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Fantasy Football: PPR Pony Tier List

I give away fantasy football secrets. Don’t tell my league.

Royce is going to be a stud this season.
Casey Barrett

Today we are breaking down the tiers of Fantasy PPR players heading into the 2018 season. Many of you have your drafts coming up, so keep an eye on these players.

Tier 1 – The “pray they hold up to the workload” Bellcows

Le’Veon Bell

Todd Gurley

David Johnson

Ezekiel Elliott

293-1239-16 on the ground and 80-879-4 through the air in 2016. David Johnson should be an absolute workhorse this year.

I’m a big believer in risk management whenever possible, especially at the top of the draft. I’m the guy who’s sweating a pick at 1 because you get Brady in the year he blows up his knee? You’re roster is built around the last pick in the second round. Good @$%!in’ luck Chuck.

For that reason, I prefer Bell to Gurley. This may seem odd considering he’s the guy who’s played in 16 games just once in his career, but consider this: in 3 of the last 4 years (the one’s where he played in 12 games or more) he’s averaged 2,015 yards from scrimmage and 101 targets in the passing game. He’s playing in a dangerous offense that’s proven itself over time, with a Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s a lock to produce if his legs don’t fall off.

If you prefer Gurley, I can’t say I blame you. He’s younger and had a monstrous season last year. He also received 19 fewer targets than Bell. David Johnson may be my favorite back on this list but for the fact the Cardinals look like a complete dumpster fire. That may earn him some additional work in the passing game (120 targets in 2016!!!) but it’s a risk. Elliott’s Cowboys have the worst receiving corps in the league. That means more pass catching, but far more loaded boxes to shut down the one functioning part of the offense.

Tier 2 – The guys you hope Pick 3 or 4 takes if you’re stuck at 5.

Antonio Brown

Alvin Kamara

Saquon Barkley

Odell Beckham Jr.

DeAndre Hopkins

I studied the Shurmur effect on running back receptions last year. If you don’t take Barkley, I gladly will.

If the guys in tier 1 are gold, tier 2 are the guys who pass at gold to the untrained eye. You can definitely build a championship team around them, but it’s all about value. I’d run to make my selection if Kamara is there at 6 for many of the same reasons I love Bell. Sean Payton is going to find ways to make him a dangerous PPR threat for your team if he’s healthy, but his fit in a rotation along caps his ceiling a little lower.

Brown is a receiver. The best one in football sure, but the nature of the position means his production is far streakier. Want an example? In week 10 against the Tennesee Titans Brown put up a 10-144-3 line, which is a great way to rebound from a 3-47-0 one the week before against Indianapolis.

Barkley is the mystery man. How much risk do you want to take on at the top of your draft? Do you want kudos from the rest of the league if he blows up to win OROY? Take him. OBJ is a bit riskier because I don’t believe in Eli-te Manning, but he’s a TD machine when healthy. Hopkins is the poor mans Brown as far as fantasy goes, but with DeShaun Watson returning, he’s enticing.

Tier 3- The rest of the best first/second round guys

Dalvin Cook

Kareem Hunt

Keenan Allen

Melvin Gordon

Christian McCaffrey

Michael Thomas

Julio Jones

Rob Gronkowski

A.J Green

Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon had 68 targets last year and just signed a 4-year $30 M deal with the 49ers.

One of the secrets to my success over the years has been a 3 back approach. There was even a year I struck gold and had four bell cow backs to rotate based on matchups. I went undefeated with flotsam at my number 2 wide receiver spot.

McKinnon is one of my sleepers. Pairing him with Shanahan is basically cheating. But please don’t tell the MHR league, because I’m hoping to nab him.

Most of the rest of the guys in this tier are promising, but carry some sort of question. With Cook, Gronk, and Allen it’s health. Gordon I’m low on because I’ve never been a big believer in his talent, sub 4 yard per carry seasons just kind of turn me off, though his 83 targets a year ago offers value in PPR. McCaffrey is in a similar boat, but add in his timeshare with CJ Anderson. Thomas and Jones’ big question is their TD production. It’s hard to predict but without it their ceiling can’t compete with players above them, Andy Dalton has a similar dampening effect on Green.

Kareem Hunt carries his own kind of risk, and his name is Pat Mahomes.

Tier 4 – Second Bananas

Davante Adams

LeSean McCoy

Devonta Freeman

Mike Evans

Tyreek Hill

Adam Thielen

Joe Mixon

Derrius Guice RIP

Preseason injuries are the worst.

Imagine a prospect who put up 1,493 rushing yards 13 touchdowns, caught 63 passes for 616 receiving yards and another 4 touchdowns on a down year. Would you consider him in the first round? Me too. Unfortunately, Tevonta Freecoleman doesn’t exist, but Freeman is an okay prospect, especially if he can get back to his 2015-16 average.

Mike Evans is an interesting prospect. The 2016 96-1321-12 line doesn’t feel so long ago, but Winston’s out to start the season. How much do you trust Ryan Fitzpatrick? Hill and Thielen will have new quarterbacks that leave some degree of risk going forward. Guice is obviously a rookie, but he had one of the most questionable drops to Washington of any recent draftee. The talent is there and I’d expect Alex Smith to find him early and often with that receiving corps.

Mixon’s a guy I think people are sleeping on, and deservedly so. The Bengals offensive line is a question mark and Andy Dalton isn’t keeping defenders up at night, but Mixon is a one of those uber-talented character guys. If you can stomach his issues, you could find a huge steal.

Tier 5 – That Second/Third turn

Demaryius Thomas

Leonard Fournette

Jordan Howard

Doug Baldwin

T.Y. Hilton

Amari Cooper

Zach Ertz

Travis Kelce

Josh Gordon

Fournette would be a more exciting option if 30% of his rushing yards didn’t come in a 2 game stretch, if offered real promise as a receiver, if he hadn’t missed time due to injury and/or if his team wasn’t a near lock for some decline from the 12-4 dream they produced a year ago. Because Fournette is such a limited receiving threat, that last part is pretty key. He’s dependent on his team staying in games so they can pound the rock with him.

Howard’s like the poor man’s version of Fournette: he doesn’t offer much in the way of receptions and his 2017 production was ridiculously inconsistent. The X-factor is that Matt Nagy has mentioned that he sees Howard as the feature back. Perhaps he finds ways to better include him in the passing game.

Reports suggest Baldwin will be able to play week 1. I don’t take guys high if there’s any lingering doubt in my mind and this knee issue screams something that will nag throughout the year. It’s not like a Schottenheimer offense inspires confidence anyway.

On one hand, there are a million red flags. On the other? This looks so dang easy.

Hilton looks like a value addition if you expect Andrew Luck to stay healthy. The tight ends are both quasi-number 1s in their offense, but in the past I’ve found a highly drafted tight end represents pretty poor value unless they have one of those huge touchdown years. Take them at your own risk.

Lastly, we have our first Bronco and I think Thomas represents a huge sleeper if you can grab him around here. I did a target/reception study when I was working on my Bill Musgrave series (You can read about the run design here, the formations here and the passing concepts here) and found that the primary receivers should expect at least 40% of the offensive targets. An average offense last year had 546.5 passing attempts, if the Broncos attempted that many this year Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (or perhaps Courtland Sutton if he steals time) would receive at least 218.4 targets between them. During his two year run with Musgrave, Amari Cooper had 146 and 145 respectively.

Tier 6- The “woke” sleepers.

Royce Freeman

Kenyan Drake

Ronald Jones II

Brandin Cooks

Rex Burkhead

Aaron Jones

Kerryon Johnson

Royce Freeman has to be the favorite for the Broncos starting job now.

I almost put Cooks in tier 4, but when I looked around the web I kept seeing him next to guys from the lower tier. Why? I have no idea. The Rams just signed him to a 5 year, $81 M extension and the last time Sean McVay had a true number 1 receiver, Pierre Garcon received 100 plus targets in back to back years. Unless Goff turns back turns back the clock to rookie pumpkin form, Cooks will light it up.

The other three bear monitoring. If they win the starting job or significant touches, talent will take over and they should give you at least an RB2 ceiling. Gase will probably split the role between Drake and Frank Gore, but the younger back is a sample size superstar. Any coach worth his lick would bump up Drake’s touches. It’s also notable that Gase has often helped his backs in PPR leagues.

Rex Burkhead is kind of the forgotten man with the Patriots taking Sony Michel, but Belichick is notorious for time sharing his backs and Burkhead’s the guy that’s going to give you better value. Jones is kind of like Drake in that he was amazing in a small sample last year. When you add in the fact that people are going to sleep on him because Montgomery’s return and the suspension, you can probably steal him.

Kerryon Johnson’s definitely one of those guys to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses. He looked legit against the Raiders, but that’s a defense held together by Gruden Grinders and minus Khalil Mack.

If you’re reading this you know how I feel about Freeman and Jones is competing with Peyton Barber, who may wind up being a deeper sleeper.

Johnson has a 3 down skillset and enters a situation where the feature role is up for grabs.

Tier 7 – $#!+ I need to fill a roster spot

Golden Tate

Marvin Jones

Stefon Diggs

Allen Robinson

Larry Fitzgerald

Rashaad Penny

Sony Michel

Derrick Henry

Alshon Jeffery

Jarvis Landry

James White

Alex Collins


Jay Ajayi

Emmanuel Sanders

Randall Cobb

Tevin Coleman

Carlos Hyde

Landry deserves some consideration in a higher tier, if only because he’s a near lock to get a ton of catches. He’s averaged 100 receptions a season and Josh Gordon should, should help him avoid the focus of coordinators in a way the Dolphins receivers couldn’t last year.

Golden Tate is the WR1 in Detroit’s offense and he’s consistently caught a higher percentage of his targets than Jones. Why do I have them in the same tier? Marvin averaged 18 yards per reception last year and had a 3-game stretch where he averaged 6-110-1. There are weeks he outshines Tate because of matchups and gameplan.

Diggs is the second receiver for a Kirk Cousins offense, which means he’ll get his catches. Robinson is an upside guy who profiles as the number one receiver for a young QB with an offensive head coach. He’s a wee bit riskier, but worth a flier here. Michel is the other Patriots back I’d keep an eye on unless White’s 161 receptions and 113 rushing attempts woo you.

Penny, Fitzgerald both need life preservers or risk drowning in the mediocrity surrounding them. Henry doesn’t catch the ball which caps his value and Jeffrey is a bit of an injury risk.

Tier 8 The Lottery?

That’s it for what I’ll reveal before my draft for Mile High Report. I can’t give away all my secrets. I will admit at this point, the prospects are basically lottery tickets. You’re looking for guys with equal parts talent and opportunity. Readers will also note that I didn’t mention a single quarterback. That’s for good reason. The very best quarterbacks are obviously likelier to go off à la Peyton Manning in 2013 or Tom Brady in 2008, but they come at a huge opportunity cost. If you take Aaron Rodgers in the first or second round you’re passing on a back or receiver that is all but a lock to produce. Not a strategy I recommend, but you do you.

Someone has to catch Dak’s passes...

Did I have a guy too high? Too low? Let me know in the comments!