Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Sal Marcoccio — August 1, 2014 @ 10:56 am
Is Eli Manning inline for a bounce-back season with new OC Ben McAdoo?
QB Eli Manning
(2013 QB Rank—#21, 15.5 FPts/G)
Eli Manning is coming off of his worst season since the early years of his career when he was still learning how to play the position. He only threw for 18 touchdown passes while accruing an unbelievable 27 interceptions. Manning has never been a great fantasy asset, but his steady production and ability to put together 16-game seasons on a yearly basis has always made him a safe bet to finish as a borderline fantasy QB1. There are many reasons that could have led to such a poor 2013 including a porous offensive line (Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times), an ankle injury suffered during the season and the offensive game plan being stale. The line issues were addressed through free agency and the draft while Manning had offseason surgery to clean up his ankle. Furthermore, former Packer quarterback coach Ben McAdoo replaced the only offensive coordinator that Eli has ever known, Kevin Gilbride. There’s hope for the younger Manning to turn things back around, as the Giants will be one of the offenses that will seek to emulate the “fast” up-tempo game-plans now in vogue. McAdoo is also installing a more west-coast style offense that will use short screens and slants, as opposed to Gilbride’s vertical-based offense. The offensive line will not have to hold its blocks as long and wide receivers Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham are great fits for the new offense. Manning will forever be linked to Philip Rivers due to the draft day trade between New York and San Diego that swapped the duo. Rivers, who also looked to be in a downslide, thrived last season under a new quick hitting/timing based offense and the hope is that Manning will do the same. Manning is a nice target for those that like to wait and use a QBBC approach in redraft leagues.
RB Rashad Jennings
(2013 RB Rank—#22, 9.2 FPts/G)
Career backup Rashad Jennings was able to parlay a nice run in 2013 with the Oakland Raiders into a decent NFL payday this offseason. Jennings was able to rush for 733 yards with six touchdowns and caught 36 balls for another 292 yards last season. He looked the part after taking over the starting running back positions in Week 10 following a Darren McFadden injury. General manager Jerry Reese has referred to the veteran as a “bellcow type” and head coach Tom Coughlin is impressed by his versatility. Jennings is the type of solid grinder that Coughlin prefers and his pass blocking and ball protection should parlay into Jennings seeing the field quite a bit in 2014. Jennings has never handled more than 163 carries in a season, however. While some people may see that as him having a “little tread off his tires,” there have also been hints that the Giants may not see him as a true workhorse. There have been reports that we could see a three-headed RBBC in New York to help keep Jennings fresh by limiting his workload. Fantasy owners should look at his 4.5 yard per carry average from last season and Coughlin’s track record of having little patience for mistakes and feel confident that they can rely of Jennings for RB2 results in 2014, but also need to face the reality that his upside could be limited. In a west-coast offense, Jennings’ ability to block and catch well sets him apart from his competition and that should make him an attractive option in PPR leagues.
RB David Wilson
(2013 RB Rank—#92, 4.3 FPts/G)
David Wilson had a disappointing season in 2013, culminating with a serious neck injury that threatened his future as a football player. All things considered, getting clearance to play football in 2014 following neck surgery is a major boon for Wilson’s fantasy owners. Wilson is now getting snaps with the second unit and should earn a change-of-pace role as long as he stays healthy. Prior to his injury, Wilson was still a disappointment and often found himself in head coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse as a result of his penchant for fumbling and his issues with pass protections. Wilson is one of the most explosive players in the league, combining above-average speed and surprising power in his compact frame, but will need to earn his playing time in order to exploit his gifts. Learning to better protect Eli Manning alone would create a tremendous opportunity for him, as his skillset is otherwise well suited to contribute as a pass catcher in the newly implemented west-coast scheme the team will employ. Wilson’s speed, agility and power would be deadly on screens and in the flat. Wilson received clearance on July 21 to take part in contact drills, but Giant fans and fantasy owners will be holding their breath every time he lowers his head and takes a hit. In fact he has already suffered a “stinger” in training camp, making his future that much cloudier. Wilson has the ability to easily surpass Rashad Jennings on the depth chart, but an early-season role of 6-8 carries a game is likely a best case scenario at this point. From there, health and the trust of the coaching staff will the only things holding him back. Sadly, both of those things could be tough for Wilson to obtain.
RB Andre Williams
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Andre Williams led the nation in rushing yards as a Boston College Eagle last season. His size and running style is very reminiscent of former Giant Brandon Jacobs. Williams lacks any real wiggle, but has very impressive straight-line speed for his size and is tough to bring down once he gets momentum. Camp reports indicate that he has seen work with the first-team unit during goal-line drills, which makes Andre the Giant an interesting late-round flier in redraft leagues. While he doesn’t have pass-catching ability, he could punch in some touchdowns early in the season and earn some first and second down work. An injury to Rashad Jennings or David Wilson could open the door further to an expanded role that the big back may not let close behind him.
WR Victor Cruz
(2013 WR Rank—#28, 8.8 FPts/G)
Victor Cruz’s numbers dropped across the board in 2013 and he failed to even reach 75 receptions, 1,000 yards or five touchdowns. After bursting on the scene as an unheralded second-year player in 2012 (82-1,536-9), it’s been a steady decline for Cruz. The optimist can look at last season as a total disaster for the passing game as a whole, which was addressed by the team hiring a new more innovative offensive coordinator. The pessimist may state that opposing defenses have learned the way to shut Cruz down and that Eli Manning is in the decline phase of his career. The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in the middle. Cruz had some good fortune during the 2012 season and took advantage of a few busted plays, which led to some big yardage plays for him. While Hakeem Nicks missed time and was ineffective last season, Cruz saw a lot of bracket coverage. Cruz should see more time in the slot this season, a place where he has shown to be effective. The reports from camp so far have been very positive. The New York offense will be modeled after Green Bay’s and beat reporters are speculating that Cruz will fill the “Randle Cobb role.” Based on that Cruz could be up among the league leaders in receptions at season’s end. Cruz has a powerful frame and is blessed with quickness that is generally seen in smaller packages. If this offense clicks Cruz should become a high-volume producer, as the most talented pass catcher on the team, which makes him a strong candidate to outperform his current ADP.
WR Rueben Randle
(2013 WR Rank—#45, 6.1 FPts/G)
Reuben Randle scored six touchdowns in limited action last season, but still had to endure an offseason where his value was constantly questioned. General manager Jerry Reese failed to endorse him as a capable starting wide receiver and former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride implied that the team was never sold on his abilities. The apparent slights by the organization seemed to be further borne out when the team spent the No. 12 overall pick on wide receiver Odell Beckham, despite more pressing needs. Reports about Randle from OTAs and from training camp have all been nothing but positive, however. The new offense is thought to be a better fit for his skillset and should allow him to rely more on his physical gifts to get open rather than requiring him to make the proper read. Last season Randle and Eli Manning weren’t always on the same page, and the hope is that Randle will be more effective this season in the new offense. At 6’2” he’s the tallest of the wide receivers and he should see significant action. With the team having no discernible tight end, Randle could be the team’s top red zone target.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
A hamstring strain kept rookie Odell Beckham out of almost all of the offseason activities and all of training camp thus far. This, of course, has not sat well with bristly head coach Tom Coughlin and could put Beckham behind Jerrell Jernigen on the team’s depth chart for the start of the season. For those in redraft leagues, Beckham is probably not even worth a roster spot at this point. Even if he does manage to get himself completely healthy, the thought is that his role as a rookie will be mostly as a field stretcher running clearing routes in order to allow quick hit strikes to Victor Cruz and Reuben Randle underneath. The team did spend an early first-round pick on him, though, and he was considered to be the best route runner in the draft. His role could grow once he proves that he can beat press coverage and be an effective target for his quarterback. It’s also worth noting that the Giants base offense will consist of three receiver sets so once Beckham moves past Jernigen he should see the field consistently. Owners swinging for the fences with their late-round picks can consider the youngster in the last couple of rounds, but if you are an impatient type or want to play it safer you are likely better off passing on him.
TE Adrien Robinson
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
Early offseason speculation had third-year player Adrien Robinson as the starter at the tight end position. He performed poorly in OTAs, however, and now finds himself buried on the depth chart behind uninspiring competition such as Larry Donnell, Kellen Davis, Xavier Gamble and Daniel Fells. When he was drafted, Robinson was referred to as the “JPP of tight ends” in reference to teammate Jason Pierre-Paul’s freakish athletic ability. Obviously, with zero career receptions, Robinson has not lived up to the hype. Even though the Giants are no longer employing Kevin Gilbride’s offensive system, it should be noted that in the past the Giants offense has made “stars” out of marginal talents like Jake Ballard and Kevin Boss at tight end position, so there could be value here. The problem is, as of right now, special team blocker Larry Donnell sits atop the depth chart. If Robinson starts to make some noise in camp and preseason games he could make an interesting late-round flier.
By: Jake Gordon — @ 2:27 am
Josh McCown and Lovie Smith: A match made in fantasy heaven? Don’t think so.
QB Josh McCown
(2013 QB Rank—#30, 19.5 FPts/G)
After cutting ties with Josh Freeman, the Bucs allowed 2013 second-round selection Mike Glennon to get his feet wet. Glennon was up to the task for the most part; however the passing game needed a jolt. The new regime in Tampa Bay felt that veteran leadership would not only help kickstart a putrid passing attack but also provide a solid foundation of leadership to change the culture of the team. The team moved quickly to sign an affordable stopgap in Josh McCown during free agency. Handpicked by the new head coaching staff, McCown was anointed the starter as soon as the ink touched the paper on his new deal. He steps into a situation that could yield quality fantasy stats so long as the McCown of seasons past doesn’t show up. During parts of nine seasons with five different teams prior to 2013, McCown was a turnover machine, throwing 44 interceptions against only 37 touchdowns. He was hardly a sure thing as a backup let alone a starter. The Bears took a chance on him and let quarterback guru Marc Trestman figure out how to minimize the turnovers. It worked and when Jay Cutler got hurt the same guy who couldn’t stick with a team stepped right in and caused a small quarterback controversy. Did McCown grow enough as a NFL passer under Trestman to be a reliable quarterback for a team full of hope? If Lovie Smith couldn’t get enough out of Cutler, his chances with McCown can’t be too good. That’s where new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford enters the picture. Tedford should have plenty of room to create an offense that allows its big receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans to work down the field and make plays in the vertical passing game. At the same time, McCown will also reap the benefits from using the running backs in the short passing game. The net result should be a quality fantasy QB2 with upside to start some weeks depending on matchups.
If McCown’s 2014 makes his 2013 success look like a fluke, then the Bucs would be forced to give Glennon another shot. Though the leash will be long for McCown, the news surrounding Glennon has been positive. If given the opportunity in 2014, he would have a similar fantasy ceiling as McCown. He represents the better long-term option for the Bucs but doesn’t have a clear-cut route to the starting job anytime soon, making him a more of a speculation play in dynasty formats.
RB Doug Martin
(2013 RB Rank—#55, 9.7 FPts/G)
After Doug Martin burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, he was the center of fantasy owners’ teams. A true feature back, the young Buc was unable to live up to lofty expectations before losing last year’s second half to a shoulder injury. As one of only five running backs to tote the rock more than 300 times in 2012 preceding the injury, you can bet Tampa Bay felt a need to reduce Martin’s workload. In fact, new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford told reporters over the offseason that he didn’t feel one running back could carry the load in today’s NFL. Accordingly, the Buccaneers added dynamic playmaker Charles Sims in this year’s draft to improve the quality of depth behind Martin. The result will be a dip below the 300-carry threshold in a newly-formed RBBC , but Martin’s production in the passing game should continue to provide a slight boost even if he loses a few targets. His touchdown totals may not reach double-digits either considering the competition for carries as well as the ability for Josh McCown to throw a jump ball to one of several big targets. For these reasons, the Muscle Hamster becomes a far better RB2 than RB1 in the fantasy realm. As always, keep a close eye on the new offense during the preseason to gain further insight into Tampa Bay’s RBBC.
RB Charles Sims
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
With plans on running the ball heavily in 2014, Tampa Bay made a concerted effort to add depth to the backfield and was able to land Charles Sims in the third round. Tampa Bay’s new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford recruited Sims as a college transfer and he is definitely a fan. Tedford’s track record of helping smaller, explosive runners find success should aid in Sims’ ability to be fantasy relevant as early as this year. His fantasy value hinges on opportunity, however, and until we see more from this offensive unit it will be hard to nail down Sims’ exact worth in redraft leagues. If things go well in his first pro season, he could have a Giovanni Bernard type of impact as primarily a third-down option with a few series mixed in throughout the course of the game. Concerns over his durability make projecting much more unwise.
RB Mike James
(2013 RB Rank—#76, 4.8 FPts/G)
Second-year players Bobby Rainey and Mike James are in a battle to help backup Doug Martin. The winner will join rookie Charles Sims on the short end of a timeshare. James is the better runner and had a stellar performance last year in Week 9 against the stingy Seattle defense. In that game, James ran for 158 yards and added two catches. If James can out perform Rainey and prove that he is fully recovered from an ankle injury that slowed him earlier this offseason, he could once again give fantasy owners a brief window of production if Martin were to miss time.
WR Vincent Jackson
(2013 WR Rank—#14, 10.3 FPts/G)
One of the bright spots on Tampa Bay’s offense a year ago was Vincent Jackson. Following his rocky departure from San Diego, Jackson reminded everyone why he is one of the most talented pass-catchers in the NFL by posting one of the best seasons of his career when the rest of the offense seemingly fell flat on its face. Jackson produced in double coverage with a rookie quarterback last season. His yardage totals should stay well above the 1,000-yard plateau in an improved passing game. The Bucs top receiver also received 26 percent of his team’s targets in 2013 but that number is likely to go down with the return of Doug Martin and addition of newcomers Charles Sims and Mike Evans. Based in a run-heavy scheme, Jackson’s fantasy value is marred by inconsistent weekly production. Nevertheless, he won’t be far behind the top dogs as a solid WR2 in all formats even with the addition of talented rookie Evans.
WR Mike Evans
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
It is hard not to think about the early fantasy impacts of Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and even Cordarrelle Patterson when forecasting Bucs rookie wideout Mike Evans. First-round talents offer plenty of potential. Fantasy owners need to keep in mind, though, Evans will likely be the third-best option in the passing game on a team that ranked dead last in passing a year ago. A similar player to Vincent Jackson, Evans will make it tough for defenses to defend both sides of the field, especially near the goal where his huge 6’5” frame can block out smaller defenders. The competition for targets will also make him disappear some weeks as long as Tampa Bay is employing a run-orientated offense, however. He should get a chance to contribute early, but counting on the rookie from Texas A&M to be anything more than a WR3 would be unwise.
WR Chris Owusu
(2013 WR Rank—#159, 2.8 FPts/G)
The dropoff in talent at the wide receiver position is significant on Tampa’s roster as former undrafted free agent Chris Owusu will battle veteran Louis Murphy and rookie Robert Herron for playing time behind the starting duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. A productive mini camp has coaches optimistic about Owusu’s chances of securing the job and he is the favorite heading into training camp. Murphy is turning into a career backup but his experience could help him earn a roster spot. Meanwhile, Herron was team’s sixth-round draft choice this season out of Wyoming. He could be a potential fit in the slot and should be a factor in the return game. Regardless of how the final depth chart takes shape the fantasy value dries up after Evans.
TE Brandon Myers
(2013 TE Rank—#19, 5.1 FPts/G)
Brandon Myers was an afterthought in the Giants passing game after being brought in to add some offensive punch from the tight end position. Now with his third team in three seasons, Myers is likely to continue to be a mediocre fantasy option in even during bye weeks. Unless you play in a crazy deep two TE league, Myers and incumbent starter Tim Wright will be waiver wire fodder again in 2014. The Buccaneers also spent a second-round draft choice on the upside of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot prevented Seferian-Jenkins from being able to participate in OTAs. The 6’6” rookie has the mold of a former basketball player and if he isn’t named the starter from Week 1, he should gain playing time as the season progresses. With the sum of the parts seemingly greater than any one player, it is quite possible that the team ends up using a committee approach at the tight end position in 2014.
By: Colby Cavaliere — July 30, 2014 @ 3:14 pm
QB Ben Roethlisberger
(2013 QB Rank–#8, 21.6 FPts/G)
Unlocking Ben Roethlisberger’s fantasy value seems like a seasonal guessing game. He has had seasons of 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards passing, only to follow up with years of 17 touchdowns and barely 3,000 yards passing. Over the past five seasons, Roethlisberger has either been a borderline QB1 or a low tier QB2. His ebb and flow of statistical lines make him a headache to evaluate and perennially place him one of the more overdrafted or underdrafted quarterbacks in fantasy football. Will Roethlisberger stand on the precipice of fantasy starterdom in 2014 or return to the basement of fantasy irrelevance?
Over the first eight games of the 2013 season, Big Ben played more like a small, busted alarm clock. In the second year of offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system, Roethlisberger looked uncomfortable and erratic. Without the extra possessions that the defense had historically provided combined with a lack of a reliable running game, the Steelers offense struggled as a unit. They lacked threats beyond Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger got off to a poor start, throwing for 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions over the first eight games. But something happened in Week 9 that shook this team up. Following an embarrassing 55-31 disaster against the rival Patriots, the Steelers coaching staff seemed to realize the “ball-control, let the defense carry us” philosophy of the past few years wasn’t working. Much to the delight of Roethlisberger, Haley was willing to open up the offense, increase the tempo and give his quarterback more control at the line of scrimmage. The result was a 16-5 touchdown to interception ratio over the final eight games and a 6-2 record that nearly put the Steelers into the playoffs.
This offseason the Steelers have talked about keeping this up-tempo (the new NFL buzzword) style as part of their regular game plan, and despite their sometimes rocky relationship, Roethlisberger has enjoyed statistical success under Haley, throwing for 4,000+ yards and 20+ touchdowns in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career. Expect this trend to continue, as Roethlisberger should have a full season of Le’Veon Bell behind him in the backfield and has a mix of young, explosive receivers (Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton) and shrewd veterans (Lance Moore, Heath Miller). Be patient and practical. Wait to draft Roethlisberger when the run of QB2s begin. In his 10th year, Big Ben could be poised to have one of his better fantasy seasons to date and once again bring his fantasy owners some terrific value.
Le’Veon Bell: One of the true three-down running backs in the NFL.
RB Le’Veon Bell
(2013 RB Rank–#15, 13.4 FPts/G)
The fact Le’Veon Bell could finish 12th in rushing attempts and finish in the top 15 in fantasy scoring, despite missing the first three weeks of the 2013 season should tell you all you need to know about his value to the Steelers and to fantasy owners everywhere. Lacking special running skills, or measureables, Bell is the ideal “volume back” for today’s NFL. The 6’1”, 230+ lb former Spartan is built for at least 20 touches per game. He had a whopping 382 carries during his senior year – Bell will need them to maximize his fantasy value, as he didn’t have a game above 5.0 yards-per-carry in 2013. Blessed with quick feet and great vision, Bell has soft hands and pass blocks like a mobile stonewall. This valuable skill set means he’s a true three-down, goal line back. His role on the offense ensures that his volume of touches remains high and consistent – something that is in short supply among the modern stable of fantasy running backs. Because of their circumstances, the Steelers had a bevy of possessions in the red zone, resulting in Bell benefitting from a staggering 48 carries and eight receptions near the goal line – only four total touches behind league leader Matt Forte. All eight of Bell’s touchdowns came in this area, adding to his short yardage value, but also demonstrating his lack of big play reliability. Dating back to his days at Michigan State University, Bell has been the type of back who gets better with more touches. Expect the Steelers to continue to open the offense up a bit, increase their offensive tempo and have an improved defense that will keep games closer, and hopefully give them more possessions to work with. With his role as a dual threat back and improved conditioning, Bell should exceed 300 touches, even with the presence of free agent addition LeGarrette Blount. Volume and versatility should make Bell a great anchor to your fantasy roster as a low-end RB1.
RB LeGarrette Blount
(2013 RB Rank–#33, 7.7 FPts/G)
Elusive and shifty for a man of his size, LeGarrette Blount will provide the Steelers and your fantasy team with some insurance should Le’Veon Bell miss any time. Signed in the offseason to a two-year deal, Blount brings a one-dimensional skillset to the Steelers backfield (23 catches in four seasons). Sporting a strong 4.5 yards per carry average for his career, Blount can break long runs, as well as run behind his pads. Bell owners should prioritize nabbing Blount, but if they wait too long, watch Blount carefully. As a back-up, LeGarrette is nothing more than a RB4/5, but is an ideal handcuff or player to poach as he is assured a large sum of carries should he be forced into the starting lineup. Should he have the opportunity, Blount could provide definite RB2/3 potential.
WR Antonio Brown
(2013 WR Rank–#7, 12.4 FPts/G)
Climbing a whopping 30 points in the final rankings from 2012, Antonio Brown burst onto the scene in 2013 and added yet another dynamic option to fantasy football’s deepest position. Brown showed serious play-making ability during his second season with the Steelers in 2011 with 1,100 yards receiving and an impressive 16.1 yard-per-catch average. After a down 2012, he probably wasn’t at the top of many wide receiver draft boards going into 2013, but for the owners lucky enough to pick him, he was a tremendous value. Finishing second in the NFL in receptions and yardage, Brown has joined the WR1 conversation. Can he stay there, though? Brown has the quickness to beat man coverage and benefits greatly from having the accuracy and play-extending ability of Big Ben to fit the ball into tight spaces. Brown is dynamic in the open field, scoring six of his nine total touchdowns from beyond 30 yards, although size limitations restrict his red zone scores. Brown has earned the trust of his quarterback and offensive coordinator, as well as the respect of defensive coordinators as a true threat with the ball in his hands. When evaluating Brown, ignore the losses of free agents Jerricho Cotchery and Emannuel Sanders. Both were solid role players, but replaceable pieces who never garnered much defensive attention. Expect opposing defenses to focus on Brown forcing Pittsburgh’s young receivers to step up. This extra attention could cut into his reception and yardage totals, but the 26-year old is difficult to contain and will be one of the most frequently targeted receivers in the game, making him a strong WR1 option.
WR Markus Wheaton
(2013 WR Rank–N/A)
Markus Wheaton seems to garner a ton of hype for a player coming off an injury marred six-catch rookie campaign. It’s a legitimate reason to be very skeptical. The hope for a breakout will come from his quarterback’s ability to extend plays and develop pass catches, his strong play in the 2013 preseason and the faith the front office displayed by not resigning their veteran receivers. Wheaton is on track to start opposite two-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown and he should have every opportunity to succeed. Teammates and coaches have been raving about Wheaton. Since this Steelers offense should be able to support a fantasy pass catching asset beyond Antonio Brown, watch Wheaton’s preseason play closely. If he locks himself into that No. 2 role and earns the confidence of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Wheaton could have some value to fantasy owners this season as a waiver add.
TE Heath Miller
(2013 TE Rank–#24, 4.7 FPts/G)
Perennially one of the more reliable, if not spectacular fantasy tight ends in the league, Heath Miller struggled to return to form in 2013 after coming off a late 2012 torn ACL. More of a cerebral technician than field stretching burner, Miller seemed even slower last year, with a career low 10.2 yards per catch and only one touchdown. Because of the poor statistical season, his age and recent injury, Miller is going to be ignored by many fantasy owners. Don’t be one of those owners. While he may have lost a step, Miller has always been a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger on all areas of the field. Despite working back from his injury and missing two games, Miller remained a large part of the Steelers passing game with the third most targets in his career (78). His role on the offense, improved health and total lack of competition for snaps, allow Miller to return quickly to fantasy relevance in 2014. If you miss out or choose to bypass on an early tight end, quietly select Miller late and enjoy the value he can give you as a borderline TE1.
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
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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.
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