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Fantasy Football 2015: Top Skill-Position Rankings and Ideas for Team Names

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistAugust 11, 2015

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs against the Green Bay Packers during the first half of the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Now that the NFL preseason is underway, there's no turning back. Fantasy football fanatics everywhere will ignite their draft preparation at full force.  

Let's hope readers have time to spare before the big day. Those drafting soon will inevitably get burned by injuries and fresh playing-time news unfolding over the next few weeks. Try to set the draft as close to Week 1 as possible.

That being said, it's never too early to research and formulate cheat sheets. Skimming an article or two the day before no longer cuts it for an extremely popular game far surpassing a niche hobby. Meticulous studying is now necessary just to stay even with the competition.

Here's an early look at skill-position rankings, tailored for standard leagues that don't reward points per receptions. Then after handling the real work, let's have a little fun with team names.

Quarterback

RankPlayerTeam
1Aaron RodgersGB
2Andrew LuckIND
3Russell WilsonSEA
4Drew BreesNO
5Peyton ManningDEN
6Ben RoethlisbergerPIT
7Matt RyanATL
8Tony RomoDAL
9Cam NewtonCAR
10Eli ManningNYG
11Tom BradyNE
12Ryan TannehillMIA
13Philip RiversSD
14Matthew StaffordDET
15Teddy BridgewaterMIN
.

Some novice gamers might not have heard yet, but if you draft a quarterback with your first or second pick, a fantasy writer jumps out of the computer screen and yells at you.

Quarterback is so unbelievably deep these days, so why splurge on Andrew Luck when Matt Ryan's 4,694 passing yards are waiting rounds later? With a full season to work with Odell Beckham Jr., a returning Victor Cruz and newcomer Shane Vereen, Eli Manning won't fall drastically shy of his big brother's 2015 production.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The New York Giants star has an average draft position of 72, via FantasyPros, but ESPN Insider KC Joyner touted him as a potential top-five option.

Manning ranked sixth in quarterback fantasy points from Weeks 9-17 and was only 33 points away from a top-five fantasy quarterback ranking for the course of the entire season. Add the production upgrades he could see via downfield passing and throws to running backs to a low interception rate and a fairly easy schedule, and it should mean he closes that 33-point gap. In other words, don't be surprised if Eli Manning claims a spot among the top five fantasy quarterbacks in the 2015 season.

It's certainly possible to wait on quarterback and construct a winner with Ryan or Manning, but that doesn't mean the drafters who grab Luck or Aaron Rodgers are doomed. Stud passers have one massive advantage over the typically preferred rushers headlining the selection process: consistency.

During the opening rounds, drafters are simply trying not to mess up. Everyone obviously would have preferred to hit the jackpot on DeMarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown last year, but many are simply happy to not have drowned with Adrian Peterson.

Injuries are a big part of football, but how many superstar quarterbacks flame out while healthy? Picking an elite passer isn't the optimal use of resources, but it's also a safe route. Don't enter draft day saying, "There's no way I'm taking Rodgers or Luck." What if everyone else agrees and you can steal one in the third or fourth round? 

Running Back

RankPlayerTeam
1Le'Veon BellPIT
2Adrian PetersonMIN
3Eddie LacyGB
4Jamaal CharlesKC
5Marshawn LynchSEA
6C.J. AndersonDEN
7Jeremy HillCIN
8Matt ForteCHI
9DeMarco MurrayPHI
10LeSean McCoyBUF
11Justin ForsettBAL
12Frank GoreIND
13Alfred MorrisWAS
14Lamar MillerMIA
15Mark IngramNO
16Melvin GordonSD
17Carlos HydeSF
18Latavius MurrayOAK
19Joseph RandleDAL
20Jonathan StewartCAR
.

Entertaining off the field, Marshawn Lynch is a boring fantasy football choice. It's way more fun to discuss the value of 14 games of Bell or a returning Peterson, but the Seattle Seahawks running back remains a beacon of consistency.

In his four full seasons with the franchise, "Beast Mode" has averaged 295 carries, 1,339 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns per year, never dipping below 1,200 yards or 11 scores. Showing no signs of regression last season, he averaged 3.0 yards after contact per attempt while leading all running backs with 88 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.

With even Lynch mocking Seattle's Super Bowl ending, don't expect Jimmy Graham to absorb too many of his goal-line touches. Gamers want a dependable building block, and the man of few words offers just that. Don't let him slip outside the top five in non-PPR formats.

Matt York/Associated Press

For those picking later in the first round, don't feel forced to settle for whichever running back falls. This isn't an endorsement of the zero running back strategy, but a call to stick to a value-based approach. The position won't dry out completely after the top tier, with Latavius Murray standing out as an enticing breakout selection.

The 6'3", 230-pound back showed an uncanny blend of size and speed last season, registering 5.2 yards per carry in limited work. Per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a breakout campaign as the team's top rusher.

“No question,” McKenzie said. “He can do it all.”

Wide Receiver

RankPlayerTeam
1Antonio BrownPIT
2Demaryius ThomasDEN
3Julio JonesATL
4Dez BryantDAL
5Odell Beckham Jr.NYG
6Jordy NelsonGB
7Calvin JohnsonDET
8A.J. GreenCIN
9Randall CobbGB
10Alshon JefferyCHI
11Mike EvansTB
12Emmanuel SandersDEN
13T.Y. HiltonIND
14DeAndre HopkinsHOU
15Andre JohnsonIND
16Brandin CooksNO
17Jordan MatthewsPHI
18Kelvin BenjaminCAR
19Julian EdelmanNE
20Vincent JacksonTB
.

For years, taking at least one running back early existed as a mandate. Now, it's highly recommended to escape the opening rounds with a top wide receiver, especially in PPR leagues.

Under standard ESPN scoring, four wideouts and five backs finished with at least 220 points last year. Even without extra consideration for his league-high 129 catches, Antonio Brown tallied two fewer points (251) than Lynch. He's worth pursuing as soon as No. 6 overall in standard leagues, and it's not crazy to rank him No. 1 for PPR purposes.

Beckham justifiably enters the season with all of the hype in the world, but Julio Jones might represent the best candidate to usurp Brown as this year's top fantasy pass-catcher. The 26-year-old caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards, giving defensive backs nightmares downfield. 

Tom Lynn/Associated Press

Yet he amassed six touchdowns. If Ryan looks his way anywhere close to another 164 times, expect that number to skyrocket into double digits. Among a crowded crop of studs, treat Jones as a top-five star.

Tight End

RankPlayerTeam
1Rob GronkowskiNE
2Jimmy GrahamSEA
3Travis KelceKC
4Greg OlsenCAR
5Martellus BennettCHI
6Delanie WalkerTEN
7Julius ThomasJAX
8Jason WittenDAL
9Antonio GatesSD
10Zach ErtzPHI
11Owen DanielsDEN
12Josh HillNO
13Dwayne AllenIND
14Jordan CameronMIA
15Larry DonnellNYG
.

Unless you get Rob Gronkowski, take your sweet time filling the tight end spot.

Drew Brees completed more passes (456) than Russell Wilson attempted (452) last year, relegating Jimmy Graham to a distant No. 2 rather than a two-man top tier. Trading Peyton Manning for Blake Bortles, Julius Thomas' value goes down the drain.

Having registered 12 touchdowns on 43 receptions, Thomas' value already depended too much on end-zone activity before leaving the Denver Broncos, who offer far more red-zone access than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don't read too much into the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran calling him "The best player on the team, period."

John Raoux/Associated Press

Two popular alternatives are Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, breakout candidates becoming more expensive by the day. Available much later, Josh Hill and Owen Daniels will slide into prolific offenses to replace Graham and Thomas, respectively.

In a short sample size, Hill averaged an efficient 2.32 yards per route, per Pro Football Focus, while scoring five touchdowns as an understudy. In 14 games without Dennis Pitta, including the postseason, Daniels received an average of 5.9 targets. Now he has a more accurate field general feeding him the ball in head coach Gary Kubiak's offense.

Team Names

Vincent Jackson AdultmanA Feast for Crowells
A Gronk To RememberSaved By Le'Veon Bell
Breaking BradfordBen's Roethlisbergers
Jeremy Maclin, FBIStay Stills, This Ertz
.

Nothing beats the pugnacious power of a pithy pun—not even alliteration—as long as it's original and organic. Yet when forced, a cute play on words instead reads lame.

If rostering Keenan Allen and Kelvin Benjamin, fine, call your squad "Keenan and Kel." But naming your team "Scooby Drew Brees Doo" isn't mandated for anyone who takes the New Orleans signal-caller. "Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe" has also run its course. Be your own person.

There's nothing worse than rehashing something done to death. While on the subject, don't be the person who forces a sophomoric joke about Tom Brady's deflated footballs months too late.

A perfect name is out there for everyone, but it's probably not resting on another person's list. Follow your heart. If one of those names truly inspires you to the point where you can't imagine living the season without it, well, that's a little weird, but go nuts. Otherwise, you're better off concocting your own moniker. It'll resonate more than something pulled off the Internet.   

Follow me on Twitter for more fantasy analysis.

 

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