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.)
The most notable boosts go to Saquon Barkley and George Kittle. Barkley is coming off a torn MCL, ACL and meniscus repair, while Kittle had an MCL sprain and a foot fracture last year. If everyone were guaranteed health, you could argue they should be No. 1 at their respective positions. Raheem Mostert gets an honorable mention – he was massive on a per-play basis the last couple years, but can't seem to stay healthy.
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:
If Lamar Jackson got 550 passing attempts, he'd be the No. 1 QB easily, given all the rushing to go with it. Jalen Hurts, Trey Lance, who had 1,100 rushing yards and 14 TDs in 2019 for North Dakota St., and Taysom Hill (eight rushing TDs last year), also get a boost. Even Cam Newton, given a full-time role, would have value.
For backs, all the pass catchers, but especially Travis Etienne, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Antonio Gibson, both Niners, Miles Sanders and Kareem Hunt move up. I could have listed Austin Ekeler even higher, but I think it's almost impossible for him to see 250 carries at 5-10, 200.
Among receivers, DK Metcalf lands in the No. 1 spot if everyone had the same number of targets as his are far down the field and often in the end zone. AJ Brown is also a per-play monster, while DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Keenan Allen fall. Other big play wideouts like Kenny Golladay, Mike Williams, Odell Beckham, Will Fuller and DJ Chark make the list.
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:
This is a very different list. Safe players like Russell Wilson, Tom Brady (insofar as a 44-year old can be safe), Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins move up. The more-likely-to-get-injured running QBs move down, particularly the unproven Jalen Hurts. This QB list (though not a draft list) makes more sense in two-QB leagues, where if you miss on one, there's real downside.
At RB, Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry move up – they're healthy and guaranteed big roles on their respective teams. Alvin Kamara moves down slightly with the new QB risk, and Barkley, Gibson and CEH all take a hit for different reasons.
At WR, Hopkins is an easy call at 1.1 for me in a floor league. I made Allen Robinson No. 5 – he's a good bet to be top-five in targets, and the QB play can't get any worse. Calvin Ridley would be No. 2, but for his foot surgery, and Davante Adams would be No. 1 were we sure Aaron Rodgers were suiting up for the Packers. Robert Woods also gets a big boost – his TD and big-play upside are minimal, but the targets are assured in a good offense, and he'll get some extra points on jet sweeps.
At TE, Kittle drops to No. 4 due to his injury history.