STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Utilizing Schedules to Maximize QB Value

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The quarterback position is much easier to plan for in fantasy drafts than a skill position like running back. Injuries come into play much less often, and relevant starters rarely get demoted. Because of this, we often can optimize our QB position by looking at team schedules.

First, I recommend you check out my colleague Sean Koerner’s QB Tiers article. You can see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in tiers by themselves, while Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson also distinguish themselves from the pack. To get any of these players, however, you’ll have to spend a draft pick within the first six rounds, and this year you may be better served drafting skill position players in those early rounds.

Why? Because we project only a 16-point difference between our No. 8 and No. 19 QBs – less than the difference between Rodgers and Brady, for example. After the run on the initial QB1 types, other managers will scramble to draft remaining guys that are “QB1s” in their eyes, and you can sit tight and get good value. Further, you can look at the NFL schedule, using it to your advantage to pair certain borderline QBs together and patch together the equivalent of a solid QB1.

I’ll be looking at pairings of QBs with ADPs outside of the first six rounds. This excludes Derek Carr, who has a sixth-round ADP. Also, please note that we are quite high on Jameis Winston. We view him as better than Carr, but he is being taken a round and a half later. I’ll be trying to snag Winston on the cheap, but all it takes is one other owner to ruin that plan.

Here are some pairings to serve as backup plans:

Cam Newton (7th round ADP) and Tyrod Taylor (12th round ADP)

We aren’t particularly high on Newton, in part due to his schedule. Atlanta and Tampa should both have very solid pass defenses, and he sees Minnesota outside the division. If you do insist on drafting Newton, I really like pairing him with Taylor to mitigate the tough schedule.

In Week 8 when Cam plays Tampa, Taylor and the Bills play Oakland in what could be a high-scoring affair, relatively speaking. Newton’s Panthers have a bye Week 11, and Taylor has a decent matchup against the Chargers. Then in Week 14 when Carolina faces the Vikings, the Bills go up against Indianapolis.

We project starting Newton or Taylor based on the more favorable matchup each week would lead to productivity roughly equal to that of Matt Ryan, who’s a consensus Top 5 QB.

Marcus Mariota (7th round ADP) and Andy Dalton (13th round ADP)

We really like Mariota with just about any backup, given natural career progression and the number of weapons at his disposal. When it comes to his cheap backup, I love Dalton.

During Mariota’s Week 8 bye, Dalton has a matchup with the Colts (notice we’re targeting them quite a bit). The weeks of Mariota’s two toughest road games – Houston in Week 4 and Arizona in Week 14 – Dalton has two of his easiest matchups against Cleveland and Chicago, respectively.

Together, if you play the guy with the better matchup each week, they equate to about Russell Wilson, who’s going in the fourth or fifth round.

Matthew Stafford (9th round ADP) and Tyrod Taylor (12th round ADP)

There’s no doubt that Taylor is a great QB2 to draft in fantasy, so of course I’d love a duo of Newton and Tyrod, as discussed above. But Newton is relatively expensive, and you can get almost as much value by waiting and drafting Stafford later with Taylor in mind as a backup.

Taylor has an uninspiring matchup against Tampa during Stafford’s Week 7 bye, but when Stafford plays at Green Bay (in cold weather) in Week 9 and at Baltimore in Week 13, Taylor faces the Jets – I dare you to name one of their cornerbacks – and New England in a game that could feature a nice script. What makes this pairing even juicier is that when the Bills have a bye in Week 6, Stafford has perhaps his best matchup of the season at New Orleans.

These two are both cheap and quite complimentary, adding up to just about Russell Wilson’s value if you play your cards right.

Philip Rivers (10th round ADP) and Eli Manning (12th round ADP)

These two will forever be linked after being traded for each other on draft day 2004. They’re also linked here as, in my opinion, the best duo you can find after the first 100 picks.

Rivers is the clear-cut starter here, but he has some tough division games, particularly against Denver in Week 1, and against Kansas City in Weeks 3 and 15. Manning, on the other hand, has a much easier division, with none of his three opponents ranking in the top 10 in any meaningful pass defense category last season.

During Rivers’ three toughest division games, Manning has division games of his own (one against Philadelphia, two against Dallas). Also, during Rivers’ Week 9 bye, Eli gets a nice matchup against the Rams.

These two, if utilized correctly, add up to the overall QB8, though neither is considered a QB1 on his own.

Note that I do like Carson Palmer as a late option. He’s just two years removed from elite status, has a healthier John Brown at his disposal, and he’s being taken in the 13th or 14th round. He has a brutal schedule, however, when paired with any of the non-elite options.

Palmer has the same bye week as Manning, Mariota, and Bortles, and his worst matchup (at Houston) comes during both Winston’s and Newton’s byes. He also plays against Seattle during Carr’s bye. As a result, it’s tough to pair Palmer with anybody but the elite, weekly QB1s.

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Projections

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Fantasy football players now more than ever seek guidance in their pursuit of prize money and bragging rights, and a lack of preparation potentially eliminates opportunities for victory on both a weekly and season-long basis. Enter STATS’ predictive analytics team, which continues setting the industry standard for accurate projections and sound advice.

STATS has perfected a projection model that powers award-winning fantasy rankings, taking into account every statistic and variable in order to ensure accuracy. Projecting player performance isn’t routine guessing based on simple metrics and gut feelings. There’s a science behind it, and the awards justify STATS having the best predictive data in the world.

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Kickers and Defense

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There isn’t really a need to touch on specific kickers, so I’d like to give some quick strategy tips instead. The kicker position itself is really tough to predict since their opportunities are largely out of their control. You obviously want a skilled, accurate kicker, but you also want one who’s part of an offense that will generate opportunities for them.

The kicker rankings below are based on my projections that include each of those factors. Having said that, I typically avoid drafting a kicker (and usually DEF as well) in order to select two extra backup RBs as potential lotto-scratcher preseason winners (i.e. starting RB gets hurt or benched).

I’ve found simply using the top-ranked available K on the waiver wire usually gives me the equivalent to the No. 3 kicker fantasy points for the season on average. This includes targeting a K who is usually a Vegas favorite, playing indoors or in good weather, in a game that has a high Vegas total, etc. It also keeps things fun having a new K every week!

Another game I like to play sometimes with K strategy is a silly one and really doesn’t have too much of a competitive edge, but can get into the mind of your opponent. That move is to (if possible) add the K of your opponent’s starting QB. I think of this as a way of feeling like you are going into the league settings and changing your opponent’s points for a Pass TD from ‘4’ to ‘3’.

In case you are a bit confused, I’m implying that, in theory, for every time your opponent’s QB throws for a TD, your K will get a PAT. This of course isn’t always the case as certain teams like the Steelers attempt a two-point conversion quite a bit, or the kicker flat-out stinks – *cough* Robert Aguayo *cough* – and an extra point is hardly a guarantee make. It’s decent insurance given that if your opponent’s QB throws for 4 TD (in standard), you essentially wipe out an entire TD from his total. It can help keep your opponent in check, and an added bonus is on the flip side. For instance, if your opponent’s QB has a poor game, it can either set up a ton of FGs for your K, or a really bad game simply makes your K personally not have a good week.

The latter is a correlated result that would actually increase your chances of winning that matchup since the QB is typically the highest scoring slot while the K is typically the lowest. Using the K to feed off of your opponents QB is like losing a pawn in chess to take down a higher rated piece.

Also, does anyone know what the previous Guiness Book World Record was for number of words discussing fantasy football kicker strategy? It might have just been shattered. And before you read even more words on the position, don’t forget to check out where I ranked quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski – Patriots

Tier 2

Matt Bryant – Falcons
Justin Tucker – Ravens
Dan Bailey – Cowboys
Mason Crosby – Packers

Tier 3

Wil Lutz – Saints
Graham Gano – Panthers
Adam Vinatieri – Colts
Blair Walsh – Seahawks
Sebastian Janikowski – Raiders

Tier 4

Dustin Hopkins – Redskins
Chris Boswell – Steelers
Phil Dawson – Cardinals
Caleb Sturgis – Eagles
Josh Lambo – Chargers
Matt Prater – Lions
Cairo Santos – Chiefs

Tier 5

Brandon McManus – Broncos
Kai Forbath – Vikings
Jake Elliott – Bengals
Aldrick Rosas – Giants
Nick Novak – Texans
Steven Hauschka – Bills
Jason Myers – Jaguars
Ryan Succop – Titans

Tier 6

Chandler Catanzaro – Jets
Andrew Franks – Dolphins
Nick Folk – Buccaneers
Robbie Gould – 49ers
Connor Barth – Bears

Tier 7

Greg Zuerlein – Rams
Zane Gonzalez – Browns

DEFENSE

Much like the kicker position, I don’t really find it necessary to target a “top” defense in the draft. They are still a bit prone to their opponent that week, even more so than other positions. I tend to play the waiver wire for my starting DEF week-to-week and end up with a top-5 DEF level of production overall once the season is done.

But, that doesn’t mean some of you won’t reach for one during the draft, so here’s the list I came up with.

Tier 1 

Denver Broncos
Houston Texans
Kansas City Chiefs
Minnesota Vikings

These are the top DEF to target if you want to be aggressive with the position. The Broncos have probably peaked as a defense and lost coordinator Wade Phillips to the Rams, so they promoted DB coach Joe Woods to take over. It remains to be seen if that has any impact, however, with players like Von Miller or Chris Harris Jr. it’s reasonable to think they have the talent alone to remain on top.

The remaining three teams are going to produce a lot of sacks, which is one of the most predictive DEF stats to project at the beginning of the season. If any of them get good turnover and/or defensive TD luck they will be a lock for the top-5 on the season. A full season of J.J. Watt would vault the Texans back to fantasy relevance, as well as KC getting a full season from Justin Houston.

Tier 2 

Seattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals
Carolina Panthers

Seattle is a bit overrated in fantasy just because they are arguably the best real-life defense. They typically underwhelm in turnover stats since they are much more a crippling defense that puts a strain on opposing team’s yardage and points scored. They are a bit more valuable in formats that weight those heavier. Arizona and Carolina are play-making defenses with top-notch talent. Luke Kuechly’s concussion history leaves me a bit concerned and the Panthers rely heavily on him, so that’s a bit of a red flag that makes me avoid having to draft a DEF in order to lock them up.

Tier 3 

Philadelphia Eagles
New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Los Angeles Rams
Baltimore Ravens
Los Angeles Chargers
Green Bay Packers

These are all very good defenses for fantasy that might be overlooked a bit. It’s worth just waiting to see which one of them will fall to you. For those of you who want to play waiver wire DEF with me but are required to select a defense at the draft, I would recommend the Steelers, who open up the season against the Browns … who will potentially have Brock Osweiler under center … throwing to Kenny Britt and Seth DeVale …

Tier 4 

Miami Dolphins
Oakland Raiders
Cincinnati Bengals
Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo Bills

The Raiders are a bit of a sneaky long-term play as their talent certainly exceeds their recent fantasy output. Khalil Mack just might be the game’s top defensive player. If he can have a teammate or two break out this year, it could pay huge dividends for them in fantasy with improved sack totals. They should also set up for positive game scripts that call on them to face a team trying to make a comeback by airing it out, creating more turnover opportunities. The Raiders currently have a 9.5 over/under win total in Vegas (oh, the irony) which shows how far they have come.

Tier 5 

Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
Detroit Lions
Tennessee Titans
Indianapolis Colts

I was going to call all of these garbage until I realized these are the island of castaway DEFs that I will be relying on all year. None of them will put up great numbers long-term, but they’ll be of use on a week-to-week basis when provided above-average matchups.

Tier 6 

New York Jets
Chicago Bears
Cleveland Browns
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints

These are the bottom-feeding defenses for fantasy that you typically never want to rely on, even via weekly streaming. Most of these teams have all added highly graded rookies that could eventually turn these defenses into great ones long-term – it just won’t be this year.

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Tight Ends

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Back at it for Round 4 of our position tiers. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out where I ranked quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in my previous articles.

Although the tight end position doesn’t hold the weight of the other three skill spots, nabbing one of these monsters who is a consistent red zone target could add some much-needed fantasy points and throw your team over the top a couple of weeks.

Tier 1 

Rob Gronkowski – Patriots

Gronk always deserves the top tier all to himself. In order to pay off he simply needs to stay healthy. It’s becoming increasingly apparent, however, that we can never feel “safe” about investing an early pick on him. I will typically pass on Gronk and test my luck in drafting a good TE combo later in the draft instead.

Tier 2 

Travis Kelce – Chiefs
Greg Olsen – Panthers

I almost considered giving Kelce his own tier but made the call to include Olsen. Truth is, as talented as Kelce is, I never feel 100 percent safe investing in any of Alex Smith’s pass catchers. It can be truly infuriating at times rooting for him to generate passing stats. Having Tyreek Hill will help keep defenses from giving Kelce too much attention, though. Kelce is just about the only TE in the top-5 I will ever actively target in a draft as of now. Olsen is still a fairly safe selection and offers a little value if he’s the fourth TE off of the board.

Tier 3 

Jimmy Graham – Seahawks
Jordan Reed – Redskins

I just can’t make myself draft Jordan Reed this year. He is unquestionably one of the better “per game” TEs in the league, and I certainly never want to see him on my opponent’s team. However, his health is always going to be a concern with me, especially with his concussion history. I fear he is someone that would need to seriously consider retirement if he were to ever have another one.

Tier 4 

Tyler Eifert – Bengals
Kyle Rudolph – Vikings
Delanie Walker – Titans

Kyle Rudolph is a TE I look to target if he happens to slip a bit. He pretty much checks every box you are looking for in your TE1 and can easily be overlooked, while others bank on getting 2015 Eifert or wanting a piece of the Titans’ potentially dynamic offense with Walker.

Tier 5 

Hunter Henry – Chargers

The market seems to be a bit timid about selecting Henry as a top-10 TE, but I’m here to tell you it’s not foolish. What makes Henry’s big rookie campaign even more impressive is that TEs usually start their careers off slow. But we’ve seen with first-ballot HOF teammate Antonio Gates is that Philip Rivers relies on his tight end. The receiving corps is going to be a bit more crowded than usual to start, so Henry’s ceiling is a bit capped initially, but I still like him as a high-floor, low-end TE1.

Tier 6

Martellus Bennett – Packers
Zach Ertz – Eagles
Eric Ebron – Lions
Jack Doyle – Colts

This may seem like a bit of a bland tier, but I think it’s a critical one. You ideally want to have at least one TE before this tier is finished. Depending on how the draft goes, it’s a sneaky move to lock up two of these guys and plan on playing matchups during the season. Each one of these TE’s offers some blow up weeks where they dominate their team in targets and/or red zone chances. The departure of Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia certainly helps provide Ertz with a great week-to-week ceiling/floor combo. He’s trending up.

Tier 7 

Coby Fleener – Saints
Austin Hooper – Falcons

Do not sleep on Fleener this year. He may not be the most gifted receiving TE in the league, but he certainly plays in one of the best offenses. There is a chance that he just needed a season to get on the same page with Drew Brees and could put up big numbers this season. He’s a great TE2 to have as a dynamic backup, but I wouldn’t want to go into the season relying on him as my TE1.

Once Hooper took over for Jacob Tamme after Week 8 last season, I was one of the experts who was quick to rank him highly in the weekly rankings – and he didn’t disappoint with a 3-46-1 line. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep that momentum going and completely flopped in the next four games to close out the fantasy season. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s typical for rookie TE’s to struggle, so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt on talent alone and the fact he plays in one of the league’s premier passing attacks.

Tier 8 

Cameron Brate – Buccaneers
Julius Thomas – Dolphins
CJ Fiedorowicz – Texans
Jason Witten – Cowboys

The Bucs drafted a highly talented TE in O.J. Howard this year, which normally would all but eliminate Brate’s fantasy value going forward. Lee Corso voice: “Not so fast my friend!” The Bucs figure to ease Howard in as rookie TEs take a bit of time to develop (a recurring theme of these tiers). He’s likely to play much more of a blocking role to start, while Brate can remain the primary pass-catching TE in the offense. I wouldn’t draft Brate as a TE1, but he makes a fine depth pick super late in most drafts.

Fiedorowicz is likely rooting for extreme game-manager Tom Savage to be the Texans opening day starter. The more games Mr. Savage starts this year, the more positive CJ’s fantasy outlook. I don’t see Deshaun Watson relying on his big TE as much since he has the skill set to air it out a bit more, which would be more ideal for DeAndre Hopkins.

Tier 9 

Charles Clay – Bills
Antonio Gates – Chargers
Jared Cook – Raiders

This kind of is the batch of ol’ creaky veteran TEs who serve as last-ditch backups at the end of a draft. I like Cook the most as far as upside. Playing with Derek Carr could possibly reignite his career considering Carr seems to favor his TEs (even if they are named Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford) and Seth Roberts in the red zone. I could see Cook being a sleeper pick for six-plus TDs.

Tier 10

O.J. Howard – Buccaneers
David Njoku – Browns
Evan Engram – Giants
Jesse James – Steelers
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jets
Dwayne Allen – Patriots

I have been urging caution with rookie TEs the entire time and here we are – the three top rookie TEs in the same tier. Any one of them can surprise us and burst onto the scene a la Hunter Henry last year. Njoku is the one I’m most willing to take a flier on. He’s the only one that seems to fall this far in most drafts, and although he might be the rawest of the three, he’s on a rebuilding team with less competition for targets.

James could provide sneaky TD numbers if Big Ben really does make him a go-to option in the red zone. ASJ could soak up a lot of the targets Enunwa/Decker opened up, but keep in mind he is suspended for the first two games of the season. Dwayne Allen could have his share of random big games on New England this year but will be the odd man out most weeks if everyone stays healthy.

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Wide Receivers

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Wide receiver is the deepest position in fantasy football. Not only was it the position I played often as a kid, but it’s my favorite to build my draft attack around.

WR is so deep this year that people seem to be too comfortable avoiding drafting them early. But getting at least one elite receiver early is critical, as all the risk/reward value opportunities at the position come later in the draft. Possessing an elite WR1 gives you some leverage to fill out your other positions in the mid-rounds of the draft with a safety net in place.

Tiers really help visualize which groups of WRs have interchangeable rankings. While Davante Adams is ranked seven spots ahead of Tyrell Williams, only a few projected points separate them. In fact, I’d only give Adams about a 51 percent chance of scoring more points than Williams this season. This, combined with where players are being drafted, is key to finding value.

You should target players within these tiers who are surrounded by players with much higher ADPs. These are guys you can snag later while bolstering other positions earlier. I help point out which of those players I’d target in my analysis.

Tier 1 

Antonio Brown – Steelers

AB still deserves the top tier all to himself. Brown should benefit from what we hope is a full and healthy season from Big Ben, and having Martavis Bryant back should help keep defenses honest.

Tier 2 

Odell Beckham Jr. – Giants
Julio Jones – Falcons

Truth is, these two are pretty close to making Tier 1, and it really is a coin toss between them. Beckham’s sheer talent allows him to maintain elite TD production, and I’m only a bit concerned that the arrival of Brandon Marshall could eat into his red zone looks. With Jones, you usually have to deal with nagging injuries and lack of use in the red zone. If the Falcons finally come through with their promise to get him more involved inside the 20, he would run away with the No. 1 ranking at the position.

Tier 3 

Mike Evans – Buccaneers
Jordy Nelson – Packers
A.J. Green – Bengals

You can still snag an elite WR with No. 1 potential here. I’ve noticed this group as a whole slips a bit more in drafts than they should. The WR position is so deep this year, but these are the last of the truly elite fantasy WR’s, and they’re worthy of first-round picks.

Tier 4 

Michael Thomas – Saints
Dez Bryant – Cowboys
T.Y. Hilton – Colts

Thomas now is the No. 1 receiving threat for the Saints with Brandin Cooks being dealt to the Patriots. He’s going to be a fantasy monster, but don’t expect huge performances every week. Drew Brees tends to just throw to the open player, which creates game plans that may use Thomas as more as a decoy on occasion.

Dez should certainly benefit from Ezekiel Elliot’s six-game suspension (although Elliott currently is appealing that ruling). Dallas might have to lean on Dak Prescott and the passing game a bit more, which helps increase Bryant’s production, especially in the red zone.

Hilton’s stock is directly tied to Andrew Luck’s health, so expect him to fall into the next tier if Luck misses any time to start the season.

Tier 5 

Amari Cooper – Raiders
Demaryius Thomas – Broncos
Brandin Cooks – Patriots
Doug Baldwin – Seahawks
DeAndre Hopkins – Texans

Each in this batch of WRs could single-handedly win you a matchup with a huge game, but they’ll also put up duds here and there. It’s a shame a WR as talented as DeAndre Hopkins might have to endure another dreadful season of QB play. I think if Tom Savage is announced as the opening day starter, he could drop to the next tier. The sooner they can get Deshaun Watson ready to compete in the NFL and build chemistry with Hopkins, the better.

Tier 6 

Allen Robinson – Jaguars
Tyreek Hill – Chiefs
Alshon Jeffery – Eagles

You’re going to see a lot of mixed opinions regarding each of these guys. Ty ”Freak” Hill just might be the most talented player in the league overall. We have no idea, though, if he can handle the WR1 role all to himself, and how much ultra-conservative game manager Alex Smith may curb his value most weeks. Luckily the Chiefs have designed run plays to ensure Hill touches the ball, which may give him a higher floor than most realize. He’s not being drafted as a top-20 WR, which I feel is a mistake and means you can get him at a discount.

Tier 7 

Martavis Bryant – Steelers
Michael Crabtree – Raiders
Sammy Watkins – Rams
Emmanuel Sanders – Broncos
Keenan Allen – Chargers
Golden Tate – Lions

Bryant is currently being drafted as if he’s near the bottom of Tier 8, but that could be the market simply reacting slowly to his reinstatement. I think, too, it’s easy for us to forget just how dominant he can be after he missed the entire 2016 season. We have to remember Bryant isn’t coming back from injury, so there is not much doubt that he can pick up right where he left off.

Allen is being selected 12 slots (WR only) ahead of Sanders. I expect the Broncos to be a bit more pass-happy this year with their new offense, so I like the sneaky value Sanders brings at his current ADP.

Watkins was traded out of nowhere to the Rams just a week ago. I don’t think it really helps or hurts his value as much as people think. He is coming from a very run-first oriented offense in Buffalo to an offense that, well, flat-out stinks. On the other hand, adding Watkins could inject some life into the offense, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they actually average more passing yards per game then the Bills this year. Let’s not forget the Bills averaged just 189 passing yards a contest last year. It’s not as if Watkins is having to leave an offense like the 2011 Saints or something. All in all, he’s being drafted exactly where he should go right now as the 20th WR off the board.

Tier 8 

Davante Adams – Packers
Terrelle Pryor – Redskins
DeSean Jackson – Buccaneers
Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers
Willie Snead – Saints
Larry Fitzgerald – Cardinals
Jarvis Landry – Dolphins
Tyrell Williams – Chargers

Landry is being overvalued in standard leagues if he is being selected as a top-20 WR. I think going from Ryan Tannehill to Jay Cutler gives him a slight downgrade since he relies on sheer volume, given his near invisibility in the red zone over what is now a large sample in his career.

Williams is being drafted 26 spots later, and I think it’s a coin-toss as to which one will score more standard points this year. Willams certainly benefited from a depleted Chargers receiving corps last year, but I think it was clear for anyone who watched him that he is loaded with talent and deserves a ton of targets, even with Keenan Allen back in the mix.

Jackson and Snead are two other players that I rank a bit higher than their current ADPs. They provide nice week-to-week upside, enough to gamble on them as your WR3. You should be able to afford their occasional duds, but I wouldn’t want to rely on them as my WR2.

Tier 9 

Pierre Garcon – 49ers
Jamison Crowder – Redskins
Brandon Marshall – Giants
DeVante Parker – Dolphins
John Brown – Cardinals
Eric Decker – Titans
Julian Edelman – Patriots
Kenny Britt – Browns
Stefon Diggs – Vikings
Cameron Meredith – Bears
Donte Moncrief – Colts
Adam Thielen – Vikings
Corey Coleman – Browns
Randall Cobb – Packers
Mike Wallace – Ravens

Edelman and Diggs are being selected way too early in standard formats. Those 10-reception, 70-yard games without a touchdown really don’t move the needle much in standard leagues. Their reputation of being highly targeted centerpieces boosts their stock way too much, and I will most likely be passing on them.

Brown probably provides the most value out of the bunch, as he will normally be drafted at the start of Tier 10 based on his ADP. We know he dealt with ailments last year involving his sickle cell trait, so that will always be a risk when it comes to him. His potential is too much to ignore, though, and if he stays healthy he’ll leave people saying, “Why the heck did I not draft him that late this year?”

Tier 10 

Jeremy Maclin – Ravens
Marvin Jones – Lions
Rishard Matthews – Titans
Corey Davis – Titans
Ted Ginn Jr. – Saints
Jordan Matthews – Bills
Robby Anderson – Jets

Ginn Jr. might be worth the gamble this late. He should have a few monster weeks to go along with some goose eggs. He would serve as a good situational bench/depth player for your team.

The guy I really like here is Robby Anderson. You can likely snag him much, much later than the other guys. He’s a fairly raw talent, but as we saw last year, can handle large target counts. With the Jets in complete rebuilding mode, I expect plenty of fortunate game scripts where he racks up catches, and the loss of Eric Decker via trade and Quincy Enunwa due to season-ending injury means he has a very high ceiling/floor for a player you can get this late.

Tier 11 

J.J. Nelson – Cardinals
Cole Beasley – Cowboys
Breshad Perriman – Ravens
Allen Hurns – Jaguars
Sterling Shepard – Giants
Devin Funchess – Panthers
Kenny Stills – Dolphins
Taylor Gabriel – Falcons
Marqise Lee – Jaguars
Josh Doctson – Redskins
Tyler Lockett – Seahawks
Mohamed Sanu – Falcons
Torrey Smith – Eagles

J.J. Nelson offers immense upside this late in the draft. In general, I feel like the Cardinals offense (outside of David Johnson) is being overlooked this year. People are making the mistake of completely writing off Carson Palmer, and as a result it’s allowing us to get good ROI in Brown and Nelson. With Michael Floyd gone, Nelson has a real shot to lock up the WR3 role if he can hold off talented rookie Chad Williams and ‘John-Brown-boxscore-imposter’ Jaron Brown. Nelson is essentially matchup-proof since he acts as a lid-lifting deep target that can get wide open if defenses pay too much attention to Fitzgerald and Brown.

Tier 12 

Terrance Williams – Cowboys
Zay Jones – Bills
Kevin White – Bears
John Ross – Bengals|
ArDarius Stewart – Jets
Nelson Agholor – Eagles

This really is the last tier of draftable WRs who I think warrant a long-term look and are more than waiver-wire fodder. Stewart and Agholor have seen their stock sky rocket without even having to do anything. I like taking a flier on Stewart this late just because I think he is the de-facto No. 2 on the Jets now, and if Robby Anderson struggles at all, he can become the No. 1. I realize that being the potential No. 1 WR for the Jets doesn’t make him the sexiest pick of all-time, but when you consider you are getting him near the last round, I think there really is nothing to lose here.

Arguably the biggest winner of the Sammy Watkins trade was Nelson Agholor, as Jordan Matthews was shipped off to the Bills. Agholor has basically been gifted a starting role this year. Besides, the early reports on him were very encouraging even before the trade. He has the physical talent to still get his career back on track, overcoming the lack of confidence and mental toughness that has held him back so far. Getting positive support from the coaching staff could be what he needed all along. Again, taking a flier on a guy like this near the last round isn’t going to kill you if it doesn’t pan out.

Don’t forget to check out my Quarterback Tiers and Running Back Tiers articles as well!

STATS’ Award-Winning Fantasy Football Projections Set Standard in Constantly Shifting Fantasy Sports Industry

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Those participating in fantasy sports now more than ever seek guidance in their pursuit of prize money and bragging rights, and a lack of preparation potentially eliminates opportunities for victory on both a weekly and season-long basis. When it comes to fantasy advice in the ever-shifting industry, STATS’ predictive analytics team continues to set the standard.

According to a Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) study revealed in June, fantasy sports has grown into a $7.22 billion industry with 59.3 million participants in the U.S. and Canada in 2017. That’s a 3.3 percent increase from last year, making for the most players ever recorded in the FSTA’s 14-year history of its study.

The biggest shift in money spent has come over the last two years as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) become the go-to for many fantasy players. Over a 12-month period in 2012, players spent an average of $5 on DFS compared to $60 on traditional fantasy games. The DFS number skyrocketed to $257 in 2015 and increased again last year to $318. Each of those amounts were double what players spent on tradition sports leagues both years, according to the FSTA.

Success in such games became more dependent on fantasy sports advice, as players spent an average of $54 last year, an increase from $46 in 2015 and a dramatic change from the mere $15 spent in 2012. Those materials range anywhere from traditional print magazines to premium web content, such as STATS’ exceptional fantasy projections.

“With the rising popularity of DFS, there is a greater demand for projections and the standard for accuracy is higher than ever before,” said Sean Koerner, STATS’ director of predictive analytics. “The sky really is the limit when it comes to how much money you can make if you are consistently using the top-notch projections when making lineup decisions.”

STATS has been ranked No. 1 in accuracy for weekly NFL rankings by FantasyPros in both 2015 and ’16, providing unmatched projections as players build their fantasy lineups each week. FantasyPros also ranked STATS as having the most accurate fantasy baseball projections the last three seasons.

STATS’ data science team has perfected a projection model that powers the award-winning fantasy rankings, taking into account every statistic and variable in order to ensure accuracy. Projecting player performance isn’t simply guessing a player will succeed on the field because he did so recently. There’s a science behind it, and the awards justify STATS having the best data in the world.

That includes STATS’ comprehensive player news and analysis generated promptly during a continuous news cycle, thanks to STATS’ acquisition of Automated Insights in 2015. The model has been enhanced while giving clients up-to-the-minute baseball news throughout the MLB season, and 2017 will be the first NFL season clients will experience the same with player and team data.

“We ensure our clients are getting the most up-to-date, detail-oriented, and accurate projections in the industry,” Koerner said.

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Running Backs

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Running back is arguably the defining position in fantasy football. It is often the most valuable, most talked about, most analyzed –  and yet least understood. To a certain extent, you need to embrace chaos and uncertainty.

If you head into the draft thinking that RBs will play out a certain way – i.e. David Johnson has a 90 percent chance of being the top-scoring RB on the season – you will make mistakes in your draft. The truth is, the RB position, by nature, is extremely volatile and very hard to predict.

The important question we must now ask: What truths can we derive from this chaos heading into the season? These are the things we need to be mindful of when heading into a draft in order to approach the position effectively.

  • David Johnson is the “most likely” RB to score the most points this season.

This mentality – what is “likely” to happen instead of “definite” – is what separates the novices from the pros. The volatility and unpredictability of the RB position leads to a lot of insecurity and anxiety at the beginning of the draft. Nobody wants to draft the next huge “bust.”

Sometimes this insecurity leads to irrational decision-making –  something like convincing yourself Le’Veon Bell will outscore DJ, even though that’s statistically less likely. Internal debate is fine and healthy, but I see it trend towards overthinking at the top end of the RB position too often. Don’t worry about getting everything right, but rather giving yourself the best possible odds.

  • There is a chance David Johnson misses 10+ games this year due to injury, or even gets benched due to ineffectiveness – no matter how ridiculous that sounds.

Take a look at the tiers below and realize that at least four guys in the first eight tiers will miss significant time, and at least two will suffer season-ending injuries. Then let it sink in for a second.

People can speculate, but we unfortunately have no way of knowing exactly which players will suffer such bad luck. This shouldn’t impact how you draft in the early rounds, when you will want to take the best players –  period. We can definitely use this fact to our advantage in the later rounds, however.

Knowing some RBs will get hurt – and it can happen to anyone – which backups could benefit the most from this? Also, while we can’t predict the injury side of the equation, we have a much better idea about players’ talent and role. We know David Johnson is very unlikely to get benched due to ineffectiveness, but 49ers starter Carlos Hyde will lose his job if he starts slow.

Keeping all this in mind will help you identify value (or false value) during your drafts. Who is talented? Who has a longer leash? Which backups could benefit the most from a starter going down? A tentative starter like Hyde will be over-drafted because he is No. 1 on the depth chart right now, but his downside is not reflected in his ADP.

On the flip side, a middle-round backup like Tevin Coleman could win you a fantasy championship if Devonta Freeman goes down. These are the types of value plays – or value traps – these tiers try to identify.

Having said all this, know that I tend to discuss the overall strategy of each tier/player, rather than talk about their 2016 stats or 3-cone drill times at the combine.

Tier 1 

David Johnson – Cardinals

Johnson has established himself as the true king of the position. He’s pretty much a perfect combination of Le’Veon Bell’s and Ezekiel Elliott’s playing styles – with a squeaky clean off-field game to boot. I feel both he and the Cardinals understand he has about two more mega-prime years to seize, and they’ll ride him as much as they can this year.

Tier 2 

Le’Veon Bell – Steelers
Ezekiel Elliott – Cowboys

There is no question Bell would get his own tier for PPR leagues, but I think in standard scoring you can make a case for either player. This is all assuming Elliott will not be suspended. On a side note, if Elliott is suspended two games, which is possible, I think he still warrants being the third RB taken overall. If you happen to take him, be sure to snag Darren McFadden a bit earlier than usual in order to lock in a handcuff with immediate value.

Tier 3 

LeSean McCoy – Bills
Melvin Gordon – Chargers

There is such a drop off after the top three that I feel people tend to reach for the Next Man Up, when it’s probably ideal to snag an elite wide receiver instead. Either of these backs could very well end up being the No. 1 RB, but they are also the first RBs who come with serious question marks “McCoy is getting old,” or “Gordon plays behind a poor o-line,” come to mind. I’d prefer drafting later in the first round and winding up with one or two guys from the next tier, rather than drafting these guys early or in the middle of the first round.

Tier 4 

Jay Ajayi – Dolphins
Jordan Howard – Bears
Devonta Freeman – Falcons
Demarco Murray – Titans

We now have our first set of RBs who could slip and offer sneaky value. This feels like the batch of backs people late in the first round get stuck with and say, “OK, fine, I guess I’ll take Jay Ajayi. The truth is, I really like snagging two players from this tier with wrap-around picks. It accomplishes a number of things.

1) It likely gives you the best starting RB pairing in the league off the bat. 2) There will be a huge drop-off at RB after these guys, which may cause others to panic and draft remaining RBs instead of other positions, giving you a better player at another position by the time it comes back to you. 4) It allows you to be aggressive and take chances on mid-round RBs who are risky but possess league-winning upside, rather than taking a “safe” starting RB with little upside.

Tier 5 

Leonard Fournette – Jaguars
Isaiah Crowell – Browns
Todd Gurley – Rams
Lamar Miller – Texans

I like to think of this as the first tier of guys who have RB1 upside, but also tons of risk. In fact, the risks are so obvious people love discussing them. I’d like to balance things out a bit and really sell you on their positives. After all, some of you will get stuck with these as your RB1s.

The Jaguars took a page from the Cowboys book and went out of their way to select a RB early in the draft to build the offense around him. I don’t think Fournette will quite meet the lofty expectations Zeke set after his monster 2016 season, but I think it’s safe to say the Jaguars intend to use him early and often right out of the gate. There’s no question he has the talent to be one of the league’s top backs, so he’s a much safer bet as a rookie than people are giving him credit for.

Crowell plays behind the NFL’s highest-paid offensive line after Cleveland signed Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to join Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio. His increased involvement in the passing game makes him an even more enticing pick this year, as that will help keep his production consistent despite various game flows.

Exactly one year ago, you weren’t considered crazy if you drafted Gurley No. 1 overall. We quickly realized that his talent alone was not enough to overcome poor coaching and team play. It’s almost impossible for the Rams to be any worse this year, and I think we will see flashes of just how good Gurley can be. He has the upside to be a top-five RB this year.

Miller should see fewer stacked boxes now that Brock Oswieler is gone. The Texans drafted D’Onta Foreman, but I don’t think you should let that scare you off. I view it more as the Texans realizing they lacked a true backup and insurance policy, and I think Miller will remain the Bell Cow Back in Houston.

Tier 6 

Marshawn Lynch – Raiders
Dalvin Cook – Vikings

It takes a bit of faith to select either one of these RBs early, but both could be worth the risk. There is a lot of talk about limiting Lynch to 200 carries considering he’s a 32-year-old coming back from retirement. There are legitimate concerns, but I would argue that an inordinate amount of Lynch’s carries will be “high leverage” in the red zone, so we should be careful to not lower his value too much.

Meanwhile, Cook is the real deal. He can be freakishly good at times, and I think his above-average RB teammates are scaring too many people away. My outlook for him isn’t too far off from Fournette, and he may be in the better situation on paper. My biggest worry is actually that he suffered his fair share of soft tissue injuries in college, so he could be a bit of a “Questionable” tag headache. He’s worth the risk in my book, though.

Tier 7 

Ty Montgomery – Packers
Spencer Ware – Chiefs

Each of these players has RB1 upside, they also have competition on their own teams. Montgomery is still transitioning from being a WR to a RB. It’s not really possible for him to be able to handle a 250-plus-touches type of role, so expect him to mix monster weeks with some major duds. Further, Green Bay just drafted two RBs. I fear rookie Jamaal Williams could potentially take over as the starter at some point, leaving Montgomery as more of a gadget player with RB2 value.

If Ware is able to hold off rookie Kareem Hunt and maintain his three-down role for most of the season, then he will be a steal. The risk associated with Ware seems to be appropriately baked into his ADP right now as the 19th RB off the board.

Tier 8 

Joe Mixon – Bengals
Carlos Hyde – 49ers
Christian McCaffrey – Panthers
Tevin Coleman – Falcons
Bilal Powell – Jets

This tier is loaded with potential, but these guys have too many risks involved to feel good about relying on them as your RB2. I would avoid Hyde altogether in this range considering he’s being drafted closer to Tier 6 and 7 guys. I won’t end up with him on any teams. This feels like the high water mark for him, even if everything goes right. Hyde is going to be on a bad team that could be picking No. 1 overall next year with a new coaching regime that seems content with letting him walk next season.

I’d rather take a chance on someone like Coleman, who is currently ranked as if Devonta Freeman will be healthy all year, with none of his high upside baked in. If we expect chaos and volatility at RB, and draft accordingly, we raise Coleman’s stock, as he has league-winning potential if Freeman goes down. It’s a bit of a gamble, sure, but any RB in this range is a gamble in some way.

Tier 9 

Eddie Lacy – Seahawks
Mike Gillislee – Patriots
Terrance West – Ravens
Mark Ingram – Saints
Frank Gore – Colts
Ameer Abdullah – Lions
C.J. Anderson – Broncos
LeGarrette Blount – Eagles
Adrian Peterson – Saints
Paul Perkins – Giants
Doug Martin – Buccaneers

This tier acts as a safety net for people who used the early rounds to load up at other positions and are trying to lock up a safe-ish RB2. There is a fairly large drop-off after this tier, and you’d be stuck with low-risk/low-reward or high-risk/medium-reward players from here on out.

West offers the most value based on his current ADP being the 37th RB taken on average. I think the market hasn’t caught up to Kenneth Dixon’s season-ending injury just yet. Yes, Danny Woodhead will have a pretty big role (and he should be drafted higher in PPR leagues), but I don’t think his presence is enough to shy away from West if he falls outside of the top 30 RB.

Martin has sneaky value due to his three-game suspension. Most people will avoid having a 0 on their bench for three weeks, but you can make it work if you select Martin, especially as your RB4. You typically don’t even need your RB4 until bye weeks or injuries start happening anyways. You can also snag Jacquizz Rodgers late if you select Martin as your RB3, to really give yourself a solid situation entering the season, as he’ll likely start the games Martin is suspended.

Tier 10 

Derrick Henry – Titans
Matt Forte – Jets
Jonathan Stewart – Panthers
Danny Woodhead – Ravens

Henry is the guy to target from this group. His value is obviously capped due to Demarco Murray, but if Murray were to miss any time, it would vault Henry up to RB1 status. You really can’t say that about anyone else this far into the draft. Ideally, you would be selecting him as your RB4 for depth, and he is a potential league-winning player.

Tier 11 

Theo Riddick – Lions
Duke Johnson Jr. – Browns
Samaje Perine – Redskins
Rob Kelley – Redskins
Darren Sproles – Eagles

In PPR, a few of these players would be a tier or two higher. We will have to follow reports to get a better idea as to how the Redskins plan to utilize their backfield. As of now, it’s a tie between Perine and Kelley. Perine clearly has the most upside of the two, but all indications are that Kelley will start the season as the lead back. Kelley has apparently shed some weight and is in great shape heading into the preseason.

Tier 12 

James White – Patriots
Jamaal Charles – Broncos
Kareem Hunt – Chiefs
Giovani Bernard – Bengals
Shane Vereen – Giants
Latavius Murray – Vikings
C.J. Prosise – Seahawks

We are now entering the unwanted territory for standard leagues. It’s not to say that these RBs lack talent and can’t be good fantasy assets at some point this year, it’s just that their role is sure to be low-volume entering the season, and they don’t quite possess the upside of a Derrick Henry type.

Vereen has the most value in regards to his ADP, but I like Hunt as the sleeper pick of the bunch. As mentioned earlier, Spencer Ware is going to have to hold off the dynamic rookie for most of the season. I feel like Hunt is the ideal RB to roster for depth, since his role will only grow as the season goes on while he offers sneaky league-winning potential if Ware were to miss significant time – or even lose his job.

Tier 13 

Chris Thompson – Redskins
Jonathan Williams – Bills
Jalen Richard – Raiders
Robert Turbin – Colts
Rex Burkhead – Patriots
DeAndre Washington – Raiders
Jeremy Hill – Bengals
Joe Williams – 49ers
Devontae Booker – Broncos
Tim Hightower – 49ers
Darren McFadden – Cowboys

This tier is a gruesome batch featuring the weaker sides of RBBCs (running backs by committee) and/or third-down specialists. Most of these RBs need an injury or two in order to have their usage spike to anything higher than a bye-week-fill-in type player. Now that Frank Gore turned 34, I think it’s safe to say he may run out of gas at some point this season. His backup, Robert Turbin, has been a bit of a goal line vulture in the past, but I think this year he could take over as starter if Gore becomes completely ineffective – which is possible. McFadden is worth snagging a tad earlier as long as there is some speculation that Ezekiel Elliott could be suspended at all.

Tier 14 

Jacquizz Rodgers – Buccaneers
Alvin Kamara – Sains
Charles Sims – Buccaneers
Thomas Rawls – Seahawks
Jamaal Williams – Packers
T.J. Yeldon – Jaguars
Dion Lewis – Patriots
D’Onta Foreman – Texans

Rodgers is clearly the RB to take of this bunch as he is set to start for the Bucs for the first 3 games of their season. It makes even more sense for whoever selected Doug Martin earlier in the draft to snag him.

2017 Fantasy Football Quarterback Tiers

STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Quarterbacks

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This has been a special time for me after winning the FantasyPros expert fantasy football accuracy contests in back-to-back seasons. Thanks for all of the congratulations and kind words in the offseason. It truly means a lot, as I spend a lot of time and energy producing the most accurate projections possible. I’m gunning for a three-peat this year!

I broke down the top fantasy quarterbacks into tiers for the first installment of STATS’ 2017 season preview. The image below provides a visual of the tiers themselves to get a sense of where we rank each player versus their average draft position across the fantasy industry.

 

Tier 1

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is in a class by himself. His passing numbers resemble Drew Brees’ and Tom Brady’s through the air, but also being a lock for 300 rushing yards and a couple rushing TDs sets Rodgers apart. He has just about the highest ceiling/floor combo each and every week. The fact Green Bay seems content with Ty Montgomery being the No. 1 running back entering the season tells me they aren’t even attempting to become more balanced. The Packers will continue to rely heavily on Rodgers’ arm and one of the best receiving corps in football.

Tier 2

Tom Brady

Brady seems committed to playing well into his 40s, and he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. The Patriots added yet another weapon to their deep receiving arsenal for Brady, acquiring Brandin Cooks from New Orleans in the offseason. It’s even scarier to think what Brady’s production would look like if he and Rob Gronkowski were able to play a full season together – something that hasn’t happened since 2011.

Tier 3

Drew Brees
Andrew Luck

Brees might be the safest bet in fantasy football. His ceiling is a tad lower due to his lack of rushing numbers, but he adds a sense of predictability. Brees is coming off his fifth 5,000-yard passing season, and no other quarterback in NFL history has more than one.

Plenty of questions surround Luck, though. After seemingly putting off shoulder surgery for two years (most likely a torn labrum), he finally had the surgery and I have my doubts entering this season. Ironically, I had the exact same injury/surgery as him and put it off for about just as long. He was very likely playing through significant pain and limited range of motion in his throwing shoulder over the last couple seasons, and the surgery should help out his long term prospects. I know first-hand how frustratingly slow the comeback process can be, but Luck is a world-class athlete and has a chance to be fully healthy come Week 1. If you are willing to take a bit of a risk, you could wind up with the highest upside at the position.

Tier 4

Matt Ryan
Russell Wilson

Ryan entering the season projected as the fifth-best fantasy QB seems about right. He’s coming off a career year, and it’s safe to say he’ll regress a bit. Ryan will be playing under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after Kyle Shannahan left for the head-coaching job in San Francisco, but the Falcons wisely are keeping the same exact offense and not changing their approach. Maintaining a 52.6 percent scoring rate per drive will be the issue. Having said that, even with reduced passing TDs, the yards and scoring chances will still be there, making Ryan a very safe bet to be back in the top 10 again this year.

Wilson might have the second-highest upside of any QB behind Luck. He attempted a career-high 546 passes last year, but he also set career lows in all rushing categories partial due to the myriad of leg injuries he sustained. Assuming he’s healthy heading into this year, one could argue that Wilson offers too much potential to pass up if he’s the best QB available with a drop-off at the position looming, as noted in the image above.

Tier 5

Jameis Winston

This is arguably the best value at the position, as you can also see from the chart that Winston is going a bit later than a couple guys in Tier 6. It seems as if the market is underestimating the type of breakout season a talented 23-year-old entering his third year can have. Don’t forget Tampa Bay added receiver DeSean Jackson to prevent defenses from only having to game plan for Mike Evans. My mindset is to try and steal Winston in the later rounds and add depth at other positions.

Tier 6

Kirk Cousins
Marcus Mariota
Cam Newton
Dak Prescott
Derek Carr

This begins a stretch of 10 QBs that are only separated by about 10 points from top to bottom, and their rankings are practically interchangeable from analyst to analyst. Mariota and Carr are both returning from broken legs. It seems as if this has hurt Mariota’s stock more than Carr’s, and it makes sense considering Mariota relies on his legs a bit more. However, Oakland’s addition of Marshawn Lynch could result in fewer passing chances for Carr around the goal line, where he seems to have an odd fascination with Seth Roberts and Clive Wofford for some strange reason. I also see them being in more of a “protect the lead” game flow which we have rarely associated with Raiders football for quite some time.

The Titans, on the other hand, drafted receiver Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick and then later added Eric Decker. Mariota now has one heck of an army chest of weapons with tight end Delaine Walker as well. He offers the most value at his current draft position in this tier.

Cousins is betting on himself playing a second straight season under the franchise tag, which I think is the smart thing to do. There are certainly question marks after offensive coordinator Sean McVay left to coach the Rams, and receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson left, too. Washington added Terrelle Pryor, though, and it still has one of the more lethal TE duos in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Cousins has been slipping to the low end QB1 range where he offers decent value.

It will be very important to monitor Newton’s recovery from shoulder surgery heading into your drafts. I think it’s pretty telling the Panthers offseason moves indicate less pressure on Newton’s passing game, making his shoulder strength heading into the season as less of a concern than Andrew Luck’s. Letting deep threats like Ted Ginn and Corey (Philly) Brown go and adding short range RB/WR hybrids in Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel is quite a shift in personnel.  The real silent killer here could mean the Panthers plan on cutting Cam’s rushing down considerably in order to slow growing concern over the number of concussions he’s sustained. I’m a hard pass on Newton this year since his inflated ADP makes it easy to target players with a higher floor in the same range.

Prescott is another fascinating player to project this year. Admittedly, his rookie production blew away even my expectations after Tony Romo went down with an injury. But I feel like Dak very much could have peaked (from a passing efficiency perspective) in his rookie season. This is why I find it tough to really give him too much of a boost in that department, even though he finally gets an entire offseason to work out some of the rookie mistakes and grow even more rapport with his receivers. I think if he were to outperform last year, it would be due to his rushing stats. He is more than capable of breaking big gains on the ground if needed – not to mention his bowling ball, contact-seeking running style near the goal line. His six rushing TDs aren’t as fluky as some may think. He is currently going right where I think he should in fantasy drafts, but if Ezekiel Elliot ends up getting suspended, that might bump him up a bit higher within the tier.

Tier 7

Ben Roethlisberger
Philip Rivers
Matthew Stafford
Tyrod Taylor
Andy Dalton

All five of these guys will have weeks where we mistake them for elite QB1 options. Sadly, that is not the case, as I think of them as elite QB2 options. While I certainly have nice things to say about each one of these guys, this is a fairly negative tier as a whole considering I feel you can make league-winning picks at other positions instead of drafting these (largely) name-brand QBs. Because of this I will try to scare you away from the Tier by just roasting all of them instead.

Get ready for another season talking about Big Ben and his potent offensive weapons, and he will continue to be Josh McCown on the road while putting up 73 percent of his season stats in the two home games Pittsburgh wears its bumble bee retro uniforms. That’s without mentioning the six games Roethlisberger will miss due to what seems like an annual knee sprain.

Rivers again starts the season with one of the top receiving corps in all of football. Of course, they’ll all be hurt by Week 5, forcing Rivers to run for his life and throw to eventual starting receivers Javontee Herndon and Dontrelle Inman.

Stafford will spend another season of his prime underwhelming us with 24 or 25 TDs in what is a very pass friendly offense.

Tyrod Taylor has sky-high upside if he were to ever see a boost in passing stats, but we will again see that curbed by Sammy Watkins’ lingering injuries and the lack of a dynamic TE in a very run-first offense.

Andy Dalton will possess a top-five receiver and top-five tight end and somehow be sitting on everyone’s bench in one-quarterback leagues week in and week out.

Boom, roasted.

EDIT: Shortly after typing this, Mike Williams is very likely to be out for his rookie season with a back injury. While I don’t think this has as big of an impact on Rivers as people may think, it just goes to show my joke roast isn’t too far off.

Tier 8 

Eli Manning
Blake Bortles

The Giants added Brandon Marshall in the offseason which should help Eli Manning have a bounce-back season. They still have a non-existent running game, making Manning nothing more than floor insurance – meaning he won’t finish as a bottom-five QB this season. He caps out as maybe an elite QB2.

Bortles makes more sense to draft in this range as he’s going a couple rounds later. It also makes sense to take more of a gamble on what is likely a backup QB in most leagues. Bortles has always been sneaky due to the gap in his real life value vs. fantasy value. While he tends to throw the ball to the other team a bit too much – and I would never recommend rooting for him on TV live because he is difficult to watch sometimes – he somehow gets it done in the box score. Much like Rodgers, Bortles is a safe bet for 300-plus rush yards and 2 rush TDs a season.

The best way to convince yourself to take Bortles is to think of him as just that – a poor man’s Aaron Rodgers. It’s the pretty significant drop-off in passing stats that creates the production gap, but he has displayed a very sneaky high celling/floor combo, with back-to-back top-10 finishes among QBs the past two seasons. His only downside(s): the addition of rookie running back Leonard Fournette will certainly make Jacksonville a bit more balanced, and its defense may very well shape up to be one of the better units in the NFL, possibly creating more positive game scripts that would take away the garbage-time stats Bortles loves.

Tier 9

Carson Wentz
Ryan Tannehill
Carson Palmer

We are moving into the lower end of the QB list. I would say this is the last real tier with any upside, outside of DeShaun Watson. Wentz should only improve with his 2nd year leap that will also be bolstered by an improved supporting cast. I don’t see LeGarrette Blount’s addition to be much of a threat, as Ryan Mathews was a pretty consistent vulture last season. I don’t anticipate Blount to impact his TD% rate too much.

Tannehill is another QB that leans on his legs a bit more than most, but he’s also coming back from an ACL injury. It’s tough to see Tannehill making that leap we’ve been waiting for – especially now that his rushing production may have peaked. The Dolphins have finally enlisted their trust in Jay Ajayi as a workhorse back in what is an increasingly run-first offense.

Carson Palmer came on strong at the end of last season throwing for two or more TDs in six of his last seven games. This late in the draft you can certainly do worse than a trusty veteran who should have increased health/talent at WR and has arguably the best fantasy RB in David Johnson, who takes pressure off Palmer and catches tons of dump-off passes that pad Palmer’s stats.

Tier 10

Joe Flacco
Alex Smith
Sam Bradford

It can’t get much more boring than this batch of guys. The only benefit of this trio is we can probably accurately predict their end-of-season stats the closest. This certainty provides a life raft for people not willing to jump into the deep sea to take a chance on a raw talent with as much uncertainty as Deshaun Watson. I am about to explain why it might be worth taking the plunge.

Tier 11

Deshaun Watson

Tier 10 was the last batch of guys that are locked in as “real-life” QB1s. The rest are guys that are either in a position battle, or what we expect to be stop-gap situations. And Jared Goff.

Out of all of those guys, I feel Deshaun Watson is the only one worth actually considering for one-quarterback leagues. While he might be less likely on paper to outscore Flacco, Smith, and/or Bradford, I think the smart move is to pass on the safe options and gamble on Watson. Think about it. You know exactly what you are going to get out of those three: Steady yet below-average production with the occasional “blow up” game where they maybe throw for 300-plus yards and 2-3 TDs. They provide insurance if your starting QB gets hurt.

What intrigues me about Watson is he is being drafted as if he will start around 13 games. I think that’s fair and would peg his over/under around 13.5 games started. However, his upside is a mid-range QB2 and possibly even higher depending on how quickly he adapts to NFL defenses. We can learn from recent history to not overlook dual threat QBs in their rookie season, with Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott as recent examples.

If you snag Watson as a high-upside QB2 late and, say, after Week 7 it seems like he won’t pan out, you can probably still find an Alex Smith-type QB on the waiver wire. This is why it’s sneaky to use your backup QB slot to make a higher-risk investment since it comes with very little downside.

STATS Hosts First Chicago-Based SportTechie Event

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League rights. Over-the-top content. Virtual and augmented reality. Nontraditional properties. Sponsorship return on investment. Even the commercialization of ultimate frisbee.

No topics were off limits at SportTechie Chicago: Technology and the Evolution of Sports Media Valuation, hosted Wednesday, July 12 by STATS in partnership with GumGum Sports.

STATS VP David Ladd moderated while panelists Ryan Mosher, executive director of sponsorship solutions at GumGum Sports, and Dan Scalia, SVP at Stadium, discussed where they saw dollars moving across sports sponsorship and technology as an ever-complicating industry pushes forward.

Attendees’ professional ties at the first Chicago-based SportTechie event spanned social media to tech and teams. Regardless of association, the panel agreed technology’s influence on fan consumption with eyeballs shifting from traditional television viewing has opened the door to plenty of industry opportunity.

“GumGum Sports would not exist right now without the shifts in consumption,” Mosher said. “To better understand and provide stakeholders a more holistic view of everything that relates to media valuation – not only TV broadcast because that’s obviously going to still continue to be a key component – but more and more, fans and consumers are moving away from that. That’s been proven. The ability to apply the technology and capture all of that holistically is really why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Brands are reacting to OTT and degradation of numbers for traditional viewing platforms, and Scalia said they’re doing so favorably.

“I think the idea of being able to kind of translate who’s watching on television and what other channels or mediums are actually launching content around, it’s certainly attractive,” he said.

“I think what they’re trying to also understand is what’s the difference between the content that’s on a television broadcast or some sort of linear broadcast versus what’s going to be on over-the-top – whether it’s a Sling TV or Rabbit or any of those. As part of that, I think there’s an interesting story to be told.”

As for how that will play out in the coming months and years, Mosher pointed to the emergence of nontraditional properties’ roles – yes, down to TV deals and licensing for ultimate frisbee – in filling out content for existing and emerging platforms. Ladd specifically pointed to determining proper avenues of approach in the e-games market.

And because of these shifts and advents, the inevitable topic of increasing league rights fees and licensing costs came up as the panel was opened up for questions. Specifically, where does it plateau and, with the emergence of alternative revenue streams, how important are official league deals as those paying them weigh how they’ll recoup cost?

“I think we’re starting to witness that breaking point,” Scalia said. “We’re starting to see a constant shift. There hasn’t been a shift up until this point because there hasn’t been better alternatives to actually consume that content. The leagues are exceptionally smart. All they’re looking at is what that total licensing fee that they’re going to get is. How that’s defined – whether that’s coming from broadcast or OTT, or it’s coming from digital – it doesn’t necessarily matter to them.  But they are all hedging their bets expecting that cable subscribers are going to go down.”

STATS’ Data and Automated Language Generation Lead to Unmatched Fantasy Content

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Long gone are the days of fantasy football scores lagging behind NFL games. Team owners have expected scoring to update in real-time for a number of years, but individual player news and analysis have often been many hours – if not days – behind because of the exclusive reliance on humans.

At STATS, the process is changing in a way that’s differentiating the company’s player-specific fantasy content from the market. Along with parent firm Vista Equity Partners, STATS acquired Automated Insights in 2015 and is now leveraging the marriage of STATS’ comprehensive data with Ai’s natural language generation technology to create automated, player-specific content with unmatched efficiency.

STATS is already the first to use these methods for baseball, and its first season doing so gives an idea of how it will similarly impact fantasy owners’ Sundays and midweek fantasy matchup prep this fall. MLB just passed the midway point of the season, and STATS’ player news entries stood at 26,602 through July 4. A year ago at that point, it was 5,536 with a season total of 12,580 produced entirely by humans.

“Traditionally, data has been our differentiator,” said Brian Orefice, who oversees STATS’ editorial content as the company’s head of production for the Americas. “Now, we’re layering on top of that an automated solution that is 100 percent scalable and unmatched in the industry. What has traditionally been a labor-intensive product is now relatively turnkey with improvements to latency and scale that have given us a value proposition above the strict kind of data strength that we’ve had previously. It does the amount of work that, frankly, nobody is in a position to do. It has exponentially increased our scale and minimized our timing.”

No, that doesn’t mean robots are writing your game previews, injury updates or player advice. The complexity of sport makes expert analysis necessary. But with fantasy platforms continually becoming more detailed and evolving from the traditional QB-2RB-2WR-Flex-TE-D-K format, the associated player news and analysis needed to expand. Providers must create more content to meet needs of clients with deep and daily platforms, and it comes with a growing expectancy to do it much faster.

It’s possible to meet those demands at STATS because an automated system allows for prompt reporting on everyone on the field rather than selective, time-consuming output created exclusively by humans parsing box scores and individual player game logs. Rather than eliminating the human element, automation frees up writers to shift focus from straightforward performance reporting to providing clients and fantasy owners with useful advice and analysis as quickly as possible. In other words, leave the humdrum to the machines. Let the experts dig in.

“It allows the writers to focus on even more detailed stuff,” Orefice said. “We’re constantly pushing out more and more insightful and contextual information.”

2017 will be the first NFL season STATS’ clients see this spike in player news, and the content created will make for analysis that no longer overlooks the performance – or lack of performance – by your WR3 or TE2. Trends and insights will be identified with a new level of productivity which allows team owners to size up a player performance while it’s fresh in mind rather than trying to do so between sips of coffee from the office chair on Monday morning.

And this is a process that will only become more intuitive and immediate in coming seasons as data science allows for further automation.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Orefice said. “Eventually what’s going to happen is there will be an insights engine that sits on top of that logic. I’m excited for what we’ve done. I’m even more excited to get this insights layer on top of it to really add additional context to what we’re doing.”