The pre-season is just a few weeks away and that means the 2018 NFL season is just around the corner. As we get closer to opening night on September 6th, more and more re-draft leagues will have their draft.
My entire position-by-position PPR rankings will come out in early August, but in the mean time enjoy the third installment of my top 40 players and as always, happy hunting fantasy friends!
- Saquon Barkley, Giants, RB6
I am lower on Saquon Barkley than a lot of other fantasy experts. However, many feel that Barkley has the same value that Ezekiel Elliott had as a rookie back in 2016. That isn’t the case. First off, Elliott was running behind the best offensive line in the league. While the Giants did improve theirs this off-season, it is still a ways behind the Cowboys. Secondly, the Cowboys didn’t have a receiver with over 100 targets that year. Odell Beckham Jr. has averaged 166 targets per season on a 16-game basis for his career.
Barkley has the easy edge over Elliott in the passing game, and I expect him to get around the 113 targets Christian McCaffrey did last season. There are a lot of mouths to feed on the Giants offense and Barkley may struggle to run the ball behind a below average offensive line.
- Michael Thomas, Saints, WR6
Over his first two seasons in the league, Michael Thomas has finished as the WR7 and WR6. As a rookie, Thomas was the number two receiver behind Brandin Cooks and last season Drew Brees threw for the least amount of yards of his career since joining the Saints in 2006.
Thomas has 270 targets in his two-year career while catching 73% of them. In 31 career games, Thomas has finished as a top-13 wide receiver 15 times, including four times in the fantasy playoffs. Every year Thomas starts off a little slow, but when the playoffs are around the corner he steps up his game to be one of the more consistent fantasy wide receivers.
- Alvin Kamara, Saints, RB7
Last season’s offensive Rookie of the Year and fantasy stud, Alvin Kamara was the perfect late-round find. Currently Kamara’s ADP is 1.06 in PPR leagues according to fantasy football calculator. However, I don’t have Kamara as a first round pick because of one reason; his high touchdown rate. Last season Kamara finished with a 6.5% touchdown rate and scored a touchdown once every 15.5 touches. The last four seasons no top seven scoring running back finished with a touchdown rate higher than 5.7%.
Only four running backs have posted a 5% of higher touchdown rate since 2014, but the following year their touchdown rate dropped an average of 2.5%. If Kamara had a touchdown rate of 4% last season, he would have finished the season with eight touchdowns instead of 13 and as the RB6 instead of the RB3. Kamara is still a RB1 for me, but given all the things that had to go right for him last season, he isn’t a sure-fire first round selection.
- Julio Jones, Falcons, WR7
When debating the best wide receiver in the league, Julio Jones’ name is rightfully always in the conversation, but he isn’t the elite fantasy receiver he once was. Jones is still a WR1 and can single-handedly win fantasy owners their week with a big game. However, the downside with Jones is he struggles to consistently finish as a top-24 wide receiver on a weekly basis.
Over the last four seasons, Jones has finished as a WR1 only 44% of his games, while failing to finish as a top-24 wide receiver in 39% of his games. Last season, Jones had a league high 50.8 fantasy points in week 12 against the Buccaneers, but finished as a WR1 only two other times. Furthermore, the addition of first round pick Calvin Ridley should only add more concerns with Jones’ consistency. For fantasy owners that like boom-or-bust players, Jones is for them. But he’s not for me.
- Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals, WR8
Over the last three seasons Larry Fitzgerald has finished as the WR11 or better every year, including as the WR4 last season despite catching passes from three different quarterbacks. While Sam Bradford is expect to start the season, at some point Josh Rosen will take over. Many draft experts considered Rosen the best and most pro-ready quarterback in this year’s draft. In PPR scoring, Fitzgerald is a stud; averaging 108 catches per season while catching 71% of his targets over the past three seasons.
Last season Fitzgerald finished as a top-24 wide receiver nine times, including as a WR1 six times. Fitzgerald and David Johnson are the only proven weapons on the Cardinals offense and Fitzgerald should top the 100 catch marker once again this season, providing a safe floor to fantasy owners.
- Dalvin Cook, Vikings, RB8
Many things have changed in the Vikings offense from last season. However, Dalvin Cook is clearly the lead back and should have a monster season in 2018. Prior to getting hurt in week four, Cook was averaging 17.7 FPPG while averaging 23.7 touches per game. Furthermore; over the first three games of the season, Cook was responsible for 50% of the touches on offense, got 54% of the running back targets, and 79% of the rushing attempts.
While Latavius Murray wasn’t healthy to start the season and should have a role in the offense again this season, Cook should absorb all of Jerick McKinnon’s pass catching work from last season. McKinnon was targeted 4.3 times a game, and that went up to 4.7 times a game once Cook torn his ACL. The Vikings could pass more this season with new quarterback Kirk Cousins leading the offense, but they were second in the league in rushing attempts last season. Cook should see the bulk of those carries.
- Rob Gronkowski, Patriots, TE1
Injuries are the only issue with Rob Gronkowski. When healthy he is easily the TE1 for fantasy owners. Gronk led all tight ends with 16.2 FPPG last season and finished tied for second with eight touchdowns. Last season Gronkowski finished as a TE1 in 71% of his games. The Patriots need to find a new home for 294 targets from last season. The majority of them will go to Julian Edelman, who had a 159 in 2016, but some should slip over to Gronkowski.
Last season, Gronkowski averaged 7.5 targets per game, including 1.6 per game in the red zone where he caught six touchdowns. While Gronk hasn’t played in a full 16 game slate since 2011, he has played in 14 or more games in three of the last four seasons.
- Kareem Hunt, Chiefs, RB9
Kareem Hunt had an amazing opening night for the Chiefs in 2017. His first carry of the game resulted in a fumble. Then he went on to score 45.6 fantasy points in a win over the Patriots. During the season, Hunt had his highs and lows as he finished as a RB1 seven times, a RB2 five times, and failed to finish as a top-24 running back four times. While Hunt finished as a RB1 each week during the fantasy playoffs, 33% of his fantasy production came in the first three games last season.
With a lot of turnover on the Chiefs roster, there are a lot of unknown variables to deal with. Patrick Mahomes takes over at quarterback and Sammy Watkins steps in as the Chiefs’ number two wide receiver. With a weaker defense and a stronger armed quarterback, the Chiefs may end up passing more this season than they did last year. If so, Hunt’s upside is limited, but his role in the offense is cemented and provides a solid floor.
- A.J. Green, Bengals, WR9
Over the last three seasons, A.J. Green has finished every year as WR1 on FPPG basis. After the slow start last season, Green picked up the pace and finished as the WR10. Green struggled to be consistent last season, as he finished as a top-24 wide receiver just seven times. Furthermore; Green caught just 52% of his targets last season compared to 66% over the previous two seasons. The Bengals seriously improved their offensive line in the off-season and that should help Andy Dalton better deliver passes to Green.
On the other hand, the Bengals didn’t add any offensive weapons around Green. While the team expects big things from John Ross and Joe Mixon this season, Green should finish around last year’s 28% target share again this season. The quarterback play is concerning for Green’s value, but his volume alone makes him a top 10 fantasy wide receiver.
- Mike Evans, Buccaneers, WR10
Mike Evans ranks fourth in targets over the past four seasons with 309, behind only DeAndre Hopkins (325), Antonio Brown (317) and Larry Fitzgerald (311). However; Evans has only caught 54% of his targets. With Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension, I lowered Evans down a tier, but his volume and role in the offense keeps him in the WR1 range.
The Buccaneers were top four in both pass attempts and passing yards last season. While the additions of Ryan Jensen at center and Ronald Jones at running back will seriously help a running game that ranked bottom seven in attempts and yards, the Buccaneers are likely to be in negative game script often this season and take several shots downfield to Evans.