Positional Controversy: Examining Our Consensus Fantasy Rankings For 2018

Written by Mikey Ostrowski and Ben Morgan

If you looked at Ben and my rankings, you probably noticed that we had quite similar rankings for a good portion of the players. However, what kind of consensus ranking system would it be if we didn’t completely disagree on a handful of them? For those of you who haven’t checked out our positional rankings, you might want to go check them out here before reading through this.

In this article, Ben and I will make our cases as to why you should or shouldn’t be so high on a handful of players. Although, Ben’s got significantly different opinions on a lot of the guys that I do, so we’re going to make you guys choose sides.

We’ve got three quarterbacks, five running backs and five receivers in particular that we just couldn’t seem to agree on. So, let’s get into it.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees (QB7): Brees was rated as the #3 overall quarterback by Ben, while ranked only #13 by Mikey.

Drew Brees’ 2017 Stats: 4,334 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 12 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns. 16 games played.

Ben on why Brees should be on your team: When’s the last time Brees wasn’t a solid QB1 in fantasy football?  If you’re down on Brees due to his low touchdown total from last year, that means other people are as well so you may be able to scoop him up a little later in drafts.  I’m a strong believer that Brees has a bounce-back year in fantasy and he once again tops 30 touchdown passes.  Last season was the first time since 2007 that Brees failed to throw for 30 or more touchdowns, and the combination of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara may have a difficult time reproducing the seasons they put together last season, meaning more TDs for Brees.  He’s one of a select group of quarterbacks that you can count on each and every year in fantasy, and as you’ll see throughout the article, I’m a believer of making players prove their worth in re-draft leagues and Brees has been the ultimate model of consistency.

Mikey on why Brees should be avoided as your starter: There’s no disputing that Brees was once the reigning QB1 in fantasy football. However, he’s trending down hard. Not only is he like 75 years old, but he just had his lowest output of productivity since his 2009 season and I fully expect his numbers in 2018 to be extremely similar. The Saints are becoming a ground and pound team, leaning heavily on the Kamara-Ingram tandem, and that’s how they’ve been winning games. They no longer need Brees to be slinging for 5,000 yards simply because he is no longer the focal point of that offense. Is Brees still going to have over 4,000 yards? Yes. Is he still an elite quarterback in the NFL? Yes. Should he be on your fantasy team? In my opinion, probably not.

 

Carson Wentz (QB6): Wentz was rated as the #3 overall quarterback by Mikey, while ranked only #11 by Ben.

Carson Wentz’ 2017 Stats: 3296 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 299 rushing yards. 13 games played.

Mikey on why Wentz should be on your team: Wentz finished as the QB7 with 342 fantasy points, all while playing in three fewer games than the guys that finished ahead of him. This means that Wentz was averaging just over 26 points a game, which would have catapulted him to the #2 overall QB for 2017. His 33 passing touchdowns were the second-best in the NFL last year, and his leadership and presence on the field simply makes everyone on that team play better. With his receivers playing top notch, an elite tight end, and the hype they’ll be riding from their Super Bowl victory, there’s ZERO reason for me to believe that Wentz won’t finish as a top-3 QB (even if he’s a couple games late from the injury).

Ben on why you could do better: My current ranking for Wentz is based solely on the fact that he may not be ready for the first few weeks of the regular season.  If he’s going to miss a handful of games or more, can you really justify drafting him as a top-five quarterback?  I’m a big fan of Wentz and would welcome him on my fantasy squad if he’s 100 percent come week one, but I don’t think he’ll be back to full strength – even if he does play – and I believe there are several others who have him ranked higher than I do, so I don’t envision Wentz being on any of my fantasy rosters in 2018.

 

Andrew Luck (QB12): Luck is controversially rated by both Ben and Mikey, ranked at QB16 and QB9 respectively.

Andrew Luck’s’ 2017 Stats: 0 passing yards, 0 passing touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 0 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns. 0 games played.

Mikey on why Luck can turn out to be a QB1: Oh yeah, you read that correctly. Andrew Luck had ZERO interceptions in 2017. How crazy is that? Take out those other zeros and that’s incredible. On a serious note, Luck has been recovering well, and all signs are pointing towards him being potentially ready by training camp. There is no question that Luck is an elite quarterback when healthy. However, the Colts’ offense remains lackluster at best, and will struggle if they can’t protect Luck this time around. I have him ranked as a low-end QB1 for the fact that I think he’s worth the risk. Be cautious about drafting him as your “clear-cut starter” though. If it turns out well, he’ll undoubtedly finish a top 5-QB, and if it doesn’t… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ben on why Luck can’t be trusted on your fantasy squad: The latest reports on Luck claim he still hasn’t even thrown a full-size football.  While it’s only April and we have plenty of time before the start of the 2018 NFL regular season, I can’t justify placing Luck in my top-12 quarterbacks until there are reports of him actually throwing an adult-sized football in a competitive environment.  Luck is definitely worthy of being ranked between QB6-12 if he returns to full strength, but we can’t completely ignore the fact he missed all of 2017 – and it’s not like he’s surrounded by high-quality offensive weapons outside of T.Y. Hilton.

 

Running Backs

David Johnson (RB4) was rated as the #2 overall running back by Mikey, while falling to #6 for Ben.

David Johnson’s’ 2017 Stats: 23 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns. 1 reception. 67 receiving yards. 1 game played.

Mikey on why Johnson is arguably his favorite fantasy running back: Let me start with this… David Johnson’s 2016 stats: 1,239 rushing yards. 80 receptions. 879 receiving yards. 20 total touchdowns. That translates to 411.8 PPR points. Todd Gurley finished with 387.3 PPR points in 2017 (and he was the consensus fantasy MVP). Johnson is a beast. He’s recovered already. And he’s hungry for vengeance. Oh, and Sam Bradford is there now, and Bradford loves checkdown passes. Honestly, if Johnson was on a better team, he’d be my #1. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Ben on why Johnson is a bit over hyped: I had Johnson in two re-draft leagues back in 2016, so I’ll forever be grateful for the incredible season he put together.  However, the 2016 Arizona Cardinals are a much different team than what I’m expecting to see in ‘18.  The Cardinals from two years ago were legit contenders with a healthy dose of weapons on offense that led the team to the league’s sixth-highest scoring offense.  Now, they feature Johnson – coming back after missing all of 2017 – an often-injured quarterback in Bradford, and Larry Fitzgerald.  Unfortunately for Cardinals fans and fantasy owners, that’s not going to cut it.  The good news is that Johnson is one of the best all-purpose running backs in the league and can overcome these challenges due to his ability to churn out stats both on the ground and as a pass catcher, hence why I still have him in my top six, but I’ll take my chances with my current top five for now and I won’t mind if I have to “settle” for Johnson if he falls to me.

 

Jordan Howard (RB12) is Ben’s #9 ranked running back, while coming in at #14 for Mikey.

Jordan Howard’s’ 2017 Stats: 1122 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns. 23 receptions. 125 receiving yards. 16 games played.

Ben on why Howard deserves to be your RB1: Just a year removed from finishing second in the NFL in rushing yards his rookie season, Howard eclipsed 1,100 yards and saw his rushing touchdown total jump from six to nine from year one to year two.  Now that the Bears have put together some pieces on the offensive side of the ball to support second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago may not have to rely solely on its running game to find success in 2018.  Some may say this is bad news for Howard as Trubisky becomes more comfortable in the offense with new weapons Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, but I see the emergence of the passing game as an opportunity for Howard to face less defenders in the box.  I’m not going out of my way to make sure I land Howard in ‘18, but I’d be happy with him being my RB1 if I’m able to also land a top-tier RB2 or one of the top receivers.

Mikey on why he’s a high-end RB2 at best: It’s not that I don’t like him, I just think you could do better. I honestly do think he could sneak into the RB1 conversation, but that all depends on Trubisky and the Bears taking some of the pressure off of him. If Chicago is the same team as last year, Howard will fluctuate between a low RB1 all the way down to a high RB3. He’s very inconsistent and his play relies heavily on that of his team. However, if Trubisky makes the leap this year and can improve that team, Howard could start to consistently put up numbers. Bottom line: Howards value is all based on Trubisky at this point.

 

Jerrick McKinnon (RB20) is at #16 for Mikey, and a low rank of #24 for Ben.

Jerrick McKinnon’s 2017 Stats: 570 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns. 51 receptions. 421 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns. 16 games played.

Why Mikey has a total fantasy man-crush on McKinnon: The first four games he was playing behind two backs, but the last 12 he saw his fair share of snaps. McKinnon is now the (highly underrated) lead-back in San Francisco. He’s got a great run ability, fantastic reactions and a phenomenal pair of hands. For the first time in his career, he won’t be running behind Adrian Peterson or Dalvin Cook, which is just what he needs to breakout as a pretty decent running back in the NFL and for our fantasy squads. I think he’ll work excellently with Jimmy G and will find comfort behind San Francisco’s offensive line. Don’t expect anything crazy, but I think you could plug him in with confidence as an every week RB2.

Why Ben is drinking the hatorade on McKinnon: Let me start by saying I’m not totally avoiding McKinnon in fantasy for 2018.  He has a lot of good things going for him including being the lead back on a team that is expected to be pretty solid on offense, playing for an offensive coordinator that feeds studs in Kyle Shanahan, and he’s really good out of the backfield as a pass catcher, which helps in fantasy leagues that reward receptions.  I do, however, feel McKinnon will be overdrafted in ‘18 due to all the hype that surrounds him.  While he played well last season and helped fantasy teams once Dalvin Cook was sidelined with an injury, he’s never previously produced for fantasy squads so I’d like him to prove it a little more before I’m 100-percent confident trotting him out as a high-end RB2.

 

Rex Burkhead (RB27) is Mikey’s #25 and Ben’s #36.

Rex Burkhead’s 2017 Stats: 264 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns. 30 receptions. 254 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns. 10 games played.

Mikey on why Burkhead can be more than just your backup runner: So it would appear that Ben and I agree that Burky is pretty much as RB3 as they come. However, I think he could be a sneaky flex play, or even an RB2 depending on some of his matchups. Dion Lewis is gone, which puts Burkhead in as the favorite to be the Patriots’ two-down back. Dude knows how to run, catch, and most importantly, find the endzone. Given the opportunity, I think Burkhead can be a 1,200+ yards from scrimmage type of player. If the Pats don’t sign a third runner (which they will), Burkhead will probably climb up draft boards everywhere. At this point in time, I think #25 might even be low-balling the guy. High-upside player.

Why Ben doesn’t believe in the Burk: The Patriots spread the ball around on offense, it’s what they’ve done and will continue to do since it’s how Tom Brady thrives.  Burkhead is worth owning on your fantasy team, but the pick has to come at the right spot.  You’re dealing with a backfield made up of Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Patriots drafted a running back later this month in what’s being considered a very deep draft at the position.  So while the names mentioned in the last sentence aren’t huge threats to Burkhead, trying to determine which Patriots’ running back is going to produce on a week-to-week basis is like trying to predict the weather.  Also, ask yourself this question, if Burkhead played for any team outside of New England, would he even be on your fantasy radar?  In my opinion he’s the average NFL running back propped up by being on the Patriots’ roster.

 

Tarik Cohen (RB34) is Ben’s #30 ranked running back while he sits at a mere #42 for Mikey.

Tarik Cohen’s 2017 Stats: 370 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns. 53 receptions. 353 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown. 16 games played.

Ben is a believer in Tarik: If the Bears’ offense is taken to the next level with the free-agent additions and being in year two with Trubisky, Cohen will be another benefactor in regards to fantasy production.  You might not want to rely on Cohen as an every week starter, but I believe he’s in store for a season that will warrant some flex-play opportunities as well as filling in for injured players throughout the season.  Cohen flashed multiple times his rookie season, so the combination of a year of experience under his belt and the coaching staff understanding his playmaking abilities should result in more touches, which is exactly what you’ll be looking for out of your No. 3 or 4 running back.

Why Mikey is less than sold on Cohen’s rookie season: So, Cohen started off as a force to be reckoned with, and may have single handedly won a few matchups for owners in the first few weeks of the season. However, he slowed down hard, and really only had one or two decent games after that. I don’t like Cohen for the same reason why I’m not Howard’s biggest fan: Chicago just has too much to sort out at this point. Cohen should continue to return kicks (which he is very good at) and could possibly get owners a touchdown here or there, but he’s only a third down back at this point. He saw some extra snaps when Howard was slumping mid-season, but quickly returned to his backup role. He’s not a bad late-round flier, but I personally don’t think he should be drafted with the intentions of having him be a starter on your team.

 

Wide Receivers

Larry Fitzgerald (WR19) comes in as Mikey’s #14 receiver and Ben’s #24.

Larry Fitzgerald’s 2017 Stats: 109 receptions. 1156 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns. 16 games played.

Mikey thinks Fitz has still got some gas in the tank: Since 2004, Fitz has only missed six games. That is a RIDICULOUS stat. He balled out without Carson Palmer. He balled out without David Johnson. He balled out without having a true WR2 to support him. I mean… dude just balls out. He’s basically said that this upcoming season will be his last, and Fitz ain’t no chump. He’s going to go out with a bang. I personally think he’s one of the best WR2s you could possibly nab in the upcoming draft, and a repeat of his 2017 is imminent. He will, without a doubt in my mind, have a late third or early fourth round ADP when #FantasyDraftSZN is back.

Ben believes Larry’s lost a step: Fitzgerald has been a great fantasy contributor his entire career, but at some point, Father Time comes knocking.  Not only is Fitzgerald playing in his 15th season at the age of 35, but whether Cardinals’ fans want to admit this or not, the team is rebuilding.  Bradford will help keep Fitzgerald relevant in fantasy football, but I also expect the Cardinals to draft a quarterback and possibly turn to him if the playoffs seem out of sight.  The potential of an aging receiver playing with a rookie quarterback isn’t what I’m looking to tie my fantasy squad to in 2018.

 

Amari Cooper (WR20) is Ben’s #13 ranked receiver. Mikey, on the other hand, has him down in the basement at #27.

Amari Cooper’s 2017 Stats: 48 receptions. 680 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns. 14 games played.

Ben thinks that the Amari-resurgence is bound to happen: Here’s a portion of an article I wrote a while back about why I believe Amari Cooper should be drafted higher than Tyreek Hill in 2018.  Prior to 2017, Cooper never received less than 130 targets, caught less than 70 passes, or finished with under 1,000 receiving yards.  With the offense never truly clicking and the overall disappointment of the team in general, I don’t believe Cooper’s 2017 statistics are even close to an accurate portrayal as to what kind of receiver he is.  Yes, it’s been a while since Gruden has been a coach in the NFL, but it’s worth noting that he’s had a receiver top 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 10 of his 11 years as a head coach.  This should bode well for Cooper as the team’s most talented and explosive wide receiver.

Why Mikey thinks you should let someone else in your league take the risk: Yes, I know that 2017 was an off year for the yearly thousand-yard receiver. Yes, I know that the Raiders were just one big disappointment last year. And yes, I know Gruden will improve this team. But I don’t think Cooper will come back to form, at least not yet. Sure, maybe I have him a little low at #27, but I think considering him as anything more than a low-end WR2 at this point is just too much. I honestly think that Jordy Nelson will emerge as the Raiders’ top receiver before the season is over.

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR25.) JuJu is Mikey’s #22 receiver and Ben’s #31.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2017 Stats: 58 receptions. 917 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns. 14 games played.

Why Mikey thinks JuJu is the real deal: Pittsburgh gets all the good players, man. First they get Antonio Brown. Then Le’Veon Bell. Now JuJu. And JuJu… JuJu’s good, real good. That kid has all the confidence in the world, and is being taught firsthand by the NFL’s best receiver. Smith-Schuster will absolutely be a thousand-yard receiver in 2018. An added bonus is that he will never see top coverage since he’s got AB lined up on the other side of him. Pittsburgh has been firing on all cylinders, and there are more than enough targets to go around. Oh, and don’t forget, he can sneak you a return touchdown every now and then too. Draft him with confidence, reach if you have to!

Why Ben thinks Smith-Schuster has got some bad “JuJu”: I’ll admit it, WR31 does seem a little low for Smith-Schuster after his breakout rookie season.  While I definitely feel like he will move up in my rankings prior to draft season, here’s why I currently have him ranked 31st.  The three players I have ranked ahead of Smith-Schuster are Robert Woods, Jamison Crowder and Emmanuel Sanders.  I’m a big fan of all three of these guy’s situations.  Woods also broke out last season and quickly became one of Jared Goff’s go-to options and the Rams are expected to be one of the top-scoring offenses in the NFL in 2018.  Crowder didn’t have a great 2017, but should see plenty of targets following the addition of Alex Smith.  So in half and full PPR leagues, I’m liking Crowder’s potential for a bounce-back season.  As for Sanders, talent as never been the issue.  He’s always performed pretty well in fantasy when playing with a quality quarterback – and with Case Keenum now in the picture – Sanders is also a prime candidate to jump back into fantasy relevancy at the WR position.  Smith-Schuster is welcome on my team, I’m by no means avoiding him, but his breakout in 2017 is going to shoot him up draft boards, potentially leading to overdrafting him by a round or two.

 

Jordy Nelson (WR32) is ranked as the #23 receiver by Mikey and #41 by Ben.

Jordy Nelson’s 2017 Stats: 53 receptions. 482 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns. 15 games played.

Why Mikey believes Jordy will return to form: Jon Gruden loves old guys… man, that sounded weird. What I meant to say was, Nelson will return to form in his new offense. Nelson may not be an “elite” receiver anymore, but his past three seasons (2014, 15 and 16) all included at least 1,250 yards, and a cumulative touchdown total of 35. There’s no way a guy like that lays down and dies so suddenly. The Packers were missing their quarterback half of the season, Davante Adams really emerged as a top-notch receiver, and unfortunately that spelled doom for Nelson. Do I think he’s going to put up the 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns he did two seasons ago? Absolutely not. But I think 1,000 yards and a handful of touchdowns is still extremely doable for Nelson. Oh, and like I said earlier, he’s going to beat out Cooper for the WR1 spot on the team.

Why Ben thinks Jordy’s reign in the NFL has come to an end: Once Aaron Rodgers got hurt last season you might as well of inserted Mikey into your starting lineup at wide receiver instead of Nelson.  The combination of age and losing a step following knee surgery has essentially spelled the end of Nelson’s career.  He’s already talked about playing just another couple of years, and I think leaving Green Bay may accelerate this process as playing without Rodgers and the chemistry those two had developed will expose Nelson even more.  Nelson was already becoming touchdown dependent in fantasy in 2017, and I don’t see him stepping into a new situation and being this big touchdown threat.  I’ll pass on Nelson for the remainder of his career.

 

Sammy Watkins (WR38) is a top-22 receiver in Ben’s eyes, but not even a top 50 in Mikey’s.

Sammy Watkins’ 2017 Stats: 39 receptions. 593 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns. 15 games played.

Ben proves that Sammy-Truthers still exist: I’ve always been a little higher on Watkins than most, so yes, there is some bias here.  But he’s also unfairly judged in regards to production due to the incredible success of those who also play receiver from his draft class.  Two of Watkins’ greatest strengths are his speed and his ability to catch anything placed in the general vicinity of him.  Insert Patrick Mahomes who is alleged to be a bit of a gunslinger and willing to give his receivers an opportunity to make plays downfield.  This could very well be the best situation Watkins has been in since being in the NFL, and I’m willing to bet we haven’t seen the best of the fifth-year extraterrestrial out of Clemson.

Mikey believes Sammy Watkins was a fraud all along: He’s with the Chiefs now. He’s not going to be their first option in the pass game, or even their second or third. The Chiefs offense was doing perfectly fine before he got there, and they really didn’t spread the ball around too much if it wasn’t to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, or Kareem Hunt. I really don’t think that’s about to change. Honestly, he’ll probably have more than the 39 receptions that he had last year, but I don’t see the yards getting any better, and I certainly don’t see another eight touchdowns coming his way… not with Kelce on the field. I personally have Watkins ranked as my #54 receiver, and I realistically don’t see that changing all that much between now and August.

 

Check out the latest episode of the Loaded Box Podcast where we preview the top WRs entering the 2018 NFL Draft.

Make sure to follow us each on Twitter: Mikey Ostrowski and Ben Morgan. And stay tuned for more great pods and articles from us at Loaded Box Podcast.  As always, feel free to check out my article archive as well as Ben’s article archive.

Find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook.

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