The 2019 NFL preseason is officially here. The Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos kicked things off in the annual Hall of Fame Game, and the entire league will be in exhibition action beginning Thursday.
For traditional football fans, this means that the regular season isn't far off. For fantasy football enthusiasts, it means that we're barrelling down on draft season. For season-long leagues, this is the most important event of the year. Though managing rosters and working the waiver wire is necessary for a successful campaign, it's hard to win when you don't start with a strong fantasy core.
Adding the right players, uncovering sleepers and avoiding busts are all part of a successful draft strategy. Here you'll find a quick reference rankings guide for the top fantasy positions—quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end—along with draft tips, sleepers and potential busts for each.
All rankings are based on point-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
4. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
5. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
8. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
When it comes to drafting quarterbacks, there is no need to rush the position. It would be great to land Patrick Mahomes and his 50-touchdown potential. However, most scoring systems will make the weekly gap between Mahomes and guys like Philip Rivers and Baker Mayfield smaller than the gap between the elite and second-tier players at other positions.
For example, many leagues that award one point for 25 yards passing and four points per passing touchdown. In such a system, a 300-yard, two-touchdown game would produce 20 points. A 250-yard, one-touchdown game would result in just six fewer points—roughly the same difference of three receptions and 30 yards for a receiver in most PPR formats.
Target your top pass-catchers and running backs before targeting a quarterback. In the worst-case scenario, you should be able to grab a couple of second-tier signal-callers and stream them based on their defensive matchups.
Sleeper: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
In most leagues, rushing yards are awarded to quarterbacks at the same rate they are awarded to running backs—typically one point per 10 yards and six for a touchdown. This provides a notable amount of additional value for quarterbacks who regularly carry the ball. Russell Wilson and Cam Newton crack the top 10 for this reason.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen could quickly become a fantasy star for the same reason. Though he threw for a little more than 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games last season, he also rushed for 631 yards and eight scores. This suggests that in most weeks, he will be good for roughly 50 yards rushing and a touchdown—or 11 points—on top of his passing production.
If Allen can cut down on the turnovers—he had 14 in 2018—he could finish in the top 10 in fantasy scoring among quarterback.
Potential Bust: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers fans can and should be excited about the pending return of Jimmy Garoppolo. With the 49ers adding pass-catchers like Jordan Matthews, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd this offseason, some fantasy fans will be excited about it too.
Be wary of drafting Garoppolo too high, though. He's still recovering from last season's torn ACL, which could affect his mobility early in the season. Garoppolo is not a proven commodity, either. While he has flashed plenty of potential, the reality is that he's only made 10 pro starts and has a significant injury history.
In addition to last year's torn ACL, Garoppolo had his brief stint as the New England Patriots' starter cut short by injury.
1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
4. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
5. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
6. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
8. Le'Veon Bell, New York Giants
9. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
10. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
The game plan for drafting running backs is fairly straightforward. You want to target backs who regularly handle a heavy workload, like Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey, or those who are projected to see an uptick in carries, like Alvin Kamara.
The three aforementioned backs are frequently used in the passing game, which adds to their value in PPR formats. If you're in a standard league, more traditional runners like Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb will be closer in value to the three-down backs at the top of these rankings.
Also, keep an eye on Ezekiel Elliott's status with the Dallas Cowboys. Elliott is away from the team as he continues to hold out for a new deal—and the Cowboys are not putting a timetable on getting an extension done.
"I don't see a point," owner Jerry Jones said, per Todd Archer of ESPN.
If Elliott's holdout comes to an end before your draft, toss him right up there at the top with Barkley.
Sleeper: Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
While 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny was a bit of a disappointment last season—he had just 85 carries and nine receptions—he did show flashes of promise. He averaged a strong 4.9 yards per carry and topped the 100-yard mark the one time he got more than 10 carries in a game.
Penny will still be splitting time with Chris Carson in the Seattle Seahawks backfield this season, but receiving back Mike Davis has gone. Davis had 112 carries and 34 receptions last season, and the bulk of these touches will likely go to Penny.
The San Diego State product should be targeted as a high-level FLEX option, but he could become a weekly RB2 if he manages to push Carson out of the starting role.
Potential Bust: Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Like Elliott, Los Angeles Chargers back Melvin Gordon is holding out for a new contract. Unlike the Cowboys, however, the Chargers do not have an offense heavily based around their running back. Gordon doesn't have the leverage that Elliott does, and L.A. could easily go into the regular season without him.
If it does, then Austin Ekeler will be a solid RB2 option and Justin Jackson will have sleeper potential. Even if Gordon does report, Los Angeles could lean heavily on Ekeler and Jackson as they prepare for a future without Gordon.
Feel free to take a flier on Gordon if he's there in the middle rounds, but don't draft him expecting to get a reliable weekly starter.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
2. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
3. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
4. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
8. Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
9. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
10. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
As is the case at running back, drafting wide receivers is fairly simple. Target No. 1 options early, and preferably target those who are target dominant—DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Davante Adams are prime examples.
In PPR formats, top receivers should be targeted ahead of all second-tier running backs. In standard formats, above-average starting backs will be just as valuable as all but the most elite receivers—it's easier for defenses to shut down a receiver than a runner who averages 20-25 carries a game.
When targeting WR2 and WR3 options, look for players in offenses where the ball gets spread around. When a guy like Hopkins gets the vast majority of targets—he had 163 of them in 2018, per Pro Football Reference—his running mates are going to have modest fantasy value.
Sleeper: Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns
In an offense with a young, aggressive quarterback and a play-caller who likes to spread the ball around, a No. 3 receiver is going to have solid FLEX potential. This is where Rashard Higgins should be for the Cleveland Browns in 2019.
"Thus far, Higgins, who has an undeniable chemistry with Mayfield, has been the exclusive third receiver with the first-team offense in camp and seems to have a firm grip on that job," Nathan Zegura of the team's official website wrote.
Higgins will be behind both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on the depth chart, but new head coach Freddie Kitchens showed that he likes to spread the ball around during his eight-game stint as offensive coordinator last season. PPR machine Landry finished the year with 81 catches, but three other players topped 40 receptions, and Higgins fell just short with 39.
Higgins also had 572 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games last year despite making just one start.
Potential Bust: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
When he's healthy, Cincinnati Bengals wideout A.J. Green is an elite fantasy option. The problem is that he isn't healthy and is expected to miss regular-season games after undergoing ankle surgery.
This makes it virtually impossible to target Green as your WR1. Doing so could leave you in an early hole that is nearly impossible to overcome. Plus there's no guarantee that Green is going to be an elite option once he returns.
An ankle injury is problematic for a receiver whose biggest assets are his ability to separate deep and his ability to adjust to errant Andy Dalton passes. It will likely take time for Green to regain his separation speed, and one hard landing off a jump ball could send him back to the sidelines.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts
5. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
6. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
8. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
9. Evan Engram, New York Giants
10. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons
The gap between the top- and second-tier players is bigger at tight end than at any other position. Guys who are essentially No. 1 options in their offenses—Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz—can be targeted along with many No. 1 receivers. After that, there a sizeable drop-off and not a lot of difference between, say, O.J. Howard and Austin Hooper.
If you're in a league that doesn't have a hard TE slot—many leagues trade this out for a second FLEX position—tight end is a position you can largely ignore after the top few players.
Kyle Rudolph was a top-10 tight end in both receptions (64) and yards (634). Nelson Agholor had the same number of receptions, ranked 30th among receivers and had more yards (736).
Sleeper: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is a sleeper if, and only if, he can remain healthy—which he hasn't done since the 2015 season. That year, however, he produced 52 receptions, 615 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Eifert has been healthy and making grabs in training camp, so he's trending in the right direction. There's a real chance that he can return to Pro Bowl form this season, and Green's absence will only increase his value.
Just be aware of Eifert's injury history, and don't target him earlier than the middle rounds.
Potential Bust: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
As noted, Rudolph was one of the more productive tight ends in football last season. This may not be the case in 2019. Minnesota used a second-round draft pick on Alabama's Irv Smith Jr., and it may look to make Smith the primary tight end before the end of this season.
While the Vikings did sign Rudolph to a four-year contract extension this offseason, the contract is a bit deceptive. Minnesota can cut bait with Rudolph after this season and owe him just $5 million in dead money.
Expect the Vikings to give Smith every chance to take the starting job throughout the regular season.