The twists and turns then start coming, though, and if it’s not a great idea at that point to look only at the non-crossed-off names on your top 200 list (how’s that for old-school imagery?), it’s even worse to plan on taking specific players in later draft rounds. You could easily get sniped on all those players, and you still have the pesky issues of filling out your starting lineup and trying to get good value on all your picks.
Okay, the lineup part isn’t that hard, but how does one consider that good value was had more often than not? Why, by using tiers, of course! Grouping players by similar ranges of outcomes can help you decide which positions to address as you navigate through drafts.
It’s not just a matter of deciding you need to take the last quarterback in a given tier as opposed to one of six wide receivers left. It’s helpful to decide how much of a gap there is between tiers within a position, because that can provide some guidance on draft strategy without locking on individual players.
For instance, if you think there’s a huge drop-off after the first tier of tight ends, you might want to target that position aggressively, probably with a second-round pick. If you look at your fourth tier of running backs and really like your options, that could encourage you to be patient at that position and scoop up value elsewhere in the early rounds.
Because I am here to help, I am listing my tiers at RB, WR, QB and TE. Please note that I am defaulting to half-PPR and that my rankings will update regularly, particularly now that we’re finally getting reports from full practices at training camps. As such, I have embedded my rankings at the bottom of this post so you can see my latest adjustments.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers; Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys; Saquon Barkley, Giants
McCaffrey arguably belongs in a tier by himself, given how he dusted the field last season. But you may have noticed that 2020 does not bear much of a resemblance to 2019, and it would not be a shock if any of these three finished at No. 1.
Alvin Kamara, Saints; Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs; Dalvin Cook, Vikings; Derrick Henry, Titans
These players will probably fill out the top seven in many drafts apart from full-PPR formats where a Michael Thomas could elbow his way in.
Kenyan Drake, Cardinals; Nick Chubb, Browns; Josh Jacobs, Raiders; Miles Sanders, Eagles; Joe Mixon, Bengals; Aaron Jones, Packers; Austin Ekeler, Chargers
It’s not always desirable to pick near the end of the first round, but this year offers the attractive prospect of coming away with one, or better yet two, of these backs, any of whom have the talent and opportunity to finish atop this group.
James Conner, Steelers; Chris Carson, Seahawks; Jonathan Taylor, Colts; Melvin Gordon III, Broncos; Todd Gurley II, Falcons; David Johnson, Texans; Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers; Leonard Fournette, Jaguars; Mark Ingram II, Ravens
One of these — the rookie Taylor — is definitely not like the others, as we mostly have a large assortment of veterans who may not have their coaches’ trust or their bodies’ cooperation to continue in the workhorse roles they’ve enjoyed in the past. Draft these players as RB2s (or simply bypass them for other positions in Rounds 3-5), and hope they prove to have a lot left in the tank.
Raheem Mostert, 49ers; Kareem Hunt, Browns; Cam Akers, Rams; Le’Veon Bell, Jets; James White, Patriots; J.K. Dobbins, Ravens; D’Andre Swift, Lions; Phillip Lindsay, Broncos; David Montgomery, Bears; Devin Singletary, Bills; Zack Moss, Bills; Tevin Coleman, 49ers; Jordan Howard, Dolphins; Kerryon Johnson, Lions; Tarik Cohen, Bears; Matt Breida, Dolphins
Here we have both halves of various time-shares where either player could emerge as the top option. In general these backs should be viewed as needing just one obstacle to be removed (such as a lack of work in the passing game or at the goal line) to have a clear path to an RB1-type workload.
Antonio Gibson, Washington; Chase Edmonds, Cardinals; Boston Scott, Eagles; Tony Pollard, Cowboys; Latavius Murray, Saints; Adrian Peterson, Washington; Alexander Mattison, Vikings; Duke Johnson, Texans; Damien Harris, Patriots; Darrell Henderson, Rams; Nyheim Hines, Colts; A.J. Dillon, Packers
I try not to leave drafts without at least two players from this exciting group, full of potential league-winners if the guys ahead of them go down.
Sony Michel, Patriots; Darrel Williams, Chiefs; Marlon Mack, Colts; Darrynton Evans, Titans; Joshua Kelley, Chargers; Benny Snell Jr., Steelers; Carlos Hyde, Seahawks; Jerick McKinnon, 49ers; Bryce Love, Washington; DeAndre Washington, Chiefs; Dare Ogunbowale, Buccaneers; Justin Jackson, Chargers; Malcolm Brown, Rams; Giovani Bernard, Bengals; Frank Gore, Jets; Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers; Darwin Thompson, Chiefs; Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers; Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars; Brian Hill, Falcons; Ito Smith, Falcons
My lack of faith in Michel is evident in his inclusion in this mishmash of backups and role players. Freeman is expected to eventually sign somewhere, and if an injury arises, he could suddenly step into a sizable role.
Michael Thomas, Saints; Davante Adams, Packers
If you’d rather not make the extremely obvious move of picking Thomas first among WRs, the only plausible alternative is Adams, who has very little apparent competition in Green Bay.
Julio Jones, Falcons; Tyreek Hill, Chiefs; DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals; Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
The only minor quibbles here could be less-than-completely-ideal target shares or touchdown totals.
Kenny Golladay, Lions; Allen Robinson II, Bears; Mike Evans, Buccaneers; D.J. Moore, Panthers; Adam Thielen, Vikings; Amari Cooper, Cowboys; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
All these players have shown within the past couple of years that they have the stuff of which WR1s are made, and only Thielen, who turns 30 on Aug. 22, has any age concerns.
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns; Calvin Ridley, Falcons; A.J. Brown, Titans; D.J. Chark, Jaguars; Robert Woods, Rams; Cooper Kupp, Rams; Terry McLaurin, Washington; Tyler Lockett, Seahawks; D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks; DeVante Parker, Dolphins; Courtland Sutton, Broncos; Keenan Allen, Chargers; Marquise Brown, Ravens; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Stefon Diggs, Bills; Will Fuller V, Texans; Jarvis Landry, Browns
This ludicrously deep crop of rock-solid WR2 candidates, with the requisite potential for more, is the reason so many draft analysts are advising a strong start at RB before hitting WR in Rounds 3-5.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals; Michael Gallup, Cowboys; Marvin Jones, Lions; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Brandin Cooks, Texans; Jamison Crowder, Jets; Sterling Shepard, Giants; A.J. Green, Bengals; Christian Kirk, Cardinals; John Brown, Bills; Diontae Johnson, Steelers; Deebo Samuel, 49ers
The depth continues with these top-two options on their respective teams, who provide a mix of safety (Gallup, Jones, Edelman, Crowder) and upside (Kirk, Johnson, Samuel)
Preston Williams, Dolphins; Anthony Miller, Bears; Mecole Hardman, Chiefs; CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys; Emmanuel Sanders, Saints; Darius Slayton, Giants; Jerry Jeudy, Broncos; Henry Ruggs III, Raiders; DeSean Jackson, Eagles; Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers; Allen Lazard, Packers; Mike Williams, Chargers; Jalen Reagor, Eagles; Golden Tate III, Giants; Sammy Watkins, Chiefs
We’ve arrived on shakier ground, and none of these players should be any higher than your team’s WR3.
Curtis Samuel, Panthers; Parris Campbell, Colts; Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars; Justin Jefferson, Vikings; Robby Anderson, Panthers; Corey Davis, Titans; Randall Cobb, Texans; Michael Pittman Jr., Colts; Breshad Perriman, Jets; N’Keal Harry, Patriots; James Washington, Steelers; Steven Sims Jr., Washington; Alshon Jeffery, Eagles; Kenny Stills, Texans; John Ross, Bengals
You’ll want to stash these WRs on your bench and see if the positive scenarios that are realistic in their cases play out.
Miles Boykin, Ravens; Russell Gage, Falcons; Hunter Renfrow, Raiders; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals; Tre’Quan Smith, Saints; Josh Reynolds, Rams; Dede Westbrook, Jaguars; Kendrick Bourne, 49ers; Andy Isabella, Cardinals; Denzel Mims, Jets; Danny Amendola, Lions; Cole Beasley, Bills; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers (5)
Those in deep leagues could eventually find themselves choosing from these WRs, all of whom appear no better than third, if not fourth, in their teams’ pecking orders.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens; Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Not a ton needs to be said here, except that it would not be crazy at all to take either in the second round (and that’s coming from someone who almost always prefers to wait at QB).
Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Kyler Murray, Cardinals; Deshaun Watson, Texans; Russell Wilson, Seahawks
This quartet rounds out a Big Six of QBs worth considering in the early-ish rounds, after which there’s a gap to the next lot.
Matt Ryan, Falcons; Josh Allen, Bills; Tom Brady, Buccaneers; Matthew Stafford, Lions; Drew Brees, Saints; Carson Wentz, Eagles
Strong candidates to post starter-worthy numbers, with Jones the biggest wild card.
Cam Newton, Patriots; Daniel Jones, Giants; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Ryan Tannehill, Titans; Jared Goff, Rams; Baker Mayfield, Browns
If you really want to wait at QB, you wouldn’t be risking a ton on these players for a potentially very good reward.
Joe Burrow, Bengals; Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers; Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars; Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers; Kirk Cousins, Vikings; Derek Carr, Raiders
The last of the guys you’d want as starters in 2QB or superflex leagues.
Tyrod Taylor, Chargers; Drew Lock, Broncos; Philip Rivers, Colts; Sam Darnold, Jets; Dwayne Haskins, Washington
The last of the guys clearly set to begin the season as starters, with Taylor the most likely to lose his job but also the most likely to put up QB1-level points because of his rushing ability.
Nick Foles, Bears; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins; Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins; Mitch Trubisky, Bears; Justin Herbert, Chargers; Jameis Winston, Saints; Jalen Hurts, Eagles; Andy Dalton, Cowboys; Robert Griffin III, Ravens; Marcus Mariota, Raiders; Taysom Hill, Saints; Jacoby Brissett, Colts
These QBs have legitimate chances to start for most of the season or at least to rack up points if they get some starts.
George Kittle, 49ers; Travis Kelce, Chiefs
As with QB, there’s a no-brainer top two at TE, and then there’s everybody else.
Mark Andrews, Ravens; Zach Ertz, Eagles
Everybody else, in this case, happens to include a no-brainer duo after the top two.
Darren Waller, Raiders; Evan Engram, Giants; Hunter Henry, Chargers; Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers
The dreaded mid-round group that so many analysts are urging to avoid. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I’d rather roll the dice on one of these guys in a league with deep enough benches to allow me to draft another TE later on.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins; Tyler Higbee, Rams; Hayden Hurst, Falcons; T.J. Hockenson, Lions; Austin Hooper, Browns
You can feel fairly confident penciling in anyone here as a starter.
Chris Herndon, Jets; Noah Fant, Broncos; Jared Cook, Saints; Dallas Goedert, Eagles; Jonnu Smith, Titans; Jack Doyle, Colts; Irv Smith Jr., Vikings; Blake Jarwin, Cowboys; Ian Thomas, Panthers; Eric Ebron, Steelers
I’d be willing to hold out until this tier before taking my first TE, but then I’d want to dip into it twice, if possible.
Gerald Everett, Rams; O.J. Howard, Buccaneers; Will Dissly, Seahawks; Greg Olsen, Seahawks; Jimmy Graham, Bears; Tyler Eifert, Jaguars; Jordan Akins, Texans; Dawson Knox, Bills; C.J. Uzomah, Bengals; Darren Fells, Texans; Trey Burton, Colts; Dan Arnold, Cardinals; Logan Thomas, Washington; Vance McDonald, Steelers; Kyle Rudolph, Vikings; Ryan Griffin, Jets; Trey Burton, Colts, Cameron Brate, Buccaneers
It’s hardly out of the question that two or three members of this tier could burst into the top 12, but good luck predicting who they’ll be. Fine, here’s a bold prediction: Eifert stays healthy for the second year in a row and uses his role as a pass-catching specialist to remind everyone of how highly regarded he was not too long ago.