One thing I see in almost every league I have ever been in, are players that don’t really understand the deeper levels of fantasy football strategy. Yes, part of fantasy is complete luck. However, stacking the odds in your favor as much as possible on a consistent basis is what helps keep your team competitive over the long run. In order to do that, you need to know that similar to real life football, different positions are more valuable than others.
The standard ESPN fantasy starting lineup looks like this:
There are many different variations, but this is roughly what every league is dealing with. Most leagues require you to start at least one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, a tight end and a flex.
Running backs are far and away the most valuable position simply because there aren’t very many three down backs. Assuming you’re in a 10-team fantasy league, this means there are 20 running backs that will be started each week (not including those started in the FLEX position).
The list of reliable and legitimate running backs in the league (for fantasy purposes) is usually somewhere around the 8-12 range. The rest of the running backs are usually caught up in some type of committee where they don’t get enough touches week in and week out to be consistent, or just aren’t that talented. This makes the running back position the hardest to fill, and the most rewarding when you have an elite guy.
Wide receivers are the next most valuable because, like running backs, 20 wide receivers will be started each week in your league (again, not including those started in the FLEX position). The difference here is that there are many more legitimate wide receivers in the NFL than there are legitimate running backs.
The reason this position is still the second most valuable is because of how volatile it can be. Getting a bankable receiver that you can rely on to give you consistent production is still very rare. See, unlike running backs who usually have their numbers bolstered by more touchdowns and consistent touches, receivers are a little harder to predict.
For example, let’s take a look at Brandon Cooks. He is fantasy’s 13th highest scoring wide receiver thus far averaging 14.8 points per game in PPR leagues and the Patriots’ number one receiver on their depth chart. If you take a closer look at his numbers, the weekly point totals look like this: 11, 5, 37, 6, 13. He was basically shut out in two out of the five games, had two decent showings and one monster outing.
This is more common with receivers because they have more limited touches and have to do more with them. If you have Cooks, he is probably your best or second best wide receiver. When your best receiver only has one big fantasy day in the first five games, that can be pretty dreadful for your fantasy team. Yet, he’s still been the 13th best receiver up to this point.
Now, also add in the fact that the FLEX position is usually filled with a running back or wide receiver, and the fact that each team also has multiple running backs and wide receivers on their bench. This thins out the pool of starting caliber players pretty quickly.
The third most valuable position is tight end. In 10-team leagues, there are only 10 tight ends that are being started each week, and most people don’t keep many tight ends on their bench. The top tier is usually about four guys deep, then there are about 6-10 that fall into the next tier.
Plus, the overall production from tight ends is on average much lower than running backs and wide receivers. The reason this position isn’t the least valuable is because if you are lucky enough to get one of those top guys, you almost always have a slight advantage over the person you are playing that week.
Finally, the least valuable position is fantasy football is quarterback - not counting defense or kicker who you usually draft one of apiece and start each week. Similar to the tight end position, most fantasy leagues only have 10 quarterbacks starting every week.
Since the NFL has gone to a more passing oriented offensive style, volume alone makes many quarterbacks a viable starting option. Not to mention the position is usually pretty deep talent wise as well. Right now the 20th highest scoring QB is Matt Ryan who is averaging 13.8 fantasy points per game. The 5th highest scoring QB is Deshaun Watson who is averaging 19 fantasy points per game.
That is only a 5.2 point differential on top of the fact that Matt Ryan is also considered by many to be an elite quarterback. Remember, there are only 10 quarterbacks started each week in most fantasy leagues. That means you can find similar value in a player that is far beyond the required number of starters in your league (10), as you can with someone who is the 5th best overall.
Compare that to the running back position, where the 5th highest scoring running back, Leonard Fournette, is averaging 19.8 points per game. If we move back ten spots from the required number of starters (20) like we did with the QB position, you come up with Andre Ellington as the 30th highest scoring running back, averaging 10 points per game. That is a 9.8 fantasy point differential.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in fantasy is people who have three or more quarterbacks on their roster. Having two QB’s taking up space on your bench, when the other positions are so much more valuable, really can hurt you over the course of your fantasy season. You are only going to start one of those guys, and you can usually find decent quarterback value on the waiver wire if needed.
Funny story, my younger brother drafted three quarterbacks and three tight ends in our family league. We also have a short bench (only 5 slots), meaning he started the season with only one player on his bench that wasn’t a quarterback or tight end. Ironically, he is still 3rd place in our league at 3-1. Go figure.
Now onto the sleepers for Week 5!
Here’s a recap of how we did last week:
Andy Dalton – 286 yards, 4 TD, 31 fantasy points
Chris Carson – 66 total yards and 9 points before he broke his ankle
Javorius Allen – 9 points
Joe Mixon – He only had 7 points, but had 21 touches proving he is the new lead back
Devante Parker - 6 catches for 69 yards, 12 points
Charles Clay – 5 receptions, 112 yards, 21 points
Jared Cook – 9 catches for 46 yards and 7 points
Evan Engram – 6 catches for 62 yards and 12 points
Trevor Siemian – 179 yards and a TD, 11 points
Jay Cutler – only 164 yards passing and 0 touchdowns
Mohamed Sanu – 1 catch for 3 yards before leaving with an injury
Marqise Lee – 2 catches for 18 yards
We were 8 out of 12 on our sleeper picks last week, which puts us at 27 out of 48 for the season.
Here are the sleepers for Week 5
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Ranked 6th in the league in passing attempts, Rivers has a treasure chest of weapons at his disposal. If you take away his dud against Kansas City, Rivers is averaging 19 fantasy points per game. That would be tied for 5th best among quarterbacks
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo
Posting at least 10.5 fantasy points in every game so far, Taylor’s rushing ability gives him a higher floor than most quarterbacks. The bad part is that he is throwing to a group of below average receivers. This week, Taylor is facing a Bengals defense that is allowing a little under 14 fantasy points to quarterbacks each game this season. He may not light up the scoreboard for you, but he shouldn’t hurt your team either.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
He is owned in only 21.9% of leagues but is has been the 10th highest scoring quarterback so far. He has seven passing touchdowns to go with only one interceptions. Yes, he is going against Seattle this week, but they will be playing them in Los Angeles. The Seahawks still have a very good pass defense, but they aren’t as dominant as they have been in years past. Goff looks like the real deal and should have another solid outing.
Alex Collins, Baltimore
Seemingly out of nowhere, Collins looks like he has become the new early down back for the Ravens. In the last three weeks, Collins has 25 rushes for 206 yards. It is still a messy backfield situation, but Collins seems to be the one emerging. He has a good matchup this week against a poor Raiders run defense and his big play potential might finally pay off in a big way.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota
Now fighting Latavius Murray for lead back duties after Dalvin Cooks’s injury, it is unclear how this will all shake out. However, McKinnon does have some game breaking ability, and should see increased touches going forward. Murray will probably get the first shot at being the feature back simply due to the contract he signed in the offseason, but McKinnon will still get some work.
Andre Ellington, Arizona
Over the last two weeks, Ellington has 14 receptions for 145 receiving yards. Last week alone, he led the Cardinals running backs in snaps and the entire team in targets with 14. He probably won’t lead the team in rushing attempts as the coaching staff tries to keep him healthy, but he has obviously become a sizeable part of their offense. The arrow is pointing up for Ellington.
Cole Beasley, Dallas
After a big breakout season last year, Beasley has been quite through four games for the Cowboys. Coincidentally, the Cowboys offense has also struggled. In what looks to be a shootout with the Packers this weekend, the Cowboys should look to get Beasley a little more involved to increase Dak Prescott’s efficiency.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
He has been the most consistent receiver for the 0-4 Giants to start the season as Odell Beckham Jr. has dealt with injuries and Brandon Marshall has dealt with father time. In a game that projects to be a passing friendly affair, Shepard should have a decent floor with the potential for much more.
Will Fuller, Houston
In his first game back from injury, Fuller posted four receptions for 35 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee. It has been reported that Fuller and quarterback Deshaun Watson have been working behind the scenes while Fuller was recovering, and have a growing chemistry together. With Watson’s ability to stretch out plays, Fuller is a very intriguing option this week and beyond.
Evan Engram, New York Giants
As stated above, this game should see a large number of passing attempts. Through four games, Engram has posted fantasy point totals of 8, 14, 9 and 12, making him one of the most consistent options at the position. There is no reason that trend shouldn’t continue.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
After missing the first two weeks, Seferian-Jenkins has put up 8 fantasy points in back to back weeks. On a team that is desperate for playmakers, and going up against a Browns team that is allowing the 2nd most points to opposing tight ends this season, Austin Seferian-Jenkins should have a decent point floor this week.
Zach Miller, Chicago
The Bears are turning to a rookie quarterback this week, which could look like a negative on the surface. However, Miller could potentially serve as a nice security blanket for Mitchell Trubisky, as the Bears will most likely go with a run-heavy conservative approach against the Vikings.
Hit up Blake on Twitter @blakegibbs for more picks and tips for your fantasy team.