Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
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: Colby Cavaliere — July 25, 2014 @ 11:06 pm
A more conservative offense should bring Dalton’s numbers back down to earth.
QB Andy Dalton
(2013 QB Rank–#3, 23.6 FPts/G)
Since the days of fellow former second-rounder Boomer Esiason, the team in tiger stripes hasn’t seen a quarterback sling it around the yard. Last season, though, Andy Dalton set career highs with 33 touchdown passes and nearly 4,300 yards in the air. His tremendous stat line vaulted him into the top-five at his fantasy position. Entering only his fourth season, fantasy owners should be falling all over themselves to make Dalton their fantasy starter. But the gridiron leader in the Queen City doesn’t seem to be much of a fantasy king. What gives? The most troublesome blemish on Dalton has more to do with his failings as a real life quarterback, rather than a fantasy one. Although he has helped drag a perennially losing team out of the muck, he has been an utter failure in the playoffs with a 0-3 record and 1-6 touchdown to interception ratio. Last year was perhaps the biggest disappointment, as he was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league from Week 10 on. Despite the great touchdown totals, Dalton was turnover prone, throwing the fifth most interceptions (20) in the league. A look at the numbers shows that Dalton was dreadful when the heat was on, ranking in the lower quarter of the league in third down conversion percentage and completion percentage when under pressure. These statistical numbers should be improving as he gets more experience in the NFL, but they aren’t. He was the only top-10 quarterback anywhere near those poor totals, and this speaks to his greatest fault: He simply isn’t at his best as a volume passer. The Bengals clearly agree. In comes former Bengals running backs coach Hugh Jackson, who brings a decidedly more conservative offensive approach than departing offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Besides for a philosophy change, the Bengals front office has yet to put a vote of confidence in Dalton in the form of a lucrative extension.
Despite not extending Dalton, the Bengals did nothing in the offseason to bring in a legit challenger to his position. Jason Campbell is merely a veteran mentor, and rookie A.J McCarron won’t see the field due to an injury disaster. So what does all this mean for his fantasy outlook? Any quarterback who throws for 30+ scores and 4,000 yards is worth paying very close attention to. Dalton’s No. 3 finish wasn’t exactly out of nowhere, as he was a fringe QB1 by the end of 2012. And that is where his value as a fantasy quarterback should return to again in 2014: a fringe fantasy starter. With a more conservative approach, Dalton won’t approach the touchdown or yardage totals, but he could actually be more consistent. With the bevy of offensive weapons around him, including one of the game’s best young receivers in A.J. Green, Dalton definitely adds value to a fantasy roster. Let another owner overdraft him based on his 2013 stats, but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger late, as he could be one of better value selections in the QB2 tier.
RB Giovani Bernard
(2013 RB Rank–#16, 10.6 FPts/G)
Whether the offensive coaching staff lacked confidence or worried about overworking him, Giovani Bernard was a woefully underutilized asset in 2013. Only a supremely talented three-tool running back could finish in the top 16, despite having 37 fewer carries than those ranked above him. A skillful playmaker with the ball in his hands, Bernard did a ton of damage in the passing game, racking up 56 catches (on 71 targets), 536 yards and three scores. While he didn’t get a ton of opportunities on the ground, the eighth most targeted running back in the league certainly proved more than capable as a pass catcher. New offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson is very familiar with what Bernard can do with the ball in his hands, so expect the second-year back from North Carolina to carve out more of defined role on the ground as the leader of this two-headed backfield. Bernard offers substantially more big play and chunk yardage potential than plodding veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and hammerhead rookie Jeremy Hill. He was very respectable in the red zone with 21 carries (to Green-Ellis’s 30) and four scores. Although he cooled off in the second half – especially down the stretch, (averaging only 3.6 yards per carry over the final five games) – Bernard should play a key role this year with the Bengals. With an uptick in carries, he could approach 1,000 yards rushing. And if the Bengals stay committed to using him creatively in the offensive game plan, Bernard is a sure bet for strong RB2 value with RB1 upside.
RB Jeremy Hill
(2013 RB Rank–N/A)
Make no mistake: This Bengals offense is a two-back system. Even though Giovani Bernard had a breakout season and will lead the backfield in touches, don’t sleep on Jeremy Hill, the rookie out of Louisiana State University. Shifty and agile for his large size, Hill comes to the Bengals from a run-based, pro-style college offense. The second back taken in the 2014 draft, Hill should find his way onto the field quite often if the Bengals stay true to their commitment to the run. His physical tools, pedigree (former high school All-American) and draft position all should give him the leg up with any potential battles with veteran counterpart BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Hill has a nose for the end zone (28 touchdowns in two years with the Tigers) and if he is able to earn the trust of the coaches with good ball control and blitz pickup, he could handle as many as 100+ rushes in his first season. Hill could take over the 30 carries Green-Ellis had in the red zone last season, as well as exceed five rushing touchdowns. Hill will clearly have the most fantasy value to Bernard owners, but there remains some serious potential value for everyone else as RB4/5.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
(2013 RB Rank–#31, 7.5 FPts/G)
Entering his third, and most likely final season with the Bengals, BenJarvus Green-Ellis remains a fantasy mystery. When no one believed he was for real, he followed up his breakout 2010 season with a decent 2011 and 2012 seasons with 11 touchdowns and 1,000 yards rushing, respectively. But the writing was on the wall in 2013, as Green-Ellis, never known for dynamic running ability, mucked his way to a career-low 3.4 yards per carry average. Heralded for his reliable ball control and goal line prowess, Green-Ellis began ceding carries to the younger, more explosive Giovani Bernard around midseason. The Bengals made an even bigger statement when they drafted running back Jeremy Hill in the second round. Should Green-Ellis be able to salvage a roster spot with the Bengals, he could be lurking in the weeds waiting for an opportunity. Bernard and Hill are still very young players on a playoff contender, though. So, don’t underestimate Green-Ellis’ value as a reliable runner inside the red zone should he be called upon. Should Bernard or Hill suffer a long-term injury, a sly fantasy owner might still be able to squeeze a last little bit of value out of the “Law Firm.”
WR A. J. Green
(2013 WR Rank–#4, 13.0 FPts/G)
Only 25 years old and still getting better, A.J. Green gives fantasy owners everything they want in an elite No. 1 wide receiver. Green finished in the top six in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Redraft, Dynasty, PPR or Standard, Green stacks up in any fantasy format. He has increased his totals during each of his three years in the league and has the benefit of being on a team with a young offensive nucleus, which should mean solid production for years to come. Clearly a top-five fantasy wide receiver, there are a few things than could prevent him from reaching the top of the charts. Despite being 6’4’’, Green is slightly built at only 204 lbs., as most players in his height class are 220+ lbs. This lack of bulk might explain his poor catch percentage inside the red zone the past two seasons – 20 catches on 42 targets or 48 percent. Another interesting stat is his red zone touchdown numbers. In 2012, Green scored eight or his 10 total touchdowns inside the 20. Last year he only scored half that number and watched teammate Marvin Jones score nine. These numbers can easily be contributed to increased defensive attention, but this actually could be an area where Green can improve. Offseason training reports seem to indicate that Green has worked to bulk up. An increased dependability near the goal line is a reason why he will maintain his elite status despite the Bengals planned dedication to the run game. Expect a slight dip in receptions and yards, but Green will remain a consistent threat who scores at least 10 times each season, doesn’t miss games, has a good head on his shoulders and looks like a WR1 as much as anyone in the league.
WR Marvin Jones
(2013 WR Rank–#21, 8.6 FPts/G)
Marvin Jones was a surprise hit in 2013, racking up a silly 10 touchdowns on only 51 catches. Fighting to earn playing time opposite stud A.J. Green, Jones made a gigantic fantasy splash in a Week 8 game against the Jets when he went off for 122 yards and four touchdowns. While he had a few decent games very late in the year when he finally seemed to be a more consistent member of the starting lineup, Jones wasn’t nearly the valuable fantasy asset his final rankings make him seem. He’s a young, talented receiver who will benefit from single coverage. You are much better off looking elsewhere when filling out your starting line-up, however. On an offense that figures to flip its run-pass ratio – Cincinnati had a 45 percent to 55 percent ratio in 2013 – and has a host of options fighting for targets behind superstar wide receiver Green, there doesn’t seem to be enough volume coming Jones’ way to make him anything but an end of the roster WR4/5. Expect a slight uptick in catches and yards now that he should be entrenched as a starter, but count on the touchdown total to tumble back into the lower single digits.
TE Tyler Eifert
(2013 TE Rank–#29, 3.8 FPts/G)
If you are looking for a fantasy starter at tight end, you’ve come to the wrong place. Tyler Eifert, the towering 6’6’’ tight end out of Notre Dame was, by many accounts, a disappointment in 2013. Expected to provide a seam-stretching threat to a young, blossoming offense, Eifert was out-produced by his incumbent teammate Jermaine Gresham, who was ranked #21 at the end of 2013. While the duo combined for a respectable 85 catches and 906 yards, the Bengals passing attack flows through A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati also couldn’t seem to find a way to utilize the size of its tight ends in the red zone, as they combined for a paltry 11 targets. The Bengals’ run-based, two tight end system makes it difficult for either tight end to carve out a spot on your fantasy roster. Eifert does offer intriguing upside and should become more involved in the offense if he can improve his blocking. Upside and opportunity are the best you can hope for a low-tier TE2.
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: Jake Gordon — July 21, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
QB Jake Locker
(2013 QB Rank—#37, 17.5 FPts/G)
Since he was drafted as the No. 8 overall pick in 2011, Jake Locker has yet to live up to expectations in the fantasy game or real life. He is slated to begin the 2014 season as the starting quarterback for the third straight year despite not having his option picked up by the team. How is that for confidence? If Locker hopes to get a shiny new deal, first he will have to learn how to stay on the field. Over the past two years he has missed nearly half of the Titans’ games (14 of 32) with ailments to his hip, foot and shoulder. So far this offseason Locker has shown that he is mostly over the Lisfranc injury that sidelined him last season. He participated in mini camp last month and is grasping the playbook under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Tennessee has also made an attempt to bolster the offensive line by signing tackle Micheal Oher and drafting Tyler Lewan. Locker should have a good-sized leash as Tennessee opted to not bring in a high-priced veteran to challenge for the starting role. Instead, the team chose to add a career backup in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst has knowledge of the system having served as Phillip Rivers’ understudy last year in San Diego and if everything falls into place he could make a Luke McCown-like splash midseason. If Locker is indeed healthy and making good reads in this offense he would still only be an average reserve for fantasy purposes. Should he falter or suffer another injury, the Titans would turn to Whitehurst until rookie Zach Mettenberger is ready. Mettenberger is reportedly doing well in his recovery from an ACL injury that caused him to slide to the sixth round. If he can impress in his first pro season, he would likely be in the mix to start as soon as next year, assuming Locker is not brought back on a new deal.
RB Bishop Sankey
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
The Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back chosen in the 2014 draft and it is clear that they feel he has the ability to replace Chris Johnson. They might not elevate him to the top of the depth chart at the outset of training camp because of his status as a rookie, but he should be their number one guy by Week One of the regular season. Part of this is due to the lack of quality competition to handle anything close to a full workload of carries. Shonn Greene continues to deal with knee problems and has seen his role reduced. Jackie Battle provides depth and could be moved to fullback while other players like Dexter McCluster are complementary pieces within the offense. Meanwhile Sankey has the skills to develop into a very good three-down running back within a balanced offense geared to move the chains. His solid hands will also make him a nice safety valve for Jake Locker and PPR owners. Whether Sankey can become the next stalwart rookie fantasy back will depend on his durability and ability to adjust to the pro game as a runner and blocker. He has shown that he can handle a larger workload as a two-year starter for Washington yet the possibility of hitting a “rookie wall” remains. Potential Sankey investors will want to follow his preseason progress very closely to see whether the same exceptional vision that he displayed in college will not be negated by the quicker NFL defenses.
RB Shonn Greene
(2013 RB Rank—#56, 5.2 FPts/G)
Shonn Greene saw his fantasy stock plunge when he was employed as the short yardage specialist behind Chris Johnson last year. The net results were a career-low 77 rushing attempts and off-season knee surgery that kept him out of OTAs and mini camp. The addition of Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster combined with the presence of Jackie Battle mean Greene’s fantasy upside is likely to remain limited. If Greene is able to use training camp to work his way back to full health, he should be the first choice near the goal line. Greene’s conversion rate is decent; however, opportunities to increase his volume of work are not nearly as rewarding as other backfield vultures. As a touchdown-or-bust player with significant health risk on a team that is expected to be in the lower half of the league in offensive output, Greene is a risky investment for the 2104 fantasy campaign.
Kendall Wright will need to increase his TD total to be considered a true WR1.
WR Kendall Wright
(2013 WR Rank—#31, 7.5 FPts/G)
The Titans invested a first-round pick in Kendall Wright two years ago and they are already seeing dividends. In the 2013 season, Wright notched his first 1,000-yard season and ended up just six catches short of the century mark. This year, fantasy owners will not want to sleep on Wright. A player who will be labeled short on touchdown potential on a run-first team, Wright stands to make the most gains in the new offensive system considering the passing game ranked 20th or worse in passing yards and touchdowns. More efficiency should equate to more overall production for the top targets. Furthermore, the team did well in using the short yardage passing game. Those attributes not only suit Wright’s game extremely well, but also are the backbone for success in any West Coast playbook. Wright spent part of the offseason working with Robert Griffin III in preparation of taking his game to an even higher level for 2014. One of only a few receivers with a realistic shot at 100 receptions; Wright is only a few touchdown receptions away from being a solid WR2 in PPR leagues. In every other format, Wright becomes an attractive investment in the middle rounds as one of the better WR3 upside plays.
WR Nate Washington
(2013 WR Rank—#36, 6.9 FPts/G)
Since Derrick Mason’s departure following the 2004 season, five different players have led the team in receiving yards. Nate Washington led the team twice, most recently two years ago with a whopping 746 yards. While Kendall Wright passed him on the depth chart, Washington should remain a starter as he prepares for his ninth season in the league. As the offense evolves around younger players, a decline is expected to keep the veteran’s fantasy value to that of a bye week replacement option. Should quarterback Jake Locker find his way in 2014, Washington would top out as a WR4 or WR5 depending on the number of teams in your league
WR Dexter McCluster
(2013 WR Rank—#68, 4.2 FPts/G)
Could this be the year when Dexter McCluster finally gets enough touches to be a consistent threat on offense as well as special teams? As offenses continue to evolve in today’s NFL so too does the role of the scatback. The elusive McCluster has never been able to earn both carries and targets during a single season but that might change in Tennessee. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt successfully found a way to maximize Danny Woodhead’s skills as both a runner and receiver to yield 193 combined targets and rushing attempts last season. If McCluster were put into a similar role, he would have flex consideration most weeks. Having witnessed a young Chris Johnson run past defenses in the past, Tennessee is not afraid to gamble by putting the ball in the hands of speedy playmakers.
WR Justin Hunter
(2013 WR Rank—#73, 4.6 FPts/G)
Justin Hunter may have the highest fantasy ceiling of any Titans receiver this year and fantasy owners would be wise to follow his development during the preseason. After being a non-factor for most of the season, Hunter posted two impressive performances during a late four-game road trip in 2013. In both games, he notched over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hunter has always had the potential to become a big time threat; however, the presence of Kenny Britt, a few dropped passes and the lack of consistent play at the quarterback position did not help Hunter reach his potential. Onto his second season, fantasy owners will find Britt is no longer in Nashville, Jake Locker is healthy (at least at the moment) and Hunter has added a few more pounds to his 6’4” frame. If he can show consistency in training camp and the preseason, he will likely ascend the depth chart and exceed his draft day value.
TE Delanie Walker
(2013 TE Rank—#12, 6.2 FPts/G)
No longer playing second fiddle to Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker enjoyed his best season to date with the Titans in 2013. In 15 games as Tennessee’s starter, Walker had more targets, receptions and yards than he did in his previous two seasons combined as a member of the 49ers. He became a larger part of the offense as the season went along, receiving seven or more targets in five of the team’s final eight games. Under the Ken Whisenhunt’s play calling last year, an aging Antonio Gates surpassed 100 targets in route to a team-leading 77 receptions. While Walker is not Gates and Locker is not Rivers, building on last year’s success isn’t out of the question.
By: 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: Jake Gordon — July 16, 2014 @ 1:52 pm
Weapons returning from injury could help Luck be a relative bargain on draft day.
QB Andrew Luck
(2013 QB Rank—#7, 21.6 FPts/G)
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft has two productive fantasy seasons under his belt. Many prognosticators have placed him in the second tier of signal callers with improvements on the offensive side of the ball and a healthier stable of pass-catchers. Luck grew as a passer by cutting his interception total in half while increasing his completion percentage despite the fact injuries depleted the team’s receiving options for most of the year. He has showed durability in starting every game for the Colts since joining the league while also being a smart and effective runner when forced out of the pocket.
To help their franchise quarterback take the next step, the Colts improved their depth at the WR position by adding Hakeem Nicks through free agency and selecting Donte Moncrief through the draft. Additionally, injured TE Dwayne Allen’s return to the starting lineup will give OC Pep Hamilton even more flexibility along the offensive front. For these reasons, Luck is poised for his best season yet and could be a relative bargain on draft day for bullish fantasy owners who wish to stay ahead of the curve.
RB Trent Richardson
(2013 RB Rank—#34, 7.0 FPts/G)
Raise your hand if you got burned by Trent Richardson last year. Like you, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson offered up a first-round draft pick for a player who stumbled and bumbled his way to a miniscule 3.0 yards per carry. His rookie season provides hope of a rebound, but how realistic are his chances when he looked so bad running the ball and is now coming off a shoulder surgery too? The risk adverse will pass on T-Rich at every turn this year but fantasy owners could be wrong on a guy who looked like one of the few three down running backs only two years ago. He was limited in OTAs following shoulder surgery that saw him gain weight, yet should be cleared for more contact as the preseason progresses.
When Richardson is running well, he is physical and willing to take on defenders. He has been getting reps with the first team and should see the bulk of the workload ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. Without seeing him in full contact fantasy owners should still be cautious in drafting him on upside alone. Few running backs being taken outside the top 50 overall have as much upside with touches and touchdown potential than the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, though.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
(2013 RB Rank—#73, 11.6 FPts/G)
Indianapolis brought in Ahmad Bradshaw last season to add to the competition at the running back position and push Donald Brown. Three games into the 2013 season and Bradshaw was paying dividends for fantasy owners reaching pay dirt twice. On par with his recent past, injuries prevented him from playing in 16 games for the third straight season. He has had foot issues for years but can still be effective with limited carries, which is why the team re-signed him to a one-year pact for the 2014 season. Bradshaw will give the Colts a decent option to spell Trent Richardson and will handle the primary backup duties until Vick Ballard proves he is healthy enough to handle an expended role. Of course that role greatly minimizes his fantasy value this season but as long as he remains second on the depth chart he has value as a handcuff to Richardson investors.
RB Vick Ballard
(2013 RB Rank—#116, 5.8 FPts/G)
Vick Ballard had a promising rookie campaign but an ACL tear cost him most of 2013. He’ll start the year behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw as he continues to work his way back from injury. By the time mid-season rolls around he could be in the mix for playing time, especially if the running game is as stagnant as it was last season. In redraft and dynasty leagues alike, Ballard remains a wait-and-see player who needs others to falter to become fantasy relevant.
WR T.Y. Hilton
(2013 WR Rank—#19, 8.7 FPts/G)
T.Y. Hilton saw his target total grow by more than 50 percent in 2013 and there is room for improvement considering Darrius Heyward-Bey opened the season as the starter for almost two months. Part of Hilton’s success can be attributed to the fact that he is able to play in the slot and work underneath while also using his speed to fly past defenders from the outside. A minor foot injury during OTAs does not appear to have slowed him down heading into training camp. As a Swiss army knife for Andrew Luck, Hilton figures to be the most productive fantasy wideout on the Colts in 2014. He will ultimately lose some targets to a healthy Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, but will also benefit from their presence as defenses are forced to cover the entire field. That being said he shouldn’t be projected as a surefire WR1 for fantasy purposes. Instead, he becomes a great WR3 in shallow leagues while being a steady WR2 in deeper formats.
WR Reggie Wayne
(2013 RB Rank—#69, 9.0 FPts/G)
Just when Reggie Wayne started to prove he still had something left in the tank in 2012, he showed why aging receivers carry an inherent risk by missing all but seven games after sustaining a torn ACL in 2013. He was held out of OTAs but should be ready to go once training camp opens. As long as he is healthy he will continue to be a common target for Andrew Luck but his days of being a consistent fantasy starter are over. Part of this can be attributed to a continued decline in red zone opportunities. Wayne hasn’t scored more than six touchdowns since 2009 and the addition of Hakeem Nicks isn’t going to help. Furthermore, a healthy Dwayne Allen should allow the Colts’ two TE sets be more successful. With less looks and limited red zone upside, Wayne’s fantasy value is and should be at its lowest point in years.
WR Hakeem Nicks
(2013 WR Rank—#51, 6.0 FPts/G)
Indianapolis signed Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal in March with hopes that his disappointing 2013 season and hunger to land a larger payday will help elevate the passing game. Nicks would seem to have the inside track to start opposite Reggie Wayne depending on where T.Y. Hilton lines up, but Wayne turns 36 in November and only played in seven games last season. Nicks is 10 years younger and has shown the ability to be a dynamic threat both down the field and in the red zone when healthy. As Andrew Luck continues to mature and Hilton garners more attention from opposing defenses Nicks has enough upside to be worth a look after the top 50 wideouts are taken on draft day.
If injuries continue to hamper Nicks’ career, the Colts will turn to its young tandem of Da’Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief. Rogers enters his second year trying to build off a late-season surge that saw him become more productive than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Indy had an eye toward the future when selecting Moncrief in the third round this year. His size and athleticism should give him a chance to be fantasy relevant in the future but he is not likely to see the field much in 2014.
TE Coby Fleener
(2013 TE Rank—#15, 5.3 FPts/G)
Coby Fleener had a prime opportunity to elevate his fantasy game in 2013 after a hip injury to Dwayne Allen in team’s opening game made him Indianapolis’ best option at the position. As a result, Fleener finished the season as the team’s second-best player in the passing game. These ranks are a bit deceiving, however, considering the injuries and changes on offense throughout the year. Although Fleener was able to increase his totals across the board, they barely surpassed Dwayne Allen’s 2012 output and there are more mouths to feed in 2014. An opportunity like last season could repeat itself; if not, Fleener will waiver wire fodder in most fantasy leagues.
TE Dwayne Allen
(2013 TE Rank—#70, 8.0 FPts/G)
A promising rookie campaign in 2012 allowed Dwayne Allen to emerge as the team’s most productive fantasy tight end. Coming into last year, Allen was expected to be a big part of Andrew Luck’s success. That script was rewritten, however, after Allen sustained a hip injury in Indianapolis’ season opener. Allen was healthy enough to get back on the field for the team’s mini camps and should make a full recovery by the time the 2014 season kicks off. Consequently, the hype surrounding Allen’s use in the offense is building and fantasy owners should keep a keen eye on his progress during training camp. Could Allen find himself in a situation like Denver’s Julius Thomas a season ago and break free from an expected glut on the team’s depth chart to become a dynamic threat in high scoring offense? While it is unlikely that he’ll be drafted among the top 10 at the position in fantasy drafts, it may be worth a late-round pick to find out.
By: Colby Cavaliere — July 14, 2014 @ 10:53 pm
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WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the Vikings player of intrigue for fantasy owners.
QB Matt Cassel
(2013 QB Rank–33, 16.2 FPts/G)
There is perhaps no more schizophrenic position in the NFL than quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Since 2000, the Vikings have had a whopping 15 different players make a start at quarterback. 2013 was no different, as three players, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman took rides on the quarterback merry-go-round. The result? An ugly 6-10 record, an 18-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a yet another attempt at a long-term answer by drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Because there is a great chance that more than one quarterback will be under center again in 2014, until one guy emerges by playing well and winning, this is a fantasy situation to avoid. But watch closely, as there are a few reasons why the quarterback position in Minnesota won’t be a total black hole and may actually provide some solid QB2 possibilities.
With the re-signing of Cassel and the drafting of Bridgewater, the Vikings have seemed to move on from their last first-round quarterback, Ponder. Despite starting 16 games in 2012 and “leading” his team to the playoffs, Ponder has neither shown the physical tools or technical savvy to be anything more than a decent back-up. With Ponder relegated to No. 3 duties or perhaps off the team altogether by the start the season, put your focus on Cassel and Bridgewater. The skill position talent in running back Adrian Peterson and pass catchers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph, combined with the offensive coaching philosophy and pedigree of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, are enough to make Cassel and Bridgewater intriguing options. Based on offseason work, it seems Cassel will open the season as the starter. Cassel has experience and the support of his coaches and teammates and will have a legitimate chance to hold off Bridgewater if he plays well. Unfortunately for him, that’s a giant-sized IF. New lava-tempered head coach Mike Zimmer will look to make his mark and won’t drag his feet before making a change at the position like former Head Coach Lesile Frasier was guilty of doing. Bridgewater went from darling to dud in the offseason, falling all the way to the end of the first round in the draft. He has the leadership and decision-making to be successful, but the biggest knocks on Bridgewater were physical; he doesn’t offer much more than Cassel. Also, the Vikings will play all home games outside for the next two years, further limiting any late-season upside from Bridgewater in 2014. Only super desperate 12-team leagues will have to consider a Vikings quarterback this season, but in deeper leagues some QB2 value could be unearthed from this icy Minnesota wasteland.
RB Adrian Peterson
(2013 RB Rank–6, 15.0 FPts/G)
Statistically speaking, 2013 was the second-worst year in Adrian Peterson’s brilliant 7-year career. Coming off a mind-blowing 2,000-plus yard season in 2012, some slide was expected going into 2013. The falloff may have been steeper than some fantasy owners expected, as injuries bothered Peterson for a good part of the year, causing him to miss two starts and undergo offseason groin surgery. Hobbled, and again the only major threat on offense, he still managed to rip off 1,266 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Despite the mileage on his tires, Peterson still remains one of the few elite backs in the league capable of winning fantasy games by himself, even if he isn’t the automatic first running back taken. One of the few dents in his armor (to go along with his ball security issues – 31 career fumbles) is his role in the passing game. He had a career-high 43 catches for 436 yards in 2009 but has come nowhere near those numbers in two of the last three seasons. His underwhelming 5.5 yards-per-catch has put him well behind his elite peers. That may change drastically in 2014. With creative play-caller Norv Tuner now in the fold and back-up Toby Gerhart off to Jacksonville, expect Peterson to flirt with 40-plus catches once again as a true 3-down workhorse. With improved quarterback play and the continued development of second-year wide-out Cordarrelle Paterson, the offense should be more fluid and consistent, giving Peterson the running lanes to make big plays as a runner and receiver.
One final thing to consider if you have the enviable task of picking the first running back off the board; Peterson is coming off his third straight offseason surgery (ACL, sports hernia, groin). While he has proven to defy the physical limitations of mere mortals, father time still remains undefeated. Peterson is 29, with over 2,000 career carries, many of which have been of the minor car accident variety. The demise of Peterson is going to be swift and sudden, and it may be sooner rather than later. For owners who like to protect their investments with handcuffs, Peterson really doesn’t have one. Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and to a lesser extent LeSean McCoy, all have back-ups to target as potentially valuable handcuffs. With Gerhart gone, only a raw third-round rookie and fringe roster runner back up Peterson.
RB Matt Asiata
(2013 RB Rank–70, 18.0 FPts/G)
Matt Asiata’s three-touchdown Week 15 and 100-yard effort in Week 17 undoubtedly saved some fantasy seasons. While he was heroic in Peterson’s two-game absence and he takes the back-up reins from departed Toby Gerhart, Asiata lacks the physical and instinctive tools necessary to be a long-term handcuff for Peterson. The full-back/running back hybrid gets what’s blocked and is effective on the goal line, but fantasy owners would be hard-pressed to count on Asiata for more than a temporary fill-in.
RB Jerick McKinnon
(2013 RB Rank–NA)
Jerick McKinnon, the raw third-round pick from Georgia Southern makes up for what he lacks in experience at the running back position with eye-popping strength, speed and quickness. The 5’8’’ running back played defensive back, option quarterback and tailback during his time in college and is still adjusting to the position he’s been running at so far this offseason. Expect McKinnon to be sprinkled in from time to time to give Peterson a break early in the year, but baring serious injury, he may not have a defined role this season. His physical gifts give him high upside, and if he continues to work on and improve in the nuances of pass protection and pro running schemes, McKinnon could surpass Asiata for the top back-up spot and take the majority of carries in any potential committee situation.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
(2013 WR Rank–38, 6.5 FPts/G)
Cordarrelle Patterson might be poised to take the biggest leap of any receiver in 2014. Oozing with talent and upside, he was electric every time he touched the ball, whether it was through the air, on the ground or in the return game (scoring 9 times). After being virtually ignored on offense for the first 10 weeks, Patterson emerged in Weeks 11-17, racking up 27 catches and 10 rushing attempts. He still suffered from inconsistency issues down the stretch, going over 35 yards receiving only once in the final 5 games. Hamstrung with a limited route tree , the Vikings gave Patterson 12 rushing attempts ( second-best among all wide receivers) to go along with numerous bubble screens. This late-season creativity hints at what’s to come this year.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation can only get better, and Norv Turner has a long history of developing big-play wide receivers. Look for Patterson to get involved in the offense through screens, quick hitches and slants, and deep sideline routes. The emphasis on getting him the ball means he could approach 80 catches and nearly double-digit touchdown totals (he led the team in red zone targets last season). Be wary though, as he will be limited by mediocre quarterback play and inexperience. Patterson is a hot name this offseason, so don’t be tempted to overdraft him. He’s going to suffer from streaky, inconsistent play but could ultimately put up WR2 numbers when it’s all said and done.
WR Greg Jennings
(2013 WR Rank–39, 7.0 FPts/G)
Coming in right behind his more-hyped teammate in the 2013 rankings was former Packer Greg Jennings. The savvy 8-year veteran put up a solid 68-804-4 line for a Vikings team that seemed to be running in sand at times in 2013. Jennings should benefit from the increased attention teammate Cordarrelle Patterson should receive and having Matt Cassel behind center. Jennings was more effective under the improved accuracy of Cassel, posting nearly half his season totals in the quarterback’s six starts. So while he was a borderline WR3 at times last season, what value can Jennings bring to fantasy owners in 2014? While the emergence of Patterson led to some of Jennings’ best games late last season, it also means Jennings could take a back seat to Patterson in the weekly game plan. Throw in the healthy return of Kyle Rudolph, and Jennings could find himself fighting for catches in what should be a run-heavy offense. Last year’s Cleveland Browns, who feature a similar scheme and pass catchers, only got 41 catches from their third option (Greg Little). Jennings is certainly better than that other Greg, but don’t expect his numbers to differ much from 2013. His situation should limit him to a bench-warming WR4/5 status.
TE Kyle Rudolph
(2013 TE Rank–36, 6.2 FPts/G)
Where Norv Turner goes, the fantasy owner looking for a break-out tight end follows. From Jay Novacek in the‘90s, Antonio Gates in ‘00s and Jordan Cameron last year, Turner has quite a knack for featuring tight ends in his offensive system. Will Kyle Rudolph be the next in line to make the leap? Prior to his 2013 mid-season broken foot, Rudolph was on pace for career highs in receptions and yardage, totals that would have put him in the low-end TE1 conversation. In a fantasy position that lacks consistency outside the top tier, Rudolph has the physical traits and work ethic to massively improve on his 2013 ranking. While not as athletic as some former Turner tight ends, Rudolph is a monster in the red zone, and reports out of offseason workouts have him working extensively on his route running and discipline. With Turner calling plays, the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and Cordarelle Patterson out wide, Rudolph should easily double his totals from 2013, making him a solid TE1 for owners who miss out on a member of the top 5.
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