Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Nick Caron — August 14, 2014 @ 10:39 am
A regression is to be expected, but Peyton is still the top QB in fantasy football.
QB Peyton Manning
(2013 QB Rank—#1, 25.4 FPts/G)
Coming off of the greatest fantasy football season in history, it should be no surprise that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the top quarterback on almost all lists heading into the 2014 season. Words truly cannot explain just how ridiculous Manning’s season was, so let’s just look again at the numbers: 5,477 yards, 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions. Simply unbelievable. Even if you were one of the brave few who had Manning as your top-ranked quarterback heading into 2013, there’s no way that anyone could have predicted that kind of fantasy output. Manning threw multiple touchdown passes in 15 of his 16 regular season games, including nine games with four or more touchdowns. While losing Eric Decker is certainly a concern, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer, along with the healthy return of bookend left tackle Ryan Clady could mean that the Denver passing game has a chance of coming close to what it did in 2013. The numbers don’t look at all sustainable on the surface, but if there’s any quarterback who can engineer that kind of offense again, it’s Peyton Manning. Those looking to be contrarians might look at Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees as the top quarterback going into this fantasy season. Don’t be steered away by the likely regression in Manning’s numbers, though. Even if Manning saw a 20 percent reduction in his fantasy numbers, he would finish with 4,382 yards and 44 touchdowns. That yardage total would put him at sixth among quarterbacks from the 2013 season, while the touchdowns would still put him five ahead of any other quarterback. Understand that regression does not mean that Manning isn’t still the best fantasy quarterback for 2014.
RB Montee Ball
(2013 RB Rank—#42, 5.0 FPts/G)
When the Broncos selected Montee Ball with a second-round draft pick in 2013, it appeared as if the writing was finally on the wall for former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno to be worked out of the offense. That didn’t happen, however, as concerns in pass protection and fumbling problems led to Ball playing second fiddle to Moreno throughout the year. Ball finished with just 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and he had just one game all year with over 100 rushing yards. Now with Moreno out of the picture, the door appears to be wide open for Ball to come rolling in and take the job in one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. The team appears to be fully invested in him and this is his chance to shine. There is no question that Denver is a pass-first offense, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of room for fantasy production from the running back position. Moreno finished as a top-five scoring running back in 2013 and that was with Ball still taking a significant number of carries. If Ball is given a more full workload, there’s no reason to think that his upside couldn’t mirror or even be better than what Moreno did a season ago. An emergency appendectomy has some worried that Ball won’t be in football shape by the time the regular season rolls around. That’s exactly the kind of thing you should warn other fantasy owners in your league about, effectively lowering Ball’s stock before you swoop in and draft him. Appendectomies are considered “major surgery” but they do not require a long recovery time. Barring some unforeseen setback that would likely have nothing to do with his appendix, Ball will be out there in Week 1. He is about as much of a lock to hit 10 touchdowns this season as any player in the league. He is a perfect No. 2 running back or even low-end No. 1 for the owner who opts to snag a top player at another position in Round 1.
RB C.J. Anderson
(2013 RB Rank—#124, 0.2 FPts/G)
The appendectomy procedure that has removed Montee Ball from training camp has given an unexpected opportunity to Broncos backup running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson, an undrafted free agent who also made his NFL debut alongside Ball in 2013, has not yet won a competition against Ronnie Hillman to be the team’s lead tailback until Ball returns, but appears to be the more well-rounded back, which will likely mean that he gets the majority of snaps for the time being. Anderson could hypothetically show some amazing flashes that force the Broncos’ hand in giving him more playing time. The most likely scenario, however, is that he and Hillman will split carries in the preseason before conceding the lion’s share of touches to Ball once the regular season begins. Both Anderson and Hillman’s value is essentially tied to the success of Ball. If Ball puts the ball on the ground too often for head coach John Fox’s liking or if he sustains an injury that puts him out for a long period of time, Anderson and Hillman could have value. Until then, though, both players will likely remain relatively useless for fantasy purposes.
WR Demaryius Thomas
(2013 WR Rank—#2, 13.8 FPts/G)
Back-to-back 1,400-plus yard campaigns have fantasy owners’ mouths salivating heading into the 2014 season with fourth-year wideout Demaryius Thomas. Thomas, who showed flashes of brilliance even with the likes of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton behind center, has become the top target in the best passing attack in the history of the league. Needless to say, his fantasy value is immense. In addition to his incredible yardage totals, Thomas has produced in the other important categories for receivers with 94 and 92 receptions in 2012 and 2013, while adding 10 and 14 touchdown receptions, respectively. Thomas is the ideal combination of size and speed and the crazy thing is that the best may be yet to come from this incredible physical specimen. If it weren’t for Calvin Johnson, Thomas would be the unquestioned top fantasy wideout at the beginning of the 2014 season. In fact, many fantasy experts are flat out recommending Thomas as the No. 1 receiver on their lists. Either way, Thomas is a rare breed of a receiver who should and does crack the first round of most fantasy drafts. Another monster season is on the way for this talented young wideout. Make sure you don’t miss out.
WR Wes Welker
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
Not known for being a particularly excellent red zone threat, Wes Welker lit the fantasy world on fire in 2013 when he started the season with nine touchdown receptions in his first eight games. Welker’s incredible first half had many owners scrambling to acquire the former Patriot, but that kind of pace was simply unsustainable. Welker would go on to catch just one more touchdown in the second half of the regular season, while never eclipsing the 10 reception or 100 yard mark in any single game. Those numbers were skewed by the fact that he missed the final three weeks of the regular season, but it’s still worth noting the incredible drop-off in production. Welker did return for the playoffs where he caught a total of 18 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown over three games, but that isn’t enough for us to be highly optimistic about his fantasy outlook for 2014. Given the loss of Eric Decker, Welker should see more targets come his way in 2014 than he did in 2013, but there’s a serious question of durability and simple degradation of physical skill at this point. Welker is 33 years old and while there’s still gas in the tank, it would not be surprising to see him slowly start to fade away over the next couple of seasons. Still, Welker remains a top-20 receiver in standard scoring formats and a top-15 receiver in PPR formats. Drafting him could pay huge dividends, but make sure to have a reliable option on your bench should things start off looking like they did near the end of 2013.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
As the newest addition to the Denver offense, Emmanuel Sanders steps into a situation that could not possibly be better for the fifth-year receiver coming off of his best season yet. Sanders’ 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns with the Steelers in 2013 were all career bests as he played opposite Antonio Brown for the majority of the season. On a new roster, Sanders will have to learn a highly complicated offense that requires tremendous focus and execution if he wants to see any looks from Peyton Manning. The Broncos run more three-wide sets than just about any team in the league, which means Sanders will see plenty of playing time. That does not necessarily mean that he is going to simply slide in and replace Eric Decker’s 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. While Sanders possesses big play ability, his 5’11”, 180-pound frame is not a comparison for the 6’3”, 215 pound Decker. Sanders will be used differently in the Denver offense than Decker was and that should both excite and worry potential fantasy owners. Don’t expect to see anywhere near as many targets go Sanders’ way as did Decker’s, but look for those opportunities to be potential huge plays. It would not be surprising to see Sanders improve on his yardage and touchdown totals from 2013 while actually seeing a small dip in total receptions. The hype train on Sanders has been strong this offseason with him being drafted as a WR3 in most leagues. While the hype may be warranted, having Sanders as a WR4 would be much more palatable given the strong possibility of some serious inconsistency from him this season, especially early in the year while he’s still gaining Manning’s trust.
TE Julius Thomas
(2013 TE Rank—#3, 9.0 FPts/G)
The fantasy breakout star of 2013 had to be tight end Julius Thomas, who burst onto the season in Week 1 with a monstrous five catch, 110 yard, two touchdown performance. He didn’t look back from there, as Thomas would go on to catch a total of 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. After being a training camp darling in both 2011 and 2012, Thomas finally put that talent to use in 2013 and is now considered one of the elite tight ends as we head into 2014. Peyton Manning has been known to make the careers of wide receivers, but the same could be said for his tremendous success in throwing the ball to tight ends. Thomas is now the beneficiary of that success and there’s little reason to believe that he won’t be one of the top-scoring players at the position again. If it weren’t for a knee injury that kept him out a couple of games and seemed to slow him down a bit in the surrounding games, Thomas could have very well finished close to New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham as the top-scoring tight end in all of fantasy football. A natural regression in the touchdown category seems likely, but like Manning and the other players in this offense, even a significant reduction in stats would still mean a big fantasy season for Thomas. He’s currently being drafted as a high-third round pick, but Thomas could see that stock rise over the next month, especially if reports continue to be less than stellar regarding Rob Gronkowski’s likelihood of playing in Week 1. If Gronkowski is out, look for Thomas to move up a few spots as the tight end position becomes even thinner heading into 2014.
By: Nick Caron — August 11, 2014 @ 1:42 am
Russell Wilson has been a low-end QB1 the last two seasons… yes he has.
QB Russell Wilson
(2013 QB Rank—#8, 16.0 FPts/G)
Only two years removed from upsetting free agency acquisition Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle, Russell Wilson is now a Super Bowl winner and is one of the most secure players in the entire league at his position. Wilson’s combination of speed and mistake-free football has also made him a top-10 fantasy quarterback over that two-year span. This is very impressive, considering that Wilson’s Seahawks have run the ball more times and passed the ball fewer times than any team in the NFL since he took over behind center. This sounds ugly on the surface, but the coaching staff in Seattle continues to insist that the team will see a greater balance in its offense in 2014, which could mean great things for Wilson’s fantasy outlook. Wide receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice did leave in the offseason, but they will not likely be missed if (and I mean if…) Percy Harvin is able to stay on the field. Harvin is the kind of dynamic playmaker who could give Wilson the kind of target that he has not had so far in his NFL career, one who can turn the short passes into big gains. Wilson is currently only being drafted as a borderline top-12 quarterback in many leagues, which combined with the fact that he could pass the ball upwards of 100 more times in 2014 than he did in 2013, means that he could represent one of the highest upsides and safest downsides of all fantasy quarterbacks this season.
RB Marshawn Lynch
(2013 RB Rank—#4, 14.0 FPts/G)
An offseason contract holdout – which occurred during the same time that he made news for the unique way he parks his Ferrari, mind you – has some skeptics questioning Marshawn Lynch’s commitment to playing football, but there haven’t been many backs as consistent as “Beast Mode” since he arrived in Seattle back in 2010. In each of his past three seasons, Lynch has surpassed 1,200 yards on the ground while scoring double-digit touchdowns in each of those seasons. Combine that with the fact that he has only lost five fumbles over that span and you have a player who most would believe is very safe in his role within the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning offense. That might not be the case, however, as reports from camp have been that the team is looking to find ways to get 2013 second-round draft pick Christine Michael on the field more often this season. If there is one area where Lynch has not been superb, it has been in the pass-catching department. His 36 receptions in 2013 were his highest total since 2008 and he had failed to reach even 30 receptions during between those years. Still, Lynch has to be considered one of the safest bets to be a top-10 running back this season. Seattle does seem committed on passing the ball more often, but that could still mean 275-plus touches for Lynch.
RB Christine Michael
(2013 RB Rank—#112, 0.4 FPts/G)
Training camp standout Christine Michael has been a hot name this offseason, particularly in dynasty leagues where he is being drafted as the perceived long-term ball-carrier for Seattle once Marshawn Lynch eventually slows down. Michael possesses a unique combination of size and strength, but still has the burst to break into the secondary when given a chance. His bruising running style has been compared to the likes of Adrian Peterson and of course his teammate, Lynch, which makes sense as to why the Seahawks used a second-round pick on him in 2013. While Michael is unlikely to see substantial enough carries on his own to warrant a weekly starting position on your fantasy roster, his situation makes him enticing as a RB5 or RB6 late in drafts, even in redraft leagues. If Lynch gets hurt at some point during the season, Michael could instantly become a top-10 fantasy back in this Seattle offense. That seems unlikely given that Lynch has only missed one game during his entire tenure in Seattle, but the tremendous number of carries that he has taken during that span doesn’t necessarily bode well for long-term health.
WR Percy Harvin
(2013 WR Rank—#169, 0.1 FPts/G)
Perhaps no player in the entire league is more polarizing for the 2014 fantasy football season than wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin, who was Seattle’s headline-grabbing offseason acquisition prior to the 2013 season, came very close to never playing a snap for the entire season. He joined the team already injured, but would then see setback after setback before finally getting on the field in Week 11 against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. Harvin would make one catch for 17 yards before coming off the field again. Harvin would not see the field again until the postseason when he played against New Orleans, making three catches for 21 yards. Another injury would keep him out of an extremely important NFC championship game against the 49ers, but he did finally get back out there in the Super Bowl. Harvin made only one catch for five yards in the big game, but added 45 yards on two carries and made one of the highlight plays of the game with a kick return touchdown. Harvin’s playmaking abilities are unquestioned at this point, but his inability to stay on the field has some experts saying that they would not even bother drafting him. While the risk is certainly involved, Harvin could also be the kind of player who wins an owner his league if he is able to kick the injury bug and stay on the field. Reports in Seattle say that the team is hoping to target Harvin over 100 times, so the opportunities should be there if he can stay healthy. This is the ultimate risk/reward proposition.
WR Doug Baldwin
(2013 WR Rank—#38, 6.3 FPts/G)
As a reliable, but uninspiring receiver, Doug Baldwin became one of Wilson’s favorite targets in 2013 when he caught 50 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. While Golden Tate is now gone, a healthy Percy Harvin would mean even less attention going Baldwin’s way this season. Of course, Harvin not seeing the field could also work in Baldwin’s favor in terms of total number of targets. Those targets wouldn’t be quite as high quality given that the defense would be able to focus on him a bit more, but an increase in total targets is always a good thing to see. It’d be hard to expect Baldwin to suddenly become a fantasy force, but a 65-catch season is not out of the question, especially if the Seahawks do live up to their statements of becoming a more balanced offensive attack.
TE Zach Miller
(2013 TE Rank—#22, 3.9 FPts/G)
While he was third on the team in total targets in 2013, tight end Zach Miller represents about as exciting of fantasy prospects as a box of rocks. He made just 33 receptions a season for only 387 yards. While he did make five touchdown receptions, Miller’s 20 total touchdowns in seven seasons shows us that he is not exactly Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham when it comes to being a red-zone threat at the tight end position. Worse yet, Miller will compete with Like Willson for snaps at the position. While Miller is certainly a better blocker, Willson is younger, a better athlete and a more dynamic pass-catcher. Miller is unlikely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues, but could be utilized from time-to-time in bye weeks when the Seahawks are playing against a particularly vulnerable defense.
By: Nick Caron — July 24, 2014 @ 11:51 pm
QB Carson Palmer
(2013 QB Rank—#17, 13.1 FPts/G)
He’s getting a little long in the tooth as he heads into his 12th NFL season, but Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer may still have some fantasy relevance left in his arm. In 2013, Palmer threw for a career-high 4,274 yards, which was certainly nice to see from a fantasy standpoint. One glaring problem still remains in his game, though. After all these years, Palmer still throws too many passes to players wearing opposite-colored jerseys. Palmer’s career-high in yardage was offset by a career-high in interceptions (22). In fact, only Eli Manning (27) threw more picks than Palmer. While there is still reason to believe that Palmer will have games where he lights up the fantasy scoreboard – especially considering the duo of talented, big-bodied wide receivers that he has to throw to – the truth is that Palmer will probably never be a consistent fantasy starter again. He will play six in-division games against arguably the toughest defensive division in the league and that will almost certainly mean a high enough rate of interceptions that he should go off the board as a low-end QB2 or even potentially remain undrafted in most leagues.
Andre Ellington: The next breakout fantasy running back?
RB Andre Ellington
(2013 RB Rank—#24, 7.2 FPts/G)
As the sole owner of the starting running back spot in Arizona after the offseason retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Ellington has suddenly become one of the most talked-about names in all of fantasy football. Ellington’s impressive 5.5 yards per attempt in 2013 were an impressive number, especially considering that it was his rookie season. There’s plenty to like about Ellington’s game, which many have compared to the likes of C.J. Spiller and even LeSean McCoy. He’s a shifty back with big play potential, as evidenced by his eight rushes of 20+ yards. But his biggest asset for fantasy owners may be in that he could be one of the most utilized pass-catchers out of the backfield in the entire league this season. His 39 receptions in 2013 don’t appear to be extraordinary on the surface, but when you consider that he only touched the ball 157 times, you can begin to see how often he was catching passes as opposed to being used as a pure runner while being stuck behind Mendenhall on the depth chart for much of the season. It has been a long time since another player has rivaled Larry Fitzgerald for the highest-drafted fantasy player on the Arizona roster, but as Ellington continues to gain hype, he continues to rise up the rankings, creeping ever closer to the veteran receiver on overall ADP rankings. Buyer beware that Ellington has never taken over 250 total touches in his professional or college career, but that could be a good thing as his body does not have the wear and tear that many other backs do. Expect weeks of frustration from Ellington, but also weeks where he is a big-time points producer. Draft him as a mid-level RB2 and hope that he can stay healthy, because that may be the only thing that prevents him from finishing as a top-12 fantasy back in 2014.
RB Stepfan Taylor
(2013 RB Rank—#101, 0.7 FPts/G)
Running back Stepfan Taylor will join Andre Ellington as a second-year “veteran,” but also as the only other running back on the Arizona roster who will likely have any fantasy relevancy in the 2014 season. While Ellington’s 5.5 yards per carry average has many fantasy owners salivating, Taylor’s 3.2 yards per carry are not nearly as sexy. Granted, his numbers were accumulated on just 32 touches, but fewer touches typically translate to higher YPC averages for most tailbacks, due to their relative lack of damage taken throughout the season. So, there is a little bit of a concern here that Taylor was so far behind Ellington in terms of production when he touched the ball. Still, Taylor does have the pedigree of being a quality ball carrier. He was Stanford’s all-time leading rusher and does possess the talent to at least be a quality player. The real question for Taylor is how much playing time he is going to see if Ellington does stay healthy this season. Will the Cardinals opt to give him enough touches to be fantasy relevant with Ellington still playing, or will Taylor simply be relegated to a handcuff role? Truthfully, we don’t know at this point. The fact that Ellington is such a good pass-catcher would indicate that he will almost certainly be the team’s primary third down back, leaving Taylor more likely to be utilized for a drive or two per game to keep Ellington fresh. Taylor is likely to be undrafted in most leagues, but keep an eye on this situation early in the year. If this becomes a 50/50 or even a 60/40 split, Taylor could be a player to snag early in the year from the waiver wire.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
(2013 WR Rank—#16, 9.1 FPts/G)
It seems like the years have flown by, but Larry Fitzgerald is now entering his 11th NFL season and he has been considered elite despite playing for one of the lowliest franchises in the league with practically no quarterbacks of value for the majority of the majority of his career. Fitzgerald’s skills have never been in question, his determination has never been in question. That’s why he has remained one of the highest-drafted fantasy receivers every season despite the fact that he really hasn’t performed up to that level in at least three of his past four seasons. In 2013, Fitzgerald finally got back to double-digit touchdowns (10) for the first time since 2009, but failed to crack 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was very clearly Palmer’s favorite target, but defenses were also in tune with that information and were often able to hold him in check. Fitzgerald broke through for 100 yards just twice in 2013 (both times against San Francisco) but was held to fewer than 40 yards on four occasions. Although he is still good enough to be a top-10 fantasy receiver, with Michael Floyd as well as the opposing defenses keyed in, Fitzgerald will struggle to eclipse the 10 touchdowns he had a season ago. One thousand yards is still a definite possibility, but don’t be surprised if he fails to live up to that expectation again this season. Be hesitant to take Fitzgerald as a WR1 this season, but be happy and confident if you’re able to snag him as a WR2.
WR Michael Floyd
(2013 WR Rank—#22, 8.0 FPts/G)
It has been quite some time since a quality receiving option has lined up opposite Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, but the duo of Fitzgerald and third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd have many remembering the old days of Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Floyd is a 6’2″, 220 lb beast who possesses truly elite skills at the wide receiver position. While it took him a year to really get things going, he really seemed to catch on in the second half of the 2014 season when he averaged over 82 yards per game over the final seven games of the season. If he were able to stay on this pace, Floyd would certainly overtake Fitzgerald as the top fantasy target in the Arizona passing game, which may happen anyway due to his youth and the fact that he sees significantly less defensive attention than Fitzgerald. With Floyd going off the board around 28th at wide receiver, the upside is gigantic here. Some may point to Floyd’s five touchdowns in 2013 as being a disappointing part of his game, but remember that he scored a total of 21 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons at Notre Dame. The skills are there. He just needs more opportunities.
TE Troy Niklas
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
The tight end position in Arizona is an absolute mess heading into 2014. Incumbent tight end Robert Housler had a ton of hype coming into 2013 as many believed that he might join Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as the third member of an impressive trio of pass-catchers for the Cardinals, but that certainly did not happen. Housler battled the injury bug early in the season, but still failed to impress even when he finally was healthy, with only two games over 60 yards receiving and scored only one touchdown on the year. That opened the door for the Cardinals to look elsewhere at the position, adding veterans John Carlson and Jake Ballard, both of whom have reportedly overtaken Housler on the depth chart. But the player to watch, if you want fantasy upside in this crowded group of awfulness, is rookie Troy Niklas. The Cardinals saw fit to draft Niklas in the second round of the NFL draft, leading most to believe that they believe he will be the tight end of the future. The big question for fantasy purposes is whether he will have an opportunity to play right away. The question marks at this position make it irresponsible for fantasy owners to draft any of these players, but Niklas is certainly the player who gives us the most hope for fantasy relevance.
By: Nick Caron — July 23, 2014 @ 11:12 pm
Kaepernick scored 19 or more fantasy points in seven of his final eight games.
QB Colin Kaepernick
(2013 QB Rank—#9, 15.8 FPts/G)
Following some serious hype coming into 2013, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick was a bit of a bust for fantasy purposes in his first full season as the team’s starting quarterback. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he is still growing as a player and particularly as a passer, but perhaps the biggest problem was that he missed his top target Michael Crabtree for the majority of the season when Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon prior to the start of the regular season. Upon Crabtree’s return, the two seemed to have some chemistry, which is certainly a nice sign heading into 2014. With Crabtree back in the lineup, Kaepernick finished the season with 19 or more fantasy points in seven of his final eight games. He found more success with his running game, especially toward the end of the year and in the playoffs, which makes sense as that is the time for players to go all-out and put their bodies on the line. Don’t expect Vick-like rushing numbers, but there’s no reason to think that Kaepernick won’t still be in the top five when it comes to rushing yardage at the quarterback position. He’s currently being drafted very late, as the No. 11 fantasy quarterback, which gives him great upside with very little downside. It would be difficult for Kaepernick to not at least bring back an even return on his low-average draft position.
RB Frank Gore
(2013 RB Rank—#13, 10.4 FPts/G)
Running back Frank Gore has enjoyed a career full of tremendous consistency at a position with very little of that to offer. Gore is now a year past the 30-year-old mark that many believe to be the swan song for NFL running backs. He has still averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in every season of his professional career. Although he saw his role reduced a bit in 2013 in terms of number of snaps, he still touched the ball more than 280 times for the third straight season. There is some concern that the 49ers backfield is becoming overcrowded with the likes of Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde, but Gore’s is the one mouth that you know will be fed. Gore’s realistic upside is probably the 1,200-plus yard, eight touchdowns that he has achieved in each of the past three seasons, but his downside is also not nearly as bad as many of the other backs who will be selected near him in drafts. If he can get even 250 touches, at just a measly 4.0 yards per touch, Gore would still crack 1,000 total yards and would almost certainly be in the position to take the vast majority of the team’s goal line carries.
RB Carlos Hyde
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
A dominant college running back with tremendous NFL upside, Carlos Hyde finds himself in an excellent position for the future … but make sure that you understand that we are talking about the future. Hyde should be drafted as a late-round flier who has the possibility of becoming a major contributor should Gore suffer an untimely injury. Unless that happens, though, Hyde will likely be limited to a 5-10 touch per game role, which of course puts a damper on his fantasy upside. If Hyde does somehow come out with the starting job, though, he could be an absolute beast in this offense. San Francisco has a top-level offensive line and Frank Gore is beginning to slow down toward the end of his career, but the expectations still need to be kept in check for this rookie tailback.
WR Michael Crabtree
(2013 WR Rank—#109, 2.0 FPts/G)
Not a lot could be expected after he missed the first 11 regular season games of the 2013 season. Still, Michael Crabtree stepped back onto the field and reminded all of us that he is still one of the most talented pass-catchers in the league. Crabtree caught only one touchdown pass in the regular season, but also had a 100-yard game and proved that, when healthy, he is Kaepernick’s favorite target in the passing game. Crabtree is currently being drafted as a high-end WR2 in most formats but could easily finish as a top-10 player at his position even if he only slightly improves on the per-game averages he had after he returned a season ago. If we go back even further to get a deeper look at the connection between Crabtree and Kaepernick, we will see that in seven starts with Kaepernick at quarterback back in 2012, Crabtree had 41 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns. If he stayed on that pace for an entire season, he would easily finish as a top-five player at his position. Another often unnoticed point about Crabtree is that this is a contract year for the young pass-catcher. Expect him to go all-out in an effort to get a big money deal in 2015.
WR Anquan Boldin
(2013 WR Rank—#15, 9.6 FPts/G)
A trip across the country from Baltimore to San Francisco did great things for the fantasy numbers of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. He finished the 2013 season with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns, making him a top-15 fantasy wide receiver – the first time since 2008. Boldin benefited from Michael Crabtree’s injury, which subsequently led to him being the top wide receiver on the roster. Boldin even continued to perform once Crabtree returned, averaging 91 yards per game with two touchdowns in the final five games of the season with Crabtree in the lineup. While his skills probably didn’t deteriorate over the offseason, Boldin may no longer hold a significant role heading into 2014 with Crabtree back in full health and the addition of Steve Johnson. Boldin is currently going off the board as a WR3 or high-end WR4 which gives him a nice amount of upside if he can even come close to replicating his 2013 production. He currently has the upper-leg on the starting wideout spot opposite Crabtree to begin the year.
WR Steve Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#56, 4.6 FPts/G)
Steve Johnson shot out of the gate in 2013 as a member of the Bills with an impressive 17 catches for 236 yards and a pair of scores in his first three games. He looked absolutely tremendous with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and things were looking up. Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a string of nagging injuries and so did Manuel, which led to disappointment after disappointment from that point on. In the final 13 weeks of the regular season, Johnson caught just 35 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown. As it turned out, 2013 was essentially a lost season for Johnson and should really be considered that by fantasy owners. Instead, looking at Johnson’s previous three seasons were much more in line with what he really is. He played in every game from 2010 through 2012 and compiled over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, including making 23 total touchdown receptions over that stretch. Now in San Francisco, Johnson will also catch passes from the best quarterback he has ever played with. This sounds great on the surface, but the problems arise when we consider that Johnson will now have to compete with a quality veteran in Anquan Boldin for playing time in an offense that has no hesitation about running the ball 20 times per game. Johnson is a truly unknown commodity in this offense but an average draft pick at wide receiver makes him a very low-risk option. If the 49ers are going to give Kaepernick the reins of the offense, they could use Johnson as a decent bye week fill-in with the potential to be a startable receiver if everything goes well.
TE Vernon Davis
(2013 TE Rank—#2, 9.8 FPts/G)
It was another tremendous fantasy season for tight end Vernon Davis in 2013 as the freakish talent destroyed most expectations, finishing as the No. 2 fantasy tight end, only behind Jimmy Graham. Davis’ 850 yards were accompanied by 13 touchdown receptions, the second time in his career that he has reached that number. Those who believed that Davis would see a massive drop in production with Kaepernick behind center as opposed to Alex Smith, who has practically made a career of throwing the ball underneath coverage, could not have been more wrong. Davis’ end zone numbers totals cannot be oversold. Davis caught 62 percent of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes – a tremendous number for a player at any position, let alone tight end. Although he disappointed fantasy owners in 2012 when he failed to reach 600 yards and scored only five touchdowns, Davis has been a consistently elite fantasy option at the tight end position for the past five seasons. During that span, he has averaged nearly nine touchdowns and over 800 yards per season. With a healthy Michael Crabtree and the addition of Steve Johnson, Davis may not get as many looks as he did in 2013, but his tremendous ability in the red zone keeps him in the top tier of fantasy tight ends coming into the season. He is one of the few tight ends who is capable of putting up low-end WR1 numbers and thus should not be overlooked on draft day.
By: Nick Caron — July 10, 2014 @ 1:17 pm
QB Sam Bradford
(2013 QB Rank—#30, 7.1 FPts/G)
2013 was supposed to be a breakout season for former top overall NFL Draft pick Sam Bradford, but injury concerns prevented that, as Bradford would miss nine games of a disappointing season for the Rams franchise. Bradford’s season wasn’t completely lost, however, as he actually produced the best fantasy numbers of his career during his short stint. Bradford threw 14 touchdowns in his seven games while eclipsing the 200-yard passing mark in all but one contest – a blowout win over the Texans wherein he also threw three touchdown passes. The Rams didn’t make any significant improvements to their passing offense over the offseason, but this is a make-or-break season for the young signal-caller. If the quarterback doesn’t make significant strides to not only play well but also stay healthy, St. Louis could be looking for a new quarterback in 2015, especially since head coach Jeff Fisher has no strong ties to Bradford. This should light a fire under Bradford, but fantasy owners should still stay cautious as there isn’t a lot to love in this passing game. St. Louis figures to run the ball heavily in 2014, which limits Bradford’s upside to that of only a QB2 in most leagues.
Zac Stacy started twelve games in 2013, racking up 250 carries.
RB Zac Stacy
(2013 RB Rank—#17, 9.4 FPts/G)
Considering how the season ended for rookie Zac Stacy, it’s almost baffling that St. Louis took as long as they did to finally give him the starting gig. It seemed as if the coaching staff was set on giving every other player an opportunity before finally conceding the job to Stacy in Week 5. From that point on, Stacy was a top-10 fantasy running back, contributing both in rushing yardage as well as touchdowns. Stacy touched the ball 14 or more times in every game once he became “the guy” and rewarded his fantasy owners with the kind of consistency that typically only comes with elite-level running backs. Stacy has a chance to break into that category this season as he heads into training camp as the clear favorite to take the vast majority of carries. Head coach Jeff Fisher has also publicly proclaimed his trust in Stacy, even indicating that he should be in line to take at least 70 percent of the carries out of the St. Louis backfield. It has been a long time since a St. Louis player outside of Steven Jackson has been a fantasy force, but Stacy appears to have a good shot at doing that again in 2014. He will likely be an early second-round pick in most drafts and could even slip into the bottom end of the first round if there are any preseason setbacks for any of the backs ahead of him.
RB Tre Mason
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Rookie running back Tre Mason still has to beat out Benny Cunningham to be the “handcuff” for Zac Stacy owners, but the explosive young playmaker has the ability to be a very nice complementary back in this St. Louis offense. Mason is small in stature at only 5’8″, which could mean that he is not suited to be an every-down back, but he is already a reliable pass protector, a valuable asset for a team like St. Louis with injury concerns at the quarterback position. Look for Mason to primarily play on third down when his blocking abilities can be most utilized and his pass-catching skills can shine in times of need. Don’t expect Mason to be the next Darren Sproles, but he could provide a decent number of pass receptions this season, which may lead to him being on some PPR fantasy radars by the end of the season.
RB Tavon Austin
(2013 WR Rank—#54, 5.1 FPts/G)
Wide receiver Tavon Austin was expected to be one of the top fantasy rookies of the 2013 season and while he lived up to his billing as a human highlight reel on some occasions, his tremendous inconsistency made him frustrating, if not impossible to own in fantasy. Austin had three games where he scored a combined 62 fantasy points, but proceeded to compile just 19 total points in his other 13 starts. The silver lining in this whole situation is that while Austin struggled to stay involved in the offense in his rookie season, he actually enjoyed some of his best games of the season while Sam Bradford was behind center. Austin had just four games where he caught five or more passes in 2013, and all four of them came with Bradford throwing him the ball. Austin is a boom-or-bust type option who is more than likely to be frustrating to own again, but a full offseason of working with Bradford and a year in the offense under his belt could make Austin an enticing late-round selection.
WR Kenny Britt
(2013 WR Rank—#148, 0.3 FPts/G)
The troubled career of Kenny Britt continues in St. Louis as the former Titan looks to rekindle what was once a promising career. Britt, who had one of the brightest futures at the wide receiver position, is now fighting for a roster spot amongst a group of mediocre pass-catchers who have never really produced much on the field. Although former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher has apparently renewed his vows on the Britt marriage, that doesn’t mean that fantasy owners should trust him. Britt’s past success may give him a leg up for an opportunity to get playing time early, but an ugly off-field history and a tremendous lack of concentration on the field makes him only worth a flier at the end of your draft.
WR Chris Givens
(2013 WR Rank—#82, 3.1 FPts/G)
There was reason to believe that Chris Givens could be a breakout fantasy producer heading into the 2013 season. After a nice 100-yard performance in Week 2 against the Falcons, all signs pointed to that happening. Unfortunately that’s about when the wheels started to come off. From that point on, Givens failed to reach even 60 yards receiving in a single game and would even fail to catch more than two passes in any of his final seven games. While he could benefit from Sam Bradford being the quarterback, Givens’ upside is limited in that he is part of a crowded group of underachieving receivers, all of whom are young. Worse yet, Givens’ big claim to fantasy relevance was that he was such a good deep ball receiver back in 2012. With Kenny Britt now rostered, Givens’ opportunities to go deep may be even more limited, leading him to be even less important on draft day. Givens falls into the “do not draft, but keep an eye on him” category. If he can win one of the starting spots in this offense, he could have some value down the road. It’s just hard to trust that it will happen, though, given the situation.
TE Jared Cook
(2013 TE Rank—#11, 5.5 FPts/G)
When Jeff Fisher acquired his former Tennessee draft pick Jared Cook, fantasy owners began to raise their eyebrows about the size and speed combination of this incredible athlete. After one game in a Rams uniform, that attention turned from curiosity to full-blown love. Cook’s seven receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns were an incredible show, especially considering that he was close to catching a third score in that same game. Like most of the rest of the St. Louis offense, though, Cook struggled to remain relevant and would catch only three more touchdowns throughout the remainder of the season. While his athleticism remains unchanged, Cook’s ability to create separation has caused problems and his hands just don’t seem to be up to par with the rest of his physical talents. Cook is being drafted in a wide variety of positions, entirely depending on the confidence that owners have that an additional year in the St. Louis offense will make him more comfortable and lead to bigger numbers. Shockingly enough, Cook might be the player in this pass offense who has the best chance at a breakout season. But in order to do that, Cook is going to have to translate his “training camp warrior” persona into some on-field production. He finished as the No. 11 fantasy tight end a year ago and is likely to finish somewhere around there. Given the lack of proven assets at the tight end position going into this season, Cook has as good of a chance as any to finish in the top five at his position. Draft with low expectations and don’t hesitate to move on if things don’t look good after a few games.
By: Nick Caron — July 2, 2014 @ 12:39 am
MJD and a long injury history has McFadden’s fantasy value at a career low.
QB Matt Schaub
(2013 QB Rank—#34, 6.1 FPts/G)
It took just one season for the Houston Texans to fall the way from vying for the top seed in the AFC playoffs to picking No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Although the team went through a number of changes, the lack of quality quarterback play seemed to be the biggest problem that the team faced. A horrendous start to the season from Matt Schaub led to the formerly-considered “franchise” quarterback being benched after Week 6. Although Schaub would see some playing time again in a few spot starts, it was clear that his time in Houston had passed and it was time for both parties to go their separate ways. Schaub now finds himself in an equally terrible situation, but this time he will be without his safety blanket Andre Johnson. Instead Schaub will be working with a hodgepodge group of receivers that he has no chemistry with, on a team that is unlikely to be competitive in many games. Schaub may become a bye week fill-in, but he is unlikely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues and should not be trusted until he can prove that his days of touchdown streaks to the opposing team are behind him.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
(2013 RB Rank—#19, 8.3 FPts/G)
It seems like only yesterday that Maurice Jones-Drew was a lock to be a top-five fantasy draft choice in every league throughout the country, but his days of averaging over 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns per season appear to be a thing of the past. Like his quarterback Schaub, Jones-Drew now finds himself across the country, stuck in an uninspiring offense that appears to be set on rekindling past glory of past-their-prime players. Worse yet, Jones-Drew joins a crowded backfield that features fellow former first-round fantasy pick Darren McFadden and second-year speedster Latavius Murray. While Jones-Drew appears to have the upper hand on winning the starting job in Oakland, a running-back-by-committee approach seems very feasible. Even if Jones-Drew does earn the full-time starting gig, it will be in an offense that is likely to be among the very worst in the league, so don’t expect another double-digit touchdown season. Jones-Drew is a high-end RB3 for the time being, with RB2 upside and a significant downside that makes him a risk even late in drafts.
RB Darren McFadden
(2013 RB Rank—#45, 5.7 FPts/G)
How many times are fantasy owners going to get bit by the Darren McFadden bug before we finally all get together and decide we’ve had enough? Don’t look for the trend to end anytime soon as McFadden is still being drafted in the top-10 rounds of most fantasy drafts so far this off-season. There’s no question that the talent is there, but McFadden just doesn’t seem to have the determination to be great anymore and his offensive line certainly hasn’t helped matters. Over the past three seasons, McFadden has played in just 26 games while averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns. While his price tag on draft day is at an all-time low, McFadden still represents a significant risk with little upside. It would take an injury to Jones-Drew, a suddenly productive offense and a shockingly healthy McFadden for him to ever return to the fantasy glory he once had, if only for a short while. Nonetheless, McFadden is still worth a late-round flier. Don’t expect much from him, though, or you’re likely going to be let down…again.
RB Latavius Murray
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
The ankle injury that ended the rookie season of former Central Florida running back Latavius Murray leaves fantasy owners scratching their heads as we look forward to the 2014 season. Murray, a monstrous running back who stands 6’3” and weighs around 230 lbs, is the kind of physically-imposing talent that could make opposing defenses shake in their boots. Better yet, his sub-4.40 40-speed makes him an astonishingly gifted athlete with tremendous upside. Unfortunately the coaching staff in Oakland does not seem to have a whole lot of confidence in this second-year tailback. Murray will start the year third on the depth chart behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden and will likely remain the low man on the totem pole until the inevitable injury to one of his veteran backfield companions. At that point, Murray could see more playing time and if he can live up to the hype, could be a decent fantasy asset down the stretch. He is currently being drafted as an RB4 or RB5 in most leagues, but possesses much more upside than most of the other players being drafted around or below him.
WR James Jones
(2013 WR Rank—#45, 5.7 FPts/G)
It’s not often that a player leads the entire NFL in receiving touchdowns and then proceeds to be the third receiver drafted from that team in fantasy leagues the following season, but that’s what happened to James Jones in 2013. Jones’ impending regression was obvious to most who follow the game, but even they could not have predicted that he would finish the season with just three touchdowns in the fast-paced Green Bay offense. Jones joins a cast of new faces in the Oakland offense that has yet to gel, but still possesses the talent to be a quality fantasy asset, especially if he does secure one of the starting receiver spots in Oakland. With Schaub behind center instead of Aaron Rodgers, don’t expect to ever see Jones reproduce the numbers he did back in 2012, but this could be a decent bounce-back season for him nevertheless.
WR Denarius Moore
(2013 WR Rank—#41, 5.9 FPts/G)
Moments of brilliance from wide receiver Denarius Moore have been overshadowed by long droughts that have led fantasy owners—and the Raiders—to rethink their commitment to the highly-touted young pass-catcher. Moore has had some incredibly fast starts to his past two seasons including nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns during Weeks 1 through 8 in 2013 and 2014, but has followed them up by some disastrous second-half stats: just 348 yards and three touchdowns. Moore has been the team’s primary deep threat over the past few seasons, but will now compete for those looks with free-agency acquisition Jones, as well as Rod Streater. There is little reason to believe that having a new quarterback behind center named Schaub is going to lead to a sudden surge of consistency from Moore, so drafting him as anything other than a late-round flyer is ill-advised.
WR Rod Streater
(2013 WR Rank—#35, 6.5 FPts/G)
While it was Denarius Moore who had the hype heading into 2013, it was actually second-year receiver Rod Streater who ended up being the most productive receiver wearing silver and black. Streater was surprisingly consistent, locking up at least 40 yards in all but two games while leading the team with 99 targets. Unfortunately, it’s unclear where Streater sits on the depth chart at this time, but it’s safe to assume that he will have more competition for targets now that Jones is in town. Streater will go undrafted in many leagues but could find himself back on fantasy rosters as a bye-week fill-in or if one of the other two receivers goes down with an injury.
TE Mychal Rivera
(2013 TE Rank—#23, 3.8 FPts/G)
Now entering his second year in the league, Mychal Rivera should have the inside track on being the best fantasy tight end in Oakland. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to see the field very often. Early training camp reports indicate that Rivera is working from behind David Ausberry at Raiders OTA’s, likely showing us that the Raiders are more interested in their tight ends being extra blockers than they are with them being dynamic pass-catchers. Rivera’s 38 receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns, most of which came in the second half of the season, go to show that he could be a fantasy option if given the opportunity. Not only that, but with Schaub behind center—the guy who made both Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen into fantasy names—there does to be at least a chance that Rivera could end up on some fantasy rosters by the end of the season. For now, though, we need to wait and see what happens with the Oakland offense. So far, it’s unproven and expected to be among the worst in the league. Furthermore, Rivera isn’t even the starter at his position. Avoid him on draft day, but pay attention to the target distribution throughout the season.
By: Nick Caron — June 24, 2014 @ 9:41 am
Rivers was undervalued last season, finishing 6th among fantasy QBs with 359 FPts.
QB Philip Rivers
(2013 QB Rank—#6, 17.3 FPts/G)
Former top-five fantasy quarterback Philip Rivers and his incredible bounce-back 2013 season gave fantasy owners something to look forward to heading into this year. His six games with three or more touchdown passes made him a high reward player, but he was also incredibly consistent, throwing at least one touchdown pass in every game. Rivers’ chemistry with rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen creates fantasy excellence, but the lack of high-end pass-catching talent among the rest of the players should concern fantasy owners. The departure of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt could be another reason to be worried, or maybe not, as Rivers has produced in the past without Whisenhunt calling the plays.
RB Ryan Mathews
(2013 RB Rank—#10, 18.43 FPts/G)
After a few seasons of fantasy disappointment, Ryan Mathews finally showed glimpses of what made him a first-round draft pick back in 2010. Mathews recorded career-high numbers in rushing yards (1,255) and total touchdowns (7). This all happened despite a dreadful start to the season, rushing for an average of just 47 yards per game through the first five games of the year. He was able to change that around, however, as the Chargers offense became more balanced and he finished with an average of 93 yards per game through the final 11 games. Best yet, Mathews was finally able to shed the label of being injury-prone, as he played in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Mathews could complete another quality fantasy season, but Donald Brown joins the already crowded backfield, bumping Mathews down to a mid-level RB2 in most formats.
RB Danny Woodhead
(2013 RB Rank—#19, 8.3 FPts/G)
Few running backs can be called a “better version of Darren Sproles,” but Danny Woodhead may have earned that distinction after an incredible first season in San Diego when he caught 76 passes for 605 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 429 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, making him one of the most valuable assets in Points-Per-Reception leagues and still a quality RB2 in standard scoring formats. It would be difficult for Woodhead to replicate this kind of production in the receiving game for a second straight season, especially with Donald Brown in the backfield, but even if his catches dropped to closer around the 60 range, he would still be a rock solid RB2 in PPR formats.
RB Donald Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#26, 7.1 FPts/G)
The addition of Trent Richardson in Indianapolis should have meant the end of fantasy relevancy for Donald Brown, but an incredibly awful season from Richardson meant that Brown stuck around and even finished the season with significantly more production than his backfield counterpart. Brown tallied seven total touchdowns over his final eight games of the season. Still, Brown was the odd man out in Indianapolis and now, he finds himself in a new situation, across the country in San Diego. Brown will likely go undrafted in most leagues, but due to Ryan Mathews and his susceptibilities to injuries, Brown becomes a viable handcuff option, as he would be the most likely player to see a significant uptick in touches should Mathews miss time.
WR Keenan Allen
(2013 WR Rank—#17, 8.8 FPts/G)
Wide receiver Keenan Allen exploded in the fantasy scene in his 2013 rookie season, catching 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. His unexpected chemistry with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers really began once Malcom Floyd went down with an injury in Week 3. From that point on, few receivers in the entire league were more productive than Allen. Reports say that Allen has spent the offseason working on his pure speed, which could mean more explosive plays from him this year. Yet, Allen’s upside is still somewhat limited. The team’s other receivers should be healthier this season, which could lead to fewer total passes coming his way. Either way, though, Allen will start the season as a high-end WR.
WR Malcom Floyd
(2013 WR Rank—#126, 0.9 FPts/G)
A potentially career-threatening neck injury cut Malcom Floyd’s 2013 season short in Week 2, but reports from camp indicate that the 6’5” skyscraper already looks like his former self. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, Floyd should start the season across from Allen as the team’s deep ball specialist. He has some serious playmaking ability, but he has never been able to put together enough consistency to become a serious week-to-week fantasy option. Nevertheless, Floyd in a pass-happy offense across from another talented receiver could give him some fantasy value in 2014.
WR Eddie Royal
(2013 WR Rank—#35, 6.5 FPts/G)
Few could have possibly predicted the return to fantasy relevance for Eddie Royal. While he led the league in touchdown receptions early in the season, catching five in the first two games of the season, Royal and his production took a steep fall off from that point on. Royal only caught three more touchdowns for the remainder of the season, including just one in the final eight games of the season. Royal has always had the talent to be a decent player, but he is so inconsistent, making him a frustrating fantasy option. He will likely start the season as the third receiver in this San Diego offense and shouldn’t be much more than a fantasy WR5 to start the year.
TE Antonio Gates
(2013 TE Rank—#9, 6.4 FPts/G)
Antonio Gates is on his way out, but he is still a fantasy name worth noting, especially as one of the greatest fantasy tight ends of all-time. His 77 receptions in 2013 led the team and his 872 yards and four touchdowns helped make him a top-10 fantasy tight end yet again. Although his overall season numbers looked solid, it’s worth noting that Gates had only one game with double-digit fantasy points (in standard scoring) in his final 12 games of the season. Gates will slide down to the later rounds given the high upside of some of the younger tight ends in fantasy. If tight end is a position that you wait on, though, he is a low-risk player who could still produce decent low-end TE1 numbers.
TE Ladarius Green
(2013 TE Rank—#29, 3.3 FPts/G)
Your high-upside play in the San Diego offense is unquestionably 24-year-old tight end Ladarius Green, who has been the talk of many fantasy circles this offseason. While Antonio Gates took a noticeable step back in 2013, Green began showing off his playmaking ability. Rivers has been gushing about the potential that he sees in Green, who should see significantly more snaps than he did this past season. Green is being drafted higher than Gates in most leagues with the presumption that he is the player with the higher ceiling at this point in the players’ respective careers. With that said, he is still behind Gates on the depth chart and will continue to fight for playing time until he eventually becomes the top tight end in San Diego. When that time comes, the sky truly is the limit for this highly-skilled young pass-catcher. Unfortunately, if you want this kind of upside, you’re going to need to take a big risk. He’s going in the top-10 rounds of most drafts this offseason and could see that go up with a productive preseason.
By: Nick Caron — June 17, 2014 @ 11:01 am
Top Chief: Jamaal Charles heads into 2014 as one of fantasy football’s top players.
QB Alex Smith
(2013 QB Rank—#16, 14.9 FPts/G)
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith proved that the success he enjoyed during his final years in San Francisco was more than just a product of being on a great team, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the best record in the league through the first half of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, he and the Chiefs were unable to hold off the eventual AFC champion Denver Broncos in the division, but fantasy owners were pleased at the production they got from their quarterback over the second half of the schedule. Despite the team struggling in the wins column and sitting its starters in Week 17, Smith was able to contribute a total of 17 touchdown passes from Week 11 through Week 16, and whereas previously in his career he had never thrown more than 20 touchdown passes for an entire season, he was able to finish 2013 with a total of 23. His 431 rushing yards were also sixth best among all quarterbacks, making him an underappreciated fantasy asset in the running game. With a more difficult schedule on the horizon in 2014, Kansas City is unlikely to replicate the kind of success it had in 2013, which could mean less wins for the team but perhaps more passing opportunities for Smith, particularly late in games. A reduction in efficiency should also be expected due to the Chiefs strength of schedule, but the potential for more total pass attempts could make Smith a high-end QB2 option with low-end QB1 upside.
RB Jamaal Charles
(2013 RB Rank—#1, 20.8 FPts/G)
Not since the days of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson have the Chiefs had a fantasy producer anywhere near the level of running back Jamaal Charles. Charles, who was a consensus round 1 pick in 2013, lived up to the hype and then some with a monstrous fantasy season that made him the top-scoring fantasy back in practically all formats. Although he finished third in rushing yards, his 693 receiving yards were nearly 100 yards better than the next best back (Danny Woodhead), and his 19 total touchdowns were five more than that of any other rusher. You will hear whispers about increased opportunities for backup Knile Davis, but Charles will likely shoulder another heavy load in 2014, which makes him one of a few candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football drafts this season. Of course, the high number of touches also makes Charles a candidate for injury, but given the lack of true “feature backs” remaining in the league, the potential reward far outweighs the risk of drafting Charles with your top draft pick this season.
RB Knile Davis
(2013 RB Rank—#53, 3.3 FPts/G)
The tremendous season Jamaal Charles had already made the backup running back position in Kansas City an afterthought, but a measly 3.45 YPC average made Knile Davis even more irrelevant in the Kansas City offense. Although he did vulture two touchdowns from Charles earlier in the year, Davis’ only real value in 2013 came in Week 17 when the Chiefs sat their offensive starters, leading to a 27-carry day. He made the most of that opportunity, at least from a fantasy perspective , by rushing for 81 yards and two scores. Davis could see more touches in 2014, but he will remain essentially a non-factor for fantasy purposes unless there is an unfortunate injury to Charles. Even then, Davis is not nearly the talent that Charles is and could still end up sharing carries, most likely with 2014 fourth-round draft pick De’Anthony Thomas. Davis is a handcuff, but not a particularly enticing one until he can prove that he is a more effective runner.
WR Dwayne Bowe
(2013 WR Rank—#47, 5.6 FPts/G)
A disastrous 2013 season for Dwayne Bowe owners is now in the rearview mirror, but those who took a chance on the formerly elite wideout will find it hard to forget the horrendous production they received. Bowe delivered just five touchdown receptions on the season despite having some of the best quarterback play the team has seen in years, and failed to surpass 70 yards in any single game. He led the team with 105 targets, but caught just 57 of those and appeared to be a victim of the age bug, as he seemed slower and perhaps even less motivated than in years past. However, in spite of his disappointing output a year ago, Bowe remains the clear top target in the Kansas City offense. Unfortunately, that also means the team hasn’t invested in other options at the position to help pull away the defense’s attention, which could translate to another frustrating season for Bowe owners. His days as a WR1 are likely over, but the veteran’s savvy still gives him WR2 upside with a WR3/4 price tag. For what it’s worth, Bowe has changed his diet and training routine and reported to the team in the best shape of his career.
WR Donnie Avery
(2013 WR Rank—#64, 4.1 FPts/G)
A few long passes throughout the course of the season made Donnie Avery’s numbers look at least serviceable, as he caught 40 balls for 596 yards on the season, but those stats alone do not tell the story of the 12 games of three or fewer fantasy points that Avery gave fantasy owners. Although he was very clearly the No. 2 option in an uninspiring group of Kansas City wideouts in 2013, his upside is very limited. He and A.J. Jenkins will enter the season in what will likely be an open competition for the spot across from Dwayne Bowe, but Avery doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy value, especially given his tremendous inconsistency.
WR A.J. Jenkins
(2013 WR Rank—#131, 0.7 FPts/G)
A former first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, A.J. Jenkins is now getting a second chance at an NFL career, this time with the Kansas City Chiefs. The team traded for him prior to the 2013 season, but to say they used him sparingly would be an understatement. Jenkins caught just five total passes through the first 16 games of the season before getting a bit more of an opportunity in Week 17 when the Chiefs rested their starters. In that game, Jenkins showed flashes of what made him a first-round NFL draft pick, catching three passes for 67 yards. He will need to mature both on and off the field before he is given an opportunity to start across from Dwayne Bowe, but his potential upside is certainly higher than that of Donnie Avery. Jenkins is not likely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues unless he wins the job outright. Even then, he would be a late-round flyer with a high likelihood of terrible fantasy production.
TE Anthony Fasano
(2013 TE Rank—#42, 2.1 FPts/G)
Anthony Fasano became the Chiefs’ primary tight end in 2013 after a preseason injury sidelined Tony Moeaki. Given the success that Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker had with Alex Smith back in San Francisco, fantasy owners likely expected better from Fasano than the 32 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns that they got. Surprisingly enough, Fasano wasn’t even the team’s most-targeted tight end in 2013, as Sean McGrath was targeted 40 times compared to Fasano’s 33. Nevertheless, Fasano remains in line to be the team’s top tight end in 2014, more likely due to his ability as a blocker than as a pass catcher. The opportunities for goal line catches are there, as usual, but there’s nothing to suggest that Fasano is suddenly going to emerge as a fantasy star in 2014.
TE Travis Kelce
(2013 TE Rank—#102, 0.0 FPts/G)
Travis Kelce, a third-round draft pick in 2013, was certainly somebody that Chiefs fans had high hopes for this past season, given the relative lack of firepower in the offense. However, an unfortunate knee injury ended up costing Kelce his entire season, derailing what could have been a year with plenty of opportunities for production as a pass catcher. Kelce was a dynamic tight end in his senior season of college at the University of Cincinnati, where he caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. The chances of Kelce breaking out as an elite fantasy tight end are slim, but he is probably the most likely player in the offense to be fantasy relevant at the position, even though he is also the kind of player who could end up giving his owners practically nothing. Kelce won’t do much work in minicamp but should be active during training camp at the end of July.
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