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Top Ten Free Agent Wide Receivers for 2014

By: — February 24, 2014 @ 11:00 pm
Filed under: Free Agents

Updated: March 7th, 2014 @ 9:00 AM

Eric Decker

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

Top Ten Free Agent Running Backs for 2014

By: — February 20, 2014 @ 2:57 pm
Filed under: Free Agents

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

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

Top Five Free Agent Tight Ends for 2014

By: — February 17, 2014 @ 9:16 am
Filed under: Free Agents

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

Dennis Pitta

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

Top Five Free Agent Quarterbacks for 2014

By: — February 13, 2014 @ 10:21 am
Filed under: Free Agents

Michael Vick

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

Because It’s Never Too Early: 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings

By: — 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.

Josh Gordon

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.

Because It’s Never Too Early: 2014 Tight End Rankings

By: — February 4, 2014 @ 10:55 am
Filed under: Forecast

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.

Jimmy Graham

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.

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