Fantasy Football: Tier rankings for the early rounds of league drafts

Regular readers of this column may recall that I’m a big proponent of utilizing rankings separated into tiers when preparing for a fantasy football draft. And if you didn’t know, now you know.

Regular numbered rankings just don’t cut it. Maybe the No. 4 player on a rankings sheet is distinctly better than No. 5. Maybe both players can be expected, knowing what we think we know before real games are played, to produce at about the same level. 

That’s what makes tier rankings much better. Most folks who’ve done a modicum of research know that the consensus top three players in PPR scoring formats are top running backs Saquon Barkley (New York Giants), Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) and Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers). You can’t really go wrong with any of them at this point, so to put one over the other comes down to personal preference.

I like to compile my own tier rankings, but most fantasy football managers don’t have that kind of time or inclination. In that case, here’s a look at how I’d set up the tiers in PPR leagues over the first four or five rounds in 12- or 10-team leagues, respectively.

Tier 1: Saquon Barkley (RB), Alvin Kamara (RB), Christian McCaffrey (RB)

High-usage running backs who figure to catch a ton of passes are the driving force behind championship teams in today’s fantasy football landscape. If you get one of these three, you’re setting yourself up for a good season.

Tier 2: Davante Adams (WR), DeAndre Hopkins (WR), Julio Jones (WR), Juju Smith-Schuster (WR), Michael Thomas (WR)

After the cream of the crop at RB comes the elite wide receivers. All five are focal points in pass-heavy offenses who have a track record of elite production. If you can’t get one of the big three at RB, don’t feel too disappointed to land one of these pass-catching monsters.

Tier 3: Le’Veon Bell (RB), Tyreek Hill (WR), David Johnson (RB)

All three have been peak fantasy performers before, but they’re just a bit riskier than those on the top two tiers. Still, don’t be stunned if Bell, Hill or Johnson leads his position in points for the season.

Tier 4: Odell Beckham Jr. (WR), Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Travis Kelce (TE)

Elliott would be a Tier 1 if not for his prolonged contract stalemate with the Dallas Cowboys. If he rejoins the team, feel free to pull the trigger as high as first overall. Meanwhile, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Kelce is such standout at his position that he would be a fantastic add early in Round 2.

Tier 5: Keenan Allen (WR), James Conner (RB), Mike Evans (WR), Todd Gurley (RB)

Gurley’s bizarre slip in performance during the Los Angeles Rams’ run to the NFC championship is a serious ding to the value of fantasy football’s top-scoring player from the last three combined seasons. There’s risk, but he may still be a touchdown-scoring monster. 

Tier 6: Antonio Brown (WR), Dalvin Cook (RB), Julian Edelman (WR), George Kittle (TE), Joe Mixon (RB), Adam Thielen (WR)

There’s reason for concern about Brown in his first year with the Oakland Raiders. WRs, even elite ones, drop off in their 30s. He’s 31, and he’s making all the wrong headlines this summer. Don’t make him one of your top two picks if you can help it.

Tier 7: Nick Chubb (WR), Amari Cooper (WR), Stefon Diggs (WR), Zach Ertz (TE), Kerryon Johnson (RB)

Cooper looked every bit the elite talent fans figured he would be after Dallas traded for him midway through last season. He’s got plenty of upside at this tier. Chubb does too, but the eventual midseason return from suspension of disgraced former fantasy beast Kareem Hunt is concerning.

Tier 8: Brandin Cooks (WR), Leonard Fournette (RB), Patrick Mahomes (QB), Damien Williams (RB), Robert Woods (WR)

Now is the earliest to consider picking a quarterback, and it should only be the Kansas City kid who lit up the NFL in his first full year as a starter in 2018. Someone else probably will pick him earlier. Let them.

Tier 9: Chris Carson (RB), Devonta Freeman (RB), Kenny Golladay (WR), T.Y. Hilton (WR), Josh Jacobs (RB)

Hilton fell off mightily without Andrew Luck in 2017. Now that the Indianapolis Colts QB is retired, another dip in production could be on the way. Those banking on upside could take Oakland’s Jacobs as the first rookie off the board.

Tier 10: Tyler Boyd (WR), Chris Godwin (WR), Melvin Gordon (RB), Derrick Henry (RB), Aaron Jones (RB), Cooper Kupp (WR), Tyler Lockett (WR), Aaron Rodgers (QB), Deshaun Watson (QB), James White (RB)

The tiers get more populated as the draft rolls on and players’ values are harder to gauge. Note Gordon’s presence as he holds out with the Los Angeles Chargers. He’s a huge risk to miss time this season, but if he signs soon warrants a move to Tier 5.