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 first installment of my top 40 players and as always, happy hunting fantasy friends!
- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers, WR17
Last season the Steelers threw the ball 589 times, one of the most in the league. Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers, both no longer on the team, combined for 110 targets (6.9 per game) last season that need to go somewhere else. Antonio Brown averaged 11.6 targets per game last season and 11.3 per game since 2014. Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell averaged 7.1 targets per game last season and 6.8 per game since 2014. Therefore, it is unlikely that many of the available 110 targets go to Brown or Bell.
Instead the majority of them will be split between JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie James Washington. Even if Washington can hit 80 targets this year (which I doubt), that leaves 30 available targets for Smith-Schuster to potentially snatch up. Had Smith-Schuster been targeted 109 last season he would have finished with 80 catches for 1,265 yards, 10 touchdowns and 19 fantasy points per game; ranking as the WR4. I don’t believe Smith-Schuster will finish that high, but he easily has WR1 upside.
- Aaron Rodgers, Packers, QB1
Unless in a super FLEX or two quarterback league, I believe in waiting till the later rounds to grab a quarterback. However, the exception to the rule is Aaron Rodgers, given his consistent history finishing as a top quarterback. Since Rodgers took over as the Packers’ starter in 2008, he has finished as a top two fantasy quarterback in every season except for the two he was injured and the 2015 season when he finished as the QB7.
Furthermore, in two of the last three seasons, Rodgers has produced two top 10 wide receivers. In 2014 Jordy Nelson finished as the WR3 and Randall Cobb finished as the WR8 while in 2016 Nelson finished as the WR2 and Davante Adams finished as the WR9. For fantasy owners many quarterbacks are a dime a dozen, but Rodgers is the exception.
- Devonta Freeman, Falcons, RB14
Since his breakout season in 2015 where he finished as the RB1, Devonta Freeman has slipped in his fantasy production. He finished the 2016 season as the RB6 and then finished last season as the RB13. Freeman is still a productive fantasy starter and a borderline RB1/RB2, but the additions to the Falcons offense give me concern about Freeman’s touches. The Falcons spent three draft picks on wide receivers and running backs, including Calvin Ridley in the first round and Ito Smith in the fourth round.
Last season Julio Jones had his worst fantasy year since 2013 and should bounce back this year. Tevin Coleman had his highest touch rate of his career last season, accounting for 24% of the Falcons offense. All while Freeman had a touch rate of 30%, the lowest of his career. Furthermore, Freeman’s targets have decreased each season since 2015, while Coleman’s have increased; Coleman’s increased role limits Freeman’s upside.
- Allen Robinson, Bears, WR18
Allen Robinson should be a more polarizing player given that he tore his ACL last season and barely finished as a WR2 in 2016. The Bears did a lot to improve around Mitchell Trubisky this season; along with Robinson they added Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel in free agency, then they spent two second round picks on wide receiver Anthony Miller and offensive lineman James Daniels. Of all the additions in the receiving core, Robinson is most talented and proven.
While Trubisky was the QB28 last season, he averaged 16.8 FPPG during the fantasy playoffs while finishing as a QB1 twice. Assuming Trubisky takes the expected step forward in his development and Robinson is healthy, he has low end WR1 upside.
- Demaryius Thomas, Broncos, WR19
Until last season, Demaryius Thomas had five straight seasons with over 90 catches and more than 1,000 yards, while finishing as a WR1 in four of those seasons. Last season, Thomas took a step back in large part due to inconsistent quarterback play. The trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch combined to average 13.1 FPPG, which would have made them the QB23 last season. Now Case Keenum takes over as the starter in Denver, coming off a career year where he finished as the QB12.
Even with horrible quarterback play last season, Thomas still finished as the WR16. If Keenum can play even 75% as good as he did last season, Thomas should easily bounce back to his 90 catches and 1,000 yard form. My two concerns with ranking him higher than the WR19 are that the Broncos have selected three wide receiver within the first four rounds over the last two drafts, and Thomas’ on-going hip issues.
- Travis Kelce, Chiefs, TE2
During his four year career, Travis Kelce has finished as a top eight tight end every season and has back-to-back seasons as the TE1. Without a doubt, Kelce is the consensus TE2 behind Rob Gronkowski. Unlike in past seasons, Kelce does come with some slight concern this year. Alex Smith has been the only quarterback Kelce has played with, but this year Patrick Mahomes takes over with very little experience.
Also, Kelce has lead the team in targets the past two seasons and that could change this year with Tyreek Hill entering his third season and the addition of Sammy Watkins. I am slightly lower on Kelce than his current ADP at 3.06 according to fantasy football calculator, but even with all the changes to the offense Kelce is a lock for a top five tight end finish.
- Derrius Guice, Redskins, RB15
Anyone who thinks Chris Thompson will cut into Derrius Guice’s workload is wrong. Thompson only played in 10 games last season because of a fractured fibula. The Redskins drafted Guice to improve their early down running game while protecting Thompson from injury. Last season Thompson averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 7.8 yards per touch. While the duo of Samaje Perine and Rob Kelly averaged 3.4 yards per carry and 3.8 yards per touch.
The Redskins ranked 24th in the league in rushing attempts last season. If Guice gets 85% of the non-Thompson rushes from last season, he would finish the year with 222 carries; which would have ranked 14th in the league last season. Furthermore, the Redskins had the second-most injuries in the league last season, many along the offensive line. Assuming that unit can stay healthy this season, Guice has the upside to finish as a top 10 running back.
- Jordan Howard, Bears, RB16
The only player on the Bears last season that had consistent fantasy production was Jordan Howard. Given that the Bears had no weapons to pass to, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Howard was fifth in the league in rushing attempts despite the Bears being in negative game script often last season. Howard had a 42% touch rate last season, and that will decrease this year as the Bears changed everything from last season.
Matt Nagy is the new head coach and recently refused to say Howard was a “bell cow” running back. Also the team added four new weapons to the receiving core, and Tarik Cohen is expected to take on a bigger role in the offense. Howard averages just 1.7 catches per game for his career, limiting his value in PPR leagues. He should see enough volume and goal line work to finish the season as a mid-RB2, but he lacks enough upside to push for a RB1 finish.
- Ronald Jones, Buccaneers, RB17
For all the Peyton Barber believers, your dreams have been crushed. Last season Barber averaged 3.9 yards per carry and 4.3 yards per touch, while Ronald Jones averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per touch last season at USC. The Buccaneers didn’t spend a top-40 pick on a running back to not give him every chance to earn the starting spot. Furthermore, reportedly Jones is expected to get 15-20 touches per game this season.
Last season the Buccaneers’ running backs as an unit averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, and the team ranked 27th in the league. In the offseason the Buccaneers added former Ravens’ center Ryan Jensen in free agency, then spent a third round pick on guard Alex Cappa in order to help improve the running game. If Jones sees 250 or more touches this season, he has the explosion and upside to finish as a high end RB2.
- Zach Ertz, Eagles, TE3
While Zach Ertz is my TE3, it comes with some concerns. The only difference between the last two seasons for Ertz where he finished as the TE6 in 2016 and TE3 in 2017 is he had four more touchdowns in 2017. During the 2016 season Ertz played in 14 games, had 78 catches on 106 targets for 816 yards, four touchdowns and averaged 13.1 FPPG. In 2017 Ertz played in 14 games, had 74 catches on 110 targets for 824 yards, eight touchdowns and averaged 14.5 FPPG.
Furthermore, in 2015 Ertz played in 15 games, had 75 catches on 112 targets for 853 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 11.4 FPPG while finishing the season at the TE9. Clearly Ertz’s fantasy production is based on the number of touchdowns he gets. With the Hunter Henry injury, there is no doubt that Ertz is the TE3. However, he has a wider range of potential finishes because of his touchdown dependency.