Expert Consensus Rankings vs. ESPN Pre-Draft Rankings (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Sam Schlesinger | @avishai41 | Featured Writer
Aug 26, 2018

Sony Michel (left) has the most upside of all Patriots backs and has a cheaper cost than Rex Burkhead

With fantasy drafts happening all over the world over the next two weeks, one thing it’s important to consider is that your league-mates may not have done as much research as you did, and they might be heavily influenced by the in-draft rankings of whatever platform your league is hosted on. If you understand this, you can get a better idea of where players may go in your draft than just looking at ADP. In this article, I’ve highlighted the players at each position that the ECR (expert consensus rankings) on FantasyPros is significantly higher or lower on than the in-draft PPR rankings on ESPN.

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Running Back Team ESPN Ranking ECR +/-
Dalvin Cook (MIN) RB8 RB11 -3
Alex Collins (BAL) RB20 RB17 +3
Lamar Miller (HOU) RB25 RB20 +5
Royce Freeman (DEN) RB18 RB22 -4
Derrick Henry (TEN) RB19 RB23 -4
Rex Burkhead (NE) RB29 RB25 +4
Tevin Coleman (ATL) RB30 RB26 +4
Marshawn Lynch (OAK) RB23 RB27 -4
Kerryon Johnson (DET) RB35 RB29 +6
Sony Michel (NE) RB36 RB32 +4
Carlos Hyde (CLE) RB40 RB34 +6
Isaiah Crowell (NYJ) RB28 RB35 -7
Chris Carson (SEA) RB32 RB37 -5
Ronald Jones (TB) RB22 RB38 -16
Peyton Barber (TB) RB57 RB44 +13
Aaron Jones (GB) RB56 RB46 +10
Bilal Powell (NYJ) RB60 RB48 +12

Running Backs ECR Likes More

Alex Collins became the starter in Week 5 for the Ravens in 2017 and finished as the RB13 overall from then until the end of the season. He earned himself the starting role heading into 2018, but Kenneth Dixon, the promising rookie from 2016, isn’t too far behind, assuming he can remain healthy. Dixon started in Monday night’s preseason game for the Ravens and had an impressive 56 yards on nine total touches. With Dixon in the mix, RB20 seems like a safer target point for Collins.

Lamar Miller is going to be the guy in Houston, at least for first six weeks of the season as it appears D’Onta Foreman will start on the PUP list. Coming back from an Achilles tear is no simple feat. Miller was the RB18 overall when Watson was his quarterback last season, and I think his RB20 ECR ranking is dead on.

It’s always a tricky situation in New England regarding running backs. The Patriots have been the top scoring team in the league in five out of the last eight years and haven’t been outside the top 10 since 2005. They are going to have a valuable fantasy running back, but it’s impossible to know which one. 

The ECR has both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel four spots higher than their respective rankings on ESPN, but I like the potential value a lot more for Michel. Even if Michel struggles to start the season due to the time in camp he missed, he’s the most talented overall back on the team, and I think the running game will feature him more and more as the season progresses. I’d instead scoop up the RB32 later in the draft than take the RB25.

Tevin Coleman has increased his snap share with every season alongside Devonta Freeman, he’s never averaged below four yards per carry in his career, and he finished as the RB22 and 20 in 2017 and 2016. Ranking him as the RB30 is an extremely low ranking and you may be in for a massive steal in your ESPN league.

Kerryon Johnson is the future in Detroit, but will he have a clear starting role over LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, and Ameer Abdullah? I believe the answer is yes, and ESPN’s RB35 ranking is too low for me. Abdullah is not a lock to make the roster and Blount will likely be feature mainly in short yardage situations. Blount last year only got 55% of Philadelphia’s goal-line work and just converted on one of his 10 attempts inside the five-yard line. There is plenty of room for Johnson to succeed in that offense.

I think the hate has gone too far on Carlos Hyde. He’s displayed so far this preseason that he is the starting running back in Cleveland, and the Browns are going to run the ball more than people think despite their aerial weapons. Tyrod Taylor has never thrown more than 436 passes in a season, and his Bills teams were 12th, second, and second in rushing plays in his three years there. Hyde is severely overlooked and underrated.

Peyton Barber, Aaron Jones, and Bilal Powell all have large discrepancies, partially because there is a lot of unknown about their jobs and also because after RB45 you’re throwing darts and potential running back sleepers. I like the ECR ranking on Powell. He’s the veteran back on the team, and he’s the best in the passing game. He should have a relatively even split with Isaiah Crowell which is more than we can say for Barber or Jones. Barber has looked like the starter in preseason, but the Buccaneers aren’t going to give up on their second-round rookie pick that quickly, and Jones is in a three-player competition for work in Green Bay’s backfield and starting the season with a two-game suspension.

Running Backs ESPN Likes More

I like ESPN’s firm ranking on Dalvin Cook. He looks to be fully healthy to start Week 1, and he had a 69% offensive snap share in the games he played last year. That would have ranked sixth in the league if he kept it up for a whole season. With an elite defense, the Vikings are likely going to have the luxury of running the ball in the second half which means more work for Cook. Latavius Murray is a capable backup, but a backup is exactly what he’s going to remain.

I’m a big fan of Royce Freeman, but I think ESPN is slightly jumping the gun with RB18 ranking. Devontae Booker hasn’t gone anywhere yet, and they may still use him frequently in the passing game, which would limit Freeman’s upside in a PPR league. The ECR’s RB22 ranking is more appropriate from my perspective.

Derrick Henry is another guy I think ESPN whiffed on. Dion Lewis was one of the most efficient pass-catching running backs in 2017, catching 32 of his 35 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also excellent in pass protection. Henry only has 24 catches in his two season in the NFL; it’s just not how he’s used. Without any of that upside, plus Lewis digging into his rushing volume as well, RB19 is too generous for Henry.

I’ve said this before, but Marshawn Lynch returned to form in the second half of last season and finished the last five weeks as one of the best running backs in football. From Week 12 and beyond, he was fourth in the league in carries and third in rushing yards. He only scored fewer than 12 fantasy points once in his last six games. I believe Lynch will finish as an RB2 in 2018

The Jets have been a bottom-seven team in scoring for five of the last seven years, and that does not bode well for their fantasy prospects. Splitting the carries with Bilal Powell, I believe Crowell is overrated at RB28. Putting him at RB28, but Powell at RB60 makes no sense to me.

Chris Carson was getting all the love in Seahawks camp even before Rashaad Penny broke his finger, but the love from the fantasy community might be getting a little too high. Don’t forget that the Seahawks took Penny with a first round pick and reportedly turned down a post-pick trade offer for him. He’s going to get every opportunity to succeed even if Carson enters the season as the “starter.”

Ronald Jones had the most significant discrepancy between ESPN and the ECR. I happen to think he belongs right in the middle. It’s certainly not a good look that he’s had more carries than rushing yards so far this preseason, but the sample size has been so tiny, and it’s best to avoid being reactionary to preseason games. Just like Penny, Jones is going to get every opportunity to succeed, and Barber is not a workhorse.

Wide Receiver Team ESPN Ranking ECR +/-
Doug Baldwin (SEA) WR17 WR12 +5
Amari Cooper (OAK) WR19 WR16 +3
Allen Robinson (JAX) WR16 WR20 -4
JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) WR25 WR21 +4
Josh Gordon (CLE) WR20 WR24 -4
Corey Davis (TEN) WR30 WR25 +5
Alshon Jeffery (PHI) WR23 WR28 -5
Jamison Crowder (WAS) WR42 WR31 +11
Cooper Kupp (LAR) WR38 WR33 +5
Robert Woods (LAR) WR26 WR36 -10
Devin Funchess (CAR) WR33 WR38 -5
Will Fuller (HOU) WR36 WR40 -4
Nelson Agholor (PHI) WR48 WR41 +7
Sterling Shepard (NYG) WR40 WR44 -4
Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) WR39 WR45 -6
D.J. Moore (CAR) WR58 WR49 +9
Josh Doctson (WAS) WR44 WR53 -9
Mike Williams (LAC) WR69 WR55 +14
Calvin Ridley (ATL) WR61 WR56 +5
Anthony Miller (CHI) WR65 WR57 +8

 

Wide Receivers ECR Likes More

I would be shocked if Doug Baldwin was the 17th receiver taken off the board. He hasn’t finished worse than WR14 in the last three seasons, and 217 targets from last year are now on other teams. Russell Wilson has thrown the ball about 550 times in the previous two seasons, and Baldwin has had a 23% target share over the last three seasons. If we give Wilson a conservative 25 more throws due to the horrific state of his defense and bump Baldwin up to a (very) conservative 25% target share due to lack of competition, that would give Baldwin 144 targets, which would have been sixth in the league last season.

Amari Cooper burned fantasy owners last season, but in this game, you need to forgive and forget and not let one bad season wreck your perception. Since 2000, only six players had more receiving yards than Cooper over the first two seasons of their career; Odell Beckham Jr., Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, and Marques Colston. That’s good company to be in.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was as efficient with his targets as you could be in 2017. He had 917 yards on just 79 targets. No one else with 900+ yards received fewer than 105 targets. It would be incredibly difficult to repeat that efficiency, but he now has a starting wide receiver role and no Martavis Bryant so his targets should increase. I think he has a high chance of finishing as a WR2.

WR25 is a bit high for someone who was injured and didn’t perform well last season, but Corey Davis put on a show in the playoffs catching nine passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns over two games. You have to bet on that, and the fact that he’s only a year removed from being picked fifth overall in the 2017 NFL draft.

Jamison Crowder is a steal if he’s taken as the 42nd receiver off of the board. Alex Smith makes smart, quick passes, and fits Crowder’s style of play very well. Crowder averaged 3.2 yards of separation according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, which was almost a yard more than both Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson. Crowder will get open for Smith, and he’ll be the possession receiver and go-to target.

Cooper Kupp had an impressive rookie season, leading the Rams in targets despite the presence of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Todd Gurley. Jared Goff showed that he trusted Kupp in critical situations as he targeted Kupp on third and fourth down 39 times, 12 more than anyone else on the team. The question is whether or not Brandin Cooks will shake that up, but I think WR33 is spot on.

Nelson Agholor had a breakout season in 2017 catching 62 passes for 768 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught almost 20% more of his passes than Alshon Jeffery did because he was used as the chain mover, but he still found the end zone eight times. I much prefer Agholor at his price than where I would have to draft Jeffery.

D.J. Moore is my favorite rookie wide receiver. When the Panthers drafted him, Cam Newton texted “thank you” to Ron Rivera. Moore is a fast, physical, over the middle threat that Newton hasn’t played with since his rookie season with Steve Smith. The Panthers want to get the ball out of Newton’s hands as quickly as possible, and Moore will become his favorite receiver before too long.

The ECR is significantly higher on Mike Williams, Calvin Ridley, and Anthony Miller. These are all receivers with little to no playing experience. Mike Williams is the best end zone threat for Philip Rivers who’s thrown the ball over 570 times in each of the past four seasons, and Ridley and Miller are settling in as slot starters on their respective teams. I think ESPN is overlooking all three of them.

Wide Receivers ESPN Likes More

It’s true that wide receivers sometimes struggle when they join new teams, and that Allen Robinson only has one good season to his name, but I like his 2018 outlook. The Bears offense is wholly transformed from top to bottom under new head coach Matt Nagy, and Robinson will be the feature receiver for Mitch Trubisky. If Trubisky can take a step forward in the way that Jared Goff did last season, Robinson could easily have a high-end WR2 season.

I think both the ECR and ESPN are too high on Josh Gordon. He’s back with the team after his leave of absence and he “might” be ready for Week 1, but with him, any day could be his last in the NFL. He also has to compete with a crowded group of pass catchers including the ultimate ball hog, Jarvis Landry, for a quarterback that has never thrown more than 436 passes in a season in his career. If and when Baker Mayfield replaces Tyrod Taylor, Gordon’s outlook changes, but as for now, Taylor is the starting quarterback for the Browns.

Alshon Jeffery and Carson Wentz both had ridiculous touchdown rates in 2017 that will have to regress in 2018. 16% of Jeffery’s catches were touchdowns, and 12.5% of Wentz’s throws were touchdowns. Jeffery still hasn’t practiced this offseason and his Week 1 availability is in question. I’m with the ECR on this one.

I don’t understand how ESPN can put Robert Woods at WR26 but Cooper Kupp at WR38. Last year, Kupp had more targets, receptions, yards, and (shockingly) fantasy points than Woods. but ESPN put Woods 12 spots ahead of Kupp. The Rams seem like they’re serious about getting Cooks more involved than Watkins was last year, and game script will likely have them running the ball frequently, but I’m much more aligned with the ECR’s ranking of WR33 and 36 for Kupp and Woods, respectively.

Devin Funchess is not someone I want in a PPR league. He may be the best end zone threat the Panthers have, but for most everything else, Christian McCaffrey, Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Greg Olsen are superior options. Newton has thrown 500 passes only once in his career, and Olsen takes up 100+ of those every season when he’s healthy. McCaffrey will also get close to 100 again, and with weapons like Samuel and Moore around now. I don’t see how Funchess can get a lot of volume.

Much like Jeffery, Will Fuller put up an unsustainable touchdown rate in 2017. 25% of his catches were touchdowns. This is most likely not what you’ll be getting by drafting Fuller, and I think his ranking in both places reflects that. Keke Coutee is also an exceptional talent out of the slot and will end up pushing Fuller for volume by midseason.

Sterling Shepard and Kelvin Benjamin are right next to each other in both rankings, but valued a bit higher on ESPN. I like Shepard’s potential to find work in an improved Giants offense. Opposing defenses will have their hands full with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, and Shepard should see a lot of single coverage. Benjamin, on the other hand, is in a disastrous situation in Buffalo. The Bills still have no idea who their starting quarterback will be, and they lost three starting offensive linemen in the offseason. Even if Benjamin leads the Bills in targets, that doesn’t mean the targets will be accurate or that the Bills will score points.

Alex Smith hadn’t thrown over 3,502 yards or 23 touchdowns in his career until last season when he had Tyreek Hill. I think he fits well with Jamison Crowder, but the outlook is bleak for Josh Doctson. He thrives on going up to grab balls and winning on contested catches, but Smith would rather throw to a guy that was open than chuck up a 50/50 ball, and Doctson doesn’t create much separation.

Quarterback Team ESPN Ranking ECR +/-
Russell Wilson (SEA) QB5 QB2 +3
Drew Brees (NO) QB11 QB6 +5
Carson Wentz (PHI) QB4 QB7 -3
Jared Goff (LAR) QB19 QB16 +3
Derek Carr (OAK) QB25 QB20 +5

 

Quarterbacks ECR Likes More

I don’t understand how anyone can put four quarterbacks ahead of Russell Wilson. Since 2012 he’s second in the league in quarterback rushing yards and third in quarterback rushing touchdowns. He’s also fourth in passing touchdowns over the last three years. In his six NFL seasons, he has five QB1 finishes and three top-three finishes. In 2018 he won’t have the defense he’s been used to his whole career and will have to throw and run even more than he already does.

ESPN’s ranking for Drew Brees is even crazier. Last year he finished as the QB11, but that was the lowest he’s finished in his 12 seasons as a Saint, and he’s finished in the top five nine times. He still led the league in completions and completion percentage last season, and his touchdowns should see a definite positive regression. Before last year, he had thrown at least 32 touchdowns in every season since 2008.

I’m not extremely high on Jared Goff, but QB19 is overkill. The Rams now have one of the best offenses and defenses in the league, and Todd Gurley isn’t going to score all of their points from the ground. Goff threw only a modest 477 passes last year and managed to finish as the QB12. Even though the defense improved, he isn’t going throw the ball significantly less. The team is going to put him in a position to be a solid fantasy option.

Again, I think ESPN took the hate too far with Derek Carr. He took a giant step backward last year and had a season that was only slightly better than his rookie campaign, and still finished as the QB21. If he can rebound even a little bit, he’ll finish better than QB25.

Quarterbacks ESPN Likes More

Carson Wentz should no longer be going in anyone’s top five at quarterback. There’s an increasingly large chance that he will not be ready to start in Week 1, and Adam Schefter thinks Week 3 is a more realistic target. Aside from his health status being up in the air, Wentz will likely see some touchdown regression in 2018. Wentz was second in the league in passing touchdowns, but 23rd in pass attempts. If healthy, I like him in the QB6-10 range, but QB4 is way too high

Tight End Team ESPN Ranking ECR +/-
O.J. Howard (TB) TE21 TE14 +7
Eric Ebron (IND) TE23 TE17 +6

 

Tight Ends ECR Likes More

For a position as small as tight end, these are some pretty drastic discrepancies. Both of these tight ends are not the “main” tight ends on their teams. Cameron Brate significantly out-targeted O.J. Howard during his rookie season in 2017 and he hasn’t gone anywhere. Jack Doyle has proven chemistry with Andrew Luck and was a Pro Bowl tight end with Jacoby Brissett. Eric Ebron has been nothing but a disappointment in his career, so I’m not sure how he comes out on top in that fight. I would side with ESPN on both of these rankings, and you won’t find either of these guys on any of my fantasy teams.

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Sam Schlesinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Sam, check out his archive and follow him @avishai41.

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