Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Thomas Casale — March 11, 2014 @ 9:03 am
As free agency kicks off, here is my first shot at a mock draft. I always tell people that no one knows anything this time of year, myself included. Even reporters close to teams who get information are likely being fed smokescreens. However, mock drafts are fun and people enjoy them, so here is my best educated guess as of March 11. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @thepigskinguy.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville – Unless the Texans simply don’t like any of the top quarterbacks, this pick will be used to take one. Bridgewater is criticized a lot because he has been pegged as one of the top two picks in this draft for two years. However, there is also a lot to like about him. I have followed Bill O’Brien for a while and Bridgewater has everything he looks for in a quarterback. History suggests teams with the first pick that need a quarterback usually go with the safe choice over upside, so I think when the smoke settles, Houston will opt for Bridgewater over Blake Bortles.
2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn – The Rams would probably like to trade out of this spot but if they stay, Robinson is a logical selection. He fills a need for St. Louis and Robinson is now the top offensive tackle on many draft boards following his impressive combine.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina – Gus Bradley is a defensive minded coach and unless the Jaguars absolutely love one of the quarterbacks in this draft, it will be hard for them to pass up on a prospect like Clowney if he’s still on the board at three.
4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida – Everyone on the planet appears to love Brian Hoyer but an organization needs more than him at quarterback if they want to end decades of losing. Bortles still needs some work but he is smart with a big arm. I describe Bortles as a poor man’s Andrew Luck coming out of college and I say that as a compliment considering I expect Luck to be a Top 3 NFL quarterback very soon.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson – I actually have Watkins as the top overall prospect in this draft. I think he is the one can’t-miss prospect given all the physical attributes Watkins brings to the receiver position. That theory will be tested if he goes to Oakland but Watkins certainly fills a need for the Raiders. Oakland has some decent receivers but no one close to being in Watkins’ class. He will be a game-changer from Day 1.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE Buffalo – Mack dominated in college and while some will point to the fact that he played in the MAC, he had some of his biggest games against top-level competition. I saw Mack play a couple of times against bigger schools and he was a terror coming off the edge. He will instantly help a dormant Falcons’ pass rush.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M – The Bucs could go in many different directions but Matthews would be tough to pass up here. Matthews is a devastating run blocker and he has quick feet for a guy his size. The Bucs want to run the football and Matthews will help them solidify their line.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M – The Vikings re-signed Matt Cassel but they want to add a young quarterback in the draft and Manziel makes sense for Minnesota. A polarizing figure, Manziel will be an easy sell to a fan base that idolizes the quarterback he is often compared to: Fran Tarkenton. While Manziel does run a lot, when he threw from pocket last season he did a much better job of going through his progressions than the year before. Also, like him or not, Manziel ripped Nick Saban’s defense twice and that doesn’t happen often.
9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M – The Bills are set on building around EJ Manuel and giving the young quarterback a 6’5 receiver is a great way to help him. Stevie Johnson is slowing down and there aren’t many receivers that can make plays with corners draped all over him like Evans can. Evans, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin would make an intriguing young trio of receivers in Buffalo.
10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State – A lot of people like Justin Gilbert as the top corner because of his speed but I don’t think it’s close. Dennard was the best cover corner in college football last year. Denard is tough, smart and he would make a great addition to Detroit’s secondary.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, LB UCLA – Barr could easily be a Top 10 selection given his ability and production in college. However, if Barr slips to 11, the Titans will have to strongly consider him. Tennessee can go in a lot of different directions but the Titans are in need of an explosive pass rusher and Barr fits the bill.
12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan – Linebacker is a popular pick for the Giants and they certainly need to upgrade at that position. However, the Giants had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season and protecting Eli Manning is the team’s top priority. Lewan was one of the few bright spots on the worst coached team in college football last year once Lane Kiffin was fired.
13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S Alabama – When your name is “Ha Ha” you should be drafted in the Top 15 by law. Dix is all over the field. I actually think he is one of the 10 best players in the draft at any position. The Rams safeties are dreadful. Dix would come in and be a huge upgrade to a defense that already has a nasty front seven.
14. Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State – How bad was the Bears’ rush defense last year? Ray Rice gained 131 yards on them. Chicago is one of the easiest teams to project. They badly need a defensive tackle or safety. If the talented Jernigan is on the board, he will be a strong possibility for the Bears.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh – Like Chicago, the Steelers could go safety or defensive tackle here. Receiver is also a possibility but Donald is flying up draft boards. He also represents both value and fills a need for Pittsburgh. The Steelers often take the best player available and at 15, Donald would be that guy on a lot of boards.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Louis Nix, DT Notre Dame – The run on defensive tackles continues. The Cowboys’ defensive line is likely to take another hit when they lose DE Jason Hatcher to free agency, as Jerry Jones’ mismanagement of the salary cap continues to put the team in a bind. Dallas desperately needs a nose tackle and Nix is one of the top ones in this draft. He would be an excellent pick for the Cowboys, which means you can cross him off the list.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Odell Beckham, WR LSU – The Ravens badly need another receiver to complement Torrey Smith and help Joe Flacco. Beckham is a tough receiver that can go inside similar to Anquan Boldin, only with more speed. Beckham is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He has all the skills to be a star NFL receiver.
18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina – Geno Smith took a lot of criticism in his first season and much of it was deserved. Still, the Jets had the worst group of receivers and tight ends in the NFL. New York has to go offense with this pick to help its young quarterback. They could take a receiver but Ebron is the top tight end prospect available and would represent great value if he is still on the board at 18.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT Notre Dame – Martin was excellent during his career at Notre Dame. He dominated as a left tackle and Martin has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line early in his career. Given all the problems the Dolphins have with their offensive line right now, Martin would be an excellent selection for them.
20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, LB Alabama – We are getting to the point in the draft where value matters and while Arizona does need an outside linebacker, Mosley is too good to pass up here even if the position may not be the team’s most pressing need. Mosley would fit in nicely with one of the emerging defensive units in the NFL.
21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville – The Packers had some of the worst safety play in the NFL last year. If either Pryor or Clinton Dix are on the board at 21, Green Bay will have to strongly consider them to address a major weakness.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State – Gilbert probably won’t last this long but I’m not as high on him as some people. When it comes to corners I think it’s Dennard and everyone else. The Eagles’ secondary was awful last season. They could address it in free agency but either way, corner and safety are both options for Philadelphia at 22.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR USC – The Chiefs need more gamebreakers on offense and Lee would be a steal this low. Lee is slipping among draftniks but they need to look at his college situation. When you still put up numbers despite playing for the worst coach on the planet, it says a lot. I think Lee is one of the top offensive threats in the draft.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri – The Bengals will likely lose Michael Johnson, so Ealy will help Cincinnati upgrade at a vital position. Ealy is a quick edge rusher who is also strong against the run. He can step in and rotate with Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt as a rookie.
25. San Diego Chargers: David Yankey, G Stanford – The Chargers showed at the end of last season their offense is at its best when they can run the ball effectively. Yankey is a piledriving run blocker who will instantly upgrade San Diego’s line at a position of need.
26. Cleveland Browns: Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State – The Browns are picking here because the Colts thought they said “sixth round” pick instead of “first round” pick for Trent Richardson. Cleveland obviously has many needs but Josh Gordon is really the only threat the Browns have at receiver. The explosive Cooks would change that, along with giving Cleveland a dangerous return man.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE Auburn – I have Ford as a Top 15 player in this draft and will probably move him up as we go along. However, right now this is the area he is projected to go in. Ford dominated last year in the SEC and if he goes to the right team like the Saints, I think he will be a stud in the NFL. I won’t be surprised if someone like the Steelers grab him higher in the draft but if Ford lasts this long, Rob Ryan will love him.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State – If a top receiver is on the board at 28, I have to think the Panthers will pull the trigger. Carolina has the pieces in place to make another Super Bowl run, they just need more weapons in the passing game and help at offensive tackle. The 6’5 Benjamin would give Cam Newton a huge target, especially in the red zone.
29. New England Patriots: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech – If New England loses Aqib Talib, I like this pick for the Patriots. Fuller is the kind of smart, versatile corner Bill Belichick likes. Watching him in college, I could see Fuller playing for New England, so I’m projecting him to go there over the more popular Jace Amaro pick.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Roby, CB Ohio State – The 49ers don’t have many weaknesses but one area where they could stand to upgrade is at cornerback, especially after releasing Carlos Rogers. Roby was inconsistent last season but he still possesses a ton of physical ability. Under the right coaching staff, Roby has the tools to be a top-tier NFL corner.
31. Denver Broncos: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL Minnesota – The Broncos could grab an OT here to protect Peyton Manning but with Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips’ futures both in doubt, defensive line is an area of need as well. Besides, if Hageman lasts this long, the versatile lineman will be one of the top players left on the board.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech – Seattle likes Luke Wilson but Amaro would add another dimension to the Seahawks’ offense. Amaro creates a lot of mismatches with opposing defenses and would give Russell Wilson a legitimate threat at the tight end position. Amaro is coming off a season where he caught 106 passes at Texas Tech.
By: Antonio D'Arcangelis — February 24, 2014 @ 11:00 pm
Updated: March 7th, 2014 @ 9:00 AM
Decker may want to get paid, but the best fit for him is in Denver.
1. Eric Decker (DEN) – Decker is coming off a huge season for the AFC Champ Broncos and is looking at a lucrative multi-year deal. However, he won’t get No. 1 WR money because he’s a much better secondary option than a stud wideout. He’s a big body who can create space and haul in big catches, but the best fit for him is still in Denver. He might sign with the rival Colts – who like the Ravens and Patriots are in need of experienced receivers, but teams will likely remember that he was shut down Seattle’s defense in the Super Bowl.
The Best Fit: Broncos, Colts, Ravens, Patriots
UPDATE: He’s still looking at a deal just under that of a bona fide WR1 and with the confirmation from GM John Elway that he’ll likely hit the open market, there’s been increasing interest from the Colts.
2. Jeremy Maclin (PHI) – The Eagles would love to bring back both Maclin and Riley Cooper, though it will be difficult to pull that off. The Chiefs’ while a bit cash-strapped themselves, are likely to be able to afford one of the guys hitting the open market and Maclin makes the most sense as he flourished in Andy Reid’s offense in the past and won’t cost a ridiculous amount of money. Maclin is coming off a July 2013 ACL injury and there’s still a chance he stays in Philly — he said as much a couple weeks ago to the Philadelphia Inquirer — but Kansas City seems like the best fit.
The Best Fit: Chiefs, Eagles, Packers
UPDATE: SIGNED. The Eagles and Maclin agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract with a max value of $6 million, keeping the talented young receiver with one of the most potent offenses in football. Other teams may have been wary about signing Maclin to a big deal after last season’s major injury, so this is a good fit.
3. Anquan Boldin (SF) – I expected Boldin to sign another one-year deal with a contender – but based on ongoing talks between him and the 49ers, it appears they’ll figure out an extension similar to the three-year deal Reggie Wayne signed with the Colts in 2012 ($17.5 million). Boldin is 33 and surely wants another ring, and the 49ers still have a team capable of pulling it off. He probably won’t be the standout fantasy factor he was in the past, but he’s still a capable of big games and hot streaks.
The Best Fit: 49ers, Ravens, Colts
UPDATE: SIGNED. Boldin got a two-year deal with the 49ers reportedly worth $12 million – about what we expected. Now, the Niners have to deal with Colin Kaepernick.
4. Hakeem Nicks (NYG) – Nicks recently signed with Jay Z’s sports agency firm, so he’ll probably go get paid and find his way out of New York. There’s still some question as to why Nicks couldn’t get it done last season (56-896-0 was a truly disappointing fantasy line), though it’s possible it had to do with coaching. With the Giants’ receiving corps featuring so many young and talented options, Nicks feels like the odd man out. The Patriots have a history of rejuvenating disgruntled players so New England could definitely be a landing spot. but there will be competition for such an accomplished receiver (155-2,244-18 TDs in 2010-11).
The Best Fit: Patriots, Colts, Chiefs
UPDATE: The Ravens have popped up on the rumor mill for Nicks as they have a ton of cap space and need another wideout. He could sign a one-year deal similar to Maclin’s, if only because there are questions about his long-term durability/effectiveness.
5. Golden Tate (SEA) – While Tate has said he’d like to stay with Seattle, the receiving corps is too crowded for the Seahawks to make signing him a priority. And WR/PR guys who combine playmaking ability with consistency – like Tate – make GMs salivate. If the Colts miss out on Decker, they’ll make a play for Tate, although the Chiefs and Jets (who desperately need offensive playmakers) will be knocking on his door.
The Best Fit: Colts, Chiefs, Jets
UPDATE: With Sidney Rice now gone, the Seahawks need to keep Tate, and they’ve announced as much in anticipation of a possible offer prior to the March 11 date. He could still hit the open market, but the fit in Seattle is good.
6. James Jones (GB) – Jones is the wild card of the free agent market and it’s likely his days in Green Bay are over. He’s not really needed there and although Aaron Rodgers has lobbied for him to stay, agent Frank Bauer doesn’t think GM Ted Thompson really wants him back. This has nothing to do with Jones’ play – which has been solid if not superb for the Packers over the past few seasons. His TD production plummeted to just 3 in 2013 (he had 14 TDs in 2012) and it’s likely that he’ll command a big deal if he skips town – maybe a tick below what Nicks would make since he’s a few years older but has considerably less wear and baggage. It’s anybody’s guess where he lands, though it’s clear he’ll be used as a red zone target and as a No. 2/3 WR.
The Best Fit: Panthers, Dolphins, Colts
UPDATE: The New York Giants are reportedly in the mix for Jones, who could make a viable red zone target and worthy replacement for Nicks, who is all but gone. The Giants can’t afford to make a huge splash, so signing Jones to a one-year deal is a distinct possibility.
7. Riley Cooper (PHI) – Cooper broke out in a big way in 2013 (47-835-8 on 83 targets), and while he might be able to land a big contract by leaving Philly, I think he fits in great with Nick Foles and the current Eagles offense. The Eagles don’t ask much of Cooper and that’s a good thing, because he’s not that physically gifted a receiver. If he does leave town, I’m almost positive it’ll be to sign an abnormally large contract with the Jets – because that’s something they would do. If teams don’t overspend, he could end up a pawn on Bill Belichick’s chess board.
The Best Fit: Eagles, Jets, Patriots
UPDATE: SIGNED. Cooper inked a five-year, $25 million deal that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense considering the Eagles had leverage in this situation. But, Cooper will get a fat paycheck and resume No. 3 WR duties with Maclin healthy and back to business.
8. Julian Edelman (NE) – Speaking of Belichick, he’s a shrewd guy, which means he’s not going to show his hand and fawn all over Edelman who bailed Tom Brady and the Patriots out on multiple occasions last season. But, Edelman has yet to hear from his team in regard to a new contract. The best fit for Edelman, who had 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six TDs (151 targets!!) last season, is clearly New England. But if things so sour in negotiations he could make sense in any of the aforementioned cities.
The Best Fit: Patriots, Jets, Colts
UPDATE: The Texans have emerged as a candidate to land Edelman, who just started discussions with the Pats. It’s entirely possible the New England will add Emmanuel Sanders or another upside-laden receiver into the fray as a No. 1 – and make do with Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and company out of the No. 2 and slot.
9. Emmanuel Sanders (PIT) – I apologize if I can’t stop talking about the Patriots, but they really wanted Sanders last offseason and even signed him to an offer sheet before the Steelers matched it. Sanders has amassed 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns in four seasons with Pittsburgh and he’s full of promise without much downside. He’s fast with good hands and will likely court offers from the Pats, Colts and Chiefs.
The Best Fit: Patriots, Colts, Chiefs
UPDATE: Sanders is probably staying somewhere in the AFC, as both the Patriots and Jets have expressed an interest in adding him. Heading to New England would probably be best for his fantasy value.
10. Andre Roberts (ARI) – Roberts and the Cards haven’t engaged in contract talks yet which means he might be taking off for greener pastures – especially since GM Steve Keim has made a point of saying the Cards have offers on the table for a few other players. The truth is that Roberts doesn’t really add another dimension to the Cards’ offense, but he could be a valuable additional to a few other teams. If Sanders leaves Pittsburgh, the Steelers might want to add Roberts to complement Antonio Brown. The Panthers and Cowboys might also be looking for a steady veteran like Roberts to play a minor role.
The Best Fit: Steelers, Panthers, Cowboys
UPDATE: There’s no news from Arizona regarding resigning Roberts, so I’m betting he skips town in search of a sweeter deal and a better QB.
Honorable mention: Kenny Britt, Danario Alexander, Jacoby Jones, Dexter McCluster, Brandon LaFell
By: Antonio D'Arcangelis — February 20, 2014 @ 2:57 pm
1. Knowshon Moreno (DEN) – The Broncos know that Moreno will transform his excellent 2013 campaign into a big payday in 2014, and they have the depth at RB to let him go without much of a fight. He finished 2013 with 1,586 total yards (including 548 receiving yards on 60 receptions) and 13 TDs. He’s a complete back and could find a home in Indianapolis or Tennessee if he doesn’t get a new deal in Denver.
The Best Fit: Colts, Broncos, Titans
Ben Tate will land a starting gig in 2014 but it won’t be in Houston.
2. Ben Tate (HOU) – It’s highly unlikely that the Texans will spend the money necessary to keep Tate slogging through limited use in a backup role, where Arian Foster rules the roost and other fresh talent has been emerging. The Browns are in hot pursuit of Tate, according to ESPN, although that report came out before Gary Kubiak (considered for the OC position) headed to Baltimore to run the Ravens offense. Still, the Browns need an all-purpose back with upside, and Tate makes sense in Cleveland as well as Baltimore – where both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have shown glaring inconsistencies.
The Best Fit: Browns, Ravens, Colts
3. Darren McFadden (OAK) – If McFadden re-signs with the Raiders, it won’t be good for his fantasy value. He’s 26 years old and coming off yet another injury-plagued season, so a fresh start in a new environment could mean another chance at success. Unfortunately, Run-DMC will probably ask for way too much money and end up as a late addition in training camp for a non-contender. In a perfect world, he’d go to the Colts and compete for a starting spot in a potent offense, but there’s just no telling where he’ll land.
The Best Fit: Colts, Cardinals, Raiders
4. Andre Brown (NYG) – Both Brown and the Giants are on amicable terms heading into 2014 and could reach a deal to keep the talented back in New Jersey. Brown’s injury issues aren’t that big of a concern and he’s been effective as a lead back when called upon the past two seasons. There’s a chance he signs a lucrative deal elsewhere, but the smart money is on a reunion with the Mara family and another season playing for the Giants.
The Best Fit: Giants, Steelers, Bucs
5. Rashad Jennings (OAK) – If the Raiders don’t bring back McFadden, they’d be smart to sign Jennings to a one- or two-year deal. The 28-year-old (he’ll be 29 in March) played well last season in 15 games and doesn’t have a lot of wear on his body after spending several seasons as Maurice Jones-Drew’s backup in Jacksonville.
The Best Fit: Raiders, Colts, Cowboys
6. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) – The Jags seem uninterested in signing MJD, who’s nearly 29 with an odometer that just keeps flipping. He looked worn out last season playing behind a bad offensive line and doesn’t have a shot at a long-term contract on the open market. When somebody signs him, it’ll be an incentive-laden deal that won’t exceed a couple seasons – an offer that makes sense for a team like the Cards, who could use a pass-catching back with experience to transition into the Andre Ellington era.
The Best Fit: Cardinals, Packers, Browns
7. Rashard Mendenhall (ARI) – The once-effective Mendenhall was unimpressive in 2013, rushing for just 687 yards on 217 carries (3.2 YPC) and making little impact in the passing game. In his defense, he’s a grinder, not much of a receiving threat and was best when deployed near the goal line (8 rushing TDs). That’s the kind of job he’ll assume again, either for the Cards or for another team desperate for red zone upside from a big body.
The Best Fit: Bucs, Jaguars, Giants
8. Donald Brown (IND) – Brown may have spent his last day in Indy, where he’s never really gotten the vote of confidence needed to make his mark. He’s still an explosive back with upside in the passing game, but he has to be unhappy with the Colts constant search for a lead back. While the Colts should probably offer him a contract as insurance against the enduring flop that Trent Richardson has become, it’s hard to say if the two sides can come together.
The Best Fit: Colts, Packers, Steelers
9. LeGarrette Blount (NE) – The Pats got a lot out of Blount last season, when the former Buc rejuvenated his career and took over lead back duties after Stevan Ridley fumbled away the job. The Pats will probably offer Blount a couple million bucks for a one-year deal to stick around, which makes sense for both sides. If not, I could see the Dolphins or Jags making a run at him.
The Best Fit: Patriots, Dolphins, Jaguars
10. James Starks (GB) – The Packers have expressed an interest in bringing Starks back after the 27-year-old back had his best season (5.5 yards per carry), albeit with limited touches. Starks has had injury issues but was once a postseason hero for the Packers. If he doesn’t come back to Green Bay, he’d fit in well with the Giants and the Vikings – who will need a capable backup for Adrian Peterson if Toby Gerhart leaves for greener pastures.
The Best Fit: Packers, Giants, Vikings
Honorable mention: Ahmad Bradshaw, Toby Gerhart, Jonathan Dwyer
By: Antonio D'Arcangelis — February 17, 2014 @ 9:16 am
1. Jimmy Graham (NO) – It’s unlikely that the Saints will let Graham walk in 2014, and we’re probably looking at a landmark contract for a TE – if that’s what we’re still calling him (apparently Drew Brees still is). Recently, Graham – easily the best fantasy TE in the league over the past couple of seasons – brushed off questions about if he should qualify as a TE or WR in contract negotiations. He did express a desire that the Saints not slap him with the franchise tag, a designation that could be applied as soon as today. Even if there’s a serious breakdown and a volatile contract dispute occurs, it’s almost outside the realm of possibility that Graham spends 2014 anywhere but New Orleans.
The Best Fit: Saints, Packers, Steelers
The Ravens have made signing Pitta a top priority.
2. Dennis Pitta (BAL) – The Ravens absolutely love Pitta, who missed 12 games last season following a hip dislocation. Pitta is already best friends with franchise QB Joe Flacco and the tight end’s sharp intermediate routes complement the big-play ability of Torrey Smith. Just last week, it was revealed that Gary Kubiak, the Ravens new OC, has big plans for Pitta in his offense – one that made relevant fantasy contributor out of several TEs in Houston, including Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, James Casey and free agent Garrett Graham. GM Ozzie Newsome said re-signing Pitta is a top priority and if a deal cannot be reached, he’s a prime candidate for a franchise tag. The Falcons and Dolphins will make every attempt to woo Pitta if he can’t reach a deal in Baltimore.
The Best Fit: Ravens, Falcons, Dolphins
3. Brandon Pettigrew (DET) – Pettigrew will draw interest from plenty of teams looking for a balanced TE with experience, even if the 28-year-old has underperformed relevant to expectations during his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 925 out of 1,158 snaps for the Lions offense last season as the team emphasized Pettigrew’s run-blocking ability and utilized the other skill positions and featured Joseph Fauria near the goal line. While new Lions OC Joe Lombardi seems high on Pettigrew’s fit in the offense as a well-rounded blocker/receiver, I think he’d also do well joining the Falcons, where they need to fill a gaping hole at TE in the wake of HOFer Tony Gonzalez’s retirement.
The Best Fit: Falcons, Lions, Steelers, Packers
4. Jermichael Finley (GB) – Finley had neck fusion surgery this off-season after a scary mid-season injury that put his career in considerable jeopardy. His doctor, neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon (who actually works for the Steelers) believes Finley will make a full recovery within the next 4-8 weeks, although he’s already running routes and catching footballs. The Packers are unlikely to re-sign the veteran TE, who’s still only 26 and was having a solid season in 2013 before bruising his spinal cord in Week 6. The Seahawks could be a player in the courtship of such a talented offensive weapon, and while the Giants have been mentioned as a possible landing spot, they probably don’t have the cap space to land a guy like Finley. Also in the mix are the Jets, who have a glaring need to fill at TE.
The Best Fit: Seahawks, Steelers, Jets
5. Garrett Graham (HOU) – Graham’s career year in 2013 could mean decent money on the free agent market, but he’s not enough of a household name at 32 to make a big splash. The Texans would be wise to offer him a relatively low-cost deal and bring him back – he was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season. Another team that could use the services of a TE is the Giants – who might not be able to land a high-profile FA but will be in the mix for a value buy. The G-Men might also be interested in the services of Fred Davis, who’s eager to get targets and reestablish himself as an offensive contributor in the NFL.
The Best Fit: Texans, Giants, Dolphins
Honorable mention: Brandon Myers, Fred Davis
By: Antonio D'Arcangelis — February 13, 2014 @ 10:21 am
With so many teams looking for a QB, Vick will land a starting gig in 2014.
1. Michael Vick (PHI) – Vick is very much still in the conversation as a relevant fantasy asset and effective NFL QB, and the next couple seasons could be productive ones if he lands with the right team. It makes little sense for Vick to resign with the Eagles, since they’ve clearly moved on to the dynamic Nick Foles. That leaves us with a handful of teams still looking for something more than a stopgap. The Browns stand out as a team without much identity outside of Josh Gordon and his freakish abilities, and since there’s already a massive overhaul going on, I like the fit – defensive-minded head coach (Mike Pettine) and all. That’s not to say the Vikings (who also have a new coach in Mike Zimmer) couldn’t use a talented QB to compliment some outstanding skill players.
The Best Fit: Browns, Vikings, Jaguars
2. Josh McCown (CHI) – What a difference a year makes. All but written off before 2013 as a journeyman QB with mediocre arm strength, McCown threw 13 TDs in five starts and won thrice – filling the gap for the Bears while Jay Cutler got healthy. He’s 34 and possibly looking at a multi-year contract with a team desperate for a viable starter. Immediately, the Raiders come to mind – as he could rejuvenate his career a la Rich Gannon in Oakland, a city and organization desperate for a QB with some tangible experience and leadership ability. The Texans could also use McCown’s services as they attempt to close the door on the Matt Schaub Era and forget their disastrous 2013 campaign.
The Best Fit: Raiders, Texans, Jaguars
3. Matt Cassel (MIN) – Things just didn’t work out last season for Cassel in Minnesota, and he’s opted out of his contract (and $3.7 million in 2014) in search of greener pastures and a bigger payday. But is anybody really interested? While it makes little sense for Cassel to resign with the Vikings, it’s still a possibility. And while there aren’t many exciting options in the free agent pool, Cassel has experience and two 10-5 seasons as a starter (New England in 2008, Kansas City in 2010) to his credit. The Raiders, Browns, Texans and Jaguars will all be giving him a call.
The Best Fit: Texans, Vikings, Jaguars
4. Josh Freeman (MIN) – Did I have Josh McCown going to the Raiders? Hold up. This guy would fit right into the dysfunction of Oaktown and the team has already expressed an interest. The Raiders tried to sign Freeman last season after the Bucs released him and offensive coordinator Greg Olsen is apparently a big fan. The Raiders have also indicated they’re not likely to go for a QB in the draft, so Freeman and McCown are probably the top two options available. And while nobody wants to go to the Jaguars, they’re going to have to sign somebody.
The Best Fit: Raiders, Jaguars, Browns
5. Kellen Clemens (STL) – While I’m not pointing any fingers, I tend to think the Jets definitely gave up on Clemens too quickly – a mistake that may have cost them a few wins over the past several seasons. He’s not going to command a big contract in free agency, but he’s a capable stopgap who shows off a decent arm at times. Unfortunately, the Rams season was already in the toilet last year when Sam Bradford went down so the team didn’t ask much of Clemens, who finished with 1,673 passing yards, 8 TDs and 7 INTs over 10 games (nine starts). He’s probably going to end up back in St. Louis holding a clipboard, but there’s a shot he finds a starting gig somewhere else – like Houston or another stint in New Jersey.
The Best Fit: Rams, Texans, Jets
Honorable mention: Matt Flynn, Chad Henne
By: Dave Stringer — February 11, 2014 @ 9:54 am
Never before in the history of the NFL have there been so many wide receivers capable of reaching the 1,000-yard plateau. In fact, over the last four seasons the number of wide receivers that have reached this milestone has gone from 16 to 17 to 19 to 23 in 2013.
What does that mean for fantasy football roster building in 2014? While we all want to have an elite WR1 on our rosters, there simply isn’t any point in reaching for players at the position once the first seven players are off the board.
Elite wideouts continue to put up outstanding production but once you are past the top seven or eight, the point differential begins to drop off at a marginal level. And a quick review of the players on the list below proves that. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if any player on this list topped 1,000 receiving yards.
How does this translate into strategy for your fantasy football auction or draft? Well, grab an upper tier wide receiver if there is one available early in your draft that you like but using two of your first three picks on the position is foolhardy. One of those picks needs to be for a running back and the other should go towards an elite quarterback, another running back or Jimmy Graham, the top rated fantasy tight end.
Here is the first cut of my fantasy football wide receiver rankings:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions – Josh Gordon is going to get some love at this spot but not here. While Gordon’s production last season was marginally better, he carries a pile of baggage while Johnson is a golden boy by comparison.
2. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos – Thomas had over 140 targets, 90 receptions and 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons while scoring 24 touchdowns. If Eric Decker leaves via free agency, Thomas will get even more looks but make no mistake – he gets the second ranking even if Decker returns.
3. A.J. Green, Bengals – After posting 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, Green went 98 for 1,436 and 11 in 2013 while being targeted 178 times, the third most in the league. If Andy Dalton can improve his deep ball accuracy (a major if, by the way), Green could explode in 2014.
4. Brandon Marshall, Bears – This is where the debates begin. Since I think this isn’t your grandfather’s Brandon Marshall (the bad boy) and I’m close to being all in on the Bears offense in 2014 (yikes), Marshall gets the nod at number four. Since Jay Cutler hasn’t gotten the memo that Alshon Jeffery is dynamite and Marshall is in a contract year, he should post huge numbers in 2014.
5. Dez Bryant, Cowboys – Even though Bryant has topped 90 receptions and over 1,200 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons while scoring 25 touchdowns, you get the feeling he could do even more. With Jason Witten another year older and Miles Austin almost certainly not returning, Bryant just might explode in 2014.
Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system will be friendly to Gordon.
6. Josh Gordon, Browns – Speaking of explosions, Gordon certainly exploded in 2013, hauling in 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to becoming the top ranked fantasy wide receiver. Why is he at number six for 2014, you ask? Well, let’s see. He’s one misstep away from being suspended for an entire year, the Browns brought in a new coaching staff in the offseason and he will likely be catching passes from a rookie quarterback. Did I mention that the players ranked above him all have longer proven track records?
7. Julio Jones, Falcons – Let the screaming begin. First off, anybody who has seen Jones play can’t deny that he has an amazing skill set. And his production over the first five games of the season proves that (41 receptions for 580 yards and a pair of touchdowns). Unfortunately, he re-fractured the foot he broke in 2011. While he should be healthy to open the season, anytime a player injures the same body part twice, his risk profile gets jacked up a few notches.
8. Jordy Nelson, Packers – This is where the drop of starts. While Nelson is a fabulous receiver, he isn’t elite like the seven players ranked above him. Despite missing Aaron Rodgers for seven games this season, Nelson hauled in 85 of his 127 targets for a career high 1,314 yards with eight touchdowns. With a healthy Rodgers, and Jermichael Finley and James Jones questionable to return to Green Bay, Nelson could be in line for a career year in 2014.
9. Andre Johnson, Texans – Despite subpar quarterback play, Johnson was his usually Pro Bowl worthy self in 2013 with his second consecutive season over 100 receptions (109) and 1,400 yards (1,407). Unfortunately, he totaled just five touchdowns bringing his three-year total to 11. Even though the Texans will likely start a rookie at quarterback in 2014, you can bank on another solid season from the 32-year old Johnson.
10. Antonio Brown, Steelers – After suffering through a high ankle sprain in 2012, Brown put together a career year in 2013 with career highs in receptions (110), yards (1,498) and touchdowns (eight). Nonetheless, he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves but he’s getting it here, sliding in as a top 10 receiver in 2014.
11. Alshon Jeffery, Bears – Mea Culpa. I did not believe in Jeffery entering the season. I do now. In a clear case of a player getting serious about his game, Jeffery showed up to training camp in great shape and became a dominant receiver in his second year in the league. His ability to make leaping catches and catch everything in sight was something to behold as he emerged as the ninth ranked fantasy receiver in 2013 with 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. He may fall shy of those numbers in 2014 (Jay Cutler targets Brandon Marshall too much) but he remains a lower tier WR1.
12. Pierre Garcon, Redskins – After Garcon flashed his playmaking ability during an injury marred 2012 campaign, you knew he could be in line for a breakout season in 2013. And sure enough, that’s what happened with Garcon hauling in 113 passes for 1,346 yards, both career highs. Somehow the Redskins explosive playmaker found pay dirt just five times. With no proven threat opposite him, only an injury could derail Garcon in 2014.
13. Michael Crabtree, 49ers – While Crabtree was only mildly productive after returning from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in May, hauling in 34 passes for 487 yards and a touchdown in eight games including the playoffs, a truer picture of his worth lies in his production at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Over the final eight games of that season, Crabtree caught 55 passes for 823 yards and seven touchdowns.
14. Keenan Allen, Chargers – Look no further if you want to find the steal of the 2013 rookie draft. Taken midway through the third round, Allen was an afterthought in the Chargers first three games but came on strong, catching 76 passes for 1,179 yards and 10 touchdowns over San Diego’s final 15 games including the playoffs. While the Chargers will likely look to upgrade the starting spot opposite him, Allen clearly has WR1 potential.
15. Torrey Smith, Ravens – With the Ravens struggling to get consistent production opposite him, Smith had career highs in targets with 137, receptions with 65 and yards with 1,128. Unfortunately, the Ravens speedster hit pay dirt just four times and was neutralized down the stretch, failing to find the end zone in Baltimore’s final four games and totaling just 176 yards. In addition, he topped 100 receiving yards just twice and not once in his last eleven games.
16. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers – VJax didn’t suffer when Mike Glennon took over at quarterback, reaching a career high in receptions with 78 while hauling in 1,224 yards (the second highest total of his career) with 7 touchdowns. The Bucs offensive struggles at the conclusion of the season (44 points in their last three games) are cause for concern and that limits his upside in 2014.
17. DeSean Jackson, Eagles – After failing to top 1,000 yards in 2011 and 2012, DJax hit the mark in 2013, posting career highs across the board with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s risky and wildly inconsistent (seven games with six or fewer points) but seemed to be a solid fit in Chip Kelly’s offense.
18. Eric Decker, Broncos – Is the grass greener on the other side? Is Decker going to be another in a long line of solid second receivers who flop badly when they move to a new team to become the top dog? Decker’s value is completely up in the air until we see where he lands. If stays in Denver, look for more than 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns for the third season in a row. If he lands in New York with the Jets and Geno Smith, consider him a low end WR3.
19. Michael Floyd, Cardinals – The yards were there for Floyd in 2013 (1,054) but the touchdowns weren’t (just five). The Cardinals are expecting big things from the former 1st round pick in his third year and a breakout season could be on tap.
20. Randall Cobb, Packers – I’ve never taken to Cobb the way most of the fantasy community has. Is he good? Absolutely. Is he great? Don’t see it. While Jordy Nelson can do it all, Cobb can do most of it. Nelson seems to have earned a greater share of Aaron Rodgers’ trust and the numbers back that up. In the six games that the wide receivers played together this season, Nelson was targeted 64 times to 49 for Cobb.
21. Wes Welker, Broncos – After topping 100 receptions in five of the previous six seasons, Welker stumbled to just 73 receptions in 2013 as a concussion caused him to miss three games and he was no longer his quarterback’s top option. That being said, he may have topped 1,000 yards had he stayed healthy and he scored a whopping 10 touchdowns in 13 games. If Eric Decker walks in free agency, Welker could be an upper tier WR2 in 2014.
22. Kendall Wright, Titans – After struggling as a rookie in 2012, the Titans former first round pick came into his own in 2013, topping 1,000 receiving yards and catching 94 passes. Unfortunately, he struggled to generate many big plays for the second year in a row, catching just two touchdown passes and seeing his yards per reception improve slightly, from 9.8 to 11.5. With Justin Hunter expected to eat into his targets and Wright not a viable option in the red zone, he is clearly a better pick in PPR formats.
23. T.Y. Hilton, Colts – Hilton has speed to burn and was outstanding in the Colts final three games (including two playoff matchups), catching 28 passes for 482 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Unfortunately, a reduction in targets seems likely with both Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen returning from injury. Nonetheless, there is breakout potential here.
24. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – The 30-year old Fitzgerald failed to top 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season but his high touchdown count (10) kept him as a solid, upper tier WR2 in 2013. With Michael Floyd coming on and Fitzgerald becoming reliant on touchdowns to pad his fantasy stats, he is no longer a threat to reclaim his status as a WR1.
25. Victor Cruz, Giants – Dud or Stud? Productive with Nicks but productive without him if he doesn’t return? Can Eli rebound? There are some question marks here, folks.
26. Percy Harvin, Seahawks – We saw in the Super Bowl just how explosive Harvin can be but can he stay healthy?
27. Roddy White, Falcons – After appearing in 16 games for eight straight seasons, White’s run of solid health came to an end in 2013 as a high ankle sprain caused him to miss three games and limited his effectiveness in several others. His string of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons also came to an end, as he finished the year with 63 receptions for 711 yards and three touchdowns. While White will be 32 on opening day, he was very productive in the Falcons last five games with 43 receptions for 502 yards and a pair of scores.
28. Julian Edelman, Patriots – Dude’s pretty good. And he can stay healthy. Danny Amendola only qualifies in one of those areas.
29. Hakeem Nicks, Giants – Not expected to return to the Giants, Nicks’ fantasy value largely depends on where he lands and his inability to stay on the field. While Nicks has WR1 talent, his inability to stay healthy limits his upside no matter where he lands.
30. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – I have serious doubts that he will return to the Eagles but he will have had plenty of time to recover.
31. Cecil Shorts, Jaguars – Despite dealing with a groin injury, questionable quarterback play and missing three games, Shorts still managed to catch 66 passes for 777 yards and three touchdowns playing in the Jaguars sad sack offense. This dude’s better than people give him credit for.
32. Terrence Williams, Cowboys – The Cowboys rookie 3rd round pick was highly productive in limited opportunities, catching 44 of his 74 targets for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He has the size and speed to benefit playing opposite Dez Bryant and look for that to happen with Miles Austin on his way out of Dallas.
33. Marques Colston, Saints – Colston finished just 57 yards shy of topping 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh time in his eight seasons in the league. At 30 years of age, fantasy pundits seem to be souring on him but the last I checked, the Saints have precious little at wide receiver outside of Colston.
34. Steve Johnson, Bills – After becoming the first Bills receiver to top 1,000 receiving yards in three straight seasons, Johnson struggled through an injury plagued 2013 campaign, finishing the year with just 52 receptions for 597 yards and three touchdowns. Just 27 years of age, expected a bounce back year in 2014 although the presence of Robert Woods limits his upside.
35. Mike Wallace, Dolphins – Wallace possesses blazing speed but it meant little in 2013 as he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill couldn’t get the Dolphins deep passing attack in sync. Wallace caught just 51.8% of his targets, finishing with career lows in yards per reception with 12.7 and touchdowns with five.
36. Tavon Austin, Rams – Did Austin get things figured out over the second half of his rookie season? Not really. Have the Rams figured out how to use him? Who knows. Will the return of Sam Bradford lead to bigger things in 2014? Your guess is as good as mine.
37. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – A total dud in 2013, Bowe suffered through the worst season of his seven year career as he was never in sync with new quarterback Alex Smith. Expect better results in 2014 but Smith’s cautious approach severely limits Bowe’s upside.
38. Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings – While Patterson is an exciting playmaker, he remains very much a work in progress as a receiver, topping 50 yards just twice in his rookie season. He could be a player who turns it on the second half of the 2014 season.
39. Greg Jennings, Vikings – I like Jennings. I don’t like the Vikings quarterback situation.
40. Reggie Wayne, Colts – Coming off an ACL injury, Wayne will turn 36 during the 2014 season. He’s a warrior but he’s a warrior on his last legs.
Best of the rest: James Jones, Marvin Jones, Rueben Randle, Golden Tate, Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Riley Cooper, Jarrett Boykin, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills.
By: Dave Stringer — February 4, 2014 @ 10:55 am
With Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski scoring well over 10 FPts/G, the market for the league’s two elite tight ends has heated up in fantasy drafts over the past two seasons. However, after Graham’s monstrous performance in 2013 and another injury-marred season for Gronkowski, that landscape will change in 2014.
Graham is in a class by himself.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Graham will be the first tight end off the board in all formats, going as early as the 1st round. In the second tier, expect to see the likes of Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Gronkowski and perhaps Jordan Cameron.
Once those players are off the board, fantasy owners can safely sit on their hands and grab a tight end in the later rounds of their drafts. And that is because the next tier of tight ends is separated by a handful of fantasy points.
Last season, the point differential between the fourth highest scoring tight end (Cameron) and the eight-ranked tight end (Greg Olsen) was 16 points. The difference between Olsen and the tenth-ranked tight end (Martellus Bennett) was less than 12 points.
To sum it all up: go big or wait at tight end in 2014.
Here are my initial 2014 fantasy football tight end rankings:
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints – While it was debatable entering the 2013 season whether Graham or Rob Gronkowski should get top billing as the league’s top rated fantasy football tight end, that is no longer the case. Graham’s consistent production and reliability give him a clear edge on the rest of the competition and it’s not even close.
2. Julius Thomas, Broncos – Not even considered a TE1 entering last season, Thomas emerged as a consistent playmaker in the Broncos dynamic passing attack, earning plenty of targets despite the presence of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Thomas hauled in 65 of his 90 targets for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also consistent, topping eight or more fantasy points in ten of fourteen games. Better yet, Thomas has room to improve and a 1,000-yard season in 2014 isn’t out of the question.
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers – Davis had a stellar season in 2013, bouncing back from a subpar campaign in 2012. With Michael Crabtree out for eleven games, Davis had a larger role in the 49ers offense with his targets increasing from 61 to 84. He finished the year with 52 receptions for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns, matching his career high set back in 2009. While a dip in touchdowns is likely in 2014, Davis remains a top five option at tight end.
4. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots – Let’s make the same comment regarding Gronk for the third year in a row. He’s a Beast but is he a Beast that can stay healthy? Back surgery caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season and a torn ACL ended his year in Week 14. While he was highly productive when he was available (averaging 11.9 FPts/G), his availability for the opening game of the season is once again in doubt and there are no guarantees that he can make it through the season healthy. High risk, high reward.
5. Jordan Cameron, Browns – Considered in the preseason to be a break out candidate, Cameron didn’t disappoint, hauling in 80 of his 118 targets for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was a tad inconsistent with eight games under seven fantasy points including a four game stretch from Week 9-13 where he caught just 14 passes for 108 yards and no touchdowns. Opposing defenses also focused on shutting him down in the red zone over the final half of the season, holding Cameron to just one touchdown in his last eight games.
6. Dennis Pitta, Ravens – When Gary Kubiak was introduced as the Ravens new offensive coordinator, he announced that Pitta would be a big part of the team’s offense in 2014. That’s pretty significant since Pitta wasn’t even under contract for 2014. A preseason hip injury caused him to miss twelve games last season but he was a stud over the final part of the Ravens Super Bowl winning 2011 campaign, hauling in eight touchdowns in his final twelve games including the playoffs.
7. Jason Witten, Cowboys – While Witten finished the 2013 season as the fifth ranked fantasy tight end with 851 yards and eight touchdowns, he certainly seemed to have lost a step by season’s end. He topped 60 yards just twice between Week 6-16 before finishing strong in Week 17 with a 135-yard performance. He will be 32 years old by opening day.
8. Greg Olsen, Panthers – After producing 843 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2012, Olsen had 816 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Let’s give him another 800 plus yards and five to six touchdowns for 2014.
9. Jordan Reed, Redskins – The Redskins 2013 third round pick had a solid rookie season, posting 45 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns in nine games before a concussion derailed his season in Week 11. More wide receiver than tight end and not much of a blocker, it remains to be seen how big of a role he will have in new head coach Jay Gruden’s offensive scheme. His history of concussions raises a red flag but the upside is definitely there.
10. Charles Clay, Dolphins – Clay seemingly came out of nowhere to career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (6) while replacing Dustin Keller, who suffered a season ending injury in the preseason. The 2011 sixth round pick was targeted a healthy 102 times but could see that number drop if Keller is brought back or another tight end is added to the mix.
11. Zach Ertz, Eagles – While Brent Celek posted slightly better numbers by season’s end, it was clear that Ertz was the Eagles most dangerous tight end. The rookie second round pick caught 36 passes for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns but struggled as a blocker. Since Chip Kelly’s offense is run heavy, Ertz will need to hit the weight room if he wants to see the field more in 2014. Bank on that happening.
12. Jared Cook, Rams – While Cook posted career highs across the board in his first season in St. Louis (51 receptions for 671 yards and 5 touchdowns), the simple fact is that he was a major disappointment. His poor route running, lack of understanding of the playbook and questionable hands were on display far too often. His lack of reliability likely caused the Rams to reduce his role in the passing offense. Here’s to hoping the talented Cook puts it all together in 2014. This one’s a clear roll of the dice.
13. Antonio Gates, Chargers – It was a tale of two seasons for the 33-year old Gates in 2013. After posting 32 receptions for 438 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his first five games, he mustered up just 45 receptions for 434 yards and another 2 touchdowns over the final eleven games of the season. He will be worth grabbing as an upper tier TE2 in 2014.
By: Dave Stringer — January 28, 2014 @ 10:30 am
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There was a time when you could safely predict which players would finish the season as quality fantasy options at running back. Unfortunately, those days appear to be behind us as running backs struggle to stay on the field and new players emerge every season.
In 2013, several consensus RB1’s suffered through dreadful seasons as they were hit with injuries, were ineffective or some combination of the two. Fantasy owners who gambled on the likes of Arian Foster, Ray Rice or C.J. Spiller saw their fortunes plummet while player such as Knowshon Moreno (considered a 1st round bust), Eddie Lacy (a rookie) and DeMarco Murray (an injury plagued player) emerged as top players at the position.
Expect more of the same in 2014 with several question marks at the position as we enter what proves to be another intriguing offseason.
LeSean McCoy led all running backs with 366 touches in 2013.
1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles – While Jamaal Charles may have been the top rated fantasy running back in 2013, McCoy lands the number one spot in my early 2014 rankings. He topped 2,000 total yards (2,047) for the first time in his career and will have just turned 26 when the season opens. The Eagles run it a lot under Chip Kelly and that should mean close to 400 touches for McCoy once again in 2014.
2. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs – Andy Reid turned over a new leaf in 2013, leaning heavily on Charles as both a runner and receiver. He had 259 carries in just 15 games while catching 70 passes and scoring a career-high 19 times on his way to becoming the top rated fantasy running back. Expect more of the same in 2014 although the Chiefs offensive line is a bit of a concern with left tackle Brandon Albert headed for free agency and unlikely to return.
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings – A year after nearly breaking the single season record for most rushing yards, Peterson was simply solid in 2013 gaining 1,266 rushing yards and scoring ten touchdowns in 14 games. While that is impressive production, the 28-year old Peterson averaged “just” 4.5 yards per carry, the second lowest average of his seven-year career as he battled a nagging groin injury for a large portion of the season. With Norv Turner bringing his power running, play action offensive philosophy to Minnesota, Peterson is a solid candidate for a bounce-back season in 2014.
4. Matt Forte, Bears – After posting career lows in receptions (44) and yards (340) while averaging just 7.7 yards per reception in 2012, Forte was rejuvenated in his first year in Marc Trestman’s offense. He reached career-highs in rushing yards with 1,341, rushing touchdowns with nine, receptions with 75 and receiving yards with 592. Expect Forte to be used more by the Bears new coaching staff and for him to emerge as a low-end RB1 in 2013.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks – Lynch put together another solid season in 2013 but he wasn’t the Beast on the ground as his rushing yards dropped from 1,590 to 1,257 and his yards per carry plummeted from 5.0 to a still respectable 4.2. You can certainly lay part of the blame for those numbers on the offensive line’s inability to stay healthy but there is no guarantee that will change next season. Lynch made up some production in the passing game, hauling in 36 receptions (his most since 2008) for 316 yards and two touchdowns (both career-highs).
6. Eddie Lacy, Packers – Green Bay used a second round pick in last year’s draft to acquire Lacy and they were rewarded. He set a franchise rookie record with 1,178 yards despite missing nearly two full games with a concussion and was surprisingly solid as a receiver with 35 receptions on 44 targets for 257 yards. At 5’11” and 230 pounds, Lacy has the ability to be the Packers first true workhorse running back since Ryan Grant. With James Starks likely to leave in free agency, Johnathan Franklin having struggled in his rookie season and DuJuan Harris missing all of 2013 due to injury, look for Lacy to average 20 plus touches once again in 2014.
7. Arian Foster, Texans – Fantasy Football is about finding value throughout your draft or auction and Foster has the potential to bring huge value to your roster in 2014. First off, the FF world is far too down on him. Secondly, he could be in line for a huge workload next season with Ben Tate all but certain to leave in free agency.
8. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers – Head coaches blow smoke all the time but Mike Tomlin’s assertion that he would have taken Bell over Eddie Lacy if he had a re-do of the 2013 rookie draft had a ring of truth to it. While not as physical as Lacy, Bell ran hard during his rookie season, finishing the year with 860 rushing yards and eight touchdowns despite missing the first three games with a foot injury that impacted his effectiveness when he returned to the lineup. He also chipped in 45 receptions for 408 yards. Add it all up and Bell should emerge as a solid RB1 in 2014 with 1,700 total yards and double-digit touchdowns not out of the question.
9. Giovani Bernard, Bengals – You’ve seen this dude play, right? You’ve seen the highlight reel plays, right? You know he’s getting way more touches in 2014, right? Future stud here, folks. Note to Dynasty Leaguers. Overpay now, smile later.
10. C.J. Spiller, Bills – A big play machine in 2012 while averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception while racking up 1,703 total yards and eight touchdowns, Spiller was arguably the biggest fantasy bust of the 2013 season. While he rushed for a respectable 927 yards, he scored just two touchdowns and was completely neutralized as a receiver, catching just 34 passes for a paltry 197 yards and no touchdowns. An ankle injury was the main cause of his disappointing season and a bounce back year in 2014 is expected.
11. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys – Murray was a pleasant surprise in 2013, reaching career highs in games played (14), carries (217), rushing yrds (1,124), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (53), receiving yards (348) and receiving touchdowns (one). Okay, the receiving touchdown was piling on but it helped prove a point. Murray was exemplary in 2013. The truth is, the Cowboys should have used him even more than they did. Here’s to hoping they get that figured out in 2014 and that Murray remains (mostly) healthy once again. Let’s face it though; this guy is unlikely to ever play in 16 games in a season.
12. Ray Rice, Ravens – The shine came off Ray Rice quickly in 2013. Expected to be a fantasy stud after averaging 1,877 yards and 9.75 touchdowns during his previous four seasons, Rice’s production plummeted as he battled a strained left hip flexor and a quadriceps injury on his way to a 981 total yards and four touchdowns. With the Ravens expected to address their shortcomings along the offensive line and Rice just 27, a bounce back season seems likely.
13. Doug Martin, Bucs – Martin wasn’t healthy in 2013 (a torn labrum ended his season in Week 6) and he wasn’t effective when he did play, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per reception. After nearly topping 2,000 yards as a rookie in 2012 (he was just 74 yards shy of that plateau), Martin is certainly worth gambling on in 2014. And with the FF world down on the Bucs and Martin, he should come at a deep discount.
14. Alfred Morris, Redskins – While Morris’ production plummeted to 1,275 rushing yards from the 1,613 he put up as a rookie in 2012, it would be foolhardy to blame the Redskins talented rusher. Not known for his pass catching ability (20 receptions in two years), his touches declined from 346 to 285 as the Redskins played from behind in several games. For fantasy purposes, Morris’ value lies in the ability of the Redskins to play with a lead. Let’s face it – nobody is banking on them winning the NFC East in 2014 and that limits Morris’ upside.
15. Ryan Mathews, Chargers – Despite ceding his pass catching duties to Danny Woodhead, Mathews had a solid season in 2013. He rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards with six touchdowns and hit double digit fantasy points in nine of his last ten games, averaging 11.7 FPts for the season. While Woodhead will once again eat up playing time in passing situations, Mathews performance last season ensures that he will approach the 19.4 touches per game he had in 2013. His talent is undeniable and he managed to play in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career, making him less of a risk on draft day.
16. Zac Stacy, Rams – While Stacy will get plenty of consideration as a RB1 in 2014 given that he ran for 969 yards in 12 games after stepping into a prominent role in Week 5, lowered expectations are in order. The rookie fifth round pick owned the backfield during that stretch of games but that won’t be the case next season. Look for the Rams to add to their stable of running backs given the disappointing seasons of Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead and their lack of faith in Benny Cunningham. Cunningham had just 15 touches in six games as a backup to Stacy.
17. Reggie Bush, Lions – Bush was pretty much everything the Lions hoped he would be in 2013 with one caveat. Fumbles. Playing in 14 games, Bush amassed 1,512 total yards with seven touchdowns while adding a second big play element to the lineup (along with Calvin Johnson). Expect more of the same in 2014.
18. Ben Tate, Texans – Destination unknown but we can be pretty sure Tate and Arian Foster won’t both be back in Houston. Frankly speaking, Tate was mostly unimpressive subbing in for Foster this season, totaling 771 rushing yards in 14 games including seven starts. A subpar receiver, he totaled 34 receptions but for only 140 yards. Tate doesn’t look like he will be a value play in 2014.
19. Chris Johnson, Titans – While Johnson may have finished the season as the 9th ranked fantasy running back with 1,077 rushing yards, 345 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, he is likely to have a new home in 2014. With a large salary cap number and a reduced ability to generate big plays, Johnson will likely be released unless he agrees to a salary reduction, which he has vowed he will not accept. Regardless, he will find a home as a starting running back somewhere in 2014 and figures to be no worse than a mid-tier RB2 wherever he lands.
20. Frank Gore, 49ers – The FF world keeps waiting for Gore to fall off a cliff but he keeps resisting. He finished 2014 as the 13th ranked fantasy running back after finishing 11th in 2012 and 13th in 2011. While there is some concern he will be a cap casualty this offseason, that seems unlikely given the 49ers have a roster worthy of winning the Super Bowl. Look for the youngsters in the San Francisco backfield to eat into his playing time but for Gore to once again finish in RB2 territory in 2014.
21. Shane Vereen, Patriots – Vereen opened the 2013 season on fire, gaining 101 yards on the ground to go along with 58 receiving yards. The only issue was that he broke his wrist in that game causing him to be absent from the lineup until Week 11. When he returned, Vereen looked dynamic but he finished the season with a thud, gaining just 76 yards in his last three regular season games and 126 yards in the Patriots two playoff games. It’s all about usage and Vereen’s usage is inconsistent as is his fantasy production.
22. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos – There might not be a more polarizing fantasy option at running back in 2014 than Moreno. The 2009 1st round pick finished the year with career highs in rushing yards (1,039), rushing touchdowns (10), receptions (60), receiving yards (548) and receiving touchdowns (three) on his way to finishing as the fifth ranked fantasy running back. Next season, 2013 second round pick Montee Ball and the Broncos salary cap situation stand in the way of Moreno replicating that production. While Moreno played too well not to warrant a return invitation, he rates as no more than a low end RB2 with upside in 2014.
23. Stevan Ridley, Patriots – Despite Shane Vereen’s ten-game absence from the lineup, Ridley was a major disappointment in 2013. After posting career highs in 2012 in rushing yards (1,263) and rushing touchdowns (12), Ridley managed just 773 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as fumbling issues caused the team to reduce his role. At this point, Ridley is as likely to open next season in the starting lineup, as he is to be unemployed. Okay, maybe not unemployed but there are no guarantees that he will be in New England to open the season.
24. Montee Ball, Broncos – Denver rode the hot hand at running back in 2013 and that was Knowshon Moreno. It could just as easily be Ball in 2014.
25. Andre Brown, Giants – While Giants struggled mightily for much of the season, Brown’s return from a broken leg in Week 10 helped solidify the team’s offense. In eight games, he amassed 595 total yards and three touchdowns with the Giants winning five of those games (they were 2-6 without Brown). While Brown isn’t flashy, he is effective and 2012 first round pick David Wilson might not play next season.
26. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – For all the slogging MJD took in 2013, he still finished the season with 1,117 total yards and five touchdowns in 15 games despite playing in the Jaguars putrid offense. Of course, his 3.4 yards per carry average was wholly unimpressive but at least some of that can be laid at the feet of the team’s offensive line. Either way, MJD’s days as a solid RB1 are clearly behind him at the ripe old age of 28.
27. Andre Ellington, Cardinals – Pretty much no clue where to put Ellington since there’s pretty much no clue on how the Cardinals plan to employ him in 2014. Despite being more productive than Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington had 80 fewer touches.
28. Darren Sproles, Saints – After averaging 11.6 and 10.7 PPG in 2012 and 2011, Sproles crashed landed in 2013, finishing the season with just 220 rushing yards, 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns, the lowest totals during his three-year stay in New Orleans. He missed one game with knee and ankle injuries, barely played in another due to a concussion and had three other games with five or fewer touches. Sproles will be 31 years of age on opening day and there has to be at least some concern that the diminutive back is on the downside of his career, particularly given his lack of explosiveness in 2013.
29. Steven Jackson, Falcons – While Sjax has always been a warrior, his years of heavy usage seemed to catch up to him in 2013. In his first year in Atlanta, he missed four games and most of another with a hamstring injury and certainly seemed to be playing hurt when he returned to the lineup. His string of eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards came to an abrupt halt as he finished the season with just 542 yards on the ground. A complete non-factor against the league’s better run defenses, he is no more than a RB3 in 2014 provided he is back in Atlanta.
30. Lamar Miller, Dolphins – Watching Miller run last season, you couldn’t help but feel that he was underutilized by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. With Sherman out of the picture and former Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo taking over that role, Miller is worth taking a shot on in 2014. One major caveat is what the team does to reinforce the offensive line in the offseason.
31. Darren McFadden, Raiders – Some talented players just never seem to put it together and McFadden needs to be lumped into that group. In six years in the league, he has topped 1,000 rushing yards once, he has just one season with ten or more touchdowns, he has never played in 16 games and he has topped 30 receptions just twice. In fact, he’s been such a disappointment that it will be a shock if the Raiders re-sign him, despite being flush with salary cap space and just veteran journeyman Rashad Jennings at running back. End of story.
32. Trent Richardson, Colts – Ditto for Trent Richardson. While he showed some talent and toughness as a rookie with the Browns in 2012, he was a complete non-factor in both Cleveland and Indianapolis in 2013. He topped 60 rushing yards once, averaged 3.0 yards per carry and was usurped on the depth chart by former first round bust Donald Brown.
33. Danny Woodhead, Chargers – Woodhead was solid in 2013, reaching career highs in total yards with 1030, touchdowns with eight and receptions with 76 (on just 87 targets). However, Ryan Mathews came on strong as the season ended and the Chargers figure to be healthier at wide receiver in 2014. That should add up for fewer opportunities for Woodhead next season.
34. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Consistent with prior years, it’s best to avoid the Panthers crowded backfield. If you have to go there, Williams is your man.
35. Fred Jackson, Bills – Old Freddie stole the show from C.J. Spiller in 2013, totaling 1,271 yards and a career high 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Fjax will be 33 years old when the 2014 season begins and at some point, the Bills have to hand the reins over to Spiller. There will still be a role for Jackson but he rates as a lower end RB3 for next season.
36. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – You’ve seen Giovani Bernard play, right? The Law Firm’s days as a number one back are clearly over and it won’t be a huge shock if the Bengals attempt to replace him after he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.
37. Donald Brown, Colts – Sorry, folks, I’m not a believer.
38. Rashad Jennings, Raiders – Ditto.
39. Chris Ivory, Jets – Ditto.
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