NFL: Health and Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

NFL: 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

1Patrick MahomesChristian McCaffreyTyreek HillTravis Kelce
2Josh AllenDalvin CookDeAndre HopkinsGeorge Kittle
3Kyler MurraySaquon BarkleyCalvin RidleyDarren Waller
4Dak PrescottEzekiel ElliottStefon DiggsMark Andrews
5Lamar JacksonAlvin KamaraDK MetcalfKyle Pitts
6Justin HerbertDerrick HenryTerry McLaurinT.J. Hockenson
7Russell WilsonNick ChubbDavante AdamsDallas Goedert
8Jalen HurtsJonathan TaylorA.J. BrownNoah Fant
9Aaron RodgersNajee HarrisJustin JeffersonRob Gronkowski
10Tom BradyAntonio GibsonAllen RobinsonTyler Higbee
11Matthew StaffordAustin EkelerMichael ThomasIrv Smith
12Trevor LawrenceAaron JonesKeenan AllenMike Gesicki
13Ryan TannehillCam AkersCooper KuppHunter Henry
14Joe BurrowClyde Edwards-HelaireDJ MooreJared Cook
15Matt RyanJoe MixonCeeDee LambLogan Thomas
16Kirk CousinsD'Andre SwiftMike EvansJonnu Smith
17Daniel JonesJ.K. DobbinsChris GodwinAustin Hooper
18Deshaun WatsonChris CarsonAmari CooperBlake Jarwin
19Ryan FitzpatrickDavid MontgomeryDiontae JohnsonGerald Everett
20Baker MayfieldRaheem MostertDJ CharkAnthony Firkser

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:

Opportunity-Neutral Rankings

1Lamar JacksonChristian McCaffreyDK MetcalfGeorge Kittle
2Patrick MahomesAlvin KamaraA.J. BrownTravis Kelce
3Josh AllenSaquon BarkleyTyreek HillKyle Pitts
4Kyler MurrayTravis EtienneMike EvansRob Gronkowski
5Jalen HurtsDalvin CookTerry McLaurinMark Andrews
6Russell WilsonAustin EkelerJustin JeffersonDarren Waller
7Dak PrescottClyde Edwards-HelaireCalvin RidleyT.J. Hockenson
8Aaron RodgersEzekiel ElliottStefon DiggsO.J. Howard
9Deshaun WatsonAntonio GibsonDavante AdamsNoah Fant
10Trey LanceJonathan TaylorDJ MooreDallas Goedert
11Taysom HillDerrick HenryChris GodwinTyler Higbee
12Ryan TannehillNick ChubbAntonio BrownIrv Smith
13Justin HerbertD'Andre SwiftDeAndre HopkinsHunter Henry
14Trevor LawrenceAaron JonesAllen RobinsonJonnu Smith
15Tom BradyRaheem MostertKenny GolladayMike Gesicki
16Matthew StaffordTrey SermonAmari CooperGerald Everett
17Joe BurrowMiles SandersMike WilliamsBlake Jarwin
18Daniel JonesKareem HuntOdell BeckhamJared Cook
19Cam NewtonJoe MixonWill FullerEvan Engram
20Ryan FitzpatrickCam AkersDJ CharkRobert Tonyan

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. 

At TE, Kittle, Kyle Pitts and Rob Gronkowski move up, as does O.J. Howard, in the unlikely event he had a big role. 

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 MahomesEzekiel ElliottDeAndre HopkinsTravis Kelce
2Russell WilsonNick ChubbDK MetcalfDarren Waller
3Dak PrescottDerrick HenryStefon DiggsMark Andrews
4Josh AllenDalvin CookJustin JeffersonGeorge Kittle
5Matthew StaffordChristian McCaffreyAllen RobinsonT.J. Hockenson
6Tom BradyAlvin KamaraCalvin RidleyKyle Pitts
7Lamar JacksonJonathan TaylorA.J. BrownDallas Goedert
8Kyler MurrayAaron JonesTerry McLaurinNoah Fant
9Justin HerbertCam AkersDavante AdamsRob Gronkowski
10Aaron RodgersSaquon BarkleyMichael ThomasTyler Higbee
11Kirk CousinsJoe MixonKeenan AllenMike Gesicki
12Matt RyanAustin EkelerAmari CooperIrv Smith
13Ryan TannehillNajee HarrisRobert WoodsHunter Henry
14Jalen HurtsDavid MontgomeryMike EvansLogan Thomas
15Baker MayfieldAntonio GibsonCeeDee LambJared Cook
16Trevor LawrenceD'Andre SwiftChris GodwinAustin Hooper
17Joe BurrowJ.K. DobbinsDJ MooreJonnu Smith
18Derek CarrClyde Edwards-HelaireCooper KuppBlake Jarwin
19Carson WentzChris CarsonJulio JonesAnthony Firkser
20Daniel JonesJosh JacobsAdam ThielenRobert Tonyan

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.

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss was RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio from 2001-2022.
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