This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.Early 2018 Rankings
With the 2017 fantasy season largely in the books, let's take a preliminary look at the top-20 players at each position, heading into next year, pending offseason signings and, of course, the draft:
Quarterback was nearly impossible to rank. You have Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson coming off major injuries, Tom Brady turning 41 in August, Aaron Rodgers missing a good chunk of the year, Andrew Luck having missed the entire year, Ben Roethlisberger having the best receivers in the league, but also having contemplated retirement after 2016, Drew Brees playing in a run-heavy offense and Jimmy Garoppolo looking like Joe Montana in a small sample. I included Keenum, Winston and Mariota over Matt Ryan for upside purposes and because Julio Jones isn't getting younger, but that might be ridiculous since Ryan's 2016 season is a pretty high ceiling.
Notable omissions: Matt Ryan
Running back was easy at the top and got harder as I went down. I put David Johnson at fourth, just ahead of Kareem Hunt and behind Zeke Elliott. It's a wrist injury, so Johnson will be at full strength from Day 1, but it's unclear who his quarterback will be. Mark Ingram could be elsewhere, so that complicates his and Alvin Kamara's rankings. If Ingram were gone, Kamara could be as high as No. 2. I wasn't sure what to do with Dalvin Cook - I'm assuming he's the guy if healthy, but if the Vikings win the Super Bowl and get monster performances from Latavius Murray and/or Jerick McKinnon, that could complicate matters. Joe Mixon/Gio Bernard is an open question, and I'm assuming Jonathan Stewart is gone, and Christian McCaffrey has more early-down work, but the Panthers could bring in a new partner for McCaffrey in that case. Dion Lewis, Alex Collins and Derrick Henry have all played well enough to keep their jobs, but whether than happens is speculation.
The receivers are tough because of the quarterbacks. Hilton at No. 7 assumes a healthy Andrew Luck. Adams at six, assumes Rodgers doesn't throw to Jordy Nelson quite as often. It's also odd to have two Vikings in the top-20, but Case Keenum ranked only No. 17, despite having a good TE and pass-catching backs. Maybe it means I have Keenum too low, but Keenum has job risk. I'm probably lower on Tyreek Hill than most, and maybe that's a mistake. But do you really buy into Alex Smith the deep-ball thrower? I'm probably higher than most on Cooks, especially if Julian Edelman comes back at 100 percent, but it often takes receivers more than one year to integrate fully into the system, and Cooks doesn't turn 25 until September.
Notable omissions: Josh Gordon, Josh Doctson, Devin Funchess, Marquise Goodwin, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas, Will Fuller, Corey Davis, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry
Tight end is ugly after the top seven or eight. Maybe Eric Ebron has a sustainably good year, and O.J. Howard and David Njoku could bust out in Year 2. But I struggled to pick 20 players, and that was even while including perennially injured Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert.
Notable Omissions: none
Grading My Non-Obvious Predictions
1. Andy Dalton will be a top-10 QB on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Right now Dalton's NFFC ADP is 17, so I'll count it as non-obvious, even if it's obvious to me. Dalton had 8.4 YPA in 2015 and was in the MVP conversation before he got hurt, gets A.J. Green, Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert back and added rookies John Ross (4.22 40) and Joe Mixon (another strong pass-catching back.) Plus, Dalton gets extra points with his legs (11 rush TD last three years.)
Verdict: False and not even close. He was 22nd among 29 QBs who played at least 10 games. 0-1
2. Cam Newton will be a top-5 QB on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Newton had a top-five all time fantasy QB season in 2015 and was the top QB per ADP last year, so what's really changed? He once again has an easier schedule (last year's was one of the league's toughest), he's got Kelvin Benjamin now two years removed from ACL surgery, Devin Funchess in Year 3, and two dynamic rookies in Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel. Moreover, Newton was hurt last year and was healthy enough this summer to play in a preseason game. He also vows to keep running.
Verdict: True. Newton finished fifth overall in fantasy points per game (23) and fourth if you don't count Watson who played only seven games. 1-1
3. Brandin Cooks will be a top-five receiver
People are speculating about whether Danny AmendoLOLa will have a significant role in Julian Edelman's absence because Amendola is famililar with the slot. Or maybe it's Rex Burkhead, according to one scribe. Don't overthink this. The Patriots will get the ball into the hands of their best players as often as possible, and those players are Rob Gronkowski, good for 120 or so targets if he's healthy and Cooks, who could see most of Edelman's 159 from last year. Given Cooks' hyper efficiency (10.0 YPT last season), that would be Antonio Brown territory.
Verdict: False. In non-PPR he was 12th, and lower than that in PPR. 1-2
4. Larry Fitzgerald will not be a top-40 per-game PPR WR (min 10 games)
His current ADP in the NFFC is 25, but unfortunately he does not get extra points for leading the NFL in catches in 2016. Fitzgerald turned 34 last week, and his 9.6 YPC last year shows his expected decline is well under way.
Verdict: False. Not only did he finish in the top-40 through 16 weeks, he finished in the top four. 1-3.
5. Todd Gurley will be a top-5 back on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Gurley was the consensus No. 2 back by ADP last year, and nothing has changed for the worse since. Jeff Fisher is gone, Jared Goff has a season under his belt and Sammy Watkins is around to keep defenses somewhat honest. The talent and opportunity are there.
Verdict: True. Gurley was easily the No. 1 back. 2-3
6. Carlos Hyde will be a top-10 back on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Kyle Shanahan's system worked wonders for the Falcons, and Hyde has a better body of work heading into 2017 than Devonta Freeman did heading into 2015. Moreover, Hyde has the backfield all to himself, as his main competition, Joe Williams went to IR, and Tim Hightower was released.
Verdict: False. He was the 10th best back in PPR, 11th in non-PPR. 2-4
7. Jay Ajayi will be a top-five back on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
He was a monster last year, and the team has raved about him this offseason. He also gets four games against the Jets and Bills and should see more work in the passing game.
Verdict: False. He struggled so much in Miami they traded him. 2-5
8. Hunter Henry will be a top-five TE on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Henry tied for the NFL lead in TE scores with eight last year as as rookie on a meager 53 targets. Rookie TEs rarely do anything, so Henry is a major outlier already, and he's reportedly clicking with Philip Rivers this summer.
Verdict: False. He had a nice run late in the year before getting hurt, but finished 10th. 2-6
9. Jimmy Graham will be a top-three TE on a per-game basis (min 10 games)
Graham is arguably a top-five all-time receiving TE, he's another year removed from a major knee injury and is the only pass catcher in Seattle taller than six feet (he's 6-7.) When the Seahawks get to the red zone, expect Graham to see the bulk of the targets.
Verdict: False. He's fifth through 16 weeks and could finish fourth, but was a long way from the big three (Gronk, Kelce and Ertz.) 2-7
10. The Giants will be a top-five fantasy defense
I predicted this last year and fell short, but in Year 2 under Steve Spagnuolo, with all of their key pieces back, I think this unit will do damage. Recall in 2007, Spagnuolo's first year with the team, the defense didn't jell until the playoffs, culminating with a Super Bowl win over arguably the greatest offense of all time. The following year, the Giants defense was dominant through 12 games, before Justin Tuck got hurt. Expect this season to be like 2008 (hopefully without the devastating injury) where the unit is in sync from the start. Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, three top corners, Landon Collins and Damon Harrison make this one of the league's best real-life defenses too.
11. One of the following teams make the playoffs: the Rams, 49ers, Browns, Bears, Bills, Jets, Jaguars or Colts.
Normally, this is a no brainer, but it's hard to see any of them doing it as the NFL with its haves and have-nots looks more like the NBA this year. Still, uncertainty and having eight teams makes this a good bet.
Verdict: True. Two teams, the Jaguars and Rams made it, and the Bills aren't entirely dead, either. 3-8
12. Tyreek Hill will not be a top-30 WR
Maybe he makes the adjustment to running outside routes, but his per-play pass-catching numbers last year (9.7 YPC, 7.1 YPT) look more like that of a running back or TE. Alex Smith doesn't help, either.
Verdict: False. Not only was Hill top-30 in non-PPR, he was top three. 3-9
These players are so similar - high-volume short pass catchers, not much red-zone work - it's crazy the one who gets hurt every year is ranked ahead of the one who doesn't.
Verdict: False. Allen was fourth in non-PPR, Tate 24th. 3-10
14. Sammy Watkins will be a top-15 WR in non-PPR
No per-game qualifier here as everyone knows a big part of the risk with Watkins is health. But he's an elite playmaker when healthy, and Goff will prove to be just competent enough to support him.
Verdict False: Watkins stayed healthy, and Goff progressed, but the opportunity oddly wasn't there. 3-11
15. John Brown will be a top-20 WR in non-PPR
Again, no per-game qualifier for obvious reasons. I'm not a doctor, but I do know he's had the sickle-cell trait his entire life and was just fine until last year. With Fitzgerald at 34 and no other pass-catchers of which to speak besides running back David Johnson, Brown has major upside.
Brown caught 12 TDs last year, but he doesn't get a ton of red-zone or goal-line work, and that was without Martavis Bryant and Vance McDonald around. Jones has historically underperformed near the goal line, but Kyle Shanahan (who's been notoriously stingy to his top WR near the goal line) is gone, and Matt Ryan lacks other quality options.
Verdict: False. 3-13
17. Josh Gordon will be reinstated at some point this season
The NFL is in the dark ages when it comes to marijuana, but the Ezekiel Elliott suspension despite its own investigator's recommendation against it shows it's conscious of its past failures with respect to domestic violence. In other words, it's evolving - whether in earnest or for cynical public relations purposes - and banning athletes who have harmed nobody is a bad look. If Gordon doesn't relapse, he'll be reinstated.
Verdict: True! Crushed that one. 4-13
It's virtually unheard of for one team to have two 50-ish-catch backs, but with the Jets tanking, I'd expect a ton of dump-offs to the two time-share pass catchers.
Verdict: False. Unless they catch 51 passes between them in Week 17. 4-14
The Patriots miss the playoffs. The Patriots lose in the AFC Championship game or earlier.
With the Jets and Bills in their division, the Patriots get a 4-0 cushion to start the year, and they're good for at least 7-5 in the remaining games, so playoffs are a virtual lock, and this is probably the case even if Tom Brady went down, and Jimmy Garoppolo had to play. But someone legitimate will emerge this year - the Titans, Chargers, Steelers, Bengals, Broncos and Dolphins - are my candidates, and the Patriots defense isn't anything special.
Verdict: TBD I forgot when I was making these that I score them in Week 17, but they'll be favored in both games. 4-14-1
20. Some of these predictions will turn out to be wrong.
Verdict: True. You might think that last one is cheating, but it comes at a cost: I can never go 20 for 20. Total: 5-14-1.
Week 16 Observations
• The Eagles are toast in the playoffs. Their defense is okay, but having Carson Wentz extend drives he had no business extending protected them. You can't be life and death with the Giants and Raiders and get anywhere. It was nice of them to push ATS on that last-second defensive TD, though why not kick the PAT and cover outright?
•Marshawn Lynch still has it. It'll be interesting to see whether he comes back in 2018.
•Amari Cooper had the easiest TD of all time, probably on everyone's bench given his status, YTD performance and that he was playing Monday night.
• If Antonio Brown is himself in time for the Divisional round, his injury might have helped the Steelers. Martavis Bryant and Juju Smith-Schuster are both good receivers, and Bryant looks engaged and focused again. This is the best receiving corps in the NFL, especially given McDonald is an upgrade at TE, and Bell is obviously top-tier at RB.
•Alfred Blue had the rare 100-yard game in a 34-6 loss. Congratulations to him.
•DeAndre Hopkins always gets his, even if he has to create a catchable deflection to himself.
• It's so great the Giants brought Eli Manning back. Losing 23-0 with two picks and a fumble is so much more dignified.
• Jason Garrett was rightly pilloried on Twitter for throwing the ball at the goal line rather than handing to Zeke Elliott, but Garrett's cowardice seems to have affected Dak Prescott too. Prescott holds the ball too long, never takes shots down the field and checks down to sluggish Jason Witten on every play. I once thought Prescott was Russell Wilson 2.0, but now he looks like peak Jason Campbell.
•Dez Bryant has probably lost a step, but it's hard to know because the Cowboys so rarely even try for a big play.
• It was another surprisingly bad game for the Seattle passing game. Russell Wilson got 4.4 YPA, and that's not including three sacks. Jimmy Graham is a goal-line specialist only, basically Benjarvus Green-Ellis, circa 2011.
•Jimmy Garoppolo is somehow exceeding the substantial hype. He had 8.1 YPA, two passing TDs and a rushing TD against the Jaguars, while the 49ers put up 44 points. There will be a lot of pressure on whoever the Patriots take with that second-round pick, especially after the 49ers beat the Patriots in the 2018 Super Bowl.
•Blake Bortles made some egregious picks, but still put up massive fantasy numbers. The Jaguars aren't the 2000 Ravens because Bortles has more upside and downside than game-manager Trent Dilfer. I'd still bet on the Jaguars to do damage in the playoffs, though.
•Jameis Winston had a massive 13.6 YPA in Carolina, but the Bucs still found a way to lose the game. The Panthers are such an ugly team, though.
• I don't have anything to say about the Broncos-Redskins game. There's nothing interesting about either team.
• The Saints and Vikings are the NFC's two best teams. The Rams are good too, but Greg Zuerlein's injury was significant for them. I'm still rooting for Seattle to secure the last spot. Despite their underwhelming play, I always feel Wilson gives them a puncher's chance.
• The Bills hung with the Patriots until Sean McDermott for God knows what reason tried a 50-yard FG on 4th-and-1, down seven with 13 minutes left in the game. Stephen Hauschka missed, and the Patriots scored on the next drive, putting the game out of reach.
•Alex Smith had a Year 13 breakout after all. It's beyond bizarre a former no-upside dink-and-dunker like Smith would finish as the QB2 in fantasy.
•Jay Cutler and the Dolphins really believe in DaVante Parker. He had 10 more targets in Week 16, giving him 22 over the last two weeks. Parker's production was modest, however.
•Todd Gurley is probably on a higher percentage of fantasy league winners than any back in league history. Not only was he a top regular season player but he's had 270 rushing yards, 13 catches, 176 receiving yards and six TDs the last two weeks in your fantasy playoffs. And his Week 14 – 135 YFS, three catches and two TDs – was a big lift too.
•Joe Mixon looked good early before getting hurt again, and Gio Bernard had a massive game – 168 YFS, seven catches and a TD. Mixon has a future, but Bernard has always been good when healthy. If the Bengals can improve their offensive line, the duo can be a poor man's Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara.
•Eric Ebron will go into 2018 with a new round of hype. I'd bet he delivers this time – TE is the skill position that typically takes the most time to learn.
• The DeShone Kizer experiment was not fun while it lasted, especially if you started Corey Coleman over Ted Ginn in a high-stakes matchup. In my defense, Coleman (one catch, three yards) had more targets (six) than Ginn (five.) It turns out Kizer targets in Chicago are less valuable than Brees targets at home against the Falcons. Who knew volume wasn't always king?
• I watched maybe 5-10 minutes of the Packers-Vikings game on my phone in the aftermath of a boozy Christmas party I attended in London. I was nearly blacked-out during the party and have nothing to say about the game.
• For similar reasons, I didn't watch any of the Ravens-Colts, but it was nice having Justin Tucker in a couple key places.
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