Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Jake Gordon — July 21, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
QB Jake Locker
(2013 QB Rank—#37, 17.5 FPts/G)
Since he was drafted as the No. 8 overall pick in 2011, Jake Locker has yet to live up to expectations in the fantasy game or real life. He is slated to begin the 2014 season as the starting quarterback for the third straight year despite not having his option picked up by the team. How is that for confidence? If Locker hopes to get a shiny new deal, first he will have to learn how to stay on the field. Over the past two years he has missed nearly half of the Titans’ games (14 of 32) with ailments to his hip, foot and shoulder. So far this offseason Locker has shown that he is mostly over the Lisfranc injury that sidelined him last season. He participated in mini camp last month and is grasping the playbook under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Tennessee has also made an attempt to bolster the offensive line by signing tackle Micheal Oher and drafting Tyler Lewan. Locker should have a good-sized leash as Tennessee opted to not bring in a high-priced veteran to challenge for the starting role. Instead, the team chose to add a career backup in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst has knowledge of the system having served as Phillip Rivers’ understudy last year in San Diego and if everything falls into place he could make a Luke McCown-like splash midseason. If Locker is indeed healthy and making good reads in this offense he would still only be an average reserve for fantasy purposes. Should he falter or suffer another injury, the Titans would turn to Whitehurst until rookie Zach Mettenberger is ready. Mettenberger is reportedly doing well in his recovery from an ACL injury that caused him to slide to the sixth round. If he can impress in his first pro season, he would likely be in the mix to start as soon as next year, assuming Locker is not brought back on a new deal.
RB Bishop Sankey
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
The Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back chosen in the 2014 draft and it is clear that they feel he has the ability to replace Chris Johnson. They might not elevate him to the top of the depth chart at the outset of training camp because of his status as a rookie, but he should be their number one guy by Week One of the regular season. Part of this is due to the lack of quality competition to handle anything close to a full workload of carries. Shonn Greene continues to deal with knee problems and has seen his role reduced. Jackie Battle provides depth and could be moved to fullback while other players like Dexter McCluster are complementary pieces within the offense. Meanwhile Sankey has the skills to develop into a very good three-down running back within a balanced offense geared to move the chains. His solid hands will also make him a nice safety valve for Jake Locker and PPR owners. Whether Sankey can become the next stalwart rookie fantasy back will depend on his durability and ability to adjust to the pro game as a runner and blocker. He has shown that he can handle a larger workload as a two-year starter for Washington yet the possibility of hitting a “rookie wall” remains. Potential Sankey investors will want to follow his preseason progress very closely to see whether the same exceptional vision that he displayed in college will not be negated by the quicker NFL defenses.
RB Shonn Greene
(2013 RB Rank—#56, 5.2 FPts/G)
Shonn Greene saw his fantasy stock plunge when he was employed as the short yardage specialist behind Chris Johnson last year. The net results were a career-low 77 rushing attempts and off-season knee surgery that kept him out of OTAs and mini camp. The addition of Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster combined with the presence of Jackie Battle mean Greene’s fantasy upside is likely to remain limited. If Greene is able to use training camp to work his way back to full health, he should be the first choice near the goal line. Greene’s conversion rate is decent; however, opportunities to increase his volume of work are not nearly as rewarding as other backfield vultures. As a touchdown-or-bust player with significant health risk on a team that is expected to be in the lower half of the league in offensive output, Greene is a risky investment for the 2104 fantasy campaign.
Kendall Wright will need to increase his TD total to be considered a true WR1.
WR Kendall Wright
(2013 WR Rank—#31, 7.5 FPts/G)
The Titans invested a first-round pick in Kendall Wright two years ago and they are already seeing dividends. In the 2013 season, Wright notched his first 1,000-yard season and ended up just six catches short of the century mark. This year, fantasy owners will not want to sleep on Wright. A player who will be labeled short on touchdown potential on a run-first team, Wright stands to make the most gains in the new offensive system considering the passing game ranked 20th or worse in passing yards and touchdowns. More efficiency should equate to more overall production for the top targets. Furthermore, the team did well in using the short yardage passing game. Those attributes not only suit Wright’s game extremely well, but also are the backbone for success in any West Coast playbook. Wright spent part of the offseason working with Robert Griffin III in preparation of taking his game to an even higher level for 2014. One of only a few receivers with a realistic shot at 100 receptions; Wright is only a few touchdown receptions away from being a solid WR2 in PPR leagues. In every other format, Wright becomes an attractive investment in the middle rounds as one of the better WR3 upside plays.
WR Nate Washington
(2013 WR Rank—#36, 6.9 FPts/G)
Since Derrick Mason’s departure following the 2004 season, five different players have led the team in receiving yards. Nate Washington led the team twice, most recently two years ago with a whopping 746 yards. While Kendall Wright passed him on the depth chart, Washington should remain a starter as he prepares for his ninth season in the league. As the offense evolves around younger players, a decline is expected to keep the veteran’s fantasy value to that of a bye week replacement option. Should quarterback Jake Locker find his way in 2014, Washington would top out as a WR4 or WR5 depending on the number of teams in your league
WR Dexter McCluster
(2013 WR Rank—#68, 4.2 FPts/G)
Could this be the year when Dexter McCluster finally gets enough touches to be a consistent threat on offense as well as special teams? As offenses continue to evolve in today’s NFL so too does the role of the scatback. The elusive McCluster has never been able to earn both carries and targets during a single season but that might change in Tennessee. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt successfully found a way to maximize Danny Woodhead’s skills as both a runner and receiver to yield 193 combined targets and rushing attempts last season. If McCluster were put into a similar role, he would have flex consideration most weeks. Having witnessed a young Chris Johnson run past defenses in the past, Tennessee is not afraid to gamble by putting the ball in the hands of speedy playmakers.
WR Justin Hunter
(2013 WR Rank—#73, 4.6 FPts/G)
Justin Hunter may have the highest fantasy ceiling of any Titans receiver this year and fantasy owners would be wise to follow his development during the preseason. After being a non-factor for most of the season, Hunter posted two impressive performances during a late four-game road trip in 2013. In both games, he notched over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hunter has always had the potential to become a big time threat; however, the presence of Kenny Britt, a few dropped passes and the lack of consistent play at the quarterback position did not help Hunter reach his potential. Onto his second season, fantasy owners will find Britt is no longer in Nashville, Jake Locker is healthy (at least at the moment) and Hunter has added a few more pounds to his 6’4” frame. If he can show consistency in training camp and the preseason, he will likely ascend the depth chart and exceed his draft day value.
TE Delanie Walker
(2013 TE Rank—#12, 6.2 FPts/G)
No longer playing second fiddle to Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker enjoyed his best season to date with the Titans in 2013. In 15 games as Tennessee’s starter, Walker had more targets, receptions and yards than he did in his previous two seasons combined as a member of the 49ers. He became a larger part of the offense as the season went along, receiving seven or more targets in five of the team’s final eight games. Under the Ken Whisenhunt’s play calling last year, an aging Antonio Gates surpassed 100 targets in route to a team-leading 77 receptions. While Walker is not Gates and Locker is not Rivers, building on last year’s success isn’t out of the question.
By: Jake Gordon — July 16, 2014 @ 1:52 pm
Weapons returning from injury could help Luck be a relative bargain on draft day.
QB Andrew Luck
(2013 QB Rank—#7, 21.6 FPts/G)
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft has two productive fantasy seasons under his belt. Many prognosticators have placed him in the second tier of signal callers with improvements on the offensive side of the ball and a healthier stable of pass-catchers. Luck grew as a passer by cutting his interception total in half while increasing his completion percentage despite the fact injuries depleted the team’s receiving options for most of the year. He has showed durability in starting every game for the Colts since joining the league while also being a smart and effective runner when forced out of the pocket.
To help their franchise quarterback take the next step, the Colts improved their depth at the WR position by adding Hakeem Nicks through free agency and selecting Donte Moncrief through the draft. Additionally, injured TE Dwayne Allen’s return to the starting lineup will give OC Pep Hamilton even more flexibility along the offensive front. For these reasons, Luck is poised for his best season yet and could be a relative bargain on draft day for bullish fantasy owners who wish to stay ahead of the curve.
RB Trent Richardson
(2013 RB Rank—#34, 7.0 FPts/G)
Raise your hand if you got burned by Trent Richardson last year. Like you, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson offered up a first-round draft pick for a player who stumbled and bumbled his way to a miniscule 3.0 yards per carry. His rookie season provides hope of a rebound, but how realistic are his chances when he looked so bad running the ball and is now coming off a shoulder surgery too? The risk adverse will pass on T-Rich at every turn this year but fantasy owners could be wrong on a guy who looked like one of the few three down running backs only two years ago. He was limited in OTAs following shoulder surgery that saw him gain weight, yet should be cleared for more contact as the preseason progresses.
When Richardson is running well, he is physical and willing to take on defenders. He has been getting reps with the first team and should see the bulk of the workload ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. Without seeing him in full contact fantasy owners should still be cautious in drafting him on upside alone. Few running backs being taken outside the top 50 overall have as much upside with touches and touchdown potential than the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, though.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
(2013 RB Rank—#73, 11.6 FPts/G)
Indianapolis brought in Ahmad Bradshaw last season to add to the competition at the running back position and push Donald Brown. Three games into the 2013 season and Bradshaw was paying dividends for fantasy owners reaching pay dirt twice. On par with his recent past, injuries prevented him from playing in 16 games for the third straight season. He has had foot issues for years but can still be effective with limited carries, which is why the team re-signed him to a one-year pact for the 2014 season. Bradshaw will give the Colts a decent option to spell Trent Richardson and will handle the primary backup duties until Vick Ballard proves he is healthy enough to handle an expended role. Of course that role greatly minimizes his fantasy value this season but as long as he remains second on the depth chart he has value as a handcuff to Richardson investors.
RB Vick Ballard
(2013 RB Rank—#116, 5.8 FPts/G)
Vick Ballard had a promising rookie campaign but an ACL tear cost him most of 2013. He’ll start the year behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw as he continues to work his way back from injury. By the time mid-season rolls around he could be in the mix for playing time, especially if the running game is as stagnant as it was last season. In redraft and dynasty leagues alike, Ballard remains a wait-and-see player who needs others to falter to become fantasy relevant.
WR T.Y. Hilton
(2013 WR Rank—#19, 8.7 FPts/G)
T.Y. Hilton saw his target total grow by more than 50 percent in 2013 and there is room for improvement considering Darrius Heyward-Bey opened the season as the starter for almost two months. Part of Hilton’s success can be attributed to the fact that he is able to play in the slot and work underneath while also using his speed to fly past defenders from the outside. A minor foot injury during OTAs does not appear to have slowed him down heading into training camp. As a Swiss army knife for Andrew Luck, Hilton figures to be the most productive fantasy wideout on the Colts in 2014. He will ultimately lose some targets to a healthy Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, but will also benefit from their presence as defenses are forced to cover the entire field. That being said he shouldn’t be projected as a surefire WR1 for fantasy purposes. Instead, he becomes a great WR3 in shallow leagues while being a steady WR2 in deeper formats.
WR Reggie Wayne
(2013 RB Rank—#69, 9.0 FPts/G)
Just when Reggie Wayne started to prove he still had something left in the tank in 2012, he showed why aging receivers carry an inherent risk by missing all but seven games after sustaining a torn ACL in 2013. He was held out of OTAs but should be ready to go once training camp opens. As long as he is healthy he will continue to be a common target for Andrew Luck but his days of being a consistent fantasy starter are over. Part of this can be attributed to a continued decline in red zone opportunities. Wayne hasn’t scored more than six touchdowns since 2009 and the addition of Hakeem Nicks isn’t going to help. Furthermore, a healthy Dwayne Allen should allow the Colts’ two TE sets be more successful. With less looks and limited red zone upside, Wayne’s fantasy value is and should be at its lowest point in years.
WR Hakeem Nicks
(2013 WR Rank—#51, 6.0 FPts/G)
Indianapolis signed Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal in March with hopes that his disappointing 2013 season and hunger to land a larger payday will help elevate the passing game. Nicks would seem to have the inside track to start opposite Reggie Wayne depending on where T.Y. Hilton lines up, but Wayne turns 36 in November and only played in seven games last season. Nicks is 10 years younger and has shown the ability to be a dynamic threat both down the field and in the red zone when healthy. As Andrew Luck continues to mature and Hilton garners more attention from opposing defenses Nicks has enough upside to be worth a look after the top 50 wideouts are taken on draft day.
If injuries continue to hamper Nicks’ career, the Colts will turn to its young tandem of Da’Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief. Rogers enters his second year trying to build off a late-season surge that saw him become more productive than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Indy had an eye toward the future when selecting Moncrief in the third round this year. His size and athleticism should give him a chance to be fantasy relevant in the future but he is not likely to see the field much in 2014.
TE Coby Fleener
(2013 TE Rank—#15, 5.3 FPts/G)
Coby Fleener had a prime opportunity to elevate his fantasy game in 2013 after a hip injury to Dwayne Allen in team’s opening game made him Indianapolis’ best option at the position. As a result, Fleener finished the season as the team’s second-best player in the passing game. These ranks are a bit deceiving, however, considering the injuries and changes on offense throughout the year. Although Fleener was able to increase his totals across the board, they barely surpassed Dwayne Allen’s 2012 output and there are more mouths to feed in 2014. An opportunity like last season could repeat itself; if not, Fleener will waiver wire fodder in most fantasy leagues.
TE Dwayne Allen
(2013 TE Rank—#70, 8.0 FPts/G)
A promising rookie campaign in 2012 allowed Dwayne Allen to emerge as the team’s most productive fantasy tight end. Coming into last year, Allen was expected to be a big part of Andrew Luck’s success. That script was rewritten, however, after Allen sustained a hip injury in Indianapolis’ season opener. Allen was healthy enough to get back on the field for the team’s mini camps and should make a full recovery by the time the 2014 season kicks off. Consequently, the hype surrounding Allen’s use in the offense is building and fantasy owners should keep a keen eye on his progress during training camp. Could Allen find himself in a situation like Denver’s Julius Thomas a season ago and break free from an expected glut on the team’s depth chart to become a dynamic threat in high scoring offense? While it is unlikely that he’ll be drafted among the top 10 at the position in fantasy drafts, it may be worth a late-round pick to find out.
By: Jake Gordon — July 7, 2014 @ 10:52 am
Chad Henne has thrown 55 TDs and 62 INTs during his six-year career.
QB Chad Henne
(2013 QB Rank—#22, 14.8 FPts/G)
If you have ever had to put Chad Henne into your fantasy lineup, you probably did so while crossing your fingers. As he keeps the seat warm for rookie Blake Bortles, Henne is rather boring in the fantasy game. Coming off a career-best 503 passing attempts, Henne barely maintained a 60 percent completion rate en route to a pedestrian 3,241 passing yards. If that wasn’t enough to drive away fantasy owners, he made sure to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. In fact, Henne has never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a single season during his six-year career. Most of the Jags’ receiving corps have been banged up this preseason, not to mention they’re inexperienced. At best, Henne will find some level of chemistry with his younger wideouts, keep the chains moving and limit his turnovers to allow the offense to be fantasy relevant. Unless you play in a cavernous league that starts two quarterbacks, you are better off hoping Henne is good enough to make somebody besides Toby Gerhart fantasy relevant before relinquishing the job to Bortles permanently.
QB Blake Bortles
(2013 QB Rank—N/A)
The first quarterback off the board in the 2014 draft, Blake Bortles is the future of the Jaguars. Several teams liked his strong arm and decision-making but his natural ability to elude defenders under pressure made him look more NFL-ready than others in his class. Jacksonville has set up a great environment for Bortles to thrive so long as the infusion of younger talent develops under head coach Gus Bradley. It may take another year or two, however, before the fantasy promise translates into production on the field. Chad Henne has proven to be a capable signal caller and barring injury, he should lead the Jags offense into the middle of the season while the rookie works on his craft. Bortles will likely have more value toward the middle to end of the regular season if Henne doesn’t find enough W’s. Keep him in mind as a midseason upside pickup.
RB Toby Gerhart
(2013 RB Rank—#63, 1.1 FPts/G)
The Jaguars needed to become younger on offense and increase optimism amongst an offensive unit that ranked second to last in total rushing yards during the 2013 regular season. Thus, the Jags parted ways with longtime face of the franchise Maurice Jones-Drew after injuries slowed his effectiveness in recent years. To replace one of the most popular players on the team, they turned to a guy trying to shake the shadow of an NFL great. In Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville gets a young, motivated running back that has watched and learned from the best pure running back in today’s game for the past four seasons. When given the opportunity, he has shown that he can be a productive runner between the tackles as well as in passing situations. Now he gets an opportunity to handle a full workload for a team that needs to lean on the run if it expects to stay competitive within the division. Considering that only 11 running backs toted the rock at least 250 times in 2013 after 14 surpassed that mark in 2012, Gerhart immediately becomes a rare commodity. Gerhart stands to see his draft day price increase each week leading up to the season opener so be careful not to overvalue him if the hype runs out of control. The offense has nowhere to go but up in 2014 and Gerhart will be leading the charge for fantasy owners.
RB Jordan Todman
(2013 RB Rank—#58, 3.9 FPts/G)
Jacksonville brought Jordan Todman into the fold to provide depth at the position knowing they were not going to keep Rashard Jennings following the 2012 season. In his third season as a pro, Todman finally earned the chance to show what he could do during Jacksonville’s Week 15 contest against the Bills. In that game, he set personal bests in carries (25) and rushing yards (109) while also snatching four catches for 44 yards. He will battle Denard Robinson to be the team’s primary backup to Toby Gerhart, but he will ultimately find himself short on touches to have enough value to be rostered as anything other than a handcuff for Gerhart owners.
RB Denard Robinson
(2013 WR Rank—#145, 0.6 FPts/G)
Denard Robinson remains third on the depth chart trying to carve out a role on a team needing playmakers. Recently, general manager Dave Caldwell shed light on a hand injury that Robinson has been dealing with since playing for Michigan. Nerve damage to his throwing hand made it hard to keep his hand opened fully. Through rehabilitation he has been able to regain flexibility and comes into his second training camp with renewed confidence. The Jaguars drafted Robinson in the second round a year ago knowing about the nerve damage, so they obviously believe he is capable of developing into a productive piece of the offense. A strong camp would allow Jacksonville’s coaching staff to use Robinson’s athleticism in screens and option packages, yet his fantasy value remains limited until he proves himself.
WR Cecil Shorts
(2013 WR Rank—#46, 7.4 FPts/G)
Cecil Shorts enters 2014 as the most successful fantasy wideout on the team. He also will try to help fans and fantasy owners forget the frustration of Justin Blackmon. Yet a calf injury for the second consecutive preseason has kept Jacksonville’s top receiver sidelined for most of mini-camp practices. A return during training camp is likely, however, past shoulder and concussion injuries added to the negative perception around Jacksonville’s lack of passing game will keep Shorts’ 2014 projections at bay. Despite the inherent injury risks, Shorts represents a player entering a contract year who should consistently see balls thrown his way. Last year, he saw double-digit targets in nine of his 13 games. That trend should continue, making him a stronger value in deeper PPR leagues.
WR Marqise Lee
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Yet another receiver who has been slowed down by injury this offseason is rookie Marquis Lee. His ankle injury should be behind him in time for training camp to start and that’s where his early value will begin to take shape. The second rounder out of USC saw his stock drop as a senior heading into the draft because of injury and an uptick in dropped passes. He will need to overcome both of those issues during the preseason to reward the Jaguars and fantasy owners. When healthy, Lee demonstrates the ability to be an explosive down field threat, as well as with reverses and plays after the catch. He is in the mix to start opposite Cecil Shorts along with Ace Sanders and fellow rookie Allen Robinson. Robinson is a little behind the others right now because of injuries as well but Jacksonville is hoping to see both players develop into a duo akin to the days of Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith.
WR Ace Sanders
(2013 WR Rank—#86, 3.7 FPts/G)
Ace Sanders heads into 2014 with only one season under his belt; however that makes him more experienced than most of his competition. A hamstring injury kept him out of OTAs but he is expected to be back on the field during training camp. The 5’7” receiver out of South Carolina will probably end up in the slot and handle punt returning duties giving him a chance to make plays, but preventing him from making much of a fantasy impact this season. Nonetheless, at this position, injuries are abundant and there are clear battles to be won and lost. Fantasy owners should monitor the situation during the preseason.
TE Marcedes Lewis
(2013 TE Rank—#28, 6.0 FPts/G)
It seems like forever and a day since Marcedes Lewis’ magical 10-touchdown season in 2010. He just hasn’t been able to reach that level of production since and now finds himself entering his ninth season in the league. Lewis hasn’t logged a game with over 70 yards receiving since Week 17 of 2012 and another league average year is probable. The trends suggest more decline is possible, especially with the injection of youth and an offense that is likely to focus on the ground game. Even as a matchup play it will be tough to trust Lewis as a consistent fantasy option. His backup, Clay Harbor, does not provide any significant fantasy upside.
By: Jake Gordon — June 30, 2014 @ 9:56 am
QB Drew Brees
(2013 QB Rank—#2, 27.3 FPts/G)
Since Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton came to New Orleans in 2006, the Saints offense has ranked in the top four of the NFL in yards per game every season. Hitching your wagon to Brees might come with a premium, but he rarely disappoints his fantasy owners. A steady veteran, Brees connected on 15 passes of 40+ yards and eclipsed 300 passing yards in 11 of 16 contests during the 2013 regular season en route to his third straight year with over 5,000 yards. He even found a way to decrease his interception total from the previous year. The only downside was the increase in games without multiple touchdown passes. After failing to throw for at least two scores only three times during the 2012 regular season, Brees amassed five such games a year ago. The loss of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore will certainly have an impact on the Saints signal caller but not enough to push him out of the top-five fantasy quarterbacks.
RB Pierre Thomas
(2013 RB Rank—#23, 8.5 FPts/G)
Pierre Thomas continued to be a quality value on draft day in 2013 after posting over 1,000 total yards for the first time since 2009. Those owners who were lucky enough to snatch him up in PPR leagues were also rewarded with a career best 77 receptions—six more than Darren Sproles. Heading into the 2014 campaign, Thomas should be the starter out of the backfield. The team’s desire to use several running backs to shoulder the load keeps Thomas from being a top-25 fantasy running back, though. His reception total is sustainable considering how many passes Drew Brees throws to his running backs and the departure of Sproles. Far from elite, the seven-year veteran could once again be a relative bargain on draft day.
RB Khiry Robinson
(2013 RB Rank—#79, 2.8 FPts/G)
As an undrafted free agent, Khiry Robinson put himself into a position to garner more carries late last season when he scored his first career touchdown and averaged 4.6 yards per carry during the Saints’ final three games of the year. Likely to begin the season No. three on the depth chart this season, Robinson will have limited fantasy value when the season opens barring an injury to Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram during training camp. Fantasy owners seeking a potential lotto ticket, however, will likely see Robinson as a worthy upside option. If he is able to somehow convince the Saints to give him a dozen carries per game he will have value as a flex option.
RB Mark Ingram
(2013 RB Rank—#62, 4.7 FPts/G)
Mark Ingram enters the final year of his rookie deal without much fanfare as he has yet to provide the Saints or fantasy owners with steady production. Of the 10 New Orleans rushing scores in 2013, Ingram was only responsible for one. Pierre Thomas led the way while Ingram was hampered by injuries, receiving double-digit carries only twice during the regular season. The Saints will need him to show the same physicality and quickness he flashed during his collegiate career if they are to extend him another contract offer. Optimistic owners will bank on a motivated runner with plenty of talent and a cheap price tag. Those more adverse to risk will see another Heisman Trophy winner who fizzled on the NFL stage.
WR Marques Colston
(2013 WR Rank—#27, 8.3 FPts/G)
Marques Colston turned 31 this offseason and is coming off his least-productive fantasy season since an injury-plagued 2008. As long as Drew Brees is leading the offense, Colston will have the chance to be a relevant fantasy option. Tthe days of Colston being a steady producer as a WR1 are behind us, however. Younger options in Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are poised to see the field more in 2014 yet Colston remains the most polished and trusted target amongst the team’s receiving corps. While continued decline isn’t out of the question, the Hofstra alumnus could easily see his touchdown total increase this year to make him a low-end WR2.
WR Kenny Stills
(2013 WR Rank—#47, 5.9 FPts/G)
The Saints’ decision to release Lance Moore translates to a vote of confidence in Kenny Stills. A second-year player out of Oklahoma, Stills should see more balls thrown his way in 2014. Will it be enough to make him fantasy relevant on a weekly basis, though? Like many Saints wideouts, Drew Brees’ knack for spreading the ball to everyone is a blessing and a curse. Simply replacing Moore’s production would make him a useful WR4. On the other hand, Marques Colston’s decline and injury history combined with Stills’ continued development into a reliable move-the-chains type of receiver makes him attractive late in drafts. A strong training camp will solidify his starting position opposite Colston and see his fantasy stock start to rise as the season nears.
WR Brandin Cooks
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks missed the Saints’ mini-camps and most OTAs because Oregon State’s school year runs a little longer than other programs. To make up for lost time, the 2013 Biletnikoff award winner plans on working with QB Drew Brees prior to the start of training camp. His explosive speed should make him an instant threat in the Saints vertical passing game while his quickness will give him chances to make plays after the catch. He should fit the offense perfectly, but may need some seasoning before being a solid fantasy contributor.
King of the Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham has 36 touchdowns over the last three years.
TE Jimmy Graham
(2013 TE Rank—#1, 13.6 FPts/G)
A TE1 with WR1 production, Jimmy Graham will carry the torch as the top fantasy TE entering the year. In only his fourth year as a starter, Graham will try to become even more consistent after seeing his production slip over the course of the 2013 season following a hot start. As defenses continually evolve to handle the likes of Graham, there is a chance they succeed as Seattle did during last year’s divisional playoff game in limiting Graham to a single catch on six targets. Fantasy owners considering the stud TE in the first round will no doubt place their confidence in position dominance. Yet that gap may not be as large as it appears given a modest regression in the touchdown column and increased yardage totals from fellow tight ends Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas, among others. Regardless of how you feel on draft day, Graham will likely set the pace for all tight ends once again.
By: Jake Gordon — June 21, 2014 @ 5:10 pm
QB Matt Ryan
(2013 QB Rank—#9, 21.0 FPts/G)
Atlanta continued its transition to a more open passing offense in 2013 as Matt Ryan set career highs in pass attempts, completions and interceptions. Expect more of the same from the veteran signal caller in 2014. In fact, he might be even better, considering the 26 TDs he threw last year were his lowest total since 2009. If Ryan is to be a top-five fantasy quarterback this year it will start with a healthier offensive line. First-round draft pick Jake Matthews will be plugged in at right tackle, while Sam Baker returns from a knee injury on the left side. Additionally, Jon Asamoah was brought in from Kansas City to help inside, and the whole group will be coached up by Mike Tice. New faces do not always translate into success, but Atlanta has definitely upgraded its talent level across the line, which should translate into less sacks and more time for Atlanta’s offense to work downfield. Add the healthy return of Julio Jones’ dynamic playmaking ability, along with the steadiness of Roddy White, and Matt Ryan is likely to see his stock rise back to where it was before injuries derailed the offense. It also doesn’t hurt to have a pair of running backs who could combine to catch 100 balls in Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Surrounded by playmakers, Ryan has a good shot at posting his second career 30-TD season and should be taken after Brees, Rodgers and Manning are called on draft day.
RB Steven Jackson
(2013 RB Rank—#32, 9.6 FPts/G)
Steven Jackson is one of the tougher players to project for 2014. Muddying analysis of his seeming decline is the fact that he was hurt and playing behind a less-than-stellar offensive line in 2013. Atlanta’s willingness to forge ahead with Jackson atop the depth chart despite plenty of wear and a possible breakdown means Atlanta’s brass either likes the team’s depth at the position or feels Jackson has something left in the gas tank. For now, fantasy owners should expect Jackson to be fine to open the season and maintain his role as the primary running back on first and second downs. Jacquizz Rodgers has shown enough ability to get regular touches, but head coach Mike Smith has never displayed much of a desire to let him shoulder the load on a consistent basis. With Jackson’s playing time relatively safe barring injury, he should average roughly 15 touches per contest on the ground and through the air. Remembering that Jackson failed to reach pay dirt until week 12 last season, fantasy owners may let him slip in drafts a little further than he should, but that may not be wise. He is a tad bit safer in PPR leagues, but remains an RB3 with slight upside in standard formats.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
(2013 RB Rank—#42, 6.1 FPts/G)
Although Jacquizz Rodgers has seemed to out-produce Steven Jackson in limited action, he’s never been able to gain enough carries to be a reliable source of fantasy production. His pass-catching abilities have allowed him to tally back-to-back 50-reception seasons, and another could be in store for him. The team drafted Devonta Freeman out of Florida State to add depth and upside for the future, but he shouldn’t be much of a threat to Rodgers this season. Entering the final season of his rookie deal, Rodgers should be plenty motivated to carve out a bigger role in Atlanta or elsewhere. Although he may see an uptick in his carries, his role is likely to remain unchanged for 2014, making him a flex option in PPR leagues and an RB4 or RB5 in traditional formats.
RB Devonta Freeman
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Devonta Freeman was drafted as a potential replacement for Steven Jackson and his all-around game seems to hint at potential feature back status given his sturdy build and explosiveness, pass-catching skills and blocking ability. That being said, he is still very much a rookie and is not projected to have much of a role this year. Fantasy owners in dynasty formats should keep an eye on the former Seminole, as he does offer plenty of intrigue as a dual-threat option on a formidable offense in the not-too-distant future.
Julio was headed toward a top-five fantasy season before injuring his foot in Week 5.
WR Julio Jones
(2013 WR Rank—#64, 14.1 FPts/G)
Julio Jones was well on his way to posting a terrific fantasy campaign in 2013 before a foot injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The only limiting factor for Jones in 2014 is his health, which has kept him limited in OTAs to this point. He has had plenty of recovery time since the surgery and is already running routes, so fantasy owners should feel fine drafting him among the elite receivers at his position. Matt Ryan threw to Jones 60 times in only five games last season. That number represented nearly half of Jones’ season total in 2012. Jones will garner plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but that isn’t likely to prevent Matt Ryan from finding him down the field. The stars are aligning for Jones to have a career season so long as he can stave off the injury bug.
WR Roddy White
(2013 WR Rank—#52, 6.9 FPts/G)
This season will mark Roddy White’s 10th year in the NFL as he tries to rebound from an uninspiring 2013 that saw him injured and scoring only 1 TD through week 10. However, there are reasons to be optimistic on draft day. White posted respectable fantasy numbers over the final five weeks of last season and will take over as the primary possession option now that Tony Gonzalez has decided to retire. The team has decided to keep him out of OTAs but that decision was purely preventative, aimed at reducing the workload of one of Matt Ryan’s favorite targets. Prior to 2013, White was one of the most reliable sources of targets and receptions for fantasy owners, and though he will not be the No. 1 receiving option on his team, there is a good chance he surpasses 80 receptions and 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his career.
WR Harry Douglas
(2013 WR Rank—#32, 7.4 FPts/G)
Harry Douglas represents a bit of a fantasy wild card entering the 2014 season. Until 2013, Douglas had never caught 40 balls in a season. His production last year, finishing 15th in the NFL in receptions, was directly related to opportunity, and he will be the third receiver on the depth chart to open 2014. However, the Falcons’ passing offense has the potential to support three worthy fantasy receivers, especially with reports of the spread offense being integrated even more this year. In addition, the Falcons have brought in ex-Bear Devin Hester to handle special teams duties, which will free up Douglas to focus solely on offense. If nothing else, Douglas will have more trust from Matt Ryan and find enough targets to be fantasy relevant as a bye-week substitute. He is a WR3/4 with some upside considering the offense and potential injury risk of Jones and White.
TE Levine Toilolo
(2013 TE Rank—#57, 1.8 FPts/G)
Tony Gonzalez leaves some rather large shoes to fill and fantasy owners need to do what the Falcons have done: Move on and look elsewhere for offensive output. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Levine Toilolo is expected to be a more traditional blocking tight end that won’t have much fantasy value this year. He will likely find a way to notch a score or three in red zone packages, but he won’t be a reliable enough source of fantasy production to be anything more than a desperation play in deep formats.
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