Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Sal Marcoccio — August 8, 2014 @ 9:35 am
Smith’s strong finish in 2013 isn’t enough for fantasy owners to make him a QB1.
QB Geno Smith
(2013 QB Rank—#20, 15.9 FPts/G)
Geno Smith showed the typical rookie growing pains for most of his first season in the league. He finished the season barely eclipsing 3,000 yards and throwing for only 12 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. Buried in that abyss, however, was the young field general leading the way to impressive wins at Atlanta and at home against the rival Patriots, where he played very well. Perhaps more importantly for his 2014 prospects, Smith finished the year strong, leading the Jets to a 3-1 record in his last four games. During that four-week span, Smith threw for 790 yards with four touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He also rushed for 186 yards and three more touchdowns, making him a borderline QB1 candidate down the stretch. Reports from training camp have been mostly positive and his “battle” with Michael Vick for the starting job hasn’t been a fair fight as the second-year player has received about 75 percent of the snaps with the first unit. The team added some weapons to help with Smith’s development, most notably former Bronco Eric Decker. Smith was more of a pocket passer at West Virginia who was reluctant to leave the pocket despite his above-average athleticism. The team encouraged him to run more as the season progressed and Smith gained confidence tucking the ball away and taking off and it became a valuable weapon for the team. Smith finished the season with 366 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, despite not running much until the last quarter of the season. Smith should make some improvements as a passer and if he continues to run the ball, he isn’t such a terrible option for your backup quarterback spot late in the draft.
QB Michael Vick
(2013 QB Rank—#38, 18.0 FPts/G)
Michael Vick was signed this offseason under the guise of competing for the Jets’ starting quarterback job. From the beginning, however, he’s been resigned to the fact that the job is most likely Geno Smith’s to lose. Vick is still one of the better running QBs in the league, despite his advanced age. Outside of 2010 he has never been able to put up big numbers in the passing game. Vick will likely only see the field if Smith gets injured or if he struggles and the team is losing. He’s a guy to keep an eye on for a quick waiver wire claim should the Jets call his number, but right now he shouldn’t be listed on your draft board.
RB Chris Johnson
(2013 RB Rank—#9, 12.6 FPts/G)
Chris Johnson, the artist formerly known as CJ2K, wore out his welcome in Tennessee and was unceremoniously shown the door this offseason. The New York Jets, an offense that was in serious need of adding some playmakers, quickly pounced on him and brought him into the fold. Johnson blamed last season’s “struggles” on a torn meniscus that he suffered in Week 3 and played through for the remainder of the season. Despite the injury, he still put up 1,422 total yards and 10 touchdowns making him a top-10 fantasy running back in 2013. Reports indicate that his role with the Jets varies, ranging from a “change of pace back” to a “committee back” and a back who gets “all the carries he can handle.” The truth is likely that Johnson will lead all running backs in touches but Chris Ivory and even Bilal Powell will see significant touches as well to help keep him fresh. Johnson has at times lined up at receiver during training camp and his abilities in the passing game will exploited in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwig’s west coast scheme. His knee is no longer considered a concern after offseason surgery. He has already participated in contact drills and was reported to look like the “Chris Johnson of old.” Fantasy owners need to remember, though, that he is now the old Chris Johnson, which is a very different thing. He’s worth taking a chance on as your RB3, but given the talk of RBBC, he could see some down weeks if you have to start him on a regular basis.
RB Chris Ivory
(2013 RB Rank—#37, 6.4 FPts/G)
Chris Ivory was last offseason’s big acquisition at the running back position. After a slow start, due to suffering a hamstring injury during training camp, Ivory showed to be a capable feature back. In Week 6 and Week 9, the Jets upset two of the league’s top teams, the Patriots and the Saints. Ivory gained 243 yards with a touchdown during that hot streak. Following Week 9, he was an important part of the Jets’ offense, but his lack of usage in the passing game and the Jets lack of scoring opportunities limited his fantasy value. This season the offense should be much improved and Ivory could see more goal-line opportunities but the presence of Chris Johnson will put a serious cap on his fantasy value. Ivory could be a decent mid- to late-round stash, whose value could rise with a Johnson injury, but otherwise he doesn’t pack much bang for your buck.
WR Eric Decker
(2013 WR Rank—#8, 12.2 FPts/G)
No player’s value likely dropped more than Eric Decker’s this offseason. Switching from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith at quarterback will do that. On the positive side, Decker will no longer compete with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas for targets in the passing game. On the negative side, Decker will no longer have Thomas, Welker and Thomas drawing attention away from him. Decker’s detractors will likely call him a product of Manning; however, he is a solid wide receiver in his own right. As a second-year player he managed to put up a 44-612-8 stat line despite playing mostly with Tim Tebow under center. Looking a bit deeper, during the first four weeks of that season Decker caught 20 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns when Kyle Orton was at quarterback. That put him on pace for an 80-1,080-16 stat line over a full season. Decker will likely not reach 16 touchdowns in 2014 but 80 receptions and 1,000 yards are reachable goals with even a minimal jump from Smith during his sophomore season. The fact that Decker should be the focus of opposing defenses does present its problems and the team will need third-year WR Stephen Hill to step up his game and help create space underneath by drawing coverage deep.
WR Jeremy Kerley
(2013 WR Rank—#63, 6.0 FPts/G)
Jeremy Kerley could be the biggest beneficiary of the Jets offseason acquisition of Eric Decker. Stretched as a “go to” wide receiver, Kerley still performed admirably and the passing game looked much better when he was on the field last season than when he missed time. Ideally, Kerley will man the slot for the Jets where his quickness, sharp route running and sure hands works the best. In PPR leagues, Kerley could be a draft-day bargain in the late rounds as he has the trust of his quarterback and the passing game should be more effective than last season where he lead the team with 523 yards receiving on 43 catches, despite only playing 12 games.
WR Stephen Hill
(2013 WR Rank—#103, 3.4 FPts/G)
Entering his third season, it’s hard to consider Stephen Hill anything more than a bust so far. His lack of production stands out further when he’s compared to the two other physical freaks that came out of Georgia Tech, Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. Hill burst on the scene in his first NFL game with five receptions for 89 yards with two scores, but the highlights have been few and far between since. His poor 2013 is blamed on a sore knee that did not allow him to cut, and reports out of training camp have been “outstanding.” Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwhig has gushed about him and he could be on the verge of taking a big leap. Hill’s struggles have been largely based on health, but he has also displayed questionable hands. Some key drops in big situations have soured many Jet fans on Hill, but at 6’5” (he reportedly grew an inch this offseason) and 215 lbs. with impressive speed, if he can stay healthy and limit his miscues the sky could be the limit. In deep leagues, a late-round flier could wind up paying dividends.
TE Jeff Cumberland
(2013 TE Rank—#26, 5.3 FPts/G)
The Jets drafted rookie tight end Jace Amaro in the second round of the NFL draft, after resigning incumbent Jeff Cumberland to a three-year, $5.7 million contract. All reports from camp indicate that Amaro has looked lost while adjusting to the pro game, meaning Cumberland is likely to hold onto his starting spot at the beginning of the season. That does not mean he should be on your fantasy roster. At 6’4” and 260 lbs., Cumberland has surprising timed speed and the team feels that he could take the next step into becoming a matchup nightmare. It’s a long shot that it will happen though, as despite his decent 40 time when he was a prospect, Cumberland appears to lumber when on the field and he hasn’t shown reliable hands. The team also has last preseason’s star with the Patriots, Zach Sudfeld on the roster further complicating things. One would need to be in a fairly deep league to even consider Cumberland – or any Jet tight end – on draft day.
By: Sal Marcoccio — August 1, 2014 @ 10:56 am
Is Eli Manning inline for a bounce-back season with new OC Ben McAdoo?
QB Eli Manning
(2013 QB Rank—#21, 15.5 FPts/G)
Eli Manning is coming off of his worst season since the early years of his career when he was still learning how to play the position. He only threw for 18 touchdown passes while accruing an unbelievable 27 interceptions. Manning has never been a great fantasy asset, but his steady production and ability to put together 16-game seasons on a yearly basis has always made him a safe bet to finish as a borderline fantasy QB1. There are many reasons that could have led to such a poor 2013 including a porous offensive line (Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times), an ankle injury suffered during the season and the offensive game plan being stale. The line issues were addressed through free agency and the draft while Manning had offseason surgery to clean up his ankle. Furthermore, former Packer quarterback coach Ben McAdoo replaced the only offensive coordinator that Eli has ever known, Kevin Gilbride. There’s hope for the younger Manning to turn things back around, as the Giants will be one of the offenses that will seek to emulate the “fast” up-tempo game-plans now in vogue. McAdoo is also installing a more west-coast style offense that will use short screens and slants, as opposed to Gilbride’s vertical-based offense. The offensive line will not have to hold its blocks as long and wide receivers Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham are great fits for the new offense. Manning will forever be linked to Philip Rivers due to the draft day trade between New York and San Diego that swapped the duo. Rivers, who also looked to be in a downslide, thrived last season under a new quick hitting/timing based offense and the hope is that Manning will do the same. Manning is a nice target for those that like to wait and use a QBBC approach in redraft leagues.
RB Rashad Jennings
(2013 RB Rank—#22, 9.2 FPts/G)
Career backup Rashad Jennings was able to parlay a nice run in 2013 with the Oakland Raiders into a decent NFL payday this offseason. Jennings was able to rush for 733 yards with six touchdowns and caught 36 balls for another 292 yards last season. He looked the part after taking over the starting running back positions in Week 10 following a Darren McFadden injury. General manager Jerry Reese has referred to the veteran as a “bellcow type” and head coach Tom Coughlin is impressed by his versatility. Jennings is the type of solid grinder that Coughlin prefers and his pass blocking and ball protection should parlay into Jennings seeing the field quite a bit in 2014. Jennings has never handled more than 163 carries in a season, however. While some people may see that as him having a “little tread off his tires,” there have also been hints that the Giants may not see him as a true workhorse. There have been reports that we could see a three-headed RBBC in New York to help keep Jennings fresh by limiting his workload. Fantasy owners should look at his 4.5 yard per carry average from last season and Coughlin’s track record of having little patience for mistakes and feel confident that they can rely of Jennings for RB2 results in 2014, but also need to face the reality that his upside could be limited. In a west-coast offense, Jennings’ ability to block and catch well sets him apart from his competition and that should make him an attractive option in PPR leagues.
RB David Wilson
(2013 RB Rank—#92, 4.3 FPts/G)
David Wilson had a disappointing season in 2013, culminating with a serious neck injury that threatened his future as a football player. All things considered, getting clearance to play football in 2014 following neck surgery is a major boon for Wilson’s fantasy owners. Wilson is now getting snaps with the second unit and should earn a change-of-pace role as long as he stays healthy. Prior to his injury, Wilson was still a disappointment and often found himself in head coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse as a result of his penchant for fumbling and his issues with pass protections. Wilson is one of the most explosive players in the league, combining above-average speed and surprising power in his compact frame, but will need to earn his playing time in order to exploit his gifts. Learning to better protect Eli Manning alone would create a tremendous opportunity for him, as his skillset is otherwise well suited to contribute as a pass catcher in the newly implemented west-coast scheme the team will employ. Wilson’s speed, agility and power would be deadly on screens and in the flat. Wilson received clearance on July 21 to take part in contact drills, but Giant fans and fantasy owners will be holding their breath every time he lowers his head and takes a hit. In fact he has already suffered a “stinger” in training camp, making his future that much cloudier. Wilson has the ability to easily surpass Rashad Jennings on the depth chart, but an early-season role of 6-8 carries a game is likely a best case scenario at this point. From there, health and the trust of the coaching staff will the only things holding him back. Sadly, both of those things could be tough for Wilson to obtain.
RB Andre Williams
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Andre Williams led the nation in rushing yards as a Boston College Eagle last season. His size and running style is very reminiscent of former Giant Brandon Jacobs. Williams lacks any real wiggle, but has very impressive straight-line speed for his size and is tough to bring down once he gets momentum. Camp reports indicate that he has seen work with the first-team unit during goal-line drills, which makes Andre the Giant an interesting late-round flier in redraft leagues. While he doesn’t have pass-catching ability, he could punch in some touchdowns early in the season and earn some first and second down work. An injury to Rashad Jennings or David Wilson could open the door further to an expanded role that the big back may not let close behind him.
WR Victor Cruz
(2013 WR Rank—#28, 8.8 FPts/G)
Victor Cruz’s numbers dropped across the board in 2013 and he failed to even reach 75 receptions, 1,000 yards or five touchdowns. After bursting on the scene as an unheralded second-year player in 2012 (82-1,536-9), it’s been a steady decline for Cruz. The optimist can look at last season as a total disaster for the passing game as a whole, which was addressed by the team hiring a new more innovative offensive coordinator. The pessimist may state that opposing defenses have learned the way to shut Cruz down and that Eli Manning is in the decline phase of his career. The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in the middle. Cruz had some good fortune during the 2012 season and took advantage of a few busted plays, which led to some big yardage plays for him. While Hakeem Nicks missed time and was ineffective last season, Cruz saw a lot of bracket coverage. Cruz should see more time in the slot this season, a place where he has shown to be effective. The reports from camp so far have been very positive. The New York offense will be modeled after Green Bay’s and beat reporters are speculating that Cruz will fill the “Randle Cobb role.” Based on that Cruz could be up among the league leaders in receptions at season’s end. Cruz has a powerful frame and is blessed with quickness that is generally seen in smaller packages. If this offense clicks Cruz should become a high-volume producer, as the most talented pass catcher on the team, which makes him a strong candidate to outperform his current ADP.
WR Rueben Randle
(2013 WR Rank—#45, 6.1 FPts/G)
Reuben Randle scored six touchdowns in limited action last season, but still had to endure an offseason where his value was constantly questioned. General manager Jerry Reese failed to endorse him as a capable starting wide receiver and former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride implied that the team was never sold on his abilities. The apparent slights by the organization seemed to be further borne out when the team spent the No. 12 overall pick on wide receiver Odell Beckham, despite more pressing needs. Reports about Randle from OTAs and from training camp have all been nothing but positive, however. The new offense is thought to be a better fit for his skillset and should allow him to rely more on his physical gifts to get open rather than requiring him to make the proper read. Last season Randle and Eli Manning weren’t always on the same page, and the hope is that Randle will be more effective this season in the new offense. At 6’2” he’s the tallest of the wide receivers and he should see significant action. With the team having no discernible tight end, Randle could be the team’s top red zone target.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
A hamstring strain kept rookie Odell Beckham out of almost all of the offseason activities and all of training camp thus far. This, of course, has not sat well with bristly head coach Tom Coughlin and could put Beckham behind Jerrell Jernigen on the team’s depth chart for the start of the season. For those in redraft leagues, Beckham is probably not even worth a roster spot at this point. Even if he does manage to get himself completely healthy, the thought is that his role as a rookie will be mostly as a field stretcher running clearing routes in order to allow quick hit strikes to Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle underneath. The team did spend an early first-round pick on him, though, and he was considered to be the best route runner in the draft. His role could grow once he proves that he can beat press coverage and be an effective target for his quarterback. It’s also worth noting that the Giants base offense will consist of three receiver sets so once Beckham moves past Jernigen he should see the field consistently. Owners swinging for the fences with their late-round picks can consider the youngster in the last couple of rounds, but if you are an impatient type or want to play it safer you are likely better off passing on him.
TE Adrien Robinson
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Early offseason speculation had third-year player Adrien Robinson as the starter at the tight end position. He performed poorly in OTAs, however, and now finds himself buried on the depth chart behind uninspiring competition such as Larry Donnell, Kellen Davis, Xavier Gamble and Daniel Fells. When he was drafted, Robinson was referred to as the “JPP of tight ends” in reference to teammate Jason Pierre-Paul’s freakish athletic ability. Obviously, with zero career receptions, Robinson has not lived up to the hype. Even though the Giants are no longer employing Kevin Gilbride’s offensive system, it should be noted that in the past the Giants offense has made “stars” out of marginal talents like Jake Ballard and Kevin Boss at tight end position, so there could be value here. The problem is, as of right now, special team blocker Larry Donnell sits atop the depth chart. If Robinson starts to make some noise in camp and preseason games he could make an interesting late-round flier.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 28, 2014 @ 12:15 am
QB Ryan Tannehill
(2013 QB Rank—#11, 20.1 FPts/G)
This year could be a make-or-break season for Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill hasn’t played too poorly over the course of his first two years as a starting quarterback in the league; however, he hasn’t been overly impressive either. Last season he completed 60 percent of his passes, accumulating 3,913 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air while tossing 17 interceptions. Tannehill has also displayed some mobility, gaining 238 yards and a score with his legs last season. The issue that could jeopardize his standing as a franchise quarterback, however, is that he has failed to step up in big games. In Week 17 with a playoff spot on the line, Tannehill completed only 50 percent of his passes while tossing three interceptions against the rival New York Jets. That poor game followed an even worse 10-for-27 performance against the Bills In Week 16 in an ugly 19-0 loss. Tannehill struggled all season throwing the deep ball, which led to a disappointing season from star acquisition Mike Wallace. Tannehill completed only 16 of 64 passes, which traveled over 20 yards in the air. His deep ball accuracy was second to last in the league for all starting quarterbacks. On a positive note, the team fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and replaced him with former Eagles’ quarterback coach Bill Lazor. Lazor intends to install a high-tempo offense modeled after Chip Kelly and the Eagles last year. The offense should be more balanced, which should take some pressure off of Tannehill and allow him to improve on a poor 6.66 yards per attempt. The Miami offensive line should see some improvement with its offseason moves, including newly signed running back Knowshon Moreno, one of the better blockers at his position. The needle is pointing up for the third-year starter and if he finds himself more on the same page with Wallace this year, a big leap up is possible.
RB Lamar Miller
(2013 RB Rank—#38, 6.2 FPts/G)
Lamar Miller failed to secure his standing as the future running back for the Dolphins when he was named the team’s starting running back last season. The team was disappointed enough in his performance to sign former Bronco free agent Knowshon Moreno to compete for the job – if Miami doesn’t hand it to him. Luckily for the former Hurricane, Moreno showed up to camp injured and out of shape, and may miss all of training camp following a recent knee surgery. Miller rushed for 709 yards on 177 carries in 2013 and failed to separate himself from the pedestrian Daniel Thomas in the running team’s back rotation. Miller has above-average speed, but runs with little power and shows no tackle-breaking ability despite having good size for a running back at 224 lbs. Reports from OTAs are that he has looked good, but of course no contact drills without pads play to his strengths. Moreno’s injury has put Miller “clearly ahead” of the former Bronco on the depth chart, but if Moreno recovers fully and quickly, it’s unlikely that Miller will do enough to bury him for good. Early fantasy drafters will need to proceed with caution on this situation.
RB Knowshon Moreno
(2013 RB Rank—#5, 14.8 FPts/G)
Knowshon Moreno kicked off the dirt that was used to bury him by fantasy football players to put up a top-five season in 2013. Playing in a Peyton Manning record-breaking offense will go a long way toward hiding any warts possessed by a starting running back. Moreno isn’t devoid of talent, but lacks the explosiveness and power to make a true difference all on his own. Instead, he’s the type of back who exhibits good vision and can take what the defense gives him. Surprisingly, NFL front offices were smart enough not to be fooled by last season’s success and the market was cold for Moreno during the free agency period. According to him, Miami was the only team that expressed any real interest at all. Moreno should be ready for Week 1 after his arthroscopic surgery, but conditioning could be an issue. Upon his return to health, Moreno has a chance to make up some ground on presumed starter Lamar Miller, who was far from impressive in 2013. Moreno should, at the very least, take on the role of third down back, as he is one of the better blockers at his position and has more than adequate hands and route running abilities. He could be a nice late pick in PPR leagues if his injury concerns drive him down other owners’ draft boards.
Mike Wallace hopes to be more than just a deep threat in 2014.
WR Mike Wallace
(2013 WR Rank—#25, 7.9 FPts/G)
Ryan Tannehill had his share of trouble connecting on deep passes, most noticeably with those intended for wide receiver Mike Wallace. As a result, Wallace managed a career low 12.7 yards per reception on his 73 receptions and totaled only five touchdown receptions, another career low. In the offseason, Wallace said, “I should have had 15 to 20 more touchdowns. And that’s being modest.” Setting aside whether or not it was wise of Wallace to throw his quarterback under the bus and/or if we should question his grasp on the definition of the word “modest,” his statement does tell a big part of the story as to Wallace’s disappointing 2013 fantasy season. There is reason to have hope for Wallace in 2014, however. Reports from offseason activities have been positive. Further, new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will frequently move Wallace around in formations so that opposing defenses cannot key on him, much like Desean Jackson was used by the Eagles last season. Wallace was even seen taking snaps out of the backfield during some practices. Wallace has always had the game-breaking speed that can turn any snap into a big play, but most of it was wasted last season. With some offensive creativity and a fresh attitude, Wallace should easily surpass last season’s numbers making him a draft day bargain if your fellow owners just look at last season’s results.
WR Brian Hartline
(2013 WR Rank—#26, 7.9 FPts/G)
Brian Hartline is a guy whose end-of-the-season ranking usually exceeds his preseason ADP. There are probably many reasons for this phenomenon, but the fairest one is that the guy just lacks any real upside and most owners like to draft for upside. His solid week-to-week statistics are useful depth for your fantasy team. He finished last season with a 76-1,016-4 stat line. Those four touchdowns were four times the amount that he had put up in any of his three previous seasons. That should help illustrate the lack of upside criticism. Hartline is a solid-possession-type wide receiver who has enough speed and route-running ability to get behind the coverage deep on occasion, but lacks consistent big play abilities. The team liked him enough to sign him to an above market contract last offseason and he had enough trust from his quarterback to earn 8.3 targets a game in 2013. With Mike Wallace expected to become a bigger part of the offense and with rookie Jarvis Landry, a similar player to Hartline, now in the mix, the problem with drafting Hartline is that he will likely see a reduction in targets. While that would naturally be bad for any player, it stands out more for Hartline who relies on volume more than playmaking ability to accumulate his stats.
TE Charles Clay
(2013 TE Rank—#7, 7.5 FPts/G)
Charles Clay is overlooked in fantasy football circles when the talk turns to tight ends. After being used mostly as a fullback/H-back earlier in his career, last season he was the starter at tight end by default after Dustin Keller was lost in the preseason. He impressed the team enough that the Dolphins did not seek an upgrade at the position this season. He caught 69 passes for 759 yards with six touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown as well. Last season he received seven carries from the fullback position, which adds to his value if he sees some goal line carries again this season. With neither Lamar Miller nor Knowshon Moreno excelling in short yardage situations that could be a possibility. In the passing game, Clay is a matchup problem as he’s fast enough to separate from linebackers and is an effective runner after the catch who can overpower cornerbacks and safeties if he gets room in the secondary. If one was to miss out on a top-five tight end in your draft, waiting late on Clay isn’t the worse strategy one could employ.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 19, 2014 @ 3:48 pm
A clean bill of health, new weapons – all signs point to a bounce back season for RGIII.
QB Robert Griffin III
(2013 QB Rank—#19, 21.0 FPts/G)
The conventional wisdom says Robert Griffin III rushed back too quickly from his torn ACL injury, which led to a decline in his production from his rookie season. The word out of OTAs is that Griffin has flashed his dynamic 2012 form and looked “extremely explosive.” In 2012, Griffin threw for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions while also rushing for 826 yards with another seven touchdowns. In 2013, his rushing yards were nearly cut in half and he failed to score a rushing touchdown, while also regressing as a passer. Griffin spent the offseason working on his mechanics with quarterback instructor Terry Shea. Mike and Kyle Shanahan are no longer in Washington, and Robert Griffin III will now work with offensive-minded head coach Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay. In addition, the team brought in more dynamic weapons for their young quarterback, signing former Eagle DeSean Jackson and former Cardinal Andre Roberts in free agency. All signs are pointing to a great fantasy football season from RGIII and the fickle masses just may forget how valuable of a weapon he was in 2012 after his disappointing 2013. Griffin is still one of the most dynamic runners in the league and Gruden has stated that while he may not use the read option often, he won’t necessarily ask Griffin not to run the ball when the opportunity arises. Any potential drop off in Griffin’s rushing production should be offset by an uptick in his passing statistics. Combine Griffin’s offseason work and health, Gruden’s offensive mind and the influx of talent in the passing game, and it’s hard to imagine Washington’s passing offense not taking a leap forward in 2014.
RB Alfred Morris
(2013 RB Rank—#14, 11.1 FPts/G)
Predictions for Alfred Morris’ 2014 fantasy value will likely be the most volatile of any running back in the league. There’s a mostly universal agreement that in PPR leagues his value is hurt by his lack of usage in the passing game – after all Morris has only caught 20 passes in two seasons. It’s in standard leagues where the opinions diverge greatly. Morris was the prototypical Mike Shanahan back. He did come out of nowhere to make an impact, but more importantly, his one-cut-and-go running style was tailor-made for the zone-blocking scheme. His doubters will argue that losing Shanahan is not a good thing for a “Shanahan product” and his supporters will point to his two-year track record of production. To complicate matters further, new head coach Jay Gruden is known to favor the passing game, but Morris doesn’t excel as a pass catcher. Furthermore, the pass-heavy offense would result in a drop in carries for Morris, potentially further reducing his value. While early reports indicate that Morris will still be a major factor in the Washington offense, it should be noted that Morris already saw a significant drop in his workload from his rookie to sophomore season, which naturally lowered his production. Morris went from 335 carries in 2012 to 276 carries in 2013. It should be disconcerting to potential Morris owners that Gruden has already stated to the press that he does not see Morris as a player who possesses natural hands. Keep in mind this is the time when most coaches throw around praise for their players. Morris could be a risky pick in all formats.
RB Roy Helu
(2013 RB Rank—#50, 4.8 FPts/G)
Former Nebraska standout Roy Helu could stand to receive a major value boost in the team’s transition from Mike Shanahan to Jay Gruden. During his two healthy seasons in Washington, Helu caught 49 balls and 31 balls, respectively, and could see his role increased if the team transitions to a more pass-centric offense. Helu is expected to hold onto his role as a third down back, but could face a challenge from second-year player Chris Thompson if he stays healthy. Helu was the favorite to take over the feature back role in Washington heading into his second NFL season, but injuries opened the door for Alfred Morris to take the job and run with it. Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati last season was very effective while featuring a committee approach with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Washington backfield using that model. Helu is likely not talented enough to earn as big a share in the committee as Bernard had, but in an offense expected to be much improved, Helu makes an intriguing mid- to late-round pick in PPR leagues.
WR Pierre Garcon
(2013 WR Rank—#13, 10.4 FPts/G)
Pierre Garcon seems to be perpetually underrated in fantasy football circles. When he was signed by Washington, many thought that any success he had in Indianapolis would be a direct result of Peyton Manning. An injury-plagued first season in the nation’s capital helped further the belief that he lacked true talent, even though he excelled when he was healthy. In 2013, however, Garcon put up a 113-1,346-5 stat line and the narrative changed, given his league-leading 182 targets that led to his success. Garcon’s targets are very likely to drop with DeSean Jackson now in the mix; however, don’t forget about the chemistry that Garcon has with Robert Griffin. Garcon should also be more efficient on his targets, since he will no longer constantly see bracket coverage and double teams with more dangerous options than Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss in the Washington passing attack. He should find more open areas in the defense and while his receptions may drop his efficiency, his touchdowns should increase.
WR DeSean Jackson
(2013 WR Rank—#10, 11.7 FPts/G)
Coming off a career year in 2013 when he caught 82 balls for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, DeSean Jackson is a candidate to be over-drafted in fantasy drafts this summer. Playing in Chip Kelly’s complex and up-tempo passing game, Jackson saw his numbers rise dramatically across the board last year in Philadelphia. It should be noted that prior to last season, Jackson averaged only 55 receptions in five years. This year’s drafters should likely use the midpoint of that average and his 82 receptions last season as a baseline for projecting reception totals for Jackson. He is still one of the more dynamic players in the league with the ball in his hands and the Washington offense is expected to be pass heavy, so he’s still a solid bet for WR2 production. Don’t draft him based on last year’s top-10 finish, though, or you could be very disappointed at year’s end.
WR Andre Roberts
(2013 WR Rank—#74, 3.7 FPts/G)
Many dynasty owners were holding the talented Andre Roberts hoping he would finally escape from the desert and out of the shadows of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. They had to be pleased when Roberts signed with Washington as presumably the No. 2 receiver with Robert Griffin III. A few weeks later DeSean Jackson was acquired much to the chagrin of those same owners and to Roberts himself, as he would once again act as a WR3 on his team. He is now said to be a candidate to return kicks for Washington and will play in the slot in three wide receiver sets. In deeper leagues, Roberts can still hold some value to cover bye weeks in what is expected to be a pass-heavy offense. In his best season of 2012, he managed a stat line of 64-759-5 and that is likely his ceiling in Washington this season barring an injury to Garcon or Jackson.
TE Jordan Reed
(2013 TE Rank—#22, 7.7 FPts/G)
On a points per game basis Jordan Reed was a fantasy TE1 in 2013, despite being a rookie who got off to a slow start. He missed the last six games of the season, though, after he suffered a major concussion, his fourth including his college years. The threat of a reoccurrence is the only dark cloud hanging over Reed this season and beyond. In what may seem to be classic offseason hyperbole, Robert Griffin III called him “one of the most talented tight ends in the league.” Looking at his numbers when healthy, that may not be such an outlandish statement after all. Sean McVey as the offensive coordinator could help Reed even more, since he is Reed’s former position coach. Already, Reed is expected to be a big part of the offense. He’s been favorably compared to fellow Florida alumnus Aaron Hernandez in physicality and playing style, and his rookie season production helps to further make that comparison apt. Projecting the eight full games he played in 2013 out to a full season, Reed would have finished with an 88-974-6 stat-line. While it may be a little too optimistic to project those numbers for his 2014 season, a top-five finish is well within his reach if he stays healthy.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 11, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
Caution. The reasons for Tom Brady’s fantasy flop last season are still in place.
QB Tom Brady
(2013 QB Rank—#12, 21.7 FPts/G)
From a fantasy football perspective, 2013 was Tom Brady’s worst season since the era when he was known as a “game manager.” He finished as QB12 in the final rankings, however, there were 16 better quarterbacks, including Josh McCown, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford, based off of fantasy points per game. It’s easy to blame his decline solely on the fact that he was without his top weapon Rob Gronkowski for most of the season and was forced to lean on mostly young and inexperienced pass catchers. Or maybe the 36-year-old veteran is facing his football mortality. Brady had his lowest yardage and touchdown totals since 2006 and struggled with his deep passing and general accuracy as well. To his credit, Brady spent time this offseason working with private quarterback coach Tom House to correct the accuracy and deep ball issues that plagued him last season. Combine that offseason work with a healthy Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, and the expected growth of Aaron Dobson, then a bounce-back season isn’t out of the question. Brady will be 37, however, to start the season and we all know that Father Time is undefeated. Let one of your league-mates reach for Tommy Boy based on his name recognition, and grab better value at the position a few rounds later.
RB Stevan Ridley
(2013 RB Rank—#26, 9.0 FPts/G)
There are worse things than relying on the whims of Bill Belichick for fantasy production from your starting running back. Those things include an IRS audit, root canal surgery and Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Steven Ridley is an efficient runner with excellent vision who could be a perfect fit for the New England offense, but he often found himself in Belichick’s doghouse whenever he put the ball on the ground in 2013. Coming off a season where he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, Ridley was a major disappointment last season. Ridley finished the season with only 773 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, despite averaging virtually the same yards per carry that he did in 2012 when he spent more time on the bench than he did the year before. Ridley is often spelled on passing downs by Shane Vereen, but last year he started losing early down carries to Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount as well. With the departure of Blount, Ridley should get a reprieve as the most talented “big” back on the roster and could end up as a draft day steal. The team only added another scatback-type runner in the draft in James White, giving Ridley an opportunity to regain the trust of his coaching staff and assume the power back role. If Ridley is available in the middle rounds of your draft, because of a poor 2013, the potential reward should outweigh the risk of him losing carries again this season.
RB Shane Vereen
(2013 RB Rank—#43, 10.9 FPts/G)
Injuries cost Shane Vereen the 2013 breakout season that many had predicted for him. In eight games, Vereen rushed for only 208 yards, but caught 47 balls for 427 yards and scored four total touchdowns. As those numbers indicate, Vereen is a valuable commodity in PPR leagues. He could be an important part of your fantasy team in standard formats as well this season. ESPN”s respected beat reporter Mike Reiss expects Vereen to lead all New England running backs in snaps this season. Vereen is already an integral part of the Patriot passing game with the ability to run inside efficiently despite his smallish frame. He may be asked to do so more this season if Steven Ridley finds his way back into Bill Belichick’s doghouse again this season since the team is currently short on other legitimate options. Vereen has seen his share of injuries throughout his career and reportedly the fractured wrist that he suffered in 2013 is still not 100 percent healed, but when healthy, he should be a consistent RB2/3 with upside.
WR Julian Edelman
(2013 WR Rank—#18, 8.9 FPts/G)
At the start of the 2013 season, Tom Brady was without his top-five pass catchers from 2012 due to injury, free agency and criminal activity. The Patriots then lost prized free agent acquisition Danny Amendola to a groin tear during their opening week contest, further depleting the depth chart. Brady was forced to rely on a handful of rookie wide receivers and journeymen-type tight ends to pick up the slack. Unheralded veteran Julian Edelman then stepped up and caught 105 balls on the season. The former college quarterback was a reliable target for Tom Terrific, but lacked the playmaking ability to keep the offense moving at the levels it was used to achieving since 2007. Edelman managed a meager 10.1 yards per reception and only found the end zone six times. Given those poor metrics, it’s hard to imagine that the team can’t make better use of the 151 targets that went Edelman’s way last season. With that said however, Brady lobbied hard for the Pats to bring the free agent Edelman back this offseason and the team did resign him after he flirted with Houston and San Francisco. In PPR leagues, Edelman could still be a reliable WR3 but with Amendola and Rob Gronkowski healthy and with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins a little more seasoned, it’s possible his receptions could be cut in half in 2014. Buyers beware.
WR Danny Amendola
(2013 WR Rank—#60, 6.3 FPts/G)
Danny Amendola was signed by the Patriots last offseason immediately following Wes Welker’s signing with the Denver Broncos. Many fantasy footballers not only saw Amendola as a replacement for Welker but also felt that he was a younger and faster version of the man known as “the slot machine.“ Amendola suffered a serious tear of the groin during the opening week contest against Buffalo. He only played in 12 games and was hampered by the injury all season causing him to be a major disappointment to the team and to fantasy owners. He’s now fully healthy and is expected to be a starting outside wide receiver for the team, despite some earlier offseason reports calling him a candidate to be released. Amendola was the star of the 2012 offseason and by all reports he has looked good once again at OTAs this offseason. Amendola offers a pretty similar skill set to Julian Edelman and it will be interesting to see how the team employs what basically amounts to two slot wide receivers in their 2014 offense. Amendola has a reputation of being “injury prone” and last season will not put that perception to rest. In PPR leagues, however, there is potential to use that perception to get some nice draft value for a player that could very well have caught the 105 balls that went to Edelman last season if not for his Week 1 injury.
WR Aaron Dobson
(2013 WR Rank—#59, 6.9 FPts/G)
Aaron Dobson ended his rookie season with only 37 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, but showed some deep ball skills that could lead to a very nice 2014 season. In Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dobson put up 130 yards and two scores. A foot injury in the next game caused him to miss the next four weeks halting any momentum he was establishing. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Dobson is a big target, which is otherwise missing at the wide receiver position for the team. He underwent offseason foot surgery and missed OTAs, including valuable time with Tom Brady, but is expected to be healthy for camp and should open the season as a starting wide-out for the team. Dobson is a second-year breakout candidate as the only player on the team with his skill set. The former Marshall product features 4.4 speed with a big frame, the quickness to gain separation and the hands to make spectacular catches downfield.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
(2013 WR Rank—#65, 6.4 FPts/G)
WR Brandon LaFell
(2013 WR Rank—#49, 6.3 FPts/G)
At this point I couldn’t recommend drafting either Kenbrell Thompkins or Brandon LaFell in most leagues. Given the injury histories of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and the upside that both would possess in this offense, though, fantasy football players need to keep each of them on their radars. Thompkins was all the rage last offseason after an impressive training camp and preseason, but struggled in typical rookie fashion once the games became real. LaFell was signed to a three-year $11 million contract by the Patriots this offseason after a mostly disappointing early career with the Carolina Panthers. The range of possibilities for each of these wide receivers is wide, from winning a starting role to not making the team at all. Therefore, neither amount to anything more than a late-round flier in deep leagues at this point, but that could change when more news out of training camp becomes available.
TE Rob Gronkowski
(2013 TE Rank—#17, 11.9 FPts/G)
Rob Gronkowski has been tagged with the dreaded “injury pone” label by many fantasy football players. At closer look, though, Gronkowski has suffered a series of fluky unrelated injuries. His back may be of some concern, but the broken arm on an extra-point block attempt (and the subsequent re-break) and the ACL/MCL tear caused by a hit to the knee are injuries that any player could have suffered. All reports indicate that Gronkowski will be available for Week 1 and his ADP should climb as more positive news comes out during training camp. On a points per game basis, Gronk still proved to be the second-best tight end in the league last season, and when he’s healthy, he’s by far Tom Brady’s most trusted and most effective weapon in the passing game. Gronkowski has averaged nearly a touchdown per game over his 50-game career (0.84), and while the tight end position has become deeper in recent years, he’s still one of the true difference makers in fantasy football based on his value relative to his position.
By: Sal Marcoccio — July 3, 2014 @ 1:23 pm
Foles’ performance in 2013 means he won’t last past Round 6 in your fantasy draft.
QB Nick Foles
(2013 QB Rank—#17, 22.5 FPts/G)
As a tall, slow and lumbering pocket passer, Nick Foles didn’t fit the part of a quarterback that would thrive in the Chip Kelly system, but after he took over for an injured Michael Vick, he certainly proved otherwise. It turned out that Kelly’s system didn’t necessarily need an athletic quarterback that could take off and gain yards with his legs, as was the case at Oregon, but could be mastered by a smart, accurate and tough quarterback as well. Surprisingly, Foles did do enough with his legs to end the season with 225 yards and three scores on the ground. More impressively, Foles put up 2,891 passing yards with 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Foles accomplished that in basically 12 games, as he threw a mere four passes while replacing Vick in Week 4. The second-year quarterback finished eighth in completion percentage (64.0), first in yards per attempt (9.12), and first in quarterback rating (119.2). Foles’ miraculous season ended with him winning the Pro Bowl MVP, and left fantasy owners salivating over what he may do with a full offseason of preparation as a starter and with 16 starts potentially awaiting him in 2014. On a points per game basis, Foles was the sixth-best quarterback in fantasy football last season and it’s easy to argue that he has room for improvement. Although he loses his offense’s top receiving weapon from last season in Desean Jackson, he gains veteran Jeremy Maclin – who returns from an offseason ACL tear – in addition to rookie Jordan Matthews and former Saints running back Darren Sproles. Foles could potentially end up being overdrafted in upcoming drafts, but it’s hard not to like his chances of finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback.
RB LeSean McCoy
(2013 RB Rank— #2, 17.5 FPts/G)
LeSean McCoy thrived in the Chip Kelly offense, rushing for 1,607 yards and nine touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 540 yards and another two scores through the air. The Eagles finished 13th in plays from scrimmage with their fast-paced offense and will look to speed things up again in 2014. McCoy was a major part of that offense with 314 carries and 52 receptions. There has been some talk of lessening McCoy’s load a bit this season, but it’s hard to see a major dip especially if the team does manage to run more plays this season than it did last season. McCoy is one of the more exciting players in the league with the ball in his hands and his ability to stop and change directions with unbelievable cuts and jukes is reminiscent of the great Barry Sanders. McCoy’s production initially declined when the team made the switch at quarterback from Michael Vick to Nick Foles, but it quickly rounded back into form after a few weeks. McCoy will turn 26 this month, so he’s really just entering the peak of his prime years. McCoy is a player to seriously consider as early as the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts this season.
RB Chris Polk
(2013 RB Rank—#75, 5.7 FPts/G)
Chris Polk started the season ranked third on the running back depth chart, but passed Bryce Brown while averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry in his limited action. Polk is one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy football since he has the talent to thrive and will see plenty of carries in an offense that finished fourth in rushing attempts in 2013. Polk’s shoulder issues, which caused him to go undrafted out of Washington, should be resolved after a surgery in the offseason. The team seems confident enough in his health that they shipped off Brown in a draft day trade. At 5’11” and 222 pounds, Polk is a power back that rarely fumbles and can grind out yards inside. It would likely require a LeSean McCoy injury for Polk to have any value – outside of handcuff value – in all but the deepest of leagues. If the McCoy owner leaves him on the waiver wire, though, Polk could be a difference maker in fantasy leagues should an opportunity arise.
RB Darren Sproles
(2013 RB Rank—#35, 7.1 FPts/G)
When Darren Sproles was released by the New Orleans Saints in a cost-cutting move, it was hard to imagine that he could possibly maintain his value at age 31 in any other setting. Luckily for him and his owners, he probably landed in the second-best location for his fantasy value. In standard leagues, Sproles is probably not worth the price that his name recognition will cost you, but in PPR leagues, he should have another productive season as the Eagles look to him to help fill the void left when Desean Jackson was released. Sproles may not see the 70+ receptions that were commonplace during his three years with New Orleans, but 60 receptions is likely a solid baseline to use when projecting his 2014 season. While LeSean McCoy is healthy, Sproles will likely be used in the backup running back role, seeing a handful of carries per game. If McCoy was to go down, though, it’s unlikely Sproles’ role would increase. He’d likely still be a change of pace back to Chris Polk.
WR Jeremy Maclin
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in late July last offseason, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season. He signed a one-year deal in February to stay with Philadelphia where he can likely build up his market value in the Eagles’ high-flying offense. He has reportedly looked fantastic in OTAs and is expected to be 100 percent for training camp. Maclin has averaged 860 yards over the course of the four NFL seasons, but he has never surpassed 1,000 yards in a season. There’s a very good chance that will change this season, as Maclin is likely to be the main beneficiary of Desean Jackson’s departure. He should lead the team in targets. Maclin isn’t the prototypical WR1 type at only 6’0”, 198 lbs., but he has enough speed and direction to find open spaces and make things happen after the catch in the complex Chip Kelly passing attack. Like Jackson did in 2013, Maclin should have a career year with this offense.
WR Riley Cooper
(2013 WR Rank—#24, 8.3 FPts/G)
Riley Cooper made headlines during the last offseason as a result of being caught on tape using a racial slur. To his and his teammates credit he was able to move past it quickly and rewarded his teammates faith in him by helping the Eagles reach the postseason as their second-best wide receiver. On the way, he put up a 47-833-8 stat-line and was an integral part of the rushing attack as well due to his skills as a blocker. Cooper, who isn’t known for his blazing speed was able to average 17.8 yards per reception due to his strong frame (6’3”, 222 lbs.) and the trust of his quarterback, Nick Foles, who wasn’t afraid to put the ball up where Cooper could go up and fight for it. This season may be a little tougher for Cooper without Desean Jackson’s downfield speed drawing safety coverage. The team was impressed enough with Cooper’s game, though, to sign him to a five-year $25 million contract this offseason. He should also see himself in the starting lineup once again. With Jackson’s departure and with a full season of Foles throwing him the ball, Cooper could be in for an even bigger season in 2014.
WR Jordan Matthews
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
The Eagles selected Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews with the 42nd overall pick in the NFL Draft. Based on some reports, he has already looked like the best wide receiver on the roster and is slated to start the season in the slot and possibly push Riley Cooper on the outside. Matthews is the all-time leader in catches and yards in the Southeastern Conference history, despite playing for a team that wasn’t known for its prolific passing attack. It’s always a risky proposition to draft a rookie wide out in redraft leagues, but Matthews surely has some sleeper appeal based on his talent and situation. The majority of his fantasy value is likely to come later in the season once he becomes familiar with Chip Kelly’s offense.
TE Zach Ertz
(2013 TE Rank—#20, 4.7 FPts/G)
The tight end position is one of the more difficult transitions from the college ranks into the professional game. Zach Ertz didn’t put up eye-popping numbers (36-469-4), but he showed enough promise on the field that the big leap could be in store during his sophomore campaign. His position coach recently compared him to Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe and Ozzie Newsome, and while that may be too heavy praise for the youngster, Ertz has the size and athleticism to make plays on Sundays. Many of the Philadelphia beat writers have cited Ertz as a big part of the team’s plans to replace Desean Jackson’s production. A TE1 fantasy season should be in store for Ertz in 2014.
WR Brent Celek
(2013 TE Rank—#14, 5.4 FPts/G)
There was a time when Brent Celek paid dividends to owners who waited before selecting a tight end in fantasy drafts. Those days are no more, however. Celek was reduced to the role of a blocking tight end last season in the Chip Kelly offense and that is not expected to change in 2014.
By: Sal Marcoccio — June 26, 2014 @ 9:34 am
QB EJ Manuel
(2013 QB Rank—#28, 17.3 FPts/G)
EJ Manuel had an up-and-down rookie season, but not every quarterback is going to have a rookie season like Robert Griffith III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson did in 2012. While it’s true that rookie quarterbacks are now more equipped to enter the league and hit the ground running, it’s still a tremendously difficult transition to make, and it would be unwise to call a rookie quarterback a “bust” after one season in the league. Manuel threw for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also ran for 186 yards and two scores. He compiled those statistics in only 10 games, as he was forced to miss six games with multiple knee injuries. Manuel was considered a raw prospect coming out of Florida State, so one could look at his completion percentage of 58.8% as a positive, and hope to see some improvement in his sophomore campaign. Reports from Buffalo’s OTAs have not been all that positive, though. Manuel is said to be struggling with accuracy, sailing too many passes over the heads of his wide receivers. He is athletic enough to make plays with his legs, but he doesn’t always look to run when the opportunity presents itself. The Bills made a bold move to trade up in this year’s NFL draft to acquire wide receiver Sammy Watkins in order to surround their young franchise quarterback with weapons. Their high-tempo offense will make Manuel a potential high upside late-round pick as a backup quarterback for your fantasy team if he can show some improvement. His three knee injuries from last season (requiring an offseason knee scope) and the decision to have him wear a knee brace this season could limit any advantage one would expect to gain from a “running” quarterback. Keep an eye on Manuel this preseason and see if he looks to be moving around well, because there is some potential for a major leap in production from his rookie season.
Spiller’s fantasy prospects hinge on him staying healthy for the majority of the season.
RB C.J. Spiller
(2013 RB Rank—#27, 8.3 FPts/G)
C.J. Spiller was a tremendous disappointment to those owners who used a first-round pick to draft him last season based on his tantalizing skill set and his coaching staff’s promise to “run him until he pukes.” Due to an early season high ankle sprain, Spiller decreased his workload, but he was still effective running the ball, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Of course that was still a steep drop from his 6.0-yard-per-carry average in 2012. Spiller’s numbers dropped across the board as his total yards went from 1,703 to 1,112, 8 to 2 in touchdowns and 43 to 33 in receptions. The staff has talked up an expanded role for the former Clemson Tiger once again. With his ankle now fully recovered, Fred Jackson entering the season at 33 years old and with the Bills commitment to the run, Spiller could end up as a draft-day bargain. Short-sighted owners, who are only looking at his 2012 numbers, are missing Spiller’s elite-level speed, great lateral agility and a toughness that belies his smallish stature. The Bills led the NFL in rushing attempts (546) last season and should be near the top of that list once again this season. If Spiller is able to grab the lion’s share of those carries a top-10 season is easily within his reach. Although he does have a $2.1MM player option for the 2015 season, he will be entering the last season of his rookie contract in 2014, so he’ll be playing for his last big payday this year. Health + Motivation + Talent + Opportunity = Good Things for Spiller in 2014.
RB Fred Jackson
(2013 RB Rank—#11, 11.7 FPts/G)
It would be easy to write off Fred Jackson, who turned 33 years old back in February, but then again the man is coming off of a season where he put up 1,283 total yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. He was able to finish last season as RB11 despite splitting carries with C.J. Spiller. Jackson has surprised people throughout his entire career, beginning with coming out of practically nowhere at age 26, after spending his early professional years playing in low level indoor leagues, t0 work his way into a timeshare with Marshawn Lynch, a player drafted at No. 12 overall in the NFL draft. So, don’t be too surprised if he’s able to hold off father time for at least one more season. Jackson is a complete back who is equally adept at taking the ball inside to earn tough yards, busting one outside of the tackles or catching passes out of the backfield. At his age and with Spiller healthy, Jackson will most likely see his workload scaled back a bit this year. It’s even possible that at some point during the season that he starts to give way to the younger Bryce Brown, who was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.
RB Bryce Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#60, 3.5 FPts/G)
Bryce Brown is known in fantasy circles as the guy who stepped in for an injured LeSean McCoy in 2012 and proceeded to rush for 347 yards and four touchdowns in his first two NFL starts. It’s been mostly downhill since then. Last season Brown was passed up on the depth chart by Chris Polk for the backup position to McCoy, making him expendable this offseason. The Bills stepped in and acquired him for a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick during the draft. Brown is a big back at 6’0, 220 pounds with rare speed for his size, but he struggled after the historic start to his career due to his penchant for trying to bounce every play outside for big gains instead of taking what the defense gives him. Given the fact that the Bills ran the ball more than any other team in 2013, Jackson’s age, Spiller’s injury history and his career average of 4.6 yards per carry, Brown makes an intriguing late-round selection in fantasy drafts.
WR Sammy Watkins
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
In a bold draft-day move the Bills traded their eighth overall pick and their 2015 first-round pick to move up to the fourth pick in order to select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That should tell fantasy owners all they need to know. Watkins will be heavily targeted even as a rookie. Recent trends have shown that rookie wide receivers have been better suited in making the jump from the college game to the professional game than in the past. Nevertheless fantasy owners will still need to temper expectations. Watkins has rare acceleration after the catch. The Bills could use him in many of the same ways his college team used him – on bubble screens and shorter pass routes. The offense will rely on him to make plays after the catch. Watkins is not physically imposing at 6’1” and 210 pounds, but he does have tremendous leg strength and excels at breaking tackles. He should immediately step into the Bills’ starting lineup, so the opportunity will be there for him to produce. Don’t reach for him, but if he does fall in drafts he’ll likely be a better option than a mediocre veteran who may be left on the board when it’s time for you to make a selection.
WR Robert Woods
(2013 WR Rank—#58, 5.6 FPts/G)
Fellow rookies Robert Woods and EJ Manuel seemed to develop some chemistry with each other before injuries hit both youngsters at various times during the course of the season. Woods finished his rookie season with a 40-587-3 stat line but capped it off with offseason ankle surgery. The former second-round pick should open the season opposite rookie Sammy Watkins and will probably kick inside to the slot in three wide receiver sets. Woods runs sharp routes and has steady hands and projects to be a solid possession wide out at the professional level and could develop into Manuel’s “go to guy” since they have already established a level of rapport after breaking into the league together. It’s hard to imagine eye-popping statistics from Woods this year, but in PPR leagues, he could be worth a shot as a late-round depth player.
WR Mike Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#110, 5.6 FPts/G)
Mike Williams only played in six games last season finishing with a disappointing 22 receptions and two touchdowns. He then found himself traded to a team coached by his former college coach Doug Marrone. The good news is that Marrone likely signed off on the acquisition, but the bad news is that Williams quit on his Syracuse team. Williams has been a legitimate red zone threat throughout his professional career, scoring eleven touchdowns as a rookie and nine touchdowns in 2012. The latest reports from OTAs is that Williams is getting first team reps in three wide receiver sets and he could end up leading the Bills in touchdown receptions this season.
TE Scott Chandler
(2013 TE Rank—#18, 4.8 FPts/G)
Scott Chandler is one of the least inspiring starting tight ends from a fantasy football perspective in the league. To be honest, he’s nothing special from an NFL perspective either, since he’s a poor blocker. In an era where we’ve seen a shift in the position, Chandler is more of a throwback player, and watching him lumber down the field is not what the fans are paying to see. At 6’7”, one would think that he would at least be a legitimate red zone specialist, but alas Chandler’s career high for touchdown receptions is six, which he has accomplished twice. You can do better.
WR Tony Moeaki
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Tony Moeaki is a guy who has intrigued fantasy owners since he entered the league as a Kansas City Chief, but he has seen setbacks to his career due to his injuries. Moeaki opened last season on the IR and was picked up by Buffalo after being waived by Kansas City. Reports have indicated that Moeaki could threaten Scott Chandler’s starting role this season and as the superior blocker and pass catcher between the two, those reports are likely to prove accurate. The tight end position in Buffalo, however, is unlikely to be a productive one in fantasy football and should likely be disregarded by fantasy owners in all but the deepest of leagues.
By: Sal Marcoccio — June 19, 2014 @ 1:08 pm
Tony Romo is expected to be 100% for the start of training camp.
QB Tony Romo
(2013 QB Rank—#10, 24.1 FPts/G)
Tony Romo underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc in December, but is expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Head Coach Jason Garrett believes Romo is in the prime of his career, but considering the quarterback is now 34 years old, that statement is likely May/June “coach speak.” On the plus side, the Cowboys have hired Scott Linehan as their new passing-game coordinator, a move the veteran Romo is reported to be thrilled with. Under Linehan, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford averaged 4,885 passing yards over the last three seasons, and he never attempted fewer than 630 passes. Contrast that with Romo, who has only surpassed 550 attempts once in his career. Romo is perpetually underrated in fantasy circles and should prove to once again be a boon for owners who wait on drafting a QB. In four of his eight seasons as an NFL starter, he has topped 4,000 yards in passing, and he threw for 3,828 yards with 31 TDs in 15 games last season. If his attempts were to rise significantly under Linehan, Romo could put up a career year even at 34 years of age.
RB DeMarco Murray
(2013 RB Rank—#8, 14.8 FPts/G)
DeMarco Murray is coming off his best season as a professional, but still did not manage to play a full season—an issue that has plagued Murray throughout his three years in the NFL. Last year he did manage a career-high 14 games, and gained almost 1,500 total yards, while finding the end zone 10 times. He also caught 53 balls last season, a number that could increase in Scott Linehan’s offense. Linehan has claimed that he will lean on the running game in Dallas, but his past history speaks otherwise. Still, with recent improvements to the offensive line and a talent like Murray, the Cowboys should have a very effective running game and Murray could be poised to set career highs across the board. As always, health could be an issue for a running back who doesn’t always find himself able to avoid contact due to an upright and violent running style. However, at 6’0” and 220 pounds, and with impressive straight-line speed, Murray can dish out the punishment as well. An owner could do worse than picking Murray somewhere near the Round 1/Round 2 turn in drafts later this summer.
RB Lance Dunbar
(2013 RB Rank—#93, 3.0 FPts/G)
Lance Dunbar only managed to play in nine games last season, but he was impressive before a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day, rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game and missing the rest of the season due to injury. Dunbar has earned rave reviews from new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason, and beat reporters have touted him as a breakout player to watch in 2014. The 5’8”, 188 pound Dunbar should be an effective weapon in the passing game, especially when you consider that Linehan’s offense in Detroit allowed both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to thrive while running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. He’s a must-have handcuff for Murray owners due to Murray’s penchant for injuries, but should also have some fantasy value in his own right, especially in PPR leagues.
WR Dez Bryant
(2013 WR Rank—#5, 12.7 FPts/G)
Scott Linehan is used to working with star wide receivers, having helped guide Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson to great heights while with Minnesota and Detroit respectively. At times last season, it seemed as if Dallas wasn’t willing to force-feed its stud WR the way Linehan has shown he’s willing to do in past stops. In fact, Bryant had eight games last year where he didn’t see double-digit targets. This year Linehan plans to move Bryant around more, making it difficult for opposing teams to cover him, and he has never been afraid to have his quarterback utilize his best weapon, even when the receiver is covered. Combine that with a contract year for Bryant and it’s very reasonable for fantasy owners to expect Bryant’s best season to date in 2014. Bryant is one of the league’s most physically gifted WRs, with a combination of speed and strength not seen in most of his peers. He should be capable of taking over a game, and Linehan is likely to give him the opportunity to do so. Don’t be shocked if Bryant sits atop the WR rankings at the end of the season.
WR Terrance Williams
(2013 WR Rank—#40, 6.9 FPts/G)
Second-year wideout Terrance Williams will be thrust into a starting role in 2014, after a fairly successful rookie season that saw the former Baylor Bear grab 44 balls for 736 yards and 5 TDs. Williams spent some time in the starting lineup last season in place of the oft-injured Miles Austin, and the team saw enough potential in him to release Austin this offseason. Williams will have the benefit of not being the focus of opposing defenses, with Dez Bryant lined up across from him and tight end Jason Witten commanding targets, but of course the flip side of that is the two veterans will generally be Tony Romo’s preferred options almost every time he drops back and scans the field. Nevertheless, the 6’2”, 200 pound Williams flashed some big-play ability (despite sometimes showing questionable hands) and is a breakout candidate under the pass-happy offense of Scott Linehan. Williams will need to show consistency early in the season in order to gain Romo’s trust. If he’s able to do that, there should be enough targets to make him at worst a low-end WR3 for fantasy teams.
WR Cole Beasley
(2013 WR Rank—#94, 3.5 FPts/G)
Diminutive third-year wide receiver Cole Beasley entered the PPR radar midseason in 2013 with a couple of six-catch games, but finished the season with only 39 catches at less than 10 yards per reception, and 2 TDs. Receivers coach Derek Dooley has talked Beasley up this offseason and has said that he expects an expanded role for the former SMU receiver. Being a small (5’8”, 180 pound) white slot WR, Beasley naturally draws plenty of Wes Welker comparisons, but he’s not nearly as quick or strong as the underrated Welker. However, Beasley does run good sharp routes and is sure-handed, so he could carry some PPR value this year as a bye-week filler.
WR Dwayne Harris
(2013 WR Rank—#120, 2.3 FPts/G)
Thus far in his career, Dwayne Harris’ contributions have been mostly limited to his special teams play. He is one of the best return men in the league, but only has 26 receptions in his three-year career. He is competing with Cole Beasley to be the Cowboys’ WR3 this season, and if he wins that job he could have some fantasy value in their high-volume passing attack. He’s probably not worth a draft pick in leagues that don’t award kick return yardage, but could be someone to monitor should injuries strike players in the Dallas passing game. He has big-play potential but lacks the consistency to be a reliable difference maker for your fantasy team.
TE Jason Witten
(2013 TE Rank—#5, 8.3 FPts/G)
Jason Witten turned 32 years old in May, and while he looked as if he had lost a step last season, no player in the league is more trusted by his quarterback. Witten has been a top-six tight end in each of his last four seasons, and with Miles Austin out of the picture and the new offense expected to be even more pass-centric than ever, it would be unwise to bet against that streak continuing in 2014. While he’s never been an athletic specimen on the level of a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, Witten has been every bit as productive, surpassing 1,000 yards in four NFL seasons. Surprisingly, Witten has never reached double-digit TDs in a season, and the eight he scored last year was the second-highest total of his career. While second-year TE Gavin Escobar’s role is expected to expand, it really should not come at Witten’s expense. Witten knows how to get open, presents a big target for Romo, and has sure hands, so even if he loses yet another step in 2014, his floor is still that of a fantasy starter at the position.
TE Gavin Escobar
(2013 TE Rank—#50, 2.8 FPts/G)
Gavin Escobar had very little production during his rookie season, but that is not uncommon at the tight end position. Reports indicate his role will be expanded in 2014 and he could end up on the fantasy radar. Blocking was an issue for Escobar last season, but Jason Witten has praised his fellow TE’s improvement in that area, and in Scott Linehan’s new offensive system, Escobar’s pass-catching skills are much more needed anyway. Linehan says he is excited to see what the young TE can do, and during the coach’s seasons in Detroit, second- and third-string tight ends like Tony Sheffler and Joseph Fauria were able to make contributions in the passing game behind starter Brandon Pettigrew.
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