For those who aren’t familiar, “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” is a weekly article explaining why I am higher or lower on a particular player for any given week—or in this case, the entire season. As always, you will get the best advice by simply following our rankings, but this article explains why I’m higher or lower on certain guys. Also, I can’t recommend getting Fantasy Consigliere enough, as you will have access to the tools/advice you need to finally “Be The Boss Of Your Fantasy League.”
Thumbs Up of the Year: Matt Ryan, ATL
Fans who pay attention to only raw numbers (and fantasy “experts” that do the same) might not know it, but Matt Ryan played almost as well in 2017 as he did in his MVP campaign two years ago. And before throwing for just 4,095 yards with a 20:12 touchdown-interception ratio last season, Ryan had at least 4,500 yards for five-straight years. Now, the Falcons have added first-round pick Calvin Ridley to an offense that already included Julio Jones (who is set to get a new deal after the season), contract-year Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, and Mohamed Sanu; plus, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian should be much more comfortable calling plays in his second year with the team. I think Matty Ice is a solid QB1 that’s being severely undervalued as a midrange QB2.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff, LAR
Many are expecting regression from Jared Goff this season, but I’m not. The triggerman of Sean McVay’s attack was basically a rookie last year after a lost season under the previous coaching staff, so a significant leap is definitely possible in 2018. For me, Goff checks all the boxes as a future superstar quarterback with intelligence, poise, and accuracy to all levels of the field, not to mention an excellent supporting cast around him that fits his skillset. I wouldn’t be surprised if Goff led the NFL in touchdown passes this season. Just keep in mind that he might start slow with games against the Cardinals, Chargers, and Vikings after the opener in Oakland.
Thumbs Up: Derek Carr, OAK
Fantasy owners have a prime opportunity to take advantage of groupthink when it comes to Jon Gruden and the Raiders this year, as vocal analysts have called him a “dinosaur” that’s seen the league pass him by. That couldn’t be anymore false. Do people really think that Gruden woke up at 3 or 4 AM to watch film for a decade so that he could be as good as possible at his old Monday Night Football gig? And that he would leave that well-paid job to come back and fail? Not a chance. The former Super Bowl-winning head coach is going to have one of the league’s best offenses, and the main beneficiary will be Derek Carr, who should throw for 4,000 yards and 30+ touchdowns.
Thumbs Up: Sam Bradford, ARI
Laugh if you want, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Sam Bradford’s last healthy start (the 2017 season opener) was arguably one of the best non-playoff games of all-time for a quarterback. Bradford threw dime after dime on Monday Night Football, carving up the Saints—a defense that was actually really good after Bradford and Tom Brady dominated in the first two weeks—for 382 yards and three scores. Over his past 16 healthy games (i.e. a full season), the former No. 1 pick has completed 72.3% of his passes for 4,223 yards and a 23:5 touchdown-interception ratio. Those numbers would have made Bradford the overall QB9 last year, and he is a perfect fit for Mike McCoy’s scheme, especially considering the short-to-intermediate personnel (Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and Christian Kirk) that he has to work with.
Other: Mitchell Trubisky (CHI), Andy Dalton (CIN), Josh Allen (BUF)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Kirk Cousins, MIN
Let me just start out the “Thumbs Down” at the position by saying that quarterback is absolutely loaded this year, so it really comes down to the individual preferences for fantasy owners. That said, the Redskins let Kirk Cousins go for a reason, and I don’t think enough people are valuing Jay Gruden’s expertise as a play-caller compared to a first-year offensive coordinator and play-caller in John DeFilippo. I know the weapons are great with the Vikings, but Cousins will also be behind a sub-par offensive line for the first time in his career. I think a top-five finish, which some are expecting, is somewhat of a ceiling for Minnesota’s new signal-caller.
Thumbs Down: Deshaun Watson, HOU
Again, there is a little caveat with all these quarterbacks being a “Thumbs Down”, including Deshaun Watson, who I have fifth at the position. The former Clemson superstar is often drafted behind just Aaron Rodgers, though, and that’s a hefty price to pay—in the first five rounds ahead of Tom Brady—for such a small sample size. Watson was historically good last year with 1,699 passing yards and 21 total touchdowns in six-and-a-half games, but defensive coaches have had an entire offseason to pick apart his game to better prepare for Bill O’Brien’s offense. I’m not at all concerned with Watson’s knee or him not being the real deal, but If you want him, you’ll probably have to go get him early—and that’s not something I would advise doing with 20+ potential QB1 options this year.
Thumbs Down: Matthew Stafford, DET
Detroit’s franchise quarterback has been as solid as it gets over that past several years with 4,200 yards in every season since 2011, but the Lions could look completely different under new head coach Matt Patricia, which gives me pause. So, while offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter remains, I think Patricia will want to run the ball a lot more than they did in previous years, and the defense should also be improved enough that Stafford isn’t routinely playing hero ball (which he is very good at) in the fourth quarter. A case could be made for the strong-armed quarterback as a back-end QB1 with a deadly trio of wideouts at his disposal, but I have him ranked 17th at the position.
Thumbs Down: Patrick Mahomes, KC
Of course, you have to project a breakout before it’s a breakout, but people might be a little too optimistic about Patrick Mahomes based on one average start against an overrated Denver defense and a couple preseason highlights. I love the weapons with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, but there could be some growing pains when opponents start to throw a lot at the second-year signal-caller. The weakness of Kansas City’s defense could cause the Chiefs to be in weekly shootouts, but I don’t think it’s wise to rely on that for fantasy owners. The unknown with Mahomes makes him a better backup quarterback flier than starter in a 10- or 12-team league.
Other: Blake Bortles (JAX), Tyrod Taylor (CLE), Jameis Winston (TB)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Saquon Barkley, NYG
I mean, obviously Barkley should be a first-round pick in all formats, but I would take him ahead of anyone besides David Johnson in standard redraft leagues. Basically a mix of the aforementioned Johnson and Barry Sanders, Saquon could immediately establish himself as the best running back in the NFL with a superhuman combination of speed, quickness, balance, and overall athleticism. Plus, if the offensive line stays healthy, they will be very strong across the board with Nate Solder and rookie bulldozer Will Hernandez on the left side, Jon Halapio at center, and former Jaguar Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers (who I think will be much better at a new position) at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Oh, and Pat Shurmur will be in charge of an offensive attack that also has Odell Beckham Jr. to keep defenses honest.
Thumbs Up: Christian McCaffrey, CAR
The only thing holding Christian McCaffrey back from being an elite fantasy option is less than a full workload, but those concerns were alleviated in the preseason when he barely left the field (and C.J. Anderson played deep with the reserves). Now, I think McCaffrey needs to be drafted in the first round of standard leagues and as high as the top five in PPR formats, especially since standout right tackle Daryl Williams (knee) made an amazing recovery and could be back soon. The former Stanford star was the RB17 in standard leagues on just 12.3 touches per game as a rookie, and I expect that to climb to at least the 18-20 range, which should be enough to make McCaffrey a solid RB1 with league-winning upside.
Thumbs Up: Derrick Henry, TEN
Last year, Derrick Henry had just three games (including playoffs) with more than 15 touches as he backed up DeMarco Murray. All he did in those games (in which the Titans went 3-0) was score 21.1 non-PPR fantasy points per game—or 2.1 PPG more than last year’s No. 1 running back Todd Gurley. I know they added Dion Lewis as a versatile compliment, but Tennessee is better when their monster runner gets the ball early and often, and I’m sure new head coach Mike Vrabel knows it. Also, it’s worth noting that before he played in all 16 games last year with New England, Lewis had missed more games (18) than he played (14) in his first two years with the Pats. There’s no way Henry should slip past the third round of fantasy drafts.
Thumbs Up: Kerryon Johnson, DET
I’m not going to sit here and confidently say that Kerryon Johnson is going to be a stud that’s worth drafting in the top 50 (which is where I have him ranked), but as anyone who joined Fantasy Consigliere and read our exclusive tips article knows, you should bet on talent above all else; and the rookie has plenty of talent. Johnson is built in the mold of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell as an extremely patient runner with top-end vision, power, and smoothness, so I’d bet on him seizing control of what projects to be a frustrating backfield in Detroit. And if you didn’t know, the Lions traded up ahead of the Redskins for Johnson in April’s draft, which suggests they have big plans for him.
Other: Chris Carson (SEA), Latavius Murray (MIN), Nick Chubb (CLE)
Thumbs Down of the Year: LeSean McCoy, BUF
You could probably look at LeSean McCoy with a glass half full or a glass half empty, but I’m firmly on the side of the latter. First of all, while it’s died down recently, Shady has potential legal troubles looming over his head, and that could take him off the field any given moment if the NFL’s history of justice is any indication. Perhaps even less forgiving is Father Time, as McCoy turned 30 over the summer, so he could suddenly see his production fall off a cliff after averaging a career-low 4.0 yards per carry in 2017. Making matters worse, Buffalo’s offensive line looks to be in shambles, particularly on the interior. I would let someone else take the former All-Pro and opt for a younger option like Kenyan Drake or Alex Collins.
Thumbs Down: Carlos Hyde, CLE
As you might have noticed, Nick Chubb appeared in the “Other” category for “Thumbs Up,” and I think it’s only a matter of time before he takes a significant portion of the touches from Carlos Hyde. The veteran back looked good in the preseason and will probably be featured early behind a strong offensive line, but I’m not sure about taking a member of a three-man committee in the fourth, fifth or sixth round of fantasy drafts. Looking down the road, it would probably be a stretch for Cleveland to still be in contention by December, so even a productive Hyde might be pushed aside for the Chubb in the fantasy playoffs.
Thumbs Down: Rashaad Penny, SEA
I wasn’t alone in being shocked when Seattle took Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but it’s unfair to criticize a pick before the player even steps on the field. That said, Chris Carson is clearly the superior real-life and fantasy option in my opinion, and Penny could face a learning curve at the next level behind a sub-par offensive line. Furthermore, the rookie missed most of the preseason with a finger injury, which only puts him behind on a team that always allocates playing time based on performance, not draft status.
Thumbs Down: Dalvin Cook, MIN
Dalvin Cook is a tremendous player that should be taken in the top three rounds of all formats, but I’m not sold on him as a late first-round or early second-round pick like many analysts are. Besides coming off a torn ACL, Cook will be splitting time with Latavius Murray, who is 100% after ankle surgery two summers ago and remains one of the best short-yardage backs in the league. Also, the two have made it known that they want to be considered the one-two punch in the league, so barring injury, Cook might not have the workhorse potential that fantasy owners are hoping for.
Other: Isaiah Crowell (NYJ), Duke Johnson (CLE), C.J. Anderson (CAR)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Sammy Watkins, KC
Despite having just turned 25 over the summer, Sammy Watkins already has four years of NFL experience under his belt (to compare, he’s basically a year older than Calvin Ridley, who turns 24 in December) and was paid top-five receiver money based on what Kansas City expects him to do as he enters his prime. Watkins’ role with the Rams limited him to mostly clear-out routes and red-zone opportunities in 2017, but he’s going to be featured all over the formation in a variety of ways under Andy Reid, and I think he will single-handedly win some weeks this year. Don’t give in to the hate that is pushed by fantasy analysts that were burned by Sammy in the past, as he is a tremendous talent that can dominate at all levels of the field.
Thumbs Up: Allen Robinson, CHI
At 22-years-old with Blake Bortles—who himself has said he’s “not a natural thrower”—at quarterback, Allen Robinson went for an 80/1,400/14 line as one of the league’s premier downfield threats. That was in 2015, and Robinson has since had an inconsistent campaign amidst an in-season coaching change followed by a torn ACL suffered on his first catch of the season last year. Now, he’s teaming up with Mitchell Trubisky and his elite deep ball in Chicago to be the team’s No. 1 receiver, which I think is a great fit. And as Keenan Allen showed last year, elite players coming off a serious knee injury can contribute immediately. Robinson is a top-12 option for me in standard leagues.
Thumbs Up: Jordy Nelson, OAK
If you’ve missed our fantasy news about Nelson over the summer, the Raiders absolutely love him and don’t know how Green Bay let him get away. Head coach Jon Gruden said the veteran was hitting 22 miles per hour in practice (which is extremely fast), and Derek Carr added about his new receiver: “You’d think he’s in his 20s.” Even before the praise from his new team, I thought Jordy was bound to bounce back as an immediate threat in the red zone for Carr, and now that Martavis Bryant is gone, Nelson has legitimate 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown upside at age 33.
Thumbs Up: Nelson Agholor, PHI
The most underappreciated storyline of the 2017 NFL season was easily Nelson Agholor’s breakout after overcoming injuries and adversity through his first two seasons in the league. Besides finishing as a top-20 fantasy wideout, Agholor was the unsung hero of Super Bowl LII with nine receptions for 84 yards, including some key first downs that led to scoring drives and kept Tom Brady off the field. Set to open the season as the team’s No. 1 receiver with Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) out, the former first-round pick’s confidence should be at an all-time high as he looks to build on last year’s emergence. I would take him as early as Round 6 in all formats.
Other: Chris Hogan (NE), John Brown (BAL), Chris Godwin (TB)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Doug Baldwin, SEA
I was already lower on Doug Baldwin as it is, so to hear him admit that he’s at 80-85% percent and won’t be back to full health this year is a huge concern for a player that turns 30 in two-and-a-half weeks. Also working against him is the Seahawks’ willingness to get back to being a run-first team and the fact that they kept Brandon Marshall on the roster to take looks away in scoring territory. I would much rather have basically every option going immediately behind Baldwin—from JuJu Smith-Schuster to Brandin Cooks to Chris Hogan.
Thumbs Down: Mike Evans, TB
Even after a borderline WR2 finish last year, Mike Evans is being treated as a no-doubt WR1 option, which might be difficult to live up to considering his inefficiency as a pass-catcher combined with all the weapons Tampa Bay has. Jameis Winston being suspended shouldn’t be a big deal, but with second-year playmakers Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard ready to explode, and DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, and Adam Humphries still around, I’m not sure Evans is efficient enough to overcome a decrease in targets. I know it’s not his game, but last season, the big-bodied wideout had the fourth-lowest average separation per route (2.1 yards) according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Thumbs Down: Demaryius Thomas, DEN
A clean bill of health had me cautiously optimistic for Demaryius Thomas for 2018, but as the summer progressed, he slowly fell down my rankings for a couple reasons. Most importantly, he is a questionable fit with Case Keenum, who likes to find the open man rather than throw into traffic (an area where Demaryius excels). Also, Denver clearly has a successor to Thomas in place after they drafted Courtland Sutton in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so it’s not completely unrealistic for him to flat-out lose his job at some point—whether that’s in October for injury/performance reasons or December because the Broncos fall out of contention. And I think that’s doubly true with fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton also ready to contribute.
Thumbs Down: Robby Anderson, NYJ
I say it all the time, but this will be the first time I have for the 2018 season: chemistry matters, and it might be the most underrated aspect in sports. In 12 games with Josh McCown healthy last year, Robby Anderson caught 49 passes for 821 yards and seven touchdowns. In three-plus that McCown missed to end the season (rounding up to four), Anderson had just 14 receptions for 120 yards and zero scores. There’s a stark contrast between 3.5 receptions per game and 30 yards per game without McCown compared to an average game line of 4.1/68.4/0.58 with the veteran under center. I like Sam Darnold’s long-term outlook, but I think he will play conservatively as a rookie. That hurts Anderson, who is somehow going in the top half of fantasy drafts.
Other: Marvin Jones (DET), Will Fuller (HOU), Rishard Matthews (TEN)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, NE
Like clockwork, Rob Gronkowski is clearly the top fantasy tight end, but still somehow undervalued from an overall perspective. I think letting Gronk slip out of the second round is a huge mistake, as he’s my No. 11 overall player, and I thought about putting him as high as No. 7. Simply put, when he is on the field, your fantasy team has a significant advantage that cannot be replicated at any other position (i.e. the QB1 over the QB2, RB1 over the RB2, the WR1 over the WR2). The new targeting rules could make Gronkowski even more unstoppable down the seam, over the middle, and with the ball in his hands, which is a scary thought.
Thumbs Up: David Njoku, CLE
Fortunately, those that miss out on Gronk (or Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz) this year have a handful of high-upside options to choose from that could potentially join the elite tier of fantasy tight ends. My favorite of the group is David Njoku, who went for a 32/386/4 line as a 21-year-old rookie… with a very inexperienced DeShone Kizer under center… for an 0-16 team… while playing just 46.82% of the team’s offensive snaps. Now, he will have a better play-caller (Todd Haley) with an upgrade at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield), and Njoku played almost every first-team snap in August. Pick him up now if he’s somehow available in your league.
Thumbs Up: Jordan Reed, WAS
Everyone knows of Jordan Reed’s immense potential because he’s reached it before with 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. Of course, Reed has missed 28 games scattered across five seasons to start his career, but there’s no denying his talent, and the depth at other positions makes me more confident in taking the gamble with him as early as the eighth round this year. It also helps that Alex Smith has had a ton of success targeting tight ends—from Vernon Davis to Travis Kelce—and Jay Gruden will continue to put Reed in the best position to make plays.
Thumbs Up: Mike Gesicki, MIA
For those that completely punt at the position, Mike Gesicki is the best flier there is, as he has double-digit touchdown potential in Adam Gase’s offense. Rookie tight ends rarely put up big-time numbers, but if Julius Thomas can have 12 touchdowns under Gase, I have no doubt that the athletically-superior Gesicki—who runs a 4.54 40-yard dash with a 41.5-inch vertical at six-foot-five—can do the same. Dynasty owners should target the Penn State product as a possible star.
Other: O.J. Howard, TB, Austin Hooper (ATL)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Evan Engram, NYG
Evan Engram finished as the overall TE5 as a rookie, but I’m not sure we can expect a Year 2 leap (or even a repeat), as he was heavily dependent on volume for an injury-plagued offense. This year, Odell Beckham Jr. is back, Sterling Shepard is flying under the radar as a secondary option, and the team obviously has big plans for Saquon Barkley. Plus, New York’s defense should be much improved after adding Lorenzo Carter, B.J. Hill, and Alec Ogletree, among others, so the Giants shouldn’t be trailing as often as they did in 2017. He should still make plays, but I think Engram will struggle to consistently produce for fantasy owners in a scaled-back role.
Thumbs Down: Delanie Walker, TEN
With at least 800 yards in each of the past four seasons, Delanie Walker has gotten better with age, and the Titans clearly believe it will continue after signing him to an extension in July. Entering his age-34 season, though, Walker could be less of a factor in a new offense with Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor both looking ready to step up, not to mention Dion Lewis taking some targets underneath. He should provide low-end TE1 value, but I have the veteran ranked nearly four rounds lower than his current ADP of 78th overall.
Thumbs Down: Eric Ebron, IND
Maybe having less pressure as a free agent rather than a first-round pick like he was in Detroit will allow Eric Ebron to unlock his potential, but I don’t agree with him going ahead of Gesicki, Antonio Gates, or Austin Hooper in fantasy drafts as a midrange TE2. Jack Doyle is clearly the tight end to own for the Colts since he has a history with Andrew Luck, so Ebron could be set to disappoint those that are hoping for a breakout in Year 5.
Thumbs Down: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, JAX
The fourth spot is a little tougher since Martellus Bennett was a weekly staple here last year, but I think people might be overvaluing what Jacksonville brought in Austin Seferian-Jenkins to do, which is block. Still, he’s somehow being drafted ahead of the trio of Gesicki, Gates, and Hooper that I mentioned, and also other higher-upside options like Ricky Seals-Jones and Vance McDonald. I think even Dallas Goedert would be a better early-season option with Alshon Jeffery out for Philly.
Other: Cameron Brate (TB), Tyler Eifert (CIN)