Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Colby Cavaliere — July 14, 2014 @ 10:53 pm
WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the Vikings player of intrigue for fantasy owners.
QB Matt Cassel
(2013 QB Rank–33, 16.2 FPts/G)
There is perhaps no more schizophrenic position in the NFL than quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Since 2000, the Vikings have had a whopping 15 different players make a start at quarterback. 2013 was no different, as three players, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman took rides on the quarterback merry-go-round. The result? An ugly 6-10 record, an 18-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a yet another attempt at a long-term answer by drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Because there is a great chance that more than one quarterback will be under center again in 2014, until one guy emerges by playing well and winning, this is a fantasy situation to avoid. But watch closely, as there are a few reasons why the quarterback position in Minnesota won’t be a total black hole and may actually provide some solid QB2 possibilities.
With the re-signing of Cassel and the drafting of Bridgewater, the Vikings have seemed to move on from their last first-round quarterback, Ponder. Despite starting 16 games in 2012 and “leading” his team to the playoffs, Ponder has neither shown the physical tools or technical savvy to be anything more than a decent back-up. With Ponder relegated to No. 3 duties or perhaps off the team altogether by the start the season, put your focus on Cassel and Bridgewater. The skill position talent in running back Adrian Peterson and pass catchers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph, combined with the offensive coaching philosophy and pedigree of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, are enough to make Cassel and Bridgewater intriguing options. Based on offseason work, it seems Cassel will open the season as the starter. Cassel has experience and the support of his coaches and teammates and will have a legitimate chance to hold off Bridgewater if he plays well. Unfortunately for him, that’s a giant-sized IF. New lava-tempered head coach Mike Zimmer will look to make his mark and won’t drag his feet before making a change at the position like former Head Coach Lesile Frasier was guilty of doing. Bridgewater went from darling to dud in the offseason, falling all the way to the end of the first round in the draft. He has the leadership and decision-making to be successful, but the biggest knocks on Bridgewater were physical; he doesn’t offer much more than Cassel. Also, the Vikings will play all home games outside for the next two years, further limiting any late-season upside from Bridgewater in 2014. Only super desperate 12-team leagues will have to consider a Vikings quarterback this season, but in deeper leagues some QB2 value could be unearthed from this icy Minnesota wasteland.
RB Adrian Peterson
(2013 RB Rank–6, 15.0 FPts/G)
Statistically speaking, 2013 was the second-worst year in Adrian Peterson’s brilliant 7-year career. Coming off a mind-blowing 2,000-plus yard season in 2012, some slide was expected going into 2013. The falloff may have been steeper than some fantasy owners expected, as injuries bothered Peterson for a good part of the year, causing him to miss two starts and undergo offseason groin surgery. Hobbled, and again the only major threat on offense, he still managed to rip off 1,266 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Despite the mileage on his tires, Peterson still remains one of the few elite backs in the league capable of winning fantasy games by himself, even if he isn’t the automatic first running back taken. One of the few dents in his armor (to go along with his ball security issues – 31 career fumbles) is his role in the passing game. He had a career-high 43 catches for 436 yards in 2009 but has come nowhere near those numbers in two of the last three seasons. His underwhelming 5.5 yards-per-catch has put him well behind his elite peers. That may change drastically in 2014. With creative play-caller Norv Tuner now in the fold and back-up Toby Gerhart off to Jacksonville, expect Peterson to flirt with 40-plus catches once again as a true 3-down workhorse. With improved quarterback play and the continued development of second-year wide-out Cordarrelle Paterson, the offense should be more fluid and consistent, giving Peterson the running lanes to make big plays as a runner and receiver.
One final thing to consider if you have the enviable task of picking the first running back off the board; Peterson is coming off his third straight offseason surgery (ACL, sports hernia, groin). While he has proven to defy the physical limitations of mere mortals, father time still remains undefeated. Peterson is 29, with over 2,000 career carries, many of which have been of the minor car accident variety. The demise of Peterson is going to be swift and sudden, and it may be sooner rather than later. For owners who like to protect their investments with handcuffs, Peterson really doesn’t have one. Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and to a lesser extent LeSean McCoy, all have back-ups to target as potentially valuable handcuffs. With Gerhart gone, only a raw third-round rookie and fringe roster runner back up Peterson.
RB Matt Asiata
(2013 RB Rank–70, 18.0 FPts/G)
Matt Asiata’s three-touchdown Week 15 and 100-yard effort in Week 17 undoubtedly saved some fantasy seasons. While he was heroic in Peterson’s two-game absence and he takes the back-up reins from departed Toby Gerhart, Asiata lacks the physical and instinctive tools necessary to be a long-term handcuff for Peterson. The full-back/running back hybrid gets what’s blocked and is effective on the goal line, but fantasy owners would be hard-pressed to count on Asiata for more than a temporary fill-in.
RB Jerick McKinnon
(2013 RB Rank–NA)
Jerick McKinnon, the raw third-round pick from Georgia Southern makes up for what he lacks in experience at the running back position with eye-popping strength, speed and quickness. The 5’8’’ running back played defensive back, option quarterback and tailback during his time in college and is still adjusting to the position he’s been running at so far this offseason. Expect McKinnon to be sprinkled in from time to time to give Peterson a break early in the year, but baring serious injury, he may not have a defined role this season. His physical gifts give him high upside, and if he continues to work on and improve in the nuances of pass protection and pro running schemes, McKinnon could surpass Asiata for the top back-up spot and take the majority of carries in any potential committee situation.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
(2013 WR Rank–38, 6.5 FPts/G)
Cordarrelle Patterson might be poised to take the biggest leap of any receiver in 2014. Oozing with talent and upside, he was electric every time he touched the ball, whether it was through the air, on the ground or in the return game (scoring 9 times). After being virtually ignored on offense for the first 10 weeks, Patterson emerged in Weeks 11-17, racking up 27 catches and 10 rushing attempts. He still suffered from inconsistency issues down the stretch, going over 35 yards receiving only once in the final 5 games. Hamstrung with a limited route tree , the Vikings gave Patterson 12 rushing attempts ( second-best among all wide receivers) to go along with numerous bubble screens. This late-season creativity hints at what’s to come this year.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation can only get better, and Norv Turner has a long history of developing big-play wide receivers. Look for Patterson to get involved in the offense through screens, quick hitches and slants, and deep sideline routes. The emphasis on getting him the ball means he could approach 80 catches and nearly double-digit touchdown totals (he led the team in red zone targets last season). Be wary though, as he will be limited by mediocre quarterback play and inexperience. Patterson is a hot name this offseason, so don’t be tempted to overdraft him. He’s going to suffer from streaky, inconsistent play but could ultimately put up WR2 numbers when it’s all said and done.
WR Greg Jennings
(2013 WR Rank–39, 7.0 FPts/G)
Coming in right behind his more-hyped teammate in the 2013 rankings was former Packer Greg Jennings. The savvy 8-year veteran put up a solid 68-804-4 line for a Vikings team that seemed to be running in sand at times in 2013. Jennings should benefit from the increased attention teammate Cordarrelle Patterson should receive and having Matt Cassel behind center. Jennings was more effective under the improved accuracy of Cassel, posting nearly half his season totals in the quarterback’s six starts. So while he was a borderline WR3 at times last season, what value can Jennings bring to fantasy owners in 2014? While the emergence of Patterson led to some of Jennings’ best games late last season, it also means Jennings could take a back seat to Patterson in the weekly game plan. Throw in the healthy return of Kyle Rudolph, and Jennings could find himself fighting for catches in what should be a run-heavy offense. Last year’s Cleveland Browns, who feature a similar scheme and pass catchers, only got 41 catches from their third option (Greg Little). Jennings is certainly better than that other Greg, but don’t expect his numbers to differ much from 2013. His situation should limit him to a bench-warming WR4/5 status.
TE Kyle Rudolph
(2013 TE Rank–36, 6.2 FPts/G)
Where Norv Turner goes, the fantasy owner looking for a break-out tight end follows. From Jay Novacek in the‘90s, Antonio Gates in ‘00s and Jordan Cameron last year, Turner has quite a knack for featuring tight ends in his offensive system. Will Kyle Rudolph be the next in line to make the leap? Prior to his 2013 mid-season broken foot, Rudolph was on pace for career highs in receptions and yardage, totals that would have put him in the low-end TE1 conversation. In a fantasy position that lacks consistency outside the top tier, Rudolph has the physical traits and work ethic to massively improve on his 2013 ranking. While not as athletic as some former Turner tight ends, Rudolph is a monster in the red zone, and reports out of offseason workouts have him working extensively on his route running and discipline. With Turner calling plays, the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and Cordarelle Patterson out wide, Rudolph should easily double his totals from 2013, making him a solid TE1 for owners who miss out on a member of the top 5.
By: Colby Cavaliere — July 5, 2014 @ 1:35 pm
QB Aaron Rodgers
(2013 QB Rank—#26, 23.0 FPts/G)
It’s strange to look at quarterback rankings from 2013 and see a double-digit number next to Aaron Rodgers’s name. He still finished tied for fourth in FPts/G. A broken collarbone sunk his stats and nearly the Packers’ season before he came back in heroic fashion to save their season in week 17 against Chicago. Rodgers has remained at the top of nearly every important fantasy quarterback stat for the past six years and he’s always in the running for first quarterback off the board. Will Rodgers pick right up where he left off and continue to make Green Bay’s offense a fantasy factory?
Let’s not be silly, if Rodgers is your starting quarterback, your roster will be in great hands. Coaches and players lie, but numbers usually don’t. If Rodgers had played the full season, he would have finished 2013 with roughly 4,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those numbers would have put him in the low end of the top 10 and approached his career starter lows.
There are a few factors to consider before making that all-important quarterback selection, though. First, the emergence of Eddie Lacy. The rookie runner carried the ball 285 times and 11 scores last year and proved to be the reliable and efficient running back the Packers have been looking for since Ryan Grant in 2009. Grant’s numbers from that year are eerily similar to those of Lacy last year: 1,100 yards with 11 touchdowns. Rodgers in 2009: 4,400-30-7, very close to his 16-game projection for 2013. Another factor to consider is the change in player personnel. In consecutive offseasons Rodgers has lost familiar veteran pass catchers in Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. Their talent will be easy to replace, as Rodgers makes the players around him better. Working with younger receivers in Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin and a potential rookie tight end could affect his consistency, especially early in the year. The bottom line here is that Rodgers is one of the league’s best, but baring major injury to the running back corps, he won’t be asked to carry this team like in 2011 and 2012. Expect numbers to be closer to that of mere mortals, but still good enough to make him a top QB1 selection.
A fantasy step-forward from Eddie Lacy will be difficult if Rodgers remains healthy.
RB Eddie Lacy
(2013 RB Rank—#7, 14.0 FPts/G)
In 2013, Eddie Lacy rumbled his way into the fantasy scene and into the record books for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. Great things were expected from the first-round rookie, and despite a very slow start – 51 yards in 15 carries after three games – he nearly single handedly kept the Packers season alive when Aaron Rodgers missed time with a broken collarbone. His nearly 1400 yard, 11 touchdown season was much needed given the team’s instability. Lacy finished as a top-10 back in just his first year, during which he had 10 games of 20+ carries, and was the sole offensive threat for most of those contests. As a true 3-down, goal line back on an elite offensive team, Lacy should maintain a grip on RB1 status. For fantasy owners looking for a vast improvement in his numbers, though, they might want to think again.
What Lacy excels at is far more important on the field than in a fantasy box score. He was an elite pass-blocker and ball handler last season with only one fumble. There has been chatter that the Green Bay staff wants to lessen the running load on Lacy during the upcoming season. Lightening the load might be a good idea, as Lacy suffered a severe concussion early in the year and played with an ankle injury down the stretch. He wasn’t the most explosive back last year with only nine carries of 15+ yards. He gained yardage mostly with pile-moving leg drive and nimble feet at and near the line of scrimmage. His volume of carries was leveraged against a decent, but nothing-special 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
The return of Rodgers should open up the offense and allow Lacy some bigger running lanes, but at the same time, result in fewer carries. Injury aside, rushing yardage totals should be very close to where they were in 2013. What will elevate Lacy into the top five or relegate him to fringe RB1 status are his touchdown totals. With Rodgers at the helm full-time, more scoring chances should be available. However, Mike McCarthy has always been comfortable allowing Rodgers to throw inside the red zone and that philosophy won’t change especially with Randall Cobb coming back from his leg injury. Expect Lacy’s 2014 numbers to be close to his career highs, but not quite good enough to carry your fantasy roster alone.
RB James Starks
(2013 RB Rank—#46, 6.3 FPts/G)
During his four-year career with the Packers, James Starks has been a playoff hero, a training room resident and on-the-roster bubble. In the early offseason of 2013, he was nearly cut or traded away following the drafting of rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. This year, he signed a new contract and plays a valuable back-up role on a playoff team. What happened? Well for one, Starks stayed relatively healthy. Playing in a career-high 13 games, Starks amassed nearly 500 yards and three touchdowns playing second fiddle to Lacy. Secondly, he capitalized on the struggles and subsequent injuries to rookie Jonathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris, and showed why lack of health and not talent has held him back from his true potential. Sporting an explosive 5.5 yard-per-carry average, Starks is back on the fantasy map, but unfortunately, barring a long-term injury to Lacy, is no more than a deep roster stash or handcuff. With coaching-staff-favorite Harris healthy, Rodgers back in the fold and Lacy dominating carries, don’t expect much from Starks in 2014. Maybe that’s what fantasy owners should have done all along with Starks. though. You can, however, hope for surprising value at some point in the season.
RB DuJuan Harris
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Despite missing all of 2013 with a knee injury, the 5’8’’ scatback from Troy gives the Packers an offensive element they hoped to get from Jonathan Franklin before he was released this offseason with a career-ending neck injury. His familiarity with the system and loss of Franklin allow Harris to stay on the roster and earn a handful of touches. Should Lacy miss an extended amount of time, Harris would likely be part of a three-headed committee and could warrant a look by a needy owner.
WR Jordy Nelson
(2013 WR Rank—#11, 11.2 FPts/G)
“White Chocolate” was once again a sweet treat for fantasy owners in 2013. The king of the sideline toe tap combines elite body control, precise route running and deceptive speed to be considered a perennial top pick at wide receiver. Even without Aaron Rodgers for a long stretch of the season, Nelson was able to improve on his No. 11 ranking from 2012, while setting career highs in catches (85) and yards (1,314). With the loss of Greg Jennings and James Jones, Nelson remains Rodgers’ most familiar and reliable target. Nelson’s effective back-shoulder fade and ability to take short screens long distances make him a consistent fantasy wide receiver fixture, as long as Rodgers is throwing him the ball, which may not for long. Nelson is entering the last year of his contract and remains in negotiations for an extension. Constantly fighting and clawing for respect since drafted out of Kansas State, Nelson isn’t likely to see a spike in production due to contract motivations. He could expect Rodgers to throw him the ball for 16 games. Nelson racked up four of his five, 100-yard games and seven of his eight touchdowns with Rodgers behind center. While the outside receiver in the Packers West Coast system doesn’t usually flirt with extremely high catch totals, Nelson is a strong bet to approach his career-high 15 touchdown total from 2011. With the return of a healthy Randall Cobb and a more balanced offensive attack, Nelson’s yardage and catch totals could dip slightly, with an uptick in touchdowns. Because he does more with less – with the second-lowest number of targets for a receiver in the top 15 – and plays with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, Nelson could give you WR1 value at a WR2 price.
WR Randall Cobb
(2013 WR Rank—#61, 12.5 FPts/G)
Coming off an 80-954-8 line in 2012, Randall Cobb was poised to enter 2013 as a serious threat among the upper tier of fantasy wide receivers. He was on his way, combining for a ridiculous 22 targets, 16 catches, 236 yards and two touchdowns in the season’s first two weeks. He cooled slightly over the next several weeks before suffering a broken leg in Week 6. He returned in heroic fashion with teammate Aaron Rodgers in Week 17 to net two scores to beat the Bears.
Once again, Cobb enters a season with big expectations. With the changing of the guard out wide, the Packers will count on Cobb more than ever to be a reliable target for Rodgers. Can fantasy owners once again put their trust in Cobb to approach WR1 numbers in an era when the wide receiver position is at its deepest in history? Because of his mastery in the slot, ability to use his quickness to get separation and role in the offense, Cobb certainly should be among the league leaders in targets in 2014.
What separates tiers of receivers are their ability and opportunity to score touchdowns. When it comes to touchdowns, bigger is usually better. Those 6’2’’+, 210 pound receivers are able to use their frames to do something Cobb can’t: outmuscle defensive backs for jump balls, slants and curls in the red zone. In his three years, Cobb has proven to be able to do something very few receivers his size haven’t been able to do: score in or very near the red zone. Eight of his 13 career touchdowns receptions have come from 22 yards or less. This is a better rate than similarly-sized Victor Cruz and very close to that of mighty mite Wes Welker, whose last 14 touchdowns were from inside the red zone. Play calling, ability and an elite quarterback mean that Cobb should be able to record double-digit touchdowns, and that combined with catch totals that should be in excess of 80. Cobb is someone you can draft as a WR2 but who could end up out-producing your WR1.
WR Jarrett Boykin
(2013 WR Rank #55—7.2 FPts/G)
Aaron Rodgers is one of those rare quarterbacks who make the receivers around him better. Fantasy owners should then keep a keen eye on the fight for the No. 3 receiver in the Green Bay offense, as the winner of this battle could provide some sneaky WR3 play in 2014. Returning to fight for this role is Jarrett Boykin. Because of injury, Boykin was forced into just eight starts last year and played well in his 16 total games with 49 catches, 689 yards and three scores, especially since all of this production came from Week 6 on. His three, 100-yard games, and four games of 10+ targets signify that coaches were comfortable enough making him a significant part of the game plan at certain times. Should Boykin hold off second-round rookie Devante Adams and lock down the No. 3 role, he could benefit from the loss of James Jones and Jermichael Finley, and put up numbers that would make him a late-round or waiver-wire steal.
WR Davante Adams
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Davante Adams, the 6’1’’ rookie from Fresno State, makes up for his lack of experience with superior natural ability. He led the nation in catches and receiving touchdowns as a red-shirt sophomore. While he isn’t a burner, he fits the mold of receivers that the Packers have been able to develop over the last several seasons. Watch the opportunities he gets in camp and preseason games. If he is able to impart a measure of confidence with his coaches and quarterback, Adams could push for serious playing time in the middle part of the year, making him a waiver-wire pick to watch.
TE Andrew Quarless
(2013 TE Rank—#40, 3.3 FPts/G)
The tight position in Green Bay was a fantasy wasteland after the loss of Jermichael Finley in Week 7. Barring his miraculous return, there probably won’t be a TE1 or TE2 to emerge from this logjam position in 2014.
Typically counted on as a quality blocker at the edge or attack, Andrew Quarless was pressed into receiver duty because of the serious neck injury suffered by Finley. As you can see by his No. 40 final ranking, he didn’t exactly burn up the stat sheet. His familiarity with the system and new contract give him a leg up in the battle with second-year man Brandon Bostick and rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers. His injury history – an ACL tear in 2012 and missing all offseason work thus far in 2014 – and athletic limitations don’t make him a very attractive fantasy option.
Bostik, the former college wide receiver, offers athletic upside, but broke his foot late last year and is still working his way back into condition.
Rodgers, the third-round pick from Cal, averaged a wide-receiver-like 15.5 yards-per-catch and is in his final season with the Golden Bears. He offers the best glimmer of hope for fantasy owners. Recent reports indicate that he has been playing well in OTAs. Should he prove to be a capable blocker, he could emerge from the pack as the starter and might be worth keeping an eye on.
By: Colby Cavaliere — June 27, 2014 @ 1:23 pm
Cutler is primed for his second 4000-yard passing season if he can stay healthy.
QB Jay Cutler
(2013 QB Rank—#24, 19.9 FPts/G)
The Chicago Bears clearly put their franchise in the hands of Jay Cutler for the foreseeable future and paid him like an elite quarterback, lavished him with a fresh seven-year, $126 million deal in the offseason. Should fantasy owners feel the same confidence? Cutler has always been on the fringe of being a consistent fantasy starter, but injury, scheme or sieve-like offensive line play have always conspired to keep him from being a reliable QB1. In 2013, with a new coach, offensive philosophy and towering targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett, Cutler was off to a strong start, throwing for 12 scores after the first six games. But serious groin and ankle injuries caused Cutler to miss significant snaps and left the door open for Josh McCown to have career resurgence.
Enjoying a healthy and productive offseason, Cutler is an intriguing option for owners looking for a sneaky value pick at quarterback. Blessed with a terrific system, mentality and elite receiving options, Cutler is primed for a repeat of his 2008 season in Denver when he passed for 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. His injury concerns are valid because of the die-hard way he plays the game, but looking at his medical history, there are no sign of chronic, repeated problems. His arm has always been healthy, and despite missing 12 games over the last three years (six of which were from a freak thumb injury), he is a very tough field general who plays and effectively so, although they’re minor injuries. Fantasy owners looking to stockpile receiver or running back talent before landing a quarterback should keep Cutler in mind. Currently hovering in low tier QB1/upper QB2 territory, Cutler has the gridiron environment to possibly sneak his way into the middle tier and become a real steal.
RB Matt Forte
(2013 RB Rank —#3, 16.6 FPts/G)
The demise of the elite, reliable volume running back has been swift and harsh. Fortunately for his fantasy owners, someone forgot to tell Matt Forte. Forte continues to be one of the game’s best dual threats and reliable ball carriers, as he posted another fantastic season in 2013 with 1,339 yards on the ground, along with 75 catches for an additional 592 yards receiving. Forte also tied his career high with 12 total scores. He set career highs as a receiver in Marc Tressman’s new offensive system, and his work as a pass receiver sets him apart from many of his peers. What makes Forte such a valuable fantasy asset is not only his ability to carry your team to victory once or twice a year, but his consistency. He ranks No. 2 in FFToday’s consistency ratings at running back with only three games scoring single-digit fantasy points. Forte continues to play at an elite level, even as he enters the season at 28 years old. Combining superior vision and tackle-breaking ability even without blazing speed, especially in the screen game, Forte will benefit from several factors entering this season. Draft him, plug him in as your offensive centerpiece and pray he stays healthy!
RB Ka’Deem Carey
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Fourth-round rookies buried behind veteran superstars usually garner few fantasy headlines. Winning fantasy owners don’t read headlines, though. They look deeper. Coming off a ridiculous 1,885-19-5.4 season for the Arizona Wildcats, Ka’Deem Carey plummeted to the middle rounds due to a lackluster 40-yard dash time and character issues. Possessing many of the similar traits as starter Matt Forte – body control, lateral agility and pass receiving ability – Carey inds himself in a fertile environment to develop. He won’t be asked to play many snaps, barring an injury to Forte, but should that happen, Carey has the volume opportunity to provide some tremendous RB2 value to the forward thinking owner. Carey might be one of the few “must own” handcuffs in the league, and Forte owners will be sure to draft him, but don’t be scared to select him and stash him on your bench even if don’t own the Tulane star.
RB Shaun Draughn
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
In a time when running back talent is as scarce as ever, it’s important to pay close attention to camp battles at backup spots. Although the talent and pedigree of Ka’Deem Carey should propel him to the back-up RB spot in Chicago, watch closely the amount of reps second-year undrafted free-agent Michael Ford and veteran journeyman Shaun Draughn receive in pre-season practice. Coach Marc Tressman isn’t going to lock anyone into backup slots too soon, so be thorough in your research and preparation. Sometimes the most expensive diamonds have to be mined from the deepest caves.
WR Brandon Marshall
(2013 WR Rank—#6, 12.6 FPts/G)
Obscure duo references notwithstanding, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler are as locked-at-the-hip as they come in professional sports. Signing his own mega contract extension this offseason, Marshall seems to have contained his demons and focused on becoming a professional football player. Combining rare physical gifts with boundless emotion, Marshall has entered the prime of his career improving his technical and mental game. While he underperformed in overall yardage and catch totals since 2012, Marshall still had over 100 catches for the fifth time in his career and had a personal-best 12 touchdown grabs. For as long as they are together, Cutler will have his radar locked on to Marshall, which makes him one of the most reliable pass catchers in the league. The emergence of fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey and the continued threat of Matt Forte mean defenses can’t scheme Marshall out of the game. Expect another season of 90+ catches, 1,200 yards and double digit touchdowns, landing Marshall in the upper tier of WR1s.
WR Alshon Jeffery
(2013 WR Rank—#9, 12.2 FPts/G)
After the first three games of the 2013 season, Alshon Jeffery had 13 catches for 104 yards and zero touchdowns, not a great start for a highly touted second-round pick coming off a disappointing rookie year. So, forgive the fantasy world if they didn’t see the 1,317 yards and seven touchdowns that came in the final 13 games. Jeffrey was one of fantasy’s biggest and most surprising stars of the 2013 season. After a top-10 finish, though, can fantasy owners expect a repeat performance? The quick answer is not exactly. Brandon Marshall continues to be a target monster as long as Jay Cutler remains under center, which means that on most afternoons, Jeffrey is at best the No. 2 option in the passing game. While it’s true that the target, yardage and touchdown numbers for Jeffrey were very similar no matter if Cutler or McCown were under center, Jeffrey was the recipient of a number of miraculous catches and jump balls. These are all a testament to his amazing skills, but they are also similarly hard to duplicate. As defenses focus more attention on Jeffrey, his yardage totals will drop, as more frequent safety help over the top comes his way. As a young player he still lacks the refinement in his route tree to be a consistent short and intermediate target, but his yards-after-catch skills – 15th among wide receivers – means the drop-off might not be as severe as it could be. Feel comfortable drafting Jeffrey as a low-end WR1 and ecstatic if he is your WR2, as he has the skillset, scheme and gunslinger quarterback to be a high-end receiver for years to come.
WR Marquess Wilson
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
A fantasy no name in 2013, Wilson barely registered on the stat sheet as he finished the season with two catches and 13 yards. Don’t be shocked if he surpasses those numbers in the first half of the opener against the Bills. Thanks to the emergence of teammate Alshon Jeffrey (similar frame and skillset) and release of Cutler-favorite Earl Bennett, fantasy owners have noticed Wilson this preseason. Expected to win the WR3 job, Wilson remains someone to keep an eye on, if not during your draft, then during the season as a waiver pickup. Should an injury befall Brandon Marshall or Jeffrey, the towering former seventh-round pick could have the opportunity to make a prepared fantasy owner very happy.
TE Martellus Bennett
(2013 TE Rank—#10, 6.6 FPts/G)
Despite several stops in his NFL career, highly-touted TE Martellus Bennett has never become an explosive, field-stretching pass receiver like some thought he would be when the Cowboys made him a second-round pick in 2008. He has become is a solid, reliable target for Chicago Bears quarterbacks, though. Bennett is the ideal TE for the owner with a solid all-around roster. He finished eighth or ninth among all tight ends in targets, catches and yards last season, making him at best, a low-end TE1 option. You won’t mind starting Bennett if you have to or sitting him for a gamble, so he is a great option for owners looking for some decent production while they sit and wait on a young, high-upside TE2s like Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz or Ladarius Green.
By: Colby Cavaliere — June 20, 2014 @ 11:04 am
Bush should be a PPR star but he may have a hard time duplicating his 2013 season.
QB Matthew Stafford
(2013 QB Rank—#4, 23.0 FPts/G)
Can sixth-year gunslinger Matt Stafford be the quarterback to serve a potential fantasy smorgasbord to owners in 2014? The Detroit Lions have focused their offseason on giving their franchise quarterback the pieces necessary for them to become a top-flight offense, copying the blueprint of the prolific New Orleans Saints. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi brings the New Orleans scheme, and Lions brass, led by new head coach Jim Caldwell, have brought in the personnel in rookie tight end Eric Ebron and YAC maven Golden Tate. Stafford has never had a problem amassing impressive box scores, with 14,000-plus yards passing and 96 total TDs over the past three seasons. Drew Brees ascended to fantasy elite status in a similar system, but Stafford currently lacks the mechanics, efficiency and system experience of Brees, so fantasy owners expecting comparable results might be disappointed. That said, count on Stafford to approach another 4,500-yard, 30-plus TD season (a solid bet for top-five numbers), offering a more consistent TD/interception ratio on a game-by-game basis, as he will actually have short-to-intermediate route runners in Ebron and Tate and won’t have to force big plays downfield. Savvy owners will also notice the three-game homestretch at domed Ford Field late in the fantasy season in weeks 13-15.
RB Reggie Bush
(2013 RB Rank—#10, 13.8 FPts/G)
Reggie Bush was everything the Lions hoped he would be when they signed him in the previous offseason. He provided a big-play threat at the running back position—displaying dazzling tackle-breaking ability and sure hands—on his way to 1,000-plus yards rushing and more than 500 yards receiving. Bush stayed relatively healthy, playing in 14 games, but missed parts of others with nagging lower-body injuries. In an effort to keep Bush fresh, the Lions utilized Joique Bell in a similar role. Fantasy owners and Lions coaches soon realized that the fundamentally sound Bell could be trusted as a runner and receiver. With Bell signed to an extension, and a familiar system in the works, expect Bush’s carry numbers to drop but his receptions to rise as he slides into a Darren Sproles type of role in the offense. Bush should shine in PPR leagues, but barring a rash of injuries to the stable of Lions RBs, expect him to have a hard time approaching his top-10 finish of 2013, becoming more of an RB2/3 option.
RB Joique Bell
(2013 RB Rank—#17, 10.5 FPts/G)
Coming off a 2013 performance that included 50 catches, 8 TDs and nearly 1,200 total yards, Joique Bell inked a new three-year, $9.3 million deal this offseason. Bell makes up for his lack of measurables and elite athleticism by being a fundamentally sound and extremely disciplined football player—and on a team with elite passing weapons, sometimes that’s enough to get the job done. Doing work as a runner and receiver, Bell has amassed back-to-back 50-catch seasons as a mostly change-of-pace running back. As the offense morphs into New Orleans North, expect Bell to fill the Pierre Thomas role in the offense. Keep a close eye on Bell’s health as camp approaches—he has missed all offseason minicamps and OTAs with a lingering knee injury. Missing the early install of a new offense could get Bell off to a slow start, but expect him to approach and possibly surpass his ground numbers of 2013 (166-650-3.9), as he remains the Lions’ best between-the-tackles and goal-line runner. With the additions of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate, Bell no longer remains Matt Stafford’s first option in the short-passing game. If Reggie Bush remains healthy for 16 games, don’t be shocked to see a slight dip in Bell’s reception totals. With an uptick in touch totals, however, Bell makes for a decent option as an RB2, with a possibility for more should Bush miss any time.
RB Theo Riddick / RB Mikel Leshoure
(2013 RB Ranks—N/A)
On most teams, fantasy owners wouldn’t be all that concerned with a battle for the No. 3 running back spot. But this offensive scheme has a habit of including as many as three running backs in the game plan, so smart owners would be wise to see who wins the camp battle, and take notes. Theo Riddick, the sixth-round runner from Notre Dame, totaled just 13 touches last season. Mikel Leshoure, the former first-round pick, never worked his way out of the doghouse, totaling just two touches last year after racking up nearly 1,000 total yards and 9 TDs in 2012. At this point, neither RB is worth owning in anything less than the deepest of leagues, but should an injury befall Joique Bell or Reggie Bush, Riddick and Leshoure have the game to come in and potentially be valuable bench players.
WR Calvin Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#3, 15.8 FPts/G)
Could help finally be on the way for Megatron? Will Golden Tate or Eric Ebron fill the role of Starscream? (You’re welcome, Transformers fans!) Season after season, Calvin Johnson had to shoulder the passing load for a Lions team that was simply unable to find a complementary receiver. The otherworldly Johnson stepped up to do his best superhero impression again last year, racking up an 84-1,489-12 line in only 14 games. So will the addition of Tate and Ebron impact Johnson’s numbers negatively or positively? A look at Johnson’s mates in the top five last year proves that it helps to be the MAN in the passing game. Between Johnson, A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, only Thomas had a teammate finish in the top 20. If Tate continues his solid play, and Ebron is as advertised, expect Johnson’s yardage totals to take a slight dip in 2014, but his catches and touchdown totals could slightly increase with the reduced defensive attention he receives. Any way you slice it, Johnson is a lock for the top five, and the potential top pick at WR.
WR Golden Tate
(2013 WR Rank—#29, 7.7 FPts/G)
Despite having only 64 catches last season, Golden Tate was the eighth-best receiver in terms of yards after catch in 2013. As sure-handed as they come, the former Notre Dame star was also among the league leaders in catch rate. Tate fills some gigantic holes in the Lions’ passing game. He gives Stafford a reliable short-to-intermediate target that has the ability to get yards after the catch, and he also comes with a winning pedigree and experience in big-game situations. When evaluating Tate from a fantasy perspective, it’s important to remember that he is going from being a No. 1 receiver in run-heavy Seattle to a complementary piece in what should be a high-volume passing offense in Detroit. The wide receiver position is as deep as ever, and the fact remains that there are lots of potential mouths to feed, and only one football. Expect Tate’s numbers to be heavily influenced by the use of Ebron. If Ebron develops quickly and forces Lions coaches to make him a must in the weekly game play, Tate’s numbers could stagnate or drop slightly. If Ebron comes along slowly, or one of the running backs succumbs to injury, Tate could be called on regularly and be a real fantasy asset. At this point, consider Tate a WR4/5 and stash him on your bench hoping for more.
TE Eric Ebron
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Say hello to the NFL’s newest version of the “move” tight end. At 6’4’’ and 250 pounds, Eric Ebron brings a level of athleticism and field-stretching ability this offense hasn’t seen in quite some time. Although he may have been drafted to play the Jimmy Graham role in Joe Lombardi’s offense, fantasy owners expecting Ebron to even sniff Jimmy Graham numbers will be gravely mistaken. Rookie tight ends tend to struggle even more than rookie wide receivers, and Ebron can no longer rely solely on his elite athleticism. In the Minnesota Vikings’ Harrison Smith, and fellow rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the Green Bay Packers, Ebron will face off against equally skilled cover safeties and, in some cases, linebackers. This passing offense still flows through Calvin Johnson, so a Jordan Reed line (49-499-3) is a good place to start as far as estimates go. Look for Ebron to be a TE2 early on in the year as he gets used to the NFL game, but because of his unique athletic skills and pass-friendly offense, expect a late-season breakout (à la Zack Ertz from the Eagles) that could make him a lower-tier TE1 option down the stretch.
TE Brandon Pettigrew
(2013 TE Rank—#31, 3.8 FPts/G)
The stone-handed, heavy-footed Pettigrew was brought back solely as a reliable blocker. Since catching 83 passes in 2011, Pettigrew has seen his targets and catches drop each of the last two years. With Golden Tate and rookie Eric Ebron in the fold, and an increased reliance on running back routes out of the backfield, expecting Pettigrew to improve on his No. 31 ranking in 2014 is pure insanity. Unless the Lions’ passing game is beset by injury, Pettigrew shouldn’t be anywhere near your roster.
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