Every year for the past three, Sigmund Bloom and I have discussed our desire to present more nuanced draft plans that are still easy for readers to grasp. A snap shot of what's going on in our brains without the page looking like jumbo jet's instrument panel that has come to life in a horror movie.
This is my third update of my PPR tiers this month. This week, I examine high-upside plays within each tier. These players offer game-changing potential beyond their current position in life within my rankings.
ABOUT MY TIERS
My 2015 tiers have greater subtlety of detail than previous incarnations. It's not a fully realized fantasy TripTik. I'm not sure it will ever be.
One of the differences between my tiers and others is that I ordered the players by ADP rather than my ranking. As you read on, you'll begin to understand how these tiers will help you identify multiple, successful ways to build a competitive roster. They also share a thought process and a method for organizing rankings:
- My rankings (MW).
- Average draft position (ADP).
- Round Value (Value):
- Rx (x equals the round value based on my rankings).
- Par (my rankings and ADP are within 12 picks for the first 6 rounds; within 24 picks for rounds 7-20).
- How I value each player's potential this year (Class):
- U = Underrated - A greater talent than many analysts and fans regard him.
- S = Safe - A combination of talent, opportunity, and scheme that limits his downside.
- BB = Boom-Bust - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents high upside, but equal downside.
- LC = Low Ceiling - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents limited upside.
- H = High Upside - Talent, opportunity, and scheme presents high upside.
- Color-coded tiers/values - My tiers are ordered by ADP and the tier headings are color coded. Players are also color coded to match the tier where I value them. For instance, Marshawn Lynch has an ADP of 13, which places him in the Round 2 tier. I value him as a Round 1 player (No.4) overall. Lynch's info is highlighted the same color as the Round 1 tier heading although he's listed in the Round 2 tier.
Before I share the tiers, let's review relationships among players based on my value of them relative to their ADP. Learning more about these value exchanges should help you formulate draft options that integrate my views with yours. Getting faimilar with these player relationships should also make the tiers more useful.
How can there be hidden upside this high in a draft? Trust me brothers and sisters, there often is. It's often the picks at the turn that are the sweetest. I still have pleasant memories of having my pick of rookie Edgerrin James, prime Eddie George, and first-year Ram Marshall Faulk at the turn of a draft that led to a dominant season. It just edged prime Jerry Rice and ascending Terrell Davis a couple of years prior.
Another Broncos running back offers that hidden upside at the turn this year. C.J. Anderson continues to get pulled from practice for a ding here and a nick there. As my pal Cecil Lammey mentioned on last week's Audible podcast, don't sweat it. When it comes to the ground game, Gary Kubiak is a master baker and he knows that Anderson is the yeast.
This year, Anderson is that back with the offense, surrounding talent, and defense to dictate game scripts for consistently high-volume and production on the ground. I'm expecting top-6 production and at his 12 ADP and I think he could be a top-3 fantasy back when it's all said and done.
Calvin Johnson had a down season with 1077 yards and 8 touchdowns. Doesn't that make you smile just a little bit? That's a great year for most football mortals. Missing three games and relegated to decoy duty for a few others will reduce one's upside.
It's possible last year was the beginning of Johnson's decline. It's also possible that I beat Jene Bramel in a game of 21 next time we're on a basketball court in Vegas. I'm not counting on either happening. Johnson's second-round ADP is a gift.
Russell Wilson is a passer. I know for some of you this is like someone telling your ancestors 500-plus years ago that the world is round. The Seahawks quarterback is the best scrambler in the game, but he only does it because the Seahawks pass protection is sadder than grunge. Give Wilson time and there are shades of Drew Brees dying to emerge.
Watch some of the preseason and you see Wilson trusting his big target Jimmy Graham with precision passes in tight seams and daring placements against single coverage that gives the Seahawks' tight end a shot to be the hero. Much the football world is convinced that if the Saints gave up on Graham then they should back away slowly like a table of poker players whenever they see Footballguys staffer Mark Wimer enter the casino dressed as Bronco Billy and humming "Crazy Train."
Jimmy Graham. Seahawks. Value. Crazy? Like Wimer in Vegas: Maybe. Maybe not.
I'm still pounding the table for Andre Ellington and Keenan Allen. You can throw in Travis Kelce, too, but everyone and Phillip Buchanon's mother wants some of Kelce. Why Buchanon's mother? Based on her past history, I would't be surprised if she has plans to send Kelce a $2 million invoice for services rendered as a fan? After all, she told the former Raiders' first round pick--HER SON--that Buchanon owned her $1 million for raising him.
Ellington's RB1 fantasy production over 12 starts occurred in dire circumstances. The Cardinals might be missing two starters along the line early in the year, but I'll take the risk as long as Carson Palmer stays healthy.
Don't like downside with the upside? Try Allen. We saw what the former Cal Bear was capable of as a rookie. Last year he played hurt and wasn't in the type of shape he could attain as a professional athlete (that's a nice way of saying he wasn't Big Mike Williams sloppy, but he didn't understand what to do to be at his best). This year Allen is having the best camp of his career.
I have always loved Allen's versatility. Former Cal DE Ryan Riddle told me two years ago that Allen's conditioning was a factor in how a team would need to use him. I'm optimistic that Allen has figured out how to maximize his potential as an athlete, because when he's fresh his short-area quickness is impressive.
Projecting 85 catches from a rookie receiver deviates from the norm. Odell Beckham's 91-catch, 12-score rookie year is the stuff of legend--especially in 12 games of play. Cooper, like Beckham, enters the league with advanced route skills as a rookie. We can also make a more reasonable assumption that Cooper will play the entire season and he's had time to gain rapport with his quarterback that Beckham lacked.
Oakland's fantasy production on the ground was 29th in the league last year despite an offensive line that Matt Bitonti grades as a promising group. That low production was often the result of a lackluster defense sent game scripts spiraling out of control. With little change to Oakland's defense in 2015, expect similar issues that force the Raiders to throw a lot.
I was tempted to lower my high expectations for Cooper until noticed that fellow Footballguys staffer Bob Henry has 81 catches earmarked for Cooper as well. It's telling, because Henry has been the most accurate with his preseason rankings over the past three years and that's based on the strength of his player projections.
Not that what Bob says is the word of fantasy law, but he's a reasonable guy with a very level head about rankings and if he's seeing what I'm seeing then I'm more emboldened to make this call. Although Brandon Marshall and Jarvis Landry could match or exceed my projected reception totals for Cooper with fewer dropped passes (Cooper has this tendency), I'm buying.
I wrote about Ameer Abdullah as the underrated RB prospect in this rich rookie class last September. Nothing he did in camp or against the Jets surprised me, but his value remains steady for me as a player on the cusp of the fifth and sixth round. I believe Abdullah earns the feature role sometime next year, but I'm counting on Joique Bell or even Zach Zenner to earn enough early-down and red zone opportunities to put a ceiling on the Nebraska star's upside.
Despite my tempered expectations, which matches the news Matt Stafford dropped about a RBBC plan in Detroit, you best believe if Abdullah makes it to the fifth round in any league, I'm all over him. Injuries could always force Abdullah to take the reins early and never let them go. He's that kind of do-everything player.
I'm still bullish on Ben Roethlisberger despite the 4-game suspension looming for Martavis Bryant. Markus Wheaton is a talent, Heath Miller can still deliver, and last I heard, they still have one of the top-three most productive receivers in the game. Bryant drops from this sixth-round tier and his total fantasy production will equate to the13th-14th tier, but I'd probably take him in the 9th or 10th round based on rest of the season ADP.
Before Bryant's suspension, a lot of folks were split on him because they saw his title as the No.3 receiver in Pittsburgh and they can't get past the title not equating to his role, the strength of the Steeler passing game, and the continuous improvement in Bryant's game since his final year at Clemson. I expect more consistent production and an uptick in red zone production that leads to WR2 production, maybe better throughout Bryant's return to the field. Markus Wheaton offers production that I'd value in the 7th to 8th-round tier. I'd prefer the receivers I mention below, especialy Steve Smith and John Brown.
Nelson Agholor is one of the high-upside rookie receivers with a shot at WR1 production this year, but the guy with the highest upside in this tier is Charles Johnson. Built like Josh Gordon, the third-year receiver has a full offseason in the same offense and the same quarterback. Look for Teddy Bridgewater to target Johnson in the red zone as much as Kyle Rudolph. Johnson might be the secondary option to Mike Wallace's spot in Norv Turner's scheme, but I wouldn't be shocked if Johnson's big-play efficiency outscores the target volume Wallace is supposed to have.
What the heck is John Brown doing here this late in drafts? I suppose the Cardinals are a small market team, Brown is a small player, and not enough fantasy owners have seen how good this second-year receiver is. T.Y. Hilton is a terrific receiver, but Brown has the ability to out-produce the Colts' top receiver--or at least come close.
Listen, David Johnson could become a RB1 one day. He's big, quick, fast, and he flashes receiving chops that will induce couch quakes from fans around the country. He could do enough this year in relief of Andre Ellington to force is way into the starting rotation, even if Ellington resumes his role as the lead back. But the Johnson running back with the most upside in this draft is Duke, not David.
Duke Johnson Jr was my No.3 RB in this class in the RSP pre-draft publication and despite his smaller stature, he has more Clinton Portis to his game than Giovanni Bernard. That upside makes him the player I most want to have from this tier of runners--especially when the Browns' offensive line has the collective skill to dominate most opponents.
DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills have top-25 upside if one of them can become that big-play go-to guy for Ryan Tannehill. Stills has more polish than Parker, but it's difficult to overlook Parker's athleticism. Because there's another rookie available later in drafts with equal or greater upside and he enters the season healthy, I'm rolling with Stills.
Markus Wheaton, Steve Johnson and Cody Latimer are all priority picks here and I'll go as far to take one of these options over Parker and Stills in the 11-12 tier so I can get 2 of the 3. Latimer has the highest upside because he cna take over for Demaryius Thomas if called upon. I'd take im in that 11-12 tier.
In theory, I like Johnson's potential with Philip Rivers more than Wheaton, but I believe the Steelers have the offense to support three top-25 receivers and Wheaton has that potential. The fact that he's younger than Johnson and earning Ben Roethlisberger's praise is also worth considering him over the Chargers' vet who was a forgotten man in San Francisco.
Marvin Jones Jr all day, every day. I still come across college tape of Jones while studying future NFL prospects and marvel that he slipped to the fifth round. He's not the prototypical No.1 receiver for an NFL team, but he has the kind of ability if called upon one day. He's a top-25 fantasy receiver this year if he stays healthy.
Matt Jones deserves a look this late if you own Alfred Morris or you need more depth at RB. In this rich class of running backs, Jones didn't have a high rank in the RSP, but ranking to me is far less important than what I actually see in the player. Jones has the skills to earn an immediate role and develop into a lead back once he refines his passing down skills.
James Starks was a quarterback converted to running back at the University of Buffalo. He was still conceptually raw when he entered the NFL. Although Starks has failed to earn a long-term starting gig in Green Bay, whenever I see him in relief of Eddie Lacy I notice he's a much smarter back. Think about Justin Forsett's career-year in Baltimore and you might notice that Forsett's production is the rare intersection of maturity and a lack of high mileage. Starks has that potential in Green Bay if Lacy gets hurt.
For a guy that unknowingly lamented to Kenny Britt's cousin at the NFL Draft that the Titans picked Britt over Hakeem Nicks, this is the second consecutive year I value Britt's upside enough to recommend taking him late. It's a low-risk proposition for Britt compared to the days where the fantasy world considered Britt a top-36 WR with WR1 upside and were repeatedly denied.
Christine Michael. Yes, I know you're sick of hearing about how good he could be. I don't care. Take some Dramamine and shut up, there's no shame to backing up Marshawn Lynch, or being third-string on this depth chart.
That said, Allen Hurns is the upside player in this tier. He passes the tough-guy test of making plays in contested coverage. I'm somewhat tempted to do an MFL 10 where I don't take WR until the 12th round and roll with a starting lineup that includes the likes of Hurns, Wheaton, Jones, Johnson, Latimer, and other upside picks. I have a feeling it could work.
Khiry Robinson all day, every day. If you can't get this smooth runner with power, quicks, and good hands, consider Jacob Tamme or Virgil Green. The Falcons beat writers haven't been impressed with Tamme thus far in practices, but I'm not sure that means anything with the veteran. I'm willing to entertain the idea of Leonard Hankerson--a player beat writers have perennially been impressed with since the Senior Bowl (and that's worked out for them, hasn't it?)--doing more as a third receiver than Tamme is an H-Back or move-tight end. Still, I think Tamme can give Atlanta 50 catches and 5-6 scores from the tight end position that the offense has missed since Tony Gonzalez retired.
No, Virgil Green isn't going to give you a ton of receptions without an injury to Owen Daniels. But what if I said, "No, Sigmund Bloom isn't going to say 'clarity' a bunch of times without being on a football podcast?" Yeah, I'm not buying Daniels making it through the year. I'm sure my injury-prediction prowess doesn't pass muster, but Green deserves a look if you're desperate for a tight end due to a draft-day mistake.
It must be a mistake that Dorial Green-Beckham is going this late in August drafts. Purely on the basis of talent, I'll take Green-Beckham over every rookie receiver in this draft. People vastly underestimate his footwork and skill to become a good route runner in short order. The transformation is already taking place. Get Green-Beckham on your roster at the end of your drafts, because he has WR4 upside this year and potential for WR1 weeks.