When it comes to fantasy football most don’t get excited until the first preseason game. Others who are in the industry typically have two or more drafts under their belts, and will have certainly mock drafted plenty.
Either way, one of the most useful draft day tools is positional rankings, but what makes rankings even more powerful is to break them up into tiers. I love using tiers, and don’t enter a draft room without them.
Breaking up players into tiers allows you to better evaluate and place players based on your need. For example, if it’s your pick and your options are taking a second-tier running back vs. a wide receiver that’s in the third tier, perhaps you should go with the running back. But at that point you may not need a running back, so everything is situational. The point is tiers can help you narrow down decisions when they matter most.
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— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
Tier 1 – The Elite
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown is the definition of a receiving stud. He had a few rough games last season playing without Ben Roethlisberger. Brown finished with five games with less than 50 yards receiving and he had three fewer touchdowns than in 2014. However, Brown still tied for the league lead in receptions (136) while putting up 1,834 yards, so it’s not like his fantasy owners had any reason to complain.
There is zero risk here, as Brown will see 10-plus targets a game no matter who is the quarterback. I fully expect an uptick in his touchdowns this season with Martavis Bryant suspended and possibility of Le’Veon Bell missing a few games as well. Another 1,700-yard season with 12 touchdowns is certainly not out of the question.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones stayed healthy in 2015, which allowed him to play in all 16 games. It also means that he dominated on the field, even if his team didn’t enjoy as much success. Jones led the league in receiving (1,871 yards) while tying Antonio Brown for the most receptions (136). He also threw in eight touchdowns for good measure.
This season should bear similar results since Jones is a freak of a talent, and cannot be covered. If you miss out on Brown with the top pick, Jones should make for a great Plan B.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Beckham is so amazingly talented, and another receiver who will get his targets each and every game. He has also hauled in 12 and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons so Beckham can combine his end zone prowess with his 1,300-plus yards making him an easy top-3 option in 2016. You could flip-flop he and Julio Jones based on preference.
4. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant is a superstar talent who essentially lost a season last year. The loss of Tony Romo and Bryant’s own injuries derailed hopes for a dominant performance in 2015. It is a new season however, and fantasy owners should not shy away from him in 2016. Numbers like 120 receptions and 1,200 yards with 10 or more touchdowns is as real as it comes, and hopefully a conservative projection at that.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins has a new quarterback in Brock Osweiler and two very talented and young running mates that should force defenses to think twice when double-covering the All-Pro. Although 110 receptions may not happen again in 2016, Hopkins should still be close to the century mark and double-digit touchdowns also remain a real possibility with a healthy running game.
Tier 2 – Near Elite
6. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green defies the odds and just catches touchdowns. He lost Andy Dalton to a thumb injury and it didn’t matter. Green wound up with 60, yes 60, fewer targets than DeAndre Hopkins yet he had only one less touchdown and wasn’t that far enough in yards (1,297 to 1,541) either. Given the changeover at the position for the Bengals this offseason and the up-and-down nature of Dalton, a healthy Green is as reliable as they come.
7. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson carried many a fantasy squad to championships last season with a whopping 14 touchdowns and 1,400 yards receiving. This year a repeat is far from likely, but his production should still result in a top-10 fantasy wideout. Chris Ivory or not, Robinson will remain a red-zone threat.
8. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets
Marshall had a miraculous season in New York alongside Eric Decker, hauling in 14 touchdowns while piling up more than 1,500 yards. His age is somewhat concerning, but he will remain a top weapon in this Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Jets offense.
9. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans is so young, and so talented that this alone pushes him into this tier. He saw 148 targets last season, but only managed to reel in 74 of them and got into the end zone only three times. Improved chemistry with Jameis Winston should allow Evans to come closer to realizing his tantalizing upside.
Tier 3 – Potential Superstars
10. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
An injury-shortened season stifled Jeffery’s overall numbers but if you look at them in the viewpoint of the few games he played he was an elite WR. With a full season of health, he should reward owners accordingly like he did in 2013-14.
11. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Allen is another receiver with elite skills who produced well in a shorter period of time. More than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns are a very real possibility.
12. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Thomas, like his quarterback Peyton Manning, really hurt fantasy owners in 2015. Aside from his receptions and yardage, his lack of touchdowns deflated his value. This year may not see much improvement, but either of his new quarterbacks should be a marked improvement over his options last season.
13. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Watkins has the talent and for a stretch was the focal point of the Bills’ offense. This season should lead to improvement for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, which could result in a breakthrough campaign for Watkins, provided he can stay healthy.
14. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Nelson is clearly Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target and the Packers’ offense wasn’t anywhere near as explosive or productive without him last season. That being said, Nelson is a year older and coming off of a serious knee injury. What’s worse is that he had what they are calling a “hiccup” with his recovery at the start of training camp. Perhaps this will allow him to drop in your draft. The talent is there, but will the risk of taking Nelson early pay off for you later?
Tier 4 – Stars
15. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Let’s ignore the first eight weeks and focus on the final stretch of last season. Cooks is the lead receiver, and we know what Drew Brees can do with his No. 1 targets. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Cooks’ outlook.
16. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Many expect Cooper to replace Michael Crabtree as the Raiders’ No. 1 target this season and I completely agree. Whether Cooper will improve on his catch rate (55.4 percent), and touchdowns (six) will be the main questions.
17. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Benjamin is returning from a devastating injury, but if you look at what Cam Newton was able to do last season, imagine him having his No. 1 receiver healthy and back in the fold? Remember, Ted Ginn was the Panthers’ No. 1 wideout in 2015. Let that sink in for a minute.
18. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton is a very streaky player. He is known to put up gigantic games, and then follow it up with a real dud. I may be drafting him myself solely because his huge games seem to come when I play against him. In reality, a healthy Andrew Luck will throw the ball quite a bit and even with other weapons at his disposal, Hilton should maintain his standing as No. 1 target.
19. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs
Maclin is worthy of his designation as a No. 1 receiver, but he is in Kansas City. This is a team that loves to run first and pass later. Maclin is explosive and will break some big plays but likely won’t improve on his 2015 numbers.
20. Eric Decker, New York Jets
Decker continues to be overlooked and wrongfully ignored in so many fantasy leagues. He is a touchdown hawk, and even with Brandon Marshall’s masterful season Decker finished as a top-15 receiver! Not much changes from 2015, so should he drop, giggle with glee as you pick him as your second or third receiver.
21. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Cobb should actually improve even with a healthy Jordy Nelson back in the picture. Cobb is shifty and a good pass catcher, but he’s not a No. 1 WR, as we found out last season. But with softer coverage and less pressure to produce, he could return to 2014 form and become a top-20 fantasy option once again.
22. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Tate may not get loads of touchdowns, but with Calvin Johnson no longer an option, he and Marvin Jones will simply need to become bigger red-zone threats. It will likely be impossible, but Tate is Matthew Stafford’s default No.1 option and he will continue to get his targets and yardage.
23. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Baldwin is very much like a Eric Decker-type – he simply has a nose for the end zone. Russell Wilson’s ability to extend plays with his feet and athleticism also help by providing Baldwin with enough time to get open for a big gain. He may not break 1,000 yards in 2016, but he should be productive and may be underrated on draft day.
24. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
Floyd was so close to a monster season in 2015 with a few injuries holding him back. If he is ready to roll at full strength this season he is primed for a breakout season. Larry Fitzgerald is still crafty enough to keep defenses honest, but this will be Floyd’s show with John Brown also in the mix. Career bests in yards (1,041 in 2013) and touchdowns (6 in 2014, ’15) are a very real possibility.
25. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Landy is a PPR monster that could be in line for slight dip in production this season because of the emergence of some of his teammates. That said, Landry is still a worthy pick of being a middle-round pick, if not earlier, solely because of his expected volume of targets (166 in 2015).
Tier 5 – Production, Production, Production
26. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Sanders was one of the hardest players for me to rank. If I were to redo it again he likely would be lower. That being said he will remain a second option for Mark Sanchez (or whoever wins the starting job) in the beginning, and the Broncos’ younger receivers continue to struggle, Sanders should be fine as a WR2 or WR3 for your fantasy team.
27. Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Moncrief has the height (6-2) and size (221) to be the Colts’ red-zone threat in 2016, and he is the most likely candidate on the team to see a significant improvement in his production. With youth and size on his side a 1,000-yard and eight-touchdown season is not a stretch at all.
28. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Crabtree’s numbers dipped in the second half significantly, but he should still be fantasy relevant even if Amari Cooper takes a big step forward this season. As long as Derek Carr doesn’t regress too much, Crabtree should still have plenty of value, both on the field and in your draft in the middle to late rounds.
29. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Edelman should continue to see plenty of targets, and the fact that Tom Brady is missing the first four games shouldn’t matter much. If Jimmy Garoppolo has enough time and is accurate, Edelman will get his receptions because he is always open.
30. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Here he is. The hardest player to rank in fantasy this year. We know Gordon will miss four games, but we also know what he can do in limited time. Look at his 2013 season (league-leading 1,846 yards receiving) for example. Wow! But that was 2013 and Gordon hasn’t played in a game since December 2014. Will he be rusty? Can he and his new quarterback make a connection? This is the epitome of a risk-reward situation, but the latter could well outweigh the former, making Gordon an elite option at a bargain price come Week 5.
31. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
32. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
33. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
34. DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
35. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
36. DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins
37. Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
38. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
39. Kevin White, Chicago Bears
40. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
41. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
42. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens
43. Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings
44. Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts
45. Sterling Shephard, New York Giants
46. Torrey Smith, San Francisco 49ers
47. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
48. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
49. Tavon Austin, Los Angeles Rams
50. Corey Coleman, Cleveland Browns
51. Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers
52. Dorial Green-Beckham, Tennessee Titans
53. Travis Benjamin, San Diego Chargers
54. Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
54. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
55. Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
56. Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers
57. Anquan Boldin, Detroit Lions
58. Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans
59. Josh Doctson, Washington Redskins
60. Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles
61. Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
62. Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins
63. Bruce Ellington, San Francisco 49ers
64. Rueben Randle, Philadelphia Eagles
65. Kenny Britt, Los Angeles Rams
66. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
67. Steve Johnson, San Diego Chargers
68. Breshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens
69. Seth Roberts, Oakland Raiders
70. Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals
71. Jaelen Strong, Houston Texans
72. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
73. Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills
74. Jermaine Kearse, Seattle Seahawks
75. Chris Hogan, New England Patriots