2013 Fantasy Football Ranking Tiers

By C.D. Carter

There was ample digital ink spilled last summer in the Twitter flame wars between those who charged Roddy White was the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver to own, and those who warned of the coming of Julio Jones, who — they said — would become Matt Ryan’s preferred target and sap White of his fantasy football elitism.

Jay Cutler
Dec 30 2012 Detroit MI USA Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler 6 during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Tim Fuller USA TODAY Sports

Tens of thousands of words were written in defense of each pass catcher. Statistics were extrapolated and parsed within an inch of their collective lives. Friendships were ruined. Children wept. And in the end, after 17 weeks of Roddy vs. Julio, the difference was six whole fantasy points.

Fantasy footballers spent the better part of four months arguing (in all caps) about a difference of three-tenths of a fantasy point per game. Take a minute and let that wash over you.

The same sort of unhinged back and forth was seen last summer between those who thought Cam Newton was a far superior early-round option to the aging Tom Brady, only to find Brady finish 2012 with eight more fantasy points (a difference of half a fantasy point per contest).

This, I think, is the central argument for tiered rankings. If, for example, you have Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch in the same tier, and Lynch — your primary target — is taken a few picks ahead of you in the first round, your choice becomes an easy one (if you have the two backs projected to score a similar amount of points). You pick Rice. No sweat.

Tiered rankings emphasize the following: Names don’t matter — only production. Owners too often become fixated by names and supreme talent that is, in fact, irreplaceable in real football. We’re not playing real football though, are we?

Ranking tiers make draft day value easier to spot. You’ll often find that a player or two from one of your first few tiers is still available in the middle of the draft. If you’re confident in your projections, the choice becomes a no-brainer. An example: You might find your top four quarterback tiers wiped out by the eighth round, but one of your tight ends from tier three is still hanging around.

These tiers will change — sometimes drastically — over the next few months.

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  • Probably my Tannehill ranking will require 24-hour police protection for my friends and loved ones. It’s higher than most you’ll see, but — as you may have guessed — there are reasons: The Dolphins scored an inordinate number of rushing touchdowns in 2012, a number that’s bound to regress in 2013. Tannehill’s receiving options have gone from the worst in the league to mediocre with the additions of Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller. Tannehill, an underrated athlete and converted wide receiver, averaged 31 yards rushing over his last six games. 
  • Matthew Stafford, like his teammate and favorite robotic target Calvin Johnson, is a regression special in 2013. Stafford tossed just 20 touchdowns on more than 700 pass attempts last season. Megatron was tackled inside the two-yard line a handful of times. Regression is their friend.
  • Matt Ryan, in case you missed it, is the only pass-happy, efficient quarterback with a reasonable average draft position in 2013.

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Matt Forte
Dec 30 2012 Detroit MI USA Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte 22 during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Tim Fuller USA TODAY Sports
  • The Trestman Effect strikes again. Matt Forte is a premiere pass-catching running back in an offense that uses a whole range of screen passes to substitute for the run, as Trestman did with the Oakland Raiders in 2002. I don’t care that he’ll lose goal line carries to Michael Bush. Forte will be plenty involved.
  • Shane Vereen‘s playing time is set to “spike” after Danny Woodhead departed the great northeast for San Diego, where he’ll be a thorn in the side of Ryan Mathews owners in 2013. Tom Brady called Vereen “so very special” after Vereen played more snaps than Stevan Ridley in the Patriots’ divisional round playoff victory last January. Ridley will retain quite a bit of fantasy relevance, but I think Vereen’s emergence — especially as a passing down threat — will remove some of Ridley’s shine.
  • Darren Sproles missed three games in 2012 and still led all running backs with 75 receptions. He was targeted a whopping 93 times — 13 more than any other back. With Sean Payton back from exile, you’ll be drafting Sproles as a receiver that can be conveniently plugged into your fantasy lineup’s running back spot. Triple-digit catches certainly isn’t out of the question for Sproles.

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Pierre Garcon
Jan 6 2013 Landover MD USA Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon 88 runs after a catch during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field The Seahawks won 24 14 Daniel Shirey USA TODAY Sports

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Jordan Cameron
Nov 18 2012 Arlington TX USA Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron 84 cannot make the catch in bounds while defended by Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh 43 at Cowboys Stadium The Cowboys beat the Browns 23 20 Tim Heitman USA TODAY Sports
  • The Cleveland Browns coaching staff seems to be on board with Jordan Cameron as the team’s pass-catching tight end, and with Rob Chudzinski and Norval Turner calling the offensive shots, Cameron could reap the benefits of a tight end-friendly scheme that has produced fantasy goodness again and again. “This is an offense that has featured tight ends and tight ends have always been a big part of it,” Chudzinski said in an interview with ESPN. “He has the skill set that fits.”
  • Fred Davis is coming off a devastating Achilles injury. Numbers from his most recent 19 games deserve attention, however. Per John Paulsen, Davis has averaged 4.4 targets, 59 yards, and .16 touchdowns per game in that span. Prorated over 16 games, Davis would post 70 grabs for 944 yards and three touchdowns. That line would’ve made for top-7 tight end numbers in 2012. He deserves your consideration in a tight end pool brimming with useable options.
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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.