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.
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.
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.
|11||Ted Ginn Jr.||NO|
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 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.
|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.