Fantasy football rankings fight: 6 experts reveal the processes behind their picks


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We have a lot of writers quoting their rankings here this preseason. And we noticed some discrepancies along the way — so we decided to pit them against one another in an Expert Deathmatch of Rankings Prowess!

Or, to be less dramatic, we asked 11 questions about where they disagreed, where they agreed, how they would handle draft dilemmas, and more.

The experts: Jake Ciely, Brandon Funston, KC Joyner, Gary Davenport, Michael Salfino and John Laghezza. This is cream of the crop, elite rankings prowess here — and even this enlightened group has some major variance between them. We used half-PPR ranks, although Salfino, in true Salfino fashion, said he doesn’t do half-PPR, so consider his PPR ranks.

One quick note: Some of the rankings referenced here are on other sites, and are behind a paywall. This isn’t an exercise to bait and switch subscribers into paying for more stuff. The writers are pretty up-front about their rankings and are revealing probably more here than they should (i.e. — you get enough info here so you don’t have to go pay for them there). But if you want the full logic behind it, we put a little section at the bottom.

If you just want answers and a good read… sally forth below!

Laghezza has Daniel Jones as his No 7 QB. KC has him as 15. FIGHT!

Laghezza’s full rankings  |  KC’s full rankings

KC: Jones has many talents, but he ranked 30th and 27th, respectively, in points per game at the vertical (aerials thrown 11+ yards) and stretch vertical (passes with 21+ air yards) last season. The Giants WR corps is less than stellar and New York has the most difficult pass defense schedule this season, so those numbers may not improve. That’s just too many hurdles for Jones to overcome to reach QB1 status.

Laghezza: It’s no secret: quarterback rushing prowess adds a fantasy floor at its worst, and opens a pathway to determinative scoring at its best. Daniel Jones was second in Scramble% (9.9) behind only Justin Fields. He finished fourth in total rushing points, one of only five QBs to average +7.0 FAN PPG on the ground (no other QBs averaged +5.4). I’ll concede the raw passing stats underwhelm, but Jones did manage above average marks in Completion% (67.2), Passer Rating (97.2), EPA/Attempt (0.12), and EPA/Dropback (0.05). And this all happened while learning a new system devoid of any viable wide receiver talent. A second year of repetitions with a retooled arsenal of pass catchers clears the pathway to improve on last year’s QB9 finish.

KC: A quarterback has rushed for 700+ yards in a season only 21 times in league history and only five quarterbacks have done this on more than one occasion. It’s possible that Jones will be one of those, but the Giants are apt to want to reduce his scramble pace and planned rushing volume pace by at least marginal amounts. If that drops Jones from his 110.8 rushing points total that placed third last year to, say, 80-90 points (which would still make him one of the best rushing QBs in the league) and the pass game numbers don’t take off, it’s enough to lower Jones out of the QB1 tier.

KC and Laghezza both have Russell Wilson at 14. Become friends again!

KC: Wilson’s short pass production has collapsed the past two years, as he ranked 24th and 28th, respectively, in points per game at that depth level in that span. The Broncos are also dealing with wide receiver injuries that will make aerial improvements very difficult.

Laghezza: Not to sound too noncommittal, but once we get outside the Top 12 QBs it’s more or less a dart throw. Yes, I’m worried the Broncos repeat the abject disaster that was their 2022 season. I also won’t eliminate the chance with rational coaching we see the return of a QB who posted three separate Top 4 weekly finishes in his last four games. There’s a solid argument for Wilson’s ceiling and his floor but keep in mind he does represent a high-upside dart late in drafts.

KC: Couldn’t agree more on the dart throw mindset outside the Top 10. What makes that even worse for Wilson is his declining rushing production, as he was 11th in rush PPG last year at a 3.05 pace. Sean Payton has indicated he will move Wilson around to help in the passing game, but he doesn’t want a quarterback in his age-35 season taking more rushing hits than absolutely necessary. That makes Wilson ever more reliant on aerial production.

Jake has Sam Howell at No. 22. Gary doesn’t even have him ranked. Who is correct?

Gary’s full rankings  |  Jake’s full rankings

Gary: It’s entirely possible I’m low-balling Howell – he looked competent in his lone start last year. But he’s a fifth-round pick with one career start whose No. 1 receiver is hurt, now playing for a coach who knows he needs to win to keep his job on the worst team in his division with one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league waiting in the wings. If Howell has a rocky September, the hook’s coming. And he won’t do fantasy managers much good holding a clipboard.

Jake: The only thing keeping me from ranking Howell higher is the “unknown.” There are previous QB1s in front of him in the ranks, which are hard to ignore. I don’t believe the Commanders turn to Jacoby Brissett unless they have a midseason winning record and Howell is struggling… which, I don’t see happening. Howell has Ben Roethlisberger similarities, some of the best weapons, and a great offensive coordinator to maximize his growth. Sprinkle in some rushing, and Howell has a QB1 ceiling.

Gary: I’ll grant you that the Bieniemy hire was a great one for the Commanders. And as I said maybe I’m a little low on Howell, although if I slotted him at QB27 I don’t know that it really makes a difference. It’s not like his lone NFL start was amazing – he completed 58 of his passes for less than 170 yards. It’s not like the Commanders have made a big commitment to Howell, either – he’s a Day 3 pick who can be moved on from easily enough. NFL talent evaluators aren’t always right, but Howell wasn’t the 144th pick because none of his teammates went to his birthday party. I just don’t see it with Howell, although hard though this may be to believe I am occasionally wrong.

Jake: I’m tossing out the weird undervaluing of quarterbacks in last year’s draft, but maybe you’re right, and I shouldn’t? Then again, Brock Purdy has shown Day 3 quarterbacks can still show up in the right situation. And 22 versus 27 isn’t a huge gap, but it’s enough that I’ll always take Howell over the rest for upside. I’m not trying to draft QB15, ever. I want someone who can finish Top 10 if everything breaks right, and that’s Howell for me. And honestly, depending on my first QB drafted, I’d take Howell even higher into the low teens, even if he bombs… which is a possibility that I acknowledge, as you pointed out.

Laghezza has Bijan Robinson as his No 1 overall RB. Please expound.

Laghezza: Football is a young man’s game, and we’re about to air drop a generational superstar into the ideal contextual environment. The Falcons are a top three rushing offense, turning Tyler Allgier, a fifth-round rookie, into a 1,000 yard rusher. Replace Allgier with Bijan Robinson, who’s coming off a 267 touch, +1,800 Yard, 20 TD season, and you have a pathway to the top overall player in fantasy.

Funston has JK Dobbins at RB 15. Salfino has him at 27. GO!

Salfino rankings  |  Funston’s Big Board rankings

Funston: This is a vote of confidence for a new look Baltimore offense that should force defenses to lighten up the box, for the way Dobbins finished in the final month of 2022 after working back from the knee injury, while also being a vote of no confidence for the dreck that follows Dobbins on the depth chart. I’m a little strong, admittedly, on Dobbins, but if Lamar Jackson stays healthy, I think Dobbins can do plenty of damage in this offense with 230-240 touches.

Salfino: This is just injury analytics for me. Running backs who make it back generally are a shadow of their former selves, though we remember all the exceptions. Dobbins’ injury was very bad even in the context of ACLs. I know Dobbins ran well and graded well at the end of 2022. But he was RB57 for the year despite all the optimism for his progress in August 2022. I moved him up 30 spots and am thinking that’s too high now, if anything. I wrote: “He’s a decent zeroRB. I don’t take him until the seventh round and he’s going in the fifth, on average.”

Funston: Dobbins is almost two full years removed from his injury. You can’t cite injury concern for Dobbins, yet have Breece Hall (ruptured ACL, meniscus damage) ranked ahead of him, especially knowing the extra headwind Dalvin Cook brings, and have Javonte Williams (torn ACL, torn LCL and more) only three spots behind Dobbins when they are less than a year removed from their injuries. Dobbins says he’s back to 100 percent — he said he was roughly 90 percent when he hit nearly 21 mph on a 44-yard TD run vs. Pittsburgh late last season. Lamar Jackson creates space for running backs, and Dobbins has netted 5.9 yards per carry through his 23 games — if that’s not the best mark through a running back’s first 23 games in NFL history, it’s right up there.

Salfino: I can be because as you cite the injury to Dobbins was far worse than Hall’s. You omit that he also tore his hamstring with that injury.   Dobbins can say whatever he wants but he’s never going to be 100% again. His injury was really three injuries in one — not even including the meniscus. Return to play with Hall’s injury is 305 days vs. 609 days on average for Dobbins and Hall’s injury has 2.4 times better chance of a recovery than Dobbins’. Three times as many things can go wrong in Dobbins’ injury than in Hall’s. Takeaway: “…athletes with ACL and MCL tears have a higher RTP rate, a significantly shorter time to RTP, and a greater likelihood of returning to prior performance than athletes with ACL and PCL/LCL tears.” (Hall didn’t even tear his MCL.)

Salfino is the only ranker with Dalvin Cook significantly ahead of James Cook. Laghezza has Cook with Cam Akers and Alexander Mattison. What’s the play?

Laghezza: Dalvin Cook doesn’t belong near Cam Akers or Alexander Mattison in RB ranks. Cook’s poised for a decent workload to start the year, but it’s well-known Breece Hall is nipping at his heels. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Akers finished the year as a workhorse RB with three straight +100 Rushng Yard games to close out 2022. The Rams brought in zero competition for high value touches; the exact opposite of Dalvin Cook’s situation.

Salfino: I want no part of Cam Akers. The next Achilles full recovery for a RB will be the first. James Cook is in a bad spot for a pass-catching RB and is third in line for goal-line carries. Dalvin Cook is likely the primary back the first six weeks as the Jets want to get Hall to the one-year window, reportedly, before really taxing him. I value the first six weeks of the season far more than later weeks because we have far less clarity on all future weeks. I expect a 65/35 split for Dalvin Cook moving to a 55/45 split for Hall gradually during the season. But the Jets should have a Top 10 offense in scoring.

Laghezza: I’ll admit Cook’s projections for the first month will rightfully rival Akers and Mattison, but I think the injury argument is misplaced. Had the injury happened last year, I’d concede. However, not only did Akers play last year but he handled bellcow volume and was the RB4 in PPR formats the last month of 2022. Now, Akers is spending the offseason practicing instead of rehabbing and I think he’s one of the clear volume plays where he’s being drafted.

Salfino has David Montgomery at RB 17. Nobody else is close to that. The people choose Gary!

Gary: For the record, I think many in the fantasy community are overvaluing Jahmyr Gibbs. But the Lions drafted him where they did for a reason, and Montgomery has never been an especially efficient runner. Expecting this backfield to swing more toward Gibbs as the season wears on is (in my opinion) more reasonable than expecting Montgomery to duplicate what Jamaal Williams did last year.

Salfino: I wrote this about Gibbs in my rankings: “Had 43% of Alabama rushes. I expect about 30% for the Lions. That’s a range of 140-to-200 carries. There’s a chance he gets no touches on first and second down inside the five. So maybe nothing on the goal line. As for him functioning as a de facto WR, spread out or in the slot, this is the NFL. Not a place for hybrid players. Gibbs as a rookie is a better WR than an NFL WR? Doubtful.” Bottom line, I can’t rank him ahead of Montgomery given I expect Montgomery, if healthy, to have 250 rushes and all the goal-line work. Montgomery was also a very efficient receiver in 2022.

Gary: If Montgomery sees 250 carries, it would mark a career high, so I’m inclined to think that projection is optimistic. For his career, he’s averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards a carry. At the end of the day. Montgomery just isn’t the talent that Gibbs is, and the youngster has reportedly looked every bit as electrifying as the Lions hoped over the summer. Again, this backfield may start out Montgomery’s. But the Lions didn’t make Gibbs their highest-drafted running back since Barry Sanders so he can stand around and watch Montgomery grind out four yards a pop. Unless he can match Williams’ gaudy touchdown numbers, Montgomery won’t be a Top 25 fantasy option–and that’s a tall ask.

Salfino: My point is that Gibbs is a satellite player. He was that in college, even. The Lions drafted him highly because, for some reason, they really value that satellite role. But someone has to get the bulk of the carries. Jamaal Williams had 262 carries. The team had 480. Come up with a number for Gibbs and reverse engineer the rest. My number for Gibbs is 150 totes. So 280 for Montgomery is probably light.

For the group: Amon-Ra St. Brown or AJ Brown?

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Jake: It’s St. Brown. I find it curious that St. Brown had so much hype with people calling him the “new Cooper Kupp” last year, then lost steam this offseason and didn’t see an uptick after the Jameson Williams news. St. Brown was only behind Tyreek Hill in percent of routes run where he was targeted (30.3% to Hill 32.0%). St. Brown can flirt with 170+ targets, and if so, would be in the No. 1 ranking conversation.

Funston: AR St. Brown – it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finished with 25 more catches than A.J. — the TDs favored AJ last season, but those are fickle and Amon-Ra was heavily targeted in the red zone last season; he could easily tag a few extra end zone trips to his total.

Gary: I like St. Brown a lot this year. But the Eagles are playing the NFL’s most difficult schedule in terms of opponent winning percentage in 2022 and for all the backs they added I wonder if they will be able to run the ball as effectively as last year. Could St. Brown win this battle? Absolutely. But if I have to pick one, it’s Brown – narrowly. Now that I’m done waffling, pass the syrup.

Salfino: In full-PPR, it has to be St. Brown. It’s hard to put a ceiling on his targets and catches. The dude can literally haul in 150 balls. I love A.J. Brown as a talent but he’s in an offense that is likely to be heavy in run percentage and has the best complementary WR in the NFL for any No. 1 receiver, by a lot, and the best receiving TE in football after Travis Kelce. Expecting north of 150 targets is unwise.

KC: A.J. Brown by a solid margin. He ranks fourth in overall grade on my wide receiver board and is tied for first in upside grade. The prime reasons for this are that Brown was fourth in vertical PPR PPG last year and third in stretch vertical PPR PPG. He’s also a workhorse wideout (145 targets, 88 catches last year) and is the Eagles primary red zone and inside the 10-yard line receiver. Add that to having a better QB and he has an edge over St. Brown.

Laghezza and Jake have Christian Watson at 17. Nobody else has him close. What do you two see in him?

Jake: It comes down to talent. While I think Doubs is a solid receiver and Jayden Reed has potential to be the new No. 2, Watson has NFL No. 1 ability. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is gone, but that doesn’t mean Jordan Love doesn’t see Watson’s value. Watson saw a target on 24.4% of his routes, and Love should treat him similarly. The only reason Watson isn’t in the WR1 conversation around Chris Olave, etc., is because of the Love uncertainty (could struggle and ruin all Packers’ receivers).

Laghezza: You play to win the game. The best way to do that? Find the players who move the needle, separating themselves from the field. Among all WRs +25 Targets from Week 10 on, Watson showed game-breaking abilities, finishing 4th in yards per route (2.58) and 3rd in team target share (40.3%). Watson’s currently healthy and spent the offseason practicing instead of rehabbing, putting a WR1 finish in his sights.

You both are very much apart on Jahan Dotson: Jake 21/Laghezza 46. Why?

Jake: Even before McLaurin’s injury, Dotson was ahead of him and my favorite breakout. He already broke out some with the most end zone targets and touchdowns (eight and six) with McLaurin second at seven and two. That was while being the No. 3 option and not starting for a chunk of his rookie season… and with a mess at quarterback. Dotson can be Howell’s version of Tyler Lockett and finish Top 15 this year.

Laghezza: To be honest those rankings didn’t account for the recent Terry McLaurin injury. That said, I’d like to take an L anyway, I was too low on Jahan Dotson. He possesses elite skills in tight spaces, displays route diversity, and has the draft capital. He checks all the boxes. Of all WRs +50 targets, Dotson ranked 6th in Explosive Receiving% (41.9) and now he’s about to be featured in the Commanders offense. Jahan Dotson’s on a short list of players I’ve been convinced to add into my draft plan.

Finally… Christian Kirk or Chris Godwin?

KC: They rank very close on my PPR and half PPR wide receiver board, but in non PPR Kirk has a notable edge. It boils down to Kirk finally showing workhorse wideout capacity (84 receptions on 133 targets) and short pass production (19th in PPR PPG at that depth level last year). Those are skills he didn’t showcase in Arizona and when the huge talent disparity at quarterback is factored in, Kirk is the higher percentage play.

Funston: Neither? To be honest, it’s very likely I won’t be rostering either of them this season. I’ll go with Godwin because he seems like he’s in a better position to be his team’s lead target share. And the target tree is smaller in Tampa Bay, meaning outside of Godwin, Mike Evans and Rachaad White, the other receiving options are inexperienced and/or unproven. Kirk clearly has the better QB, but Calvin Ridley is likely to be the top target, and Zay Jones and Evan Engram combined for 155 catches last season. There’s just a lot of mouths to feed in Jacksonville.

Jake: While I’m normally drafting other positions by this range of wide receiver, if both fell, I’d lean Godwin. Kirk has been coming off the field for some two-wide plays, which is concerning. Even if he wasn’t, Calvin Ridley is now the top option while Godwin can still be the top option for his team. So, if I’m deciding a tiebreak tough call, I’ll go with Godwin (player who can be the No. 1 option).

Gary: I think that reports of Christian Kirk’s fantasy demise have been somewhat exaggerated, but I have to go Godwin here. For starters, there’s a lot less competition for targets in Tampa Bay than there is in Jacksonville. Also, when Baker “Was he really the No. 1 overall pick?” Mayfield has actually produced a fantasy-relevant wide receiver, said wideout (Jarvis Landry) played in the slot. I don’t feel great about Mike Evans in 2023, but Godwin may actually be undervalued.

Note from the editors on third-party rankings: We pride ourselves on being transparent and available here to answer questions and explain why we do what we do. Some people have asked in previous columns about why we allow links to external sites where there is another paywall, and the answer is really just a budgetary one. If we have someone ranking for us, that’s an intense process where players have to be moved and rankings updated nearly every day — and several times a day in late August/early September. It’s not a static list that you write in July and then leave. So for a freelancer, we’d have to pay them a bunch of times for updates and changes to keep it current. A running back gets hurt? Update the ranks. Surprise cut? Update the ranks. So paying for someone to rank would mean using budget intended for columns and putting them into the pot for rankings updates. And since rankings are generally pretty close to one another (check FantasyPros ECR for proof), we feel good having Jake’s and Funston’s rankings on the site, and then letting the writers write columns, which is far more valuable to readers than a third (or fourth) set of updated rankings.

Plus (just an example), KC referencing his rankings in these columns is gold for a reader and for draft prep. Would it be extremely cool to have KC ranking here exclusively on the site? Yes. But does he still tell you a bunch of his relevant player ranks anyway and then we just link back to his site if you want to see more of his work so he can write more columns instead? Also yes. We unfortunately cannot have everyone full-time here. But we can give you as much of their brains as possible — and they aren’t holding back or teasing/withholding any info you need — and then you can go check out more if you want. So, long-winded explanation, but the short version is please trust that having columns with advice is far more valuable to this section than putting resources toward significantly fewer columns and updated rankings, and we generally want to give everyone the opportunity to chase down as much info and opinion and data as possible. We love you all (except Benjamin R, but he knows that) and only want you to win.

Hugs, Nando and Funston.

(Top photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images; pic of Bijan Robinson: Megan Briggs/Getty Images; )

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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