by Noah Pires
July 16, 2019
Saquon Barkley - New York Giants - RB1, 1.5 Overall
Saquon Barkley is the consensus RB1 in fantasy football (as of now), but is that where he should be at? Obviously he's an insane athlete who had many factors working against him in his rookie year, but despite this, he still produced an ended the year as a top three back. He found the endzone 15 total times while collecting 91 receptions, a combination that gave him one of the safest floors in all of 2018. In my opinion, though, that TD number is likely to regress heading into the new season, making it more of a debate as to who is the true RB1.
Just looking at the offense he's in, they're not good. They lose OBJ, a receiver who not only helps stretch the field, but also makes the team as a whole more efficient and effective, and decided to replace him with a slot receiver. Now, only boasting Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram, the Giants are going to be one of the league's lowest scoring, leas efficient, offenses, one which relies on short passes from an aging and declining QB. Not a good thing for Barkley at all. Sure, 100+ receptions is in the cards for the second-year back, but when comparing him to the others in this tier, that may not be good enough if (and when) he fails to surpass double digit touchdowns. It may sound unreasonable that he'd fall short of this mark, but last year, 10/11 of his rushing scores came from either five or less yards or from 50+ yards out. Although he's proven throughout both college and the NFL that he can break long runs, I'm not sure those 50+ yard scores will be predictable next year when defenses are stacking the box every play (averaged 3.9 YPC when facing stacked boxes in 2018), which they can do because of atrocious QB play and the Giants' inability to beat defenses deep. If those long scores regress, and the Giants are as bad offensively as they look on paper, these goal line carries will also decline, further lowering the TD floor for Quan.
Everything I've said about him is negative, but the reason for that isn't because I hate him, it's because y'all already know how good he is. Nobody would want to read an article talking about how good of a football player Barkleu is because, frankly, that's common knowledge. He's still one of the safest picks you could make at the 1.01 because even if he scores eight times, his 100 receptions and 350+ touches will make up for those six point tugs. All I'm saying is, maybe he shouldn't be the unquestioned number one because of these four backs, he is easily in the worst situation.
Christian McCaffrey - Carolina Panthers - RB2, 2.4 Overall
As for McCaffrey, it may not seem like his ceiling is on par with the other four backs, but when you consider his situation, lack of competition, and the role he plays in this offense, he has as good a chance as any to end the season as the RB1.
Last season, before Week 17 (when they limited his snaps because the game was pointless), CMC missed a total of 29 snaps. TWENTY NINE. If that doesn't speak to his durability, I don't know what will. Oh wait, yes I do - look at his college numbers. Over his final two seasons at Stanford, he averaged over 26 touches per game, and dating back to 2016, has only sat out ONCE due to an injury (hip pull in 2016). He has a legit chance to top 100 catches and flirt with 250 carries, a touch total that even if he were to be extremely inefficient with, would net him a top-15 finish at the very least. Because of this sheer volume, paired with being on what projects to be an above average offense, running behind one of the league's most complete offensive lines, McCaffrey should be in the consideration for the 1.01.
As for his concerns, I don't have many, which is what sets him apart from Barkley in my opinion. I guess you could argue that Cam not being 100% by the start of the season could hamper his success, but it wasn't like Newton was completely healthy in 2018 either, and we all know what Christian did.
If I have the 1.01, and for some reason I don't want to consider Zeke or Kamara at all, and it's just beteween CMC and Saquon, I'd honestly have to lean with the Panther because I don't want to spend the first overall selection on someone who has innumerable question marks when I could side with a player getting similar touches, both in amount and style (receptions), on a better offense.
Ezekiel Elliott - Dallas Cowboys - RB3. 2.5 Overall
Now, for who's my 1.01, it's Zeke. His rushing floor is extremely safe, as he has led the league in rushing in two of three seasons, with his only year missing the mark being due to a suspension (still averaged the most rushing yards per game), and showed last season he could be a viable option in the passing game.
And there lies his biggest question mark, in my eyes: can he repeat his passing game usage in 2019? My answer? Yes, I firmly believe he can, for multiple reasons. First, this offense vastly improved after the addition of Amari Cooper, not only averaging six more plays per game, but also throwing the ball a lot more, even to the RB position. Just look at how Elliott performed after AC's arrival:
Sure, his touchdowns numbers were still unimpressive, but a 104 reception pace? That's Barkley-esque. I don't think Zeke will top the century mark, or even match Saquon's reception total this season, but he doesn't need to in order to end as the RB1. These splits prove he's going to play a vital role in the passing game, and even if that means 70 receptions (where I see his floor sitting around), that total is more than enough to help him finish as the best RB in fantasy football. The only thing holding him back last year was his TD total - nine - but I think if anything, that was a outlier. He hit 15 as a rookie, was on pace for 14 in his Sophomore campaign, and saw 39 redzone rushes last year, the 8th most in the league. As his TDs trend upward and his passcatching usage remains, both likely scenarios in 2019, Zeke not only becomes the safest back in the league, but also one with the highest upside.
Alvin Kamara - New Orleans Saints - RB4, 3.7 Overall
Kamara is by far in a way the last one in this tier, but not in my eyes. Sure, I have him ranked 4th, but it's not like he's in a completely different tier for me. Where others are worried about him not being a true bellcow back like the others in the top four, I have absolutely zero concerns. Why? Because he's NEVER been a bellcow, and despite this, has finished inside the top four each of the past two seasons.
Sure, you can be concerned about the addition of Latavius Murray, but that actually gives me confidence. It not only shows the team wants to maintain a run-centric approach (5th highest run % in 2018), but also helps preserve Kamara's health since he won't be ran up the middle 25 times per game. Making an argument against volume? Usually, that's asinine, but in AK's case, it's been proven to work, and I don't see a way his production falls off any time soon.
The guy has literally averaged one touchdown per game throughout his career, and with how he's used, could easily match his 18 scores from 2018 this year. He doesn't have the size Murray boasts, but he also didn't have Ingram's frame, yet commanded the 2nd most red zone carries (51) last season and turned 13 rushes inside the five yard line (4th most) into eight scores.
The other concern may be how he seemed to be phased out of the passing game a bit down the stretch, but when you look at the game where he saw less than five targets in, the finals scores were 43-19, 48-7,and 31-17 (were up 24-3 at one point), AKA, blowouts. The other games he failed to reach that mark in was against Baltimore, an extremely stout defense (yet Kamara commanded 19 tocuhes and found the endzone) and in the playoffs against the Eagles (saw 20 touches and topped 100 YFS). What I'm getting at is even if he isn't used as heavily in the passing game as we'd like on occasion, he's still getting the necessary touches, and being efficient enough on those looks, to warrant a top 12 weekly finish. Also, I wouldn't expect many more 48-7 or 43-19 performances out of the Saints as they look to move towards a more ball-dominant approach, further bolstering Kamara's touch floor.
I have zero issue if you have him as the RB4, as I do, but there's no reason for AK to fall outside of this tier after all he's proven. He has as high of a cieling as Saquon, and despite the touch limit, as safe a floor as Zeke. Honestly, as I'm writing this, I see nothing wrong with him being the 1.01 and may actually have to move him up, all things considered. I mean, he's on the best offense of these four, will catch 80+ balls, and could easily score 16+ times. Sign me up.
MY RANKS----> ZEKE, CMC, BARKLEY, KAMARA
Michael Thomas - New Orleans Saints - WR3, 12.4 Overall
MT is the first of this tier going off the board, but for me, I'm a little more hesitant. Yes, I think he's a great receiver and a lock to finish as a WR1, but the other guys around him have such a higher ceiling that I don't thinking I'll be owning any shares of Thomas if these ADPs persist.
Not only is this because I think all of these players are extremely close and I'd just take the cheapest option of the bunch because of that, but it's also due to the situation Thomas finds himself in. Last year, MT was the Saints' only receiver, and that isn't hyperbole. Aside from Alvin Kamara, who isn't even a wide receiver, not a single other player on New Orleans' roster topped 50 targets. Hell, Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith combined for 74, a total which trailed Thomas' volume by 73. Heading into his second year, I'd expect Smith to see a slight uptick in targets especially after showing on a few occasions he could run with the big dogs (10/157/1 and 3/111/3 receiving lines in two games last year). Along with Smith, Jared Cook comes into town, a player who commanded 101 targets in 2018 as well as seeing at least 75 looks each season since 2010 (some were partial seasons but was on pace to top 75). He was Oakland's #1 last year after Amari Cooper's departure, so I don't expect him to flirt with the century mark this year, but it's just another warm body in this NOLA offense that stands to take food off of Thomas' plate.
Not only do these additional weapons make me nervous about Thomas' upside, but also how the Saints transitioned to a run-heavier approach gives me pause about putting him inside the top three. They ran the ball 46% of the time in 2018, the 5th highest percentage, and down the stretch, this really impacted Thomas' fantasy production. Over the first three weeks, he was incredible, but everything he did over that span was barely matched for the rest of the year.
Honestly, it was kind of disappointing owning MT last year because you kept chasing those breakout games which he made seem so regular after his hot start. On top of this, his overall volume began to drop over the second half of the year.
What exactly did this stem from? Well, I'd believe it to be the implementation of Mark Ingram after his suspension, giving them a more balanced running game, the age of Drew Brees, who tailed off at the end of the year, and their improving defense. With how their roster is shaping up, I'd expect this trend to continue into 2019, so this, paired with more mouths to feed, caps his upside.
With all this being said, have I lost faith in Thomas? No, absolutely not. There are only a handful of receivers who can command a 28%+ target share, and he's still one of them. The likely decrease in volume makes him tough to select over the others in this tier, but if he begins to fall around draft season, I'd still have no isse grabbing him in the early second round as a high floor receiver.
Julio Jones - Atlanta Falcons - WR4, 13.4 Overall
There's really nothing to say about Julio. The guy has proven year in and year out that he's a perennial top-five receiver (finished as such in three of the past four seasons) and has showed no signs of slowing down. Last year he played with our hearts a bit, not finding the endzone for the first seven weeks, yet still finished inside the top-12 three times (and top-20 in four weeks) in that span. He's one of those rare players that doesn't need to score to bring relevance, but I'd imagine the Falcons try to use him a bit more by the goal line this season.
He obviously has the skillset and athleticism necessary to produce in this area of the field, as he displayed down the stretch in 2018, so all that's left is opportunity. With Dirk Koetter back in town, their passing volume should remain one of the highest in the league, making JJ a near lock to see 150+ looks.
I mean, we saw just how much he utilized Mike Evans in Tampa, as he surpassed 1,500 yards last year and has seen 135+ looks each year since DK got into town, so there should be absolutely zero concerns about the new OC in the ATL.
Julio has one of the safest floors due to his consistent reception totals (100+ three of past five szns) and yardage output (1,400+ each year since 2014), so if he works his way to double digit scores this year, he has a realistic chance to finish as the WR1, which is why he tops this tier for me.
Odell Beckham Jr. - Cleveland Browns - WR5, 14.7 Overall
My only concern with OBJ? His injury history. He's dealt with multiple lower body injuries, such as a fractured fibula and ankle sprains, making him a hard player to draft this year. Sports Injury Predictor basically says he's a lock to miss almost half the season, but what do they know, they're just doctors.
Aside from this, there should be absolutely ZERO worries about Beckham heading into 2019. Yes, it's a new team, one with a young QB transitioning to a new OC, but guess what? That situation is one million times better than having to catch balls from Eli Manning at this point in his career.
Todd Monken enters Cleveland after a three year stint as the OC with the Bucs, a span where the team averaged 603 pass attempts per season. The Browns ended last year at 574, so if anything, they will match 2018's total. With this volume, if OBJ commands just a 25% market share on 574 attempts, a number which is exceedingly low for a player of his caliber, it would translate into 144 looks. On 600 attempts, it would work out to 150. Seeing 145+ looks from Baker Mayfield will bring value to any wideout (Jarvis Landry was WR18 on 149 targets last year), but one who topped 1,000 yards in just 12 games with a decrepit Eli Manning throwing him the ball isn't just any receiver. OBJ's skillset matches Baker to a t, as he's someone who wins over the middle with excellent route running while also being able to get leverage deep with long speed. Mayfield was the third most accurate QB on deep balls last year (51.4%), and that wasn't because he attempted just a few of them. He tossed 72 balls of 20+ yards and was on pace for 83, a total which would have ranked him 4th behind only Mahomes, Big Ben, and Aaron Rodgers. Mayfield fed Callaway on deep looks last year (19 targets), a receiver who isn't half as good as OBJ, so I'd expect him to atleast match this number, and with Baker's accuracy, that will bring immense fantasy value.
If we knew Odell would be healthy for a full 16 games, I don't think it would be bold to put him as the WR1. We've seen just how dominant he can be when on the field, and in a much better offensive system, the sky's the limit. By "the sky", I literally mean 1,600+ yards and 12+ touchdowns. Like clockwork. There are injury concerns, sadly, which is the only reason why he isn't in tier one, but if you like to live life on the edge, then there's no shame in grabbing him in the early second round. He has way too much upside to pass on because you know that if he's playing, there's about a 99% chance he ends the weeks as a WR1, and after a full 16, is a lock to end the year with that status as well.
JuJu Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers - WR6, 15.9 Overall
With AB now outta Pittsburgh, not only are 169 targets left behind, so is the WR1 chair. Everything we've seen from JuJu would suggest he should slide directly into this role, but I don't think he'll be AB 2.0. The most obvious reason for this is, well, because Brown may be one of the best five receivers of all time, and I'm not sure even for how good JJSS has been this type of acclaim is warranted. Along with this, JuJu is predominantly a slot receiver whereas Mr. Big Chest could lineup anywhere on the field and win with ease. The good thing is the 22 year old doesn't need to be on Brown's level to end the year as the WR1, he just needs volume, and volume is what he'll get.
He saw 166 targets last year while splitting looks, and now, I wouldn't be shocked if he rivals the 180 mark. Yes, the Steelers did throw A TON, 689 attempts to be exact, but even if this number drops drastically, all the way to 600, it would take a 30% target share for JJSS to reach 180 looks. He was at 24.5% last year, so it's a bit of a stretch, but keep in mind AB was at 26.7%, and with him being replaced by only Donte Moncrief and two unproven wideouts in Diontae Johnson and James Washington, it isn't unreasonable that Smith-Schuster could lead into that 30% territory. Again, even if he doesn't he's basically a lock for 150+ looks, a mark which only eight players hit last year.
On top of just overall volume, JuJu was also second in the league with 29 red zone targets, trailing just Davante Adams (31). AB totaled 24, so with his departure, #19 could challenge for the lead league, and although he did somewhat disappoint in the TD category last season, all we can ask for is opportunity, which is exactly what he's set to see.
Volume alone makes him a lock to finish inside the top-12 this year, so if a few of his chances in the redzone go his way (was tackled inside the two yard line 5x last year), he very well could finish as the WR1. Because of this, he's the second receiver in this tier for me, followed closely by OBJ. If Odell had a clean bill of health, he'd slot in ahead of JuJu (and likely Julio), but because he doesn't, I don't think I'd be able to take him while JJSS is still on the board.
MY RANKS ----> JULIO>JUJU>OBJ>MT
O.J. Howard - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - TE4, 51.8 Overall
Howard finds himself in a very good position heading into 2019. Other than him ending both of his first two seasons on the I.R., there's really nothing to be worried about. Firstly, he's in a high powered offense, one that threw the ball 625 times last season and has attempted an average of 603 over the past three years. Sure, Todd Monken and Dirk Koetter are out of town, but Bruce Arians now steps in, a coach who never attempted less than 562 passes during his time in Arizona. This, combined with 179 vacated targets left behind by Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, only works in Howard's favor. He was on pace to see 77 targets last year, so there should be no question he threatens the century mark in 2019. With his efficiency, depicted by his league leading fantasy points per target, fantasy points per pass route, yards per receptions, and yards per target, combined with this increased opportunity, I think it puts O.J. in a league of his own among the others in this tier. Yes, Henry may have the efficiency, but the volume isn't quite there, and Engram has the opportunity, but the offense blows, so O.J. brings the best of both worlds (players) at only a slightly higher price. If you miss out on any of the top three and want someone who has a realistic chance to finish as an elite contributor at the position, O.J. is your man.
Hunter Henry - Los Angeles Chargers - TE5, 59.7 Overall
It kinda hurts me to say this, but I'm not as in on Henry as I feel like I should be. Last year he was stepping in what looked to be the #2 role in the passing game, but as we saw last season, Mike Williams became a red zone monster and the myriad of runningbacks were heavily involved through the air as well. With the effectiveness of this offensive system in 2018, I'm not sure they move in a direction that accommodates all of Henry's needs while sacrificing the volume of others around him.
This isn't to say HH is useless, he's far from it. Henry may well be one of the top five tight ends in the league in an overall skillset due to his ability to catch passes and get his hands dirty in the trenches, so he will be involved, but will his usage bring enough fantasy value to warrant a 5th/6th round selection? He has seen a 19.7% and 25.4% red zone target share during his two years in the league, but with Keenan Allen seeing 39 RZ looks over the past two years, Mike Williams getting targeted 14 times inside the 20, and the RB position accounting for 27.8% of the team's RZ attempts. Like I said before, the Chargers aren't going to push what worked to the side, so I'm a little concerned about his TD upside, as he's only scored one of his 12 career touchdowns outside the 20 yard line.
The good thing, though, is even if his volume is limited, Henry has shown to be an efficient player, a trend which should continue in what looks to be a well above average offense. In just two years, he's already had a top-12 finish and ended his sophomore season in the top five for yards per pass route, yards per target, fantasy points per route, and fantasy points per target. Because of this, he doesn't need 100 looks to bring relevance, which is why I still think he deserves his spot in this tier, but I'm not sure I'm convinced his efficiency will trump the sheer volume Engram is set to see, which is why I'll likely be owning a lot more EE this season than HH, especially since he can be had at a much lesser price.
Evan Engram - New York Giants - TE6, 63.7 Overall
As with Saquon Barkley, the biggest downfall here is the Giants' offense. We all know Engram is an athletic freak and has a wide receiver's skillset, but is this enough to make him a weekly starter in 2019? Yes, yes it is.
Look around the league, how many good, or even mediocre, tight ends are there? 9-10...maybe. Of those, how many are going to see as many targets as Engram? Maybe....MAYBE three or four. As a rookie, he commanded 115 looks, a year where OBJ missed 12 games, and last year, was on pace to see 93 targets. With the GMen likely playing in negative game scripts on a weekly basis in 2019, they should come close to matching their 583 pass attempts from 2018. If this is the case, and Engram commands a 20% target share (which he saw as a rookie without OBJ), that would translate to 117 looks, which will likely surpass Henry's total by 30+. No matter what offense he plays in, 117 targets for a tight end all but guarantees a top five finish at the position. In fact, in 2018, there were only five tight ends that ended the year with >100 targets, each of which ended the year inside the top five. Maybe his TD total isn't as high as we'd like due to what looks to be an incompetent offense, along with his lack of redzone usage (averaged of nine per season), but with a legitimate shot of challenging 70 receptions and 900 yards, he doesn't need 8-10 scores to bring value. In my opinion, he's basically being selected at his floor, and being taken a full round behind Howard, I honestly wouldn't be too upset passing on O.J., grabbing a guy like Tyler Lockett at that spot instead, and waiting 12 picks to grab Engram. All I want out of a tight end is someone who I could start on a weekly basis, and that's you get out of Evan.
P.S. He's really good without OBJ.
by Nick Ercolano
October 26, 2020
by Nick Ercolano
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