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It may be Chicago baseball rivalry week, but I think all Chicago baseball fans could use a distraction right about now. So let's start talking about fantasy football.
Fantasy football analysts have been predicting the devaluation of the top-tier fantasy RB for many years. Yet, year after year, many of us have ended up stacking our top 10 and top 20 rankings with RBs, so it sure seemed like RBs were more prized than ever. Perhaps we realized that rarity is a big part of what creates value.
But those days are over for many reasons, among them the rise of point-per-reception leagues, the evolution of the NFL into a passing league, and the fact that most NFL rosters now feature a much more evenly-talented 1-2 punch (or sometimes even a 1-2-3 punch) at RB.
Still for WRs to take over more of the top rankings from RBs, we need to see huge and highly consistent talent at the WR position.
We finally have it. With no further delay, my overall preseason top 20 fantasy football rankings:
1. Antonio Brown, WR, PIT.
All-world for the second straight season with a whopping 136 catches, 1,834 yards, 10 TDs, 114.6 YPG in 2015. No one thought he could better his 2014, but he did, and even while his starting QB missed a handful of games. Best stat: 10 games 100+ yards.
2. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, NYG.
Yes, he dropped a few easy passes last season, and you can make an argument for the next two guys to be ahead of OBJ. But, he still is improving heading into his third season, suggesting 96 catches, 1,450 yards, 13 TDs, 96.7 YPG in 2015 is just a start.
3. Julio Jones, WR. ATL.
The only WR targeted more than 200 times last year tied Brown for most catches, and led the NFL with 1,871 yards and 116 YPG. If not for notching just eight TDs last year and ATL's tendency to feed its RBs near the end zone, he'd challenge for No. 1.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU:.
Third in receptions with 111 and receiving yards with 1,521 despite having the worst QB among this top tier of WRs. If new HOU QB Brock Osweiler proves to be half-decent, Hopkins could run away with the receiving triple crown this year.
5. Todd Gurley, RB. LAR.
First RB at No. 5? Not everyone will agree, but that's how good the top tier of WRs are. Gurley's not bad either, as he proved with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 TDs in 13 games as a rookie. Fell off a bit late season, but heads a shrinking class of bell cow RBs.
6. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN.
Still led the NFL last year at age 30 with 1,485 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Should be easy for him to again play near top-tier RB level, but some dropoff has to be coming at 31. Guessing RB mate Jerick McKinnon will see a few more snaps.
7. David Johnson, RB, ARI.
One of the breakout stars of 2015 had 12 total TDs (eight running, four catching). His season didn't really start until December, when he was give the starting RB job, but small sample of 581 rushing yards and and 457 receiving yards suggest a great dual-threat.
8. A.J. Green, WR, CIN.
His 86 catches, 1,297 yards and 10 TDs were almost subpar for him, but he should get more targets and more end zone chances this year with CIN having lost two starting WRs to free agency and last year's TD savant TE Tyler Eifert on the mend from injury.
9. Rob Gronkowski, TE, NE.
Speaking of TE TD savants, Gronk's 1,176 yards and 11 TDs last year keep him in the top 10, though QB Tom Brady's four-game suspension, and the arrival of fellow TE Martellus Bennett could make me revisit this ranking in the coming weeks.
10. Allen Robinson, WR, JAC.
Entered 2015 as sleeper PPR threat, exited with sub-top-tier 80 catches, but tied for WR lead with 14 TDs, and managed 1,400 yards. JAC has another talented "Allen" in fellow WR Hurns, but thinking Robinson will earn his rep as a PPR artist this season.
11. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL.
RB class is thin enough that a rookie who figures to get a decent amount of work makes the top 19. May have to deal with Darren McFadden vulturing some chances, but DAL's O-Line is still great and Cowboys have leaned hard on their RBs lately.
12. Dez Bryant, WR, DAL.
Injuries limited him to nine games, and he stunk fantasy-wise in most of them, not catching more than five passes in any game, and surpassing 100 yards receiving just once, with three TDs. Yet, the talent is there for top 12 stats if he - and his QB - stay healthy.
13. Lamar Miller, RB, HOU.
Odd 2015 featured drop in rush yardage from 1,099 to 872 and yards per carry from 5.1 to 4.5, but increase in catches from 38 to 47 and receiving yards from 275 to 397, making him a better dual threat. Now in HOU, which keeps dual threat RBs very busy.
14. Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT.
Would have made overall top 10, but in trouble again and might be suspended up to four games. Even if not, injury and suspension last year cost him 10 games, and despite 92.7 YPG and 4.9 YPC, he looked more second-tier than top-tier during his short season.
15. Brandon Marshall, WR, NYJ.
Tied for position lead in TDs with 14, surpassed 100 catches and 1,500 yards yet again. How is he this low? I actually like him more than most, but Jets' QB controversy isn't settled yet and he's 32. Still, I may move him up before draft day.
16. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC.
Two big injuries in last two seasons and rise of other RBs in KC lower his draft spot in my mind, yet average rushing YPC last five season is a strong 5.2, so he could still surprise with top-tier fantasy numbers.
17. Jordy Nelson, WR, GB.
Coming off a 2015 lost to major injury, so skeptics abound, but his QB loves him and GB's rich WR depth didn't amount to much in his absence. Another season of 1,500 yards and 10+ TDs seems possible, unless injury recovery slows him out of the gate.
18. Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI:
Massively frustrating fantasy asset in 2015, as he only played nine games and was inconsistent, collecting 521 of his 807 total receiving yards in just four games. Still, those four games keep him in the discussion as a potential top-tier breakthrough.
19. Mark Ingram, RB, NO.
Most promising part of 12-game season was 50 catches for 405 yards, when no one thought he'd be targeted much in passing game. His 769 rushing yards were pedestrian, but that new dual threat status should boost his draft position.
20. Mike Evans, WR, TB.
2015 breakout candidate was considered a bust even though he collected 1,206 yards. The issue was his 74 catches on 148 targets showed how often he dropped passes. If he nears 100 catches this year, he could lead the league in receiving yards.
Notably MIA from the top 20:
Devonta Freeman, RB, ATL: At some point last year, I surely called him the No. 1 overall player going into 2016. More than 1,500 total yards and 14 total TDs will inspire that, but he fizzled a bit near season's end, and ATL already has suggested some of his workload will be handed to RB mate Tevin Coleman.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN: The only WR with more than 100 catches last year who didn't make my top 20 actually had a down season, and comes back this year with either Mark Sanchez or rookie Paxton Lynch at QB. Too iffy for me, though could easily rebound with a Top 10 season.
Eddie Lacy, RB, GB: Everyone's heard about his off-season weight loss, which is promising and could make him a huge bargain if drafted after the second round. Maybe I'm still feeling too burned for trusting him last year, but I need to see a couple 100-yard games to put him any higher.
Cam Newton, QB, CAR: Stunning 2015 fantasy numbers with 3,803 passing yards, 636 rushing yards and 45 total TDs, but WR richness and need to draft a RB in Round 2 if not Round 1 push all QBs into at least Round 3 this year.
Matt Forte, RB, NYJ: No real surprise here, but worth mentioning since he was top five overall last year. Forte probably will be splitting carries more with the Jets than he did with the Bears. I think he's got another good season or two left in the tank, but Jets may not allow it to happen.
Disco Danny O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 20, 2018