Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Jason Mitchell — September 9, 2014 @ 8:16 pm
Each week here on Fantasy Football Today, I’ll bring you a few guys at each position whose stocks are rising and falling based on recent performance compared to their previously perceived value.
We’re basically weighing one game against preseason theories and 2013 statistics. Since it’s only one week, we shouldn’t entirely dismiss (good) preseason theories, but we also can’t ignore what actually happened on the field.
Matt Ryan grabbed everyone’s attention with 448 yds and 3 TDs, leading all Wk 1 QBs.
Matt Ryan, ATL
This weekend showed just how strong the Falcons pass offense can be with Julio Jones and Roddy White each on the field and healthy. Ryan attempted only one more pass than his counterpart Drew Brees, yet threw for 115 more yards. The Saints were supposed to be the team with a much-improved pass defense. Ryan’s week one puts him into “start no matter what” territory until further notice.
Jake Locker, TEN
Locker completed 67 percent of his passes to eight different Titans receivers against a Chiefs team that was a relatively heavy favorite at home this week. If Locker can continue to spread the ball around like he did this week, he could turn into a very strong streamer and/or bye week fill-in in 2014.
EJ Manuel, BUF
He isn’t a priority yet, but it’s time to at least put him on your radars. After a bad preseason, Manuel was being written off as an NFL quarterback, much less a fantasy quarterback. Against the Bears he showed good decision-making ability. If he continues that and runs it a few times a game, he could go from the ranks of left for dead to actually serviceable if called upon in fantasy.
Tony Romo, DAL
Something clearly was not right with the Cowboys passing game against San Francisco. Romo and his receivers seemed to be on a different page throughout the entire game. There are any number of contributing factors to Romo’s wretched performance: San Francisco’s defense, Romo’s lack of preseason playing time, or perhaps Romo’s back is still a major issue. Whatever it is, I’d be nervous right now in any league where I’m depending on Romo.
Robert Griffin III, WAS
RGIII strength as a fantasy quarterback ended after his rookie year, when he tucked it and ran . In Week 1 against the Texans, Griffin had three carries for two yards. If this trend continues, Griffin might have to be considered a streamer, not a weekly must-start.
Tom Brady, NE
I’m sure you saw the stats in the preseason that said Brady is an amazing fantasy quarterback when Rob Gronkowski is playing. Well, Gronk played in Week 1 and led the team in targets, so why did Brady complete barely over 50 percent of his passes? He is still Tom Brady, but don’t be afraid to bench him if the situation calls for it.
Knowshon Moreno, MIA
Remember that time when Lamar Miller was going to be the man in Miami? Me neither. Once he was given a chance, Moreno seemed to run away with the Dolphins starting running back job. The Dolphins could still give Miller some run, but Moreno’s performance was too impressive to ignore by Dolphins coaches and by fantasy owners.
Terrance West, CLE
Early in the summer, many in the fantasy world thought that West could outright take the job from Ben Tate. Late in the summer, it became clear that Tate was going to be the lead guy with the Browns after clearly outplaying West. Then, in Week 1, Tate left the game and West entered. Six carries and 100 yards later, West looks like he can be a solid fantasy contributor if Tate misses an extended period of time. Teammate Isaiah Crowell is also rising after scoring two touchdowns, but West looks like he would be the one who leads the a Tate-less Browns in carries.
Chris Ivory, NYJ
The box score looks great: 102 yards and a touchdown. That’s not the full story, as 71 of those yards came on one long run. The important thing to look at though is the carries: 10. If Ivory can get around 10 carries per game switching off with Chris Johnson, he could bring back some decent fantasy value. I wouldn’t call him a weekly starter, but someone who could be considered a viable start when the Jets are matched up with a poor run defense.
Bernard Pierce, BAL
You’d think with the Ray Rice news, Pierce would be well on his way up. A 2.3-yard per carry performance before getting yanked due to a fumble has to make us question Pierce’s stranglehold on the job in Baltimore with Rice gone. I think he’s still the most likely guy to be the Ravens starter, but it’s not as set in stone as we might have thought a few days ago.
Toby Gerhart, JAC
Gerhart owners got exactly what they hoped for when they took him: a majority of the carries –- 18, despite missing some game time with an injury. The problem is what he did with them. I’m not sure if it’s him or the Jaguars offense – both backup running backs also averaged under three yards per carry – but that Week 1 performance has me concerned. I’d stick with him because of the workload, but with lower expectations.
Doug Martin, TB
Martin’s Week 1 could be chalked up to facing the Panthers defense, but even against the staunchest of opponents, a supposedly elite running back should average more than one yard on his carries. With the awful week one and now a leg injury to keep an eye on, Martin owners seem like they might be facing another season like 2013.
Allen Hurns, JAC
Whenever a wide receiver comes out of nowhere to put up a big game in Week 1, people will almost always react the same: “Is he the next Kevin Ogletree?” Sure, it’s possible Hurns will be a one-week wonder, and he will continue to be in the Jaguars offense, so I wouldn’t go too crazy acquiring him. But four catches for 110 yards is nothing to sneeze at, and someone does need to emerge as Chad Henne’s top receiver (in theory). I wouldn’t mind using an excess roster spot on him to see if he can keep it going.
Markus Wheaton, PIT
With the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, someone needed to fill those voids. Wheaton was the obvious choice, but we still had to see him perform first. And perform he did. Wheaton tied Le’Veon Bell for the team lead in Week 1 targets with seven, hauling in six passes for 97 yards. Antonio Brown is still the man in Pittsburgh, but there are plenty of Ben Roethlisberger passes to go around to keep Wheaton on the WR3/Flex radar.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR and Brandin Cooks, NO
I’m lumping these two together. There was a lot to like about these two heading into the season, but both came with one huge caution flag: They’re rookies. Rookie wide receivers generally take time to adjust to the NFL. After seeing these two each produce in Week 1 though, it appears safe to say that we can look past their rookie status.
Vincent Jackson, TB
Jackson tied for the team lead in targets (nine9 but could only catch four of them for 36 yards. It’s a good sign that he is getting the targets, but the Josh McCown-led offense might hold him back from his true potential as a WR1. Like with Doug Martin, this performance could potentially be brushed off as a rough matchup, but there might be more to worry about here than just the Panthers being tough.
Torrey Smith, BAL
There was some chatter coming into the season that Smith might finally reach WR1 status. At the very least, he’s expected to come in as a solid WR2, based on where he was going in drafts (late fifth round). After a Week 1 where we saw two different Baltimore receivers more than double Smith’s target total, I’m thinking we may have the same old Torrey Smith. He’ll have his big weeks, but the fourth-year wide receiver still isn’t an absolute must start.
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
If you watched the late Monday Night game, you saw ESPN reference it over and over again: Palmer was spreading the ball around to everyone but Fitzgerald. I get that big time receivers will have their down games, but this was down to the point of major worry. Fitzgerald ended the game with only one catch on four targets. It’s great for the Cardinals if they are able to spread the ball around as much as they did against San Diego, but bad for Fitzgerald if they are spreading it and he’s not first in line.
Dennis Pitta, BAL
Pitta and teammate Steve Smith Sr. tied for the league lead with 15 in Week 1 targets. I don’t think Smith will remain among the league leaders in targets, but I wouldn’t entirely rule it out for Pitta. I don’t think he’s the playmaker to ascend to the status of the elites (Graham, Gronkowski, Thomas), but he could be a reception machine that gives his owners a healthy score from week to week at the tight end position.
Martellus Bennett, CHI
Being a Bills fan, I watched every single play of the Buffalo-Chicago game on Sunday. At times, it seemed like Cutler was clearly looking for Bennett ahead of the two big name wide receivers. Brandon Marshall did end up leading the team in targets with 12, but Bennett came in a close second with 10. Sure, Alshon Jeffery did leave midway through the game, but Bennett was getting the looks while Jeffery was on the field. His upside is limited with Marshall, Jeffery and Forte around, but Bennett should be able to maintain low-end TE1 status throughout the year.
Larry Donnell, NYG
With all the excitement over high upside tight ends (think Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Ladarius Green), Donnell flew completely under the radar. After leading the Giants in Week 1 targets, receptions and receiving yards, Donnell won’t be under the radar any longer. When the Giants got deep in Lions territory, it was clearly Donnell that Eli Manning was looking for. With his wide availability, Donnell should make for a nice injury or bye week fill-in for fantasy owners this season.
Jason Witten, DAL
The Cowboys passing game was an all-around disaster in Week 1, so it’s tough to tell for sure if Witten’s bad week was his fault or Tony Romo’s. He did tie Dez Bryant for second-most targets on the team (six), but Witten only ended up with two catches for 14 yards. Until the Cowboys show they are a competent team or Witten shows he’s still the same guy he’s always been, Witten might be off the list of “must start” tight ends.
Charles Clay, MIA
Clay was an interesting guy in drafts this summer. He hovered in the weird zone between clear-cut starters and high upside fliers. People who crave consistency loved making Clay a late-round target, though. One problem: Consistency suggests putting up solid scores weekly. In a game where the Miami Dolphins scored 33 points, Clay only wound up with two receptions. If Week 1 is a sign of things to come, the Dolphins are a running team that will look to Mike Wallace first when it’s time to throw. Clay will have useful weeks, but he’s also not a must-own, depending on your options.
Jordan Reed, WAS
When you draft a player that missed a lot of games last year and was dealing with an injury in the preseason this year, the last thing you want to see is that player leaving the first game of the year. Reed still has enough upside to wait through the current hamstring injury, but it’s also worrisome to depend on a guy that just can’t seem to stay on the field.
By: Colby Cavaliere — August 14, 2014 @ 10:58 pm
The Manziel hype machine is out of control. He’ll be a fantasy QB2 at best.
QB Johnny Manziel
(2013 QB Rank—N/A)
As one of the most polarizing players in the NFL, Johnny Manziel provides a similarly tantalizing dilemma for fantasy owners. He has undeniable physical gifts, but does he have enough between the ears to win the starting job and run with it? A dynamo on the ground and in the air, Johnny Football dazzled the college ranks for two years at Texas A&M. He showed improved development as a pocket passer in his short collegiate career, but enters a pro system that will undoubtedly test his discipline and maturity.
A positive for Manziel is the presence of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan knows a little something about getting the most out of fleet-footed rookie quarterbacks. Expect Shanahan to employ Manziel on a bevy of rollouts and bootlegs to give him the throw/run option. No matter who is under center, the Browns will use a running-based offense, especially considering the potential loss of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon. Manziel will be a part of that attack and with enough playing time, he could approach 100 carries.
Any potential fantasy impact that Manziel might have will be tied to playing time. If he can win the job in camp, he should start all 16 games. Manziel’s cocky attitude, reckless play style and sinewy rocket arm harken back to a young Brett Favre. In his first year as a starter for the Packers, Favre put up 3,000+ yards passing and had a respectable 18-14 touchdown to interception ratio. With a limited offense, experience and weapons to throw to, Manziel’s full-season stats are most likely capped at QB2 potential. Keep a close eye on his development, as Manziel could be a valuable spot starter late in the season for a needy fantasy owner.
QB Brian Hoyer
(2013 QB Rank—#44, 17.5 FPts/G)
Lacking the physical gifts of his rookie competition, Brian Hoyer is a backup-level talent that will struggle to put up numbers in this Cleveland offensive system. While Hoyer has the chops to lead and brings a two-game spark to a Cleveland team that was again spiraling out of control, he’s a career journeyman quarterback. Hoyer’s upside is limited by a run-based offense and the presence of Johnny Manziel. Hoyer will battle for the starting gig in the preseason, but remember that Manziel remains the franchise’s future. Unless Hoyer plays lights out and the Browns win games, Manziel is going to siphon starts away at some point this season. While his work ethic and leadership are admirable, Hoyer simply doesn’t bring enough to the table to be a valuable piece of your fantasy roster and is nothing more than a QB3.
RB Ben Tate
(2013 RB Rank—#33, 8.2 FPts/G)
Injuries and playing time have prevented Ben Tate from ascending into the upper tier of young runners. Given a one-way ticket to starter’s snaps in Cleveland, Tate has a chance to showcase the skills that made him a fantasy darling in 2012. Back in the zone-blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan, Tate will benefit from a familiar scheme and strong Cleveland offensive line. Sporting a great 4.6 yards per carry average for his career, Tate seems primed to climb the rankings and be a fantasy centerpiece. But before you go and make Tate a high draft pick, consider some of the red flags, the biggest being his injury history. In just three seasons Tate has missed eight games because of injury, and played hurt and ineffective in several more. He simply hasn’t displayed the ability to stay healthy for an entire season and is a good bet to break down with too voluminous of a workload. His durability was most likely a reason why his free-agent reception was very lukewarm. The bigger roadblock to Tate’s success could be his teammates. Terrance West, the third-round pick out of Towson has been impressive this offseason, as has undrafted free agent and former five-star recruit Isiah Crowell. If West’s successful exploits continue into preseason action, look for Tate to cede a large volume of touches to him. Timeshare and injury concerns figure to limit Tate, but in an offense built to run the football, look for Tate to approach the 200-yard carry range and be a low-tier RB2 for your fantasy squad.
RB Terrance West
(2013 RB Rank—#52, 4.1 FPts/G)
Stoutly built at 5’9’’, 225 lbs. with quick feet and good vision, Terrance West has a chance to carve out a large role in the Cleveland running game. Capable of heavy workloads, the Atlantic 10 prospect from Towson also has a nose for the end zone with 84, yes 84 touchdowns in three college seasons. As he continues to develop as a pass catcher (only 36 career college receptions) expect West to get the bulk of his work inside the 20. West is going to challenge Tate for playtime as soon as the opening weekend and is a must-handcuff for anyone drafting Tate as a starter. Should Tate miss time during the season, West could quickly pick up RB2 value, but for now, add West as a high-upside RB3 and hope he sees the field early and often.
WR Josh Gordon
(2013 WR Rank—#1, 16.2 FPts/G)
Overflowing with talent and unfortunate decision-making, Josh Gordon is at a career crossroads. At the time of this writing, 2013’s fantasy monster at wide receiver is appealing his yearlong suspension. If he somehow wins any measure of his appeal, whenever he steps onto the field he will be a fantasy stud no matter if Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel are tossing the rock. It seems as though Cleveland won’t give up on him, so dynasty leaguers can still take a flier on the elite wideout, but redraft owners will have to hope he wins his appeal to get any value.
WR Miles Austin
(2013 WR Rank—#118, 2.2 FPts/G)
Relegated to the fantasy scrap heap because of balky legs after a once promising career, former Cowboy Miles Austin has been thrust into the spotlight for the Cleveland Browns. Under the looming suspension of Josh Gordon, Austin instantly becomes the most experienced wideout on the roster and will shoulder the burden on the outside. Austin is part of a complete overhaul at the Browns receiver position, and with health, he could approach 50 catches and 700 yards. Stuck in what is sure to be a committee approach, Austin will be limited as a low-upside WR4/5.
WR Charles Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
If there is one receiver who offers a glimmer of fantasy hope on the Cleveland roster, it’s the 6’2’’ speed demon Charles Johnson. The 2013 seventh-round pick from Grand Valley State didn’t see the field last year. Reports out of camp, however, indicate he could push for playing time in 2014. With middling talents ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson could earn enough playing time to make fantasy owners interested. Keep a close eye on his early season snap count and don’t wait to scoop him up off the waiver wire should you sense a breakout looming.
TE Jordan Cameron
(2013 TE Rank—#4, 8.9 FPts/G)
There was hardly a better fantasy player after the first four weeks of the 2013 season than Jordan Cameron. The athletic tight end that was expected to break out under tight end guru Norv Turner started off blazing hot with a 30-360-5 line by Week 5. But as the season wore on, Josh Gordon began to impose his will and the passing game was siphoned through him. Cameron tallied only two more touchdowns in the final 12 games and exceeded 10 targets only once. With Gordon suspended, Cameron immediately becomes option No. 1 in the Cleveland passing game. As the only threat running around in the secondary, Cameron is going to get plenty of attention. Expect defensive coordinators with lockdown corners to deploy them to cover Cameron when he goes out wide, much like the Patriots did with great effectiveness with Jimmy Graham last year. Luckily not many teams have corners able to cover Cameron’s size-speed combination, and despite the loss of Turner, scheming tight ends open is something offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has experience doing. Even with the added defensive focus and unsettled quarterback position, Cameron has the talent, scheme and opportunity to approach his season totals from last season, even with less overall variance in scoring on a weekly basis. Plug Cameron in as an upper-tier TE1 and don’t look back.
By: Nick Caron — @ 10:39 am
A regression is to be expected, but Peyton is still the top QB in fantasy football.
QB Peyton Manning
(2013 QB Rank—#1, 25.4 FPts/G)
Coming off of the greatest fantasy football season in history, it should be no surprise that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the top quarterback on almost all lists heading into the 2014 season. Words truly cannot explain just how ridiculous Manning’s season was, so let’s just look again at the numbers: 5,477 yards, 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions. Simply unbelievable. Even if you were one of the brave few who had Manning as your top-ranked quarterback heading into 2013, there’s no way that anyone could have predicted that kind of fantasy output. Manning threw multiple touchdown passes in 15 of his 16 regular season games, including nine games with four or more touchdowns. While losing Eric Decker is certainly a concern, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer, along with the healthy return of bookend left tackle Ryan Clady could mean that the Denver passing game has a chance of coming close to what it did in 2013. The numbers don’t look at all sustainable on the surface, but if there’s any quarterback who can engineer that kind of offense again, it’s Peyton Manning. Those looking to be contrarians might look at Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees as the top quarterback going into this fantasy season. Don’t be steered away by the likely regression in Manning’s numbers, though. Even if Manning saw a 20 percent reduction in his fantasy numbers, he would finish with 4,382 yards and 44 touchdowns. That yardage total would put him at sixth among quarterbacks from the 2013 season, while the touchdowns would still put him five ahead of any other quarterback. Understand that regression does not mean that Manning isn’t still the best fantasy quarterback for 2014.
RB Montee Ball
(2013 RB Rank—#42, 5.0 FPts/G)
When the Broncos selected Montee Ball with a second-round draft pick in 2013, it appeared as if the writing was finally on the wall for former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno to be worked out of the offense. That didn’t happen, however, as concerns in pass protection and fumbling problems led to Ball playing second fiddle to Moreno throughout the year. Ball finished with just 120 carries for 559 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and he had just one game all year with over 100 rushing yards. Now with Moreno out of the picture, the door appears to be wide open for Ball to come rolling in and take the job in one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. The team appears to be fully invested in him and this is his chance to shine. There is no question that Denver is a pass-first offense, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of room for fantasy production from the running back position. Moreno finished as a top-five scoring running back in 2013 and that was with Ball still taking a significant number of carries. If Ball is given a more full workload, there’s no reason to think that his upside couldn’t mirror or even be better than what Moreno did a season ago. An emergency appendectomy has some worried that Ball won’t be in football shape by the time the regular season rolls around. That’s exactly the kind of thing you should warn other fantasy owners in your league about, effectively lowering Ball’s stock before you swoop in and draft him. Appendectomies are considered “major surgery” but they do not require a long recovery time. Barring some unforeseen setback that would likely have nothing to do with his appendix, Ball will be out there in Week 1. He is about as much of a lock to hit 10 touchdowns this season as any player in the league. He is a perfect No. 2 running back or even low-end No. 1 for the owner who opts to snag a top player at another position in Round 1.
RB C.J. Anderson
(2013 RB Rank—#124, 0.2 FPts/G)
The appendectomy procedure that has removed Montee Ball from training camp has given an unexpected opportunity to Broncos backup running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson, an undrafted free agent who also made his NFL debut alongside Ball in 2013, has not yet won a competition against Ronnie Hillman to be the team’s lead tailback until Ball returns, but appears to be the more well-rounded back, which will likely mean that he gets the majority of snaps for the time being. Anderson could hypothetically show some amazing flashes that force the Broncos’ hand in giving him more playing time. The most likely scenario, however, is that he and Hillman will split carries in the preseason before conceding the lion’s share of touches to Ball once the regular season begins. Both Anderson and Hillman’s value is essentially tied to the success of Ball. If Ball puts the ball on the ground too often for head coach John Fox’s liking or if he sustains an injury that puts him out for a long period of time, Anderson and Hillman could have value. Until then, though, both players will likely remain relatively useless for fantasy purposes.
WR Demaryius Thomas
(2013 WR Rank—#2, 13.8 FPts/G)
Back-to-back 1,400-plus yard campaigns have fantasy owners’ mouths salivating heading into the 2014 season with fourth-year wideout Demaryius Thomas. Thomas, who showed flashes of brilliance even with the likes of Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton behind center, has become the top target in the best passing attack in the history of the league. Needless to say, his fantasy value is immense. In addition to his incredible yardage totals, Thomas has produced in the other important categories for receivers with 94 and 92 receptions in 2012 and 2013, while adding 10 and 14 touchdown receptions, respectively. Thomas is the ideal combination of size and speed and the crazy thing is that the best may be yet to come from this incredible physical specimen. If it weren’t for Calvin Johnson, Thomas would be the unquestioned top fantasy wideout at the beginning of the 2014 season. In fact, many fantasy experts are flat out recommending Thomas as the No. 1 receiver on their lists. Either way, Thomas is a rare breed of a receiver who should and does crack the first round of most fantasy drafts. Another monster season is on the way for this talented young wideout. Make sure you don’t miss out.
WR Wes Welker
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
Not known for being a particularly excellent red zone threat, Wes Welker lit the fantasy world on fire in 2013 when he started the season with nine touchdown receptions in his first eight games. Welker’s incredible first half had many owners scrambling to acquire the former Patriot, but that kind of pace was simply unsustainable. Welker would go on to catch just one more touchdown in the second half of the regular season, while never eclipsing the 10 reception or 100 yard mark in any single game. Those numbers were skewed by the fact that he missed the final three weeks of the regular season, but it’s still worth noting the incredible drop-off in production. Welker did return for the playoffs where he caught a total of 18 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown over three games, but that isn’t enough for us to be highly optimistic about his fantasy outlook for 2014. Given the loss of Eric Decker, Welker should see more targets come his way in 2014 than he did in 2013, but there’s a serious question of durability and simple degradation of physical skill at this point. Welker is 33 years old and while there’s still gas in the tank, it would not be surprising to see him slowly start to fade away over the next couple of seasons. Still, Welker remains a top-20 receiver in standard scoring formats and a top-15 receiver in PPR formats. Drafting him could pay huge dividends, but make sure to have a reliable option on your bench should things start off looking like they did near the end of 2013.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
(2013 WR Rank—#21, 8.1 FPts/G)
As the newest addition to the Denver offense, Emmanuel Sanders steps into a situation that could not possibly be better for the fifth-year receiver coming off of his best season yet. Sanders’ 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns with the Steelers in 2013 were all career bests as he played opposite Antonio Brown for the majority of the season. On a new roster, Sanders will have to learn a highly complicated offense that requires tremendous focus and execution if he wants to see any looks from Peyton Manning. The Broncos run more three-wide sets than just about any team in the league, which means Sanders will see plenty of playing time. That does not necessarily mean that he is going to simply slide in and replace Eric Decker’s 87 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. While Sanders possesses big play ability, his 5’11”, 180-pound frame is not a comparison for the 6’3”, 215 pound Decker. Sanders will be used differently in the Denver offense than Decker was and that should both excite and worry potential fantasy owners. Don’t expect to see anywhere near as many targets go Sanders’ way as did Decker’s, but look for those opportunities to be potential huge plays. It would not be surprising to see Sanders improve on his yardage and touchdown totals from 2013 while actually seeing a small dip in total receptions. The hype train on Sanders has been strong this offseason with him being drafted as a WR3 in most leagues. While the hype may be warranted, having Sanders as a WR4 would be much more palatable given the strong possibility of some serious inconsistency from him this season, especially early in the year while he’s still gaining Manning’s trust.
TE Julius Thomas
(2013 TE Rank—#3, 9.0 FPts/G)
The fantasy breakout star of 2013 had to be tight end Julius Thomas, who burst onto the season in Week 1 with a monstrous five catch, 110 yard, two touchdown performance. He didn’t look back from there, as Thomas would go on to catch a total of 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. After being a training camp darling in both 2011 and 2012, Thomas finally put that talent to use in 2013 and is now considered one of the elite tight ends as we head into 2014. Peyton Manning has been known to make the careers of wide receivers, but the same could be said for his tremendous success in throwing the ball to tight ends. Thomas is now the beneficiary of that success and there’s little reason to believe that he won’t be one of the top-scoring players at the position again. If it weren’t for a knee injury that kept him out a couple of games and seemed to slow him down a bit in the surrounding games, Thomas could have very well finished close to New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham as the top-scoring tight end in all of fantasy football. A natural regression in the touchdown category seems likely, but like Manning and the other players in this offense, even a significant reduction in stats would still mean a big fantasy season for Thomas. He’s currently being drafted as a high-third round pick, but Thomas could see that stock rise over the next month, especially if reports continue to be less than stellar regarding Rob Gronkowski’s likelihood of playing in Week 1. If Gronkowski is out, look for Thomas to move up a few spots as the tight end position becomes even thinner heading into 2014.
By: Jake Gordon — August 13, 2014 @ 1:55 pm
It won’t be easy for Cam Newton to retain his top-five fantasy quarterback status.
(2013 QB Rank—#5, 22.5 FPts/G)
Cam Newton set the bar high as a rookie and he has yet to reach that same level of fantasy production in the past two years. Newton has matured as a passer, posting gains in completion percentage and passing touchdowns during the 2013 season. As his confidence as a passer rose, his need to run decreased. The dip in rushing stats was enough to knock him down a peg or two from the position’s elite. More troubling for those considering him for the 2014 season is his lack of proven options in the passing game. Losing a future Hall of Fame receiver in Steve Smith would hurt any quarterback, but when a quarterback who has struggled to maintain a completion percentage above 60 percent loses his most dynamic threat the loss is even more significant. Furthermore, Newton’s other starting wide receiver from the 2013 season, Brandon LaFell, signed with New England during the offseason. In the wake these losses the team added a pair of veterans Jericho Cotchery and Jason Avant as well as rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
Not only does Newton need to develop chemistry with an entire set of new targets, he will have to do it on a left ankle that was surgically repaired this offseason. Carolina has been cautious with Newton so far and he will likely need the entire preseason before feeling fully healed. This may have a direct impact on Newton’s rushing totals this season, placing increased pressure on his ability to perform in the pocket to be a viable fantasy starter. This uncertainty keeps Newton outside the top five at the position and depending on your risk tolerance it is perfectly reasonable to drop him further down into the last tier of QB1s. Derek Anderson will be ready if called upon as the team’s backup quarterback but does not offer much upside in an already ordinary offense.
(2013 RB Rank—#21, 9.4 FPts/G)
Although Carolina has ranked in the top third of the NFL in rushing yards per game over the past three seasons it has also declined for three straight years. The guy leading the way during that stretch has been DeAngelo Williams. Over the years, Williams has been given almost every label possible in the fantasy realm. Elite, bust, bargain and injury risk – at some point or another the Panthers lead back has both intrigued and soured potential fantasy owners and 2014 is no different. This year he finds himself a value play as a starting running back being drafted outside the top 100 players in redraft leagues. Now on the wrong side of 30, the veteran running back enters his ninth year having never seen his yards per carry average dip below 4.0 in any single season. Jonathan Stewarts continued presence on the roster will take a few carries away, but he isn’t a major threat to usurp the starting job away from Williams unless an injury occurs. He will have a few touchdowns vultured so his value tops out as a RB3/4 depending on the depth of your league’s rosters.
(2013 RB Rank—#90, 3.7 FPts/G)
For all the talent Jonathan Stewart has flashed since coming into the league as a first-round draft choice in 2008, he has only surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau once. Whether it was the presence of DeAngelo Williams or injuries, the fact remains that Stewart is a long shot on draft day. He’s already dealing with a minor hamstring injury that occurred in training camp that will also keep him out of early preseason action. At this point in his career, Stewart is no longer the threat to steal carries that he once was, but his injury risk should have his fantasy stock bottomed out leading into the busiest fantasy draft weeks.
(2013 RB Rank—#40, 6.0 FPts/G)
Mike Tolbert’s decision to leave San Diego for Carolina in 2012 has resulted in a steady decline in fantasy production. Even though the fireplug back nearly doubled his rushing attempts in 2013, he only had one game with more than 40 rushing yards. The team values Tolbert as a quality choice in short yardage situations but unless he is given every carry near the goal, it will be hard for fantasy owners to trust him on a consistent basis in 2014.
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
The team’s top selection in the 2014 draft, Kelvin Benjamin brings a huge 6’5” frame and plenty of hope to a passing attack that lost franchise leader Steve Smith. Concerns over Benjamin’s rawness, propensity for drops and lack of optimal speed do not trump the fact that he is a physical mismatch for just about any single defensive back in the league. In this capacity, the Panthers are hoping he can quickly emerge as one of the league’s deadliest red zone targets while also giving Cam Newton a much larger window to complete his passes. Positive reports from training camp have raved about his ability to digest the playbook and make plays in the red zone. For fantasy purposes, his touchdown potential alone gives him WR3/flex upside but he likely won’t see enough volume to crack the top-40 receivers in 2014.
(2013 WR Rank—#30, 8.3 FPts/G)
Jerricho Cotchery’s name atop the depth chart is akin to seeing a huge red “X” flashing over the rest of the Panthers list of receivers on draft day. He is slated to be used in the slot as a possession type of receiver while rookie Kelvin Benjamin develops on the outside. With Greg Olsen a more preferred and proven target for Cam Newton, Cotchery’s fantasy appeal is severely narrow. In 2013, Cotchery had the fewest receiving yards of any receiver with more than seven touchdowns. He will be worth far more to Carolina as a mentor and reliable third down target than he will as a WR4 in the fantasy game.
(2013 WR Rank—#82, 3.8 FPts/G)
As if Carolina could slow the game down any more, they added Jason Avant to the mix at wide receiver. A steady contributor for eight seasons in Philadelphia, Avant was unsurprisingly one player that failed to benefit from Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. He should be a better fit with the Panthers but remains a bland choice for fantasy owners. With only Tiquan Underwood, Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King as competition, Avant’s experience should give him an edge on being the team’s third wideout heading into 2014.
(2013 TE Rank—#8, 7.4 FPts/G)
The guy who should benefit most from Carolina’s decision to let Steve Smith leave and not replace him with another proven talent is Greg Olsen. The 29 year old is quietly coming off his best year as a pro despite the fact that Carolina threw the ball fewer than all but two teams during the 2013 regular season. Fantasy owners should look to his consistent increase in opportunity and production over the past three years as signs he is ready to take another step forward as Cam Newton’s top receiving threat. During the 2013 regular season only four other tight ends caught more balls than Olsen: Jimmy Graham (going in Round 1), Tony Gonzalez (retired), Jordan Cameron (averaged 4.4 receptions and 45.9 receiving yards over final seven games in 2013) and Antonio Gates (in decline at age 34 with Ladarius Green emerging). A few more touchdowns would give Olsen a shot at the position’s top five, offering plenty of value and upside as the eighth tight end off the board according to recent ADP information. The oft-injured Ed Dickson was added this prior to camp. He is likely to see the field in two TE formations while adding depth behind Olsen.
By: Nick Caron — August 11, 2014 @ 1:42 am
Russell Wilson has been a low-end QB1 the last two seasons… yes he has.
QB Russell Wilson
(2013 QB Rank—#8, 16.0 FPts/G)
Only two years removed from upsetting free agency acquisition Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle, Russell Wilson is now a Super Bowl winner and is one of the most secure players in the entire league at his position. Wilson’s combination of speed and mistake-free football has also made him a top-10 fantasy quarterback over that two-year span. This is very impressive, considering that Wilson’s Seahawks have run the ball more times and passed the ball fewer times than any team in the NFL since he took over behind center. This sounds ugly on the surface, but the coaching staff in Seattle continues to insist that the team will see a greater balance in its offense in 2014, which could mean great things for Wilson’s fantasy outlook. Wide receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice did leave in the offseason, but they will not likely be missed if (and I mean if…) Percy Harvin is able to stay on the field. Harvin is the kind of dynamic playmaker who could give Wilson the kind of target that he has not had so far in his NFL career, one who can turn the short passes into big gains. Wilson is currently only being drafted as a borderline top-12 quarterback in many leagues, which combined with the fact that he could pass the ball upwards of 100 more times in 2014 than he did in 2013, means that he could represent one of the highest upsides and safest downsides of all fantasy quarterbacks this season.
RB Marshawn Lynch
(2013 RB Rank—#4, 14.0 FPts/G)
An offseason contract holdout – which occurred during the same time that he made news for the unique way he parks his Ferrari, mind you – has some skeptics questioning Marshawn Lynch’s commitment to playing football, but there haven’t been many backs as consistent as “Beast Mode” since he arrived in Seattle back in 2010. In each of his past three seasons, Lynch has surpassed 1,200 yards on the ground while scoring double-digit touchdowns in each of those seasons. Combine that with the fact that he has only lost five fumbles over that span and you have a player who most would believe is very safe in his role within the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning offense. That might not be the case, however, as reports from camp have been that the team is looking to find ways to get 2013 second-round draft pick Christine Michael on the field more often this season. If there is one area where Lynch has not been superb, it has been in the pass-catching department. His 36 receptions in 2013 were his highest total since 2008 and he had failed to reach even 30 receptions during between those years. Still, Lynch has to be considered one of the safest bets to be a top-10 running back this season. Seattle does seem committed on passing the ball more often, but that could still mean 275-plus touches for Lynch.
RB Christine Michael
(2013 RB Rank—#112, 0.4 FPts/G)
Training camp standout Christine Michael has been a hot name this offseason, particularly in dynasty leagues where he is being drafted as the perceived long-term ball-carrier for Seattle once Marshawn Lynch eventually slows down. Michael possesses a unique combination of size and strength, but still has the burst to break into the secondary when given a chance. His bruising running style has been compared to the likes of Adrian Peterson and of course his teammate, Lynch, which makes sense as to why the Seahawks used a second-round pick on him in 2013. While Michael is unlikely to see substantial enough carries on his own to warrant a weekly starting position on your fantasy roster, his situation makes him enticing as a RB5 or RB6 late in drafts, even in redraft leagues. If Lynch gets hurt at some point during the season, Michael could instantly become a top-10 fantasy back in this Seattle offense. That seems unlikely given that Lynch has only missed one game during his entire tenure in Seattle, but the tremendous number of carries that he has taken during that span doesn’t necessarily bode well for long-term health.
WR Percy Harvin
(2013 WR Rank—#169, 0.1 FPts/G)
Perhaps no player in the entire league is more polarizing for the 2014 fantasy football season than wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin, who was Seattle’s headline-grabbing offseason acquisition prior to the 2013 season, came very close to never playing a snap for the entire season. He joined the team already injured, but would then see setback after setback before finally getting on the field in Week 11 against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. Harvin would make one catch for 17 yards before coming off the field again. Harvin would not see the field again until the postseason when he played against New Orleans, making three catches for 21 yards. Another injury would keep him out of an extremely important NFC championship game against the 49ers, but he did finally get back out there in the Super Bowl. Harvin made only one catch for five yards in the big game, but added 45 yards on two carries and made one of the highlight plays of the game with a kick return touchdown. Harvin’s playmaking abilities are unquestioned at this point, but his inability to stay on the field has some experts saying that they would not even bother drafting him. While the risk is certainly involved, Harvin could also be the kind of player who wins an owner his league if he is able to kick the injury bug and stay on the field. Reports in Seattle say that the team is hoping to target Harvin over 100 times, so the opportunities should be there if he can stay healthy. This is the ultimate risk/reward proposition.
WR Doug Baldwin
(2013 WR Rank—#38, 6.3 FPts/G)
As a reliable, but uninspiring receiver, Doug Baldwin became one of Wilson’s favorite targets in 2013 when he caught 50 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. While Golden Tate is now gone, a healthy Percy Harvin would mean even less attention going Baldwin’s way this season. Of course, Harvin not seeing the field could also work in Baldwin’s favor in terms of total number of targets. Those targets wouldn’t be quite as high quality given that the defense would be able to focus on him a bit more, but an increase in total targets is always a good thing to see. It’d be hard to expect Baldwin to suddenly become a fantasy force, but a 65-catch season is not out of the question, especially if the Seahawks do live up to their statements of becoming a more balanced offensive attack.
TE Zach Miller
(2013 TE Rank—#22, 3.9 FPts/G)
While he was third on the team in total targets in 2013, tight end Zach Miller represents about as exciting of fantasy prospects as a box of rocks. He made just 33 receptions a season for only 387 yards. While he did make five touchdown receptions, Miller’s 20 total touchdowns in seven seasons shows us that he is not exactly Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham when it comes to being a red-zone threat at the tight end position. Worse yet, Miller will compete with Like Willson for snaps at the position. While Miller is certainly a better blocker, Willson is younger, a better athlete and a more dynamic pass-catcher. Miller is unlikely to be drafted in most fantasy leagues, but could be utilized from time-to-time in bye weeks when the Seahawks are playing against a particularly vulnerable defense.
By: 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: Jake Gordon — @ 8:59 am
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
(2013 QB Rank—#23, 19.9 FPts/G)
The Texans’ decision to not draft a quarterback with the top overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft has defined their offseason. Instead of talking about potential and talent at the quarterback position, fantasy owners are left reading words like “stopgap” and “game manager.” Fitzpatrick was unable to carry fantasy appeal after a strong start to the 2011 season as a member of the Bills and he failed to inspire in 11 contests as a replacement to Jake Locker in 2013. Interceptions have long plagued him and new head coach Bill O’Brien will certainly try to help his starting quarterback mitigate those errors this year. Throwing to future Hall of Famer Andre Johnson and emerging playmaker DeAndre Hopkins will give the nine-year veteran signal caller his best group of targets as a pro. That might not be enough to make him worthy of QB1 status but he should be a readily available plug-and-play option for a team that should do well in the field position game.
The Texans will make University of Houston alum Case Keenum the second-stringer to open the season after letting go of T.J. Yates prior to training camp. If Keenum starts, the entire offense will take a hit in terms of production. Rookie fourth-rounder Tom Savage has the size and arm to be developed into a quality pocket passer but should not be a factor into the team’s plans for another couple of years.
Arian Foster’s 2nd-round ADP comes with a boatload of risk.
RB Arian Foster
(2013 RB Rank—#44, 10.6 FPts/G)
In terms of volume and schedule alone, Arian Foster offers as much fantasy potential as any other running back in 2014. After all, how many lead running backs under the age of 30 with no competition for carries in a run-heavy offense are there in the NFL? Foster’s 4.5 yard per carry average in 2013 and pass-catching abilities serve as further reminders that he was a top-three fantasy pick as recently as 2012. Of course, few need reminding of the injury risk attached to the upside of this plow horse. A back injury kept him out eight weeks last season and his medical file contains calf, knee and hamstring injuries. He is probably the poster child for injury risk at this point. Training camp has just opened and Foster has already missed practices with an apparent hamstring tweak. Houston is placing plenty of confidence in Foster this year with Andre Brown serving as his primary backup and an injury risk himself. Brown will steal a few series each game but the Texans offense will lean heavily on the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. In standard 10-team formats, Foster is an unnecessary risk in the first round. On the contrary, the deeper the league, the more valuable his upside becomes and owners will have to gamble on high-caliber guys.
RB Andre Brown
(2013 RB Rank—#49, 9.7 FPts/G)
Every fantasy owner’s pre-draft checklist should include the name of Arian Foster’s backup. Ben Tate is gone and Andre Brown is in. How much stock you put into Brown is a personal choice but at some point this season he will likely give fantasy owners a short term jolt of production. During his time with the Giants, he proved to be capable of running inside or outside, as well as receiving. He also proved to be unlucky in breaking his left leg twice. Anytime a running back suffers a major injury to the same leg you have to wonder how likely he will bounce back, as well as the likelihood of recurring issues in the same leg. After dealing with injuries, Brown has changed up his routine in an effort to prevent injury but that won’t change the fact that he won’t get enough carries to be useful unless Foster is sidelined. As a result, he is purely a handcuff.
RB Alfred Blue
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Alfred Blue, Houston’s 2014 sixth-round draft pick, is a big physical back with plenty of promise at the pro level. He’s competing with Andre Brown and Dennis Johnson to provide depth at the running back position. He was buried on the depth chart at Louisiana State and comes into the NFL with less miles on the tires than other rookie running backs. That being said, some scouts questions his durability since he has never shown to be a plow horse. He won’t be expected to carry the load just yet and is not likely to pass Brown out of the gate. He has made a favorable early impression at camp, however, and with two oft-injured players above him on the depth chart, Blue may become a deep sleeper for the 2014 fantasy season.
WR Andre Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#12, 10.7 FPts/G)
Andre Johnson padded his Hall of Fame credentials with another productive campaign in 2013. His 109 receptions trailed only Pierre Garcon and Antonio Brown for the league lead. His days of being a steadfast fantasy producer are now dependent on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s decision making and arm, however. It went over so well with Johnson that he decided to hold out in hopes of forcing a trade. Since then, Johnson has reported and stated his desire to remain a Texan for the rest of his career. In 2013, Houston placed in the top ten of the NFL regular season for both passing attempts and completions – a feat that isn’t likely to happen with Fitzpatrick under center. Less targets and yards and a budding player in DeAndre Hopkins will lower Johnson’s ceiling. Adding to the negative vibes is a slight hamstring issue popping up early in training camp and his old age – he just turned 33 years old. Did I mention Fitzpatrick is his quarterback? Good. At best, he finds the end zone just enough to be a solid WR2 in most formats, but he likely won’t come at that cost due to his name value.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
(2013 WR Rank—#50, 5.8 FPts/G)
One of last year’s most hyped players during the preseason, DeAndre Hopkins failed to live up to expectations. Still young and developing, Hopkins is on the rise in fantasy drafts once again. With Andre Johnson still a major threat, Hopkins should make less mental errors in his second season and thrive in man-to-man situations. But the question remains, how many balls will he see in this offense? The good news is that new QB Ryan Fitzpatrick got a little more time to develop chemistry with the Clemson product during Johnson’s holdout. The bad news is that Johnson ended his holdout and Hopkins’ target projection limits his ability to truly breakout. His time in the spotlight on the fantasy stage will come, for now he is still the third option behind two franchise icons.
WR DeVier Posey
(2013 WR Rank—#123, 1.7 FPts/G)
After Hopkins, the Texans are short on talent at the wide receiver position. Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, Alan Bonner and Travis Labhart are in camp and at least one, if not two of them are not likely to make the final roster. All are fairly young with Posey being the biggest target. Labhart is a bit small but could make the team working out of the slot. None should make a fantasy impact this year, though.
TE Garrett Graham
(2013 TE Rank—#16, 7.0 FPts/G)
Part of the garbage that was taken to the curb last year included longtime fantasy tease Owen Daniels, who was released in March and subsequently signed by the Ravens. Houston is likely to use more than one guy at the position in the new offensive scheme but Garrett Graham will man the “Move TE” role that offers the most fantasy potential. Graham’s elevation on the depth chart comes on the heels of a promising 2013 campaign. During a four-game stretch between Weeks 11 and 14, Daniels was thrown to 47 times, catching about half of them and scoring twice. An increase in playing time and a conservative offense should yield over 100 targets, making him a nice value to owners in deeper leagues. Behind Graham are two young and rather large targets, Ryan Griffin and rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz. Both players stand 6’6” tall and weigh over 250 lbs., making them ripe for short-yardage packages.
By: Colby Cavaliere — August 5, 2014 @ 11:23 pm
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QB Joe Flacco
(2013 QB Rank—#18, 18.2 FPts/G)
The more Joe Flacco throws the ball, the less effective he becomes. In Flacco’s first three seasons in the NFL, he had less than 500 pass attempts and completed 62 percent of his throws. In the last three seasons, where Flacco has surpassed 500 pass attempts, his completion percentage has dipped to a very mediocre 58.7 percent. When your fantasy quarterback gets worse the more he throws, it’s time to consider other options. In 2013 Flacco was a middling QB2. Having to learn and adjust to a new offensive scheme that will favor the run, expect Flacco to again be a low-tier QB2 with little upside. With only a shadow of a running game, a powerless offensive line (48 sacks allowed) and Torrey Smith as the only major threat out wide, Flacco tried to carry the Ravens on his shoulders and failed. His 19-22 touchdown to interception ratio was the worst of his six-year career. During the offseason the Ravens committed resources to shoring up their putrid offense, trading for a new starting center and signing veterans Owen Daniels and Steve Smith. With the addition of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, expect Flacco to play a much more composed, conservative game, which might do wonders for his team’s offensive consistency, but ultimately won’t do much for your fantasy team.
A forgettable 2013 plus a two-game suspension has Rice’s value at an all-time low.
RB Ray Rice
(2013 RB Rank—#30 8.1 FPts/G)
Is Ray Rice the latest example of just how quickly high-volume, aging running backs can take a rapid statistical decline or is he simply a veteran runner coming off a down season? Hampered by an early-season leg injury and increased bulk, Rice looked nothing like the dynamic dual threat runner from just two seasons ago. Once considered a RB1 lock, Rice dashed the hopes of his fantasy owners last season with a 3.1 yards-per-carry average and only four touchdowns. Any positive offseason news concerning his health and conditioning was erased when he was arrested and subsequently suspended for two games because of a domestic violence incident. Marred by an ugly arrest and coming off a car wreck of a season, it’s hard to be optimistic about Rice returning to fantasy dominance, but don’t totally write off Rice as a fantasy asset in 2014.
Because of workload, competition and the two-game suspension, the days of Rice going for 1,800 total yards and 10+ touchdowns are likely gone. But remember, the Ravens running game was an abomination last season, not just Rice, and new coordinator Gary Kubiak knows a little something about moving the ball on the ground. The NFL is about talent and Ravens brass clearly thinks Rice has enough of it left, as they had all the reason in the world to cut him these last several months. Look for a rebound, as Rice tries to rectify a ghastly season and bring some positive results to his name and to his franchise. Be aware of his value and risk. Draft Rice as a low-tier RB2 or upper-tier RB3.
RB Bernard Pierce
(2013 RB Rank—#52, 4.1 FPts/G)
After a dazzling rookie year in 2012 that saw him begin to siphon work away from Pro Bowl teammate Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce was dreadful in 2013. Leading the league in lowest yards-per-carry average (2.9 ypc, min. 150 carries), Pierce couldn’t take advantage of Rice’s struggles, and provided little to no value to fantasy owners who handcuffed him to Rice. Despite playing in all 16 games, Pierce was hobbled by weekly lower leg injuries, and to compound his foot and ankle woes, he underwent major shoulder surgery in the offseason. Maybe the Ravens offensive line and running scheme was really as dreadful as it seemed or perhaps Pierce is merely a one-dimensional runner with limited potential. Well, we’re about to find out. With his running back competition dwindling due to arrests and suspensions, Pierce will get an early opportunity to fill out a meaningful offensive role when he starts the first two games of the season in place of Rice. Locked into an early season starter’s workload will give fantasy owners the look they need to determine if retuning to the zone blocking scheme he ran so successfully at Temple can bring him back into fantasy prominence. Even if he can return to his 2012 form early on, his upside remains capped by the presence of Rice and his limited role in the passing game (only 19 receptions in his college career and 27 in two NFL seasons), making him a RB4 with questionable prospects.
WR Torrey Smith
(2013 WR Rank—#22, 8.6 FPts/G)
The lone bright spot on offense for the Ravens in 2013 was the continued growth and development of Torrey Smith. Posting career highs in targets, catches and yards, Smith demonstrated an improved polish to his game by expanding his route tree and ability to read defensive coverage. The fact that he was able to provide WR2 numbers on an offense that was as poor as the Ravens is impressive alone. He was able to maintain an elite 17.4 yards-per-catch average, despite the additional defensive attention. His ability to get open deep saved him from his mediocre touchdown total at four. Because he and Joe Flacco connect so well on the deep ball, Smith is always a good bet for a monster game or two through the year, but he lacks the refinement and physical tools that made Andre Johnson a stud in this version of the Gary Kubiak offense. Look for Smith’s development to continue as he learns from the team’s other veteran pass catchers. As his role adjusts in the new offense and he takes on more routes closer to the line of scrimmage, expect his catch total and touchdowns to rise slightly, but his yardage total to dip. His talent, offensive system and responsibilities mean Smith should be a good bet to continue to provide lower-tier WR2 or upper-tier WR3 value.
WR Steve Smith
(2013 WR Rank–#43, 6.6 FPts/G)
Quietly one of the best receivers of his generation, 35-year-old Steve Smith comes to Baltimore not with a chip on his shoulder, but the whole darn block! Whether you believe the Carolina Panthers cut Smith because they were tired of his attitude or his declining game, the Ravens get the brash, no-nonsense veteran receiver they lost when they traded away Anquan Boldin last season. Smith will surely bring an edge to the Ravens offense, but quite simply, he won’t bring much to your fantasy team. While both he and Boldin fight for the football with the same reckless abandon, Boldin relies on exceptional body control and his 6’1’’ frame to fight defenders for the ball, while Smith’s game has been predicated on quickness, which has been sapped by age as he’s two years older than Boldin. In receiver-starved Carolina last year, Smith failed to record a single game over 74 yards last season and has found the end zone more than four times only once in the last four seasons. Don’t expect a Boldin-like career resurgence from Smith, and don’t rely on Smith as anything more than a WR4/5 for your fantasy team.
TE Dennis Pitta
(2013 TE Rank—#53, 5.7 FPts/G)
On his way to joining the ranks of the league’s elite pass catching tight ends, finishing in the top 10 in targets and catches in 2012, Dennis Pitta suffered a severe hip injury last offseason. The injury and subsequent surgery cost him the first 13 weeks of the season, but as a testament to his talent and importance to the Ravens offense, he was targeted a team-high 11 times and scored a touchdown in his first game back. With health on his side, a fresh new contract and an offense that figures to feature him in multiple formations and routes, Pitta is primed to continue his breakout. His speed and size make him as much of a weapon down the seam as a touchdown threat in the red zone. Flanked by Torrey Smith and Steve Smith on the outside, Pitta should have the space to work and could potentially lead the team in targets. At the very least Pitta is positioned to set career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns, and could provide some monster value as a reliable low-end TE1 with top-five upside.
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