failing even if Beckham gets hurt.
For RB, Ezekiel Elliott checks in at the top spot. Now that he catches passes too, there’s almost no way he can fail barring injury, and he’s never been hurt yet. Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry also see spikes for their projected heavy usage and clean bills of health. Todd Gurley, unsurprisingly, falls to 18th. While Gurley might never be himself, his situation and workload floor should he remain even somewhat healthy make him less risky than speculative backs you’d draft later. Finally, rookie Josh Jacobs shows up at 15 due to his draft pedigree and guaranteed role.
At WR, Michael Thomas and Davante Adams get boosts, while Beckham gets crushed all the way to 11 as he’s missed 16 games the last two years. Volume guys like Jarvis Landry and Stefon Diggs get bumped up.
At TE, there’s no one with any kind of floor after the top five, so I didn’t waste time parsing between Eric Ebron and Greg Olsen. In any event, by the time you contemplate drafting that tier, floor should be the least of your worries.