If you play fantasy football, you’re probably playing on Yahoo or ESPN (or perhaps NFL.com if you’re into that) which means their rankings are very important. After all, their rankings directly feed into the draft rankings. If you aren’t doing too much research, this is all you have to go on, and it’s what your autodraft (God forbid) will go off of. That means it’s important to know within the rankings themselves guys to avoid and guys who might be a little bit slept on by these professional rankers. It’s a tough, mostly thankless job and things fall through the cracks. That’s what this article is looking for.
Latest Yahoo Rankings (as of June 9th), assuming half-point PPR and 12 team league.
(Data taken from FantasyPros.com, also using half-point PPR this time.)
Today we’ll be covering Rounds 1-5
Round One Rankings
Jonathan Taylor, 4th overall. Verdict: Too High
The first three picks were more or less consensus, with Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry occupying those spots. Taylor at four though had quite a bit of dissension, with one Yahoo ranker putting him 2nd and two others putting him 6th. I’m much more on the six or later side. Taylor’s last six games were as good as anyone’s in the league as he rushed for 741 yards and seven scores on 6.23 yards per carry. His overall body of work wasn’t nearly as great. In his first nine games he averaged just 3.79 yards per carry. Not only that, while there were suspicions Taylor was hurt, he did get benched in favor of Jordan Wilkins at one point during the season.
Compounding this issue, Taylor has so many guys behind him. Marlon Mack re-signed, and Mack was the starter at the beginning of 2020 before an Achilles tear took him out. Jordan Wilkins performed decently when given the chance, and let’s not forget that Taylor will struggle to see passing game touches which are incredibly important in PPR leagues because of Nyheim Hines. His floor and ceiling suffer because of this, and a running-back-by-committee seems rather likely here.
To be clear, I think Taylor will still be a RB 1 as he is supremely talented, the Colts should have a good offense and they have a great offensive line. The above issues simply mean taking him at four is a much riskier proposition compared to someone like Alvin Kamara who is ranked fifth.
Alvin Kamara, 5th overall. Verdict: Too Low
Speaking of Kamara, his fifth overall rank seems too low. This guy finished first amongst running backs in half-point PPR scoring, so seeing him at fifth is strange. I get the knocks on him. Kamara did most of his damage with Drew Brees, who is no longer on the team. In his four games with Taysom Hill as the starter, Kamara got 1, 2, and 3 targets in the first three games before coming back with ten in Hill’s last start. Even if Jameis Winston is named the starter, Winston’s teams only had a fantasy relevant running back once which was in his rookie year.
These concerns are overblown. Kamara is incredibly productive and he’s still on the Saints who love to run the ball and get him touches. He still scored three touchdowns with Hill in, and let’s not forget he did have a ten target game. Winston may not have a lot of experience relying on his running back, but he’s also never had a guy close to as talented as Kamara. Kamara has “best RB in fantasy” potential (we literally just saw it) so getting him fifth is a great deal.
Round Two Rankings
Cam Akers, 13th overall. Verdict: Too High
Recency bias rears its ugly head again for Cam Akers. Two of his best games came in the playoffs, and they were great don’t get me wrong, but I tend to value a larger body of work. For the season, Akers averaged just 4.31 yards per carry. Even that number is inflated by his week 14 performance against the New England Patriots. Remove that game and his yards per carry dips under four. Akers also had just two regular season touchdowns and he doesn’t get much work in the passing game.
Worst of all, he’s part of the Los Angeles Rams who famously love their RBBCs and “riding the hot hand” approach, which means you pretty much can’t trust any of them. 13 is way too high for a guy that really didn’t play all that well in the regular season, has a terrible team situation, and doesn’t catch passes.
DeAndre Hopkins, 19th overall. Verdict: Too Low
Hopkins finished as the No. 6 overall wide receiver last year, showed no signs of slowing down and has another year to establish chemistry with Kyler Murray. Yahoo has him as the fifth wide receiver, which is pretty fair, however some of the running backs ahead of him like Akers, or Joe Mixon and Antonio Gibson are a little bit suspect. A.J. Brown over Hopkins seems absolutely ridiculous to me, and honestly in my opinion there isn’t a massive difference between Hopkins and the Big Three of Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs and Davante Adams.
Those three led the league in WR points by a lot in 2020, but banking on what could easily be considered outlier performances repeating is dangerous. In the past four years none of those guys finished as a top six wide receiver every time, but Hopkins did. Hopkins is incredibly safe (not that the other three aren’t) but Hopkins is being drafted in a lower tier than the other three which isn’t really deserved.
Round Three Rankings
Najee Harris, 25th Overall. Verdict: Too High
It’s really not a bad place for Harris, and of all the predictions I’ve made so far this one is the shakiest. Rookies of all types just carry a lot of risk, and spending what is basically a second round pick on someone who doesn’t return that value could easily doom a season. Pittsburgh’s line was the worst run blocking unit in the league last year, and that’s not going to change dramatically.
Besides that, though, there isn’t much else to dislike depending on how you feel about Harris as a player overall. The Steelers have produced many top running back seasons in the past, and Ben Roethlisberger is way past the age where the Steelers want him slinging it 40 times a game. Harris will get a lot of work, and has the ability that made him a first round pick. He’s also a running back that will get essentially all the touches, a premium fantasy position.
Still, there is just too much risk here for me personally to take him this high. The Yahoo rankings were also all over the place, with one ranker putting him as high as ninth overall and another putting him as low as 44th. It’s hard to win a season with your first three picks, but you can easily lose one. Avoiding potential busts in the first three rounds is key to that, and Harris is riskier than guys like veterans we know are good like Chris Carson or even second year players like J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift.
Round Four Rankings
Julio Jones, 42nd overall. Verdict: Too Low
When Jones played last year he was still really good. On a points per game basis he was WR 14 which includes two games where he had less than 50% snap participation. Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans offense has also been better than Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense the past couple years. Jones is getting up there in age, but he’s also not really injury-prone in the sense that he misses a lot of games. Besides last year and 2013 (where he fractured his foot), Jones has missed just seven games in eight years. There are some worries about a player his age moving teams but Jones is a freak of nature athletically and showed no signs of decline while on the field in 2020.
Mike Davis, 48th Overall. Verdict: Too High
Mike Davis is getting the “is a starting running back” inflation and paying for that can cost you. Davis was a nice story filling in for McCaffrey last year, but take the blinders off and his season wasn’t that great. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry on the ground and anything under four on 100+ attempts should be a major red flag. Davis is a 28 year old journeyman for a reason and towards the end of the season he really seemed to get figured out.
Sure he’ll be basically the unquestioned starter, but the Falcons have had a lot of those and it doesn’t lead to productive fantasy seasons very often. The last time they had a top fantasy running back was Devonta Freeman in 2016. The Falcons’ line is always suspect and they are generally a pass first team which doesn’t leave much for the running backs to do. Davis’ receiving chops do boost him considerably, and getting a starting RB in the 4th/5th is pretty rare. Still, too many high quality guys remain on the board to spend a high pick on someone this risky.
Round Five Rankings
Adam Thielen, 50th overall. Verdict. Too Low
This is one of the most egregious rankings to me. In Thielen’s last three healthy seasons (he missed six games in 2019) he was a top ten WR in all three of them. You can count the number of wide receivers that feat applies to on one hand. Sure Justin Jefferson has probably passed him up as the number one receiver, but the Minnesota Vikings have proved many times that they can support two fantasy relevant wide receivers on one team.
One could argue that touchdowns inflated Thielen’s fantasy points this year, but he’s also been a big yardage guy in the past (1276 in 2017, 1373 in 2018) and he’s all but guaranteed to see 100+ targets again.
To reiterate, he was a top ten receiver in three of the last four years. That’s not easy to do, and not much has changed about his situation to think he won’t be a top WR again. His current position is WR 21, and odds are he outperforms that.
T.J. Hockenson, 51st overall. Verdict: Too High
Hockenson was the fourth ranked tight end last year, but the fact is outside of a very small group the tight end position is awful. He scored just 9.2 fantasy points per game last year. Thielen, who is just one spot higher, scored 15 per game. The functional difference between Hockenson and, say, Noah Fant (scored eight points per game and ranked 86th) is basically nothing, so why spend a fifth round pick on that difference? There are way too many guys left that will play critical roles on your team to be reaching for Hockenson here. Tyler Lockett is still around, Kenny Golladay is at 59 and there are even starting running backs that haven’t been taken yet.
Hockenson may see more targets given the dearth of receiving talent on the Detroit Lions, but he will also be focused on more by opposing defenses. The quality of his targets also drops a lot with Jared Goff throwing them as opposed to Matthew Stafford. Unless you are taking Darren Waller, Travis Kelce or George Kittle, all of your starter positions and probably a backup or two should be filled before you go tight end.
Brandon Aiyuk, 57th overall. Verdict: Too High
Aiyuk benefitted the most from the many, many 49ers injuries and even then did all his damage in a six week stretch. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel will be back and the 49ers will probably look to re-establish their dominant run game. Not only that, but the quarterbacks that he did most of his damage with won’t be the quarterback this year.
This is way, way too high to take a guy that could literally be a bottom of the barrel wide receiver that sees five targets and 40 yards per game next year. Guys like Odell Beckham Jr and Will Fuller V are still around, and almost everyone around Aiyuk has a higher ceiling and floor.
The Rams’ receivers Robert Woods (43) and Cooper Kupp (49) should only get better this year with Stafford, and Woods was WR 12 last year. Personally I hate Josh Jacobs, but he was RB 9 last year so picking him 45th overall and RB 21 seems low even for me. With the advent of Julio Jones, A.J. Brown at 18th overall and WR 4 seems too high. The Titans run a lot, and with Julio around he’s not even the top WR on his team anymore really. He will benefit from drawing lighter coverage, but the corresponding drop in targets is too much for me to take THAT high.
Next week we’ll finish up with Yahoo’s rankings before moving on to ESPN’s. Then we’ll do some comparisons between the rankings and where you can find some hidden gems based on that.