I think it’s important to remind ourselves fantasy football rankings are neither projections nor a cheat sheet. They are a reference to access the night before your draft or during your draft to give you confidence going into a pick. There are many ways to approach your draft. No one approach will win you a championship—or even get you the team you want—just because it’s a solid plan. Each draft falls differently; it’s your ability to read the draft board that will get you the optimal line-up to start the season.
I hope to provide four parts to this and give you a solid top-200 rankings. Look for a cheat sheet at the end of the series that will be downloadable and printable. Those of us that have been doing this for 25 years understand the beauty of rolling up to an in-person draft with just a piece of paper and a pencil.
1. Christian McCaffrey, CAR, RB – I’ve heard the argument for putting CMC at the 1.01, and I concur, even though he’s proven to be less than durable during the past two seasons. CMC scored 24.9 points per game or more in four of the five full games he played last season. If CMC plays every game, he will most-likely outscore everyone this year in PPR and half PPR. He’s in a whole different galaxy in the receiving game compared to any other back.
2. Justin Jefferson, MIN, WR – During his first two seasons, he’s averaged 98 receptions, 1508 yards and 8.5 TDs in a run-first offense. New coach Kevin O’Connell could be bringing a high-flying offensive scheme with him from the L.A. Rams. Jefferson is one of four wide receivers with at least 250 routes to eclipse 2.50 yards per route run (YPRR) against man and zone coverage in 2021. I also prefer starting Round 1 with a WR because of what you can get at RB on the 2-3 turn.
3. Jonathan Taylor, IND, RB – Taylor was dominant last year with 1811 rushing yards (941 after contact) on 332 carries, 40 receptions for another 360 yards and 20 total touchdowns. His best ability compared to the other running backs on this list is his availability or durability. He led the NFL in touches inside the opponents 5-yard-line and inside the 10 by wide margins. Therefore, his TD rate should remain steady. The Colts have been credited with putting together one of the best offensive lines, but it was one of the most-injured offensive lines last season. He led the NFL with 66 missed tackles forced, 50 carries over 10-yards and recorded the fastest speed by a ball-carrier last season at 22.13 MPH.
4. Cooper Kupp, LAR, WR – Kupp had a dominant 2021, catching 145 of 191 targets for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the league in every major category as a pass catcher, on his way to a record-setting 439.5 PPR points for a wide receiver. He could have scored 15 fewer touchdowns and still been the WR1.
5. Ja’Marr Chase, CIN, WR – Chase scored the second-most fantasy points for a rookie wideout in league history. That’s even more amazing considering the Bengals’ offense started out slowly, as Burrow recovered from his torn ACL.
6. Austin Ekeler, LAC, RB – Last season was the strongest and healthiest of Ekeler’s five-year career. He still fell short of 1,000 rushing yards (911), but Ekeler’s points come from the receiving game. His 70 receptions for 647 yards were far short of his 2019 numbers. However, with Herbert at QB, he’s not going to see the dump-down passes he did with Rivers. The concern for Ekeler is he loses some red-zone work with the addition of rookie Isaiah Spiller, but it could keep him healthier in the long-run.
7. Stefon Diggs, BUF, WR – He made averaging 6.1 receptions for 72.1 yards per game feel disappointing based on expectations last season. He did have a career-high 10 touchdowns, averaged 9.7 targets per game and is in line for another high target share as we may see fewer designed rushes for Josh Allen with Brian Daboll leaving for the NYG.
8. Dalvin Cook, MIN, RB – Cook saw his rushing totals dip in 2021 from the previous season with 63 fewer attempts, nearly 400 fewer yards and 10 fewer touchdowns. Dalvin turns 27 in August and has some legal issues looming over his head. Cook’s top receiving season was 2019 when he had, 63 targets, 53 receptions and 519 yards in 14 games. With an emphasis on the passing game, this new coaching staff could easily get him to 70-75 targets with the potential for more.
9. Davante Adams, LV, WR – We may see a slight dip in production compared to previous years because of his move to Las Vegas, but I’m not projecting that. He will still be the Alpha in this offense. He specifically chose the Raiders to be with his college QB, and there’s a chance he could see lighter coverage with the other weapons in this offense. Adams is one of four wide receivers with at least 250 routes to eclipse 2.50 yards per route run (YPRR) against man and zone coverage in 2021.
10. Travis Kelce, KC, TE – Last year was the first time Kelce did not lead the position in points in six years. He was still the TE2 in points per game (16.4), expected points per game (15.7) and third in targets per game (8.4). With Tyreek Hill gone, Kelce will be the primary target on third down and during 2-minute drills. Taking a TE in the first round takes a special kind of testicular fortitude in order to draft the rest of your team with confidence.
11. Saquon Barkley, NYG, RB – The past few years have been frustrating for Barkley, and those that have rostered him, but there is reason for optimism coming into this season. His sprained ankle last year was a fluke injury that happened at an inopportune time as he was finally starting to ramp-up the workload after coming off the torn ACL from 2020. With a vastly improved offensive line and a new coaching staff, Barkley has the best supporting cast of his career. Daboll’s scheme is varied, and his spread-out attack gives his ball carriers room to work with once they touch the ball. He should also see something close to the target share he had in his rookie year because of Daboll’s desire to “throw the damn ball.”
12. D’Andre Swift, DET, RB – Swift was on pace for the fourth-most touches in the league prior to his injury, including being the third-most targeted RB (4.8) per game. Swift has a history of minor injuries going back to college, but reports from camp are he’s looking as healthy as ever.
13. Alvin Kamara, NO, RB – He appears to have avoided suspension for this season. If we were 100% confident, he would be a mid-first-round pick. Kamara had more expected fantasy points per game (19.4) than Taylor in 2021. He was the RB6 (18.1 FP/G) despite career-worst efficiency. The Saints had 530 pass attempts (32nd) and will throw more this year and most of his production has come as a receiver.
14. Derrick Henry , TEN, RB – I have Henry a little lower than most. I don’t think, at 28 years old, he bounces right back from his season-ending Jones fracture injury of Week 8 last year. I am skeptical of a bounce-back because Jones fractures often relapse and a second surgery is needed. Prior to his injury, he was the RB1 with more than 24 ppr a game, 1.7 more ppg than Taylor. He was clearly dominant when on the field, but the age cliff hits hard most of the time.
15. Najee Harris, PIT, RB – Harris is in line to get more than 80% of the touches in this backfield. Harris had 307 carries for 1200 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. Where he really benefited last year was in the passing game with 94 targets, 74 receptions, 467 yards and 3 touchdowns. Without the Ben Roethlisberger dump-offs, his targets could be cut in half.
16. Aaron Jones, GB, RB – With the loss of Davante Adams, the Green Bay offense is going to suffer. However, Jones could be a major benefactor. In the eight games Jones played without Adams on the field he averaged; 2 more receptions per game, 30 more receiving yards, saw a bump of 0.5 touchdowns per game and an increase of 8 fantasy points (PPR). Jones had a career-high 7 screens in the game Davante Adams missed last year.
17. CeeDee Lamb, DAL, WR – Lamb could be the only legit wide receiver in Dallas for the first few weeks of the season. Lamb was the WR8 through the first 10 games but really fell off in the last seven. With Amari Cooper gone, the expectation is he will see a substantial target increase. Without Gallup or Cooper, Lamb saw his production jump about 2.7 (half-PPR) points per game. That production would have made Lamb the WR12 last year, and his usage in games with one of his receivers missing equated to WR16.
18. Mike Evans, TB, WR – Evans gets more than 1,000 yards every year, and Brady loves him as an end-zone target. Chris Godwin likely misses part of the front of the season, Antonio Brown is gone, Russell Gage is nursing a hamstring and while Gronk is ‘retired’, Evans is the only returning pass-catcher Brady trusts. Evans is the top WR at generating step or more of separation vs. single-man coverage in 2021 (min 70 routes), 73%.
19. Deebo Samuel, SF, WR – We want Samuel in a more traditional WR role. He had 13.8 expected half-PPR points per game during his first eight games last season as a traditional WR. In comparison, he had 11.3 expected half-PPR points per game during his final eight games in a hybrid RB/WR role.
20. Tyreek Hill, MIA, WR – Hill has consistently elevated the performance of every quarterback he has played with. I expect that to continue. He showed us he’s not just a deep-ball receiver last season, and Mike McDaniel has expressed excitement in being able to scheme Hill in a variety of ways. I expect we could see him used like Samuel was last season.
21. A.J. Brown, PHI, WR – Brown plays with an angry intensity much like Samuel, and much like Samuel, he gets banged up regularly. He often plays through pain/injury, but there is a dip in production during these times. Before his knee issues cropped up again last season, he was one of the better wide receivers in the NFL, averaging 8 targets, 5 catches and 72 yards per game, while on pace for 10 touchdowns over 17 games. He has since been traded to Philly where he unites forces with one of his best friends, Jalen Hurts. We can’t rely on narrative-based takes to take over our rankings process. I am willing to give him a bump in this case, though. He was of four wide receivers with at least 250 routes to eclipse 2.50 yards per route run (YPRR) against man and zone coverage in 2021.
22. Tee Higgins, CIN, WR – The second half of last year when defenses shifted their attention to Chase and away from Higgins, he made them pay. From Week 8 on (including the playoffs), Higgins was eighth in the NFL in yards per route run and fantasy points per game.
23. Joe Mixon, CIN, RB – With three major upgrades in the line, Mixon could have more long carries this year. His receiving numbers are solid and shouldn’t see much, if any, change. Given full health, we can expect a repeat of RB8 performance from last year. Mixon had 292 carries for 1205 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns behind what was considered the worst offensive line to start last season. No running back saw worse blocking on short yardage attempts (1-3 yards to go). He was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on a whopping 75% of his 51 attempts.
24. Leonard Fournette, TB, RB – The stories about “fat Lenny” have been greatly exaggerated. He came into camp a little overweight, but unlike his tenure in Jacksonville, he was practicing during minicamp. He was notorious for not being focused in the offseason before playing with Brady, but he seems well aware of Brady’s expectations since joining the Bucs. Fournette was second among running backs in receptions per game (4.9) and tied for third in targets per route run on first down (29%) in 2021. Concerns Rachaad White may cut into Fournette’s receiving production seem unwarranted at this point. Brady really needs to trust his guys before they consistently see playing time.
25. DJ Moore, CAR, WR – Moore has three consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 receiving yards, and he might now have the best QB he’s ever had throwing him the ball. He’s one of the most skilled receivers in football; he just rarely scores. Baker Mayfield peppered Jarvis Landry with targets in Cleveland. Moore will turn those targets into top-tier production.
26. Nick Chubb, CLE, RB – Chubb missed three games last season and four in 2020, but he still finished as the RB11 in PPR scoring both years. There is plenty of competition for touches in the Cleveland backfield and questions at the QB position. However, Chubb has been the most consistent producer during the past three years. I believe Chubb is the best pure runner in the NFL, and his break-away speed produces the big plays we look for in fantasy.
27. Michael Pittman Jr., IND, WR – Pittman finished as WR17 (PPR) last season, catching 88 of 129 targets for 1,082 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s a true Alpha that commanded 60 more targets than the next closest teammate. Indianapolis added little to threaten his 24.8% target share (ninth), and upgraded their QB with Matt Ryan. Pittman was the WR7 (PPR) through nine weeks last year prior to Carson Wentz falling apart.
28. Javonte Williams, DEN, RB – It was a nearly even 50/50 split in the Broncos’ backfield last season. I think it’s likely it starts out that way this year, but by the end, it’s likely to be more of a 65/35 split. There was a progression last year with Gordon starting as the more utilized back early in the season, and Williams dominated in the second half. Williams is being widely projected as a top-six pick next season. I think he would be there now if Gordon hadn’t signed back with Denver.
29. Courtland Sutton, DEN, WR – Sutton is the most skilled receiver in a talented corps and should dominate the target share. It also appears he is bonding with Russ through Bible study…that has to be better than a brunch or shower narrative.
30. Marquise Brown, ARI, WR – Brown was the WR6 (PPR) through 10 weeks last season before Lamar Jackson’s battle with Covid and injuries. Brown reunites with his college QB and should show us why he was drafted in the first round back in 2019.
31. Keenan Allen, LAC, WR – Allen has been as steady as it gets during the past five seasons, catching more than 6.0 receptions per game, ranging from 97-106 receptions each season, averaging more than 70 yards per game and catching between 6-8 touchdowns in each of those seasons. Allen has successfully overcome the “injury-prone” label he carried early in his career, but now he has to battle the “age cliff” turning 30 a few months ago.
32. Mike Williams, LAC, WR – It seems like many analysts are high on Williams this year after he set career-highs in targets (129), receptions (76) and yardage (1,146) to go along with 9 touchdowns. I can’t find any sharp players that will buy him in dynasty leagues, though. He finally made it through a season relatively healthy—playing 16 of 17 games—but there was a dramatic drop in production after Week 5. He was the PPR WR2 through the first five weeks, but the WR28 in Weeks 6 through 18.
33. Diontae Johnson, PIT, WR – Johnson was the WR9 in points per game in his third season, catching 107 passes for 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns. He had the trust of Roethlisberger, but he could get off to a slow start with a new QB.
34. James Conner, ARI, RB – He’s 26 years old, but he’s had two top-six finishes within the past four years and a new feature-back contract. During the five-game stretch with Edmonds injured from Week 9-14, Conner averaged 22.2 touches with all inside the five-yard line RB touches and 89% of the passing situation targets to RBs.
35. Travis Etienne Jr., JAC, RB – Larky’s love-child! Coming off the season-long injury, this is essentially Etienne’s rookie year. Expectations are that he will perform similarly to D’Andre Swift.
36. Mark Andrews, BAL, TE – Andrews was the first tight end other than Kelce to lead the position in scoring since 2015. Andrews set career-highs, playing 75% of the offensive snaps (10% higher than his previous high) while running 623 routes (273 more than his previous high). He posted 107 receptions on 153 targets for 1361 yards—all massive leaps from his previous career-highs. The approximate 50% increase from previous season high’s weren’t based on him receiving a drastically larger target share. His target share went up just about 1%, from 25.4% to 26.6%, and his air yards share stayed almost the same, sitting at 28% in 2020, and 29.6% in 2021.
Most of this increased production came because the Ravens backfield was decimated with injury. He also benefited from Jackson being out in all or parts of six games. He went from 8 targets, 5.5 receptions and 71 yards per game up to 11 targets, 8 catches and 102 yards per game. Andrews would have to see more than a 30% target share to come close to repeating 2021 if the Ravens offense returns to their 2020, run-centric form.
37. Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE – Pitts was the first rookie tight end to reach 1,000 yards receiving since Mike Ditka in 1961. He lined up all over the field, playing 286 snaps in the slot, 248 snaps in-line and another 237 snaps out wide. Of tight ends with at least 200 routes, he finished last in targets vs linebackers and safeties at 51%. Pitts was ninth in targets per game (6.5), and second in intended air yards (1,204). The quarterback and offensive line are still concerning, but he should score more than one touchdown this season.
38. Breece Hall, NYJ, RB – Hall is a hyper-athletic and talented rookie. If this was five years ago, he probably would have been a top-10 pick in the NFL draft.
39. Josh Allen, BUF, QB – Allen had a 63.3% completion rate for 4,407 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 INTs last season. He also concluded the year with a 92.2 QB rating. He’s been spectacular for two seasons in a row, and we would expect nothing less this year.
40. Allen Robinson, LAR, WR – I’m very tempted to move him up my rankings. Through nine weeks last season, before he suffered an injury, Robert Woods was the PPR WR12 in this offense. Robinson has something to prove and finally has a top-tier QB. The Rams are fantastic at getting optimum performance from every veteran WR they sign.
41. Jaylen Waddle, MIA, WR – Waddle ranked sixth vs. single-man coverage in 2021, creating a step or more of separation on 63% of routes. He set a rookie record in receptions and should still thrive, even with the addition of Tyreek Hill.
42. Terry McLaurin, WAS, WR – He ranked 13th among wideouts in targets (130) in 2021. Just 62.7% of those targets were catchable, which was the lowest rate of all wideouts to see 100 or more targets last season. McLaurin has been very consistent with 900, 1,100 and 1,000 yards in his first three years in the league. That goes with 58, 87 and 77 receptions and 7, 4 and 5 touchdowns. I want to rank McLaurin higher, but he’s never finished as a top-20 receiver in PPR scoring. Wentz is an upgrade over the journeymen QBs he’s played with in the past. However, how much of an upgrade he will be is unknown. Projections should be around 85 catches, 1,100 yards and 5 touchdowns.
43. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL, RB – Many have writtenoff Elliott because of his hefty contract, and the belief Tony Pollard is a better RB. I think it’s essential to the Cowboys’ success that they get them both on the field as often as possible. Many also don’t understand Elliot’s versatility as he lined-up on the outside (WR) 65 times last season.
44. Brandin Cooks, HOU, WR – Cooks is consistently one of fantasy’s most underrated assets.
45. DK Metcalf, SEA, WR – Metcalf scored 19.63 PPG in his three (plus) games with Geno Smith last year, which would have been the WR5 last season. Metcalf is signing a three-year, $72 million extension that includes $58.2 million guaranteed. The deal includes $30 million signing bonus—the highest ever for a WR. They will be utilizing him as much as possible. My ranking is well ahead of ADP; you can wait another round and still get him in most drafts.
46. Cam Akers, LAR, RB – Akers has the potential to be a top-five RB, but it is just as likely he doesn’t fully get back to form after the Achilles injury.
47. J.K. Dobbins, BAL, RB – Dobbins’ fantasy stock is rising as he will likely be ready for Week 1, barring any setbacks. He doesn’t catch many passes in this offense, but he still represents one of the best values. He goes in the 6th round of most drafts.
48. Justin Herbert, LAC, QB – Herbert has been the QB8 and QB2 in points per game to open his career. He’s also the first player in NFL history to start his career with 30 touchdown passes in his first two seasons.
49. Patrick Mahomes, KC, QB – Mahomes has averaged more than 20 fantasy points per game in each of the past four seasons, finishing as the QB1, QB6, QB2 and QB5 in points per game during that time. He has seen his yards per pass attempt drop from the previous year in each of the past three seasons. Defenses have learned to implement the Cover-2 shell to take away his deep ball. On top of that, he now has to do it without Tyreek Hill.