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Thursday, May 23, 2013
Updated: June 11, 5:48 PM ET
Let's talk about ranks, baby

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

It's one of the very first things we ever do.

The Talented Mr. Roto

I did it as a very young child, I see my 1-year-old daughters do it, I am sure you did it.

Ranking, I mean. We rank things. Constantly. Always.

If I hand my daughters both a Barney doll and an Elmo one, they will grab the Barney first, every time. But if I offer the Elmo or just a regular doll, they both like Elmo over the doll. One of the twins likes a stuffed bunny rabbit more than the doll as well.

The current "thing to hug and drag around until dropped randomly because of the discovery of something else that they shouldn't touch -- such as my tablet or a light socket -- rankings" are:

1. Barney.
2. Elmo.
3. Rabbit.
4. Doll that speaks in slightly weird voice.
5. Stuffed dog.

Dolls aren't they only things they instinctively rank. They have blankets they like more than others, they have certain foods they won't eat, they even have a favorite parent. (It's me. Clearly me. That's my take and I'm sticking by it.) The point is, we rank everything. Where we like to eat, what we like to eat, what we like to wear, what we drink, our TV shows, our co-workers; name it and you've got an opinion on it, whether you like it more or less than something similar. Like, Frank's a good dude to grab a beer with, but Steve is the only guy I'd let near my sister.

When I was 5 years old, I lived in Richmond, Va., and I got a Redskins helmet as a present. My parents were young and just starting out in those days and I didn't get a ton of presents. But I got that helmet somehow and I felt so cool, man. I wore it around the house, driving my Big Wheel, to sleep … I loved it. And so, my love for my very first professional sports team was born. Baseball was too slow for me back then and the family's basketball focus was more about college than the pro game. But football … football I understood at 5. And loved watching the games every Sunday with my father.

It has been a little bit more than 35 years since then, but my love for the Redskins hasn't changed. They are the team I root for the hardest. Always have been, always will be. I know there are some who say I should be objective and not admit that, but I'd rather be totally honest. As you see in the clip above, I'm pretty high on both RG III and Pierre Garcon. I have good, legit reasons to be so, but you should know my bias when considering that information.

So it's no secret that I love the Skins, and if you've read or listened to me for any amount of time, that has been fairly obvious. But maybe what hasn't been obvious is why. I went to college at Syracuse, I lived in L.A. for 15 years after college and if asked, I will tell you that I grew up in Texas.

I don't often talk about the fact that, until I was 12, I spent most of my time in Richmond and then later Charlottesville, Va. It's based on that, the helmet and the memories of watching football with my dad that the Redskins are my No. 1-ranked favorite sports team. The three Super Bowls under Joe Gibbs didn't hurt either. That's the why.

Behind every preference, behind every ranking, there is a "why." Everyone ranks. But why do they rank things as they do? It's relevant to our discussion today, gentle reader, because I have some fantasy football ranks up, and more important than the actual ranks is the "why" behind them. I couldn't tell you why my daughters like Barney more than Elmo; you'd have to ask them and translate from toddler babble. But why have I ranked players where I have? That I can answer. When it comes to my football ranks, I can always answer the why.

So here are five names that seemed to come up more often than any others when I asked my Twitter followers to share the questions they had about my ranks.

Steven Jackson
Anything Michael Turner could do, Steven Jackson can do better.

1. @ryan_sebastian asks: Why is Steven Jackson so high? (Ranked 12th overall, No. 11 running back).

Well, for one, he's a running back. That carries (heh, carries) more weight this year than in the recent past. There are about two handfuls of good, solid running backs and then a bunch of guys that are like "well, uh, maybe if this thing happens and then that guy gets injured and possibly this other thing … " It gets ugly quick. In addition, he's not a quarterback or wide receiver, two positions where there is more depth. So it's somewhat of a position scarcity rank, but it's also a belief that Jackson will thrive in a high-powered offense that likes to run when they get in close.

Over the past three years, only two teams in the NFL have more rushing attempts inside an opponent's 10-yard line than the Atlanta Falcons. They had 136 such attempts. And the Rams over that same time frame had 61. Less than half. In fact, only the Titans had fewer rushes inside the 10 in the past three seasons than the Rams. I expect that the Falcons will continue to get a lot of scoring opportunities, will run when they get there and that Steven Jackson is the guy who gets the rock. And despite his age, he'll be effective. In the past three seasons, Jackson is seventh in the NFL in goal-to-go situations in terms of average yards after contact. A mark that was better than Adrian Peterson's and Arian Foster's, among others. Oh, and better than Michael Turner, who was 21st in this stat over the past three years.

He's a good pass-catcher out of the backfield (126 receptions the past three seasons, seventh among all running backs and more than Reggie Bush or Frank Gore, among others), which means he'll play at least some third downs. Think of it from a defensive coordinator's point of view; you've got Julio Jones on one side and Roddy White on the other. What are you going to do with your safeties? Cheat up to stop Jackson or worry about getting burned deep? Exactly. He's going to see a lot fewer eight-man boxes in Atlanta. Big year coming for Steven Jackson.

2. @flyinfinni asks: Is Anquan Boldin moving up because of it (the Michael Crabtree injury)?

Well, of course, the unfortunate news for Crabtree and the 49ers does mean Boldin will be relied on more heavily. But not to the point where you'd ever be starting him on a consistent basis in a standard 10-team league. I had him as wide receiver No. 66 before the injury and this moves him up into my top 45 at wide receiver, but not much higher. Remember, the 49ers are still a run-first team (per Stats LLC, they ran the third-highest percentage of run plays in the NFL last year) and it has been a long time since Boldin has been a No. 1 receiver. Four scores or fewer in three of the past four years, less than 925 yards for three straight years and, despite his playoff success, the Ravens had no issue getting rid of him. He'll be 33 this season and it has been a long time since he has been anything other than a nice complementary receiver. He'll be a better asset to the Niners than a fantasy commodity. For more on how the Crabtree injury effects Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis and others, check out this instant analysis Video, but please ignore how terrible my hair looks, even for me. End of a long day.

Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles was a PPR monster in his first season with the Saints, but how much more can he give in standard leagues?

3. @pbashamjr asks: Why do you have the proven Darren Sproles ranked lower than Montee Ball or David Wilson?

Because I like them more? Look, it's close. I have Wilson as my No. 19 running back right now, Ball as No. 20 and Sproles as No. 23. I like Sproles a lot, actually. But while I think Sproles is actually the safest of the three, I also feel his upside is limited with all the other backs they have in New Orleans. Yes, you can count me in among the "Mark Ingram is finally healthy and will be even more productive this season" believers.

For Ball, it just depends on whether he gets the job. Obviously, we have to wait and see, but this rank assumes that Willis McGahee is cut by the team at some point, Knowshon Moreno isn't healthy and Ronnie Hillman is more of a third-down back. Ball is a good pass-blocker, so if he can pick up the playbook and John Fox gives him the nod (Fox has traditionally shied away from rookie running backs), Ball will see a ton of chances on one the best offenses in the NFL. Few people realize that the Broncos were top 10 in red zone rushing attempts and red zone rushing touchdowns last year, and were tied for the sixth-most goal-to-go rushes. I expect Ball to be the guy but the slight uncertainty is why I have him one spot below David Wilson.

Wilson is just a special talent, and I think he just needed a chance. Now he has it. I'm actually a big Andre Brown fan as well, and his presence is a legit knock against Wilson but, much like guys such as Jamaal Charles or C.J. Spiller, this is not a running back who needs a ton of carries to be effective. Per Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Wilson's fantasy points per opportunity (carries and pass routes) was the highest of any running back in the NFL with at least 70 carries, thanks in part to a 5.0 average yards per carry. I believe the pass protection issues are not nearly as bad as some make them out to be and, as high on him as I am, I'm not nearly as high on him as others out there, as I've seen him ranked as high as 11 overall. So there is some crazy love out there. I'm not ready to go that high, but I do feel his upside is greater than that of Sproles.

4. @Mark_Cogley states: You may be a bit low on Ryan Mathews. New line, lost weight. Big things coming.

How many times have we heard that? For the record, I was told I was too low on him last year, but that call worked out pretty well. He has missed 10 games in his first three seasons and that doesn't count the many times he's listed as questionable and playing in a late game, giving you an unenviable dilemma if Plan B happens to have an earlier start. The oft-repeated line about him last season was that he had more broken collarbones than touchdowns, and that's the harsh reality; this player has never proved he can be a fantasy star and now he's playing for a new coach and a regime that didn't spend a draft pick on him. Maybe he becomes a stud, but I'd rather be a year too late on Mathews than waste yet another year hoping. I would not be shocked if Danny Woodhead finishes with more fantasy points than him. I have Mathews as a low-end flex play and I'm perfectly comfortable with that. He's all yours.

5. @Melokid916 remarks: After doing a few mock drafts you're low on Andrew Luck, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams.

First, this is a good chance to plug our mock draft lobby, which is now open. Don't go drafting for real without test-driving your strategy at least once. Now, the running backs are the easy ones. I have Mendenhall at 93 overall and at 32 among running backs. I have Williams at 115, 43rd among running backs. Definitely low, but we just don't know how healthy either guy is, especially not Williams, and we don't know what the roles will be yet. The working assumption is that they steal from each other and don't get a ton of work. Because that's the other thing we know. In the five years Bruce Arians was the Steelers' offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh was 14th in the NFL in rushing yards per game over that time frame and 17th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns. They were 11th in rushing attempts, so there's something I guess, but given the Cardinals' offensive lines woes (even though they have made attempts to improve it this year), I believe they will once again be a pass-first team, similar to the Colts last year (when they were 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game). Too much risk and uncertainty for me, though one would certainly move higher if we knew which was definitely the starter.

As for Luck, as good an NFL QB he already is (and he will get even better), there are a few red flags for me. First, the turnovers. In addition to the 18 interceptions, Luck had 10 fumbles, losing five. Then there's the way he got his stats last season; 2,636 yards (60 percent) of his passing yards came when playing from behind, fifth-highest total in the NFL. His pass attempts totaled the sixth most, and his touchdown passes, seventh. I expect the Colts defense to be much improved with the moves they've made this offseason, meaning fewer shootouts and fewer come-from-behind heroics needed from Luck. Add to that new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton (who coached Luck at Stanford) and the early talk that Hamilton wants more of a West Coast offense, with the run game setting up play-action and a lot more short, high-percentage throws, and I'm seeing a lot less downfield throwing for Luck, which will helps with the interceptions but may also limit his fantasy value. He had five rushing touchdowns last year and, while he is more mobile than people think, you can't count on that again. Make no mistake, I like him, but I have him just outside the top 10 quarterbacks, as my No. 11 and 78th overall. I'm very comfortable with that, but there's also a very decent chance I move my current No. 12 quarterback, Tony Romo, ahead of him as we progress through training camp and I get a better feel for what Hamilton wants to run.

But here's the great thing: We've got all summer to discuss. Rankings will continue to change as we get more news and these are all good questions. I appreciate you keeping me on my toes. So keep asking away on Twitter and Facebook and I'll keep answering. Now go do a mock. It's my sixth-favorite thing to do these days. Seriously. I've ranked it.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also randomly loved Cardinals running back Stump Mitchell as a young kid. Seriously. Huge fan. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.