News & Analysis

Playoff fantasy position rankings

Nov 19, 2017; Mexico City, MEX; New England Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks (14) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) react after touchdown during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca. New England won 33-8. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Draft-style fantasy leagues in the NFL playoffs present a unique set of challenges not seen in the regular season. Simply put, players won’t all play the same amount of games. Tuesday, I outlined how to go about selecting which teams you think will advance in the playoffs. This is a key step in building your draft board.

In putting together rankings for the playoffs, I went through that exact exercise. Here’s how I project the playoff:

Wild Card Round: Kansas City defeats Tennessee, LA Rams defeats Atlanta, Jacksonville defeats Buffalo, New Orleans defeats Carolina

Divisional Round: New Orleans defeats Philadelphia, New England defeats Kansas City, Pittsburgh defeats Jacksonville, Minnesota defeats LA Rams

Conference Championship: Minnesota defeats New Orleans, New England defeats Pittsburgh

Super Bowl: New England defeats Minnesota

Using these game projections, we can now rank all of the players for the playoffs.

Quarterback

1 Tom Brady NE
2 Drew Brees NO
3 Ben Roethlisberger PIT
4 Case Keenum MIN
5 Alex Smith KC
6 Jared Goff LAR
7 Blake Bortles JAX
8 Cam Newton CAR
9 Nick Foles PHI
10 Matt Ryan ATL
11 Marcus Mariota TEN
12 Tyrod Taylor BUF

Ton Brady leads the pack, and it isn’t particularly close. He should be the first quarterback selected in draft-style formats. From there, our game predictions have two other signal-callers playing three games: Drew Bress and Case Keenum. Brees didn’t put up the massive numbers we’re used to this season, but he gets the clear edge over Keenum, and gives you the best shot to get four games this year. You’ll also notice that we gave a slight edge to Roethlisberger over Keenum. This is a leverage play given the Roethlisberger’s upside. There’s certainly a good chance that even two games of Roethlisberger will outscore three games of Keenum.

From there, three more quarterbacks project to play two games. Alex Smith leads the pack, and is a dark horse to make a four-game run in the playoffs. The same could be said about Jared Goff, who is coming off a breakout season. However, both players are long shots to make it to the big dance. Blake Bortles is a somewhat distant third in this tier, as he’s been notoriously inconsistent and is at the helm of a run-heavy offense.

The remaining five quarterbacks all project to play just one game. If you’re forced to select someone from this tier, Cam Newton is your best bet as a pure ceiling play. His regular-season performance was up and down, but Newton has the potential to put up big numbers thanks to his dual-threat ability.

Running back

1 Dion Lewis NE
2 Alvin Kamara NO
3 Todd Gurley LAR
4 Mark Ingram NO
5 Le’Veon Bell PIT
6 Kareem Hunt KC
7 Leonard Fournette JAX
8 Latavius Murray MIN
9 Jay Ajayi PHI
10 Devonta Freeman ATL
11 Jerick McKinnon MIN
12 Christian McCaffrey CAR
13 Derrick Henry TEN
14 LeSean McCoy BUF
15 James White NE
16 Tevin Coleman ATL
17 LeGarrette Blount PHI
18 Rex Burkhead NE
19 Corey Clement PHI
20 Mike Gillislee NE
21 T.J. Yeldon JAX
22 Mike Tolbert BUF
23 Jonathan Stewart CAR
24 DeMarco Murray TEN
25 Charcandrick West KC
26 Chris Ivory JAX
27 Malcolm Brown LAR
28 Stevan Ridley PIT
29 Brandon Bolden NE
30 Corey Grant JAX
31 James Develin NE
32 Kenjon Barner PHI
33 Zach Line NO
34 CJ Ham MIN
35 CJ Spiller KC
36 Wendell Smallwood PHI

At running back, we really start to see how our game predictions impact the rankings. On an even playing field with all teams playing the same amount of games, guys like Freeman and McCoy would be much higher ranked. However, with both projected to play just one game – that is, if McCoy manages to get back on the field – they both fall well outside the top five.

With the Patriots projected to make another run to the Super Bowl, Lewis comes in as the top option. Don’t expect New England to feed him 32 touches like they did in Week 17, as James White and Rex Burkhead figure to be back in the mix. But Lewis can still be extremely effective on 15 touches. Kamara and Ingram also project to play three games, and give the best chance of providing the elusive four-game run. Even though Gurley only projects to play two games, his electric performance in the regular season makes him a priority postseason option.

Bell and Hunt are coming off impressive 2017 campaigns. While both are pegged for two games, either player has the potential to lead all running backs in scoring if their respective teams can get to a third (or in the case of Kansas City, a fourth) game. The same can be said for Fournette, who is especially appealing in the Wild Card Round with an extremely favorable matchup on tap against the Bills.

Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are a bit difficult to predict heading into the playoffs. Throughout much of the season, they were nearly even in touches with McKinnon getting more of the work in passing situations. As a result, their fantasy production was difficult to predict. We have the Vikings playing three games, but this committee situation limits the fantasy value of both backs.

Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, Christian McCaffrey, and Derrick Henry are one-and-done backs who can give you some bang for your buck, but be sure to not overspend on them. Also, be very careful with LeSean McCoy, who is looking very iffy after being carted off last week. From there, you’re trying to accumulate points wherever you can. Loading up on the Patriots backfield is typically a good idea in this type of league. Rex Burkhead missed the last two weeks of the season, but his role in the Patriots offense before his injury suggests the potential for major fantasy value if he’s healthy and ready to roll.

Wide receiver

1 Brandin Cooks NE
2 Michael Thomas NO
3 Antonio Brown PIT
4 Tyreek Hill KC
5 Adam Thielen MIN
6 Stefon Diggs MIN
7 Julio Jones ATL
8 Chris Hogan NE
9 Robert Woods LAR
10 JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT
11 Ted Ginn Jr. NO
12 Alshon Jeffery PHI
13 Cooper Kupp LAR
14 Danny Amendola NE
15 Martavis Bryant PIT
16 Sammy Watkins LAR
17 Keelan Cole JAX
18 Dede Westbrook JAX
19 Nelson Agholor PHI
20 Devin Funchess CAR
21 Mohamed Sanu ATL
22 Rishard Matthews TEN
23 Corey Davis KC
24 Allen Hurns JAX
25 Kenny Britt NE
26 Phillip Dorsett NE
27 Eli Rodgers PIT
28 Laquon Treadwell MIN
29 Jarius Wright MIN
30 Albert Wilson KC
31 Brandon Coleman NO
32 Kelvin Benjamin BUF
33 Willie Snead NO
34 Torrey Smith PHI
35 Eric Decker TEN
36 Marqise Lee JAX
37 Tommylee Lewis NO
38 Michael Floyd MIN
39 Demarcus Robinson KC
40 Deonte Thompson BUF
41 Josh Reynolds LAR
42 Tavon Austin LAR
43 Justin Hunter PIT
44 Mack Hollins PHI
45 Jaydon Mickens JAX
46 Kaelen Clay CAR
47 Brenton Berson CAR
48 Zay Jones BUF
49 Taywan Taylor TEN
50 Justin Hardy ATL

Since we want to maximize fantasy points, it’s ideal to approach your roster construction similarly to DFS tournaments. Unlike cash games where you spread your roster out between a variety of teams, in tournaments you want to load up on players from teams projected to score a lot of points. This is where stacking comes into play. If you get your hands on one or more of the top three quarterbacks, it’s wise to stack them with their receivers.

Of course, it isn’t always that easy. If you take Brady early in the first round, there’s a good chance Brandin Cooks will be off the board before it gets back to you. That isn’t the worst-case scenario, as you could still stack Brady with Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. The better bets for a premium stack this year would be either Drew Brees and Michael Thomas or Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

The stacking doesn’t stop there. You can also grab additional receivers from your quarterback’s squad later in the draft. For New Orleans, Ted Ginn, Brandon Coleman, and Willie Snead are in play. The Steelers have JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant. Minnesota is a bit thinner, but a stack of Case Keenum along with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs has the potential to be quite powerful.

From here, the strategy is identical to running back. We don’t want the best players. We want good players who will play the most games. Robert Woods and Tyreek Hill project to play two games. Both receivers are solid options to round out your lineup and give you some diversity.

There’s one glaring ranking in the wide receivers that shows just how much playoff leagues differ from the regular season. Julio Jones sits all the way down at No. 7. He very well could be the highest scorer in the Wild Card Round, but that doesn’t do much for you if the Falcons lose. He certainly has a ton of upside if you believe the Falcons can get hot, but he’s extremely risky. Likewise, Antonio Brown is far from a lock to get back on the field in the Divisional Round. Drafting him comes with a lot of risk.

Like we had at running back, there are a number of good receivers who only project to play one game. Alshon Jeffery, Devin Funchess, Mohamed Sanu and the Titans receivers offer a potentially very limited return on investment.

Tight end

1 Rob Gronkowski NE
2 Travis Kelce KC
3 Zach Ertz PHI
4 Kyle Rudolph MIN
5 Delanie Walker TEN
6 Greg Olsen CAR
7 Charles Clay GB
8 Jesse James PIT
9 Vance McDonald PIT
10 Josh Hill NO
11 Marcedes Lewis JAX
12 Trey Burton PHI
13 Tyler Higbee LAR
14 Austin Hooper ATL
15 Gerald Everett LAR
16 Dwayne Allen NE
17 Demetrius Harris KC
18 Jacob Hollister NE
19 James O’Shaughnessy JAX
20 Brent Celek PHI

Tight end is extremely thin this year, with Rob Gronkowski as the clear top option. Given the lack of fire power at the position, an argument could be made for Gronk as the No. 1 overall pick if you’re required to start a tight end based on your roster requirements. Travis Kelce offers a lot of upside despite being projected to play two games. From there, your best bet is to follow suit with the stacking strategy and attempt to stack your quarterbacks and tight ends.

Defense/special teams Kicker
1 New England Patriots 1 Stephen Gostkowski NE
2 Minnesota Vikings 2 Wil Lutz NO
3 Jacksonville Jaguars 3 Kai Forbath MIN
4 New Orleans Saints 4 Chris Boswell PIT
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 5 Harrison Butker KC
6 Los Angeles Rams 6 Josh Lambo JAX
7 Kansas City Chiefs 7 Sam Ficken LAR
8 Philadelphia Eagles 8 Jake Elliott PHI
9 Carolina Panthers 9 Matt Bryant ATL
10 Atlanta Falcons 10 Graham Gano CAR
11 Tennessee Titans 11 Ryan Succop TEN
12 Buffalo Bills 12 Steven Hauschka BUF

For team defense and kicker, look to fill out your roster with the most projected games. That means that you’ll likely need to pick at least one of each in the middle rounds, which is unlike a regular-season draft where you wait until the end of the draft. The Patriots, Saints, and Vikings offer the potential for the most points based on our projected playoff brackets.

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