Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Jason Mitchell — September 9, 2014 @ 8:16 pm
Each week here on Fantasy Football Today, I’ll bring you a few guys at each position whose stocks are rising and falling based on recent performance compared to their previously perceived value.
We’re basically weighing one game against preseason theories and 2013 statistics. Since it’s only one week, we shouldn’t entirely dismiss (good) preseason theories, but we also can’t ignore what actually happened on the field.
Matt Ryan grabbed everyone’s attention with 448 yds and 3 TDs, leading all Wk 1 QBs.
Matt Ryan, ATL
This weekend showed just how strong the Falcons pass offense can be with Julio Jones and Roddy White each on the field and healthy. Ryan attempted only one more pass than his counterpart Drew Brees, yet threw for 115 more yards. The Saints were supposed to be the team with a much-improved pass defense. Ryan’s week one puts him into “start no matter what” territory until further notice.
Jake Locker, TEN
Locker completed 67 percent of his passes to eight different Titans receivers against a Chiefs team that was a relatively heavy favorite at home this week. If Locker can continue to spread the ball around like he did this week, he could turn into a very strong streamer and/or bye week fill-in in 2014.
EJ Manuel, BUF
He isn’t a priority yet, but it’s time to at least put him on your radars. After a bad preseason, Manuel was being written off as an NFL quarterback, much less a fantasy quarterback. Against the Bears he showed good decision-making ability. If he continues that and runs it a few times a game, he could go from the ranks of left for dead to actually serviceable if called upon in fantasy.
Tony Romo, DAL
Something clearly was not right with the Cowboys passing game against San Francisco. Romo and his receivers seemed to be on a different page throughout the entire game. There are any number of contributing factors to Romo’s wretched performance: San Francisco’s defense, Romo’s lack of preseason playing time, or perhaps Romo’s back is still a major issue. Whatever it is, I’d be nervous right now in any league where I’m depending on Romo.
Robert Griffin III, WAS
RGIII strength as a fantasy quarterback ended after his rookie year, when he tucked it and ran . In Week 1 against the Texans, Griffin had three carries for two yards. If this trend continues, Griffin might have to be considered a streamer, not a weekly must-start.
Tom Brady, NE
I’m sure you saw the stats in the preseason that said Brady is an amazing fantasy quarterback when Rob Gronkowski is playing. Well, Gronk played in Week 1 and led the team in targets, so why did Brady complete barely over 50 percent of his passes? He is still Tom Brady, but don’t be afraid to bench him if the situation calls for it.
Knowshon Moreno, MIA
Remember that time when Lamar Miller was going to be the man in Miami? Me neither. Once he was given a chance, Moreno seemed to run away with the Dolphins starting running back job. The Dolphins could still give Miller some run, but Moreno’s performance was too impressive to ignore by Dolphins coaches and by fantasy owners.
Terrance West, CLE
Early in the summer, many in the fantasy world thought that West could outright take the job from Ben Tate. Late in the summer, it became clear that Tate was going to be the lead guy with the Browns after clearly outplaying West. Then, in Week 1, Tate left the game and West entered. Six carries and 100 yards later, West looks like he can be a solid fantasy contributor if Tate misses an extended period of time. Teammate Isaiah Crowell is also rising after scoring two touchdowns, but West looks like he would be the one who leads the a Tate-less Browns in carries.
Chris Ivory, NYJ
The box score looks great: 102 yards and a touchdown. That’s not the full story, as 71 of those yards came on one long run. The important thing to look at though is the carries: 10. If Ivory can get around 10 carries per game switching off with Chris Johnson, he could bring back some decent fantasy value. I wouldn’t call him a weekly starter, but someone who could be considered a viable start when the Jets are matched up with a poor run defense.
Bernard Pierce, BAL
You’d think with the Ray Rice news, Pierce would be well on his way up. A 2.3-yard per carry performance before getting yanked due to a fumble has to make us question Pierce’s stranglehold on the job in Baltimore with Rice gone. I think he’s still the most likely guy to be the Ravens starter, but it’s not as set in stone as we might have thought a few days ago.
Toby Gerhart, JAC
Gerhart owners got exactly what they hoped for when they took him: a majority of the carries –- 18, despite missing some game time with an injury. The problem is what he did with them. I’m not sure if it’s him or the Jaguars offense – both backup running backs also averaged under three yards per carry – but that Week 1 performance has me concerned. I’d stick with him because of the workload, but with lower expectations.
Doug Martin, TB
Martin’s Week 1 could be chalked up to facing the Panthers defense, but even against the staunchest of opponents, a supposedly elite running back should average more than one yard on his carries. With the awful week one and now a leg injury to keep an eye on, Martin owners seem like they might be facing another season like 2013.
Allen Hurns, JAC
Whenever a wide receiver comes out of nowhere to put up a big game in Week 1, people will almost always react the same: “Is he the next Kevin Ogletree?” Sure, it’s possible Hurns will be a one-week wonder, and he will continue to be in the Jaguars offense, so I wouldn’t go too crazy acquiring him. But four catches for 110 yards is nothing to sneeze at, and someone does need to emerge as Chad Henne’s top receiver (in theory). I wouldn’t mind using an excess roster spot on him to see if he can keep it going.
Markus Wheaton, PIT
With the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, someone needed to fill those voids. Wheaton was the obvious choice, but we still had to see him perform first. And perform he did. Wheaton tied Le’Veon Bell for the team lead in Week 1 targets with seven, hauling in six passes for 97 yards. Antonio Brown is still the man in Pittsburgh, but there are plenty of Ben Roethlisberger passes to go around to keep Wheaton on the WR3/Flex radar.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR and Brandin Cooks, NO
I’m lumping these two together. There was a lot to like about these two heading into the season, but both came with one huge caution flag: They’re rookies. Rookie wide receivers generally take time to adjust to the NFL. After seeing these two each produce in Week 1 though, it appears safe to say that we can look past their rookie status.
Vincent Jackson, TB
Jackson tied for the team lead in targets (nine9 but could only catch four of them for 36 yards. It’s a good sign that he is getting the targets, but the Josh McCown-led offense might hold him back from his true potential as a WR1. Like with Doug Martin, this performance could potentially be brushed off as a rough matchup, but there might be more to worry about here than just the Panthers being tough.
Torrey Smith, BAL
There was some chatter coming into the season that Smith might finally reach WR1 status. At the very least, he’s expected to come in as a solid WR2, based on where he was going in drafts (late fifth round). After a Week 1 where we saw two different Baltimore receivers more than double Smith’s target total, I’m thinking we may have the same old Torrey Smith. He’ll have his big weeks, but the fourth-year wide receiver still isn’t an absolute must start.
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
If you watched the late Monday Night game, you saw ESPN reference it over and over again: Palmer was spreading the ball around to everyone but Fitzgerald. I get that big time receivers will have their down games, but this was down to the point of major worry. Fitzgerald ended the game with only one catch on four targets. It’s great for the Cardinals if they are able to spread the ball around as much as they did against San Diego, but bad for Fitzgerald if they are spreading it and he’s not first in line.
Dennis Pitta, BAL
Pitta and teammate Steve Smith Sr. tied for the league lead with 15 in Week 1 targets. I don’t think Smith will remain among the league leaders in targets, but I wouldn’t entirely rule it out for Pitta. I don’t think he’s the playmaker to ascend to the status of the elites (Graham, Gronkowski, Thomas), but he could be a reception machine that gives his owners a healthy score from week to week at the tight end position.
Martellus Bennett, CHI
Being a Bills fan, I watched every single play of the Buffalo-Chicago game on Sunday. At times, it seemed like Cutler was clearly looking for Bennett ahead of the two big name wide receivers. Brandon Marshall did end up leading the team in targets with 12, but Bennett came in a close second with 10. Sure, Alshon Jeffery did leave midway through the game, but Bennett was getting the looks while Jeffery was on the field. His upside is limited with Marshall, Jeffery and Forte around, but Bennett should be able to maintain low-end TE1 status throughout the year.
Larry Donnell, NYG
With all the excitement over high upside tight ends (think Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Ladarius Green), Donnell flew completely under the radar. After leading the Giants in Week 1 targets, receptions and receiving yards, Donnell won’t be under the radar any longer. When the Giants got deep in Lions territory, it was clearly Donnell that Eli Manning was looking for. With his wide availability, Donnell should make for a nice injury or bye week fill-in for fantasy owners this season.
Jason Witten, DAL
The Cowboys passing game was an all-around disaster in Week 1, so it’s tough to tell for sure if Witten’s bad week was his fault or Tony Romo’s. He did tie Dez Bryant for second-most targets on the team (six), but Witten only ended up with two catches for 14 yards. Until the Cowboys show they are a competent team or Witten shows he’s still the same guy he’s always been, Witten might be off the list of “must start” tight ends.
Charles Clay, MIA
Clay was an interesting guy in drafts this summer. He hovered in the weird zone between clear-cut starters and high upside fliers. People who crave consistency loved making Clay a late-round target, though. One problem: Consistency suggests putting up solid scores weekly. In a game where the Miami Dolphins scored 33 points, Clay only wound up with two receptions. If Week 1 is a sign of things to come, the Dolphins are a running team that will look to Mike Wallace first when it’s time to throw. Clay will have useful weeks, but he’s also not a must-own, depending on your options.
Jordan Reed, WAS
When you draft a player that missed a lot of games last year and was dealing with an injury in the preseason this year, the last thing you want to see is that player leaving the first game of the year. Reed still has enough upside to wait through the current hamstring injury, but it’s also worrisome to depend on a guy that just can’t seem to stay on the field.
By: Mike Krueger — September 2, 2014 @ 1:08 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 9/2/14
Final scheduled update of the year. Post roster cut to 53 players. A lot of movement at the bottom end of each position as teams fill out the back end of their rosters.
- Matt Schaub (-30) – Whether our not Schuab’s elbow had anything to do with it, the Raiders are already looking towards the future.
- Derek Carr (+25) – He gets the start Week 1 in Oakland and the Raiders hope he keeps the job for good.
- EJ Manuel (-8) – You don’t pay Kyle Orton $5 million to ride the bench. Manuel should be avoided in fantasy drafts.
- Ben Tate (+6) – The coaching staff thinks rookie Terrance West still needs some seasoning before he’s ready for a significant workload.
- Knowshon Moreno (+6) – I flip-flopped Moreno and Miller this week. I think it’s only a matter of time before Moreno proves to be the better all-around RB.
- Dan Herron / Isaiah Crowell / Latavius Murray – All No. 3 running backs got slight bumps. Sleeper material.
- Michael Floyd (-1) – Bumped his projections down just a bit as John Brown looks like he’s going to be a significant part of the offense.
- Miles Austin / Andrew Hawkins (+4) – They are your starting receivers in Cleveland, for what it’s worth.
- Rob Gronkowski (+1) – Gronk claims he’s going to play Week 1 in some capacity. Look for him to be limited early in the season.
- Cairo Santos (#15) – Beat out Succop in Kansas City.
- Ryan Succop (#28) – Signed by Tennessee.
- Brandon McManus (#25) – Will kick for Denver while Prater serves his suspension.
- Patrick Murray (#30) – Kicking for the Bucs.
- Cody Parkey (#17) – Beat out Henery in Philadelphia.
- The Saints apparently want to go for two every time.
By: Mike Krueger — August 28, 2014 @ 1:19 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/28/14
- Shaun Hill (+5) – It appears the Rams are comfortable with Hill as their starter for the foreseeable future.
- Cam Newton (-1) – Getting bad vibes about this team the closer we get to the start of the season.
- Jamaal Charles (-2) – Speaking of bad vibes… I still love Charles but the injuries to the o-line, poor play by Eric Fisher and multiple injuries throughout the team have the Chiefs trending downward. Just a slight bump down for Jamaal.
- Doug Martin (+3) – Rookie Sims is out and addition of Mankins should help every so slightly.
- Reggie Bush / Joique Bell – A slight shift in distribution between the Detroit RBs.
- Pierre Thomas (-8) – Ingram and Robinson are ready to be the main runners on first and second down. Thomas stays as a receiving threat and is a better value in PPR leagues.
- Josh Gordon (dropped) – His appeal was lost. Gordon will miss the entire 2014 season.
- Brandin Cooks (+7) – Tacked on some yardage to Cook’s receiving totals.
- Rob Gronkowski (+2) – Sure would be nice to see Gronk get some quality practice time in next week.
- Tim Wright (+23) – Wright improved his fantasy stock by landing in New England. He’s on the back-end of the TE2 radar until his usage in the offense becomes clear.
By: Mike Krueger — August 25, 2014 @ 10:13 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/25/14
Unscheduled updated for WR Wes Welker (concussion) K Matt Prater (4-game suspension) and QB Sam Bradford (ACL).
- Sam Bradford (dropped) – Tough break for the Rams as they lose their signal-caller for the second-straight year.
- Shaun Hill (#28) – Hill be the Week 1 starter but isn’t even a QB2 at this point. He will be available on your waiver wire if he shows well during Weeks 1 and 2.
- Wes Welker (-20) – Welker has three concussions in 10 months. Even if he’s ready for Week 1, his injury risk pushes him below Sanders.
- Emmanuel Sanders (+14) – Sanders will have a bigger role inside and out if Welker misses any time.
- Danny Amendola (-10) – I still think Amendola is a decent value at his current ADP (10.09) but he’s not on the field in two-WR sets, limiting his opportunity.
- Allen Hurns (#101) – Inserted the UDFA receiver in Jacksonville.
- Matt Prater (-20) – Four-game suspension makes Prater undraftable in re-draft leagues. There are plenty of kickers and no reason to carry two on your initial roster.
By: Mike Krueger — August 21, 2014 @ 10:36 am
Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/21/14
Note: No change to Le’Veon Bell or LeGarrette Blount until we get a better idea of the punishment they may or may not receive as a result of their dope arrest last night.
- Matthew Stafford (+1) – Added a passing TD to Stafford’s totals.
- Jay Cutler (+1) – I really like Cutler’s ceiling this season. Health will be the only thing that keeps him out of the top ten.
- Cam Newton (-2) – Personnel concerns are enough to kicked him down a Tier.
- Doug Martin (N/A) – No change as Sims’ injury reflects more on backups Rainey and James.
- DeMarco Murray (-2) – Been debating all season how heavy Murray’s use will be in this offense. Still like him a lot but decided to scale him back as I expect Dunbar’s role to more than just change-of-pace.
- Christine Michael (-7) – Robert Turbin has the trust of the coaching staff. If Lynch goes down, a committee approach will likely be used.
- Chris Polk (-10) – There is no handcuff for McCoy right now. Polk’s hamstring injury is such a concern the team acquired Kenjon Barner from Carolina.
- Jordy Nelson (+1) – Slight bump for the Packers’ receivers as it appears no true threat at tight end is going to emerge.
- Randall Cobb (+2) – See above.
- Jeremy Maclin (-4) – I love Maclin’s ceiling but his injury concerns are growing.
- Markus Wheaton (+8) – Ranked too low originally. The kid has upside value if he can hold onto the No.2 receiving spot.
- Vernon Davis (-2) – The more I study, the more I like Crabtree to steal the show in 49ers passing game this season. Davis is TD-dependent and will be hard-pressed to notch double-digit scores this season.
- Antonio Gates (-2) – Adjusted the distribution between Gates and Green.
By: Colby Cavaliere — August 14, 2014 @ 10:58 pm
The Manziel hype machine is out of control. He’ll be a fantasy QB2 at best.
QB Johnny Manziel
(2013 QB Rank—N/A)
As one of the most polarizing players in the NFL, Johnny Manziel provides a similarly tantalizing dilemma for fantasy owners. He has undeniable physical gifts, but does he have enough between the ears to win the starting job and run with it? A dynamo on the ground and in the air, Johnny Football dazzled the college ranks for two years at Texas A&M. He showed improved development as a pocket passer in his short collegiate career, but enters a pro system that will undoubtedly test his discipline and maturity.
A positive for Manziel is the presence of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan knows a little something about getting the most out of fleet-footed rookie quarterbacks. Expect Shanahan to employ Manziel on a bevy of rollouts and bootlegs to give him the throw/run option. No matter who is under center, the Browns will use a running-based offense, especially considering the potential loss of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon. Manziel will be a part of that attack and with enough playing time, he could approach 100 carries.
Any potential fantasy impact that Manziel might have will be tied to playing time. If he can win the job in camp, he should start all 16 games. Manziel’s cocky attitude, reckless play style and sinewy rocket arm harken back to a young Brett Favre. In his first year as a starter for the Packers, Favre put up 3,000+ yards passing and had a respectable 18-14 touchdown to interception ratio. With a limited offense, experience and weapons to throw to, Manziel’s full-season stats are most likely capped at QB2 potential. Keep a close eye on his development, as Manziel could be a valuable spot starter late in the season for a needy fantasy owner.
QB Brian Hoyer
(2013 QB Rank—#44, 17.5 FPts/G)
Lacking the physical gifts of his rookie competition, Brian Hoyer is a backup-level talent that will struggle to put up numbers in this Cleveland offensive system. While Hoyer has the chops to lead and brings a two-game spark to a Cleveland team that was again spiraling out of control, he’s a career journeyman quarterback. Hoyer’s upside is limited by a run-based offense and the presence of Johnny Manziel. Hoyer will battle for the starting gig in the preseason, but remember that Manziel remains the franchise’s future. Unless Hoyer plays lights out and the Browns win games, Manziel is going to siphon starts away at some point this season. While his work ethic and leadership are admirable, Hoyer simply doesn’t bring enough to the table to be a valuable piece of your fantasy roster and is nothing more than a QB3.
RB Ben Tate
(2013 RB Rank—#33, 8.2 FPts/G)
Injuries and playing time have prevented Ben Tate from ascending into the upper tier of young runners. Given a one-way ticket to starter’s snaps in Cleveland, Tate has a chance to showcase the skills that made him a fantasy darling in 2012. Back in the zone-blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan, Tate will benefit from a familiar scheme and strong Cleveland offensive line. Sporting a great 4.6 yards per carry average for his career, Tate seems primed to climb the rankings and be a fantasy centerpiece. But before you go and make Tate a high draft pick, consider some of the red flags, the biggest being his injury history. In just three seasons Tate has missed eight games because of injury, and played hurt and ineffective in several more. He simply hasn’t displayed the ability to stay healthy for an entire season and is a good bet to break down with too voluminous of a workload. His durability was most likely a reason why his free-agent reception was very lukewarm. The bigger roadblock to Tate’s success could be his teammates. Terrance West, the third-round pick out of Towson has been impressive this offseason, as has undrafted free agent and former five-star recruit Isiah Crowell. If West’s successful exploits continue into preseason action, look for Tate to cede a large volume of touches to him. Timeshare and injury concerns figure to limit Tate, but in an offense built to run the football, look for Tate to approach the 200-yard carry range and be a low-tier RB2 for your fantasy squad.
RB Terrance West
(2013 RB Rank—#52, 4.1 FPts/G)
Stoutly built at 5’9’’, 225 lbs. with quick feet and good vision, Terrance West has a chance to carve out a large role in the Cleveland running game. Capable of heavy workloads, the Atlantic 10 prospect from Towson also has a nose for the end zone with 84, yes 84 touchdowns in three college seasons. As he continues to develop as a pass catcher (only 36 career college receptions) expect West to get the bulk of his work inside the 20. West is going to challenge Tate for playtime as soon as the opening weekend and is a must-handcuff for anyone drafting Tate as a starter. Should Tate miss time during the season, West could quickly pick up RB2 value, but for now, add West as a high-upside RB3 and hope he sees the field early and often.
WR Josh Gordon
(2013 WR Rank—#1, 16.2 FPts/G)
Overflowing with talent and unfortunate decision-making, Josh Gordon is at a career crossroads. At the time of this writing, 2013’s fantasy monster at wide receiver is appealing his yearlong suspension. If he somehow wins any measure of his appeal, whenever he steps onto the field he will be a fantasy stud no matter if Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel are tossing the rock. It seems as though Cleveland won’t give up on him, so dynasty leaguers can still take a flier on the elite wideout, but redraft owners will have to hope he wins his appeal to get any value.
WR Miles Austin
(2013 WR Rank—#118, 2.2 FPts/G)
Relegated to the fantasy scrap heap because of balky legs after a once promising career, former Cowboy Miles Austin has been thrust into the spotlight for the Cleveland Browns. Under the looming suspension of Josh Gordon, Austin instantly becomes the most experienced wideout on the roster and will shoulder the burden on the outside. Austin is part of a complete overhaul at the Browns receiver position, and with health, he could approach 50 catches and 700 yards. Stuck in what is sure to be a committee approach, Austin will be limited as a low-upside WR4/5.
WR Charles Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
If there is one receiver who offers a glimmer of fantasy hope on the Cleveland roster, it’s the 6’2’’ speed demon Charles Johnson. The 2013 seventh-round pick from Grand Valley State didn’t see the field last year. Reports out of camp, however, indicate he could push for playing time in 2014. With middling talents ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson could earn enough playing time to make fantasy owners interested. Keep a close eye on his early season snap count and don’t wait to scoop him up off the waiver wire should you sense a breakout looming.
TE Jordan Cameron
(2013 TE Rank—#4, 8.9 FPts/G)
There was hardly a better fantasy player after the first four weeks of the 2013 season than Jordan Cameron. The athletic tight end that was expected to break out under tight end guru Norv Turner started off blazing hot with a 30-360-5 line by Week 5. But as the season wore on, Josh Gordon began to impose his will and the passing game was siphoned through him. Cameron tallied only two more touchdowns in the final 12 games and exceeded 10 targets only once. With Gordon suspended, Cameron immediately becomes option No. 1 in the Cleveland passing game. As the only threat running around in the secondary, Cameron is going to get plenty of attention. Expect defensive coordinators with lockdown corners to deploy them to cover Cameron when he goes out wide, much like the Patriots did with great effectiveness with Jimmy Graham last year. Luckily not many teams have corners able to cover Cameron’s size-speed combination, and despite the loss of Turner, scheming tight ends open is something offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has experience doing. Even with the added defensive focus and unsettled quarterback position, Cameron has the talent, scheme and opportunity to approach his season totals from last season, even with less overall variance in scoring on a weekly basis. Plug Cameron in as an upper-tier TE1 and don’t look back.
By: Nick Caron — @ 10:39 am
A regression is to be expected, but Peyton is still the top QB in fantasy football.
QB Peyton Manning
(2013 QB Rank—#1, 25.4 FPts/G)
Coming off of the greatest fantasy football season in history, it should be no surprise that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the top quarterback on almost all lists heading into the 2014 season. Words truly cannot explain just how ridiculous Manning’s season was, so let’s just look again at the numbers: 5,477 yards, 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions. Simply unbelievable. Even if you were one of the brave few who had Manning as your top-ranked quarterback heading into 2013, there’s no way that anyone could have predicted that kind of fantasy output. Manning threw multiple touchdown passes in 15 of his 16 regular season games, including nine games with four or more touchdowns. While losing Eric Decker is certainly a concern, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer, along with the healthy return of bookend left tackle Ryan Clady could mean that the Denver passing game has a chance of coming close to what it did in 2013. The numbers don’t look at all sustainable on the surface, but if there’s any quarterback who can engineer that kind of offense again, it’s Peyton Manning. Those looking to be contrarians might look at Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees as the top quarterback going into this fantasy season. Don’t be steered away by the likely regression in Manning’s numbers, though. Even if Manning saw a 20 percent reduction in his fantasy numbers, he would finish with 4,382 yards and 44 touchdowns. That yardage total would put him at sixth among quarterbacks from the 2013 season, while the touchdowns would still put him five ahead of any other quarterback. Understand that regression does not mean that Manning isn’t still the best fantasy quarterback for 2014.
RB Montee Ball
(2013 RB Rank—#42, 5.0 FPts/G)
When the Broncos selected Montee Ball with a second-round draft pick in 2013, it appeared as if the writing was finally on the wall for former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno to be worked out of the offense. That didn’t happen, however, as concerns in pass protection and fumbling problems led to Ball playing second fiddle to Moreno throughout the year. Ball finished with just 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and he had just one game all year with over 100 rushing yards. Now with Moreno out of the picture, the door appears to be wide open for Ball to come rolling in and take the job in one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. The team appears to be fully invested in him and this is his chance to shine. There is no question that Denver is a pass-first offense, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of room for fantasy production from the running back position. Moreno finished as a top-five scoring running back in 2013 and that was with Ball still taking a significant number of carries. If Ball is given a more full workload, there’s no reason to think that his upside couldn’t mirror or even be better than what Moreno did a season ago. An emergency appendectomy has some worried that Ball won’t be in football shape by the time the regular season rolls around. That’s exactly the kind of thing you should warn other fantasy owners in your league about, effectively lowering Ball’s stock before you swoop in and draft him. Appendectomies are considered “major surgery” but they do not require a long recovery time. Barring some unforeseen setback that would likely have nothing to do with his appendix, Ball will be out there in Week 1. He is about as much of a lock to hit 10 touchdowns this season as any player in the league. He is a perfect No. 2 running back or even low-end No. 1 for the owner who opts to snag a top player at another position in Round 1.
RB C.J. Anderson
(2013 RB Rank—#124, 0.2 FPts/G)
The appendectomy procedure that has removed Montee Ball from training camp has given an unexpected opportunity to Broncos backup running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson, an undrafted free agent who also made his NFL debut alongside Ball in 2013, has not yet won a competition against Ronnie Hillman to be the team’s lead tailback until Ball returns, but appears to be the more well-rounded back, which will likely mean that he gets the majority of snaps for the time being. Anderson could hypothetically show some amazing flashes that force the Broncos’ hand in giving him more playing time. The most likely scenario, however, is that he and Hillman will split carries in the preseason before conceding the lion’s share of touches to Ball once the regular season begins. Both Anderson and Hillman’s value is essentially tied to the success of Ball. If Ball puts the ball on the ground too often for head coach John Fox’s liking or if he sustains an injury that puts him out for a long period of time, Anderson and Hillman could have value. Until then, though, both players will likely remain relatively useless for fantasy purposes.
WR Demaryius Thomas
(2013 WR Rank—#2, 13.8 FPts/G)
Back-to-back 1,400-plus yard campaigns have fantasy owners’ mouths salivating heading into the 2014 season with fourth-year wideout Demaryius Thomas. Thomas, who showed flashes of brilliance even with the likes of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton behind center, has become the top target in the best passing attack in the history of the league. Needless to say, his fantasy value is immense. In addition to his incredible yardage totals, Thomas has produced in the other important categories for receivers with 94 and 92 receptions in 2012 and 2013, while adding 10 and 14 touchdown receptions, respectively. Thomas is the ideal combination of size and speed and the crazy thing is that the best may be yet to come from this incredible physical specimen. If it weren’t for Calvin Johnson, Thomas would be the unquestioned top fantasy wideout at the beginning of the 2014 season. In fact, many fantasy experts are flat out recommending Thomas as the No. 1 receiver on their lists. Either way, Thomas is a rare breed of a receiver who should and does crack the first round of most fantasy drafts. Another monster season is on the way for this talented young wideout. Make sure you don’t miss out.
WR Wes Welker
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
Not known for being a particularly excellent red zone threat, Wes Welker lit the fantasy world on fire in 2013 when he started the season with nine touchdown receptions in his first eight games. Welker’s incredible first half had many owners scrambling to acquire the former Patriot, but that kind of pace was simply unsustainable. Welker would go on to catch just one more touchdown in the second half of the regular season, while never eclipsing the 10 reception or 100 yard mark in any single game. Those numbers were skewed by the fact that he missed the final three weeks of the regular season, but it’s still worth noting the incredible drop-off in production. Welker did return for the playoffs where he caught a total of 18 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown over three games, but that isn’t enough for us to be highly optimistic about his fantasy outlook for 2014. Given the loss of Eric Decker, Welker should see more targets come his way in 2014 than he did in 2013, but there’s a serious question of durability and simple degradation of physical skill at this point. Welker is 33 years old and while there’s still gas in the tank, it would not be surprising to see him slowly start to fade away over the next couple of seasons. Still, Welker remains a top-20 receiver in standard scoring formats and a top-15 receiver in PPR formats. Drafting him could pay huge dividends, but make sure to have a reliable option on your bench should things start off looking like they did near the end of 2013.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
As the newest addition to the Denver offense, Emmanuel Sanders steps into a situation that could not possibly be better for the fifth-year receiver coming off of his best season yet. Sanders’ 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns with the Steelers in 2013 were all career bests as he played opposite Antonio Brown for the majority of the season. On a new roster, Sanders will have to learn a highly complicated offense that requires tremendous focus and execution if he wants to see any looks from Peyton Manning. The Broncos run more three-wide sets than just about any team in the league, which means Sanders will see plenty of playing time. That does not necessarily mean that he is going to simply slide in and replace Eric Decker’s 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. While Sanders possesses big play ability, his 5’11”, 180-pound frame is not a comparison for the 6’3”, 215 pound Decker. Sanders will be used differently in the Denver offense than Decker was and that should both excite and worry potential fantasy owners. Don’t expect to see anywhere near as many targets go Sanders’ way as did Decker’s, but look for those opportunities to be potential huge plays. It would not be surprising to see Sanders improve on his yardage and touchdown totals from 2013 while actually seeing a small dip in total receptions. The hype train on Sanders has been strong this offseason with him being drafted as a WR3 in most leagues. While the hype may be warranted, having Sanders as a WR4 would be much more palatable given the strong possibility of some serious inconsistency from him this season, especially early in the year while he’s still gaining Manning’s trust.
TE Julius Thomas
(2013 TE Rank—#3, 9.0 FPts/G)
The fantasy breakout star of 2013 had to be tight end Julius Thomas, who burst onto the season in Week 1 with a monstrous five catch, 110 yard, two touchdown performance. He didn’t look back from there, as Thomas would go on to catch a total of 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. After being a training camp darling in both 2011 and 2012, Thomas finally put that talent to use in 2013 and is now considered one of the elite tight ends as we head into 2014. Peyton Manning has been known to make the careers of wide receivers, but the same could be said for his tremendous success in throwing the ball to tight ends. Thomas is now the beneficiary of that success and there’s little reason to believe that he won’t be one of the top-scoring players at the position again. If it weren’t for a knee injury that kept him out a couple of games and seemed to slow him down a bit in the surrounding games, Thomas could have very well finished close to New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham as the top-scoring tight end in all of fantasy football. A natural regression in the touchdown category seems likely, but like Manning and the other players in this offense, even a significant reduction in stats would still mean a big fantasy season for Thomas. He’s currently being drafted as a high-third round pick, but Thomas could see that stock rise over the next month, especially if reports continue to be less than stellar regarding Rob Gronkowski’s likelihood of playing in Week 1. If Gronkowski is out, look for Thomas to move up a few spots as the tight end position becomes even thinner heading into 2014.
By: Mike Krueger — @ 2:59 am
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Player Projections, Rankings & Cheatsheets
Change Log – 8/14/14
Lot’s of minor tweaking this week as camp news and notes starts to solidify my opinions on how the offenses across the league are shaping up. Here are some of the biggest movers as week head into Week 2 of preseason action.
- Robert Griffin III (-1) I removed some of RGIIIs rushing yardage as I get this sense he’s going to attempt to stay in the pocket more this season.
- Johnny Manziel (+7) Even if Hoyer starts the season, it won’t be long (likely Week 5 after Cleveland’s bye in Week 4) before Manziel takes the field as the starting QB.
- Doug Martin (-4) – Won’t be the workhorse like he was back in 2012.
- Jonathan Grimes (+33) – Release of Andre Brown, gives Grimes a good shot be Foster’s backup.
- James White (+7) – Still holding sleeper status for the casual ff owner.
- Wes Welker (-5) – Love Welker in his swan song season in Denver but initial yardage total was too high.
- Eric Decker (+5) – Original projections were a touch too low.
- Terrance Williams (+6) – The Cowboys are going to be throwing a ton, making up inefficiencies on defense.
- Brandin Cooks (+9) Want to hear more from practice and watch the next two pre-season games, but Cooks may climb into WR30 area by late August.
- Kenny Britt (+20) – Running as a starter, but you can’t help but think Britt is teasing us fantasy owners again.
- Travis Kelce (+10) – Great talent and speed for a TE, but needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’s an upside pick as a TE2.
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