Health and Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

Health and Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

This article is part of our NFL Observations series.

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

1Lamar JacksonChristian McCaffreyMichael ThomasTravis Kelce
2Patrick MahomesSaquon BarkleyOdell BeckhamGeorge Kittle 
3Dak PrescottDalvin CookDavante AdamsMark Andrews
4Kyler MurrayAlvin KamaraDeAndre HopkinsZach Ertz
5Russell WilsonEzekiel ElliottChris GodwinRob Gronkowski
6Deshaun WatsonDerrick HenryTyreek HillDarren Waller
7Carson WentzJoe MixonJulio JonesEvan Engram
8Cam NewtonAaron JonesAllen RobinsonHunter Henry
9Matt RyanMiles SandersAdam ThielenJared Cook
10Josh AllenNick ChubbKenny GolladayT.J. Hockenson
11Daniel JonesKenyan DrakeD.J. MooreMike Gesicki
12Joe BurrowJosh JacobsAmari CooperHayden Hurst
13Baker MayfieldClyde Edwards-HelaireDJ CharkGreg Olsen
14Matthew StaffordAustin EkelerMike EvansDallas Goedert
15Tom BradyJonathan TaylorTerry McLaurinJonnu Smith
16Ryan TannehillJames ConnerJuJu Smith-SchusterNoah Fant
17Aaron RodgersTodd GurleyA.J. BrownTyler Higbee
18Drew BreesMelvin GordonCalvin RidleyAustin Hooper
19Jared GoffChris CarsonCourtland SuttonIrv Smith
20Ben RoethlisbergerMark IngramDK MetcalfBlake Jarwin

Several players see significant boosts over their actual rankings: Lamar Jackson leapfrogs Patrick Mahomes for the top spot among QBs, and Cam Newton is No. 8 as he could lead all QBs in rushing TDs should he hold up for 16 games.  At RB, Dalvin Cook shoots up to No. 3, while the durable Zeke Elliott drops to No. 5. James Conner, Todd Gurley, Chris Carson and Mark Ingram also get boosts. At WR, Odell Beckham moves all the way to No. 2, and 30-year old Adam Thielen jumps to ninth. Finally at TE, Rob Gronkowski moves ahead of Darren Waller, and the oft-injured Evan Engram and Greg Olsen also get bumped up. 

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

1Lamar JacksonChristian McCaffreyTyreek HillGeorge Kittle
2Patrick MahomesAlvin KamaraMichael ThomasMark Andrews
3Russell WilsonSaquon BarkleyOdell BeckhamTravis Kelce
4Dak PrescottClyde Edwards-HelaireA.J. BrownRob Gronkowski
5Kyler MurrayAustin EkelerKenny GolladayEvan Engram
6Ryan TannehillDalvin CookChris GodwinHunter Henry
7Deshaun WatsonAaron JonesMike EvansJonnu Smith
8Cam NewtonMiles SandersDavante AdamsDarren Waller
9Josh AllenJoe MixonDeAndre HopkinsJared Cook
10Jalen HurtsKenyan DrakeMecole HardmanZach Ertz
11Carson WentzEzekiel ElliottDK MetcalfT.J. Hockenson
12Daniel JonesKareem HuntTyler LockettO.J. Howard
13Matt RyanDamien WilliamsAmari CooperNoah Fant
14Tyrod TaylorJames ConnerMarquise BrownDallas Goedert
15Joe BurrowNick ChubbDJ CharkMike Gesicki
16Drew BreesDerrick HenryWill FullerIrv Smith
17Matthew StaffordJonathan TaylorTerry McLaurinGerald Everett
18Gardner MinshewJ.K. DobbinsT.Y. HiltonHayden Hurst
19Mitchell TrubiskyMark IngramDarius SlaytonBlake Jarwin
20Jameis WinstonTony PollardJulio JonesChris Herndon

This is where it gets interesting. All the running QBs get big boosts, including rookie Jalen Hurts, who is a long shot to play much this year as he's likely third string. Still, he rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 TDs in college last year. At a minimum he'd be a top-10 QB were Wentz to get hurt and Nate Sudfeld falter. I even put Mitchell Trubisky and Jameis Winston in the top-20, given Trubisky's running ability and Winston's set-up should something happen to Drew Brees

At RB, Alvin Kamara moves to No. 2. 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 if Latavius Murray got hurt. Clyde Edwards-Helaire moves to No. 4 with that workload in an elite offense and with tons of receptions, as do Austin Ekeler, Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams and Tony Pollard.  (Note, I didn't rank pure 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 Edwards-Helaire is in that category, but he's 5-7, 207 (fairly stout) and had 215 carries last year in college.) 

At WR, Tyreek Hill is atop the list – target for target, I'd take him over Michael Thomas given Hill's big-play ability and his QB's arm. Beckham moves to No. 3, with A.J. Brown, who led all WR in YPT as a rookie, slotting at four. Kenny Golladay, Mecole Hardman, Marquise Brown and Will Fuller  all get massive boosts too. 

At TE, Rob Gronkowski gets a boost, as does Evan Engram, Jonnu Smith and O.J. Howard. Zach Ertz drops about six spots, and both George Kittle and Mark Andrews move ahead of Travis Kelce

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 ignore the tight ends beyond the top five:

Floor-Only Rankings

1Patrick MahomesChristian McCaffreyMichael ThomasTravis Kelce
2Lamar JacksonSaquon BarkleyDavante AdamsGeorge Kittle
3Russell WilsonEzekiel ElliottTyreek HillZach Ertz
4Dak PrescottAlvin KamaraChris GodwinMark Andrews
5Matt RyanNick ChubbDeAndre HopkinsDarren Waller
6Kyler MurrayDerrick HenryJulio JonesJared Cook
7Deshaun WatsonJoe MixonAllen RobinsonHunter Henry
8Matthew StaffordJosh JacobsD.J. MooreMike Gesicki
9Josh AllenAaron JonesAmari CooperDallas Goedert
10Carson WentzDalvin CookKenny GolladayTyler Higbee
11Jared GoffMiles SandersAdam ThielenAustin Hooper
12Drew BreesKenyan DrakeCalvin RidleyEvan Engram
13Aaron RodgersJonathan TaylorCooper KuppJack Doyle
14Daniel JonesClyde Edwards-HelaireJuJu Smith-SchusterJonnu Smith
15Kirk CousinsAustin EkelerCourtland SuttonT.J. Hockenson
16Ben RoethlisbergerDevin SingletaryTerry McLaurinNoah Fant
17Ryan TannehillMelvin GordonA.J. BrownHayden Hurst
18Baker MayfieldLe'Veon BellMike EvansRob Gronkowski
19Tom BradyDavid MontgomeryDK MetcalfIrv Smith
20Joe BurrowMark IngramDJ CharkGreg Olsen

This shuffles the deck quite a bit. Matt Ryan moves up to five, and Matthew Stafford all the way to eight as non-running QBs take on less risk. Even nondescript scrubs like Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins make appearances. 

For RB, Ezekiel Elliott checks in at No. 3. Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry also see spikes for their projected heavy usage and clean bills of health. Josh Jacobs moves up, while injury prone and potential holdout Dalvin Cook drops down. 

At WR, target hog Davante Adams gets a boost, as do Allen Robinson, Cooper Kupp and Calvin Ridley, while the injury prone Beckham drops out entirely. 

At TE, there's no one with much floor after the top five, but I did drop Rob Gronkowski down to 18th, as his floor is effectively zero. Injury prone Evan Engram also dropped a good deal. 

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.
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