Ranking All 8 NFL Divisions By Their Optimal Starting Fantasy Football Lineup

We all have that one friend in our fantasy league.

The one that insists on pairing Aaron Rodgers with Jordy Nelson. Every. Single. Time. The one that trades their entire roster to get Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger. The one that drafts Stephen Gostkowski and the New England defense before their third receiver. That friend never — unsurprisingly — ever wins. Monopolizing players from one roster is an age-old strategy with a low success rate.

Let’s take this premise one step further. We know taking all of the players from one team likely won’t work. However, how about solely selecting from one division? Here’s a ranking of the strength of each division based upon their pool of fantasy football talent:

1. NFC South

QB: Drew Brees; RBs: Devonta Freeman and Christian McCaffrey; WRs: Julio Jones and Mike Evans; TE: Greg Olsen; Flex: Michael Thomas; K: Matt Bryant; DEF: Panthers

It’s fitting to see the division known for their high-powered offenses and star quarterbacks sit atop these rankings. When selecting, you have a bevy of signal callers to choose from. None would be a bad pick, but Brees is the most consistent option – finishing in the Top-6 of quarterbacks for each of the last 11 seasons. Jones and Evans are the most formidable receiving duo, each likely to be Top-5 contributors by season end. Freeman, McCaffrey and Olsen are a middling supporting cast, though good enough with the amount of star power at the other positions. Second-year wide out Thomas is the wildcard here. The Saints’ 2016 leader in targets should get plenty of looks with the departure of Brandin Cooks. This is an absolutely stacked roster with the potential to win the championship in any league.

2. AFC East

QB: Tom Brady; RBs: LeSean McCoy and Jay Ajayi; WRs: Brandin Cooks and Jarvis Landry; TE: Rob Gronkowski; Flex: Julian Edelman; K: Stephen Gostkowski; DEF: Patriots

The Brady and Gronk connection form the nucleus for this balanced squad. If Brady’s favorite target is healthy for the entirety of the season, a double-digit touchdown season is inevitable. Cooks and Landry aren’t the sexiest of picks at the receiver spot, though their value rises considerably in a PPR league. The 1-2 punch of Buffalo’s McCoy and Miami’s Ajayi are Top-20 picks in virtually every draft, and should be key contributors for a large amount of teams across the fantasy football universe. Rounding out the team is the high-volume target in Edelman, a stingy New England defense, and the cold-blooded Gostkowski – because you can never get enough Patriots on any football team.

3. AFC North

QB: Ben Roethlisberger; RBs: Le’Veon Bell and Isaiah Crowell; WRs: Antonio Brown and A.J. Green; TE: Tyler Eifert; Flex: Joe Mixon; K: Justin Tucker; DEF: Ravens

Arguably the most star-studded group of the lot, this team would be near impossible to replicate in your actual fantasy football draft. Bell, Brown, and Green are all going to be gone by the end of the first round – and rightfully so. Bell finished 2nd among running backs after missing the first three games of the season. Brown has registered 100-plus receptions and double-digit touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Green was on a tear in 2016 before missing the last six games, recording 964 yards on 66 receptions. Isaiah Crowell and Joe Mixon are boom-or-bust candidates that could make-or-break your season. The only drawbacks are the eventual injuries to Roethlisberger and Eifert, and the ensuing midnight waiver wire pickups of Andy Dalton and Jesse James.

4. NFC East

QB: Kirk Cousins; RBs: Ezekiel Elliott and LeGarrette Blount; WRs: Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant; TE: Jordan Reed; Flex: Terrelle Pryor Sr. or Alshon Jeffery; K: Dan Bailey; DEF: Giants

A pair of brash and talented receivers head this recognizable group. Beckham Jr., Bryant, and Zeke are a torrid threesome, although their volatility plays a bit of a factor in them not ranking higher. The supporting cast is quality though, with Reed (a Top-3 tight end), Cousins (a lock for 4,500-plus yards), and a pick between division newcomers in Pryor and Jeffery. It’s a great group with the ability to do some serious damage in your league. With that said, the teams above are just a hair ahead.

5. AFC South

QB: Andrew Luck; RBs: DeMarco Murray and Leonard Fournette; WRs: T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins; TE: Delanie Walker; Flex: Lamar Miller; K: Adam Vinatieri; DEF: Texans

The top of the line-up looks downright scary. Luck is a perennial top scorer. He’s a virtual lock for 4,000-plus yards and 20-plus touchdowns as long as he’s healthy. Murray and Fournette gives you the veteran-rookie combo of downhill runners that should be in the double-digit touchdown range. Hilton led the league in receiving last year, while Hopkins struggled with poor QB play. It’d be tough for Hilton to play much better, but an uptick should be expected for Houston’s top wide out – balancing the receiver group further. The dynamic Miller has been a slight disappointment during Houston tenure, but falling back on a defense with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney helps in rounding out this squad.

6. NFC West

QB: Russell Wilson; RBs: David Johnson and Todd Gurley; WRs: Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald; TE: Jimmy Graham; Flex: Carlos Hyde; K: Blair Walsh; DEF: Seahawks

This team could certainly play well above this ranking by season’s end. Johnson ran rampant on the league last year, accruing over 400 fantasy points in PPR leagues. The Cardinals dominant running back is expected to have an encore performance this year. On the other hand, Gurley had a rough season following a promising rookie year. The Rams hope the potential development of Jared Goff will help in opening up running holes for their star back. However, expectations should be tapered for any Los Angeles offensive player. The rest of the team is filled with the usual suspects. Baldwin is the most intriguing of the bunch. The Seahawks No. 1 receiver is coming off a career high in receptions, targets, and yards.

7. AFC West

QB: Derek Carr; RBs: Melvin Gordon and Marshawn Lynch; WRs: Keenan Allen and Amari Cooper; TE: Travis Kelce; Flex: Demaryius Thomas; K: Sebastian Janikowski; DEF: Broncos

The highly competitive AFC West finds themselves near the bottom of the totem pole in terms of fantasy player production. This is primarily due to the four teams having far stronger defenses then they do offenses. Carr had an MVP-caliber year in 2016, but is in the conversation for the worst fantasy producing QB within these eight divisional teams. Gordon’s great sophomore year was almost entirely dependent on touchdowns – which are hardly reliable from year-to-year. Lynch and Allen both missed (nearly – in Allen’s case) all of last season. Cooper and Kelce are strong options, but not necessarily game-changers. Thomas barely knows who’s throwing to him at this point. The biggest key to this team is Denver’s incredible defense, and the benefit of watching Janikowski attempt 60-yarders.

8. NFC North

QB: Aaron Rodgers; RBs: Jordan Howard and Dalvin Cook; WRs: Jordy Nelson and Golden Tate; TE: Kyle Rudolph; Flex: Ty Montgomery; K: Mason Crosby; DEF: Vikings

Rodgers can’t get any help no matter what. The NFC North has three potential playoff teams, but a severe lack in skill-position talent. A-Rod’s real life teammates (Nelson and Montgomery) are the two most reliable options. Howard was fantastic in his rookie year, but it’s hard to trust anybody in that Chicago offense. Outside of those players, it’s truly a crapshoot. Tate and Rudolph were far more enticing in 2013, and it’s unknown if Cook is even the full-time starter yet. It would behoove you to stay away from employing the strategy of drafting from the NFL North.

What do you think? Which division reigns supreme?

Sources: Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports, Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports, Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports, Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports, YouTube