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Fantasy football guide: Use these tiers to ace your upcoming draft

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley pushes away Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney during the first half of an NFL football game, in Los Angeles. Gurley has agreed to a lucrative contract extension with the Rams. Rams general manager Les Snead confirmed the new deal Tuesday, July 24, 2018, for the NFLs offensive player of the year. (Alex Gallardo / AP)
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley pushes away Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney during the first half of an NFL football game, in Los Angeles. Gurley has agreed to a lucrative contract extension with the Rams. Rams general manager Les Snead confirmed the new deal Tuesday, July 24, 2018, for the NFLs offensive player of the year. (Alex Gallardo / AP)
By Des Bieler Washington Post

The one thing no fantasy team owner can do without at a draft is a list of players, whether it comes in a fancy online app or simply printed out on good ol’ paper. However, for those who really want to ace their drafts, that list is divided into tiers.

Grouping players into tiers helps drafters make decisions about when to pick players from different positions, especially after the very early rounds, when the “best player available” approach often makes sense. For instance, if you need both an RB3 and a WR3, and you see that the group of RBs you still think are start-worthy is drying up, while there are plenty of good-looking WRs left, then you know to go with the ball-carrier over the pass-catcher.

With that in mind, here is a look at how the four major positions in fantasy football – RB, WR, QB and TE – can be grouped into tiers. (Note that The Post uses PPR scoring as its default.)

Running back

Tier 1: Todd Gurley (Rams), Le’Veon Bell (Steelers), David Johnson (Cardinals), Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys)

Gurley and Bell could probably be in their own tier, as they are going 1-2, in some order, in most drafts. However, it’s not all that hard to conceive of Johnson, who finished No. 1 overall in 2016 before a wrist injury knocked him out for almost all of 2017, or Elliott, arguably the league’s best runner on a team that will use him relentlessly, having monster seasons of their own.

Tier 2: Saquon Barkley (Giants), Alvin Kamara (Saints), Kareem Hunt (Chiefs), Leonard Fournette (Jaguars), Melvin Gordon (Chargers), Dalvin Cook (Vikings)

All heavily involved in their team’s offenses and are strong RB1 candidates in any format. Questions about Kamara’s workload and likely regression from his historic per-touch numbers in 2017 keep him from the top tier.

Tier 3: Christian McCaffrey (Panthers), Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Jerick McKinnon (49ers), Joe Mixon (Bengals), Jordan Howard (Bears), Kenyan Drake (Dolphins), Lamar Miller (Texans), Alex Collins (Ravens)

Solid RB2 types here, with upside for big, if not exactly league-winning, results.

Tier 4: Tevin Coleman (Falcons), Jay Ajayi (Eagles), Dion Lewis (Titans), Derrick Henry (Titans), LeSean McCoy (Bills), Royce Freeman (Broncos), Rex Burkhead (Patriots), Mark Ingram (Saints), Marshawn Lynch (Raiders), Carlos Hyde (Browns), Ronald Jones II (Buccaneers)

If you don’t have a second RB by the time you reach this group, you probably should dip into it, because it only gets riskier from here.

Tier 5: Chris Thompson (Redskins), Tarik Cohen (Bears), Jamaal Williams (Packers), Giovani Bernard (Bengals), Duke Johnson (Browns), Isaiah Crowell (Jets), Sony Michel (Patriots), Kerryon Johnson (Lions), Marlon Mack (Colts), Rashaad Penny (Seahawks), Chris Carson (Seahawks)

Here we start seeing the PPR specialists, as well as backs whose projected lack of involvement in the passing game hurts their upside. Penny has ceded the early upper hand in Seattle’s backfield to Carson, but the first-round pick is likely to regain it later in the season.

Tier 6: C.J. Anderson (Panthers), Devontae Booker (Broncos), Aaron Jones (Packers), Nick Chubb (Browns), Theo Riddick (Lions), Nyheim Hines (Colts), Ty Montgomery (Packers), Bilal Powell (Jets), Matt Breida (49ers), Chris Ivory (Bills), Corey Clement (Eagles), Robert Kelley (Redskins)

Most of these guys have consistent roles but need an injury to really become attractive options.

Tier 7: Peyton Barber (Buccaneers), T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars), James White (Patriots), D’Onta Foreman (Texans), Jordan Wilkins (Colts), Frank Gore (Dolphins), Austin Ekeler (Chargers), Spencer Ware (Chiefs), Doug Martin (Raiders)

We’re just one step ahead of pure handcuff territory here. Foreman will become undraftable in all but the deepest redraft leagues if he starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Wide receiver

Tier 1: Antonio Brown (Steelers), Julio Jones (Falcons), Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)

As fantasy’s most bankable commodity, Brown could have the top tier to himself, but we’ll be accommodating enough to include the other three players who are set to be the cream of the WR crop.

Tier 2: Michael Thomas (Saints), Keenan Allen (Chargers), Davante Adams (Packers), A.J. Green (Bengals), Mike Evans (Buccaneers), Stefon Diggs (Vikings), Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)

Here are the rest of the players who are good bets to return WR1 value, with this analyst clearly bullish on Diggs’ chances. Just stay healthy, dude!

Tier 3: T.Y. Hilton (Colts), Adam Thielen (Vikings), Amari Cooper (Raiders), Golden Tate (Lions), Doug Baldwin (Seahawks), Tyreek Hill (Chiefs)

Anyone in this group could easily vault up a tier or two, except perhaps Tate, who makes up in PPR-friendly volume what he might lack in ceiling.

Tier 4: Marvin Jones (Lions), Demaryius Thomas (Broncos), Jarvis Landry (Browns), Allen Robinson (Bears), Brandin Cooks (Rams), Michael Crabtree (Ravens), JuJu Smith-Schuster Steelers), Josh Gordon (Browns)

A very solid-looking bunch of WR2 candidates here, although Cooks and Gordon (assuming he returns to Cleveland sometime soon) may have week-to-week volatility.

Tier 5: Corey Davis (Titans), Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos), Jamison Crowder (Redskins), Robert Woods (Rams), Randall Cobb (Packers), Julian Edelman (Patriots), Sammy Watkins (Chiefs), Chris Hogan (Patriots), Marquise Goodwin (49ers), Alshon Jeffery (Eagles), Robby Anderson (Jets), Cooper Kupp (Rams)

This is where it starts to become very apparent how deep the position is, with all sorts of opportunities in this pack for excellent returns on investment. Edelman, keep in mind, starts off on a four-game suspension and the health of Jeffery (shoulder) will have to be closely monitored.

Tier 6: Pierre Garcon (49ers), Kenny Stills (Dolphins), Devin Funchess (Panthers), Nelson Agholor (Eagles), Kelvin Benjamin (Bills), Allen Hurns (Cowboys), Marqise Lee (Jaguars), Devante Parker (Dolphins), Will Fuller (Texans), Tyler Lockett (Seahawks), Jordy Nelson (Raiders)

A mix of guys who might be their respective teams’ top WR more by default than anything else, and players who are clear No. 2 WRs with talented QBs.

Tier 7: D.J. Moore (Panthers), Michael Gallup (Cowboys), Ryan Grant (Colts), Mohamed Sanu (Falcons), John Brown (Ravens), John Ross (Bengals), Chris Godwin (Buccaneers), Josh Doctson (Redskins), Sterling Shepard (Giants), Kenny Golladay (Lions), Anthony Miller (Bears), Geronimo Allison Packers), Calvin Ridley Falcons), Quincy Enunwa (Jets)

Pick your favorite out of this grab-bag of intriguing WRs, all of whom should get plenty of chances to prove worthy of bigger roles.


Tier 1: Aaron Rodgers (Packers)

There’s no good argument this year for taking any other QB over this man.

Tier 2: Tom Brady (Patriots), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Deshaun Watson (Texans), Cam Newton (Panthers), Carson Wentz (Eagles), Drew Brees (Saints)

Just a few more questions with these fine folks, including how much of the remarkable five-game stretch Watson authored last season before he got hurt he’ll be able to carry into this season.

Tier 3: Matthew Stafford (Lions), Andrew Luck (Colts), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers), Philip Rivers (Chargers), Alex Smith (Redskins)

Good bets to return low-end QB1 value, with Luck the obvious name that pops out as having a chance to do much more than that.

Tier 4: Marcus Mariota (Titans), Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Jameis Winston (Buccaneers), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Jared Goff (Rams), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Blake Bortles (Jaguars), Derek Carr (Raiders)

QBs you’d rather stream than have to rely on every week, although Mahomes’ skill set and receiving weaponry could make him a fantasy monster if he can put things together quickly in his first season as a starter.

Tier 5: Mitch Trubisky (Bears), Eli Manning (Giants), Andy Dalton (Bengals), Case Keenum (Broncos), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Tyrod Taylor (Browns)

The depth at this position is reflected here, as any of these players could keep a fantasy squad afloat in a pinch. Taylor would be higher if he didn’t happen to have the draft’s No. 1 overall pick breathing down his neck.

Tier 6: Sam Bradford Cardinals), Joe Flacco (Ravens), Sam Darnold (Jets), Josh Allen (Bills), Josh Rosen (Cardinals), Baker Mayfield (Browns), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Josh McCown (Jets)

Uncertain situations involving first-round QB picks are the calling cards of this crew.

Tight end

Tier 1: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)

Gronk smash!

Tier 2: Travis Kelce (Chiefs), Zach Ertz (Eagles)

There’s a Big 3 at TE this year, with just a bit of separation between Gronk and this duo.

Tier 3: Greg Olsen (Panthers), Jimmy Graham (Packers), Delanie Walker (Titans), Kyle Rudolph (Vikings), Evan Engram (Giants), Jordan Reed (Redskins), Trey Burton (Bears), Jack Doyle (Colts)

The rest of the TE1 pack, with Reed’s ever-present health concerns keeping him from making it a Big 4.

Tier 4: George Kittle (49ers), David Njoku (Browns), Charles Clay (Bills), Eric Ebron (Colts), Cameron Brate (Buccaneers), O.J. Howard (Buccaneers), Tyler Eifert (Bengals)

We’ve only listed 11 TEs so far, so in 12-team leagues some brave souls are going to have to take their chances with one of these players. The good news is that there is upside to spare here, even with the uninspiring Clay, who could lead the talent-deficient Bills in targets.

Tier 5: Benjamin Watson (Saints), Jared Cook (Raiders), Ricky Seals-Jones (Cardinals), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jaguars), Vance McDonald (Steelers), Hayden Hurst (Ravens), Austin Hooper (Falcons), Mike Gesicki (Dolphins)

There’s actually some sneaky depth at TE, as any of these guys could emerge as major contributors to their teams’ passing attacks.

Tier 6: Vernon Davis (49ers), Jake Butt (Broncos), Nick Vannett (Seahawks), Luke Willson (Lions), Dallas Goedert (Eagles), Tyler Kroft (Bengals), Virgil Green (Chargers), Gerald Everett (Rams)

If you’re finding yourself in a position to even ponder these names, congratulations on playing in such a deep fantasy league.

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