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Draft Analysis

Abusing the Default Rankings

by Adam Levitan
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

I’d make a lot of changes if I were in charge of the fantasy world. Kickers would be gone, defensive/special teams scoring would be dampened and half-PPR would be standard. But the biggest change I’d make is eliminating default rankings from the online draft applets.

If the players were simply listed in alphabetical order, owners would actually have to bring the thunder to their draft. Instead, unprepared – or even prepared – owners use these default rankings as a crutch. That means they may be afraid to pull the trigger on X guy in the second round because they are listed as a fifth-rounder in the applet. Or maybe they take Y guy early just because his name is on top of those default rankings. And if there are auto drafters, being aware of who is on top of the pile is crucial.

Don’t be one of those owners I described above. We’ve given you rankings, projections, mock drafts and tiers in the Draft Guide. Evan Silva has been constantly updating his top-150 and broke down an industry draft. I’ve told you who I’m targeting as sleepers in the later rounds and who I’m handcuffing. Pat Daugherty has walked you through some questionable ADPs and brought the team together for informative roundtables. Most importantly, our often imitated but never duplicated player news blurbs continue to give you the most valuable information in the fantasy atmosphere.

Now that our drafts are almost here, taking advantage of owners that rely on default rankings is a crucial part of strategy. Here is what to keep an eye on as you draft on each of the major sites:

*These rankings were found within draft applets as of Sunday, August 10.


Players listed higher overall than expected:
13. Arian Foster
17. Giovani Bernard
19. Andre Ellington
25. Alfred Morris
28. Toby Gerhart
29. C.J. Spiller
37. Rashad Jennings
39. Bishop Sankey
44. Cordarrelle Patterson
54. Cam Newton
58. Matt Ryan
59. Lamar Miller

Strategy: Yahoo drafters need to be aware that the default ranks are skewed toward running back and sharper fantasy players. Seven of the top-12 listed are RBs, four are WRs, one is TE and none are QBs. … A counterattack to these RB-heavy rankings is executing a “zero-RB” strategy. We’ll see people reach for the likes of Giovani Bernard, Andre Ellington and Toby Gerhart especially. … I’m not on board with a true zero-RB strategy, but I’m completely fine starting Jimmy Graham/Jordy Nelson or Demaryius Thomas/Brandon Marshall. Stay true to your board in the early rounds, let the unprepared owners make their picks based off the default ranks. … To be clear, I was very disappointed to see Bernard, Ellington and Gerhart so high in Yahoo’s applet. We’re definitely not going to steal them, and will likely have to overpay if we want them. I’ll be sticking to my board … Guys I hope my opponents buy into off these ranks include Alfred Morris, Rashad Jennings and Bishop Sankey. … If you thought you had a nice sleeper in Cordarrelle Patterson, think again. In fact, we could make a very good argument he’s overvalued at this point. ... I can see the argument for a Lamar Miller bounceback as he’s out of the debacle that was Mike Sherman’s offense. But this applet ranking is outrageous for a player who has an awful offensive line and hasn’t shown he can run physically enough in the NFL. … My three favorite mid/late-round quarterbacks are Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. Given Ryan’s rank here, I’ll likely be forced to target one of the latter two.


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Players listed lower overall than expected:
22. Julio Jones
24. Jordy Nelson
42. Andre Johnson
50. Rob Gronkowski
80. Ben Tate
98. Dennis Pitta
99. Jordan Reed
107. Bernard Pierce
124. Kelvin Benjamin
131. Hakeem Nicks

Strategy: I’d be thrilled with Julio Jones or Jordy Nelson as my second-round pick, so in turn I’m thrilled with these default ranks. Don’t be scared to take one of them at 13 or 15 or 17 overall just because of where they’re listed. … I suspect Andre Johnson’s ranking here has been stagnant since his mini-holdout was resolved. Pounce. … There are certainly some polarizing opinions out there on Rob Gronkowski. I will not be taking him in Round 1, 2 or 3, but I would take the plunge at 50 overall. Of course, there are enough people out there willing to bet on Gronk’s health that he won’t get to 50. … I want shares of the Browns run game because of the Kyle Shanahan scheme, a nasty offensive line and a (likely) running quarterback in Johnny Manziel. I’d rather take Ben Tate at 80 than Terrance West at 85. … If we miss out on the top tight ends on Yahoo, we can wait. Dennis Pitta, Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz (see below) are all suppressed. … We talked about Bernard Pierce in the Bounce-Back Roundtable, and word has since broke that he’s been outplaying Ray Rice at camp. Rice’s default rank is 83, 23 spots ahead of Pierce. … I was sad to see Hakeem Nicks so low. I was hoping some unsuspecting owner would buy into his name and bite way earlier.

Editor's Note: For updated rankings, projections, tiers, exclusive columns and tons more, check out our Draft Guide! It's available as an iPhone app too. Also, be sure you're following Rotoworld Football and Adam Levitan on Twitter for all the latest news from camp.

Where the buzz guys are ranked:

10. Montee Ball
85. Terrance West
89. Brandin Cooks
96. Rueben Randle
101. Zach Ertz
104. Jeremy Hill
109. Devonta Freeman
115. Andre Williams
116. Justin Hunter
117. Markus Wheaton
168. Lance Dunbar
174. Kenny Britt

Strategy: Brandin Cooks has been one of the biggest stars of camp/preseason – if you really want him, I’d go a round or two earlier than this 89 spot. … Many of the other buzz guys are buried a little bit, which is good. There’s so much goodness to be had in Rounds 10-13 this year, don’t even think about using that pick on a defense or god forbid a kicker. If we can get Jeremy Hill, Andre Williams, Markus Wheaton and Kenny Britt as upside bench fliers, we’re going to be way ahead of our opponents. … PPR owners need to get on Lance Dunbar as a specialty back for Scott Linehan. We should be able to sneak him through uninformed opponents given this 168 ranking.

Who to scroll down for:

132. Danny Amendola
135. Ladarius Green
141. Josh Gordon
159. Johnny Manziel
160. Ahmad Bradshaw
226. James Starks
1774. Mark Ingram
1777. Andre Holmes
1823. Malcom Floyd
1831. Ronnie Hillman
1880. Travis Kelce
1959. Knile Davis
2103. Donte Moncrief
2385. Benny Cunningham

Strategy: Sometimes, we forget about players simply because we don’t seem them anywhere near the top of the applet. I like to use the queue to make sure I get these guys in there. … Ladarius Green is certainly a buzz guy, but I put him in this section because he’s a “known” sleeper. Scroll down early and snag him if you want him. … We should have word on Josh Gordon’s suspension appeal this week or next. If drafting in the dark, I’d start to take a look in Round 10 or 11. … Given how Trent Richardson looked in the preseason opener, Ahmad Bradshaw should be creeping onto radars. … I like Khiry Robinson, but there’s no reason his applet rank (149) or ADP should be so far ahead of Mark Ingram’s. Ingram is ahead on the depth chart and showed signs late last year that he’s turning a corner. … More Favorite Fliers are here, and one I didn’t mention in that column: Travis Kelce. Do yourself a favor and watch both of Kelce’s catches from the first preseason game. … Benny Cunningham is ahead of Tre Mason for backup duties in St. Louis right now.

Editor's Note: Keep reading to page 2 for a look at the ESPN and CBS applets.

Players listed higher overall than expected:

1. Adrian Peterson
5. Marshawn Lynch
9. Arian Foster
11. Doug Martin
13. Zac Stacy
23. Alfred Morris
29. Reggie Bush
32. Ben Tate
45. Cam Newton
54. Ray Rice
86. Danny Woodhead
87. Darren Sproles
91. Khiry Robinson
98. Seattle D/ST
99. Russell Wilson
103. Tre Mason
112. Donald Brown
113. Steve Smith

Strategy: ESPN drafters need to be aware of the site’s reputation when it comes to rankings. They don’t get high on the buzz guys, base a lot on previous years and bet strongly on guys that have “done it.” Therefore, it’s going to be tough to sneak veterans you like through. … One glaring note from the ESPN ranks is that they’re really low on tight ends. More on that below. … There are a lot of rankings here that we just need to throw out and be thrilled that an opponent is going to take them too high. That includes Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles, Russell Wilson, Tre Mason, Donald Brown and Steve Smith. Read our blurbs if you’re wondering why. … Every owner has to know his own scoring system, but it would take a unique one to make Seattle D/ST worth an eighth-round pick.

Players listed lower overall than expected:
18. Dez Bryant
21. Julio Jones
22. Jordy Nelson
42. Keenan Allen
52. Toby Gerhart
79. Mike Wallace
96. Jordan Cameron
110. Dennis Pitta
138. Kyle Rudolph
146. Jordan Reed

Strategy: I like Jimmy Graham as a first-round pick. But note that Jordan Cameron, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz and Ladarius Green won’t be appearing in our opponents’ draft applets until very, very late. Assuming most of our opponents aren’t aware of this, the obvious play is to wait on tight end. … We see similar things as I mentioned in the Yahoo section with Julio Jones and Jordy Nelson. This time, we can add Dez Bryant and Keenan Allen. … Toby Gerhart will be much more reasonably priced if you’re in an ESPN draft. I like him late-third or early-fourth.

Where the buzz guys are ranked:
25. Montee Ball
114. Jeremy Hill
117. Justin Hunter
119. Jay Cutler
121. Terrance West
131. Rueben Randle
134. Andre Williams
147. Brandin Cooks
161. Markus Wheaton
163. Devonta Freeman
186. Lance Dunbar
206. Kenny Britt

Strategy: This is the section where we can really start to make some hay in ESPN. I’d consider literally every one of these guys under-ranked, except maybe Justin Hunter. … Rueben Randle and Brandin Cooks stick out as absolute robbery. Don’t be afraid to take them where you have them on your board, likely in the Round 7-10 range. … Another one that sticks out is Terrance West. The battle between Ben Tate and West is far, far closer than 32 vs. 121. Given these default ranks, I suspect I’ll end up with Tate in a lot of Yahoo spots and West in ESPN spots. … Jay Cutler will be my QB target in all ESPN leagues.

Who to scroll down for:
165. Andrew Hawkins
180. Johnny Manziel
196. Zach Ertz
200. Kelvin Benjamin
210. Benny Cunningham
212. Ladarius Green
220. Andre Holmes
223. Jordan Matthews
231. Malcom Floyd
249. Ronnie Hillman
302. Cody Latimer
352. Travis Kelce
372. Donte Moncrief

Strategy: We can throw some haymakers here when our opponents aren’t even looking. They’ll come in the form of Zach Ertz, Kelvin Benjamin and Ladarius Green mostly – three true touchdown-scorers that should be targets in Rounds 10-14. … The rest of the scroll-down list is similar to the other sites. Our goal when drafting on ESPN should be to extract value, not get too sneaky with deep sleepers.  


Players listed higher overall than expected:
4. Calvin Johnson
12. Giovani Bernard
13. Le’Veon Bell
17. Alfred Morris
26. Toby Gerhart
27. Andre Ellington
31. Bishop Sankey
44. Ray Rice
65. Steven Jackson
68. Tom Brady
71. Terrance West
76. Seahawks D/ST
78. Stephen Gostkowski
100. Eric Ebron

Strategy: The CBS ranks are a little funky at the top, with Calvin Johnson above Adrian Peterson and Giovani Bernard at 12. Just ignore them and ride with your own list. If you can’t make your first-round pick for yourself, it’s time to get a new hobby. … Similar to Yahoo, we will be unable to get sneaky with Toby Gerhart or Andre Ellington on CBS. They’ll be really, really hard to get at reasonable prices. … I’m thrilled to see Alfred Morris at 17 here, someone will be disappointed in their second-round pick. … Owners following the news know Bishop Sankey is going to be part of a RBBC. He’ll likely be the lead dog in that committee before too long, but 31 is still way too high. … I talked about Steven Jackson in my Over the Hill video. He’s done. … Given where some other quarterbacks are in this applet (see below), Tom Brady at 68 is crazy. … CBS annually has D/ST and K absurdly high in their default ranks. Not only is Stephen Gostkowski 78, but Phil Dawson is 96, Steven Hauschka is 103 and Matt Prater is 104. I’ll still wait until the last round for my kicker.

Players listed lower overall than expected:
5. Adrian Peterson
24. Jordy Nelson
41. Andre Johnson
49. Keenan Allen
75. Jordan Cameron
84. Marques Colston
87. T.Y. Hilton
101. Robert Griffin III
121. Dwayne Bowe
122. Bernard Pierce
127. Cam Newton
148. Philip Rivers
155. DeAndre Hopkins

Strategy: As noted in each of the previous two sections, Jordy Nelson should be there in the mid- to late-second round of drafts against the majority of our opponents. Gobble him up. … I’m not in love with Keenan Allen as a second-rounder, but I’d gladly take him in the fifth as he’s ranked by CBS. … Zach Ertz (92) and Dennis Pitta (70) are ranked reasonably high by CBS. The one tight end that really stands out for being so low is Jordan Cameron. Therefore, I’ll end up with him in a lot of CBS spots. … T.Y. Hilton’s stock has been fluctuating rapidly as reports come in about the health of Reggie Wayne’s knee and Hakeem Nicks’ mind. With Hilton so low here, we can likely afford to make a bet on talent and let the chips fall where they may. … The quarterback spot is interesting, as I alluded to when noting Tom Brady above. Cam Newton (127) should be available especially late, and Philip Rivers (148) is fine for a late-round target.   

Where the buzz guys are ranked:
50. Cordarrelle Patterson
71. Terrance West
92. Zach Ertz
94. Rueben Randle
95. Devonta Freeman
98. Brandin Cooks
112. Ladarius Green
123. Jeremy Hill
124. Jay Cutler
133. Andre Williams
134. Justin Hunter

Strategy: Again, Cordarrelle Patterson is not a sleeper. I hate passing on truly unique talent, but I’ll likely have to. … We also aren’t getting any breaks on Terrance West or Zach Ertz here – they’ll rise to the top of the applet quickly once we get into Round 8 or so. … Devonta Freeman is ranked as if he’s already secured 10-15 touches per game. I like him, but he’s not there yet. … Given how much buzz Brandin Cooks, Ladarius Green, Jeremy Hill and Justin Hunter have generated, they are nice and low here. It’s an opportunity. … Jay Cutler again sticks out to me as an elite value at quarterback, just as he did on Yahoo and ESPN. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up with Cutler as my QB1 in 80+ percent of my leagues this year.

Who to scroll down for:
163. Danny Amendola
175. James White
183. Markus Wheaton
185. Andrew Hawkins
186. Darren McFadden
190. Marqise Lee
211. Kenny Britt
213. Malcom Floyd
215. Ahmad Bradshaw
223. Shonn Greene
237. Roy Helu
245. Travis Kelce
246. Lance Dunbar
259. Mark Ingram
306. Ronnie Hillman
307. Cody Latimer
334. Andre Holmes
339. Donte Moncrief
422. Benny Cunningham

Strategy: It’s the usual suspects. My favorites here as fliers are Danny Amendola, Markus Wheaton and Kenny Britt. … Note that Darren McFadden is completely buried in these default ranks. He’s going to get the outside work as a complement to Maurice Jones-Drew and is one injury away from RB2 upside. We can probably get him in the 12th or 13th round on CBS against average opponents. … Ronnie Hillman has gained some separation from C.J. Anderson as Montee Ball’s backup. Yet Hillman is at 306 and Anderson is at 249.

Adam Levitan
Adam Levitan is in his seventh season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.