Fantasy Football: Week 4 Rankings

Matchups are having a big impact on this week’s rankings. Make sure you are aware of who your usual starters are up against. You may have to switch things up in Week 4. Also, bye weeks start. The Panthers and Redskins are off so plan accordingly.

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

 

 

Fantasy football position rankings: Defense and special teams

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting soon. Through Saturday I’ll share my rankings for each position. I started with quarterbacks Tuesday, followed by running backs Wednesdaywide receivers Thursday and tight ends Friday. We’ll close out with defense rankings. This year I’ve added tiers to better help you prepare for your draft.

RELATED: Fantasy football rankings: Top 250.

Defense and special teams

Tier 1

Not much has changed for the top two teams in this tier, so they should be very good once again. The Jaguars had the best pass defense in the league and the Vikings gave up the least amount of points. Additions to the defensive backfield and in the trenches can help the Rams take a step forward. The defending Super Bowl champs led the league in rushing yards allowed per game. They’ve had some changes up front, but they should remain solid.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Los Angeles Rams
4. Philadelphia Eagles

Tier 2

The pass rush of the Chargers is enough to make fantasy owners excited about drafting them in the 11th round. That pass rush coupled with a good defensive backfield is a recipe for creating turnovers. The first surprise in these rankings is the Saints at No. 6. They aren’t the same Saints you’re used to, sacking the quarterback 42 times (tied for 7th in NFL) while making 20 interceptions (3rd) last season.

5. Los Angeles Chargers
6. New Orleans Saints
7. Denver Broncos
8. Houston Texans
9. Baltimore Ravens

Tier 3

The Cardinals have last season’s sack leader in Chandler Jones. He led the league with 17 of the Cardinals’ 37 sacks. They forced 18 fumbles and intercepted 15 passes while allowing 22.6 points per game. The points allowed doesn’t sound outstanding, but the offense was in shambles without David Johnson and Carson Palmer. Johnson is back and Sam Bradford, though an injury risk, should be a decent steward of the offense. That could help the Cardinals’ defense stay fresh for longer.

10. Arizona Cardinals
11. Carolina Panthers
12. New England Patriots
13. Pittsburgh Steelers
14. Atlanta Falcons
15. Chicago Bears
16. Seattle Seahawks

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

Fantasy football position rankings: Tight ends

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting soon. Through Saturday I’ll share my rankings for each position. I started with quarterbacks Tuesday, followed by running backs Wednesday and wide receivers Thursday. Tight ends are next with defenses to follow. This year I’ve added tiers to better help you prepare for your draft.

RELATED: Fantasy football rankings: Top 250.

Tight ends

Tier 1

No surprise at the top of this tier, but Rob Gronkowski isn’t in a tier of his own anymore. Zach Ertz was outstanding last year, catching 74 passes for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. That made for three straight years of at least 74 receptions and 816 yards for the sixth-year tight end. Ertz has the edge over Travis Kelce for me since the Chiefs will have a new quarterback in Pat Mahomes. Kelce will still have a big year, but I don’t think he tops 1,000 yards like he has in the last two seasons.

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE
2. Zach Ertz, PHI
3. Travis Kelce, KC

Tier 2

I still like Evan Engram even though he’s not the only reliable target in New York anymore. Last season he had to lead the way with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard all missing time. Engram led the team with 64 receptions and was second on the squad with 722 yards while scoring a team-best six times. Something you rarely see is a rookie tight end having a lot of fantasy production. Engram was able to do that and then some. Also in this group is Jimmy Graham, who could be special if he stays healthy. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t used the tight end effectively but he’s never had a tight end like Graham. I have to also mention Trey Burton, who looks to be a big part of the Bears offense. With a second-year quarterback and a shaky wide receiver corps, Burton should lead the passing attack.

4. Evan Engram, NYG
5. Jimmy Graham, GB
6. Greg Olsen, CAR
7. Trey Burton, CHI

Tier 3

Delanie Walker has been so solid for the last four years, gaining at least 800 yards while catching at least 63 passes in each of those seasons. Someone in this group who I’m high on is Ricky Seals-Jones. I’m out on a bit of an island (pun intended) on this one, but I think he has a lot of upside. He would be nearly free in drafts so you don’t have to draft him as your starter. In 2016, when Sam Bradford played 15 games for the Vikings, Kyle Rudolph caught 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns. Bradford could help Seals-Jones have that kind of production.

8. Delanie Walker, TEN
9. Kyle Rudolph, MIN
10. Ricky Seals-Jones, ARI
11. Jared Cook, OAK
12. Jordan Reed, WAS

Tier 4

I nearly had Jordan Reed and George Kittle swapped, but the talent of Reed is a little too much to overcome. If he can stay healthy, and it’s always a huge if, then he’s still definitely a TE1. Kittle, depending on his chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo, could take the next step after a solid rookie season in which he caught 43 passes and gained 515 yards. David Njoku, another second-year tight end, could be productive with Tyrod Taylor tossing him the ball in Cleveland. Also in this tier is Tyler Eifert, who really should be in a higher tier based on talent. Injuries and having to play with Andy Dalton has him as a bye week sub in my opinion.

13. George Kittle, SF
14. David Njoku, CLE
15. O.J. Howard, TB
16. Jack Doyle, IND
17. Benjamin Watson, NO
18. Tyler Eifert, CIN
19. Charles Clay, BUF

Tier 5

There are a lot questions surrounding the Colts offense, mostly due to the play of Andrew Luck, a bad offensive line and the rest of the backfield. But I also think there’s a question of which Colts tight end will be more productive. Eric Ebron has the size and talent you want in a tight end but he just hasn’t delivered. Someone who could surprise in this group is Austin Hooper of the Falcons, but it depends on how successful the offense is. Hooper was the third most targeted receiver for Atlanta last season, but the team added Calvin Ridley in the draft.

20. Eric Ebron, IND
21. Austin Hooper, ATL
22. Cameron Brate, TB
23. Luke Willson, DET
24. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, JAC

Tier 6

For the most part these guys are going to be replacements during bye weeks, but Hayden Hurst could end up having some value. He should start for the Ravens, but I can’t rank a pass catcher from Baltimore very highly.

25. Vance McDonald, PIT
26. Stephen Anderson, HOU
27. Vernon Davis, WAS
28. Hayden Hurst, BAL

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

Fantasy football position rankings: Running backs

There are just two weekends left before the NFL starts the regular season. Thousands of fantasy football leagues will be drafting soon. Through Saturday I’ll share my rankings for each position. I started with quarterbacks Tuesday and running backs are next. Wide receivers, tight ends and defenses will follow. This year I’ve added tiers to better help you prepare for your draft.

RELATED: Fantasy football rankings: Top 250.

Running backs

Tier 1

It doesn’t matter much to me if you swap the two ball carriers in this tier, they’ll both score big this season. I just think Bell is the bigger workhorse. He rushed the ball 321 times last year. That’s 34 more attempts than LeSean McCoy who had the second most carries. Some RB1s don’t even get as many touches in a season as Bell had rushes last year. He had more than 400 touches, when you add in his 85 receptions, last season and there’s no reason for that to change.

1. Le’Veon Bell, PIT
2. Todd Gurley, LAR

Tier 2 

If David Johnson finishes the season as the top fantasy-scoring running back I wouldn’t be surprised. He was very close to a 1,000-1,000 season in 2016 and he’s fully recovered from injury. The Cardinals won’t be that good this year so they’ll lean on their best asset. Sam Bradford doesn’t scare anyone, but he’s accurate on short passes and a lot of them could go Johnson’s way. The same could be said for Ezekiel Elliott, who should play all 16 games this year if healthy. In just ten games last season Elliott still had 242 rushing attempts. With a suspect passing game, he may get more targets on short routes to help Dak Prescott out.

3. David Johnson, ARI
4. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL

Tier 3

I nearly had Melvin Gordon in the second tier with Johnson and Elliott based on his workhorse status. He touched the ball nearly 350 times in 2017. Instead I have him topping this group. There are a lot of options here, and I don’t see a lot of drop-off from Gordon to Devonta Freeman and RB12. You’ll notice Alvin Kamara behind Gordon. The Saint was topping rankings earlier in the summer, but I don’t think that’s realistic. He was hyper efficient last season because New Orleans used him perfectly in tandem with Mark Ingram. Also in this group is rookie Saquon Barkley, who could become the third straight rookie to lead the league in rushing if things fall his way.

5. Melvin Gordon, LAC
6. Alvin Kamara, NO
7. Leonard Fournette, JAC
8. Saquon Barkley, NYG
9. Christian McCaffrey, CAR
10. Kareem Hunt, KC
11. Dalvin Cook, MIN
12. Devonta Freeman, ATL

Tier 4

This tier is where things get a little bit complicated. McCoy is coming off of a second straight season of over 1,000 yards rushing while making at least 50 receptions. He’s currently nursing a groin, but it should be noted that he hasn’t been much of an injury risk over the years. He’s missed five games in the last five years. Not bad. Also in this tier is Alex Collins, who could very well end up being the best of the group. He’s expected to be the feature rusher for Baltimore and he nearly topped 1,000 yards rushing on just 212 carries at 4.6 yards per rush last season. Joe Mixon, Jerick McKinnon and Jordan Howard all have similar situations in which they’ll be featured rushers.

13. LeSean McCoy, BUF
14. Joe Mixon, CIN
15. Jerick McKinnon, SF
16. Jordan Howard, CHI
17. Alex Collins, BAL

Tier 5

I think Dion Lewis will be a great value and I see him as finishing with more fantasy points than teammate Derrick Henry. Lewis is getting drafted in the fifth round while Henry is getting taken in the third. I think it’s a bit risky to spend that kind of draft capital on Henry, who merely flashed a few times last season. Henry didn’t average more than 3.1 yards per rush in each of his final four games last year. I’d even rather take a shot on rookie Royce Freeman, who should lead the backfield in Denver. Another solid option in this group is Kenyan Drake, who has a lot of talent that should finally be showcased in Miami.

18. Dion Lewis, TEN
19. Royce Freeman, DEN
20. Jay Ajayi, PHI
21. Kenyan Drake, MIA
22. Lamar Miller, HOU
23. Marshawn Lynch, OAK
24. Rex Burkhead, NE
25. Derrick Henry, TEN

Tier 6

Chris Carson is flying up my best-value list of players. He’s getting drafted in the seventh round, due to expectations that Rashaad Penny will take over the Seahawks’ backfield. That may not be true, however. Carson has played well this preseason and Penny is dealing with a broken finger which will affect his practice time leading up to the season opener. Add to that Penny’s struggles with pass protection and Carson could be the main man for Seattle. Another player I’m high on in this tier is Kerryon Johnson. The rookie can be a big factor in the passing game and has already showed flashes in the preseason.

26. Chris Carson, SEA
27. Tevin Coleman, ATL
28. Mark Ingram, NO
29. Sony Michel, NE
30. Isaiah Crowell, NYJ
31. Kerryon Johnson, DET
32. Robert Kelley, WAS

Tier 7

Here’s where we start to get a mixed bag of rushers who you’ll have to make a call on as it gets closer to your draft. An interesting option in this tier is Carlos Hyde, who should get the most touches in the Cleveland backfield. While Duke Johnson could still be a pass-catching factor, Hyde also has a good pair of hands. It should also be noted that Jarvis Landry, an expert in the short passing game could negate some of the usefulness of Johnson.

33. Rashaad Penny, SEA
34. Tarik Cohen, CHI
35. Carlos Hyde, CLE
36. Duke Johnson, CLE
37. Bilal Powell, NYJ
38. Ty Montgomery, GB
39. Marlon Mack, IND
40. Jamaal Williams, GB
41. Peyton Barber, TB
42. Ronald Jones II, TB

Tier 8

Leading off this eighth tier is one of the most efficient weapons from last season. Chris Thompson only rushed for 294 yards but at 4.6 yards per carry. His value is in his receiving ability. He caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns in ten games. That’s 51 yards receiving per game from the running back position, more than Alshon Jeffery, Chris Hogan and Amari Cooper last year. Another value pick in this group could be Latavius Murray. Dalvin Cook played in four games last season, and though he was outstanding, that’s a very small sample size. Murray could still have a major role in the backfield, including possibly the goal-line back.

43. Chris Thompson, WAS
44. Latavius Murray, MIN
45. LeGarrette Blount, DET
46. Corey Clement, PHI
47. James White, NE
48. Frank Gore, MIA
49. C.J. Anderson, CAR
50. Devontae Booker, DEN
51. Giovani Bernard, CIN
52. Spencer Ware, KC
53. Matt Breida, SF

Tier 9

You can hedge your bets with some of these rushers, or look for flex options. I like Jordan Wilkins, but he recently fumbled on the goal line in his second preseason game. That said, he has the look of a feature back and the Colts are in need of someone who can fill Frank Gore’s shoes. Nyheim Hines is good on pass-catching downs, but I like the idea of taking a flier on Wilkins instead.

54. T.J. Yeldon, JAC
55. Nick Chubb, CLE
56. Jordan Wilkins, IND
57. Theo Riddick, DET
58. Nyheim Hines, IND
59. Darren Sproles, PHI
60. Doug Martin, OAK
61. Kenneth Dixon, BAL
62. Aaron Jones, GB
63. Chris Ivory, BUF
64. Jonathan Stewart, NYG
65. C.J. Prosise, SEA
66. D’Onta Foreman, HOU

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

NFL Playoff Challenge fantasy football rankings: Super Bowl LII

It’s all come down to this. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots are the last teams standing and one of them will be crowned the Super Bowl LII champions on Sunday.

If you’re playing in the NFL.com’s Playoff Challenge, you’ve got one more lineup to set. There are couple of things to consider in this type of competition which I’ll cover as we get to each position.

Here are my rankings for the final game of the season.

Quarterbacks

This is a pretty standard call. If you’ve started Tom Brady since the beginning of the competition, you’ll want to cash in on his quadruple bonus. However, I could see a scenario where you’re close to the top of your group’s standings after starting Nick Foles in the conference championship. If that’s the case you can get double points starting him in the Super Bowl. That’s if you think he’ll stay hot.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Nick Foles, Eagles

Running backs

I think the Patriots will win it all, and Dion Lewis will have a big role. He lost some touches due to a fumble in the AFC championship, but his skills will make up for that. James White was a huge part of New England’s Super Bowl win last season. He could be a big factor again, which is why I have him ranked second. In either case, the running backs for the Patriots will have to get most of their points through the air against the tough Eagles run defense. The highest ranked Eagle for me is LeGarrette Blount. While Jay Ajayi is the better overall back, I think a touchdown for Blount is more likely if they get down near the goal line.

1. Dion Lewis, Patriots
2. James White, Patriots
3. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
4. Jay Ajayi, Eagles
5. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
6. Corey Clement, Eagles

Wide receivers

I have Alshon Jeffery ahead of Brandin Cooks because he’s been hot recently. He’s a big target in the red zone. Jeffery’s quarterback is coming off his best playoff game. With Tom Brady having a lot of options, including Rob Gronkowski, it’s likely Jeffery is the highest scoring wideout in the game. The Patriots wide receivers that could lead in fantasy points are Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola. Cooks is more talented, but Amendola has been solid for Brady.

1. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
2. Brandin Cooks, Patriots
3. Danny Amendola, Patriots
4. Nelson Agholor, Eagles
5. Chris Hogan, Patriots
6. Torrey Smith, Eagles
7. Mack Hollins, Eagles
8. Phillip Dorsett, Patriots
9. Kenny Britt, Patriots

Tight ends

It’s a no-brainer starting Gronkowski, if he’s fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in the conference championship game. Of course, Zach Ertz has been good, but it’s not likely you’ve sat Gronk so far this postseason. You’ll need that multiplier to work in your favor.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Zach Ertz, Eagles
3. Trey Burton, Eagles
4. Dwayne Allen, Patriots
5. Brent Celek, Eagles
6. Jacob Hollister, Patriots

Defense/Special teams

Nick Foles has played well in stretches and his 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in 2013 was no fluke. That said, the Patriots have had two weeks to prepare for the quarterback who has also played poorly in stretches. Odds of the Patriots winning and of Foles turning the ball over have me picking the Patriots to score more fantasy points on defense.

1. Patriots
2. Eagles

Kickers

I’m not expecting a blowout, but I think the Patriots can hold the Eagles out of the end zone more often than not. That would give Jake Elliott more opportunities to kick field goals.

1. Jake Elliott, Eagles
2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

DFS fantasy football rankings: conference championships

There are just two more games remaining in the NFL playoffs, so that’s just two more opportunities to play fantasy football. Here are my DFS fantasy football rankings for the conference championships. There’s not much difference between these and my NFL Playoff Challenge fantasy rankings with the season so close to an end. But there are a few differences and more options ranked here.

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

NFL playoff fantasy football rankings: conference championships

It’s starting to get serious if you’re playing NFL.com’s Playoff Challenge. The players you started in the first round are now due to earn triple points if you’ve kept them in your lineup this whole time. Last week I suggested you start a few top-scoring Saints and Titans, but with the caveat that it would possibly be the end of the line for them. It was indeed the end of the line for the Saints, and in unbelievable fashion.

Here’s a look at my rankings for the conference championships.

Quarterbacks

The Patriots have just been cruising along this whole time, having all the breaks go their way. Now they take on an upstart Jaguars team that needs their defense to score points in order for them to win. If Brady can’t be productive against the Jags’ pass defense, it might be time to start thinking his skills are falling off. I don’t think that happens. If you started him in the first week of the playoffs, you’ll get to multiply this week’s points by three. A lot of people started Drew Brees to begin the Playoff Challenge, but with him no longer available, they should look to Case Keenum, who is favored to make the Super Bowl.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Case Keenum, Vikings
3. Blake Bortles, Jaguars
4. Nick Foles, Eagles

Running backs

Dion Lewis did it all last weekend, though James White was the running back that scored twice. Lewis is a safer play that can pay off big if he ends up getting in the end zone. He had 24 touches for 141 yards from scrimmage while White had just eight touches, though he scored twice. Someone that I think will have to score in order for his team to advance is Jay Ajayi. He had 19 touches and 98 yards from scrimmage, but things should be tough against the Vikings. For the Vikings, I think Latavius Murray continues to take a big share of carries, especially if Minnesota controls the game.

1. Dion Lewis, Patriots
2. Jay Ajayi, Eagles
3. Latavius Murray, Vikings
4. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
5. James White, Patriots
6. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
7. Jerick McKinnon, Vikings
8. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
9. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
10. Corey Clement, Eagles
11. Chris Ivory, Jaguars
12. Corey Grant, Jaguars
13. Tommy Bohanon, Jaguars

Wide receivers

Stefon Diggs was the big hero last Sunday, but a big chunk of his numbers came on the winning play. The numbers still count, obviously, but Adam Thielen has been the more consistent receiver for the Vikings. I don’t have Diggs far behind Thielen, though. Brandin Cooks is my third-best receiver this week as I expect the Patriots to find a way to get by the Jags’ defense. Jacksonville, though stout on D, has had some high-scoring affairs this season and they just gave up 42 points to the Steelers.

1. Adam Thielen, Vikings
2. Stefon Diggs, Vikings
3. Brandin Cooks, Patriots
4. Danny Amendola, Patriots
5. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
6. Chris Hogan, Patriots
7. Marqise Lee, Jaguars
8. Nelson Agholor, Eagles
9. Keelan Cole, Jaguars
10. Jarius Wright, Vikings
11. Allen Hurns, Jaguars
12. Torrey Smith, Eagles
13. Dede Westbrook, Jaguars
14. Laquon Treadwell, Vikings
15. Kenny Britt, Patriots
16. Phillip Dorsett, Patriots

Tight ends

Rob Gronkowski was the easiest call in terms of starting a tight end for the Playoff Challenge. Owners will get rewarded with triple points this week. I’ve got Kyle Rudolph ranked second since he and the Vikings are favored to make the Super Bowl. He had five catches, but just 28 yards in the win over the Saints. Zach Ertz had a disappointing game last weekend, catching three passes for 32 yards. I have him behind Rudolph because I think his season ends in a loss to the Vikings. Of course, if you have a multiplier in play for Ertz, you might want to start him over Rudolph.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
3. Zach Ertz, Eagles
4. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
5. Trey Burton, Eagles
6. Dwayne Allen, Patriots
7. Brent Celek, Eagles
8. James O’Shaughnessy, Jaguars

Defense/Special teams

These picks are pretty straight forward. I think the Patriots, who are favored by more than a touchdown, won’t have much trouble against the Jaguars. I’ve ranked the Vikings second since I think they move on.

1. Patriots
2. Vikings
3. Eagles
4. Jaguars

Kickers

If you pick either one of the top two kickers, you’re likely to have a multiplier in play during the Super Bowl.

1. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
2. Kai Forbath, Vikings
3. Jake Elliott, Eagles
4. Josh Lambo, Jaguars

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

NFL playoff fantasy football rankings: divisional round

If you’re playing NFL.com’s fantasy football Playoff Challenge it’s time to set your lineup for the divisional round of the playoffs. Last week we saw big games from Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Derrick Henry. If they were in your lineup, you might want to roll with them again for double the points. You’ll be rooting for their teams to win as their points would triple during the conference championships if you start them again. Whether they advance, however, is highly in doubt. The Titans are big underdogs against the Patriots in Foxboro and the Saints will have a tough time advancing past the Vikings in Minnesota.

Here are my rankings for the divisional round.

Quarterbacks

I’ve got Brady at the top of my list since his points double this week if you started him during the bye last week. All he has to do is have an average game and you’ll get caught up with any points you missed out on last week in the Playoff Challenge. You’ll also have his points tripled next week if the Pats win and you keep him in the lineup. I think the Falcons make their way back to the NFC championship with a win over the Eagles this weekend. That’s why I’ve got Matt Ryan ranked second. Brees might not make it past the Vikings this week, but if you started him last week you can have his points doubled this week.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Matt Ryan, Falcons
3. Drew Brees, Saints
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
5. Case Keenum, Vikings
6. Blake Bortles, Jaguars
7. Nick Foles, Eagles
8. Marcus Mariota, Titans

Running backs

I’ve got Le’Veon Bell at the top for the same reason I have Brady at the top of the QB position. Though the Steelers face a tough Jaguars defense, his versatility is a big value. Though Pittsburgh lost 30-9 to the Jaguars this year, it was early in the season and Roethlisberger had a nightmare game. Bell rushed for just 3.1 yards per carry, but only had 15 attempts. He also caught 10 passes in that game. Dion Lewis is another versatile back who I think has a productive day against the Titans this weekend. The Patriots should be able to do whatever they want against Tennessee. The Falcons may not have such an easy time against the Eagles, but I think Devonta Freeman logs a good performance. He’s my third-ranked running back as I see the Falcons getting by the Eagles.

1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
2. Dion Lewis, Patriots
3. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
4. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
5. Alvin Kamara, Saints
6. Latavius Murray, Vikings
7. Mark Ingram, Saints
8. Derrick Henry, Titans
9. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
10. Jay Ajayi, Eagles
11. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
12. James White, Patriots
13. Jerick McKinnon, Vikings
14. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
15. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
16. Stevan Ridley, Steelers
17. Corey Clement, Eagles
18. Chris Ivory, Jaguars
19. Zach Line, Saints
20. Corey Grant, Jaguars

Wide receivers

With the Falcons favored to win, I believe that Julio Jones has a big day against the Eagles. He had a solid performance against a good Rams defense last week. The Eagles have a tough defensive front, but the Falcons have protected their quarterback well this season. Antonio Brown will return to the field and I think he has to have a big game to advance over the Jaguars. I’m confident he can do it to avenge the loss the Steelers suffered early in the season. I’ve got Adam Thielen ranked third this week, thinking the Vikings will edge out the Saints. The last time he faced New Orleans he had nine catches for 157 yards.

1. Julio Jones, Falcons
2. Antonio Brown, Steelers
3. Adam Thielen, Vikings
4. Michael Thomas, Saints
5. Brandin Cooks, Patriots
6. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
7. Stefon Diggs, Vikings
8. Mohamed Sanu, Falcons
9. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
10. Ted Ginn, Saints
11. Rishard Matthews, Titans
12. Chris Hogan, Patriots
13. Nelson Agholor, Eagles
14. Martavis Bryant, Steelers
15. Dede Westbrook, Jaguars
16. Eric Decker, Titans
17. Keelan Cole, Jaguars
18. Danny Amendola, Patriots
19. Brandon Coleman, Saints
20. Corey Davis, Titans

Tight ends

I’m banking on Rob Gronkowski having a big day in the Patriots’ first playoff game. He missed last postseason due to injury so he’ll be itching to get going. Having him in your lineup last week felt like a must, given that the Patriots are favored to win the Super Bowl. Given that they’re likely to advance, you’re looking at triple points in the conference championship. I have Zach Ertz ranked second as he’ll look to solidify his connection with Nick Foles. Not counting the meaningless game against the Cowboys, the two have connected on 15 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in two games. They’ve had an extra week of reps as well. In that same game, I think Austin Hooper has a solid outing as the Eagles tend to give up double digits in fantasy points to tight ends.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Zach Ertz, Eagles
3. Austin Hooper, Falcons
4. Delanie Walker, Titans
5. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
6. Jesse James, Steelers
7. Josh Hill, Saints
8. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
9. Vance McDonald, Steelers
10. Dwayne Allen, Patriots
11. Trey Burton, Eagles
12. Levine Toilolo, Falcons

Defense/Special teams

The Patriots defense has gotten better as the season has gone along. I’ve got them ranked first as they face a Titans team that somehow managed to get past the Chiefs in the wild-card round. I think the Steelers get some revenge on the Jaguars who struggle with the forward pass. Blake Bortles rushed for more yards than he threw last week. That’s not a good thing. The Vikings are third in my rankings because they’re great, but the Saints are hot.

1. Patriots
2. Steelers
3. Vikings
4. Falcons
5. Jaguars
6. Eagles
7. Saints
8. Titans

Kickers

Matt Bryant has been good all year and I think he and the Falcons put up some points on the Eagles. Stephen Gostkowski is second in this list since the Patriots should handle the Titans pretty easily. Wil Lutz will likely have to kick a few field goals as the Saints should move the ball, but struggle to get in the end zone against the Vikings.

1. Matt Bryant, Falcons
2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
3. Wil Lutz, Saints
4. Kai Forbath, Vikings
5. Chris Boswell, Steelers
6. Caleb Sturgis, Eagles
7. Josh Lambo, Jaguars
8. Ryan Succop, Titans

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

2017 fantasy football position rankings: Running Backs

Continuing our series of position rankings for the upcoming 2017 fantasy football season, we’ll take a look at running backs before turning to wide receivers next week. We’ve ranked the QBs from 1 to 32. We’ll rank the running backs from 1-36, the wide receivers 1-36 and the tight ends 1-24. Defenses and kickers will be ranked 1-12.

The top three running backs are so close, but I give the edge to David Johnson since he had 80 receptions last year and caught passes for more yards than Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Jordan Reed.

1. David Johnson, Cardinals—He nearly carried the ball 300 times last season and caught 80 passes. There’s no reason to think he won’t be used to that degree yet again.

2. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers—No worries about an early-season suspension this time around. I had him No. 1 early in my rankings, but Johnson’s touches gave him the edge at this point.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys—Elliott couldn’t have had a better rookie season. Given that, you have to assume he has just a tiny bit of regression. The Cowboys will also want to save him from too much work by using Darren McFadden to relieve some pressure.

4. LeSean McCoy, Bills—Mike Gillislee is in New England now, so if McCoy can stay healthy he might get even more work than he already does.

5. Jordan Howard, Bears—Howard gained the most yardage between the tackles in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. He should see an increase in touches given that he’ll likely be playing with a rookie quarterback at some point.

Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears is hit by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix #21 of the Green Bay Packers as he scores a touchdown in the 4th quarter at Soldier Field on December 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 30-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

6. Melvin Gordon, Chargers—Gordon’s value has been improved by this offseason. Danny Woodhead is a Raven and the Chargers didn’t draft a running back, they drafted two offensive linemen. Gordon will continue to dominate touches in the backfield.

7. Devonta Freeman, Falcons—Have no fear of Tevin Coleman, Freeman actually is more productive when Coleman gets touches. If the Falcons can continue to run a potent offense without Kyle Shanahan, Freeman will do well.

Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons fails to reach the pylon against Vinnie Sunseri #40 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at the Georgia Dome on December 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

8. DeMarco Murray, Titans—He surprised some people last season, given his average draft position was in mid-to-later rounds. Murray suffered from Chip Kelly’s sideways run scheme the year before so he was undervalued in drafts in 2016. He seems to be back to his Cowboys-era self.

9. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins—Three games rushing for at least 200 yards can’t be ignored. Plus, it looks as if he’s making strides in the passing game. He showed his ability as a pass catcher in college so if he improves in that portion of his game he could be remarkable.

10. Lamar Miller, Texans—The addition of D’Onta Foreman may end up helping Miller stay fresh all season. Quality touches will be the key to his success in addition to decent volume.

11. Todd Gurley, Rams—He remains an RB1 despite his rough season last year. That’s because the volume is still there. His bad season probably means he can be had in the second round. But he’ll end up being undervalued if he goes after the first.

Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams rushes for a first down during the fourth quarter of the game against the Carolina Panthers at the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

 

12. Spencer Ware, Chiefs—He got great news when the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Jamaal Charles, but they did end up drafting Kareem Hunt. Keep an eye on training camp to make sure Ware holds firm to the starting spot.

13. C.J. Anderson, Broncos

14. Isaiah Crowell, Browns

15. Carlos Hyde, 49ers

16. Mark Ingram, Saints

17. Tevin Coleman, Falcons

18. Adrian Peterson, Saints

19. Latavius Murray, Vikings

20. Eddie Lacy, Seahawks

21. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

22. Marshawn Lynch, Raiders

23. Doug Martin, Buccaneers

24. Mike Gillislee, Patriots

25. Robert Kelley, Redskins

26. Ty Montgomery, Packers

27. Jeremy Hill, Bengals

28. Derrick Henry, Titans

29. Frank Gore, Colts

30. Bilal Powell, Jets

31. Ameer Abdullah, Lions

32. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

33. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

34. Paul Perkins, Giants

35. Matt Forte, Jets

36. Joe Mixon, Bengals

NFL playoff fantasy football rankings

If you thought the fantasy football season was over, think again. It’s playoff time and that means it’s time to form your fantasy playoff league.

Fantasy football during the NFL postseason is a bit different from a season-long league. For one, the talent pool is small compared to the regular season. Talent is at a premium.

Also, you need to draft players who are likely to advance. You can’t draft a lot of players who’ll be one-and-dones in the playoffs, though sometimes one or two great performances can be enough.

Quarterbacks

New England has the best chance to make the Super Bowl, which means they’re likely to play three games. Three games with Tom Brady’s typical numbers is a nice amount of fantasy points. If the Packers make the Super Bowl, which is a very real possibility with the roll they’re on, that means Aaron Rodgers will have four games of production to contribute to your team.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell , right, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stand on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell , right, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stand on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
3. Matt Ryan, Falcons
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
5. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
6. Eli Manning, Giants
7. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
8. Alex Smith, Chiefs
9. Matthew Stafford, Lions
10. Brock Osweiler, Texans
11. Matt Moore, Dolphins
12. Connor Cook, Raiders

Running backs

It’s hard to keep Le’Veon Bell out of the top spot. The Steelers probably won’t make it to the Super Bowl, but since they’re in the wildcard round, they can still play three games without playing for the Lombardi Trophy. That’s why he gets the nod over LeGarrette Blount. Concerns about an upset by the Packers or Giants over the Cowboys has Elliott at No. 3.

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) breaks tackles against Miami Dolphin defenders in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Patriots won, 35-14. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) breaks tackles against Miami Dolphin defenders in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Patriots won, 35-14. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
2. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
4. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
5. Dion Lewis, Patriots
6. Ty Montgomery, Packers
7. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
8. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
9. Spencer Ware, Chiefs
10. Lamar Miller, Texans
11. Paul Perkins, Giants
12. Latavius Murray, Raiders
13. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins
14. James White, Patriots
15. Rashad Jennings, Giants
16. DeAngelo Williams, Steelers
17. Charcandrick West, Chiefs
18. DeAndre Washington, Raiders
19. Aaron Ripkowski, Packers
20. Darren McFadden, Cowboys
21. Alfred Blue, Texans
22. Alex Collins, Seahawks
23. Christine Michael, Packers
24. Zach Zenner, Lions
25. Damien Williams, Dolphins
26. Dwayne Washingon, Lions
27. Jalen Richard, Raiders
28. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins

Wide receivers

Antonio Brown is the top pick for much of the same reasons Bell is the No. 1 running back. Jones is second because he’s been known to put up three games worth of yardage in just one outing. Edelman’s a top-5 pick because he should play at least three games. Odell Beckham Jr. is pretty high for a team not favored to make the Super Bowl, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the Giants at this point.

Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons catches a touchdown pass over B.W. Webb #28 of the New Orleans Saints during the first half at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons catches a touchdown pass over B.W. Webb #28 of the New Orleans Saints during the first half at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

1. Antonio Brown, Steelers
2. Julio Jones, Falcons
3. Jordy Nelson, Packers
4. Julian Edelman, Patriots
5. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
6. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
7. Davante Adams, Packers
8. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
9. Malcolm Mitchell, Patriots
10. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
11. Mohamed Sanu, Falcons
12. Eli Rogers, Steelers
13. Cole Beasley, Cowboys
14. Chris Hogan, Patriots
15. Michael Floyd, Patriots
16. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
17. Taylor Gabriel, Falcons
18. Sterling Shepard, Giants
19. Terrance Williams, Cowboys
20. Randall Cobb, Packers
21. Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
22. Golden Tate, Lions
23. Michael Crabtree, Raiders
24. Amari Cooper, Raiders
25. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins
26. Kenny Stills, Dophins
27. Anquan Boldin, Lions
28. Geronimo Allison, Packers
29. DeVante Parker, Dolphins
30. Jermaine Kearse, Seahawks
31. Marvin Jones, Lions
32. Cobi Hamilton, Steelers
33. Will Fuller, Texans
34. Seth Roberts, Raiders
35. Paul Richardson, Seahawks
36. Victor Cruz, Giants

Tight ends

Tight ends have been a tough group to pin down this season. We’re going with Martellus Bennett at the top spot at the position since he should play three games. Jared Cook is in the fourth spot and could pay off if the Packers reach the Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

1. Martellus Bennett, Patriots
2. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
3. Jimmy Graham, Seahawks
4. Jared Cook, Packers
5. Ladarius Green, Steelers
6. Jason Witten, Cowboys
7. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans
8. Eric Ebron, Lions
9. Austin Hooper, Falcons
10. Jesse James, Steelers
11. Will Tye, Giants
12. Ryan Griffin, Texans
13. Luke Willson, Seahawks
14. Clive Walford, Raiders
15. Dion Sims, Dolphins
16. Richard Rodgers, Packers

Kickers

You can’t go wrong with Stephen Gostkowski. We didn’t even know the Dolphins’ kicker was someone named Andrew Franks.

1. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
2. Chris Boswell, Steelers
3. Matt Bryant, Falcons
4. Dan Bailey, Cowboys
5. Mason Crosby, Packers
6. Steven Hauschka, Seahawks
7. Robbie Gould, Giants
8. Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
9. Cairo Santos, Chiefs
10. Nick Novak, Texans
11. Matt Prater, Lions
12. Andrew Franks, Dolphins

Defense/special teams

Facing a Matt Moore-led offense makes the Steelers the second-best choice at defense. A matchup against a rookie quarterback in the wildcard round makes the Texans a top-4 team.

1. Patriots
2. Steelers
3. Seahawks
4. Texans
5. Falcons
6. Cowboys
7. Giants
8. Packers
9. Chiefs
10. Raiders
11. Lions
12. Dolphins