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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Fantasy Football Season Is Almost Here

It might be the height of summer, but some of us are dreaming of the dark nights in winter when fantasy football titles will be won and lost.

If you play for fun or big bucks, are in one league or 20 then you need to look at our rankings! All my rankings are based on ESPN standard scoring (so no points per reception or any of that extra stuff). And all these rankings are based on a mixture of off-season changes to team and circumstance, some of my own statistical analysis and good old fashioned gut instinct.

They'll be no overall ranking or general strategy guides here, mostly due to me wanting to keep my cards close to my chest so I can get back to winning ways this year! Nor will there be any D/ST or Kicker rankings, they're so unpredictable year to year and you shouldn't be drafting them until the end anyway. So have a look at my rankings and use them as a guide and I guarantee* you'll be dominating your league all season.

As ever, we're interested in any disagreement you might have with these rankings. If you think someone is too high or too low feel free to leave a comment, or contact us via Twitter or Facebook.

* - Not really.


1. Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
2. Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
3. Cam Newton - Carolina Panthers
4. Tom Brady - New England Patriots
5. Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
6. Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco 49ers
7. Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks
8. Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins
9. Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
10. Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts

Aaron Rodgers remains at the top of the QB rankings, mixing deadly accuracy with scrambling ability, while the return of Sean Payton sees Drew Brees safely in at No. 2. Beyond that however, it's not so clear cut.

Cam Newton's rushing ability, 1447 yards & 22 TD's in his 2 seasons, gives him a weapon the others in the top 5 don't have, and pushes him above Tom Brady now that Wes Welker and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are gone. That's not to say I think taking Brady above him is foolish. The Patriots offense works at such a high tempo that the sheer volume of plays could push Brady back up towards Rodgers and Brees, but with 2 key targets gone and question marks over Gronkowski's health the Patriots will almost certainly be keeping it on the ground more and turning to the running game in the red zone too. Tim Tebow may even take away some of Brady's QB sneak touchdowns (he had a career high 4 rushing TD's last season).

While Peyton Manning has found his cup overflowing with receiving options after the addition of Welker, a love of rushing at the goal line coupled with the fact that he hasn't scored a rushing TD himself since 2008 puts a cap on his fantasy value, and the issues he had throwing deep both at the start of the season and then again in the cold weather shouldn't be forgotten.

After the top 5 there's going to be a drop off, especially when it comes to consistency, and it's really a question of where your personal preferences lie. Colin Kaepernick is my 6 because of all the young QB's I feel he's most likely to keep running. It doesn't hurt to have the ever reliable Anquan Boldin and explosive Vernon Davis either, even if Michael Crabtree might be lost for most of the season. Russell Wilson gets a healthy boost from the Percy Harvin trade, which gives him a truly dynamic threat at receiver. Wilson had an enormous 2nd half, but the vast majority of his rushing came from the read option, teams will be well versed in defending it this year and that should take a good chunk of his rushing away, but by no means all of it.

Robert Griffin III might have come in at 15 in  NFL.com's top 100 this year, but coming off his second major knee injury I'm not entirely sold. The offense around him is still very questionable and it's likely that Mike Shanahan will cool the jets on his designed runs a bit as well. RG3 has been cleared to practice, but it still remains unlikely that we'll see him in any pre-season games, which makes it impossible to gauge how confident he is scrambling or keeping the ball on designed runs. Of all the top 10 QB's he's the one that you will need to draft a back up for.

Matt Ryan comes in at 9, with his ranking helped both by the return of Tony Gonzalez and the addition of Stephen Jackson which is sure to make the Falcons a favourite among neutrals this year. Bear in mind that the Falcons run more at the goal line than almost any other team, which makes Jackson a nice RB2 option, but does limit Matt Ryan's points scoring potential.

The Colts will continue to lean heavily on Andrew Luck, who smashed the rookie record for passes thrown last year, but the protection issues for Luck as well as the lack of a consistent ground game could end up costing him production. Also bear in mind that all those attempts come with the risk of turnovers. Luck threw 18 interceptions last season and fumbled 10 times, he lost 5 of those and had a further 7 interceptions dropped. He's a great talent, but the negative hit of all those turnovers could stop him reaching his full fantasy potential this season.

Running Backs:

1. Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Vikings
2. Arian Foster - Houston Texans
3. Ray Rice - Baltimore Ravens
4. Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Marshawn Lynch - Seattle Seahawks
6. CJ Spiller - Buffalo Bills
7. Alfred Morris - Washington Redskins
8. Trent Richardson - Cleveland Browns
9. Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs
10. LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Eagles

Adrian Peterson is the unquestioned No. 1 running back after his monstrous 2012 campaign, and while his stated goal of 2,500 yards is unrealistic, another 2,000 yards doesn't look impossible given the monstrous offensive line in front of him and a weak passing attack. Arian Foster, who has lead the league in touches in 2 of the last 3 seasons, slots in at 2 and will remain a big part of Houston's offense. There is risk with Foster however, all those touches, coupled with a decline in the right side of his offensive line lead to his yards per carry dropping to a disappointing 4.1 in 2012. The accumulation of all those hits and the likelihood of his touches remaining near the 400 mark in 2013 do make him more of an injury risk than you think, but 47 touchdowns in the last 3 years are very hard to say no to.

Ray Rice's talent coupled with the absence of Cam Cameron sees him check in at 3, much to Gur's chagrin, over Tampa's Doug Martin. So much of Martin's production last year came in one ridiculous game against Oakland (51pts out of a 248 total), that's all well and good but in this game you want week to week consistency which I think Foster & Rice are more likely to give you than Martin.

Marshawn Lynch will continue to batter and bruise opponents and should be helped by a more expansive offense giving him better looks too, his value will drop in PPR leagues as he simply doesn't get involved in the passing game, but Seattle's success last year was based on the Lnych's bruising running and the play-action passes that opened up so his one-dimensional game won't hurt him.

CJ Spiller's spot here might be a surprise to you all, but his 2012 numbers were astonishing. He came in 2nd among RB's in fantasy points per touch, just 0.04 behind Peterson. Spiller's touches were limited partly due to injury and Fred Jackson's presence, but even if they don't see an increase this year (which they almost certainly will) he's still going to be a hugely productive player despite Buffalo's quarterback situation.

Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson join Doug Martin as Sophomores in the top 10, the risk with Morris is that at any point Shanahan could pull him and start going with someone else, but for now he's got the job in a hugely successful ground game, but picking up his handcuff would be a wise move. Richardson might be a Cleveland Brown, but he's got a nice O-Line in front of him and a QB who will need to keep feeding him the ball if he's to be successful at all. I'm not worried by Richardson's rookie injury issues either, his talent should talk for itself and in a keeper league he's a top 5 RB pick this year.

Jamaal Charles being as low as 9 might surprise you, I know some of the experts have him higher but he's very been such a feast or famine back in recent years that I'm not confident he'll perform week-in, week-out for you. He clocked up 6 games of 7 or fewer points last year which is just crippling. Yes, he has a better QB and head coach now, but we don't know how Andy Reid is going to handle him or if those goal line attempts will go up for Charles. If they do then he will be a steal as the 9th running back taken.

The coaching question marks are perhaps even bigger with LeSean McCoy under 1st time NFL coach Chip Kelly. He's got the talent to be a top 5 back, but will he have the touches? Will Bryce Brown's 2012 success lead him to vulturing touches from McCoy and will another year of Michael Vick lead another year of poor offense? What we do know is that the Eagles have an excellent and athletic offensive line (if they can avoid the rash of injuries that decimated them in 2012), I wouldn't be surprised to see LeSean McCoy leap up draft boards as we get closer to the season and Kelly's NFL plans become clearer.

Wide Receivers:

1. Calvin Johnson - Detroit Lions
2. Brandon Marshall - Chicago Bears
3. AJ Green - Cincinnati Bengals
4. Dez Bryant - Dallas Cowboys
5. Andre Johnson - Houston Texans
6. Vincent Jackson - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. Julio Jones - Atlanta Falcons
8. Demaryius Thomas - Denver Broncos
9. Randall Cobb - Green Bay Packers
10. Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona Cardinals

Calvin sits atop the receiver rankings by a long way. My No. 2 is Jay Cutler's best buddy Brandon Marshall. It should be no surprise that these 2 were the most targeted WR's in the NFL last year, and nothing has happened that should change that fact going into 2013. Both are beloved by their QB's and trusted to snag jump balls in tight coverage. With that kind of volume of passes there's little doubt that, health aside, these 2 should be the most productive receivers in fantasy this season.

AJ Green's talent will keep him in the points despite the additions of Tyler Eifert & Giovani Bernard in the draft as he remains by far Andy Dalton's best target. Dez Bryant is the only reliable threat on the outside in Dallas, and despite the occasional instances of poor concentration and drops the ball will continue to come his way. Likewise with Andre Johnson, who when healthy can be a top 3 WR.

My top 5 are all guys who are going to see continuous targets both due to their talent and the lack of other options, the bottom 5 will all have to compete some for targets and scores, but should see enough of the ball on a regular basis to be good-but-not-great producers in 2013.

In at 6 is Vincent Jackson, who's big play ability is impressive. Even if Mike Williams and his new contract start taking some more receptions from him Jackson's been around the 18 yards/reception mark for along time now which is great, and he should continue to be "the guy" on deep balls, particularly if they can draw defenses down with Doug Martin.

Percy Harvin was going to be 7, but a hip injury that requires surgery means we'll be robbed of seeing his talents this season.

That promotes Julio Jones up the order. With the presence of Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White with continue to see single coverages that he can exploit. The bevy of receiving options in Denver means we're unlikely to see another 94-1,434-10 season out of Demaryius Thomas, but he will still be a big time producer, especially with Wes Welker drawing attention from safeties. Randall Cobb's all-round production ability is one of the reasons Green Bay allowed Greg Jennings to walk, and they'll utilise him even further in 2013.

Larry Fitzgerald slips into the top 10 thanks to Harvin's injury. The additions of Carson Palmer, Jonathan Cooper and now Eric Winston should see the Cardinals passing attack get back towards acceptability, and after years of under-performing for fantasy owners Larry Fitz could be a nice little buy low option for players this season.

You'll notice that the likes of Roddy White, Victor Cruz and Wes Welker aren't here. Wide receiver is crazy deep, in a 10-team league I would have no problem waiting to draft your first WR until as late as the 4th round.

Tight Ends:

1. Jimmy Graham - New Orleans Saints
2. Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots
3. Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys
4. Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
5. Vernon Davis - San Francisco 49ers
6. Owen Daniels - Houston Texans
7.  Kyle Rudolph - Minnesota Vikings
8. Greg Olsen - Carolina Panthers
9. Martellus Bennett - Chicago Bears
10. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers

Rob Gronkowski's back issues give Jimmy Graham the unquestioned number 1 slot and is the only tight end worth drafting in the top 25. Gronk is a total roll of the dice at the moment, but even if it looks like he'll miss time he's still the clear #2 TE thanks to his touchdown potential. After missing 5 games in 2012 Gronk finished the season just 5 points behind Graham in the final standings (Graham played 15 games), Gronk + a replacement level TE for when he's out will still score far above any non-Graham options this season.

3rd is the super-consistent Jason Witten. Since 2007 Witten has averaged 1,000 yards and 5 TD's, with very little year-to-year variance too. That kind of consistency might be boring, after all no one is going to say "Oooo, what a bold pick" when you select Jason Witten, but consistency and predictability are what wins fantasy leagues.

The great Tony Gonzalez is a very close 4th, but with touchdowns providing a large chunk of his points for the last 2 seasons I'm less sure that his production will continue than I am of Witten and rank him as such.

Behind the top 4 it's a crapshoot really. Heath Miller's 2012 is such a statistical outlier from the rest of his career I'd be loath to rank him in the top 10 even if he hadn't ruined his knee at the end of last season, which is why he's not to be found on my list.

Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels remain the most talented options of the rest, with Davis' back to back 100 yard games in the playoffs hopefully showing Kaepernick the value of a super-athletic tight end. Dennis Pitta would have come in at 7 but for his dislocated hip. Kyle Rudolph should see his targets increase in 2013 after key Harvin left town. Greg Olsen was the 6th highest scoring TE last season, and his time in Chicago showed that Jay Cutler does use good tight ends. Antonio Gates isn't the player he used to be, but if he can ever get healthy again he'll be a steal as the 10th TE off the board. If you're left with picking between these tight ends don't be afraid to wait and play match-ups during the year.

- Toby Durant (@TDOnSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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