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One of the more difficult things to do on my regular rolodex is dynasty rankings. I recently updated them here at Footballguys.com, both by position and overall.
The first challenge is that fantasy football, especially the dynasty format, is not a static venture. Team dynamics, scoring modifications, and league format are just three of the many variables at play to produce even one single solid set of rankings. Then a depth chart change, a player gets injured, and the deck is shuffled all over again. Here are some key questions I asked myself when setting up my current rankings system:
WHAT IS THE BASE METHODOLOGY?
I am grounded in numbers as a general rule in my life. Numbers make sense to me. I like equations and figuring out formulas to best represent my thinking. As such, a couple years ago I built a dynasty values system where putting in some rough projections (floor, ceiling, median), historical age decline, and how value over baseline functions to spit out a singular number for every player. Of course that is not the final judgment on the player, but it creates a general set of tiers at each position.
HOW MUCH Does AGE FACTOR INTO THE EQUATION?
In my view, quite a bit. When in doubt, the younger players get the tiebreaker in my rankings. The payoff of landing a young productive core asset is worth the risk of a talented prospect busting without meaningful contribution. While conservative in my regular life, I am willing to gamble quite a bit on the unproven in dynasty fantasy football.
QUARTERBACK FLEX POINT
While age is vital in my rankings system, I am warming to the idea that it is least important at the quarterback position. Elite production is hard to find and low-QB1 production (alone or part of a matchup-based committee) costs pennies on the dollar in start-one leagues.
Tom Brady is the outlier as he is not providing short-term pop, but Peyton Manning and Drew Brees most notably are higher in my rankings than my general philosophy would otherwise indicate. Robert Griffin III III is 11 years younger than Drew Brees, but so what? Brees has a few years left and Griffin may not ever return to 2012 status. That is one straight-forward example, but Peyton Manning and Nick Foles can also be used. The quarterback position is more straight-forward to scout for fantasy football than the other positions as the sample size is huge comparatively (30+ dropbacks a game compared to a handful of targets or 10-15 carries) and NFL draft position is a huge factor coming out of college. Quarterbacks drafted outside the top-35 or top-40? Good luck with those odds. That limits the field quite a bit. After a few starts in the NFL, a quarterback's 'game' begins to come into focus.
The key players to decide on in rankings are the ho-hum veterans; say Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, and Philip Rivers, to the younger options like Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker, Geno Smith, and your favorite rookie or two. Those names are not clearly ordered by age or previous production in my rankings. The good news is none of those options (maybe Nick Foles still?) are all that expensive to bet on and a committee of an older and younger option is a simple hedge. I still like Ryan Tannehill quite a bit. He was drafted highly despite being a wide receiver convert in college and has had a pretty poor situation in Miami to-date. That is improving in 2014 and Tannehill passes the conventional 'eye test.' Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater has looked competent or better in their initial starts and they are certainly in the QB10-18 range as preferential committee options at worst. When in doubt, I side with the quarterbacks that possess at least modest rushing ability to insulate their weekly floor.
RUNNING BACK FLEX POINT
After a handful, maybe up to 10 running backs, things get unsettled and downright scary. I am one to downgrade running backs heavily by the age of 28 and bet on the historical career arc more than sharpshooting the exceptions and outliers. Taking that approach leaves a ton of uncertainly to fill say RB8-RB20. I reserve that area, in general, for the younger options that have starting-level talent and an opportunity in the coming 12-18 months. Names like Bishop Sankey, Carlos Hyde, Christine Michael, Tre Mason, Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, and Jerick McKinnon should not surprise anyone in that range on my board.
The tricky part of the running back position comes with marginal short-term options like Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart, and Frank Gore types versus complete wildcards or limited players like Andre Williams, James White, and Latavius Murray for example. In-season players like Gore have appeal, but only to a few owners in a dynasty league and their value is essentially nil in the offseason. Is Gore adding value during the season? One win maybe? How much is that worth? This is where team direction and overall approach comes into play. Instead of Gore's marginal production over baseline and inflexible asset value, I would take options like Charles Sims, Robert Turbin, and Latavius Murray to name a few more eye-brow raising calls. Outside of a completely stacked roster's RB2 (and how would that owner have Gore if they build a monster team anyway?), Gore is off the dynasty radar. On the flip side, Sims-Turbin-Murray have windows to see a big value boost in the coming months, Risk-Reward.
Wide Receiver Flex Point
Who follows the ‘big five’ consensus wide receivers at the top of the rankings? After the Julio Jones-Dez Bryant-A.J. Green-Demaryius Thomas-Calvin Johnson quintet, the next 10-12 receivers provide a ‘draw a line in the sand moment’ for dynasty rankers. My board has Alshon Jeffery, Sammy Watkins, and Cordarrelle Patterson has the following options, but few would agree with that trio. Jordy Nelson is in the running for the top overall receiver in 2014 and makes a solid case to be inside the top-10. Teammate Randall Cobb is in the mix, as well as Michael Floyd, Percy Harvin, Antonio Brown, and two of my favorite rookies Brandin Cooks and Mike Evans. After a slow start Keenan Allen may or may not be a part of this grouping. What about Josh Gordon with his late-season return and a restructured NFL drug policy? Kelvin Benjamin’s strong first month in the NFL makes a case for some owners’ top-10 or top-15. Benjamin is behind the rest of the above mentioned names in raw dynasty value on my board, creating a tier break after 17 receivers. Strong contenders would prefer Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Antonio Brown as top producers this season. On the flip side, teams look ahead, would prefer Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, and Josh Gordon.
Tight End Flex Point
Who is the best option outside of Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Julius Thomas? Jordan Cameron was the ‘chalk’ pick in the offseason. Some liked Jordan Reed there. Both are off to bumpy starts to the season and I would not fault anyone for vaulting Martellus Bennett into top-5 territory. I have Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Zach Ertz, followed by Jordan Cameron in the TE4-7 tier. First round tight ends rarely, if ever, fail to produce TE1 numbers in their career. Eric Ebron was the highest-drafted player at the position since Vernon Davis. I like those odds. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a Rob Gronkowski clone as a prospect and looks to already have a stranglehold on a ton of snaps in Tampa Bay as a rookie. Neither rookie provides top numbers for 2014, however, which makes them TE2 options on strong teams’ depth charts. Martellus Bennett offers more weekly difference-making potential this year for contenders and Zach Ertz is a blend between the Bennett and Ebron-ASJ profiles. Larry Donnell was not on the dynasty radar prior to the season as most considered the Giants tight end situation a fantasy black hole if Adrien Robinson failed to elevate his game. Donnell premieres in my rankings as a mid-TE2 that is currently out producing that position through the opening month of the season.